For the better half of my life, I have been ashamed of this fact without really having a reason why. I was the sole person among my friends that did not wear a bikini because I felt the need to hide my scars. I was self-conscious of them and the inevitable questions that I knew others would ask. It was my dark little secret that only a select few knew and kept hidden at my behest. It wasn’t a vanity thing though. It was more of a concern to me that people would treat me differently if they knew the truth.
As I got older, the title “Survivor” morphed into something else entirely. What should have been a source of pride and gratitude, became nothing but a hole of guilt. Over the years, I kept coming into contact with more and more people who had been affected by cancer. Some of my closest friends lost loved ones. The people I loved lost friends- and the more and more I walked through life, the more I realized I was in the minority. It was only a matter of time before I started asking questions. Why had I been spared and not any of the others? Why should I be the one to live? I struggled with the guilt of my existence for years. Eventually, I realized that I am not changing anything by asking these questions, nor will I ever find out the answers- so I changed my mindset.
I was a survivor, but I wanted to truly live each and every day. I wanted to wake up in the morning grateful and humble to be alive. I wanted to live in the service of others, to do as much as I could to give back to the world for the life I was lucky to have. I wanted to spread hope.
Community of Hope
In 2016, I participated in my first American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Glastonbury, Connecticut, and I knew it was the exact place I needed to be. It wasn’t until then that I realized what it meant, not only to me but to others, to be a Survivor.
Growing up, my scars and my past defined my existence and my own vision of myself on a daily basis. In many ways, it separated me from others in my own mind. But participating in the Relay for Life year after year is a reality check. There is really no way to fully grasp the scope and range of this disease. Every year, cancer takes approximately 564,800 lives. But there is no real count for the friends, families and loved ones affected by cancer as well. It is a community build on not only pain but hope. And one that I am finally proud to be a part of.
I was lucky to survive. My existence could have very easily been erased from this world but here I stand. But I am very humbled by this knowledge. Through the years, I have been a witness to countless other tales of Cancer that did not end as well as mine. And because I am still here to breathe the sweet air and drink in the wonder and light of life, I will always seek to pay tribute to those who were taken by this merciless disease.
To those who have been taken from us- I promise to never forget you. I promise to be grateful for the life I have and for those standing at my side today. I promise to support those who need it and to tell my story to those in need of hope. I promise to live each day with intention and to go through my life doing the things that set my soul on fire in memory of you. I promise to be a pillar of support and strength for others during their fight. I promise to cherish birthdays. And I promise that I will relay and donate and be a part of the movement to help more people become survivors.
Thank you to everyone that supported me and my family during that time all those years ago, and to all others who sent their prayers.
For anyone fighting, or for those who have lost a loved one, stay strong. Keep fighting. Your hope shines brighter than you will ever know. Never be ashamed of your scars. You are not alone, and there is always someone there to listen to your story.
I love you all. Never give up.
If you’re interested in making a donation please click here to be brought to my personal fundraising page on the American Cancer Society Relay for Life Web page.
If you would like to read more about what the event supports and where your donation goes, click here.