“You Have Cancer”

Fifteen years ago, today, I heard those terrible words. A fog descended immediately, kind of like when I was in transition during childbirth. In a room with my husband and doctors…yet all alone at the same time. Otherworldly. Trapped between before and after. Between healthy and sick. Between old and new realities.

In case you didn’t know, they don’t tell you much more, just “you have cancer.” You don’t find out until much later the stage, if it has spread, or what the odds are you will survive. You only learn that you have a deadly disease and your life is about to be turned upside down.

The tests start immediately. The blood drawing. The scanning. The surgery. The cutting. The hospitals. The doctor’s offices.  The opinions. The research. All of that before you know what treatment. All of that before you know the stage.

Anyone on a cancer journey knows what I am talking about. The hard part is there is no guaranteed outcome. Every cancer path is different. Every diagnosis is unique. I have lived 15 years beyond my diagnosis. My road has had a beautiful meandering trajectory that has allowed me to love friends and family for an extra decade and a half, and it has taken me all over the world to love people from other cultures. Not everyone gets this extra time. I didn’t even know I would. It is a moment by moment, day by day journey.  Anyone undergoing treatment is in a battle for the very air they are breathing.

Before my cancer, I knew very few people with the disease. After, I find myself surrounded. My guess is that it is because my story was written on my blog, which was born from my cancer journey. Soon after I was diagnosed I was asked to post my journey so people wouldn’t “bother” me by calling. They could read to keep up as I felt up to sharing. (This was before Caringbridge was a thing.) So, I did. I wrote from my very raw days and put my story out there. Now, 15 years later, the blog that was started as an outlet for my emotions during my treatment, has birthed 2 books and another manuscript currently in the editing process.

I reflect on this day every year. I remember and mark it. I look for silver linings. Like…a blog that wouldn’t have ever started and books that wouldn’t have been written. Like…getting to help my daughter plan her wedding. Like…so many moments in so many days.

However, I also think about many of my friends walking the cancer road as I write. Not knowing the outcome. Not having but one day at a time. Just the not knowing, in and of itself is enough to eat at every thought that goes through your head. Yet, they keep going. One step at a time. Taking each breath as a gift and praying for more for themselves and their loved ones. It’s my prayer that they each get at least 15 years like I have.

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