I wanted to know someone who had been there – a person who had come out on the other side, ahead of me, to walk with me, should I ever need that guiding light. My only regret is that I never asked for this type of support. I only wanted to feel a little more at ease, if there is such a thing at times like these.
My name is Jackie and I live in GA. I am an eight-year cancer survivor. Two summers ago, I had my second stem cell transplant, and thanks be to God, I am doing very well today. The highlight of my year will be to celebrate two years of remission this December!
My story is long and at times difficult to imagine, but just like so many others, it is a tale of triumph over this awful disease called cancer. We all prevail in the way that we battle – no matter the outcome. This perspective has strengthened my resolve and given me hope many days when despair was so close it was palpable.
Diagnosed with Stage IV Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (situated in my lungs) took me by surprise at the age of 29, the summer prior to a planned trip to Puerto Rico. But believe me, vacation was the last thing on my mind when I learned what my summer was really going to be about: six rounds of chemotherapy, each over 5-6 continuous days. This meant a 24-hour IV drip of medication attached to me, to attack the cancer. It worked. By the end of the summer, I had been allowed to take my birthday trip, after all, and in the fall I returned to work, in complete remission – cured from lymphoma! Or, so I thought.
As it turns out, I would successfully battle this disease three more times. And as I type this sentence, I have to take a moment, pause and breathe. It is still hard to imagine. I have faced and defeated cancer four times. Of course, I wasn’t alone. Actually, I didn’t do it. I believe in a higher power, the power of prayer, and miracles. How could I not?! Yes, cancer came for me. Yes, cancer is gone from me. Yes, I think about it every day. But what I focus on is the fact that I am still here, and the gratitude that comes with that reality emanates from my spirit.
My family and I learned to focus on and support one another through my journey with cancer. Already close, we’ve known how to be there for each other, but when you experience life enough, you find that such relationships grow exponentially! Also, I was employed as a school counselor when I was initially diagnosed and very lucky to be able to do what I love … working with children. Unfortunately, I had to stop working in order to protect my growing immune system, and haven’t been back to work in over two years. But I have adjusted and I can see that this is all part of the path I must walk. I’m so thankful that I do not have to walk it alone.
We are not alone. Yes, having cancer can be a lonely and isolating experience, but we are not alone. And this is the reason why I believe I had such a desire to meet someone early on who had already been there, walked the path and ‘gone through the fire,’ so to speak. An individual to share with me their triumphs, setbacks, and secrets – in other words, their story – so I could feel inspired by them. But I am very slowly learning along the way that I am my own inspiration. It’s true, and each one must find her own way to be inspired. Embrace your strength, your influence, and your own unadulterated resolve to overcome whatever your personal challenge may be. Whether it is cancer in your own body or the illness or death of a loved one. It could be other life circumstances that weigh you down. Use what you have surpassed to fuel you along life’s journey. And as you learn to draw upon your own inspiration and experiences, you just might reach and inspire others.
You’ll never hear me say that I am glad that I had cancer. But neither will you hear me wish for a different life. I believe that this path was designed for me and I will walk it until the day I leave this earth. You’ll never see me hold on to pity and sadness for long. But some have seen me wallow in it for a moment –just long enough to release the tension – then look up and find my bearings again. And they might hear me say that this is the loneliest I have ever felt, but I am surrounded – by family, friends, nurses, doctors, prayer warriors and more, so many more. What I wish you would take from my message is that we all need someone. We are not meant to make our journey alone. And once you embrace that and find your own shoulder to lean on, then I challenge you to turn and face cancer square on and no matter what this illness robs from you, you decide what it will never steal.
We all have things that are non-negotiable. For me, my non-negotiable is my spirit, my beautiful soul … cancer cannot have (or ever take) that. What’s yours?