Three years ago today, I was diagnosed with cancer. Today, I am a cancer survivor. While the disease is behind me, the experience changed my life forever, but not in the ways you might think.
Physically, you can’t see my scars unless I show them to you. They weave through my head like webs, much the same way my tumors were growing. After the ninth & final surgery on my head I sat in front of the mirror at some point every day for weeks, starring at them. I was amazed that my surgeon was able to piece me back together & close the deficit caused by cutting the cancer away. I hadn’t had a hairline in months & my forehead was half gone. Then suddenly, I looked like me again. Bangs shifted to the other side, but me all the same. It was incredible. I cried (A LOT) looking at those scars, which at the time were still held together by staples & stitches, but they were good tears. I was so grateful & that gratitude made them beautiful.
Cancer taught me that all scars are beautiful remnants of the hard times, reminding us we survived.
I still stare at them occasionally, but for a different reason. They are every bit as beautiful, but they also make me feel pretty badass. (Sorry, Mom.) Today, they remind me that I won. I beat a beast & I danced on it’s grave. That may sound morbid, but it’s true. I went to war with cancer, & despite the many dark days I had struggling to focus on even the most mundane things because of pain, I somehow came out smiling.
I did not give it permission to take me, in body or mind. Nothing can take you if you refuse to let it.
But, I did not accomplish that alone. My Dad sat across the room looking me in the eye for all six scouting biopsies as they tried to determine how far the tumors had spread around my head. I know he felt every needle & every punch. I’m even convinced he took on part of the pain for me with each surgery. My Momma changed my bandages & washed my hair over the sink every morning for months so my open wound wouldn’t get wet & hinder healing at that stage in the reconstruction. My brother physically caught me when I almost passed out after seeing the deficit for the first time unbandaged. He recorded songs for me before every surgery to remind me I wasn’t alone & it was all going to be okay, one way or another. My sweet sister-in-law helped wash the blood out of my hair more than once, & took every opportunity to celebrate progress & help me feel normal when life was everything but. My dearest friends came to visit, brought food, & took me out when I couldn’t drive because of pain meds & sore places. The family at Gilda’s Club gave me a place to feel understood & reminded me that laughter always trumps cancer in the ways that matter most.
There were also countless family & friends sending cards, emails, & texts. More than that there were people praying all over the world & I felt the power of that prayer every single day. When I didn’t want to go outside & be starred at anymore (before I got used to it) I would close my eyes & ask for strength. It always came.
I already knew I was never alone, but cancer taught me that it was okay to NEED other people. It doesn’t take away from your strength or independence to let others hold you up.
Cancer blessed me with other bits of perspective. I no longer have time for what I don’t have time for. So, if I spend time on something, it’s because it matters to me. I say no to things now. Happily, I might add. I take risks in ways that probably make people uncomfortable, but they mean living freely & fully & I refuse to do it any other way.
I was raised with the knowledge that no one is promised tomorrow, but now I feel that truth & it drives me in the moment.
Looking back cancer gave me far more than it took, & while I definitely don’t want to do it again, I think I am a better me because of it. Bombs dropped on my world that diagnosis day, but it’s okay because of how much more has bloomed.