Since my diagnosis back in August 2020, I have been lucky enough to connect with many others affected by or living with Cholangiocarcinoma. I thought it would be helpful for those visiting my site to be able to hear their stories and experiences. I really hope they give you strength and hope at such a challenging time.
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Laurel was the first person I connected with after my diagnosis and I am so grateful for that. Her positivity is infectious and whenever I have had a “wobble”, bad news, or am just doubting myself, she has always been there to put things in perspective. Although we have the Atlantic Ocean between us and so have not been able to meet physically, I count her as a true friend, a beautiful soul and I absolutely adore her. Right now, Laurel is cancer free! This makes me unbelievably happy. Read her story below; it will fill you with hope.
“Nearly 3 years into my bile duct cancer diagnosis, it’s hard to know where to begin. On December 26th, 2018, I heard the three words no one should ever hear “you have cancer”. Being 32 at the time, this diagnosis came as a huge shock and seemingly out of the blue. I was one of the healthiest people I knew. I worked out 5 days a week and tried to eat as healthy as I could, albeit with the occasional “hangover Sunday” bad meals to fend off a night of partying with friends, but I was 32, not in a million years did I think I would be the unlucky one to end up with cancer.
Like many, my diagnosis is not hereditary, there is no known genetic risk factor of cancer in my family tree, which means, ultimately, I brought this upon myself, or so I thought. It has taken me this long to realize that cancer is not so much what I have done, but more so, what has been done to me. I didn’t go out searching for cancer, it sought me out, it found my weakness, and exploited it until a tumor began to grow smack dab in the middle of my bile duct.
I could sit here and write down my treatment plan and what I have been doing to combat this disease over these past three years, but I don’t believe that is the most helpful tool I could provide to someone recently diagnosed or someone searching for answers. What my disease has taught me is that everybody is different which means every individual cancer diagnosis is different, so what treatments may work for some, may not work for others, there is no one size fits all with this disease. My best advice is to focus on what I feel is a cancer survivor’s most powerful tool, hope.
After the initial cancer diagnosis shock wave began to subside, I discovered where the term “fight or flight” came from. When you are put in an unbearable state of duress, you are given two options, do you decide to tackle this head on and wage war or are you going to become complacent and let the battle run you over? I’ve never been comfortable being complacent, I refused to let this disease take me down, it was me against cancer and I’ll be damned if I let cancer win. For me, getting my mind right was the first step. I mean, how do you incite war if you fear the opponent?
Hope and Fear, two polar opposite concepts, but for some reason, we tend to allow fear to run the show in the vast majority of things that scare us. It is so much easier for one to assume the worst. If we assumed the best and it ends up not working out, we have to deal with the emotional fallout. Cancer likes to play that game, it likes to cling onto our fear, niggling at it all day, all night until we become so emotionally wrecked that we crumble. But hope, hope is this bright light you can see in the distance, something to strive to, something we want so bad but are so fearful to touch, in the chance it may inevitably destroy us in the end. Learning to shift that mindset has been the hardest part of my cancer journey thus far, but the most rewarding experience of my life. Learning to choose hope over fear, not only changed the perspective of my diagnosis but changed my view of life in general.
Humans are beautiful and we have this innate ability to heal ourselves. A body is made up of trillions of cells, all speaking one language with different dialects, the mind being the most distinct dialect of them all. It took me a long time to learn how to focus on the good, bits of bad news, and multiple recurrences have a tendency to do that. But what I have learned, is that all of our emotions, even fear, deserve a seat at the table, just don’t let them overstay their welcome. What I mean by this, instead of letting the fear consume me when I felt like I was losing an uphill battle, I decided to listen to what my fear had to say and then I let it go and held on to the hope of the hear and now. Right now, I am alive, I am breathing, I am relatively healthy, I have been granted this beautiful day here on earth and I will not let the fear of the unknown take that away from me. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone, cancer diagnosis or not. So, instead of letting fear run the show, I choose hope, I choose life and I choose to focus my mind on the war which I know in my heart of hearts that I will win, one day. I mean, I have been beating the odds, kicking ass, been an advocate for myself and so many others for this long, I am a walking miracle, a survivor and no amount of fear will ever take that away from me.
And for those who would like to know my path to recovery, in the last 2 ½ years I have had a combined 12 months of chemotherapy, two types of localized radiation treatments, three surgeries which have resulted in my liver being chopped in half, removal of my primary bile duct, a stented portal vein, missing gallbladder, removal of parts of my small intestine, 6 inches of muscle cut out and 3 portions of rib removed from my chest wall (one of which was over 7” in length). But regardless of all of that, I am still happy, healthy and what my surgeons call “remarkable”. Why, because I never take my eye off the prize, I have seen myself well from day one…and I have never looked back.
So, I encourage you to show up for yourself, be your own advocate, NEVER stop seeing yourself well, and fight like hell to grasp as much hope out of this life as you possibly can. No one says you can’t be the next long-term survivor and hope is one hell of a drug.