Cancer Made Me Who I Am

“We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.” – Anonymous

When asked to speak about my experience with cancer, I often struggle to find the right words. There is so much to say and sometimes there aren't words for the emotions attached. I often tell others, "Cancer was the worst thing that happened to me and the best.”  This always earns a few odd glances and questioning stares. But truthfully, as with every situation in life, there are positives and negatives associated with my cancer journey. Reflecting back, I realize I have come so far and learned so much since that first moment when my entire life changed…

Fear. Sudden fear as a new diagnosis seems to go in one ear and out the other. At that moment, time stopped and I truly didn't want to process what had just left my doctor’s mouth. Not only was I young and healthy, I was eating right and working out. What had I done wrong? What did I do to deserve this? I thought it couldn’t get any worse.  Then, I learned my best treatment option -- a hysterectomy. As a 32-year-old, healthy woman, I cried a lot. I sobbed at the thought of never having the family I imagined I would some day. I recall thinking that in today's society we spend so much of life trying to avoid pregnancy. Then, the moment when you find out it’s no longer an option, your whole world comes crashing down. But, I willed myself to fight. And fight I did.

I was able to pull myself together, begin working again, get back to the gym, and restart my commitment to clean eating.  I even took a trip with four of my girlfriends to Las Vegas to show cancer that I was boss. We celebrated overcoming my first hurdle and things were looking up.

That was cancer fight number one. Little did I know, a second, unrelated cancer diagnosis was on its way. Six months after my first diagnosis, I had to hear those words again – “it’s cancer.”

Hurdles, it seems, like to plant themselves in my way. Finding a positive attitude and seeing the silver lining was much more difficult the second time around.  I found myself crying while in the bathroom so the nurses and doctors wouldn't hear me. In the beginning, simply getting out of bed was a hurdle on its own. Knowing what day it was, what time it was… those were hurdles as well. Beating cancer? That was the biggest hurdle.

I so vividly remember those moments of trying to hold back tears. My entire being was filled with fear of the unspeakable. I desperately wanted to keep it together for my loved ones who were supporting me, but the weight of my cancer often broke me down. Time stood still in those first few months after my second diagnosis and made an imprint in my soul.

I’ve come to learn that hurdles bring you out of the dark places you try to hide. Overcoming a hurdle, even one as small as getting out of bed, sparks a light inside you. One light, one flicker of hope, is all it takes to start focusing on the good and building the fight within you.

Am I glad I had cancer? The short answer is no. But I am who I am because of cancer. This was my path and the one I was meant to live. I feel fortunate and grateful to be here, telling my story. Today, I am four years out of my second cancer and five years out of my first cancer. I am in remissionThere is no "cure" so the more years that pass, the better. I will never have as much energy as I once did, but I have learned to respect my body and to rest when I'm tired. Prior to cancer I was always pushing myself, even when my body was screaming for rest.  Overall, I feel healthy and as if my new normal is fitting for who I am today.

As time goes on, the bad days are more spread out. It’s becoming easier and easier to think positively and take control of my outlook. When I have those difficult, can’t get out of bed days, I think about the family I've created with my husband and the child in my life who calls me mom.