by Heather Jose and Christy James
What if we did cancer differently? It is not inevitable that cancer must equal sadness, sickness, grief and pain. They will be a part of it, no doubt. A diagnosis does not mean that the doctor is in charge and there is nothing you can do. There are many options as to how we deal with cancer. One of those options is to thrive.
Cancer is an opportunity. It is a chance to find out what really lies within each of us and to show our strengths to ourselves, our families and the world. I don’t know of one person who asked to get cancer, but I do know many who would tell you it changed their life for the better. I am one of those women.
Cancer is your time to shine. It is an opportunity to do more than survive. It provides a chance to evaluate and change the things that aren’t working in your life. That is a great opportunity. It is a time to challenge yourself to do more, make yourself a priority, become a light in the darkness. It is a chance to surround yourself with people who encourage you, who keep you accountable, and who provide unconditional love.
All over America women are signing up and paying to do these crazy 5K walks and challenges that involve head to toe mud, climbing over barriers and running through fire. They are getting up early and joining boot camps and pushing themselves like never before. It helps them feel in control in a world that seemingly is more out of control each day.
What if we did cancer differently? What if instead of sending people to support groups with women in similar circumstances we asked them to apply to find a mentor who has similar strengths and could provide guidance and encouragement? What if we encouraged them to surround themselves with the people they wanted to become? We can’t wait for a cure when we know that we can make a difference. It is imperative that we shift from waiting on someone to doing something for ourselves. I will not be in a lab waiting on a drug to kill cancer, but I will be on the road with my running shoes knowing that exercise is good for killing cancer. I can make a difference.
My pastor talked about two words the other day: Interest and commit. He asked what we were interested in, where we choose to spend some free time for a couple of minutes each day. Then he asked what we were committed to. Things that we wouldn’t go a day without giving time, energy, and resources to. Wow. It is time to commit!
Heather Jose is a 14 year thriver of stage IV breast cancer, diagnosed at age 26, with a prognosis of six months to live. A national speaker and advocate, Heather’s message is to Go Beyond Treatment.
Putting it all together. We chose to surround ourselves with people who gave us hope and inspired us to make a difference. We had met a lot of experts and gathered a lot of information, but now what?
Now it was time to do the work. It didn’t really feel like work, although it wasn’t exactly easy either. We definitely got out of our comfort zone. Usually, the thought of exercising and eating well sounds like a daunting task, but not this time. We were going for health. The stakes were high and we had our eye on the prize. We were willing to do most anything to make a difference. I don’t recall Heather ever dwelling on the question of “Why me?” We noticed there was no family history. We were very aware that she was quite young for breast cancer. But the how and the why didn’t matter. This was the hand that was dealt and we had to play the hand to the very best of our ability. We focused on right now and what could we do to make it better. We didn’t worry about how sustainable our project was… we were just hoping to get to forever. We did what we could do today. We let the experts do their things and we did ours.
Everything was about health. “Every day we are killing cancer” was our motto. Heather even made a sign. When Heather was in the hospital her sign hung in her room to let everyone who entered know what we were there to do.
We made choices every day and we were consistent. In some ways decisions got easier. Is this good for me? Yes or no. Things were very clear. Do I feel like going outside in the snow for a walk or do I feel like sitting in this chair for the next half hour instead? Which is better for me? I am an exercise physiologist now and I am yet to meet anyone who has ever wished they skipped a workout after it was done. To find our best options on a restaurant menu, we made it a puzzle or a game. One of the benefits of this new plan was that we were feeling good. We didn’t feel deprived, we felt empowered. Exercise gave us energy, cleared our minds and made us feel strong. We were feeling good in the midst of this crisis. I’m not sure either of us ever even imagined that feeling good was possible.
So ask yourself over and over or find someone else to ask the question… is this good for me? You have the tools to get started. So I’ll leave you with a quote from the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You’ll Go, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”
Christy James is Heather’s long time friend. Together they faced the breast cancer journey together. Even though they lived miles apart, Christy wanted to help and support Heather however she could. They talked on the phone almost every day, sharing the struggles and basking in the triumphs.