“Cancer Survivor.” I never thought that term applied to me. That was a term reserved for those strong, brave people who had heard those defining words, “you have cancer.”
“Cancer Survivor” defined those determined people who had undergone chemo, or radiation, maybe multiple surgeries – people who had fought and survived – in my mind, I was not that person.
I did not receive a definitive cancer diagnosis until almost a year after my cancer was removed. I spent 2 years bouncing between doctors and medical centers – losing 85lbs, a good piece of my sanity, and my marriage in the process. I often had to be an advocate for myself, pressing for tests and treatment while often being dismissed. Deep down, I knew something was very wrong, but no one had answers or solutions. Finally, a doctor heard me – she acknowledged my struggle, my frustration, and my decline. She took my thyroid out, not knowing for sure that it was causing the majority of my symptoms. She took a huge chance, that in the end paid off.
Once my thyroid was gone, we still had no definitive answers. My tissue slides were sent all over the country looking for clues. Something was wrong there, but what? It seemed my thyroid had stumped even the best of our country’s doctors and scientists. I received letters around once a month detailing the findings (or lack thereof). I struggled with my new thyroid-free lifestyle, trying to find balance in fluctuating thyroid hormone levels that caused sudden bouts of anxiety and depression.
Just when I thought my battle was over, as I got my feet back underneath me, my medication better regulated, and started my “new normal,” the call came from Penn Medicine. After traveling the country, my slides had made their way back home with an answer and there were those words. “You had cancer.”
This started a whole new round of tests, medication adjustments, lifestyle changes. But in the end, I was lucky. It had been cancer. Tests revealed that despite being overlooked, it had not spread. They had gotten it all “back then.” My cancer did not seem real, and neither did my fight as a “cancer patient,” because I wasn’t a “cancer patient” when I was actually ill. In my mind, I was not a “cancer survivor,” I was just someone who fought their way through a very difficult time. This new diagnosis did not feel new, it felt like closure.
Cancer: the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body ; a malignant growth or tumor resulting from the division of abnormal cells.
Survivor: a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died ; a person who copes well with difficulties in their life
By definitions, that is exactly who I am. I AM a cancer survivor. This is not a fact that really sunk in for me until joining Team CMMD, and I started tentatively sharing my story. It was truly not my identity until the day we filmed the Team CMMD lipdub, and I was handed that white t-shirt. “I Fight,” it said. It identified me as someone who fought this battle. It was a sudden realization to me that I had won, while so many others have not. It was in that moment that a floodgate of emotions came roaring to the surface, and I realized that my battle was real. My journey did not take me down the path of chemo or radiation or experimental treatments. Those things did not define me. But my own battle did. And looking back, that battle was hard and lonely, and from my current perspective, I have no idea how I did it. But isn’t that what I always associated with those “cancer survivors,” the ones I thought were so brave? Apparently, that was me all along.
The 2 years of hell that I went through had already taught me how to appreciate little things, to never take anyone or anything for granted, and that everyone has a struggle you know nothing about. But placing the label of “cancer survivor” on myself started a new journey of discovery for me, one that I am still learning from every day. It fuels my passion for helping through this team – knowing how grateful I would have been, in the thick of things, to have had a support system like Team CMMD by my side.
It’s been almost 5 years since my cancer was removed, and every year that my scans come back clean I am so grateful to be here and be able to share my story, offer help and compassion to those who are fighting, and to hopefully inspire others. Dr. Christine Meyer once said in a Facebook post, “there’s no such thing as ‘a little’ cancer.” By finally accepting the “cancer survivor” label (after my fight with “a little” cancer) I have found new strength, new hope and a renewed passion for spreading love.
While my battle was not “traditional,” “stereotypical,” or “normal,” it was mine. And that experience shaped who I have become. We all wear many hats, and this is one of mine. One I now wear proudly, and with gratitude. I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a sales professional, and a cancer survivor. And every day, I choose to believe that my “cancer survivor” hat makes me more alive, more determined, and stronger than ever before.
[Check out the Team CMMD “Fight Song” lipdub here — see Abigail at the 3 minute mark]