The Cancer Coin

The three dreadful words I truly wish no one must hear “You have cancer” are accompanied by a magical coin. What’s so magical is the fluidity of the value of the coin. My experience with

The three dreadful words I truly wish no one must hear “You have cancer” are accompanied by a magical coin. What’s so magical is the fluidity of the value of the coin. My experience with this coin, at first, was that I felt underwhelmed by its value. I considered it more a token of loss and had trouble seeing it of any positive value at all. But as time passed I began to realize more of its value, in ways I would not have believed possible, regardless of who tried to convince me otherwise when it was first handed to me. I now know the value of the two sides of the coin are directly proportional to each other. As I considered the positive or negative value of one side of the coin, so the other side increased or decreased accordingly.

 

My first realization of the coin’s value was that I was still alive. I knew “where there’s life there’s hope and where there’s hope there’s LIFE”. As I gained strength in my treatment recovery I also gained insight into the value of the little things, the little blessings, that were present all around me. Then I had no choice but to slow down and fully assess and appreciate my surroundings. For example, as my taste returned I noticed the regenerating flavor and bitterness of my morning coffee, how much I had missed it, and was thankful for its return to my day to day life. As I drank my coffee I noticed it ran out the hole in my neck and stained my clothes. AH! The two sides of the coin.

 

As the effects of treatment continued to develop, one of the consequences, for me, was to become no longer employable in the traditional sense. I considered this a setback and tried hard to not take it as a personal failure. And then, I realized the opportunity to occupy my time and make valuable contributions to society were not removed, simply changed. I was freed from the rigors and constraints of working for an employer and I became the boss of me. I learned that I am a stern taskmaster but am a fair one. Two sides of the coin.

 

My voice has been a variable in my after-treatment life. I developed new ways besides spoken word to communicate with others. I’m a visual thinker and so began relying more heavily upon photography to express what I could not audibly say, and this increased reliance helped develop my vision to find ways to express, visually and with text, what I saw happening around me and how I felt about it. Two sides of the coin.

 

Time has a way of passing no matter what, and my treatment effects continued to develop. I found people were leaving my life. Some people told me I had become too difficult for them to look at, to try to listen to, and that I was a stark reminder to them that life can bring challenges we don’t want to have to consider. Some people told me they’d like to consider we’d never met. Some people disappeared without a word or an echo when I reached out to find out where they had disappeared to. All these exits saddened me, and some I grieved the loss of. Incredible people, who have encouraged me, inspired me, have come into my life that would never have crossed my path had I not received the cancer coin. Two sides of the coin.

 

I learned that the value of the cancer coin is not the same for everyone, and it is not deemed to be of the same value for different types of cancer. In my search for after treatment care and support I learned that my type of cancer coin was not considered “legal tender” by some cancer support organizations or awareness groups. At first, I was outraged that my type of cancer was not considered “real” enough to warrant the type of support and resources I, and others like me, needed. But that inequity prompted me to advocate first for my type of cancer and then to advocate for cancer equality and equity. It became important to me to raise public awareness that cancer is not a competition and that all cancer treatment survivors, regardless of the cellular type or body part(s) affected deserve to be considered worthy of receiving the specific support and resources needed to make the most of after treatment life. Two sides of the coin.

 

One does not have to have received the cancer coin to appreciate the duality of the challenges and blessings/benefits of life. For every up there’s a down, or for every down there’s an up. What seemed like an impossible challenge yesterday becomes a great accomplishment today. The more one practices turning each challenge over, flipping the coin over, the easier it becomes. Life has a way of doling out magical coins, particularly when we least expect them. How wonderful it is that we get to decide the value of each coin and how it’s going to work for us in our goals for our lives.

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Debra Sheridan
Diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell CA of tonsil in October 2006. Completed treatment on my birthday, February 14, 2007. Cancer free!!!Treatment effects set in before treatment was finished and despite hope, additional therapies and surgeries, the effects, especially of radiation, took hold. Breathing, eating and speaking were significantly impacted. February 2008 a tracheostomy was performed to relieve breathing difficulties due to tracheal stenosis, caused by radiation scarring. This allowed my voice, which had been absent since early January 2007, to be restored over the next several months and after 40 hyperbaric dives to kickstart healing of the irradiated tissues. Multiple dilations and other treatments to relieve recurring stenoses of trachea and esophagus resulted in a total laryngectomy and esophageal reconstruction October 2014. Subsequent scarring closed down my esophagus at the reconstruction sites and a follow up esophageal reconstruction was performed December 2015. I am thrilled to still be alive, having beaten the odds and the obstacles. I happily speak with an electro larynx.