This June 5 may have come and gone for most, but for me, it was a special day — National Cancer Survivors Day.
Yes, I’m one of the more than 14.5 million cancer survivors in the world today — and I’m celebrating! June 5 is a day of celebration for those of us who have survived. It’s also a day of inspiration for those who have been recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families and an outreach to the community. It’s a day when we as cancer survivors can show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can not only go on, it can be abundant, rewarding and inspirational.
I received my breast cancer diagnosis in February 2012. A call at work delivered the news. When a co-worker saw my distress, she took my keys, and drove me home so my husband and I could go to the physician’s office together. This act of kindness touched me and filled my heart.
And the acts of kindness continued.
I received support and encouragement from nearly everyone I know. My colleagues at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital were especially instrumental to my healing. I underwent a double mastectomy and hysterectomy followed by 18 weeks of chemotherapy. It was a difficult time for me both emotionally and physically, but my co-workers offered continual care and understanding.
As my treatments progressed, I began losing my hair and became extremely self-conscious. My administrator declared a “Wear Your Hat to Work Day,” where nearly everyone in the hospital showed up wearing hats to support me. From that day, hats would be left anonymously on my desk for me to wear. One year later, I broke my pelvis and had to walk with crutches. I would leave my backpack and lunch bag by the tire of my car, and my co-workers would always find them and bring them to my office.
To be so outwardly supported was overwhelming. In a time of uncertainty and despair, I realized how truly blessed I was.
Along with my colleagues (and of course, family and friends), I also credit the patients at the hospital for helping me through my journey. When patients leave our hospital, every employee available lines the hall and creates a congratulatory tunnel for the patients to depart through. We clap and cheer. I was doing that one day when I realized some of these people have lost entire limbs, and yet they are feeling grateful, healthy and happy.
I recognized we can either be victims of our situations or we can find the blessings.
And I am blessed. Now, after being cancer-free for more than four years, I mentor other women with breast cancer. I try to never leave a day of work without helping a patient in some way. I was given so much; I want to pay forward the kindnesses I received. I want people to know life can be unfair and situations can be difficult, but you don’t have to go through it alone. And you can come out not only OK — but great — on the other side.
I fought the fight, and I won. My cancer’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned to be healthier and grateful. I’ve been shown more acts of love and compassion than I ever could have imagined. And I’ve learned to experience life one day at a time.
So please join me in celebrating life not only each June 5 but every day.
— Barbara Selden is a four-year cancer survivor and administrative assistant and medical staff coordinator at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital in Johnstown.