This latest post comes from Brandie Ashe, a friend and colleague from college. Brandie is co-founder and editor of the classic film blog True Classics. You can find out more about her on our contributors page.
I was thirty-three years old when I found out I had cancer.
I am one of the lucky ones. My cancer was detected early. It took one surgery to completely eradicate the disease. I had a painful four-week recovery, and then I was fine. No chemotherapy. No radiation. No further treatment. It was a “get out of cancer free” card that I never expected to receive, one that, in fact, made me feel remorseful and almost ashamed when I saw other people suffering through longer fights than the one I was faced with, and left me weeping with guilt when others lost their battle in the brief time it took me to heal.
But in all honesty, there is no magical “get out of cancer free” card. I no longer have the disease, but I had to sacrifice something of myself to rid myself of it. I lost my uterus and my ovaries, and on some level, I can’t help but resent that loss. And the bitterness goes even deeper than that. Because of cancer, I’m now dealing with menopause. I’m in my mid-thirties and almost every day—sometimes multiple times a day—I’m subjected to hot flashes that make my entire body feel as though I’m roasting on a slow-moving spit. My hair has gone almost shock-white in places, with gray hairs starting to outnumber the normal brown ones.
For the first time in my life, I truly feel old, and I truly feel mortal. Death is no longer some intangible concept that happens to other people. I danced with the very real possibility of it, and it brought me down to earth. Harshly. I’ve always been one to fear death, because I’ve had little personal experience with it. But cancer is a sobering wake-up call that tends to crystallize such matters for you.
I’ve been cancer-free for seven months, and my prognosis is excellent. Still, every day—every single day—at some point as I go about my business, I wonder if I’ve only gotten a stay of execution. My chances of cancer returning are 3%, and that’s about the best odds anyone can ask for. I shouldn’t be so worried, so constantly on my guard that every twinge and bump makes me panic about the possibilities. But that’s the most insidious thing about this disease: it gets to you. It sneaks into your psyche, it infiltrates your subconscious, and it makes its presence known even when it’s no longer there.
I do everything in my power not to dwell on it. To do so would be to prolong the suffering this disease can cause. I have to put the thought aside and move forward. That’s where the victory comes from—not the complete absence of fear, but the facing it down, acknowledging that it’s there, and then choosing to rise above it.
I will always have regrets about what cancer has done to me, about what I have lost, and what others have lost to this disease.
But I will not let it win, because I’m a goddamned survivor.
I look at my survival as a second chance to ditch the things that don’t matter and build the life I’ve always wanted. Not many people get that chance in a lifetime. And there are other good things to have come from this situation. I’m not bleeding to death on a monthly basis anymore—no more transfusions for me! I’m no longer anemic, and I have more energy than I have had in three years.
But perhaps most importantly of all, I’ve learned how very fortunate I am. Dealing with something like cancer makes you realize who you can truly count on. And I am beyond blessed to have family and friends who supported me, who talked me down from the ledge at my worst fear-driven moments, who sent messages of support and care packages and flowers and fruit baskets and, in the case of my awesome best friend, a “new” uterus crocheted in pink yarn, to replace the hideously broken one inside of me.
Love, love, love. It really is the best medicine of all.
Today is World Cancer Day. It’s a day to remember those who’ve lost their battles with cancer, and to celebrate with those of us who made it through, albeit maybe a little worse for wear. And I think there’s no better way to do that than to spread a little more love around.
For more information about World Cancer Day, check out their website. And to find out how you can help in the ongoing fight against all forms of cancer, the American Cancer Society is a great place to start.