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18 Years of Living With Stage 4 Colon Cancer

The number 18 holds special meaning for me as it marks 18 years since I heard these words: “You have incurable colon cancer.”
PUBLISHED September 20, 2016
Suzanne Lindley has been living with metastatic colorectal cancer since 1998. She is the founder of YES! Beat Liver Tumors, an organization for individuals living with metastatic liver tumors, and an advocate for Fight Colorectal Cancer.
The number 18 holds special meaning for me as it marks 18 years since I heard these words: “You have incurable colon cancer.” Eighteen years of new seasons, birthdays, anniversaries, memories, miracles, research milestones, new treatments and hope. Like the lyrics of Daughtry Central:

Looking back in the rearview mirror
You know the view used to be much clearer
But we’ll laugh and we’ll cry
Til there’s no more tears
Yeah, tonight can we just hold onto those 18 years
18 years, yeah
Oh, those 18 years!

These 18 years with stage 4 colon cancer have drifted slowly by and at the same time have sped away in alarming speed. So this 18th cancerversary is savory and sweet. I have experienced a gamut of cancer research and am alive today because of new chemotherapy, targeted treatments like SIR-Spheres, RFA, cyberknife, clinical trials, personalized medicine and immunotherapy. I’ve benefited from the progress in imaging technology. The Cancer Moonshot is at our fingertips and brings great promise to those of us who are living with cancer as well as for those who will be diagnosed.

These breakthroughs have allowed me to proudly watch my daughters mature and grow, celebrate more time with my amazing husband, and today I feel as though I am embarking on the adulthood of cancer. I’m anxious and excited about what the future holds, yet have found confidence in the living of life. Here are 18 important lessons I’ve learned:

1. There is no crystal ball. No one can tell me what tomorrow will bring.
2. I’m a statistic of one.
3. When it comes to medical decisions, sometimes I need more than one opinion ... and even two, three or four.
4. I am where I want to be.
5. Throw a pity party from time to time. Cry, shout, make a cake, and get it all out. Clean up and move forward.
6. Step away from anger.
7. Kindness matters and one small gesture can make a huge difference.
8. Mental exercise is a powerful force that creates courage, fortitude, and strength.
9. Call! Don’t text. The sound of a voice builds deeper connections and makes for meaningful conversation.
10. Words hold great importance. Choose them and use them carefully.
11. Miracles are held within every heartbeat. I have only to open my eyes to experience them.
12. Friends come into my life for a purpose. I always want to find the purpose!
13. Life doesn’t happen around me. It happens between my own two ears. I have the power to create the life that I love.
14. I have all the power in the world to choose how I will live.
15. Time is precious and fragile. Every breath holds a blessing.
16. Life is NOW. Don’t waste it waiting on the next moment.
17. Dream ... and dream big.
18. Keep a hope list and check items off. Hope is the closest thing to a magic wand.

Hope has been a driving force for me these past eighteen years. I’ve created hope lists along the way and have marked off items that I never expected to fulfill. Still others remain (graduations, weddings and grandchildren, rocking chair days) that I long to see. I continue to plan and add to the list. Five new items are to make Cedar Flats a well-known retreat destination, to see the Great Barrier Reef again, to ride in a hot air balloon, to take an Alaskan cruise (overcoming fear) and to write a book.

Each of us are on this captivating ride of life, and as we become more seasoned with our ride, we discover confidence and comfort. Be intrigued by the excitement of the ride. Let yourself be challenged by the anticipation and exhilaration of the moment. Remember that for as long as the ride rolls forward, so too, does life. Enjoy the ride!

18 years, yeah!
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