Next week is my 11-year cancerversary, which brings a mixture of feelings. I’m incredibly grateful to see another year. My daughters were just 3 and 5 years old at the time of my diagnosis, and I was so scared that I wouldn’t see them grow up. Now that they are teenagers, and my main job is annoying the heck out of them, that thought shifts further to the back of my mind. But along with the gratitude comes the eternal question that never seems to dim with time: why me?
Clearly there’s no easy answer to that one. My cells decided through some combination of genetics and environment (and bad behavior!) to mutate and grow into cancerous tumors. There’s nothing I can do to change that. While 11 years have passed since the day I heard, “You have cancer,” that doesn’t change the fact that the little “cancer devil” is always on my shoulder when any ache or pain pops up. Is it back? Or is this just a normal part of getting older? Is my life about to be derailed again? Or do I just need to pop some ibuprofen and accept that sometimes I can tweak my back just by sleeping on it funny?
While I’m not in the “cancer is a gift” camp, I do believe that we have control of how we react and channel our personal experiences, crappy as they may sometimes be. The major silver lining of my cancer experience has been the people I have been fortunate to meet along my journey; people who are taking their challenges and using them as a force for change. Recently, one of my favorite pay-it-forward inspirations has been my friend Samira.
Samira was diagnosed young like I was, and like me, her life plans were derailed. Samira is a bioengineer and healthcare product designer by profession. Even with her strong science background, her cancer diagnosis dropped her into the terrifying land of the unknown -- she describes it as going for a long hike without a map. To take control of this process, and stay organized, she created a planner for herself – an old-fashioned, paper planner – the simple tool this techie bioengineer couldn’t find anywhere to help her stay organized and better communicate with her care team. When other patients, nurses and doctors saw her planner, they asked if they could share it with people in their communities, because they were certain it would be very useful. So, what started as a simple tool to help navigate her own breast cancer journey has turned into a company, Manta Cares.
I have been lucky enough to join Samira on this new, Manta Cares adventure, and couldn’t be more proud to use my own experience to help make the cancer journey just a little bit easier for patients and caregivers. The goal of Manta Cares is to create tools for cancer patients and caregivers that we (and our loved ones!) were missing.
We recently launched Cancer Coaching with Dr. Maeve Baechler, a physician, coach and most importantly, a cancer survivor herself (Maeve is also on my pay-it-forward inspiration list!). As anyone with cancer knows, that diagnosis makes you rethink your entire life - dreams, goals, professional path - you name it, cancer impacts it! So Maeve helps coach people through this huge life change. I wish I had had a coach like Maeve 11 years ago (and grateful I get to utilize her advice and guidance now!).
We are also launching a monthly free resource to the Manta Cares community. Our first free resource is a Chemotherapy Checklist for Caregivers, with information about what to think about before your loved one starts chemo. There is also a free Caregiver Guide with tips and strategies to facilitate better communication with your loved one during this incredibly stressful cancer journey.
And we’ve only just started! More resources and tools will be rolling out over the coming months, so we hope you’ll keep in touch with us and share with anyone in your life who might be dealing with cancer, either as a patient or caregiver.
So as I prepare for my 11 year Cancerversary, I do so with a full heart. I know that I can never repay the kindness that has been shown to me over the years by my family, friends and even strangers, but I will continue to pay it forward for others on this rocky road. It is the only way I can turn my two bad lemons into lemonade (and yes, I will continue to chuckle at that joke for as long as I’m around to overshare it with you!).