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Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, discusses why she wrote a book about her journey and how her experience strengthened her faith.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess was embarrassed when she first started to see specks of blood in the toilet after going to the bathroom in eighth grade, and she decided to hide it from everyone. A few years later, just after she turned 17, her family finally found out and took her to the doctor. She was told she had colon cancer or, as the internet called it, an “old man’s disease.” Despite the diagnosis, she decided to see the good; it gave her purpose and made a pathway for her life.
When she was diagnosed again at age 25, she felt attacked, wondering why she had to go through it a second time. Throughout her journey, she found writing to be therapeutic and started a blog, which then turned into a book. Heal® spoke with Ripley-Burgess to learn more about her book, “Blush”, and her journey.
Q: Heal®: Why did you decide to write about your cancer journey?
A: Ripley-Burgess: I have always loved writing, but the most important thing was for my daughter to know my story. I wanted to put it in a book so my daughter could read it, and then it would outlive me.
Q: Was there a different feeling from receiving a diagnosis at 17 than at 25?
A: It was really different. When I was 17, cancer wasn’t even a thought. I was never thinking about being ill, so when I received my diagnosis, it was more of a shock, though it wasn’t as scary because I didn’t know much about cancer. At 25, I was older, married, working and already had cancer before. The first diagnosis is never easy, but it was my challenge; I was ready to take it, and being so young, for me it was almost purpose-giving. So, in a way, it was easier to find good things. It was defining my path. When I had a second case, I did not feel that way. I felt very attacked. I had already been through this once; why did I have to do it again? And it was a lot harder to find the good.
Q: What can readers expect from “Blush,” the story of your journey?
A: I think they can expect a really vulnerable, honest, real story that shows people that there is more to a cancer survivor’s life than surviving cancer. A lot of times, surviving cancer is one part out of many that go into somebody’s journey and their story. So, “Blush” definitely tells my cancer story at ages 17 and 25, but it also describes what life was like before my diagnosis and what has come into my life after my diagnosis that does and doesn’t have to do with cancer.
The last few chapters, especially, show you what has happened since the diagnosis. I went on to work as an advocate, we adopted our daughter and I wrote this book and really settled into rhythms of appreciating home and family and slowing down. After you survive, you are in this frenzy to make meaning out of what you just experienced, so you’re trying to do all the things. And I still run into that, but the end of the book slows way down. I started to enjoy the fact that I’m alive and rest in that, so it takes you on a journey of how to live after receiving a diagnosis.
Q: Did writing about your diagnosis come easy to you or was it difficult?
A: Probably both. It was easy because I like to write, so journaling and writing were therapeutic. I was already writing a blog, so it got me into that mindset. It [became difficult] when I had to put words and feelings and emotions to some of the hardest moments of my life. Going back and reliving the memories to show the story was difficult, but it helped me heal. I went back through the process as a part of writing the book, and it helped me get over some of the more difficult moments and find grace for me.
Q: You say cancer “spiced up your journey.” Would you explain?
A: I felt that way especially at 17, and I am a person strong in my faith. When you hear faith stories, they’re dramatic. People are in a really tough spot, and then all of a sudden, they are completely transformed. Growing up in the middle of the country, in the suburbs, going to church and talking about this stuff was expected my whole life. Although I believed it, it felt very boring to me. So, when I found myself in a very rare, unusual circumstance that was blowing people’s minds, it was an opportunity to lean into the faith that I had been raised in and find myself in the stories. As a Christian, I’ve been raised on stories that were mind blowing, so with such a rare cancer, I was able to apply what I had believed, and it became very real to me. This is going to open eyes and ears not only to [learn] about cancer but also about faith, because faith is how I found purpose and meaning in some of the harder moments like this.
Q: How has having cancer changed your life?
A: I’m getting to the point where I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s brought some of the hardest days that I would never want to relive again, but it’s also brought some of the most joyful experiences that I wouldn’t trade. One of my favorite verses says that God can use all bad things for good, and I believe that. That’s how I see cancer; it’s a bad thing and always will be, but there has been so much good [that has] come out of it, and that comes from my faith and hope that it can happen in any circumstance.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess is a two-time colon cancer survivor who received her first diagnosis at age 17, an award-winning communications professional and the author of “Blush: How I Barely Survived at 17.” She writes and speaks to encourage others that faith can survive. Follow her blog at DanielleRipleyBurgess.com or connect on social media at @DanielleisB.