“My Voice” by Hayley Townley

Hayley Townley - 'Survivor'

Cancer is my Kryptonite

Kryptonite, as you may know, was Superman’s weakness. Cancer in all its forms is my Kryptonite. In 1991, I lost my Mom to breast cancer. She was 47; I was 25. She had been battling it since she was 37.

In 2002, at age 36, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B breast cancer.

It’s now 2009, I am 42 years old, I have a fabulous head of hair, and I am a survivor!

I have always thought of myself as a superhero, minus the cape and the tights. I can handle anything thrown my way. I have always been oblivious to the things that might get other people down.

Of course, this could stem from our family motto: “Nothing is wrong and we don’t talk about it.”

But when I was diagnosed, it hit me hard—from all angles: mental, physical, emotional. It laid me out and made me realize that, after all, I may be only human.

Now that I’ve been free of cancer for over seven years, I am stronger and more resilient. I am faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But whenever the word cancer comes up, I cringe inside. It’s as if somebody has slipped me a little bit of Kryptonite.

I live with the possibility that it will come back. I was never a hypochondriac before the cancer; that tendency is one of the little perks of having had this disease. When I get a headache, I think it’s a brain tumor. When I find a bump on my leg, my heart sinks. Before each doctor’s appointment, I lay awake long into the night. I panic inside over each mammogram or blood test. Only when the oncology nurse calls to say that I’m good to go, do I relax again. The Kryptonite dissipates a little bit more each time I pass a test with flying colors.

Last year, a friend got a bad diagnosis—lung cancer, lymphoma, and brain cancer. I visited her in the hospital. Kryptonite had reduced this once statuesque, beautifully poised superhero of a woman to lying in a hospital bed with tubes and drains sticking out of her. She was tired but in good spirits, and I know her superhero was still inside of her.

I had a good visit with her. She was on day 13 of her treatment and still had her hair. I had lost my hair on day 13. I brought her two Cancer Survivor Buffs—the superhero headwear of cancer survivors. I felt powerless in what else I could do for her. I tried to tell her it would be alright.

As I sat there holding her hand, a nurse came in to give her some of the same chemo drugs I had been given. I could sense the metallic taste in my mouth and the hollow place in my gut as I watched her dutifully swallow each horse pill. The Kryptonite got stronger and I could feel every nerve ending in my body as I had before, when the situation was reversed.

As I left her bedside, I tried to carry out as much of her Kryptonite as I could. I wanted her to be the strong, nothing-ever-fazes-her person I knew. Just like me. The cancer tries to chip away at our bodies, but the Kryptonite cannot affect our souls.

Mary Ellen died last year. Not I, nor the drugs, nor the doctors could absorb enough Kryptonite to return her superhero powers.

It’s crazy that in the 21st century—when we can put a person on the moon, make a computer that weighs only three pounds, and instantly share our thoughts with someone on the other side of the world simply by pressing a button—we still cannot cure cancer. Someday, I hope there will be a Kryptonite dumpsite where we can dump this disease.

If you or somebody you know is facing cancer, it’s your Kryptonite, too. I survived it. Superman survived it. You can survive it. Let’s all don our superhero capes and tights and change the world together—one Kryptonite diagnosis at a time.

Currently, I am publishing a book that mirrors my website ThereIsLifeAfterBreastCancer.com for all those superheroes out there. I will do absolutely anything for the cause and to help others with their Kryptonite diagnosis. I am a spokesmodel for CleavageCreek.com, a winery that’s passionate about celebrating life and fine wine. I speak to anybody who will listen. I blog, twitter and facebook as if everybody is reading. I love as if today is my last day on earth. I yell to the world at the top of my lungs, “I AM A SURVIVOR!”

This is dedicated to my friend MaryEllen and, of course, to my mom, and my wonderful husband of 19 years, Tim, who stood strong by me when the going got rough. You will always be superheroes in my book.