From the speech I delivered today at the 20th Survivor’s Day Celebration: 

In 2004, I learned the story of a young woman battling diffuse large b-cell, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while running for the title of National Cherry Queen.  I was in awe of her strength, determination and wit and when she passed away in 2005, I began researching the cancer that had killed her.

A year, almost to the day, following the publication of an article I wrote on the correlation between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and agricultural practices in Northern Michigan, I was diagnosed with the very same cancer.

In that moment, I would have given just about anything to turn back time, to reverse my diagnosis, but the first important lesson I learned out of surviving cancer was that every step is one step forward.  There is no turning back, I voiced the words, “I have cancer”and began a new journey.

When I reached the beginning of treatment phase last October, I quickly developed two primary goals in life.  The first was to make Dr. Kohler laugh and the second, and equally important, for the world needs more laughter, was to survive.

I am a survivor.  This doesn’t mean I stood with a sword and armor against cancer, battled it out and was victorious.  It means I took one step forward each day, no matter how heavy the load on my back.  No matter how weak and pathetic I felt.  Being a survivor doesn’t mean I won’t die someday from cancer, it just means I won’t let it kill my hope for what lay ahead.  It took me a while to figure out the difference.

We recently lost a friend to Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  She was diagnosed at 18 and had three recurrences in the last five years.  Whenever I received correspondence from Alese, or when she blogged, she signed her name Alese 2, Cancer 0.  Her third recurrence brought with it many difficult and grueling treatment options and after several months, she died from complications relating to treatment.  She was 23.

Alese touched many with her story.  She blogged about her treatments, her feelings on having cancer and being a survivor and when she could no longer continue with the blog, her parents continued on her behalf.

On the day of her passing, I, like many, felt a deep sense of loss.  After all, it was Alese who showed me how to be brave, even at those weak and pathetic moments.  She demonstrated courage and had a vitality that went well beyond her age and it seemed a tragedy to lose someone like that to this horrible disease.

As the evening progressed, I thought about how many people Alese had reached.  And I thought about how even after her passing, how strong her legacy is and will be for many years to come.  In that sense, the score will always be Alese 3, Cancer 0.

Just last week, I received a call from Dr. Kohler’s office with the results of my last CT Scan.  All clear!  I voiced the words that morning, “I’m in remission” but this time it was more of a song.  I thought about that word, RE*MISSION and realized I am embarking on a new life, a new mission and celebrating each day unfolding no matter how mundane.  Dr. Kohler wasn’t the only one I wanted to see laugh more – I wanted it for me as well.   So, while my experience with cancer shook me to the core, it also opened my eyes to the possibilities and opportunities each day holds.  Cancer taught me to laugh more, smile more and to live my life despite the possibility of illness.

And that’s exactly why they call us “survivors.”  The outcome doesn’t matter, but rather what emerges within us:  a renewed sense of courage, a desire to reach out to others, the realization that we are in this together and that no cancer can destroy our hope for the future.  

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