“My Voice” by April Capil

April Capil - 'Survivor'

Cancer came at the most inopportune time – after I had moved 3,000 miles from home to start a cacao farm on an island in the middle of the Pacific. After the bailout contracted my local economy and plummeted the value of my newly-planted dream property on said island. After my online business closed its doors, and before I realized I had crap health insurance that would not cover $250,000 of my medical bills. Yes, cancer was… inopportune, to say the least. Life gave me the ultimate lemon – a body that was not what I signed up for. A battle I hadn’t signed up for. Disappointment after disappointment – unrelenting unmet expectations, for weeks and weeks, until I looked around at all the lemons I had been dealt and realized that if I didn’t start making lemonade, life was going to get even more bitter. So I sought out other people who knew what it was like to have a chest port, who knew what it was like to lose your hair, chunk by agonizing chunk. I met women who were much, much stronger than me – and ones who were weaker, angrier, and more self-pitying. I woke up one day, dazed, and realized I had survived.

Survivorship is more than just making it through treatment, though. Life after a cancer diagnosis is both harder and easier than life after remission. Because now that you’ve fought for your life and won, what are you going to do with it? Are you glad you survived? Are you glad you didn’t use cancer as a convenient way to check out and end this struggle that life really is, always, all the time? Life isn’t easier because you survived. It’s harder, because anytime someone Googles you, they might find a picture of your bald head on Flickr, a Tweet about Chemo #4, a Facebook status update celebrating your cancer-free status. In a tough economy, that can be the difference between an interview and a reject pile. Or, maybe, when you see a woman with a fresh port scar, it can be the difference between someone feeling incredibly alone in their fight, or feeling incredibly fortunate to have a sister who’s been there too. Survivorship can mean being a candle in the darkness, whether you like it or not.

What changed because I was a survivor, strangely, was my awareness of time. From the moment my oncologist said, “Because you’re Triple Negative, you cannot take anything (like Herceptin or Tamoxifen) to keep your cancer from coming back,” I realized that this window we have here on earth IS just a window. An hourglass. Sealed at the top, sealed at the bottom. I felt like Dorothy, sitting in the Witch’s castle, watching the minutes of my life run out, like sand in an irreversible hourglass. What’s sad is that EVERYONE’s life is an hourglass, but cancer made me SEE it for the first time. When you  survive something that threatens your life, it forces you to ask yourself, “Are you going to get busy living, or get busy dying?” I got busy living, and it has been the essence of my survivorship.