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Reflections From Ten Years of "Survivoring"

BY Doris Cardwell
PUBLISHED July 06, 2017
In the 10 years since cancer came into my life, I have learned some things – things that I might not have known if cancer had not invaded my world.
I have learned that life is full of small surprises. Interesting people are around every corner, if only we take the time to stop and get to know them. There's nothing like being stuck (literally) in a chemo chair to make you learn how to be still. Cancer afforded me the opportunity to see people extend kindness beyond my wildest dreams.
My diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer meant relocating for treatment. A young couple with a brand-new home invited our family to live with them for the duration of treatment. Did I mention we had three children, 10 to 17, and a dog at the time? And treatment was over a year? We decided to take them up on their offer. This meant my children had other adults to give them attention and be there for them if I couldn't. It meant someone to share struggles with – someone besides my husband, whom I did not want to burden with my daily struggles. These were priceless gifts. To this day they are an important part of our lives.
I had the opportunity to connect with the needs of cancer patients and survivors. In treatment, one of my nurses shared she wanted to start a mentoring program. I said, "Why not do it?" So we did. The program eases fear and helps newly diagnosed people realize they are not alone. It also allows survivors an opportunity to give back. Then I had the opportunity to develop survivorship programming for our cancer center. Through that, I met the most amazing people. These were people with gifts, talents and abilities. They taught me so much about life and love.
Cancer has also given me the unfortunate opportunity of experiencing great loss. Many I met along the way finished their journey. I will never forget the first time I visited one of our program mentors in the hospital. She was struggling to get healthy enough to go home. She motioned for me to hold her hand. I remember thinking, “This is the most uncomfortable thing I have ever done.” Weeks later, attending her funeral, I wept like I had known her my whole life.
Cancer has taught me to cherish the memories of the people whose paths crossed mine. I can think of things about each one of them that I long to display in my own walk. Faithfulness, kindness, mercy, persistence, tenacity and love. Cancer has taught me that life is fleeting at best. Time is a gift.
Cancer, while I hate many parts of it, has also given me a lesson in treasure. On days that I am weary of hearing the word, I try to dig into my treasure of memories and lessons. I try to pick one and hold it close to my heart realizing that life is often unfair. I get angry at what it takes from people, from families and life. Then I feel blessed as I remember what a difference the people who have crossed my path have made. Being a survivor has taught me that it is never over, once cancer has come into your life. You will always remember what it was or is and sometimes are daily reminded of its effects. When diagnosed, I hated the word “survivor.” I remember telling my husband that “survived” sounded like you barely made it. I wanted to do more than just survive, I wanted to thrive. I did not want cancer to become who I was. I am a person, who has had cancer, cancer is not who I am. I have survived many things in this life, I remain determined. The struggle is real.
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