National Cancer Survivors Day is a pretty big time for me, as this is the period of time each year where I can hopefully declare myself to be another year free from cancer. Back in 2011, I had just finished my 4 rounds of EP protocol chemotherapy at the end of May, and was getting post-chemotherapy CT scans right around this date. That scan didn't come back clear. I had a residual mass leftover, and chose to go through the RPLND surgery up at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. I finally got my first official all clear on July 1, 2011, after all pathological findings from the lymph-node dissection surgery came back negative.
As I look back on 5 years of cancer survivorship, I've started to see from a higher level just how much I've evolved every year since cancer. We evolve constantly throughout our lives, perhaps too slowly to notice on a year-to-year basis, but we're always evolving. Having cancer as a young adult is a massive accelerator for that evolution. Not only are we challenged to evolve past the significant physical and mental challenges that cancer leaves in its wake, but I know so many of us feel this accelerated need and rush to evolve into the people we were meant to become, and to finally do the things that we were meant to do, when we realize that our lives might be on a short clock. There's a rush to find purpose and meaning in our lives, and a rush to experience life and the world around us. People tend to take notice of the drive and determination that we have, and this is where it comes from.
We're creatures of habit, though. We hold onto what we know, even when it hurts us. Not every element of our lives before cancer are going to fit in our post-cancer lives, so don't be afraid to take that first step in a new direction. Comfort zones are nice, but nothing ever grows there. The first step in evolving yourself after cancer, is to decide that you're going to evolve. You don't even have to know how, you just have to decide that you're going to. Jumping off of a cliff is about what that first step can feel like. I've made figurative leaps like these more than a few times now, and afterwards, every single time, I've always asked myself why I hadn't jumped sooner? Continually evolving myself after cancer has been my path towards a better and more fulfilling life.
"Some days, the best we can do is to simply survive,
and nothing else. Celebrate Life!"
How many days were there when the best I could do was sit in a corner in tears, because I was so afraid and hurting so badly inside? That's still called surviving, and is still worthy of celebration. It can be a long and difficult road from survival to thriving, but it was because of my strong desire to evolve, move past what life had thrown at me, and not being afraid to take that what became many "first steps," that I've gotten to where I am today. I'm not afraid of cancer anymore, I no longer live my life in fear while watching over my shoulder, and no longer suffer from posttraumatic stress, either! I've come a long ways since the days of sitting in that corner a lot.
"There is life after cancer – it is beautiful, it is meaningful, and it is something to celebrate." - National Cancer Survivors Day
I have a lot of bad memories through this time of year, so we've always tried to do something fun and memorable to help overwrite those dark times. This year, my rain-delayed annual summer kickoff color party that I normally hold on the weekend before Memorial Day, just happened to fall on the same weekend as NCSD. My wife and I have both been under a tremendous amount of stress lately due to an external situation in our lives, so it was a nice way to just forget everything else that's been going on for awhile, and have a great time. Don't be afraid of what happened yesterday, and try not to worry about what could happen tomorrow. Be present in life, and enjoy each day. The next day? Repeat. :-)
There is life after cancer, it is beautiful, it is meaningful, and it is something to celebrate. Simply celebrate that you're here if that's the best you can do, but don't be afraid to take those first steps towards evolving yourself after cancer, so that you can find your way out of that corner, and experience the joy and the beauty that life has to offer you.
Happy NCSD to all!