There Can Be Positives Within A Cancer Diagnosis


Giving cancer any type of credit is like entering a forbidden city, but maybe somewhere in there, cancer can in fact lead us to some positives in our lives.

Giving cancer credit for anything positive is a forbidden city — you don’t go near it, you don’t speak about it and you certainly don’t think about it. How can you give anything so horrible credit?

I have been thinking a lot about my life five years after a cancer diagnosis. Cancer has taught me a lot about myself, about others and about cancer in general. In many cases, it surprised me by how it affected me positively. Yes, I am heading directly into that forbidden city right now.

I really have never allowed myself to think of cancer as a positive. However, as I look back, I think maybe (just maybe) there are some positives.

Before my diagnosis I was doing fine in my life and I was accomplishing things that I thought were my goals and crossing items off my bucket list. Then, like a smack in the face, cancer hit when I was 32 years old and everything crashed down. I got the wake up call of a lifetime when I stared death in the face. I realized I really wasn’t living the life I truly wanted — I just never noticed.

So, the first positive here is I was given the chance simply to see that. A cancer diagnosis was my mirror to my life. I truly believe in the saying “Your life flashes before your eyes” because guess what? It did for me. I was 32 and thinking, this is it? What if I don’t get the chance to (fill in the many, many blanks) before I die? I used this looking glass to fuel my energy through the grueling treatment. I kept telling myself: When I finish, I am going after my life and I am going after my bucket list. Oh wait, I don’t have a bucket list. I don’t have a bucket list? How did I not realize this?

OK, here is positive no. 2: Facing cancer got me writing down stuff I always wanted to do! I now have a bucket list.

Moving forward to positive no. 3: I already started accomplishing stuff on that list! I stopped saying no to things because of the thoughts of doing them later. The biggest thing at that time was moving back to my hometown. Ever since I was a little kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I always dreamed of living in the big city and finding a home within one of the big high rises that overlooked the city. It took 35 years and a cancer diagnosis, but I finally did it. I lived out of state for twelve years and chances are that that would have continued, but had the jumpstart I needed to start pursuing my dreams.In 2015, I spent the entire year doing one new thing a day and that is positive no. 4. I literally did 365 things I had never done before. One of my best friends and a person I call my sister-at-heart, also a cancer survivor, did the challenge with me. In fact, she was the one motivating me. Her cancer diagnosis came three years after mine, at the age of 27.

We grew up together so facing cancer together was comforting — yet terrifying — as we were both dealing with this dreadful disease at such a young age. She had heard the story of another cancer survivor challenging herself to do something new every day. She was going to do her own adventure and asked me to join. We called our journey "Life It Up 365!" I did stuff I never would have dreamed of actually doing — indoor skydiving, polar plunging into Lake Michigan, learned to tie a tie, saw the Panama Canal, went to Ireland with my family and at a pomegranate. Some of the firsts were huge milestones and some were little things I never realized I was missing out on.

The bottom line is that I'm not going to officially say I have given cancer credit for anything. See, that forbidden city has some pretty tough walls, but I will say that there can be some positives in a cancer diagnosis. There can be ways to turn one of the absolute worst negatives into something amazing and maybe even give a little credit where credit is due.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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