A Message from Shannon:
“I am learning the importance of turning my cancer story into something bigger – something positive – by paying it forward.”
Cancer – the diagnosis that we all think will happen to someone else. I know that I did, until the big C knocked on my door on January 29, 2014: the day that I became a melanoma survivor. It seemed surreal because, less than three months earlier, my dad had been diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer. When you first hear the words “you have cancer,” it seems like the entire world stops. You are paralyzed by fear, by anger, by sadness, but mostly by the uncertainty of what a cancer diagnosis holds for you and those you hold dearest to your heart. It is unbelievably sobering to be faced with your own mortality and to wonder if you will live to celebrate more wedding anniversaries, to attend your only child’s college graduation or to be there with her when she picks out her wedding dress.
As gut-wrenching as it might feel at the time, cancer is not a death sentence: it’s a sentence to live. To live life to the absolute fullest, to love unconditionally, to find humor in even the hardest of times and to embrace each and every day as a gift that should be opened with unbridled excitement. Once you realize how very short life can be, you learn to appreciate the urgency, and the necessity, of living your life as if there is no tomorrow.
I was one of the lucky ones. Yes, I really do consider myself to be lucky even after getting cancer. I am lucky because I now appreciate the mundane, routine things that so many people take for granted – a beautiful sunset or a phone call from my husband or my daughter ending in “I love you.” I am lucky that I am still here. I am lucky because my melanoma was caught at one of the earliest stages possible (stage 1a), and early detection is so, so, so very important when it comes to surviving the black beast. I also consider myself lucky because I am learning to let go of those little things in life that don’t matter and hold tightly onto the little things that do. When faced with such an ugly disease, it is unbelievable just how quickly your perspective changes and allows you to feel lucky again.
“I am lucky because I now appreciate the mundane, routine things that so many people take for granted – a beautiful sunset or a phone call from my husband or my daughter ending in ‘I love you.'”
More importantly, I am learning the importance of turning my cancer story into something bigger – something positive – by paying it forward. By sharing my story, I hope to raise awareness of melanoma: to help people understand that it is not “just skin cancer” and to encourage people to get regular skin checks, in hopes of detecting abnormal changes as early as possible. Because I am still here, I am also committed to helping someone else who is also fighting the big C. Every month since my diagnosis, I have travelled 7 hours round-trip to prepare and serve dinner for the cancer patients and their caregivers at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge
in Lexington, Kentucky. So long as my health allows me to do so, I will continue this mission, each and every month, from here on out. Life is far too short and far too precious not to spend it doing something that matters. Luckily, I have been blessed with an amazing family and friends who are with me every step of the way and who are helping me leave behind a legacy: a legacy that tells the world that there IS life after cancer. Cancer is but a a short chapter in the book of my life and not how my story will end.
Learn more about the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, their resources, referral program and what you can do to help.
Header image by Vinoth Chandar, used under CC. Body image provided by Shannon.