I was diagnosed with colon cancer several years ago. I was 22 and three months into grad school. After some rigorous genetic testing, they determined they didn’t know why I got cancer, but they discovered strong evidence of a “stubborn” gene. When I began chemotherapy, my parents didn’t want me to work so I could focus on my health. I had other plans. I decided to double up on my classes so that I could graduate earlier. Three months later I realized I still had too much free time, so I became a graduate assistant in the admissions office. That spring I decided that those four MBA classes I needed to take for my program, let’s take those over the summer. Nothing like taking 15 weeks of economics and statistics and cramming them into 8 weeks to really make your life feel fulfilled! A year after my diagnosis I had completed my degree, and moved onto a career at the University at Buffalo. Once I was there, I decided to have my three day chemo treatments on the weekends so I would miss the least amount of work. Seems normal, right? It was like the cancer was determined to come into my life, and I was determined to make it affect my life as little as possible. When people started to tell me, I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something because I was sick, it made me look them in the face, give a little laugh, and say “watch this”.
Fast forward 7 years. I was recently engaged and planning an August wedding. I was still undergoing chemo as I had off and on since my diagnosis. I was a patient at the Amherst clinic because that was most convenient, as I lived not too far from UB’s north campus. One day during the summer Laura Cornwall and another former RPCI nurse, Cheryl, were telling me how they were going to do the Dirty Girl run at Kissing Bridge the first week of September. They were telling me I should come cheer them on. Little did they know that my cheerleading days ended when I was in high school, and if there was one thing this cancer patient didn’t do, it was called sidelines. Then the plan was hatched, I would join them in the dirty girl in September.
All summer Laura and Cheryl worked and trained for the dirty girl. They attended an exercise boot camp and had special training sessions. In the meantime, I attended bridal boot camp, which consisted of attending showers, bachelorette weekends in Cleveland, and a rigorous workout of brewing beer with my fiancé for our wedding favors. The wedding was everything I could have hoped for, and the day after it was over, my mind was on the dirty girl.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into. We all arrived at Kissing Bridge that Sunday around 7 am since we were in the 8 o’clock heat. It had rained the entire day previously so things were especially dirty. Having never been to kissing bridge, I was greeted that morning with a 1.5 mile hill that was covered entirely in mud. What was I thinking? Were my guardian angels going to swoop down and carry me up this hill? Why hadn’t I worked out, or focused more on the feat before me than worrying about finding something blue for my special day. Well my angels did swoop down and carry me through the entire 5k course, but they weren’t guardian angels, they were Roswell angels. Laura and Cheryl were there with me every step of the way. Whether it was stopping every ten steps while we made our way up that enormous hill, or yelling at me to crawl through the mud faster, or holding my hand on the way down the last hill towards the finish line. Several times I could be heard yelling myself. But they were much less encouraging messages. They were along the lines of “Who does this when they are on chemo?” or “I would much rather have a needle in my chest right now.” Laura, the marathon runner, always chimed back in her usually cheery tone, “chemo hasn’t stopped you yet, now let’s go”. We all crossed the finish line together, holding each other’s hands high in the air. It was the most accomplished I had ever felt in my life. I was reminded that day that Laura and Cheryl were not just my nurses, they were my family, my cheerleaders in life, and the people that were there to hold my hand and pick me up and carry me across the finish line. Not only the finish line at Kissing Bridge, but the finish line of every challenge and obstacle this disease throws at me.
I learned that day that my stubbornness is what had helped me face this disease with as much courage as I have. Because in this game of life there is no place for cancer except on the sidelines. Roswell, and my nurses, and I are a team, because cancer can’t win. So what if I fight like a girl, you should too!