Surprising strength: Insight from a five-time cancer survivor
On December 12, 2011, two weeks prior to my 25th birthday, I got a present I never wished for: "You have breast cancer."
I'd heard the term cancer before -- after I'd had adrenal cancer as an 18-month-old.
But this time I was all grown up and about to start nursing school.
How my adult cancer journey began
One day I felt a lump on my breast, which led to a doctor's visit. That led to a mammogram and then a biopsy. I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Within the blink of an eye, I had to change my focus from a career to saving my life. I felt like a hurricane had hit me.
There was an explosion of cancer terms thrown at me, followed by scans, tests, more tests, more scans and then a double mastectomy.
My whole world stopped and no longer made sense. I couldn't comprehend how, on the verge of becoming a nurse, I had become the patient.
"Cancer will be a permanent fixture in my life"
Unfortunately, my journey didn't end there.
Since my breast cancer diagnosis at 24, I've had three different cancers and two recurrences. I've been through three different rounds of chemotherapy in three years, losing my hair twice. I've also had 38 rounds of radiation.
In April 2010, after my fourth cancer, MD Anderson diagnosed me with a rare genetic mutation called Li-Fraumeni syndrome. This syndrome affects only 400 individuals in the United States.
For me, this means cancer will be a permanent fixture in my life.
Personal development lessons
I often think about how cancer has affected my life, both mentally and physically. It's all about how I've developed as a person through this experience.
I found that the mental and physical parts of dealing with cancer actually go hand-in-hand. Mentally, it's about your outlook and how you choose to look at life during your cancer journey. But it's also linked directly to your self-image and how you feel physically.
For instance, losing my hair during cancer treatment was extremely upsetting. But because of my outlook on life, I wasn't going to let the hair loss get in my way of beating cancer.
Strength to reach a new beginning
Becoming a cancer survivor, you are bound to learn a few life lessons. When you hear the words, "You have cancer," you join a club that nobody wants to belong to. Yet, members of that club can become your most intimate friends.
When you meet a new member, you instantly connect with them. The bonds of membership are paved with common experiences, shared struggles, celebrated victories and words of advice. But most importantly, you don't feel alone.
This past March, I married my best friend and love of my life, Joseph. Our wedding was featured on Today.com, and I was headlined as the cancer-fighting bride.
From being diagnosed at 18 months old until now, my life has changed, but only for the better. As a cancer survivor, I'm lucky to share my story with others around the world. I do so in hopes that I can help others overcome the disease by but looking at it with a mental and physical strength that takes you to a new beginning.