It was five years ago today that I was diagnosed with cancer, and on this day, February 14th, 2016, I’m officially a five year survivor of cancer.
I know that most people will think that something that happened five years ago was an eternity ago, but when you’ve been living with the aftermath of cancer every single day, it was only just yesterday that this happened, the blink of an eye ago. Five years after cancer is a huge milestone to have reached not just from a clinical perspective, but from a personal one as well, as these have been the most challenging years of my life. Just getting through the rigorous twenty-six follow-up appointments that have been required to get to this point has been a story by itself, when your whole life and future is on the line with every scan.
These years after cancer have been a truly humbling experience. Not a single aspect has been easy, and I've struggled in every possible way that one can struggle. My own body had terrified me and frustrated me in so many ways. It took me years just to feel safe in my own skin again, and I had to put everything I had into getting my body back physically. I struggled with my mind, trying to cope with periods of depression from having seen so many changes in my life so suddenly, and with post-traumatic stress from painful memories that had haunted me. I struggled spiritually, trying to find ways to overcome my fears, to release the pain that I had felt inside, and to make peace with the past so that I could keep moving forward in life.
I'm not the same person that I was five years ago. I’ve crashed and burned to the ground hard three times in these past five years, not just from the shock of a cancer diagnosis as a young adult, but from all of the struggles to evolve and grow into life after cancer. That’s three times since being diagnosed with cancer, that I've felt completely shattered and broken inside, and have had to give up so much of what I'd believed about life, and start over. One doesn't simply do an about face on decades of programming and expectations about life in an instant. It takes time measured in years to heal and evolve, to slowly let go of the old, and to finally grow into our post-cancer realities.
There have been some very dark times and some dark moments through these past few years. There was an entire year where I couldn't be around anybody at all, except those that I had the utmost faith and trust in, because I constantly felt so vulnerable and threatened from always being under the gun of relentless scans and follow-up appointments. There were certainly some things that I wished I could have handled better than I did, and not everything worked out quite as I'd hoped, but I know in my heart that I was always doing the very best that I could, even when it wasn't enough. I was very lost for a time, but never lost myself. Instead I found myself, with the help of the right friends, the right people, and the right souls in my life to help guide me, and I've learned and evolved so much. If you haven't known me in the past few years, you're going to have to get to know me all over again.
Being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer at age 33 was a wake-up call that nothing is forever, and that there are no guarantees in life for anybody. Life after cancer is the time to get busy living, and I've enjoyed life more each year since cancer than I had in all of my previous years combined. That's a whole lot of living and enjoyment of life in a few short years. I love so much more deeply than I ever have, and have learned to never stop believing in yourself. I've come to appreciate the true power of friendships, and the importance of self-love and forgiveness. You can't give to others what you don't have for yourself, and life and our time here is far too precious to waste it holding onto grudges, resentment, and disappointments from the past. I've come to love and appreciate even those that had hurt me in the past. We all have a purpose, and roles to play in each others lives. Every single last person in my life over these past few years has made a difference in mine in ways both large and small that's helped to get me where I am today, even if we were only a part of each other's lives for a short time, and even if we had caused each other pain. We cancer survivors take nothing for granted. Love is good for the soul, and I will forever love and be grateful to those that helped to get me through such a distressing period of my life.
As I reach five years of cancer survivorship, I'm very proud of all that I've achieved, the manner in which I've been able to heal, and the ways in which I've been able to give back. I continue to be active in numerous support groups and non-profit organizations for those fighting cancer today, and the writing that I do has been shared and spread by the most prominent cancer advocacy organizations in the world, helping it to reach hundreds of thousands of people. It's been no small feat to bare my soul to the world in such a way, but doing so has helped me to heal, and has uplifted countless others as well. It's something to be very proud of.
The burden of cancer has been a terrible thing to have to learn to carry as a young adult. My life today is very different than it was before, and so much evolution in a few short years has been beyond painful, but I wouldn't trade all of this personal growth and the new perspective on life that I've gained for anything. This new life that I've built for myself after cancer, complete with all of its unique challenges, has become far more than a consolation prize or silver lining. It's a truly beautiful golden lining that I've finally learned to fully accept and embrace, and I wouldn't have things any other way.
Special thanks to my wife, Debbie. From Day 1 of this journey 5 years ago, you've always been there, have never left my side, have never stopped loving me, and never gave up on me, even when I know there's times you wanted to. You kept going, for me, for us, for our love, and for our family, despite all of the pain and frustration that this has caused both of us. Thanks for having brought so much love and joy into my life, and for never giving up on me. I'm eternally grateful, and forever yours.
Your song to me...