20 Years Later: What cancer took from me, and what it gave me

©Billy Howard Photography
(1994) from the art show & book
Angels & Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer
(find it HERE on Amazon)

Twenty years ago today, my oncologist confirmed that all of my scans were clear. Thirteen months of chemotherapy behind me, and loads of possibility and unknowns ahead. I was officially in remission, off-therapy, and a cancer survivor*.

Twenty years. I don’t remember a lot of details. Partly because it has been a long time, and partly because that’s what chemo does to your brain. But I do remember what it feels like to be so sick that you start to wonder how cancer could be worse than what the chemo is doing to you. I remember the feeling of receiving Benadryl through an IV (amazing what that can do for nausea – and how quickly it makes you sleep!). I recall how good it felt each time the scans would come back clear after  an MRI or spinal tap. And I remember how excited – and scared – I was when they said I was finished with chemo.

Cancer took a lot from me. It took my hair – quite devastating for an 18 year old girl. It took my energy. I felt tired all the time. It took the majority of my senior year. I completed most of the final semester from home. It took me away from friends and activities. It took what should have been my first semester of college. While most of my friends were off to school, I was spending my days in the hospital or sick at home.

Yes, cancer took a lot. But cancer gave me a lot as well.

There were little things: an amazing hat collection, more flower deliveries than I could count, gifts and visits from family & friends, a standing ovation at my high school graduation, and lots of other fun little things. But the big things are much more memorable and important.

Cancer gave me the chance to really examine who I am and what I believe. And even though I was sick and my body was weak, my faith grew stronger. I felt God’s presence, and I knew He could make something beautiful out of my circumstances.

Cancer gave me more time with my family. It gave me a chance to evaluate relationships and priorities. It opened doors to my participation in/with newspaper, television, and an art exhibition. It provided me with the opportunity to set goals. It gave me (and continues to give me) so many opportunities to share my faith with others. And cancer gave me the chance to start college a semester late, at the right time so that I could meet the man I would one day marry.

I am a cancer survivor, but that is only a part of who I am. It is a journey that I would not have chosen. But it is a journey that made me stronger in many ways, and one that ultimately led me to, among other things, my husband, my children, and a life overseas. I am grateful that God has given me this testimony, and twenty years of life and opportunities. God is good!

You can read more about my cancer experience HERE.

*And FYI – once you’ve lived a moment beyond your diagnosis, you are a survivor in my book!

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