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I’m a stage III rectal cancer survivor.

My last chemo was Valentine’s Day eleven years ago, back in 2005. Physically, I felt terrible-lost in the fog of chemo and tired beyond belief. But emotionally, I felt great. I had done it. I made it through to the end!

Little did I know, it wasn’t really over.

Leveling Up & Survivorship

When you finish chemo, you move from active treatment to long-term survivorship. But you quickly learn “survivor” doesn’t mean you’re finished. It’s like leveling up in a video game – you get a new set of challenges and puzzles. For me, it was getting my ileostomy reversed. Then dealing with chemo brain. Constantly needing to know the precise and exact location of every bathroom (you know why).

Oh, and did I mention there was chemo brain?

[caption id="attachment_4506" align="alignright" width="286"]Crawford with his wife Andrea and two daughters, Mollie and Caroline. Crawford with his wife Andrea and two daughters, Mollie and Caroline.[/caption]

But, like a three-legged dog, you eventually learn to pick yourself up and get on with business, pun intended.

The general population was roses, chocolates and romance on Valentine’s Day. For me, every February 14th is about being grateful for what I already have: an amazing family. Two crazy dogs. Sweet tea. Occasionally remembering someone’s name (did I mention the chemo brain?).

Baby Steps: Start Small & Work Into It

People ask me if I ever quit waiting for the other shoe to drop. Do I ever stop worrying about recurrence? The truth is I worry less now. Most recurrences occur in the first 5 years and I’m over 11 years out now. Still, every time I have an unexplained pain or cough or cold that lingers, I have to talk with the doctors about it.

So far, so good.

Most of all, I try not to worry and to take life day-by-day. Anxiety and worry are terrible for your immune system. It's true; Duke University did some studies that showed it doesn’t matter who or what you believe in. The act of faith is the important part. Like most people, I deal with anxiety with a belief in a benevolent god who looks out for me.

I'm not saying who or what I personally believe in—just that I believe. I also like to exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes daily, 5 times a week) helps lower stress and improves your long term chances. I personally like the challenge of running.

The important thing to remember about exercise (just like survivorship) is baby steps. Start out small and work your way into it.

You Beat Cancer By How You Live (And Giving Back)

Running is a great analogy to having cancer. The thing about running is you don’t have to come in first to win. You set your own goals. You have moments when you want to quit. You have other moments when you think “I just may do this!” The secret is to keep moving. To paraphrase Stuart Scott, you beat cancer not by living but by how you live.

When I was in active treatment, I knew I’d had a rough time. I also knew many others had it worse. When I finished active treatment, I wanted to do what I could to make it easier on the people who came after me. That’s how I got involved with the Colon Cancer Alliance. You can too.

To get started:

Did I mention the chemo brain?

Crawford Clay is currently on staff at the Colon Cancer Alliance as one of our Patient Support Navigators and Advocacy Coordinator. He is an eleven year rectal cancer survivor.

 If you have additional questions about screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!

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