I always wondered about Lance Armstrong. I thought he must have been a medical marvel to win the Tour de France within 2 years of being considered cancer-free. I didn’t understand how anyone who had endured surgeries, and heavy doses of chemotherapy, could come back so quickly after treatment. Sure, he was a trained athlete and I do believe in mind over matter, but this seemed so incredible that I among others, wanted so badly to believe. Why did I have these reservations? I am a cancer survivor.
In the summer of 1995, I heard those words. “You have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” There was a brief period when there was suspicion that I had Leukemia as well, but biopsies proved that wrong. I felt sad for a week. When I heard that I had an 80% chance of survival, my head changed gears. My whole thought process was to move forward, do what I had to do, and stay positive. Twelve rounds of chemo, and a month of radiation followed. That was 18 years ago and with a few bumps since, I am still here.
People who knew me then know most of the story. I have been reluctant to tell people I have met since that I am a survivor. Partly I don’t want it to define me; partly I don’t like the look most people give when they find out. It is a mixture of pity and sadness. I have now decided it is up to survivors to let others know that there are many who have battled various forms of cancer, and have lived to tell about it.
On a follow-up appointment, my oncologist asked if I would allow a resident doctor sit in on the visit. The reason was that the medical field was having trouble attracting physicians into the field of oncology. He stated that new doctors only see the most ill in hospitals. They don’t see the ones who regain their health, build up their strength, grow back their hair, and go on to live happy and productive lives. Of course I said yes. Now I am telling the world. There are many among the masses that provide inspiration and support. We don’t need an athlete, entertainer, or politician to do it for us. Our heroes are the doctors, nurses, and technicians who provide quality care, comfort, and a high degree of dedication to their patients.
The saddest part of Lance’s story is that he was already a winner. He could have come in dead last and still would have been an inspiration. His story could have been promoted and his foundation would have flourished. I don’t accept his rationalization that cancer made him do what he did. Cancer doesn’t turn you into a liar, cheater, or someone who hurts people. Cancer changes your life in a way that is unexplainable to others. It builds an appreciation of the small things. It teaches you not to sweat the small stuff. It opens your eyes to the fact that time is ticking. There are so many others who were not as fortunate to have that second chance. Life is short. It is the obligation of all survivors to live life as best we can, and lead the way for more to hear the words…”Congratulations. You are in remission.”