Today I celebrate 21 years since finishing treatment for my first cancer. Two weeks ago, I celebrated the end of treatment for my third cancer. I guess June will be a month of celebrations and recognition going forward.
When I walked out of the hospital, done with a grueling 13-month treatment that included inpatient chemo and a surgery replacing my femur and knee with titanium, I had no idea what life as a cancer survivor would bring. I simply desperately wanted to be a normal 22-year old young woman. But I was no longer a carefree normal young adult. I had learned more about myself, about life (and death) and much more in those long 13 months.
Every year for the past 21 years, I pause on this day to reflect, observe the lessons, give thanks. I promised myself, when I was 21 years old, that when I finished and thrived after treatment, I would help others facing this disease and also find joy in each day.
I admit to being bitter, angry, sad, broken and more at times since that first cancer diagnosis. Heck I had “a moment” the other day. But I couldn’t imagine spending the past 21 years lost in those emotions. It’s not how I function nor survive. I can’t get stuck in the ‘why’ because it’s an endless circle of unanswered questions. Because then cancer would win. And while there is breath in this body, I will not let cancer take my smile, courage or determination to enjoy this precious life. I have fought too hard, my dad fought too hard, others fight too hard, for me to let negative energy rule my life. Cancer will never rule my world. It does not define me.
While cancer does not define me, it has significantly impacted my outlook on life. I have been a cancer survivor longer than I have not. It is the one thing I think of daily. And, yes it has devastated my life many times, forcing me to pick up pieces and put them together differently. The reality is, as a three time cancer survivor, my life would be completely different without cancer.
I wanted to take a moment to thank the disease that changed my life. I know some, maybe many, think it ridiculous to thank a disease that forced my body to fight it three times with toxins, surgery and more; a disease that robbed my family of my dad; that touched my sister and so many other family and friends. Make no mistake, I have no fond feelings for this disease. None. Zero. Yet, I have learned so much as a cancer survivor. As daughter who lost her dad to cancer. As a big sister who was crushed learning about her sister’s cancer. As a family member and friend to others.
We are not friends, nor ever will be. You are a bully, butt in where you’re not wanted, need to be the center of attention, and wreak havoc. I do not like these qualities. I do not like when you appear in my life and would like to say never appear again. I know you tried to crush me many time, but you did not and will not. You instead taught me so much, about myself, others, the world around me. Thank you for the lessons. There have been many.
I appreciate so many simple things – sunshine, fresh air, hair on my head, a healthy immune system, bright flowers, walking on my own two legs, each moment that brings a smile, waking up.
I value and love this body that has cleared cancer three times! When it has been beaten down, and even lost a bone to you, my body rebuilds its strength. It is not perfect looking, but it is courageous and determined.
You taught me to love and appreciate each day, to seek a smile, laughter or hug at least once each day.
You knocked me down many times. And when you tried to keep me down, you showed me how to pull myself off the floor, stand tall, dig deep inside for strength, motivation, awareness, courage and self-love.
Thank you for reminding me to choose for myself. Whether it comes to love in a relationship, career, friends, passions, goals and more, I need to choose what/who makes me happy and fills me with joy and love. There is no time to settle, no value in being someone’s second choice. Life is much too short to do otherwise.
I am grateful for the many people who enter my life, even for a few moments. Those who share stories that touch my heart, and especially those who fill my heart. Cancer, you taught me about supporting, loving, encouraging, motivating and being there for others, and letting others do the same for me. I have so many dear friends thanks to you, other cancer survivors and people who are kind and caring.
You motivate me to push myself to try new activities, explore the world around me, open my mind and laugh whenever possible.
You taught me to advocate for myself, to stand up for myself and what I believe in, and being comfortable in my own skin.
You broke my heart when my dad died from your disease, and in doing that, you woke my passion and strengthened my determination to help others. I will advocate and fight against you every day to end your impact on our communities, to work hard so my nieces and nephew, and future generations, never hear those fateful words “you have cancer.”
You remind to embrace opportunities to help others, share my story, advocate whenever I can.
You built my reserve of courage and determination – when I get nervous trying a new activity, going on a date, interviewing for a job, I remind myself that I survived you and nothing can compare to that.
Because of your darkness, I seek sunshine wherever I can, look for possibilities during challenges, turn tears into smiles.
I appreciate your lessons of opening up to the unexpected, whether love, opportunities, activities, trips and more. I learned that being open to the road less traveled brings amazing joys and lessons.
I learned to open my heart, throw my arms wide open and release barriers to whatever, whomever and wherever life may lead me. I’m excited and optimistic for this next journey and I thank you, cancer, for bringing me to this open heart and mind.
Oh cancer, you have tested, pushed, knocked me down, punched me in the gut, almost broke me emotionally, physically and mentally. Yet, you also woke my passion, courage, motivation, drive to help others, my heart and soul.
Today, I thank you, cancer, for the positive, love, laughter, road maps and people that you brought into my life. And, while I thank you for the lessons, I also warn you to be ready. I’m going to kick your ass.