Sarah DeBord was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer at age 34. In the years since, she has turned her diagnosis into a calling, and become an advocate for other young adults diagnosed with colorectal cancer and parents with young families facing cancer. She works as a communications and program manager for the Minneapolis-based Colon Cancer Coalition , volunteers her time with the online patient-led support community COLONTOWN , and blogs about her often adventurous experiences of living with chronic cancer at ColonCancerChick.com.
We have to find light in the darkness of cancer not just for ourselves, but for those that will come after us.
I was having a conversation with fellow survivor Truitt Taylor after he interviewed me for his One Percent Podcast last year. We were talking about my optimistic view toward life with metastatic cancer, and how I've been able to stay "so happy" despite my dismal diagnosis. I give most the credit to my temperament and a naturally balanced emotional state, but I also credit to the things that inspire me to get out of bed every day not just to live, but thrive despite disease.
I give the rest of that credit to finding purpose in my life after (or rather thanks to) cancer. I'm not appreciative of cancer for taking me down the path it has, for I would gladly return to the mundane if it meant getting to wake up every morning feeling normal and looking forward to an average life expectancy. Though cancer may get some acknowledgment for changing the trajectory of my life, it gets no appreciation for the havoc it has created along the way.
As I described some of the ways cancer has given me an unorthodox raison d'être, Taylor said something to me that made everything I was trying to put into words clear — “With purpose comes peace.” Not that I didn't have purpose before cancer, but I have a deeper and more meaningful purpose now. Cancer forces one to do a complete life assessment, shift priorities, stop staring at the stock photo of a tropical beach on their desktop and book the vacation to go sit on it. That purpose and subsequent peace is what helps maintain happiness in the middle of this disaster zone.
While I can sit here talking about my happiness and peace, I know that isn't possible for many in my same shoes. A cancer diagnosis immediately throws us to the bottom of a deep pit, and as we lie on our backs looking up, most can find a pinhole of light somewhere up above. We can't tell how far away it is or how long and hard of climb it will take to get to it. Many will be able to rise up in the darkness, and blindly feel their way up the sides as they reach for even the smallest ledge to hold onto. We know there is light somewhere and we are trusting ourselves that we will eventually get to it.
Unfortunately not everyone will be able to get themselves up off the bottom of that pit, and some who do will struggle to find those crevices to grip onto and climb. Some will try and grab onto others who are climbing and tear them down just to ensure they aren't alone in the darkness. Some will want to tear others down because misery does love company and it is extremely difficult to see someone else thriving amidst the devastation.
For those of us who have made it to the light, we have an obligation to shine it into that dark pit. You see, that's all that pinhole of light was that we originally saw. It was others who came before us shining their light down so we could know there is something worth climbing for. It is always easier to face crisis when the path is well-lit and we can see those who are climbing next to us. Knowing you have someone beside you might be all the inspiration you need to move upward.
If you have found the light, do your best to shine it down into the pit. The more light that those at the bottom can see, the easier it will be for those who come after us. If you are still in the pit of this disease, keep looking for the light. So many are doing their best to illuminate your way, and the higher you climb the easier it will be to see you are not alone. I know not everyone can be "so happy," but there is purpose to be found, even if it's simply lighting the way for someone else.