“You can either focus on the disease, the sickness, and the possibility of dying or you can reach out and grab hold of a great hope for the future.”
The experience of being treated for cancer, for both loved ones and those diagnosed, is one which defines who you are as a person for the rest of your life. I believe that a cancer survivor is born the moment they are admitted into the hospital for their first round of chemotherapy or radiation. As you lay on the hospital bed, with machines beeping around you and uncertainty waiting before you, you have a choice to make. You can either focus on the disease, the sickness, and the possibility of dying or you can reach out and grab hold of a great hope for the future. It is a decision to feed the hope for a tomorrow filled with health, healing, and happiness. It is a decision to envision yourself walking out of the hospital cancer free. It is in this one decision a cancer survivor is born. As a bald, nine year old little girl, I made a decision to picture myself sitting on a park bench surrounded by my loving family with my long hair flowing in the wind. This vision began to come true in 2004 when I was released from the hospital after one year of extensive chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. As I began to look around at my friends, who were also pronounced cancer free, I realized that hope was not all that defined survivorship. An attitude of gratitude was another characteristic which seemed to be common among survivors.
Every moment after you are released from the hospital is filled with sweet appreciation for a life that you once took for granted. It seems so easy to laugh at the little worries and problems of the day when you compare them with your experience of lying sick for a year. A cancer survivor, once officially pronounced cancer free, wakes up everyday with gratitude for every part of life: from the wind-blown hair, to the relationships with your friends and family around you, it all matters now. To me, being a cancer survivor helped me realize that every person on this earth has a significant role to play, a purpose in life no one else can fulfill. This brings me to the last piece of what it means to be a cancer survivor, a desire to help those who were once hurting like you.
Extending a helping hand to those who are in the same position you were in is not so much a necessity, as it is a deep desire to help others envision a healthy future you once had trouble seeing yourself. After I was pronounced cancer free, I gave the doctors and nurses at Riley Hospital permission to give my name and number to anyone undergoing chemotherapy for osteosarcoma. Over the past 13 years, I have met with, and become friends with, seven children who were diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I wanted to give them a glimpse of what life could be like on the other side of having cancer. Although only three out of the seven children survived, I know their parents always appreciated the encouragement I could give them for the time they were in the hospital. I believe cancer survivors see beyond themselves and seek to strengthen and help others become survivors as well. Survivorship is not about me. I survived to help others find a great hope for the future, a deep gratitude for the present moment, and a way to make cancer a thing of the past. I am a cancer survivor.
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