Living My Best Life Cancer Free

I loved Alaska, but when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I became intimately aware of the challenges my community faced in accessing adequate health care.

I fell in love with southeast Alaska when I first arrived. Perhaps it was the unique environment of the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world that attracted me, or the tight-knit and welcoming communities which form a productive and pristine network unlike any other in the world.

These are the reasons I stayed and have made Alaska my home. But when I was diagnosed with early-onset stage 3 colorectal cancer, I became intimately aware of the challenges my community faced in accessing adequate health care.

As an active professional working mother, I started experiencing rectal bleeding on my daily runs. Despite being a strong advocate for my health, I could not get a doctor to believe there was anything wrong with me. Six months later, I scheduled a colonoscopy in my hometown in Wisconsin. It was there, with my parents by my side looking like their beloved dog had just been run over, that I heard my late-stage cancer diagnosis. Three days later I had my chemo port installed, underwent daily rounds of radiation, continuous chemotherapy, plus surgery all away from my husband and two young daughters. It was all a rush without time to process or advocate for saving my eggs or consideration of life after cancer.

I was one of the lucky ones though, I survived, even with a the five-year survival rate of only 14%.

Spending a fourth of my life as a cancer survivor, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. I’m not going to lie and say cancer was the best thing to happen to me. It was scary and tortuous. I still have emotional and physical side effects that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life, but cancer taught me many things at a young age. First it taught me to live with an open heart, to not let pain make you hate, to not let the world make you hard. Second, life is short and there is only time for love. Be kind instead of right. Be the bigger person and don’t sweat the small things. Always choose love and be intentional with your time. Third, choose you. Follow your dreams. Always do your best and love yourself. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, what you look like, or how much money you have. Just do you. Fourth, always have an attitude of gratitude. Shift your focus from the bad to the good. Find joy and happiness in the small things. The warmth of the sun, the love of your dog, the sound of sand hill cranes flying overhead, and humpback whales breathing.

Last, volunteer. I recently attended the American Cancer Society National Colorectal Cancer (CRC) Roundtable representing the Alaska Cancer Partnership. I am proud to chair our local Beat the Odds Cancer Committee in Petersburg, Alaska, that has provided over $500,000 in financial assistance for cancer patients in southeast Alaska for over 25 years and has allowed nurses at Petersburg Medical Facility to administer chemotherapy so cancer patients can stay home with their loved ones. I am passionate and eager to increase CRC awareness, advocate for prevention, decrease stigma and provide support for patients and caregivers.

As an Alaska resident, I want to spread the word that Alaska Natives have the highest rates of CRC and mortality rates in the world. As a mother, I want everyone to understand that CRC is rapidly shifting to diagnosis at a younger age, and at a more advanced stage. Although it is one of the most common forms of cancer, it is also one of the most preventable ones. I encourage all Alaska Natives over 40, all non-Alaska Natives over 45, and those 40 or younger that have a family member who has had colorectal cancer to get screened today! Early detection saves lives!

This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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