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Survivorship: What a ride

March 1, 2012

   When “cancer survivor” was added to the list of all the titles I carry – mother, sister, daughter, co-worker, friend, etc. – I felt a sense of victory because, in order to earn the designation, I had to stay strong in the face of an internal, invisible threat. I was required to trust total strangers and put the future of my health and care in their hands. I had to swallow tremendous spoonfuls of pride and ask family and friends for assistance with the most basic of needs during my recovery, from helping me into the bathtub to doing my laundry to completing my grocery shopping.

   While I felt the sense of accomplishment that accompanies survival, I also pondered why I was so special. I beat cancer, but I felt those who had survived other diseases, conditions and situations – heart attacks, diabetes, home invasions and other traumatic life events – also deserved the same love and congratulations. Perhaps cancer survivors receive so much praise because they are facing such a completely invasive foe. As I continued to mull over these thoughts, I came to the realization that most survivors contend with similar feelings of extreme happiness for still being alive, extreme sadness while reliving the trauma during quiet moments and extreme guilt when experiencing momentary lapses in gratefulness.

   In writing about my experiences, I hope to show other survivors of any situation that they are not alone.

   I’m addressing you, the fellow cancer survivor.

   I’m addressing you, the survivor of another equally devastating disease or condition.

   I’m addressing you, the victim of an accident, crime or other situation.

   May you always realize that you are still a person – emotions still intact – and while you have been given that second chance at life, you still have a right to experience all those emotions that make you a human being. You may not realize it, but you provide hope for so many others.

   Survivors are proof that faith and hard work make all the difference.

   I guess you could say I was a “condition survivor” well before I heard the C word. I fought an uphill battle with another of society’s larger concerns: teen pregnancy. I’d like to think I traversed the path quite successfully, given that many people like to point out the “poor single mom” statistics. A loving family and strong support system greatly contributed to my success, just as they did with my cancer fight. To all the teenage parents I have grown up with, watched growing up or never even met, you inspire me to unveil a portion of an identical chapter in my own life so that you can see that success can be achieved, no matter what the critics say.

   While teen parenthood is one of the most difficult roads to follow, life happens, and success is realized in how one accepts responsibility in the aftermath. While you’ll often feel the weight of judgment upon your shoulders, you have the strength to rise above the challenges, statistics and nosy-bodies.

   My family is the largest part of my survival, both in the conditional and physical sense. A.J. and Billy, my sons, my reasons for being, you’ve taught me to understand the depths of unconditional love. Thank you for accepting the role reversal and for being my co-instructors when I decided, at age 36, that I wanted to finally learn how to ride a bicycle so I could participate in a biking event that raises money for cancer treatment and research. You made the best training wheels!

    Mom and Dad, you raised me to be a strong, independent woman. Upon making you grandparents at ages 41 and 46, respectively, you could have had so many different angry reactions, but you instead showed me nothing but love and understanding. I am the strong, compassionate parent I am today because of you.

   RJ, Mary, Lynn, Dee (who moved in with me to help out while I was sick) and Iva, not only are you my siblings, but you are my best friends. I cherish our closeness and will never take it for granted. Thank you for being my loudest cheering section!

   Patrick, not only are you the love of my life, but you are my coach and my confidant. I could have never gathered the courage to learn such a trick at such an old age without you jogging and pedaling beside me, pushing me to reach the potential that I knew existed somewhere within me. Thank you for believing in me.

   Since founding my personal fundraiser, the Stick it to Cancer Blood Drive and Basket Raffle, in 2009, I have asked so much of those around me, and they have delivered with no hesitation. Even the doctors and physical therapists who so expertly restored my health took the extra time to attend these functions in the hopes that others may be assisted, and I’m so grateful for their time inside and outside the office. I am forever indebted to the physical therapists at Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute Lymphedema Center for properly diagnosing my left-
leg swelling issues and for teaching me the proper way to treat the chronic condition. Without this assistance, I surely would be headed down a path of pain and eventual amputation.

   To all of my family, friends and supporters, you may be tempted to run when I announce yet another project, but you always lend a hand. Thank you for helping to raise awareness of and money for such great causes.


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