With a July 20th birthday, cancer is my zodiac sign. Growing up I never thought much of people reading horoscopes out of newspapers and magazines asking me what my sign was. I said, "I'm a cancer."
Fast forward to Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 when my life was forever changed.
At 33 years young, I became a cancer who got diagnosed with, uh, cancer -- stage four. This came as an extreme shock as I thought I was healthy. I've never smoked, and while I have those extra 20 pounds I'd love to lose, I don't think of myself as obese.
Yet life had changed to never be the same... ever again. The doctor's appointment when the word "lymphoma" was first mentioned in association with me fell on Friday, March 12th, 2010. My doctor said he would set me up with an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist, but that appointment wasn't until the next Thursday, March 18th, 2010. So I did what I think everyone does with the time in between appointments. I "Googled."
Big mistake! I also freaked myself out unnecessarily! "Don't go to the Internet," and especially "Don't Google," have become some top tips I share because everyone does it. Few seem to know about www.cancer.net, which is phenomenal information that's oncologist-approved information.
It was three weeks from the day my diagnosis was confirmed to my first chemo treatment. That day, a nurse told me I had a few weeks before my thick brown shoulder-length hair would begin falling out. I decided to follow what I share as another of my recommended "dos & don'ts" at diagnosis. "Do control what you can." We cut my hair very short.
One "hair loss shower" later (which was the most emotionally painful moment during my journey), we had my head shaved.
Fortunately I learned it's not what happens to you in life, but how you respond to
it. We all have a choice in how we respond to life's curveballs and obstacles. To transform the complete loss of my shoulder-length hair into a positive (dare I say fun?) experience, we ordered a variety of wigs) from tlcdirect.org and I "modeled" these while my caregiver (also known as mom) took pictures of me. With friends and family scattered all over, we utilized social media and uploaded pictures to Facebook holding an "online Facebook Fashion Show" where everyone could "like," "comment," and support me.
After all, I discovered when facing cancer you are desperately in need of three
critical things: en"courage"ment (Courage is the opposite of fear, and at diagnosis who doesn't feel that paralyzing fear of death and dying?), resources, and support. When we share our burdens with others, they become so much easier to bear! There are so many incredible resources I found for those fighting cancer and their support team. Who has time, though, to find these things? I put 25 pages of resources (not 25 resources, but 25 pages) in my book Cancer With Joy. My medical team was terrific, but I found the doctors are expected to see so many patients in a day. They're in and out focusing on blood draw results, physical exams, and writing infusion orders. Sure I could check on a form if I was feeling depressed, angry, anxious, etc. and I could talk to an oncology social worker -- who had never personally had cancer. You need someone who's truly "been there."
Being the happiest cancer patient at many hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and surgery centers (and being named Joy), motivated me to start Cancer With Joy so I can bring a true "dose of Joy" -- literally and figuratively -- to the 1.5 million+ diagnosed with cancer every year in the U.S. With an active website (cancerwithjoy.com), and Cancer With Joy the book now published by Morgan James Publishing of NYC, I feel the reason "this cancer got cancer" was to fulfill the purpose of my life -- bringing a "dose of Joy," happiness, and comfort to the 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women who will face cancer in their life. I often say, "No one's happy they have cancer. But you can have cancer and still be happy!"