Cancer evokes paralyzing fear as it threatens your entire future. Life milestones, once assumed inevitable, become unlikely possibilities. More, your mere existence hinges on factors outside of your control. The fear can be suffocating; and not just for the patients, but for all those around us.
Through my position at the Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF), I am in contact with new patients each week. The most common question I have is not about side effects or treatments, but rather “How do you deal with the fear?”
Miles often tries to paint a picture that I am stoic under all circumstances. Almost inhuman with my composure. I’ll admit his unwavering confidence in my own confidence makes me stronger. But he forgets that on the day of my diagnosis, it was me he found curled in a ball, sobbing in the shower. Fear had crippled my legs. And there, under the falling water, I lay completely vulnerable without any strength. I was suddenly fighting for my life and I felt unprepared, weak, and frightened.
That night, Miles and I made a vow: Cancer would never steal one more moment from us. We began to plan and talk about our future…a future without cancer. Each night, we envisioned the same three scenarios:
One, we would give back and help other patients. The care and support we were receiving from oncologists, surgeons, family friends, and the ALCF was extraordinary. We wanted to ensure all patients had the same opportunities and advantages that I was receiving. And today, thanks to Bonnie, I have been given the opportunity to fulfill this promise each day through my work with her foundation.
Two, we would join in celebration with our family and friends to thank them for their overwhelming support. You all provided us with the greatest gift: love. We felt it around us constantly. It gave us such strength. It inspired us with so much hope. It bolstered our fight. So, we started planning a party that we would throw when I was two years cancer-free to thank everyone who helped make me a survivor.
To be honest, in the summer of 2012, a celebration party felt like a very distant dream. There was so much to get through in the meantime: chemotherapy, finding a surgeon, traveling to New York for treatment, enduring radiation, a long and difficult recovery, and finding a new “normal.” Whenever things got tough, Miles would remind me of how incredible our 2 Year NED party was going to be. Often at night as I struggled, he would start imagining the event. And to make me smile, he kept making it more and more grandiose. No, this was not going to be a typical summer BBQ. It was going to be a fancy affair…Lights illuminating the night sky…DJ spinning dance tunes…Caterers walking around offering appetizers with fancy names. He would survey the imaginary crowd of guests and tell me who was there. It would make me giggle with excitement. I wanted that day to be a reality so badly.
And on May 23rd, it became one. Miles and I threw the 2-Year NED party of our dreams. And let me tell you: IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT!
That night, we welcomed about 75 of our dear family and friends to our home to celebrate this momentous occasion. Just as we had imagined over the past three years, the party was spectacular. We were surrounded by so many people that we could never truly thank in words. We had family, friends from college, workmates, college coaches, and even Dr. Reckamp and Carrie Christansen, my care team from City of Hope. And under the glow of about 5,000 white Christmas lights, we ate, drank, and danced the night away in honor of this life event. In the end, as hard as cancer tried to take away my life milestones, all it did was create new ones to enjoy.
Three, we would spend each night dreaming about our future family….which may not be such a dream anymore…stay tuned for that in the next post! 🙂
Much love. Live in the moment.