It’s been one year.
I can never forget THAT call. The one I received while the movers were busily packing up all my family’s belongings. The one that shocked me to my core and changed my life course. The one that made me utter the words “Carcinoma. Wait, can you spell that for me?” The one that stole the story I was creating.
Friends, you learn a lot about yourself when you are tested. You learn that strength and tenacity come out of nowhere. You learn that you CAN get back up after a devastating blow. You also learn that you will have moments when darkness creeps in and the unpleasant thoughts take over. You learn how to cope and how to keep moving forwards.
Some days it seems like a dream, like I’m walking in someone else’s reality. 365 days ago, cancer snuck in and took center stage in my life. I didn’t invite it and it changed everything.
Today I am cancer-free–well, as much as one can be for a disease for which has no cure. When I met with my general practitioner for the first time a few months ago, I had to disclose my new medical history. While discussing my journey, she paused, looked me straight in the eyes, and said “you are more than just a cancer survivor.”
I’ve replayed that conversation in my mind over the last few months. I understand why she said that to me. I understand that she was encouraging me to remember that, before the diagnosis, I was just a normal woman leading an average life. What’s difficult for someone who has not walked in my shoes to understand, though, is how much that sentiment trivializes my journey.
What I should have responded with was this:
Before cancer, I lived without much fear. I believed that if I fueled my body with healthy foods and exercised regularly, I would live to be 100.
Before cancer, I envisioned the future milestones I would celebrate with my children: their graduations, their marriages, their expanding families, becoming a grandparent, and so forth.
Before cancer, I felt invincible. I could do anything.
Heck, I would LOVE to forget I had cancer. I would LOVE to continue moving forward and never cast a backwards glance at the ugliness of an incurable disease. I would LOVE to be more than a cancer survivor. But…
I AM A CANCER SURVIVOR. It’s as much a part of my identity as any body part.
Every day when I get dressed, I see the scar on my breast. It reminds me of a battle fought.
Every day when I put on my deodorant, I look at the scar under my arm. It reminds me of the lymph nodes they removed to check if the cancer spread.
Every day at 8:30am when my phone alarm goes off , I take my medicine. The pills are a daily reminder that cancer doesn’t always stop after surgery and radiation.
You see, cancer is not easy to forget. It doesn’t define me but it certainly affects my daily outlook.
After cancer, I understand that my body can betray me. I must remain vigilant against new growth.
After cancer, I take time to enjoy the little things because I understand clearly there are no guarantees. I WANT to be around for all the big events in my children’s life but I’m not controlling that script.
Most signifcantly, after cancer, I feel vulnerable. It’s that vulnerability that has provided me with the greatest perspective.
Every day is a gift. Every reaction and interaction I have can either lift someone up or drag someone down. I know that life is too precious to spend too much time being angry. I know that if I focus on all that is good and appreciate all that I’m given, I’m living more fully. More importantly, I’m living more happily.
So the good doctor was right, I am more than just a cancer survivor. I’m a fighter, life half-fuller, spread sunshiner, and every day appreciator because of cancer.