Three years. If you can believe it, I have now been treated for cancer for nearly three years. In 20 days another canceriversary will come and go. I am still living with disease, yes. But I am still very much alive and thriving.
The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the cancer diagnosis have me feeling reflective. It brings about strong feelings but not the types of feelings that one may expect. I probably should be more angry that this happened, but as I’ve said before I’m just not. Sure, cancer isn’t fair, it isn’t right, it isn’t deserved- it just is. So instead- look at the mountains we have moved. Look how far we (yes, not just me) have come together since that horrible day in November.
I wish the terrified 24 year old girl in the hospital bed at Charlotte Hungerford could have looked into a crystal ball and saw herself now. At that time I thought nothing could ever be the same. I thought that I’d be let go from my dream job, unable to maintain a romantic relationship, unable to see the world, stripped of all independence. Although there have been many points in the last few years when I’ve been forced to hit pause or slow down, I’ve never been fully stopped.
After nearly three years with cancer I think it’s important to reflect less on what was lost and more on what is:
- This girl with cancer can work full time, even through weekly chemo.
- This girl with cancer can find a boyfriend and build a relationship surrounded by unconditional love
- This girl with cancer can educate students on their academic paths and help them follow their passions.
- This girl with cancer can give presentations and tell multiple corny jokes in the process.
- This girl with cancer can articulate her thoughts through writing
- This girl with cancer can sign up for a 3 hour DDP yoga workshop on a whim (No, seriously. Fellow 1990’s WWF fans, this is not a joke)
- This girl with cancer can cook for herself…when she feels like it.
- This girl with cancer can clean her apartment…again, when she feels like it.
- This girl with cancer can co-advise Colleges Against Cancer to support students touched by illness
- This girl with cancer can travel out of the country on a (desperately needed) tropical vacation with said boyfriend (who also desperately deserves a vacation)
- This girl with cancer can crush dead lifts and squats (with lots of encouragement from Weese Fitness)
- This girl with cancer can travel to Chicago to attend the National Collegiate Honors Council conference
- This girl with cancer can band together with friends and family and raise a crap-ton of money for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
- This girl with cancer can poke fun at her buzz cut and dress up as 2007 meltdown Britney Spears for Halloween (and dance the night away!)
- This girl with cancer can volunteer at a children’s hospital to support other families facing illness
- This girl with cancer can suck down a cocktail (occasionally) with her favorite nurse
- This girl with cancer can speak honestly about her experience in a public forum
- This girl with cancer can binge watch seven seasons of Parks and Rec without shame or regret
- This girl with cancer can find her voice
- This girl with cancer can accept that it is okay to ask for and accept help from loved ones (even if it kills her)
- This girl with cancer can accept that she is not superwoman and cannot do it all, and that’s okay (even if it kills her x2)
My understanding of cancer is not black and white. It has been a continuum of ups and downs, struggles and successes. I accept that I cannot be everything to everyone. I accept that I have limitations. I accept that I may drop the ball or have a bad day, or week, or month. But every new day on this green earth brings another set of accomplishments.
Even if the list above was more like:
- This girl with cancer can binge watch seven seasons of Parks and Rec because it makes her smile (yep using the same example. It’s that special to me.)
- This girl with cancer successfully had a bm after surgery, finally (I’m not sorry, this is a real struggle SO real for many)
- This girl with cancer had an appetite today and ate half a bagel and some peaches!
…it would still be a list of accomplishments from each and every day that something improved in the slightest.
So allow me to please hop in the Delorean and travel back in time to my former, newly diagnosed, self-
Dear 24 year old Jess Sultaire,
It’s going to be okay. Not because I know the outcome of this disease but because I know that the life you will live over the next three years will be full of far more successes than failures. The life you will live beyond the next three years will challenge you immensely and be one that brings you joy and pride. Hang in there kid.
Jess Sultaire of the past and future