Contributed by guest author Brian Young
COVID-19, political and social unrest, reduced interactions with friends and family, and isolationism made 2020 the worst year for many. For me, they were a rotten cherry added to the top of a sundae I didn’t want. It was a little over a year ago that I got the news that you never want to hear: “You have cancer.”
I turned 50 in November of 2019 and had my first colonoscopy. There was a 10cm mass growing in my rectum that I had no idea was there. It was stage III. No symptoms. No pain. No bleeding. Nothing.
I was numb. I had to tell my family, but it was Christmas Eve. I didn’t want to ruin that … but I had to. If I waited to tell them afterward, it would not have been better. So I made the worst phone call of my life to my mom.
My family was all together at my mom’s house in Tennessee for the holiday. I would have probably been there myself, but I had just been there for my niece's wedding and I did not have any vacation time left.
Members of my family during Christmas.
My mom was excited to get my call and immediately put me on speaker.
“Say hi to everyone!”
“Mom, can you take me off speaker? I have to talk to you about something.”
I could barely get the words out of my mouth without breaking down. I could feel the mood shift immediately after I told them. But they quickly reassured me. They told me I could beat this, no matter what. I wanted to be strong for them, but especially for my mother. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor, so I knew cancer could be beaten. But I couldn’t see that yet. My mom’s calm and measured tone was really helpful and offered me exactly the type of support I needed.
Even though they were a thousand miles away, I knew that I could count on them for whatever support I needed.
“You are strong. You can beat this. You will beat this.” My mom spoke from experience.
My mom immediately came out to see me in Arizona, and the rest of my family was on speed dial if I needed them. Even though I would not find out the full details of my diagnosis for a couple of weeks, my mom wanted to provide support to me during that time.
She made it out the day after Christmas, and we spent time together over those next two weeks talking about life and my journey ahead. She was able to be here for me when I got my initial MRIs and CT scans to determine the cancer staging and extent of spread, so that was nice. She returned to Tennessee after a couple of weeks, but I am really grateful for the time I got to spend with her.
After months of chemo, radiation, surgery, the addition and removal of an ileostomy, and another round of chemo, I was declared NED in October 2020.
As we gather this holiday season, it makes me think about how different things were just a few years ago.
My advice for anyone who has to go through the fight with cancer would be twofold. One, lean on family and friends. Don't feel like you have to carry the entire burden yourself. Two, control the things that you can control. You can control your attitude and your will to survive. Use them.
Use them to win on the cancer battlefield.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year!
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