Today is World Cancer Day. Unless you’ve been stuck under a rock today (which if you were, I’m terribly sorry and I hope you got help quickly and were unharmed) but otherwise, you probably know this.World Cancer Day.org
(Quick disclaimer- this is a long post- brace yourselves)
My encounters with cancer have been fairly often, but somewhat removed. My Grandma had Leukemia (cancer which attacks blood cells) before I was born, and she lived through it. She would mention it here and there, but we have never really had any in depth talks about it. My Great Grandma (who I will post about again soon because she’s probably the coolest person I know ever, in all of life) had breast cancer and Melanoma (skin cancer)- and lived. My Grandfather on my other side of the family died of Pancreatic Cancer. While most wouldn’t call this ‘removed’ it came on pretty quickly, and he lived far away so I didn’t have the first hand experience of watching it all unfold.
So today, on World Cancer Day, I want to honor the stories and lives of those who have fought to tell the story of
cancer life, whether they are here to tell of it themselves or not.
My best friend who I met in college, has lost her uncle and her father to cancer. I didn’t know her yet when her uncle died of Leukemia at the age of 34. But I knew her dad, and her family. I watched them fight through this experience, this life changing event and it was so foreign and yet felt so close to me. I watched my friend go back home for the weekend instead of go out like the rest of our peers were, or go to the hospital everyday after classes or work, I watched her grow into who she is today- before my very eyes. While her dad was going through some very serious treatments for Renal Cell Carcinoma (a form of kidney cancer), she managed to keep up good grades in college, and managed to graduate just 10 months after her dad passed. When I asked her how old he was when he passed she said; “He was 49 years old, he couldn’t fathom the fact that he would be turning 50.” She is one of the strongest people I know, being able to bring humor into possibly the hardest situation of her life. I think she got that from her dad. I asked her to describe her dad in one sentence she said: “It’s hard to describe my dad in one sentence. He was a lot of things. He had such a great personality and outlook, on even the worst situation. It rubbed off on people.” (FACT: It rubbed off on her)
I also asked her if she had to give advice to someone in the position she was in what would she say. She said; “My piece of advice would be to be patient. Nothing ever happens when you think/want or are told it’s going to happen. You might need to see 4 doctors, and try 10 different medications before you find what works. Also, be there for the other person in whatever way you can. They have it a lot worse than you.”
I have watched their family carry on his name, his memory, and his legacy in one of the most beautiful displays of love I have ever seen. And for that, I am thankful to them, and to Rich.
(This quote is from Mitch Albom‘s Five People You Meet in Heaven– which I hightly recommend)
My next story is not mine at all, it belongs to my friend Chrissie. A girl who I met in college who was diagnosed with brain cancer this past summer. I’m not going to say much more about her story beside the questions you see me ask below, because no one can tell it better than her- and she does a damn good job.
Without further ado, my friend Chrissie:
So how did you discover you had cancer to begin with, I mean you’re a healthy, active female in your 20’s (she’s 24 to be exact).
I had been having headaches and a sharp pain in the back of my head for about a month. Finally, something told me to see my doctor. She didn’t seem to be too concerned, but sent me for an MRI anyway. We both thought it would just be a migraine disorder. One hour after the MRI, my doctored called and said I needed to get to the ER immediately for more tests because she could see a huge mass in a dangerous spot. Long story short, I barley had any spinal fluid left and I had surgery the next day. The surgeon told my mom he didn’t know if I’d survive. It was on July 23, that the biopsy results came back the tumor was malignant… Meaning brain cancer.
How would you describe yourself as a person who was diagnosed with cancer? Especially at such a young age.
Cancer does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. BUT I am still Chrissie. I am still a daughter, friend, granddaughter etc…. Cancer does not own me or define who I am. It cannot take away who you are.
“Cancer does not own me or define who I am. It cannot take away who you are.”
What was your first thought when you heard the results? I can’t imagine what would be rushing through my head at that point?
I knew by the look on the Oncologist’s face when he walked in what he was going to say. My mom dropped to her knees and cried. I just stared at him like he was crazy. I thought, ‘This could not be happening.’ Then I just broke down. I was still recovering from major surgery and in immense pain and then I got this bomb dropped. Ironically, as my doctor was walking out of my room my pastor walked in. I took it as a sign from God that I had to fight and that I was going to make it through. But I was still terrified.
Besides your faith- what gives you the hope/strength/motivation to fight through all this?
I could have easily said ‘no’ to treatment and just given up- but I wanted to be an example. It took some time to find the hope, strength, and motivation to fight. I was mad at the world. I couldn’t walk without a walker. I couldn’t even shower alone. Then I started radiation, and I saw this little girl being taken away for her treatment. And it was then I decided I needed to fight and be as positive as possible to be an example for others. I’ve said all along if I can have just one person look at me and say “She did it, she fought- so I will too” then this is all worth it, and I’d do it over again.
“If I can have just one person look at me and say “She did it, she fought- so I will too” then this is all worth it, and I’d do it over again.”
(WHOLE BODY GOOSE BUMPS RIGHT NOW.)
Ok can you kind of explain to me your path of treatment?
Well my Oncologist chose Proton Radiation Therapy. Proton Radiation Therapy is different than regular radiation in that it only targets the spot where the cancer is so that the rest of your body isn’t getting hit with radiation. I also had a spinal tap because the cancer cells could have dropped down into my spine during surgery but those results came back clear which meant I would not need chemo, just radiation. So I went 5 days a week for 6 weeks.
So outside of maybe some of the more obvious ways, how would you say having/fighting/beating cancer has changed/affected your life?
While I may be healed physically, I still deal with the emotional aspects of it all. Because it all happened so fast, I really didn’t have time to process. So that is happening now. It completely changed me. It showed me that I am strong, that I am a fighter, and the thing it did the most was show me how much love I have in my life. I cherish every moment that I get to spend with a loved one now more then ever. I say; ‘I love you’ every chance I get. And I just feel so thankful to be able to say I fought and I won.
‘And I just feel so thankful to be able to say ‘I fought and I won.’
Seems like it really was a fast process, how long were you dealing with everything as far as doctor’s visits and treatments and that sort of thing?
Since being told it was a tumor on July 17th until October 4th 2013, when treatment ended. During that time I’d have to meet with my Radiologist every week. And I had a nurse coming to my mom’s house, where I had to move in. I also needed physical therapy twice a week. Now, I need to have follow up MRI’s of my brain and spine every 3 months for 2 years.
What is one myth you would say you have heard or felt you experienced/lived through regarding cancer?
You always hear that cancer will ruin your life. That it’ll defeat you. Take away everything you love. That myth is not true. Yes, cancer is extremely daunting and scary and so hard to cope with but it cannot control you unless you let it. I chose right away I would not let it define me. I don’t want people to look at me and immediately think cancer. I want them to see me. My heart. Who I am. Cancer is just something you go through. It’s NOT who you are.
“Cancer is just something you go through. It’s NOT who you are.”
What would you tell supporters of people who have been diagnosed/survivors?
I would say allow yourself to feel every emotion. Good, bad, and ugly. If you don’t and you bottle it up….pretend like it’s not happening, it will eat you alive. My advice would be to always live in the moment. It’s all we really have. Tell the ones you love, that you do and seek help or therapy if you need it. There is no shame it that. Most importantly, always believe you CAN beat cancer. No matter what the odds are. Miracles happen every day.
What would a piece of practical advice be? Like something that helped you feel better?
Taking walks once I was able was the best way to get out and clear my head. Also, self-help books with inspiring quotes are great to read before bed, or first thing in the morning. Also, if you feel as though something is not right in your body see your doctor right away.
For more about Chrissie’s story you can check out her blog.
Many, many, many thanks to my friends and my heroes Danielle & Chrissie and the many more I don’t have listed, or who I’ve yet come to know- who have or are fighting this battle themselves, or alongside someone they love. Thank you for your candid honesty, and your willingness to share your journey. Most of all, I respect your strength, grace, and will to fight on. Cheers to you.