When you hear the words “it’s cancer” (or whatever your doctor said to change the course of your life), there are a lot of emotions and thoughts that collide in the seconds, hours, days, months that follow this news.
I first heard a variation of those words when I was 21, three months shy of graduating from college. The annoying, sort of ongoing ache in my left knee turned out to be osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. Thirteen months of intense chemotherapy and a surgery that replaced my femur, knee and upper tibia with titanium followed.
A few years later I heard the words again when a changing mole came back melanoma. I received another call a few weeks ago when breast cancer appeared in a routine mammogram (read how I’m facing this cancer).
It’s no less startling to hear the news a third time as it was the first, and second, time. This time though I don’t feel the panic and uncertainty of not knowing what’s happening. I, of course, still have many questions and concerns. Cancer is scary no matter how early it’s found or what your treatment plan is. However, it’s different than my first diagnosis. I honestly feel more frustrated and impatient to face this again, to pause my life and fight a disease that keeps poking its head into my journey. But I also feel more courageous, focused and ready to battle this with all of the strength, poise, love and determination that I can muster. Perhaps because I’m older and have lived as a cancer survivor for the past 22 years. Maybe because I’ve been a cancer advocate since then, learning about different cancers, treatments and resources. I feel a little more prepared with my arsenal of resources, a super smart care team working on my behalf, and amazing army of family and friends standing beside me.
There are thousands of resources focused on helping cancer survivors, caregivers and others affected by the disease, way more than when I went through bone cancer treatment. Some are fantastic and really helpful. Some are focused on specific diseases, ages, gender, etc. It can be overwhelming to know where to turn so I wanted to share some of my favorite cancer resources to help you get started.
LIVESTRONG – This organization has been supporting cancer survivors and caregivers for over 20 years, providing Navigation Services to guide you through all chapters of cancer (from diagnosis to treatment and after), fitness programs at the YMCA, fertility assistance, awareness programs at schools, advocacy to keep cancer a priority in our government and more. The Guidebook and Journal are among my favorite resources offered to survivors and caregivers. I’m honored to be a LIVESTRONG Leader volunteer in Michigan, ride with Team LIVESTRONG, represent the organization in Washington, DC and more. Clearly, I wholeheartedly believe in their mission, programs and services.
Imerman Angels – Providing one on one support for people affected by cancer is the core mission of this organization, founded by a young adult cancer survivor from Michigan. Imerman Angels helps connect people at various stages of their cancer treatment with someone who has completed the treatment (ideally same cancer, age range and treatment). I’ve been a mentor for this organization as a bone cancer survivor and met some amazing other survivors.
American Cancer Society – For more than 100 years, the ACS has provided education, support, research and more to people affected by cancer. Their research has led to important advancements in treatment and prevention. From specific cancers to clinical trials to what it is to be caregiver, ACS provides in-depth information on all phases of diagnosis and survivorship. There are a variety of local programs available, including help with lodging during treatment, rides to treatment and more.
Camp Mak-A-Dream – This organization in Montana will forever be in my heart. It’s the first place I attended as a cancer survivor, introducing me to other young adult cancer survivors and reminding me that my new post-cancer life could be as spectacular as I made it (I also fell madly in love with the mountains, as it’s nestled in the mountains of Montana). Offering age-appropriate sessions for children, teens and young adult cancer survivors, both in and out of treatment, the cost-free camp provides an amazing opportunity to meet others, participate in helpful workshops and simply play (swim, hike, archery, art, and more) and enjoy life.
SAMFund for Young Adults with Cancer – The founder, Samantha, is a friend who I met years ago at a young adult survivors conference, when her idea was blooming for this foundation to support young adult cancer survivors through financial scholarships and more. The foundation has provided more than $1.7 million in support to young adults since its inception, helping survivors with costs related to fertility, college, housing, doctor bills, insurance, and more.
National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship – NCCS advocates for quality cancer care for everyone touched by the disease. When I was diagnosed with bone cancer 20 years ago, NCCS was my go-to organization. Their resources covered survivorship issues, employment rights, becoming an advocate and more. I found much relief in learning all that I did after treatment. Today, they focus more on policy and advocacy, ensuring cancer survivors have a voice in educating government agencies and policymakers on the need for quality care through all aspects of cancer.
Triage Cancer – This nonprofit offers a range of cancer survivorship education. Helpful education pieces, webinars and conferences on topics of interest to survivors and caregivers include employment, estate planning, health insurance options and more.
*In the spirit of being real, I’m a volunteer for LIVESTRONG and ACS Cancer Action Network, and former employee of Camp Mak-A-Dream and a Cancer Support Community affiliate. No compensation for including these, simply love what they offer to the cancer community.