At a time when looks were such an important part of a young college student's self-esteem, Terry Healey, a junior at UC Berkeley, had an experience unlike any of his fellow students. Healey developed an aggressive, cancerous tumor known as fibrosarcoma behind his right nostril.

In his memoir, "At Face Value, My Triumph Over A Disfiguring Cancer," Healey chronicles his saga and personal victory over facial disfigurement. And, he does so with honesty, a strong sense of faith and a tremendous positive attitude.

"I would credit my mother for the positive attitude. She was at the center of my care in a lot of ways, and her attitude rubbed off on everyone around her, and certainly me. She taught me to always think positively and not negatively," he said.

In reading his book, Joan Carr of San Ramon was fascinated at "Terry's positive outlook from the beginning."

"I trusted that everything would be OK," he said. "I trusted the medical team and that trust factor made me believe it would always turn out okay." In addition, his faith gave him "the courage and strength to get through this ordeal," and his family and friends were what kept him going.

After more than 30 reconstructive surgeries, however, Healey finally accepted the inevitable: he would never look the way he did before cancer. He couldn't look the same on the outside any more than he could return to his old self on the inside. Although the reconstruction did not turn out the way he had hoped, he said he's a better person because of it.

In large part, this realization came about after a romantic break-up. Healey's girlfriend at the time told him that she couldn't satisfy his constant need for reassurance, a significant turning point for him. The time to shift focus and rebuild what was inside, instead of the outside, had come. And he did.

"When he (Healey) came to grips with the fact that he needed to work on his inner self and inner scars as opposed to concentrating on the outer scars and reconstruction, it was a great message," said Danville resident Karlene Paufler after reading Healey's book.

In his professional career as speaker and businessman, Healey carries many messages. One significant point is both a message and a gift to others. He asks us to think about not judging people on the sole merit of how they look and admits that he, too, can fall into that trap.

"The fact that he recognized in himself, some of the same prejudices he was experiencing himself, shows a depth of self-reflection that was amazing for someone of his years," Carr said.

"We have perceptions of people we meet and it often changes within a minute or two," said Healey.

"We have to try to keep in our minds that we have to be better and not judge."

The gift, of course, is the awareness and practice of acceptance toward all, especially those who appear to be different from us.

For anyone facing a serious illness, physical, mental, or emotional challenge, Healey suggested both short and long-term goals and objectives. Not only is it very therapeutic to look toward the future, but it keeps one from dwelling on the present situation.

"Be sure you have a purpose in your life, beyond whatever it is you're struggling with. People have a tendency to lose sight of everything else that's around them," he said. Take control of your life and focus on what you can change instead of focusing on what you can't.

Healey said he wouldn't change his experience with fibrosarcoma. "I have a better life perspective and more balance in my life. I was lucky to get a second chance and I want to make sure I'm happy with this life."

Reach Cindy Luck at visioncoachcindy@aol.com.

If you go:

Danville Library, Mt. Diablo Room, 400 Front Street

Tuesday, March 4, 7 p.m.