Every story - like cancer itself - is unique. This blog is part of our ongoing 2017 Survivor Week. Join us from May 29-June 4 as we unpack the complexity of what it means to be a cancer survivor, from those who reject the word entirely to individuals who have embraced their diagnosis with a new sense of purpose. What does being a survivor mean to you?
This blog was written by Crawford Clay, one of the Colon Cancer Alliance's Patient & Family Support Navigator and a stage III survivor at age 43.
When we hear the word survivor, we all think of the same thing. Winning six yellow jerseys, starting a multimillion-dollar cancer nonprofit, changing the world. But let’s face it, that’s a high standard not even Lance Armstrong could meet.
I became a survivor the minute I heard the words “you have cancer.” So did my wife. My immediate family and a few close friends all survived my cancer. They all had to deal with it, and with me.
Surviving is an attitude. None of us chose to have cancer. We do choose how we react. Most of my friends and family opted to be supportive. The rest got ignored.
It’s unrealistic to be happy and positive all the time. Everyone has moments of doubt and self-pity. You can’t live there. We all experience the long dark nights of the soul. The question is what do you do next.
Stuart Scott said, "You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."
I heard this quote after I was finished with treatment. Scott nicely summarized how my family and I approached having cancer.
I asked my brother to be my rectal donor. (Which he considered before saying no.) I told my rectal surgeon he made me empathize with Muppets. (He laughed.) Not everyone liked my approach, but cancer is serious enough without my help.
We also celebrated the good news. Home from the hospital, end of chemo, clean scans are all important moments to notice and enjoy. Every August, my dog Ranger puts on his sombrero and we cook out to commemorate my successful surgery. It is our responsibility to find the light in the darkness.
People say cancer changes you. That’s true, but life changes you, regardless of cancer. I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago. No one should be. I like to think I’m a better person because of it.
On the other hand, I’ve always believed in kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. We raised our kids to be involved in the community. We believe in helping others.
Colon cancer gave us focus. Every member of my family has participated in an Undy Run/Walk. (I have a couple of awards and the boxers and volunteer shirts to prove it.) We’ve done Dress in Blue Day. Mollie made colon cancer the focus of her science fair project. Surviving cancer allowed us to find the good in ourselves and develop it.
You can go in a different direction if you choose. The point is you get to define how you have cancer. You don’t have to live everyday likes it’s Cinco de Mayo, but you could.
Crawford Clay was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer 10 years ago when he was 43. Crawford’s family has a long history of colon cancer. He and his father were diagnosed with the disease within the same week. Crawford has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.Div. Crawford has a variety of professional experience including being a youth pastor and working in sales and marketing. Currently, he is the Patient Advocacy Coordinator for the Colon Cancer Alliance. Crawford and his wife live in Stafford, Virginia with two teenager daughters and two chocolate labs.