Survivorship Badge of Honor

Every time I say the phrase “I’m a cancer survivor,” I feel the weight of the whole experience. I feel the pain, the relief, the pride, the anger, the courage, the happiness, and the uncertainty. Just the other day I was giving blood (first time back since my treatment wrapped) and the lovely folks at the American Red Cross were having a tough time finding a good vein. “I’m a cancer survivor, my veins have been through a lot,” I explained. Translation: I’ve been through a lot.

To me, being a cancer survivor means a myriad of things and its meaning has evolved over time for me. At first, it meant that I had been through something that not many others have. It was like going off to battle, and coming back with a limp and terrible memories. I saw things very few have, I felt things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and I lived through a time of such intense anxiety it was almost paralyzing. I was confronted with my own mortality in a tangible way, and this set me apart from most people in my life.

As you can imagine, this is quite a lot to process. So when I first found out my cancer was gone, I immediately started seeing a therapist to help cope with the stress of the previous year. Because to me, the pain of the whole ordeal almost felt almost more intense after treatment had wrapped. It all came crashing down on me. I felt alone and isolated. I read in a cancer Survivorship book that surviving cancer is like being on a boat in the middle of the ocean with all of your friends and family on shore waiving for you to come in, but you’re unable. That’s exactly what it was to me. We celebrated me becoming a cancer survivor, but my relationship with it was complicated.

One of the challenges with becoming a survivor initially was processing the fact that I had survived when others had not. In fact, the day of my “clean scan party” I found out a woman I had been in treatment with had passed away. She left behind two children and a wonderful husband I had gotten to know in the waiting room of treatment. I remember seeing the information on Facebook earlier in the day and I almost wanted to cancel the party. I felt terrible and guilty for celebrating that I had survived, when she had not. I survived because my body responded to the treatment; I didn’t fight harder than she did. She fought even harder. I just got lucky. This didn’t sit well with me, and motivated me to ensure my cancer Survivorship was put to good use.

Once I had processed all of the complicated feelings I had with being a cancer survivor, I began to heal and come out of the shadows that the disease had cast on my life and my loved ones. I started to view myself as a warrior. A humble one, but a warrior nonetheless. I began to wear my Survivorship like a badge of honor and the most important step for me was starting to reach out to anyone I knew that was battling to offer my support. A very close family friend and a coworker were both diagnosed with breast cancer within a short time and my husband and I offered our support to help get them through.

Now, being a survivor comes with a responsibility to take care of others battling, and to help advance the conversation and medicine so fewer and fewer people have to go through it. It means getting involved with organizations like Cervivor that help women, and to eradicate the stigma of cervical cancer. It means keeping things in perspective, and to have empathy for people around you. Because really, you never know what people are going through on a daily basis. It means not taking life for granted, and for celebrating every birthday like it’s a huge milestone. Gray hairs? Bring them on! I cherish the idea of getting older.

Being a cancer survivor is scary and lonely, but it can be a powerful tool used to help people. My pain has turned into my power and this warrior is ready for anything. It’s Motivation Monday and I am #CervivorStrong!

Read Kate’s Cervivor story here.

Stressed Spelled Backwards Is Desserts

Do you know those moments in life where they hit you so strong  you will never forget it?  Moments that change your direction in life?  For me that moment was months before I was told I had cancer.  At the time I was living in McLean, VA and I was at my doctor’s office which was close by.  It was a follow-up after my annual exam and the exact words were “what did you do in the last year that stressed you out so much.”

Funny, I responded so nonchalant and said, “work”.  It didn’t even take the doctor a second to come back and say “find a new job.”  That was the appointment I was told I had HPV.   I had no clue what that meant except I was told that so many people had it and it was probably just lying dormant in my body waiting for the breakdown.  Imagine that, a dormant disease waiting for stress to weaken you just enough that it can begin battle.  It is like the tale of the Trojan Horse, an army waiting, hiding for their moment to concur.   I was completely ignorant to the stigma associated with HPV, well, at least until I told a family member and that was met with words so hurtful that I was speechless.  The days following led to a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP), a lot of reading, and many lectures on managing stress.

That was my moment.  Now, I can’t say I don’t stress.  I am human, it is part of life, but I can say I am much better at stepping back and minimizing stress.  My HPV resulted in cervical cancer and luckily it was caught early.  From the moment I was told I had HPV to the moment I was told I had cancer and then what I call the year of many surgeries, I took a step back and told myself to wake up and reprioritize.

Some people exercise, some change careers, some seek spiritual guidance; the list goes on, and on, and on.  Me? I bake cakes.  Cake decorating was a hobby that I enjoyed and I found that it was a great outlet for me.  Taking classes, learning new techniques, or simply painting on fondant.   It’s not a business, just a hobby.  The best part of my reprioritization was that I remembered how much it meant to me to volunteer.  I found a volunteer opportunity that allows me to make creative birthday cakes for children who live in shelters.  Baking and volunteering; equals one happy me.   How awesome is that!  I get to bake while bringing smiles to lots of children who would not normally have a birthday party.  I go all out.  It brings me such joy to create a special cake for these children.  

So what is your outlet?  What things or activities help you manage your stress?

Read Tina’s Cervivor Story here.