A lot can change in a year, and wow, this past year has been something.
As a stage 3 survivor, I will continue to rise, and as I do, I find myself in disbelief when I relive all that I have gone through, survived and built myself back up from. I recently went on a trail run all by myself, where I let my mind go back in time. I actually connected all those moments that felt like my worst nightmare coming true: the grim diagnosis, various doctors/hospitals/surgeries, bloodwork and scans, not being able to walk down my driveway, having my daughters see my tears each morning as I tried to put on a brave face, emptying those damn drains that were stitched in my leg as a reminder that this was serious business and what literally felt like rock bottom, lying in my own vomit on the bathroom floor thinking maybe this is when I give up. I remember that moment feeling like I was in the middle of a fire and it was going to eat me alive.
But it did not. I found a way to get up; I found a way to rise up.
One year later, I am physically back to doing the things I love, like running and any other activity that gives me that physical release that makes me feel alive. I am back (the new version of me, anyway).
I have more recently begun to find my voice again and recognize that emotionally, I am getting stronger as well. I am less and less afraid of many things and, because of that, I find myself wanting to yell from the rooftops and tell everyone I know those simple reminders of a life well-lived. Most importantly, I find I must speak up so I can be a living example for my girls; this one is for them.
1. You have a voice, and your voice matters. I found this to be extremely important during my treatment planning. Had I conformed, I would have gone with the surgery that was always the treatment protocol. If I had gone with this protocol, I would also likely STILL be in some kind of physical therapy. Thank God I spoke up. I asked questions. I asked for better. You should, too, in every problem or conflict that you find yourself trying to solve. Ask questions and use your voice.
2. You are worthy of love and respect. So am I. Not because I am a cancer survivor, but because I am me. What you see is what you get: a mix of reservation and wild, a genuine heart with a slightly sick sense of humor. Throughout your life, remember that not only do you deserve love, regardless of what scars you may or may not have from life, but you are worthy of respect as well.
3. You are going to fall. In fact, you may fall or fail several times throughout your life. But, you will do this because you are trying. You are swinging away. You are trying to make things happen. Cancer felt like a fail to me, a major fall. The uncertainty of whether this stage 3 cancer beast will return still pisses me off. The reminder every three months when I trek down to the cancer center for my tests and scans so long as I am still on this earth remind me as well. And of course, those moments of weakness are when I let my guard down and cry. Remember, all you have to do is get up. It doesn't have to be perfect and it doesn't have to be pretty, just keep getting up after each stumble or fall.
4. Find your tribe. If you don't know who your people are yet, you will quickly realize, especially after you stumble or fall. These are the people who come over with ginger ale when they find out you are so sick post surgery that you can't hold a thing down. They will also look you in the eye when you say you are fine and ask you, "Really?" They can be family or friends or, if you are fortunate like I am, they are a mix of both. They love me when I am at my best and love me even more when I am at my worst. They accept me for the ups and downs that this cancer survivorship leaves me with and the highs of living life out loud and the lows of endless medical bills and worries of recurrence. They are there for it all. They are my people. You will find yours.
So cancer or not, we are all going to have some stumbles or all-out faceplants along the way in this little journey called life. We have a choice; they can make us or break us. And the fact is, in this so-called life or journey, none of us are getting out of here alive, so we might as well make the best of it while we are here. We can survive or we can use every opportunity we have to rise up.