Nine Lessons I Have Learned as a Cancer Survivor

It’s National Cancer Survivors’ Day. There are so many of us that have defied the statistics and are still here.

Here are some things that I have learned over the years:

1.)  I have learned about the kindness of strangers. Truly.  Most people are kind, especially in the world that is cancer.  I was told to stay off the internet after being diagnosed (too much scary info), but I knew I needed support. I went looking for it online because “in-person” support is lacking in my immediate community.

The kindness of strangers shaped how I handled and navigated my diagnosis from the beginning. Those ladies shared information at all hours of the day and night by telling me to become knowledgeable about my disease, telling me that clinical trials are not a last resort (they are often a “first resort” as mine was), telling me that it’s possible to live with cancer, etc.

I believe with my whole heart that I would not still be here without their unselfish sharing of information during the early days of my diagnosis and their willingness to continue to share information today. This is one of the “positives” of social media – being able to connect with others. I try to give back and share as much as I can.

2.)  The medical community can only do so much.  I learned early on in my diagnosis, thanks to the advice of others, to plug in and participate in my healthcare as well by:

Talking to other survivors.
Learning about reliable research about the disease.
Being knowledgeable about the disease, know how it behaves, and learn what treatments might work.
Engaging in respectful conversation with the oncologist.

For additional information on questions to ask your oncologist, please click here.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m just too stubborn to let cancer take my life.

3.)  I have learned who my “real” friends are and that’s o.k.  It sucks to have cancer and it sucks to watch someone go through it. There’s no rule book on how to handle all of it so when people exit my life, I harbor no ill will.
I will, however, offer those people my support should they need it in the future because dealing with a chronic disease can be lonely.

4.)  I have learned what truly matters and what does not. I am blessed to have the consistent support of my sweetie and my son. It must really suck to see me day in and day out and not be able to “fix” the cancer. A lot of people do not have this kind of support or their support goes away which is very sad.  My “to do” list can wait because I’d rather enjoy the simple things like taking a walk at the harbor, going to a Sox game,or enjoying a home-cooked meal with loved ones.

Heck, I even threw in a Boston Marathon two years ago and was the very last to finish but I didn’t care because I finished that darn course and got the same medal as everyone else.

 

5.)  I have learned that statistics are just that – silly numbers.  I’m more than a statistic and I have proven the statistics wrong.

6.)  Life is much too short to NOT enjoy it.

Cancer may sap my strength, sleep, and appetite but it has never taken my hope.

7.) Although I am terribly introverted, I enjoy being an advocate for the ovarian cancer community.
I am still finding my way to find my strengths in the advocate world but at the very least, what I enjoy most is sharing my story with new medical professionals.  This gives me the hope they will diagnose ovarian cancer at earlier stages when women come to them looking for answers for the symptoms they have.

I’m in there, I promise!

Sen. Collins and myself (2019)

On a whim and because some other survivors talked me into this, “introverted me” ended up on Capitol Hill for the first time in 2012 to share my story and ask for MILLIONS of dollars for research and awareness campaigns.
Little did I know that I would continue to go back again and again after that very first time.
I have learned that going to Capitol Hill and maintaining a relationship with the offices of my elected officials really does make a difference.
I am often the only person in Maine advocating for research dollars for ovarian cancer but I am blessed to be able to rally others across multiple states (including Maine) who are willing to reach out to their elected officials’ offices as well to make a difference.

8.)  ALL RESEARCH MATTERS and ALL RESEARCH CAN HELP MULTIPLE CANCERS because of commonalities in cell types, pathways, proteins, etc. (it’s not just about the location of the cancer anymore).

9.) And perhaps most of all, I have learned that there is a “new” normal after cancer and it’s ever-changing.
It does not mean that my life is any better or worse than before cancer; it’s just that it is different and it winds down a different path.
I have many more physical scars from the multiple surgeries.
My belly button moves a bit after each surgery.
I have a “front butt” thanks to the surgeries (that surgical cut down the front creates “cheeks” on either side when the incision is closed).
My hairstyles have changed through the years not necessarily because I like to change it up but because of chemotherapy and its side effects.
Right now, my current look mimics John Madden’s ‘do from back-in-the-day. It’s the best I can do right now and that is o.k.
I may not be able to do some things that I was able to do before cancer like go non-stop for hours and hours whether it’s walking, working in the yard, working too many hours at my job, etc.
I need to rest more but that’s totally o.k. I just take life at a slower pace now and I’m happy with that.
It’s just all a part of the “new” normal.

I just keep on keepin’ on because it is what I know how to do.

 

 

 

 

Advocate Leaders 2019

Front row: Diane Riche (ovariancancer101.org and OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for Massachusetts), Frieda Weeks (hopeforheather.org and OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for New York), Shannon Routh (tealdiva.org and OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for North Carolina)
Second row: Jill Tanner (OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for Kentucky) , Melissa Kritzell (OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for Ohio), Terri Gerace (OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for Louisiana)
Back row: me (OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for Maine), Kathleen Maxian (ovariancancerproject.org and OCRA 2019 Advocate Leader for New York)

For more information on ovarian cancer resources, check out:

TealDiva.org

OvarianCancer101.org

HopeForHeather.org

OvarianCancerProject.org

ORCAHope.org

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