I don’t feel like a cancer survivor.

“Pick up a penny and look at the date on it, and then tell something you remember about that year.” The ice breaker prompt at a recent event led to stories about vacations, career changes, and other significant moments. The date on my penny was the year my oldest daughter got married, my youngest daughter graduated from high school, and oh, yeah, I almost forgot… it was the year I had cancer.

Yes, I had cancer. Twice. The first time was a simple skin cancer of little consequence. The second was more life-changing, but I don’t feel like a cancer survivor. It was just something I went through and put behind me.

I had been unwell for several months, and finally a “routine” hysterectomy was scheduled. I was looking forward to not having to endure the heavy bleeding and anemia that had become debilitating. But during the procedure, stage II uterine cancer was discovered, and the surgery was no longer routine but became more extensive.

I woke up to the unexpected news, and it took quite awhile to sink in. What are you saying? No, I can’t have cancer. That wasn’t part of the plan. Lymph node biopsy results would tell whether or not chemotherapy was required, and I would begin radiation treatment as soon as possible.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of scans, MRIs, labs, and other diagnostic procedures. I was rehospitalized for a week with unrelenting fever and infection. Because of anemia I could barely talk without becoming short of breath. My thoughts were muddled. It took all the strength I could muster to sit up in a chair, but even that made me dizzy.

My husband did everything he could to help me feel better. Friends brought me food, church children made get well cards, and I felt wrapped in love and prayers. My parents came from across the country to stay with us and drive me to medical appointments and radiation therapy so my husband could go back to work.

Get well cards from church children

So why don’t I feel like a cancer survivor? Because my sister, who courageously endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy for aggressive breast cancer is a survivor. Because people who have struggled with remission and relapse and remission and relapse and treatment after treatment are survivors. Because I once worked as a nurse on an oncology unit and I saw how hard other people struggled and suffered and fought. I had it easy. This was just a little road bump, and it didn’t define who I am.

It has been five years since my surgery. I thank God for the medical professionals who took care of me, for the friends and family who supported me, and for the faith to see beyond cancer to the amazing days ahead. I pray for those who are still fighting their own battles. Stay strong.

 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 New International Version (NIV)

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