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10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years

by Emily Miller Land

Inspiration image

Emily, pictured with her two children, celebrates more than a decade of survivorship.
(Photo by Peter Barta, © St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)

More than 10 years have passed since I beat cancer as a teenager. Reflecting on my life from diagnosis to today, I came up with 10 things I’ve learned and embraced through my journey. These thoughts are applicable to anyone who has gone through cancer treatment or is facing a serious health challenge.

1. As unimaginably hard as this may be to believe, cancer can do more good than harm. Your experience can make you a stronger person, bond you to your fellow survivors, heal your spirit, and remind you to focus on the things and people in your life that are important to you.

2. Even though I never want to have to fight cancer again, I know that I could if I ever had to. Cancer gave me more strength than it took away.

3. Most people probably interpret Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” as a song about the end of a tumultu­ous relationship. For me, it holds a broader meaning. Christina sings, “Makes me that much stronger, makes me work a little bit harder, makes me that much wiser – thanks for making me a fighter.” Every survivor should listen to the song and consider its message of going through a difficult situation only to come out stronger on the other side.

4. In some situations, it’s OK to say, “This is not a big deal,” and let it go. There is peace in perspective.

5. Cancer exposes you at your weak­est, even if you’re the only one who sees it. You can use this as a chance to rebuild yourself from the in­side out, beginning with an even stronger foundation.

6. Faith is part of the fight. Whether it lies in the doctors, the medicine, the research, a higher power, or your­self, faith is a necessary component of beating cancer. Find it.

7. Coffee smells beyond horrible when you don’t have nose hair, and cayenne pepper isn’t the least bit spicy to someone who lacks freshly regenerated taste buds. Oh, and yes, your eyebrows are actually functional – an often overlooked oddity of the human body, until you don’t have any.

8. Something still feels right and refreshing about shampooing and conditioning a bald head, especially when everything else in your world feels wrong and out of place.

9. People are often in awe of survi­vors, and although survivorship is a badge that we carry with immense pride, being undetectable as a survivor for the first time in a sea of normality is often our proudest moment. We are not our cancer, but we are what cancer has made us. We only want to be seen as who we are, not who we were.

10. When it comes to the human life cycle, you only get to go around once. But if you do it right, once is enough. Don’t just exist – live the life you’ve fought so hard to save.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Emily Miller Land is a mother of two and an osteosarcoma survivor.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2015.