It’s “stage-four cancer“, were the words my oncologist shared with me on February 16, 2011.
Learning you have cancer is a life-altering experience. Hearing your cancer has returned is unimaginably disheartening. But when you find out your cancer has returned for a third time with a stage-four diagnosis, it is devastating….especially if you’re going to propose the next week.
Ironically cancer brought us together in the first place. Shari and I knew each other casually, but when my Merkel cell cancer returned for a second time she was one of the first people to reach out to me. As a breast cancer survivor Shari knew all too well the road I traveled, and suggested we get together when I was feeling up to it. So as I recovered from surgery, and between radiation treatments, we found time to meet for coffee and eventually have dinner. It was easy to see we had a lot more in common than cancer, and before long we found ourselves in love and talking about a future together.
I was sure those plans for our future ended with the news of my stage-four diagnosis. In my mind, Shari and I would slowly drift apart as my schedule became more complicated juggling work, radiation, and chemotherapy. I wouldn’t or couldn’t blame Shari. After all, with such a small chance for survival who would want to invest in a relationship which would likely end in a year or two tops? Fortunately for me, Shari was a better place emotionally and spiritually which allowed her to look past the diagnosis and trust God with the future. So instead of drifting apart, we were married 29 days later.
In those three or so weeks leading up to our wedding day, Shari and I had the opportunity to meet with our pastor who offered this priceless advice:
Having fought cancer on two other occasions, I knew first-hand the wisdom Mike shared, as cancer is a thief which subtlety tries to make you believe you have no power over it.
When you choose to fight and live life on your terms, you have power over cancer. When you choose to lean into your faith by looking for the lessons God is trying to teach you rather than spending time questioning why all this is happening to you, you have power over cancer. When you choose to rise above your circumstances and lead a life filled with passion and purpose, you have power over cancer.
In the days and weeks of chemotherapy and radiation which followed an amazing wedding day, I chose to respect my treatment but not the disease. Cancer would not control my life. As I look back over this season, there are three choices I made which still play out in my life today as a survivor.
Choose to Find the Joy!
When someone finds themselves in survival mode, the vision for their life is put on hold. Lack of vision for a future on the other side of cancer or any life-altering event can lead to depression and despair. Choosing to find the joy in each new day allows you to see a joy-filled future. It’s this vision that keeps you moving forward.
Choose to Make Memories!
There is a tendency to postpone special events and alter plans until you are on the other side of a life crisis. Why? If you seek to find the joy in each new day, you will be on a journey filled with memories. Capture these memories. Share them with those you know and love. Think about the story your life will tell to those who see the abundant life you are leading in spite of the circumstances you face.
Choose to Leverage the Lessons!
Share your story and the lessons you have learned in your journey. As a fighter and as a survivor, you are learning some of life’s most meaningful lessons. There is someone out there who needs you to share these lessons. In sharing them and seeing the impact they have on others, you may find the purpose of the challenges you face.
Please know there will be good days and bad days in the days which lie ahead. But if you choose to make joy-filled memories and leverage the lessons learned, you will thrive as you survive life’s greatest challenges.
What’s your story? How have you have found power over cancer!