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Cancer Survivors Day

By Pam McMillan, RN, OCN
Cancer Survivors Day is a great way to celebrate life after diagnosis. Cancer doesn’t always have to be about the negativity that surrounds it. There are many milestones to celebrate as a survivor, such as completion of chemotherapy or radiation, the first visit after treatment, to the first scan after diagnosis. It may even be a cancerversary. We can’t forget about those fighting with metastatic disease either. However big or small the milestone, it’s worth a celebration. Did you know that the first Sunday in June is designated National Cancer Survivors Day? What did you do for the survivors in your life?

This year I attended the 11th Annual 24 Hours in the Canyon Bike Race that starts with a survivor send-off, when all the bike-riders can see who they are riding for. This part of the weekend is absolutely my favorite. As we were enjoying the beauty of Palo Duro Canyon and celebrating those beside us, I caught myself emotionally overwhelmed. As I made my way around to talk to everyone, I had to stop and think about what a blessing that each one of the survivors are to me. I had countless conversations but one thing was common: they were so grateful and appreciative of this event that honored them.

Many wouldn’t think much of this part of the event, but it gave all of the survivors a chance to celebrate. I often hear the phrase: "Cancer has given me more than it took from me." Cancer, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful and proficient teachers. Although many of us do not want the teacher, we all learn from it. But what can you learn from a survivor? 

Survivors are another great teacher in life. As oncology nurses, we get so focused on fixing the problem and don’t always take the time for the little things in life. As I stood back trying to take a group picture of this amazing group of survivors, I caught myself with tears rolling down my cheeks and at a loss for words. My mind was telling me to look – look at all the survivors that have touched my life one way or another. Look at this strong group of fighters. I saw the small pediatric survivors in the front row with the biggest smiles on their face, and the older survivors in the back with that same big smile. Each survivor’s smile was unique. What did those smiles represent? To some, they represented a moment of not thinking about treatment. To others, the smiles represented the opportunity to say thank you for being recognized. 

As I look back at this group picture I don’t see “CANCER”, I see a group of people that have one common thread celebrating more than "CANCER." It’s what you make of it and how you learn from it. It’s about meeting people and knowing that you are not alone. It’s about surviving that minute or hour or day. Whatever the milestone was for that smile it couldn’t have warmed my heart any more. So, as you start planning things for next year, keep in mind the first Sunday in June is one worth celebrating for your patients. 
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