Yesterday was National Cancer Survivors Day, though for many of our survivors and their loved ones, every day is a celebration of life.
The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a "survivor" as anyone living with a history of cancer, from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.
This week is a great time for everyone to stop and think about the survivors they know and love. I reflect on the cancer survivors and caregivers that I have had the honor to care for over the last 30 years. I see a collage of your faces and remember your stories.
One such survivor story happened early in my nursing career. When I was 26 years old, I met Anna, who was 22 and single. She had been diagnosed with an ovarian germ cell tumor and came to my unit for treatment. Over the next 12 months, Anna's tumor was successfully treated with chemotherapy and surgery. She fought hard and her cancer was gone, but the treatment left her unable to have children.
Over the next 15 years, Anna would occasionally call or, at the least, return yearly to our clinic and we would "catch up." Anna earned a college degree in education and teaching third graders became her passion. She began dating and called me once to ask my thoughts of when she should divulge that she was a cancer survivor. Eventually, she met and married a wonderful man and we continued to celebrate her health and prosperity. The world seemed only to have open doors with a promising future.
On one visit to our clinic she emotionally shared that she felt guilty (because she also felt so lucky to be alive), yet still grieved that she would never be a mother. We talked at length, I listened, reassuring her that her feelings were normal, encouraging her to discuss options with her doctor. She did and also visited with social work services to get information and resources for adoption agencies. Eventually, Anna was able to adopt a beautiful baby girl. Today, advances in medicine include minimally-invasive surgery that preserves fertility, egg harvesting and more.
Anna is one of the many survivors who have taught me about courage, determination, faith, hope, love and living with gusto.
I recently read that it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but an entire life to forget them. This is how I see the women and men who I have had the honor to provide nursing care for. They will forever survive in my heart.