Will I be a cancer survivor?

Every year my company puts in a bunch of teams for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for life. This is an overnight event where people walk around a track for about twelve hours. You must always have someone on your team walking at all times.  I have participated in this walk for the past two years and have had a great time each year.  Two years ago it was especially meaningful because earlier in the day I had visited my friend in the hospital who was recovering from a malignant tumor that was removed from his neck.  We were 28 years old.  He had adenoid cystic carcinoma.   He then had to go through 30 consecutive days of radiation.  It was a surreal experience visiting him in the hospital and it brought everything into perspective.  I thought to myself, ‘we are just too young to have cancer’.   That year I felt like I was doing the cancer walk for him and the others I knew who were affected by cancer.

Okay back to this year and the reason for this post.  The planning for this year’s Relay for Life has begun and emails have gone out asking for participants for this year’s walk.  This year one of my co-workers asked if she could walk for me this year.  Although I was extremely honoured, it made me think about this cancer and do I really qualify as someone who should be recognized during the walk?  It’s true, I do have cancer. But I may have had it for a while and without a fancy genetic test, I may not have even ever known about it.  Maybe it would have turned into something bigger, or maybe not.  Who knows. But my fancy genetic test gave me the choice to make a decision about my future.  My fancy genetic test helped me start screening which ultimately found the cancer.  I had a choice in all of this.  I feel extremely fortunate to have this choice but I know many other people who develop cancer did not have this choice.  The genetic test ultimately has saved my life.   So this brings up the question, will I be considered a cancer ‘survivor’ after my stomach is removed?  Or what about the majority of CDH1 mutation carriers whose endoscopy didn’t detect any cancer but once the stomach was removed there was cancer present?  Are these people survivors as well?

I’ve hummed and hawed around this question a lot and I have personally decided that yes we are all survivors.  Science is amazing and it allowed us to have choices.  I feel that this sort of thing will likely happen a lot more as we become more advanced with research and more common in preventing lethal diseases.  Just because we were able to find out ahead of time , I think that having a major surgery to remove one of your organs, and having to live with that new life for the rest of your life should definitely qualify.   Not to mention all of the screening for the other cancers as well in the future.  In addition, I feel like the psychological component of having this gene can be fairly stressful at times and that should not be underestimated.  Your brain can play wild tricks on you if you let it!  Sure my cancer story is different but cancer is cancer and it’s scary no matter how bad it is!

After all that being said, I did let my co-worker honour me for the walk.  Mostly because I need to stop denying what I have and accept that I have cancer no matter how big or small. I also wanted to raise awareness for the CDH1 gene mutation and that stomach cancer affects young people as well as older people.

The walk will occur on June 6-7th, 2014. This will be about three and a half weeks after my surgery. I’m not sure if I will be able to walk this year but next year…Will I participate in the first walk of the race (the survivor lap) and wear the survivor coloured t-shirt as opposed to the regular t-shirt?  Yes, because I think we are all survivors and we should be proud to tell our tale.

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