In just one moment, your life can completely change.
Last summer, I had blood in my stool, that’s it – no other symptoms, it came on unexpectedly and immediately I made an appointment with my family doctor who sent me for a colonoscopy, which unless you have a family history of colorectal cancer, doesn’t normally happen until your 50. Exactly one year ago today, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. Life changed.
I didn’t have any of the possible “pre-requisite” risk factors- no family history of colorectal cancer or genetic factors, I was a healthy body weight, had a healthy diet, I don’t eat red meat, I was physically active, I don’t drink or smoke, and yet.
What proceeded was a lot of poking and prodding, radiation treatment, a major surgery to be followed by chemo, that would have been enough, and yet.
A few days from being discharged from the hospital after my major surgery, I found out that though the radiation and surgery were successful (which I am very grateful for), the cancer had metastasized to my liver and it was now stage 4. Life changed.
The chemo proceeded as planned, and worked to shrink the tumors I had, I then had a second major surgery which was successful and I will be continuously monitored (again grateful) to ensure that should any more pop up, swift treatment can be taken.
All this during COVID-19 where you couldn’t see a doctor or nurse’s face and no one could come to appointments or visit, and yet.
This is a good story for me; because, throughout this journey I have learned a lot. While I realize my journey is unique to me, it was put on my heart that if in sharing my story and what I learned along the way, I could help one person, it would be worth sharing.
Getting the Ground Ready:
1. A choice of how – I didn’t have the choice of getting Cancer (the what), but I did have a choice of my how, how was I going to do Cancer? Given my cancer diagnosis, how do I choose to think and act? My choice early on was to allow its presence to make me stronger, braver, kinder, wiser, and more open. Every day, I have the blessing to open my eyes, I have a choice to make – to be positive, have hope, faith, and trust.
Now, I’m not saying this was always an easy choice to make, because some days it wasn’t, some days it was really hard and I barely made it; and, I’m not saying that fear, sadness, and anger…didn’t come up; but, after acknowledging them and allowing myself to feel them for a bit, I had to choose to switch tracks. Even when I feel sad or scared, staying in that place is not going to serve me, just as ignoring the feelings won’t serve me.
2. The power of words – words are powerful things, they can create or they can destroy. With my choice of how, came my responsibility to protect my environment and space – I read hope-filled books, I listened to hope-filled podcasts, watched hope filled you-tube videos, and I spoke and wrote hope-filled words. On days where it was hard, I was surrounded by people whose words were hopeful for me, and on exceptionally hard days, when nothing else seemed to help, I would plug my headphones in and listen to my hope-filled music playlist until it made a difference.
I will say as a person of faith, that my faith is a very important tool in protecting my head and heart space and for giving me strength.
3. Gratitude – throughout my journey, I had/have a lot to be grateful for – my parents, my extended family, my friends, my workplace, the medical care team, God, and my spiritual mentors. Every day during treatment, I tried to remember what I was grateful for and find joy in the smallest things, in the end – they’re not so small.
Sowing Seeds (Living for Now and Dreaming for the Future):
Living for now and dreaming for the future are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve always been a planner and a worrier, I couldn’t really be like that this time – worrying would be counterproductive so I had to learn how to just take one day, one step, one hour at a time – I did not have the mental bandwidth to go beyond that.
Having said that, I found it was incredibly helpful to dream, dream for what I wanted for my future. It is when you’re in the valley that dreaming becomes the most important because it gives you something to hope for.
I even sowed something in the ground, literally planting bulbs when I was diagnosed as a visual reminder, giving me something to look forward to in the spring.
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” – Audrey Hepburn
Manure Happens! – Plants Grow in the Dark!
Bad things will happen, there’s no getting around it; but, they can also be fertilizer, if you’re willing. Beautiful things can come out of the darkest places, for me these were personal growth, perspective, and a renewal of purpose, and some renewed and new relationships.
And if going through this experience and sharing my lessons learned can help bring awareness of the increase in colorectal cancer among young adults or give someone a tool or perspective they can use or a story they can look to, then that’s a beautiful thing too.
I will continue to make the choice daily to live a hope-filled life.
Colorectal Cancer is on the rise in young adults, for more information see:
- Pasadena woman diagnosed with colon cancer wants earlier screening by CBC Nfld. & Labrador
- Why Is Colorectal Cancer Rising Rapidly among Young Adults? by the National Cancer Centre
- Colorectal Cancer Rates Rise in Younger Adults by the American Cancer Society
- There’s a Troubling Rise in Colorectal Cancer Among Young Adults by The Scientist
- Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer by Colorectal Cancer Canada
- Never Too Young Program by Colorectal Cancer Alliance
For more information on the tools I used to help get me through my journey, you can read my: