The shock of being told “you have cancer” had just washed over me.
“Whatever you do, don’t go home and Google the statistics about survival,” a nurse said as I exited the colonoscopy exam. Of course, my wife and I did exactly that – tearfully – before we even left the parking lot.
The nurse was right. The stats weren’t pretty, or in my favor.
But today – National Cancer Survivors Day – I am here because I’m a lucky man. I survived. It’s been nearly five years since I learned I had Stage 4 colon cancer, which had spread to my liver and lymph nodes.
Today is a day to celebrate hope and happiness for cancer survivors. It’s a struggle that will change your life and the way you look at the world.
There are nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. If you are one, love one or take care of one, smile a little wider today. Hug a little longer. Stare at the sunset an extra moment. You’re still upright, and that’s a beautiful thing.
I remember thinking “All I want is a chance.” It didn’t matter the severity or the number of surgeries, or sessions of chemotherapy. Doc, if it gives me a chance to survive, let’s do it.
I don’t feel particularly brave or heroic. I did what I had to do. Mostly, I feel fortunate. There are millions of people who didn’t survive whom I consider heroes, along with the people who supported them during their battle.
As a survivor, I’m only here today because of a network of people:
- My precious wife Cindy and son Jack, there for every step of treatment and recovery.
- A dedicated, skilled surgeon who was honest and confident. His staff was wonderful.
- A compassionate, skilled oncologist who directed the chemotherapy treatments. I always leave his office feeling better than when I walk in. His staff is wonderful.
- Friends who’d been through the cancer journey and offered valuable advice.
- Family and friends with their unwavering support. They didn’t treat me differently; they treated me like Cliff.
These days, I try to remember that every day is a day that part of me in 2017 didn’t think I’d live to see. So, I try to show more patience, understanding and empathy. As cliché as it sounds, every day is a gift. Cancer taught me that.
I have learned the importance of taking care of yourself and if something’s not right, go to a doctor. It’s easy to ignore a symptom. I’ve also learned that cancer is a formidable foe. I hate it, but I respect it.
Today’s celebration is about hope. To cancer survivors, I hope your journey is smooth and you grab as much out of living as you can! To caregivers and family members, we’re not survivors without you. Please know that your efforts are priceless. Thank you.
This quote has been pinned to my wall at home, where I can see it every day:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
I, like every cancer survivor, am so very thankful to be living my tomorrows.
NOTE: Cliff Mehrtens is StarMed Healthcare’s communications manager.