Even though I'm a melanoma survivor, I rarely associated cancer with life until recently. Mortality statistics are abundant and easy to research, and we all know too many people who have succumbed to the disease. Those are the statistics and experiences that tend to come to mind when you hear the word "cancer."
But when I attended the myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference last year, I realized that there is life after cancer. And not just life, but positive, healthful living.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma 16 weeks into my first pregnancy.
Fortunately, my melanoma was removed 19 days after it was diagnosed, and I delivered a healthy baby right on schedule.
What I gained from the myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference
With my melanoma treatment behind me, I began volunteering at MD Anderson. A few of the other volunteers invited me to attend the Cancer Survivorship Conference.
I was intrigued by the wonderful set of breakout sessions that were on the agenda, and also by the Saturday morning medical panel, which featured MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., as well as my own wonderful doctor, Jeffrey Gershenwald, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology. I really liked the idea of attending a conference where I could learn not just about melanoma, but also about medical and psychosocial issues that other cancer survivors often face.
I gained so much more from the experience, though.
It was very inspirational to meet so many people who faced much greater challenges that I did, and to get a sense of their thoughts on life after cancer. You frequently hear that MD Anderson is a place of hope, and it's so true, but you don't really get a sense of what that means until you meet so many people who have been able to conquer the disease and gone on to live marvelous, happy lives.
Leading a healthy life after melanoma
Listening to the speakers and the medical panel taught me how to integrate my own cancer experience back into my life in a productive and meaningful way. I learned how to make healthier lifestyle decisions and how to cope with some of the fears and anxieties that had made themselves at home in my psyche after cancer treatment.
It was empowering for me to feel like a partner with my medical team, as we work together for my health and survivorship. I will never know as much as my doctor about melanoma or cancer biology or clinical treatments, but that's not my job. My job is to do what's in my control to reduce my chances of developing cancer again. Educating myself about developing a healthier lifestyle and other prevention tools -- sun safety, routine screening, etc. -- is a way I can regain control over an experience that so often felt outside of my control.