Sunday, March 01, 2009

With Cancer Survivorship Comes Great Responsibility

It hit me yesterday, perhaps harder than ever, that my having survived cancer nearly five years ago requires that I live boldly, sharing my God-given talents to help make the world, if only a small portion of it, a better place. I was sifting through e-mails and received one from my cousin Cindy who has a friend whose sister passed away last Saturday after a relapse of cancer—she’d had leukemia. Cindy had told me about this a couple of weeks ago and asked for any advice or information I could share, especially regarding clinical trials. The woman had been in remission from the leukemia but when the cancer came back, it had spread to her liver.

As I read Cindy’s e-mail, I once again realized how extremely fortunate I have been. There is no justice or reason in the randomness of who dies or survives illness, whatever their age; and sometimes survivor’s guilt surfaces. We know we are all going to die, but we expect, and hope, it will be later rather than sooner. So when I read stories of young people passing away before their time, it makes me achingly aware that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, that we should make the most of each day, be truly present in the company of our loved ones, and do what we enjoy and have passion for in life.

We must stop postponing dreams and goals, thinking we have all the time in the world: I’ll do it when I have more money, when I’m older, when my kids are grown, when I’ve learned more or gained more experience. How many excuses can we devise to remain stuck in our current existence? Familiarity can breed stagnation. Many times we remain stagnant because the familiar is a comfortable place in which to reside, even if we are unhappy, discontented, and the realization of—or even first steps toward—unfulfilled dreams remain dormant and far off in the distance.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I have tried to live my life more daringly and manifest my dreams by taking the appropriate actions. And I have accomplished some of these goals—the most exciting one was writing my book, Rebirth, which was written with the intention to help, encourage, and inspire patients going through cancer. The prospect of the book being completed and available to help anyone in need has been very fulfilling, and I can envision my message widely spread throughout the country. However, now that the book is ready to make its debut, I feel some trepidation. What if it’s not good enough? What if it is criticized? Well, I ask myself, “What if this does happen?” Whatever happens, I know I will be fine.

When I set out to author this book it was with the intention of helping others, and it will only be able to do that if it is out in the world. Furthermore, if Rebirth helps even one person, then I've accomplished my goal. What I must remember is that I was given creative gifts: the ability to act, to write, to speak, all injected with a good deal of compassion to boot. As someone who vowed to make a difference in the world and to be a braver person if I made it through my cancer battle, it would be a betrayal to not keep that vow. So it is with this intention in mind that I march onward to promote my book and achieve all the creative goals I’ve set regardless of the outcome.

As a cancer survivor, it is my responsibility to make sure that I not only give back to the people who so generously helped me through that terrible ordeal, but also to give forward to other cancer patients and survivors, or anyone going through a difficult time. But perhaps more importantly, is the responsibility to hold myself accountable for the dreams and goals I set that could have disappeared along with my life had I died from the leukemia. And in a way, that may be the biggest responsibility of all—keeping the promises I made to myself. For how can I possibly encourage others to muster the audacity to take flight, spread their wings, and soar into the unknown if I lack the nerve to do it myself?