It's now been more than 19 years since I finished treatment for bone cancer; since I walked out of the hospital, on my own two legs, bald and skinny. Alive. I still vividly recall breathing in the fresh air, lifting my face to the sunshine….and bursting into tears. Tears of relief at being done with the hell treatment, tears of anxiety at what my new life would be, tears of joy at being alive.
I had no idea what my new life as a cancer survivor would bring. I was 22, on the cusp of starting my adult life. Worried about a career, wondering if any guy would like me as a cancer survivor, anxious to figure out what activities I might be able to participate in, ready to “feel healthy” again. I really wanted to get in a car, head home and never think about cancer again.
But that wouldn’t happen. Because I am a cancer survivor. Thankfully. And while I admit I spent several months post-treatment trying to move away from my cancer journey and pretend I was my pre-cancer young adult self, the blunt reality was that cancer had changed me. Good and bad. And so I had to figure out how to embrace the new me and my new life. The past 19 years have been full of challenges and accomplishments. Heartache and laughter. Disappointments and fun surprises. Sitting on the couch and exploring the world. I’ve been…..well, living life.
A fellow cancer survivor and I recently discussed how cancer has affected our lives. In so many ways. Most significantly, it’s the one thing we think about every single day. It’s of course hard to forget I had cancer. If the memories of weeks of chemo and the harsh side effects weren’t so vividly embedded in my brain, the titanium rod acting as my left femur and part of my tibia provide a daily attention grab.
But each day is about so much more than my story. I think of my dad’s fight with the disease and never-closed hole in my heart as I miss him. I think of Sara, Josh, Mikki, Alex, David, Michael, Chuck, Travis and too many others who don’t get to breathe in fresh air or feel the sun warm their faces. I think of Andrea, Terry, Jeff, Amy, Samantha, Lauryn, Cassandra, Kay, Mary, Jonny, Elizabeth, Luke, Tim and millions more who also appreciate life after facing cancer.
When I am scared or nervous to do something or share my emotions with someone, I remember I faced cancer. Nothing can scare me more. I have stared at a monster, fallen down terrified, and stood up to stare back. Cancer has taught me to search for the good in my life and in those who I welcome into my life.
My life has been so influenced and changed by cancer. How can it not be? It struck me recently that I have almost lived longer as a cancer survivor than not. Yes, I am blessed. Forever grateful. Because cancer brought me:
Courage. Strength. Opportunities. Laughter. Friends. Motivation. Gratitude. Awareness. Kindness. Appreciation. Joy. Achievement. LOVE.
Some of the best lessons:
- Do not let life pass you by. Enjoy every day.
- Share your gratitude by helping others.
- Do not turn away from love, even if it doesn’t lead to the path you intended. It doesn’t mean that path is wrong. Embrace every opportunity for love in your life.
- Know when to let go of the wrong people and hold tight to the right people.
- Feel joy, every day. Share joy.
- Breathe in the fresh air, breathe out your fears, hesitations and regret.
- Open your heart and mind to the possibilities a new day brings.
- Sing. No matter who is listening. Sing. Dance. Laugh.