SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Vivianne Knebel's story begins in war-torn Nazi Germany — Berlin 1943.
She says, “I had many strikes against me right from the get go. I was an illegitimate daughter of a fiercely devoted mother.”
A single mother who struggled to keep Vivianne and her older sister Yvonne safe and fed.
Vivianne says, “My mother tried to keep us afloat working in the black markets, striking deals, anything to have some food on the table for us.”
Vivianne says her childhood forever affected her appreciation for food.
“That's why to this day when I cut a loaf of bread I will always do it with awareness.”
Even after WWII, the struggle continued until, at age 13, Vivianne and her family left Germany in search of a better life.
“That's the typical immigrant story. We got on a boat and immigrated to Montreal, Canada,” she says.
However, it was hardly smooth sailing from there, so Vivianne decided to help her family by getting a job. She was 14 years old.
“I thought I had landed a dream job. It was a dentist who was going to teach me to become a dental assistant.”
But she says the dream ended abruptly.
“One day a man, one of his friend's walked in when he was not in the office, who had come in before and he sexually assaulted me.”
Confused and scared she left, and took a job at a Woolworth's lunch counter. Then at age 17, after learning typing and stenography in night school, she landed a job at a Volkswagen dealership. But mentally, all was not well.
“I thought all my efforts were in vain and you think life is never going to change.”
She says she spiraled into a deep depression and tried to end it in an idling car in a closed garage until, a little girl walked in and asked her what she was doing.
“I still remember her cropped hair, short dress and I stopped the motor immediately and told her I'm going to wash my car and opened the garage door, and all of a sudden she skipped off blissfully unaware that she had just saved my life.”
Vivianne says she never found out who the little girl was, but that it was the miracle she needed to start down a brighter path, one that led her to the love of her life.
“At the age of 20, a man walked in, he bought a Porsche and he became my husband.
She and Wiland had two children, moved to Cincinnati. She ran a marathon, learned to fly a plane. They retired in La Jolla and then became U.S. citizens.
“I remember how emotional I got, you know, when they welcomed me in this country.”
But her trials weren't over.
“When I became 70 years old, it's like I stepped into my power, my real power. I became who I was supposed to be. I understood life, then I was hit with cancer.”
Stage one breast cancer, but Vivianne says by then, she had learned how to respond.
“I'll tell you Virginia, the moment I had this positive attitude, I felt a shift,” she recalls. “Life became more intense, more vivid, more beautiful. You know you realize how precious life is.”
She says, “Looking back I'm glad I had to go through all that to learn and grow and become who I am.”
Vivianne has been cancer-free for almost eight years. She says she knows finding the beauty in all the ugliness she endured may seem easy from the refuge of her beautiful home with her husband and rescue cat Max now by her side, but Vivianne says in the end, it's not about material things.
“These are transient pleasures, but how you are inside, what you feel inside that is forever. That's eternal.”
There is much more including how Vivianne's husband recently survived a heart emergency.
It’s all in the two books she has written. The first one, Rubble to Champagne, is about her life and the second one, out now as an e-book and on store shelves in October, is called, Lessons Learned about Life and Love.