Cancer survivor: Leaving cancer behind

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By Linda Ryan

I recently went on vacation to California with my two sons. We did all of the touristy San Francisco attractions, including driving down Lombard Street, going to Alcatraz and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a great way to see the incredible views. 

As we started to cross the bridge, I realized that we were doing what a friend says we should do: We were being participators in life. Not spectators. We were right in the middle of the action, not observing from afar. 

Being a cancer survivor is like wearing a backpack

Shortly before I got to the bridge, I realized I hadn't thought about cancer in a while.

Even though I no longer have cancer, it's on my mind often. I'm not always worrying about it, but it's always there.

As I explained to a friend, for me, being a cancer survivor is like wearing a backpack. You know it's there, and it can be a little heavier at times, but it's always with you wherever you go. You don't notice that it's not there until you look for it. 

While I was on vacation with my boys, I didn't have my backpack with me. I'm not sure where I left it, but it wasn't with me, and I didn't notice I wasn't carrying it.

I still don't know where I left it. Was it at the hotel while I temporarily saw the sights? Did I leave it at home before I got on the airplane? It's rarely far from where I am, so I'm certain I left it at the hotel or maybe even at the shop where we rented bikes. 

When I noticed I wasn't carrying it, there wasn't the panic you get when you can't find your keys or your purse.  It was more of a thought, the realization of feeling a little lighter while seeing what's in front of me for the moment. 

Looking forward to forgetting my backpack

As I write this, I wonder if those moments will become more frequent.  Will the times between wearing my backpack become longer? I have a feeling they will.

Between my second and third cancer diagnoses, I didn't carry my backpack unless I was going to the doctor for a check-up.

But the treatment of my third diagnosis was the most challenging. The chemotherapy really took a toll on my body.  I'm sure I carry the backpack more now, fearing I might have to battle cancer again and undergo treatment. 

Whatever the reason, my backpack is with me.  But I look forward to more moments when I notice I have left it behind.

Linda Ryan thought she had checked cancer off her list. Having just run her first marathon, it was hard to imagine that her cervical cancer had returned after seven years. Cancer chose the wrong woman. She was ready to battle cancer for the third time with health, laughter and friendship. Follow Linda Ryan at

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