I’ve hesitated going public with my most recent health updates. It was the topic of several therapy sessions leading up to my surgery in April. “I’m an advocate. I wrote a book about my health! How can I not share what’s going on!

For a few reasons, I needed to keep my health private at first. But, as I’ve recovered, I’ve slowly started to open up. And as I celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day, I’ve found the courage to put it out there: I’m now a three-time cancer survivor. 

Ostomy Surgery

About five years ago, I was seriously contemplating getting an ileostomy. I blogged a lot about it, and I saw multiple doctors. I was close to diving in, but after one doctor’s visit, I decided to wait. There was more I could do to curb my discomfort. And it worked, for a time. The decision was right for me. 

But earlier this year, that changed.

During my annual colonoscopy in January, my GI—who has been with me since day 1—found another concerning polyp. It felt just like the situation leading up to my second cancer. Between my past cancer diagnoses and my role as a wife, mom and business owner, I wasn’t going to mess around.

Plus, my struggles from radiation’s lingering side effects were growing, and I knew my risk for more colorectal cancer was high due to Lynch syndrome. I didn’t waste much time and scheduled surgery. I’d get a permanent ileostomy and a proctocolectomy, a.k.a. “Barbie Butt.” 

Although the biopsy from the colonoscopy showed the polyp was benign, I could feel that it was time, and something was up. I knew my doctor did too. I was ready.

The Surprise Diagnosis

I wish I could say I was shocked to hear "stage I cancer," after surgery, but I wasn’t. I was surprised, but I also knew in my gut I needed to take my GI's concern seriously. What was unfolding felt almost exactly like what happened years ago when I was diagnosed with my second cancer: A concerning polyp was found during a colonoscopy; there was a benign biopsy; I scheduled surgery; I woke up hearing I had cancer; the cancer was caught early; and surgery was the only treatment needed.

Both cancers two and three have now followed this pattern. I feel both relieved and conflicted.

“Doc, last time this happened it sent me into a crisis of faith,” is what I said after my surgeon broke the news. As she left my hospital room, I knew I had some decisions to make. 

Choosing Resilience

When my second cancer came, I was 25, working in ministry, and I got really angry at God. It felt so unfair. For the first time, I felt the fear of cancer. The injustice of cancer. Years prior when I was diagnosed with my first cancer at age 17, I was so focused on returning to school, friends and college plans—I didn’t let it get to me. Even though it was late-stage and demanded chemo and radiation, I let it roll off my back and I quickly moved on.

But my second cancer wrecked me. It led me to address my mental health. I started therapy. I found language for what I’d been through: “trauma.” And I opened up my heart to feel what cancer typically leads you to feel—which for me was a lot of fear, grief and anger. 

I eventually found acceptance for my situation, including the fact that since I live with a genetic disease, I will always be high-risk for more diagnoses. 

“It’s cancer,” is not exactly something anyone wants to hear, ever. But after I heard these words again a few months ago, I didn’t freak out. I didn’t deny I felt disappointed, but I also wasn't angry. I made a quick decision to be resilient, and it may have been one of the most important decisions of my life.

I've ridden the waves of cancer trauma for 22 years now, and a third diagnosis is another big one to scale. But I have kept my mind focused on the present and not let fear take control. One way I've done this is appreciating the good news: all cancer was removed, it wasn’t in any lymph nodes, and my risk for getting another colorectal cancer just dropped to zero. 

I've been surrounded by friends, family and flowers reminding me I am not alone. I have been called things like brave, strong and inspiring. And while I could feel down and angry, the overriding feeling I have is gratitude.

This gratitude has carried me through the past 8 weeks, which has involved painful complications, long hospital stays and ostomy leaks. It’s helping me find the light, anchor my faith, and remember the promises of God and His truths. Cancer is dark, but light can break through. Am I happy to be seeing an oncologist again and getting regular scans? Not really. Do I love getting lab work and searching for cancer cells? No.

But, I’m thankful for a medical team who understands my high-risk and is aggressively tracking my health alongside me. I’m thankful we caught my past two cancers early. I'm thankful this health situation didn't impact our foster care journey in a negative way. I'm thankful for the focus for "what's next" it's given me.

Take Aways

If you get anything from me going public about my latest cancer story, I hope it's these two things:

One: Early stage cancer is so much better than late-stage cancer. So, don’t delay getting symptoms checked out and getting regular, on-time cancer screenings.

And two: We don't have to be victims to our hard and painful circumstances. I am not a victim to cancer. That doesn’t mean I don't feel physical and emotional pain, but there’s a difference between taking a punch and being knocked out. Victims get knocked out. Champions take the punch, shake it off, and stand up again.

I’ve had some hits lately, but I’m still in the ring. I’ve got a lot to live for and a lot of people helping me live. I owe it to them, and to myself, to press on. God's not done with me yet, and until it's my time to go, I plan to keep going.

It’s taken me two decades to get here, but I think I’ve arrived.

Like they say: 3rd times a charm.