“My Voice” by Michelle Hastings

Michelle Hastings - 'Survivor'

As I sit here looking back on the past year, I marvel at where I was, where I am, and what I have to look forward to.  A year ago, I was Michelle: mom, wife, daughter, sister, employee, student, etc.  I had titles that clearly defined who I was and what was expected of me.  I was okay with them.  I was content, and looking forward to a life raising my kids and growing old.  

Then, on May 23rd of 2008, my life completely and totally turned upside down.  After what I thought was going to be a routine colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.  I was 31 years old.  At that point (though I didn’t yet know it), I added survivor to the titles I have had bestowed on me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the title that would forever define who I am.  

I could bore you with the details of my cancer journey – here’s the condensed version.  May 2008 – Stage 3 Colon Cancer.  PET scan – no mets.  Surgery – they took a foot of my colon (which, I am told, makes me a semi-colon!).  Lymph node activity came back positive – 7 months of chemo, 3 days every other week.  1 additional hospital stay (infected port).  Clear PET and blood work January 2009.  Whew.  

Since then, I have become active in the Colon Cancer Alliance of Central AZ, where I have the honor of being the co-chair.  I am also working with i[2]y, Imerman Angels, and The Wellness Community.  I know that I have a purpose with this disease, and it’s working with other survivors to help them through.  I don’t have a clear path yet, but I’m working on it.  I know what I need to do – I just need to get there.  

The word “survivor” was very scary to me, until about a month ago.  I am still a little terrified of that word.  Why?  Because to me, it indicates the end of the fight.  “I survived, so I’m not fighting anymore.”  I am not able to accept that.  I am NOT done fighting.  While I may not be in active chemo any longer, I still fight every day for what is mine – my life.  I also fight for the others that still need help in their fight.  There are too many of us out there, and each of us could use one more happy thought, a positive bit of energy, a smile, a laugh, or a prayer to help get us through.

What made me start to get over my fear of the word “survivor?”  I was at the Women’s Expo here in Phoenix, working for the Colon Cancer Alliance and i[2]y.  Across the way was a gentleman working the Ovarian Cancer booth.  Yes, a guy working a women’s cancer booth.  Why?  Because his wife had been diagnosed, and he didn’t want any other husbands to go through the heartache that he has had to deal with.  (She’s a survivor as well.)

He and I became friendly, and he asked me how long I have been a survivor.  I don’t know if this is true, but I think cancer patients can understand why I hesitated with my answer – am I a survivor from the date of my surgery?  My chemo?  The end of chemo?  The date I got the clear test results back?  No – according to this person, I was a survivor from day 1 – the day I am diagnosed, I am a survivor.  And, that makes sense.  As soon as I found out that I had cancer, I became a survivor.   

I blogged the other day about being a survivor.  I have a term I prefer over this word – I want to be known, from here on out, as a colon cancer ass-kicker.  It has such a strong, bold ring to it.  And, given my particular cancer, it makes sense – this cancer invaded my butt; I kicked it’s ass.

I decided at the beginning of my journey that I wasn’t going to let cancer take me down.  It could have – had I postponed the testing and waited the three months like I originally wanted to, I wouldn’t have made it to see my kids open their Christmas gifts this past year.  The cancer was that far along.  I wasn’t going to let some rogue cells ruin my life by taking me away from my friends and family.  I have too much to do – I have too many things to take care of.  I said from day one that it’s going to take a whole lot more than cancer to bring this chick down.

I look back on the past year with amazement – it’s unbelievable to me what I have gone through.  I tend to be the type of person who plays down the chemo, the surgery, the emotions, the medicines, the side effects….others have had it so much worse than me, and complaining about it seems like disrespect to those people.  But, when the end of the day comes, we are all still in the same boat.  While I haven’t had to go through some of the things that others have had to ensure, I know that the road I traveled was hard and trying and brutal, nonetheless.  I am trying to remember that, and not belittle my struggle.    

My two biggest reasons for survival – well, they are sleeping right now.  I took them out for ice cream tonight.  We sat on a bench, watching the sun set, trying to finish our sundaes before they melted.  I look at my kids, and I know that I need to be here for them.  I remember the day after my diagnosis, taking a shower and getting ready to pick my mom up from the airport.  I was standing there, and it all hit me – I started sobbing, and couldn’t stop.  What was my new to-do list?  Casket shopping?  Funeral arrangements?  Burial plot?  How was I going to let my kids know how MUCH I love them?  

I have so many other reasons for living.  I am married to the most amazing man in the world.  My parents and brothers (and their respective significant others) inspire me daily to be the best person I can be.  I have been blessed with wonderful family and friends.  And, throughout the past year, I have been given the honor of getting to know so many fabulous people through the cancer.  This is truly one of the blessings I can say came from the cancer.    

On day 3 of my cancer journey, I started a blog.  It’s called “Michelle Will Win”, and this is my mantra.  I will win.  I will get to the other side, and be an advocate for this disease, in all it’s disgusting forms.  Weekly, I make contact with people through my blog, networking, walking down the street, etc. and I am able to educate, inform, and maybe make a new friend.  

This weekend, I took the kids to a Memorial Day parade.  I wore my “I Will Win” tee shirt and my “Colon Cancer Survivor” pin.  It was my cancer-versary, and I was proud.  I had people stop me in the vendor section to ask me about it.  I had people literally step OUT of the parade to congratulate and hug me.  I didn’t know these people.  They don’t know me.  But, now, I consider them friends.

I have been given the most amazing gift.  At the age of 31, I had to re-evaluate what was important in my life.  I had to take a long, hard look at my priorities and really think about what I needed to spend my energy on.  I have chosen to live my life in this sense – the cancer could come back.  I am optimistic, but realistic.  I could die from the cancer.  I could also die tomorrow in a car crash.  So, I’m not going to dwell on the inevitable.  I’m going to go to bed each night knowing that I lived that day to the fullest, and that I have no regrets.  Not many people anticipating their 33rd birthday can say that.  I say that’s pretty special.  

I survive for so many reasons.  Among other reasons, I survive to prove a point.  I am NOT going to be a just a number or just a statistic.  I want to let the medical community, society, and other survivors out there know that this DOES happen to people my age, with no family history, with no REASON.  I survive because I have a voice.  I am a survivor, one of many, and proud of it.  We will be heard, and we will make a difference.

Michelle Hastings
Mom, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Colon Cancer Ass-Kicker!!!