For the past 17 years, I've been telling my story of being diagnosed with stage III colon cancer just a few weeks after I turned 17 years old. Today is my 17 year cancerversary.
Some years on this cancer anniversary, I've felt empowered and strong. Other years, I've wanted to crawl into a hole and forget this day in 2001 ever happened. Or drown myself in sprinkled donuts, cake and every chocolate chip cookie I can find.
It's been a process to move through the stages of grief, and especially the phases from angry to acceptance.
It's been much more difficult than social media has probably made it look.
But with today marking 17 years since cancer first entered my world, I'm not only reminiscing on a life now lived half with cancer and half without, I'm looking out over a decade of journeying (and sometimes wandering).
I'm reflecting on an era full of longing for purpose and understanding - years the nagging question of "why me" has followed me around.
And I'm grateful to be in a place of peace and hope, a place I can finally look out over the past 17 years and see beautiful things coming from such hardship and pain.
17 Ways God Meant Colon Cancer For My Good
Joseph in the Old Testament is a hero of mine who also had misfortune come his way when he was 17 years old. He too faced a series of traumatic events, but he kept the faith and found himself on the other side of his pain, able to say these words to his abusers with a clear and genuine heart:
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Genesis 50:20
Today, I can say the same thing.
Here are 17 reasons I can see God using my colon cancer for good:
Reason #1: I found my voice.
Because of colon cancer, I started to blog and learned how much I love to write. (Thank YOU for reading!) This hasn't only blossomed into this blog, which is now a log of my cancer journey, but a full-time freelance business. Had I never started writing and posting, people wouldn't have known I have a knack for this, and I wouldn't have been able to start speaking and work full-time for myself, doing what I love.
Reason #2: Empathy.
I know how it feels to live with physical pain. To fear a surgery and a scan, and face scanxiety. To have constant diarrhea. To forego sexy underwear. For those who can relate, I feel ya. You are not alone.
Reason #3: More Empathy.
I know what it's like to be different. To not get my way even through I've prayed for it, and to feel like things are outside my control. I've struggled with unanswered prayers that hurt so deeply, it brings out the ugly in me that I really wish wasn't there. (I mean isn't the cancer enough!?)
But when the anger comes out, I feel freer. And I can love people deeper than I could have before - even people struggling with the same thing.
Reason #4: I've learned it's OK to not be OK.
A very hard lesson, but a good one. If not for cancer, I'm not sure I would have found peace in admitting I am a total hot mess sometimes this early into my life. (Yes, Andy, I still think *mid-30s is early in life!) I like presenting myself as put together and in control of my life. I'd built an identity around being dependable, strong and resilient. But what I've learned from cancer is that I can only be all of those things if I'm honest with how I'm doing... and sometimes, I'm not doing so great and that's OK.
* I put mid-30s since my brother so graciously called me after my exercise post to make sure I knew age 34 was not "early-30s" anymore.
Reason #5: I've got a built-in diet plan.
The days of binging greasy burgers and fries with a topped off strawberry milkshake will never come my way without consequence - but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I cannot sit back and eat handfuls of nuts and popcorn without repercussions the next day. My gut is sensitive, fickle and sometimes unpredictable. And while this is annoying at times, it also forces me to eat healthy. Whether I'm doing the 17-day diet, or following what generally works for me, we tend to eat healthier around here. I don't know if I would have made these same choices had I not been forced to due to my situation. So for that, I'm grateful.
Reason #6: Diapers don't scare me.
A lot of babies "do their business" when they're in my arms. I like to think they realize it's OK to poop when they're around me, and that I'll feel comfortable talking about it with them afterwards. A lot of people talk about their poop with me, not just babies, which I don't mind one bit. I love being someone people can open up to about anything - even their bathroom habits.
Reason #7: Mae.
Speaking of kids: Colon cancer solidified our path to adoption and it's my absolute honor to be called "Mama" by one of the most special, beautiful, life-filled, imaginative girls that's ever taken a breath on this planet. (Not that I am biased or anything.) Our adoption story is so beautiful, surprising and amazing. It builds my faith every time I tell it.
Reason #8: Mike.
While I'm getting all mushy on you, let me say cancer didn't introduce me to this guy, our friend Erin did my freshman year of high school. But when he didn't leave me high and dry at age 17, in fact he wouldn't hardly leave my side, my doctor took notice and told me point-blank to marry him. So I did (a few years later).
Reason #9: I can see the good inside people.
I hope you don't think I'm trying to make light of cancer or how bad it can be, because I'm not. It's pretty brutal and evil. However, walking through a traumatic situation can actually bring out the best in people. The kind words and generous offers to help. The thoughtful gifts for cancer patients. The passion to advocate on behalf of those who are hurting. There's good in just about all of us, cancer helps me see it and it brings it out of most people.
Reason #10: I can laugh at myself.
"We're all parts of the body of Christ, but Danielle's not the colon." My friends made that joke a few years ago, but it's true. And it's funny. I laugh about poop. I talk about farts. I tease myself and others. I'm the butt of many jokes. Colon cancer has lightened me up.
Reason #11: I've ditched religion.
I used to be pretty uptight and spiritual, people calling me religious was a fair description. But between facing multiple cancer diagnoses and having to dig in and really sift through what I believe, I've had to ditch the religious garb that doesn't hold its weight when a Goliath like cancer comes around.
This might sound crazy to people either of extreme conservative traditions, or those who don't claim faith at all - to hear me say I don't consider myself "religious." I realize I'm a devotional author and I write about faith a lot. But, let's just say it's not about religion to me, and I've found amazing peace, hope and joy along my faith journey that's helping me love deeper than ever before.
Reason #12: I've met famous people.
My role at Fight CRC gives me amazing opportunities. I'll be honest, a bonus about being in public relations is getting to meet celebrities - which is pretty fun. I've accompanied them around golf courses, to shows like Rachael Ray, and across New York City streets to ring the NASDAQ board. I've sat across from them to film PSAs and texted them Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.
Reason #13: I've learned to advocate.
Through getting involved in the colorectal cancer community, especially The Colon Club and Fight CRC, my eyes have been opened to the impact of sharing my story. Colon cancer survivor stories are powerful, and I've heard many testimonies about how they offered others hope and even saved others' lives. I pray one major reason I've survived is to help save the lives of others.
Reason #14: I eat boxed mac & cheese guilt-free.
I'm often on a low-residue diet when I'm facing a flare-up, and I eat food that are GI-friendly. Mac and cheese, along with other delicious, white, processed, carbohydrate-rich products often top the list. I can't eat like this every day, and the goal is to get away from this diet and eat more fiber and fruits and veggies, but some days the only thing that works for me is processed noodles and packaged foods. The beauty is I don't feel bad about it.
Reason #15: I realize I'm going to die one day.
I had to come to terms with this early in my life, but I'm very aware I will one day die. There's something beautiful about it that keeps unfolding and guiding me each day. I don't want to die, I'd love to live a long life and watch my daughter grow up. But, I'm also facing the reality that one day I will pass. This is part of the reason I have already planned parts of my own funeral, and I make my final wishes known often.
Reason #16: I've learned I'm not alone.
My mom's spent many nights on uncomfortable hospital couches. My dad drove me to and from radiation for three weeks straight. My brother wrote a paper calling me his hero. My Aunt Deb still prays for me every single day.
I have so many aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, friends and even some strangers, who have sent me countless cards and flowers over the years. I've received dozens of meals and acts of generosity. To be the recipient of so much tangible love is humbling and at the same time soul-filling. I'm keenly aware I'm not alone in this world.
Reason #17: I feel free.
I am not cancer, I had cancer. And while sometimes it's hard to not let it become my life, I've come to realize cancer is the springboard for which I've had to learn about life.
I've walked the freedom process and found inner healing. Many souls that have faced dark times have also gone through this step-by-step. I've come to a place of freedom that the end of the steps, the top of the pyramid, can lead to. If not for cancer, I wouldn't be where I am now: feeling free and at peace with whatever may come my way next, eager to help a fellow sojourner along the way.
Unabashedly honest & beautifully written.
Thank you, your words mean so much!
I also feel Cancer was a Blessing in my life…most people think I am crazy to say that! I can relate to all 17 of your reasons with an added few…. My Cancer removed negative people in my life…namely my husband who abandoned me and told me I was worthless to him! Made me angry but I have moved on and forgiven him, which brings me to another good thing I forgive easily now….I also do not judge people like I used to…My story has SAVED countless lives…I am blessed to have many more friends now like YOU and my whole Colorectal Family all over the world! I get to travel a lot doing advocacy going to places I have never been before! I can’t inagine a life without Cancer! Great Blog!
Wow Liz, that’s such a good point about forgiveness thank you for sharing! I agree about the countless lives you have saved by sharing and am grateful to know you & advocate alongside you!
[…] Initial genetic testing was inconclusive. Later on she would learn she had Lynch Syndrome. On January 23rd, 2018 Danielle and Mike commemorated her 17th “cancerversary.” […]
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