A Journey Completed
by Alyssa Phillips
My story has a happy ending, but it didn’t exactly start out that way – at all. In order for me to tell you how I got to where I am today and what I learned along the way, I must first tell you where I began.
I had just run my best time in a half marathon a few weeks before I was handed a stage IV cervical cancer diagnosis. I was a 31-year-old physician assistant and had recently even uttered the words, “I’ve never felt better.” Which is, of course, laughable now in that “either laugh or cry” kind of way. And in staying true to form by never doing anything halfway in my life, it wasn’t just any stage IV cancer diagnosis I was given. (Although that would have been enough – more than enough.) It was large-cell neuroendocrine cervical carcinoma, an extremely rare and aggressive type of cancer that elicited a “We don’t know much about it, but it doesn’t look good” response from every member of my stellar medical squadron. But one thing was clear – everything had instantly changed, and life as I knew it would never be the same.
What came next was a dizzying blur of bad news that pushed me to the absolute limits of what I could absorb and then beyond: A less than five percent chance of survival, radical hysterectomy, high-dose chemo, two back-to-back bone marrow transplants, almost a year of house isolation, then hope for the best.
I wouldn’t change my life’s path, because that would mean I’d have to give up what I’ve learned.
Admittedly, I realize how “bad” all of that sounds. I won’t sugarcoat it by saying it was easy. It wasn’t. But I will tell you that it was worth it. Even though I never would have chosen the package it arrived in, I wouldn’t change my life’s path, because that would mean I’d have to give up what I’ve learned. Yes, there’s been a lot of reconciling and sorting as I sifted through the fragments of myself, carefully rearranging them one by one, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because by groping through the dark on this unlit path – sometimes crawling, sometimes sprinting – I somehow found a path to a better version of myself.
I am different in many ways now. I’m less driven by the ways of the world and more focused on reaching out to help others, with a depth of compassion that can only come from knowing suffering first hand. There’s a boldness in me now for the journey I’ve walked, a confidence and a peace in knowing that all is as it should be, which is a far cry from the trembling place where I started. And there is a sense of having come full circle – a journey completed that has profoundly altered me – and a sense that a new chapter has just begun.
How we choose to fight our fight matters.
There is a deep and powerful shift from fighting against something to fighting for something. Once the latter is fully embraced, everything changes. It transforms how we nourish ourselves and the thoughts we choose to hold, and it summons our instinct to turn inward for answers, even as we seek outward help. We then fight for life, choosing to be better for what we’ve overcome while embracing the precious perspective we have gained. So fight your fight by playing fair ... with yourself.
A cancer diagnosis is a call to
step into our power, not give it away.
I had fabulous doctors who were vital in my healing journey, but I realized early on that even with the best intentions, their job wasn’t to be an expert in everything. Their job was to be an expert in treating the cancer cells. My job was to become an expert in all the “other stuff” and to become an active participant in my care. Above all, we must be kind and gentle with ourselves while also stepping into the gift of our own power.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Alyssa Phillips is a large-cell neuroendocrine cervical carcinoma survivor. She is happier and healthier than ever before and lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband. Grabbing her “second chance” with both hands, Alyssa has traveled extensively and has reinvented herself with one mission in mind – to live and give. She is currently writing her first book, a memoir, with the hope it will help others. To learn more about Alyssa, visit alyssaphillipsinc.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2012.