Today is the seven year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I am blessed to still be cancer free after being told initially I was beyond treatment with a very poor prognosis. It’s been a long and tough road, but my life is immensely richer than it was before cancer.
So much has happened in the past seven years related to my cancer experience and my being in the cancer community. After about 4-5 years of survival it became very important for me to find purpose in my survival and to give back. Since then these things have happened:
• I created and published my web site Appendix Cancer (Appendiceal Carcinoma) and Peritoneal Surface Malignancy and it has had 50,000 hits. I also published my blog and via my blog and website, I have communicated with over 350 patients newly diagnosed with appendiceal cancer.
• I’ve been in touch with over a dozen surgical oncologists who specialize in treating those of us with appendix cancer and they have all been gracious enough to support my advocacy efforts.
• My daughter’s senior class published a book about 33 people they identified as local heroes. One of the chapters was about my cancer experience and my cancer advocacy efforts. My kids have also used our family’s experience as the subject for speeches and papers and projects. My eldest daughter’s senior Personal Impact Project was creating over 1000 appendix cancer ribbons that she’s distributed to promote appendix cancer awareness. My cancer experience overall has made us closer as a family. We view life differently.
• I was recently honored by a magazine editor who read my blog and asked me to be the subject of one of their magazine’s cancer blogger columns. My blog is featured in the spring issue of CR Magazine. You can click this link to read the article: Cancerblog: Cancer at any age is unfair By Alanna Kennedy
• I was invited to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research for 5 days in San Diego this April. There I will participate in the Survivor<->Scientist Program. I’m sure I will meet many inspiring advocates in addition to research scientists involved in the search for cancer cures. I know I will learn much that I will share here when I get back.
• I was asked by someone who read my web site and blog if I would be a contributor to a new on-line medical encyclopedia. I’ve written an entry about appendix cancer for the encyclopedia.
• I have founded and am in the process of developing a non-profit organization to support those of us diagnosed with advanced abdominal cancers, including appendiceal cancer, who need extensive medical treatment including cytoreduction surgery, peritoneal and/or IV chemotherapy (more about that later).
On a personal level, the time has had many other landmarks including:
• My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary
• My kids both completed grade school and junior high school. My eldest will graduate from high school this year and begin college next year. Next year my youngest daughter will graduate from high school. It’s what I prayed so hard for, to live to see my kids graduate from high school. If that’s all the time I get I’ll be grateful and satisfied with the length of my life here.
• I joined a Toastmaster’s Club that I love and that has introduced me to several new friends. I’ve given 7 speeches there. I also volunteered at a soup kitchen for 2years that served hundreds of people and I made several new friends there also.
• I began playing piano professionally
• I’ve taken up backpacking and have been on 5 backpacking trips, including one on the Appalachian Trail, a place I’d always dreamed of going.
• I finished my first ever bicycle century, the Apple Cider Century; 100 miles in one day. It was something I’d always wanted to do.
• I celebrated 7 more Christmases, Thanksgivings and Easters and all of our family birthdays with my husband and kids. I got 7 more springtimes.
• My youngest daughter and I did a Mother-Daughter weekend in Chicago, complete with a spa day, and my eldest daughter and I were able to see John Williams conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to see Wicked performed in Chicago.
• I finally made peace with my God and for the first time in my life became the member of a church.
Life has been rich and good. I do still live pretty much one day at a time. I don’t take time on this earth for granted, but now I also just see my time here as a small piece of my whole life, so I’m not as heavily invested here. And I invest more in my relationships with my husband and kids. I prioritize my time differently.
It hasn’t been an easy 7 years, it’s been long and hard. Surviving cancer isn’t easy, it’s difficult. Life has never again been as easy as it was before cancer. There have been many struggles after the initial physical battle was over…struggles mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But I am better for the battle, I think. I’ve tried hard to make my short life here count for more.
I truly hope I’ve made a difference….that I’ve honored the gift of my survival. That I’ve honored the gift of being able to see my kids grow up.