Cancer Only Happens to Other People, Right?
Wrong. Although we know anyone can get cancer, no matter what age, health condition, or genetic history, we still never think it's going to happen to us. So, what do you do when it does?
I was never going to get cancer. It just wasn't in my life plan. Young adults don't get cancer, only older people. Even when young adults do get cancer, it was only something that happened to other people--not me.
One of my wife's friends from medical school died of a young adult cancer while only in her early-20's, just a year shy of graduating from medical school and becoming a doctor. It was so sad and tragic, especially after so much hard work, but it still never registered in my mind that this could happen to me until I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 33. Cancer wasn't ever in my life plan until suddenly, it was.
After my cancer fight, I was just going to bounce back to life like everybody said I was going to and settle right into that "new normal." I wasn't going to suffer from chronic fatigue issues for years due to the after effects of chemotherapy and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. I also wasn't going to have to walk around with an extremely uncomfortable stent for six months, trying to save a failing kidney. I also wasn't going to have terrible issues with anxiety, with depression, and with post-traumatic stress.
I was just going to pop back to "normal" after cancer as though I merely had a really nasty case of the flu. Right?
The reality was, of course, very different. I couldn't keep up with my children and my body felt like complete hell and as though it had aged 30 years. I was in tremendous amounts of pain on a daily basis and my mind was a total wreck. My chronic fatigue after cancer was so bad, that I barely had the energy to make it through the day most days.
None of this was in my life plan. This wasn't the life that I had expected, nor was it the life after cancer that I had expected, either. Cancer threw so many unexpected challenges my way.
But I rose to all of them.
I couldn't run more than a few blocks at a time without my entire body shutting down on me, but I forced myself to keep going, kept pushing myself, and never gave up until one day the chains came off. Suddenly, I could run a full 5K after years of trying, and then the unthinkable happened when I was actually able to run a 5K in under 30 minutes! This is a very basic starter running goal, but after dealing with so much chronic fatigue after cancer, it was the holy grail. Today, I have all of the energy that I need.
It wasn't just my physical self that needed time to recover, though. My mind needed to heal as well. I was haunted by the past and terrified of what might happen in the future. I slowly learned to let go, to stay engaged and focused in the present, and to enjoy each and every day that I had.
Despite my best efforts, my post-cancer demons still managed to find ways back into my life, but I learned to evolve spiritually and to develop faith as the ultimate way of overcoming.
Now, I'm no longer afraid. I have no anxiety and no longer any depression or post-traumatic stress that kept dragging me down. I'm not afraid of death or dying of cancer anymore, and that allows me to live my life fully. I've evolved in so many ways in just a few short years, and have finally healed both mind and body through so many struggles.
There are no limits to what we can achieve so long as we believe in ourselves. We can accomplish anything that we set our minds to--we just have to believe. Attitude is everything, and it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter what it is that you’re facing, if you believe in yourself with all of your heart and soul and believe that you’ll find a way to cope, to heal, or to overcome, you’ll find that way no matter how difficult. If you don’t believe in yourself, not only will you not find what you need, but you’ll prolong your own suffering and pain.
Never give up, and never stop believing in yourself. Keep your hearts and your minds open, and surround yourself with positive and uplifting people that believe in you too, who can help to carry you during the times you might stumble.
Cancer wasn't in my life plan, but I've made a far better one now.
How have you changed your life plan after your cancer diagnosis? Tell us in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Priscilla Westra.
Steve enjoys travel and fine dining, adventures with his family, running, writing, photography, and plenty of time with friends. Steve also blogs about cancer and the survivorship experience at his website, was the Co-Founder and Chair of the first ever Testicular Cancer Summit of 2017, and is a former Testicular Cancer non-profit director.