I firmly believe God planned for Amanda and me to meet. In 2008, I was living in Chapel Hill, NC. I decided to attend a cancer survivor summit planning committee in Greensboro, NC. Amanda and I sat next to each other and at the time didn’t really think anything of it. Later in the meeting, we were asked to fill out a form with demographic information on it. It was then we realized we both lived in Chapel Hill, from there we realized we lived in the same apartment complex and that we could see each other’s apartments from our balconies.
Amanda was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer when she was 23 years old. She had already survived longer than the doctors had thought and was full of life. Over the next year, as our friendship grew, so did her cancer. In 2009, Amanda left this earth leaving many memories behind.
Amanda lived in mortal time, she knew one day she would die, but continued to live each day with a smile and hope that she would get one more day with her family and friends, one more miracle. It’s easy to stay positive when your prognosis is good, but Amanda stayed positive even when facing her own mortality. She lived with hope and faith every day. Amanda understood that death did not mean losing your fight to cancer. She knew that the way you lived, after being diagnosed, was how you beat cancer. She died knowing she wasn’t going to let cancer win. She died on her terms, not cancer’s.
Amanda had been a speaker at Relay for Life events in her community. I want to share with you one of her speeches as it is a reminder that we all need to live with hope.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was a normal, run-of-the-mill 23-year-old getting settled into a new career and into graduate school. I was just getting used to this new independent life that I had begun to create for myself when my world was turned upside down. I had pancreatic cancer. If you know anything about pancreatic cancer, then you know it’s a rare cancer with devastating survival rates. I had a solid pseudopapillary tumor, documented case number 305 in the world.
After a routine CT scan, the doctors informed me that the cancer was back. This time it was in my stomach and there were too many tumors to count. Exactly one year from my diagnosis, my surgeon went in to remove the tumors. After two hours in the operating room, he came out and told my family that much to his astonishment, he couldn’t find any tumors. They were all gone! He had no medical explanation for this occurrence. He did say that he wished his other patients had half of the prayers and support that I have, then he would be saving a lot more lives.
My family and I are convinced that this was nothing short of a miracle. Months later, I was told that I had twenty new tumors, ten on my lungs and ten in my liver. I am undergoing chemo again. It’s a battle but my past experiences have taught me that surviving this is going to require me waking up and falling in love with the world and life all over again each day . . . no matter how hard the day before might be.
As a fellow cancer patient/survivor I offer you these lessons that I embrace each day: Live “RIGHT NOW.” Don’t live in fear of the future. How many times have you caught yourself saying “What if such and such . . .?” “What if the cancer spreads?” “What if the treatments don’t work?” “What if the chemo causes my hair to fall out?” Filling your mind with “What-ifs” is only going to prevent you from enjoying the moment you have been given. Don’t be consumed with what may happen in the future. I’ll be the first to admit that it is hard, but you’ll eventually appreciate the fact that even with cancer, YOU HAVE LIFE, HERE and NOW.
Even better, don’t just live but LIVE RIGHT NOW WITH HOPE. Live in the moment and know that God is going to take care of you. ALL of life, not just parts of it, is in good hands and live with a promise in your heart that even though the future is uncertain and scary at times that everything is happening for a reason. Live with the confidence that you are being guided every step of the way. Not all of these steps are going to be happy and cheerful, some may be filled with pain and sadness. But choose to LIVE with HOPE knowing that He is always there and will take care of you.
And finally, take on the ATTITUDE of a SURVIVOR. A friend shared a quote with me last night. She said, “Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” I think the most satisfying compliment anyone could give you is for them to tell you how strong you are. And it’s all about attitude. It takes a lot to be strong through the terrifying diagnosis, countless decisions, and harsh treatments that are involved with cancer, but if you have the right attitude you can take on the world. Don’t view cancer as a death sentence, view it as a challenge and face the battle head-on. A true survivor realizes that cancer may mean death, but MORE IMPORTANTLY, it may mean life. Invest your time in living each day to the fullest, not just waiting for it to pass.
The past three and some odd years of battling cancer helped me discover the wonder of appreciating just how precious life is. There were times that I feared I would never experience peace, feel joy, or believe that life is good. However, I am experiencing that peace; I am feeling the joy of God’s love and His gift of love from others. As a result of this ongoing battle, I say “I love you” more. I have found beauty in places that I might not have ever noticed before. But most importantly, I have discovered how important the unconditional love and support from family, friends, and God are. All three of these play a vital role in your support system. I have been blessed with so many angels in my life since I’ve been sick. People that have helped me face each day with a smile, knowing that in the end, I was going to be just fine.
I’ll end with this note: Cancer is definitely not a life path that we choose for ourselves, but it is one that can enrich your life, and those around you, beyond measure. Do not just survive this experience but thrive as a result of it. Make the most of what you’re dealt, give others hope through your survival, and LIVE. Live with hope and a new love for life.