In May 2013, the Women Survivors Alliance asked women everywhere to submit essays, writing on this theme: Cancer was the journey, survivorship was the destination. How have you used what you learned?
Essays poured in from all over the world, with women eager to share their experiences with one another. In this essay, Sister Survivor Sherry Abbott shares how she turned lemons into lemonade.
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer exactly two years to the day that my mother lost her own battle to cancer. First melanoma, then brain cancer. It was heartbreaking not knowing how to comfort and support the woman we loved more than anyone. As desperate as the situation was, I’m grateful that I learned from my mother and her experience. She bravely faced each and every day with optimism, hope, grace and dignity. I believe those were her final gifts to me.
The evening of my diagnosis, a doctor and two interns came into my hospital room. Heads hung low and without ever making eye contact with me, they said, “We’re sorry, there is no cure for the rare and advanced stage cancer you have. We don’t think you’ll make it to the New Year.” It was September.
It just about broke my heart to phone home to share my dim prognosis with my father and sister. But having to make the call was the spark that ignited my own journey of determination to find what I have ever since called “The Other Side of Cancer.” I knew there had to be one, so I set out to find it. And I did! That was 24 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.
For more than two decades I’ve faced a host of psychosocial challenges and hurdles as a result of the aggressive treatment that ultimately made me cancer free. And although cancer has definitely changed me as a person, I can honestly say that my journey has provided me with new opportunities and life lessons. I’m often left in awe that the worst situation of my life has taken me on a journey of self-discovery and awareness, proving to be one of the most inspiring and enlightening experiences I could have ever imagined. Sometimes I refer to my cancer experience as the University of Cancer, laughing that I’m an honors grad because there could have never been a formal education that has taught me what cancer has.
As a proud survivor I’ve chosen to adopt the word SurThrivor to best describe my triumphant life journey and experience. Each and every day I continue to be motivated by others who face the challenges of cancer. I am inspired by how they have transformed their own worst nightmare into a destination of hope, healing and well-being. To SurThrivors everywhere, let’s celebrate our learnings, our successes and our commitment to support one other because on no one should ever have to face cancer alone.