“You have a malignant tumor in the orbit of your eye,” the doctor said.
“You have cancer, and you’re going to die,” is what I heard.
An overwhelming sense of hopelessness enveloped me. For someone born with an innate sense of optimism and an abundance of positivity, I was unnerved by how quickly my “glass half-full” mindset turned bone-dry. Cancer was not new to me; six of my 13 immediate family members were cancer patients before I was diagnosed. Yet, nothing prepared me to withstand the weight of the words I heard in that moment. I knew I would be a cancer patient’s caregiver. I just never thought I would be ‘one of them’ … until I was.
In fall 2015, I learned that a rare form of melanoma had indiscriminately taken up residence in craniofacial cavities outside my brain. A quick Google search (which I do not recommend doing!) intensified fear of imminent death and dying. After extensive consultation with my family and trusted physicians in Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati and due to the rarity of my diagnosis, I sought surgical and post-operative care from medical oncology, radiation oncology, neurosurgery and cranio-maxillofacial surgery specialists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Seeking acute care nearly 1,000 miles from home was tough stuff for me, my husband, Jeff, and our daughter, Emery, but we all believe it was a life-saving decision.
It's been nearly eight years since the date of my diagnosis, and I describe my ongoing relationship with cancer as a shadow boxing phenomenon. I choose to remain vigilant and refuse to allow fear of an elusive, insidious disease to deny me the ability to fully experience love, joy, and fulfillment in my life. Dr. Doug Flora, Executive Medical Director and medical oncologist at St. Elizabeth Cancer Center, once told me that he believes cancer patients have a unique appreciation for the significance of “sands through an hourglass.” He’s right. Cancer is life affirming for me, in many ways. Living in the “here and now” and being truly present in the simplest moments has never been more gratifying. Cancer has not diminished me; rather, it has strengthened my resolve to find purpose and meaning in this part of my life’s journey.
I am grateful to be this year’s honoree, and I invite you to join me in supporting the American Cancer Society. Nearly 1 in 2 people will develop cancer in their lifetime. May our shared commitment to the ACS help accelerate and advance focused work on critical areas of discovery, advocacy, and patient support.