Every cancer journey is unique. Therefore, it is essential to respect the different ways in which patients and caregivers choose to travel the journey before them.
In sharing our stories, we can draw support and strength from the common themes that weave their way through our experiences.
Our journey began in May 2016. It seemingly came out of nowhere. One day I was feeling fine. The next, I could not take a full breath of air. Then, four days later, some stranger in a white coat stood at the foot of my hospital bed and told us, “Dan, you have stage IV colon cancer.”
At that moment, time stood still and sped up simultaneously.
As we listened to the person who would become my oncologist talk, I doubt we heard much of what was said. Dr. Saroha resisted answering the only question that truly mattered, “how long do I have.” He finally relented and explained that based on what he understood of my condition and treatment studies, the best I could hope for was two years.
This was not the script I had written for my life. So hearing this man in a white coat tell me it was time to get my affairs in order was difficult to process.
Nancy and I began a journey not of our choosing that afternoon.
Over the past six years, I have learned a few things.
- While the medical community has much wisdom based on years of research and experience, they cannot predict how one will respond to treatment. It is important for us to approach treatments with optimism and hope.
- Hearing someone in a white coat predict your demise has a way of clarifying what is truly important. Clarity is good. Saying no to those things which drain our energy is essential. Investing limited energy in the relationships and causes that are most important to us can be life-giving.
- Caregivers are the unsung heroes of our cancer stories. Nancy (my wife and caregiver) is a rock. Without her, I would not have managed the past six years. Thank you to all the caregivers who give so selflessly. May all the caregivers find strength, peace, and comfort while they walk alongside those they care for.
- This cancer journey has seasons. There are times when I feel empowered, joyful, and optimistic. Some days I struggle to get out of bed. I want to pull the covers over my head and pretend this is all a bad dream. When it is really rough, I question the wisdom of continuing to fight. Might it be better just to stop treatment and let cancer have its way with me? Sometimes I experience each of these seasons within the same afternoon. That is okay.
- All of life is a gift. Yes, even cancer. I am not the same person I was six years ago. I like the new me much better. Cancer has helped me see the world differently. I have stories of grace, joy, and community that can only be told because of my cancer. I have seen the best of people while traveling on my journey.
These are just a few of the lessons Nancy and I have learned over the past six years. The truth is that every patient and caregiver has learned much while traveling on their unique journey.
One of the things that have helped Nancy and me travel our journey well is finding ways to transform a difficult situation into something good. For us, this means finding ways to help others along their journey.
There is something healing and healthy about sharing our stories, sharing what we have learned. I am thankful to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance for providing space where we can learn from each other. In sharing our stories, we find hope, strength, and energy to keep moving forward.
Our book, The Journey Continues, finding joy amidst life’s struggles, shares how Nancy and I found moments of hope, peace, and joy while traveling our cancer journey. I write as the one fighting cancer, and Nancy shares insight as the caregiver.
Nancy has been keeping a Caregiver Journal where she shares lessons learned along her journey. She shares what it means to be a caregiver to someone fighting a long-term/terminal illness. Nancy’s sharing encourages other caregivers and offers a window into a caregiver's world for those wondering what it means to live as a caregiver.
Let me leave you with a few questions to reflect upon:
- What lessons have you learned while traveling on your journey?
- How have you found ways to encourage and support others?
- When were you surprised by the care and compassion of someone who helped you travel your journey with dignity and grace?
- Is there a caregiver in your life who might need a word of encouragement?