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February 20, 2018
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Things Could Be Worse: A Cancer Survivor's Tribute to the Victims of Gun Violence

In the big picture, my cancer experience - as harrowing and as close to death as it gets - dwarfs in comparison to the metastatic spread of gun violence in the United States.
PUBLISHED February 20, 2018
Carolyn Choate recently retired from the TV production industry to write full-time. Diagnosed at 45 with stage 3 estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer in 2003, she underwent two radical mastectomies - in 2003 and 2012 - without reconstruction. Carolyn credits Angela Brodie, Ph.D., and her discovery of the aromatase inhibitor, for saving her life and those of millions of women globally. In the summer of 2017, Carolyn and her older daughter kayaked from New Hampshire to Baltimore in tribute to Dr. Brodie. When not informing others about Dr. Brodie and the "living flat" movement, Carolyn enjoys gardening, cooking and RVing with her family and dog.
As I have frequently done in the past, I recently lobbed one of those cancer-centric lines, "Well, at least you don't have cancer," at my older daughter who was complaining about all the injustices in life and bemoaning her 400th job interview since September. Whether I thought, in some twisted way, it lightened the mood, or, in some twisted way, it lightened her load, I am just now understanding that what I've really been saying all along is: "You think you got troubles? I had cancer and there's nothing worse than that, so just stop your belly aching."

But after what happened last week in Parkland, Florida, I stand corrected. Getting cancer is not the worst thing that can happen.

I know what you're thinking. "Lady, there's been a lot of mass shootings since the Grim Reaper tried to sell you a burial plot so, why now?" Truth is, I'm that frog that hopped into a pot of sulfuric acid, only after slowly boiling in water for way too long. The stench of my arrogance frying finally brought me to my senses.

The tumor I saw on a Feb. 14 TV news bulletin, not a PET scan, was the clarion moment that made me see the impertinence of my ways. In the big picture, my cancer experience - as harrowing and as close to death as it gets - dwarfs in comparison to the metastatic spread of gun violence in the United States.

Getting cancer is not the worst thing that can happen.

And while I don't possess the knowledge to espouse the root causes for this national epidemic or wish this essay to become a political debate, suffice it to say I'm nonetheless wriggling under the collective weight of my guilt after years of misguided thinking. When diagnosed with cancer, I thought I was the center of the universe and nothing else mattered.

To be clear, I was never one to feel sorry for myself or invite pity. I tackled cancer treatment head-on, as if it were a home improvement project and I was the obsessive contractor running the show. If you were part of my crew - family or medical team - expectations were high, and results demanded. I was important. I had things to do. Places to go. A future to craft.

To all victims everywhere and their families, I'm sorry it took so many years for the tumor of gun violence to evade my conscience and for me to see that others are more important than myself and suffer far worse an affliction. By overstating my needs, I inadvertently dismissed the needs of those facing irrevocable circumstances.

As a survivor going on 15 years, I am still crafting my future. Now it's going to include renewed vigor on mental health policy initiatives on the various boards on which I serve, unapologetic advocacy into closing gun law loopholes and dropping, "Well, at least you don't have cancer," from my lexicon. Less than a week since 14 children and three of their teachers and school staff members were brutally massacred by a mentally ill teenager in Parkland, Florida, and after almost two decades of unabated, gun-related school homicides, getting cancer is not the worst thing that can happen. Not even close.
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