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Love in a Time of Cancer

Your disease does not make you unworthy, because only the worthy will see past it.
PUBLISHED February 12, 2019
Sarah DeBord was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer at age 34. In the years since, she has turned her diagnosis into a calling, and become an advocate for other young adults diagnosed with colorectal cancer and parents with young families facing cancer. She works as a communications and program manager for the Minneapolis-based Colon Cancer Coalition , volunteers her time with the online patient-led support community COLONTOWN , and blogs about her often adventurous experiences of living with chronic cancer at ColonCancerChick.com.

This last-minute addition to our carpool for a funeral walked up to my friend and I in the parking lot and stood backlit on the curb. As nice as it was to meet another fellow young colorectal cancer survivor, I had other things on my mind, like the tacos that awaited me before we hit the road for the two-hour drive to bid farewell to a friend that had passed from the very cancer that connected us.

Curious about his own experience as a survivor, I let the questions fly over chips and guac. My “extravert” was shining through as I peppered him with conversation related to the colorectal cancer world we were both active in. I vaguely knew who he was from his own advocacy, but beyond the six-pack and ostomy he frequently showed off on Instagram, I didn’t know much else. I was impressed that he answered my eager questions in stride, something I wasn’t accustomed to during my attempts at dating in the Midwest. As the road trip to and from the funeral wore on and we became more engrossed in conversation, my friend intentionally planted himself in the backset. He could see what was clearly brewing, even if those in the front seats could not.

As we parted ways back in the parking lot, he offered to take me for a hike the following morning-- something this cocky little girl with cancer wasn’t going to pass up. I intended to hike during this unexpected trip out of state, and now I was going to be hiking with him. Regardless of his interest, I had something to prove to this guy beyond my ability to wear workout clothes. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t a girl with cancer, but rather a girl who just happened to have cancer. Only I wasn’t sure this guy realized that I still had cancer. What would a guy that had cancer want with a girl that has cancer anyway? We in the cancer world know how this story goes, and I can’t imagine that he would want anything to do with me beyond a friendly hike.

Let me also paint a more unappealing picture of myself before we hiked up this higher-than-estimated mountain. Not only did I have metastatic cancer, I had just exhausted almost three years on a chemo that left me with little to no hair and had just started on another treatment that gave me a rash. This guy found himself a charmer with a haircut that didn’t even count as pixie, and a face that looked like that of a hormonal 16-year-old. He still managed to drag me up that mountain, and much to my surprise found an excuse to message me the next day.

Two years in and the girl that climbed a mountain the day after we met can barely make it up the stairs after treatment. He’s whisked this cancerous girl around the world and I often feel I’ve duped him into thinking I’m really OK. But a shift back to chemo has reminded us that I’m not, and that there are risks involved - risks that are probably much greater than he might find by swiping right on Bumble.

I’m no more cancerous than I was when we met, but chemo has a way of showing your cards and I’m at a point right now where my cards are truly showing for the first time since we met. But he’s stopped listening to my ornery self tell everyone I’m fine, ignores me when I say I can take care of myself, and just shows up without invitation on treatment morning to carry me up the mountain should I need him to. And though he sees me weak, he knows in a matter of days I’ll be ready to climb again, just like the girl he met that day in a parking lot.

I asked him at one point what made him take a chance on me - the girl with cancer. And he said it was a question a friend asked. If this was a chance at an amazing relationship, but the relationship only lasted a few years, would it be worth it? His answer was yes - yes it would be worth it. Our disease does not make us unworthy, only the worthy will see past it.

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