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There Must Be a Reason Cancer Happened to Me

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After being diagnosed with cancer, I decided to turn my “whys” and “what ifs” into education and advocacy work.

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I became a volunteer with a handful of national colon cancer organizations throughout the following years. I have had the opportunity to travel all over the United States to learn and share my story at different conferences.

Before cancer, I was a typical type-A person. I couldn’t go to bed until all the laundry was folded neatly and put away. There was never a dirty dish in the sink, and everything was put in its place. I always had my hair and nails done, and shopping was my favorite way to spend my free time. I never really thought about much beyond my little bubble. My world was neat and tidy, and life was good.

I had blood in my stool one time, and that was all it took to prompt me to talk to my physician. She didn’t hesitate to order a colonoscopy, which was done about a week later.

I could tell by the look on my gastroenterologist’s face that something was wrong. I was still waking up from anesthesia, but I remember her words like it was yesterday.

“I removed a nasty-looking polyp” she said. At that point, I still had no idea what she meant. She didn’t elaborate either because the polyp had to be dissected and diagnosed. July 3, 2014, at 2:48 pm, is when my little world stopped in its tracks. That is when I received the phone call from my physician that I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Those words echoed in my head like an empty cave.

When I could finally speak, my first question was, “Am I going to die?” I didn’t know very much about cancer. I didn’t have any family history, so I thought a cancer diagnosis was an automatic death sentence. The staging wouldn’t be determined until I had my colon resection surgery a couple of weeks later.

I was fortunate that my cancer was caught early — stage 1. If I had waited even a couple of years, my doctor said the chances of a successful treatment would be slim. A couple of years was still way earlier than the recommended age for routine screening (which was 50 at that time). What if I didn’t say anything to my doctor? What if my doctor brushed off my one symptom? I owe my life to her. Upon reflection, my life splits into two different time periods: before cancer and after cancer. A few weeks after my surgery I tried to go back to my normal routine – shopping, getting my hair done, keeping the house clean, etc. but it no longer made me happy. I realized those things weren’t important to me anymore, so I had to find out what was.

I decided to turn my cancer experience into something positive. I know it sounds cliché, but I believed that there must be some reason this happened to me. I decided to turn my “whys” and “what ifs” into education and advocacy work. I became a volunteer with a handful of national colon cancer organizations throughout the following years. I have had the opportunity to travel all over the United States to learn and share my story at different conferences. I have met with members of Congress in DC to lobby for changes in cancer policy. I have organized local awareness events and have spoken to local groups about my experience. I share my journey on social media, which has connected me to many patients whom I have helped support in their own journey. I review colon cancer research grant applications for the National Institute of Health. I have participated in colon cancer studies, surveys, abstracts and posters, and have written articles for several publications. Most importantly I have taught my 14-year-old son the satisfaction of advocating and volunteering for something you believe in.

These days I would rather spend my money and time on experiences and not material items. I find joy in a beautiful rose or a purple sunset. I pay attention to the birds and their song, and I take time to breathe in the aroma of a fresh rainstorm. I pause for a moment to let fluffy snowflakes tickle my lashes. I trust my instincts and I meditate often. I don’t stress about a pile of unfolded laundry, or shoes that track in dirt after a soccer game. I don’t dwell on the small stuff, and I focus on the bigger picture. I don’t have to have every day of my life scheduled months in advance. It is exciting to see what each new day will bring. It took a while to embrace the person I created after cancer, but I like her more than the person I was before.

This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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