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I am a grateful 20-year colorectal cancer survivor with no evidence of disease, diagnosed when I was age 23. I hope sharing our universal story of how we get back up advocating for our loved ones past, future, and present will inspire others to act. Even with a caring wife and family, supportive friends and access to the best doctors and nurses in the world from Memorial Sloan Kettering and Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center, it took me over a decade to meet other caregivers, thrivers and survivors to listen and act embracing our universal story of being stronger together.
Since I was so young and diagnosed Stage III the doctors were aggressive with my standard treatment including external radiation, chemotherapy, a total colectomy, and adjuvant chemotherapy. My girlfriend who accompanied me to a strange city, New York City, spent her early 20's sleeping alone in a Ronald McDonald House while I was being treated. She helped me walk to the stop sign when I had to move back in with my parents while undergoing treatment. I was smart to ask her to marry me. 20 years later, (we are still married) I am healthy enough to spend time advocating for better prevention and access volunteering as a photographer and mentor for Fight CRC ambassadors. The organization supports better research, and ambassadors sharing their stories with not only their local communities, but also their elected officials.
How can I go on to live reconnected? For me, it took years to be able to sit again, to forget comparing my life to others, to advocate for others through a non-profit called Fight CRC, and to focus on being grateful for what I have instead of what I have lost. There are terrible days of suffering and pain, a few setbacks and corrective surgeries, and there are many more days of triumph with countless people helping me. It's so easy to focus on the suffering, and so much more difficult to focus on the people and compassion. I didn't even know some of the people who were praying for me over the course of many years.
I am forever grateful to the countless nurses, doctors, and researchers who dedicate their lives to lessen our suffering from these terrible diseases we call cancer, and support patients with their struggle to redefine a normal life. On World Cancer Day, and everyday, the best you can do for yourself is to talk to your family about your shared family history, be kind to those who might be going through the invisible struggle, and forget about the personal shame, fear and possibly even paralysis of thinking it will not happen to you by pledging to talk to a doctor about prevention and screening. Really, that means make an appointment if you are at risk.
That means put it on your i-calendar, google calendar, whatever calendar. . . now. Screening saved my life.