Today is National Cancer Survivors Day and the foundation for the day describes a "survivor" as "anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life." Sounds like our girl!
There are certain words and phrases you usually associate with cancer survivors. People talk about being "cured" or "healed". There is the description of "being on the other side". And, of course, the famous oncology word - "remission".
For Tillery, things aren't so cut and dry. Her tumor is large and takes up space in a way that we really aren't expecting a time that it will all be removed. Because the tumor will always be there, her team has said that the word "remission" is not going to be in her future. Those things are okay, though.
See, here's the focus - She has a future to look forward to! She's doing amazing right now. If you didn't follow her story and know the huge strides she has made and you saw her out in public, you would just look at her the same way you look at any other kid. That is the reason why those who do know her story and her huge strides look at her with tears in their eyes. How wonderful to get the chance to be a normal kid!!
While this day is set aside to celebrate the survivors, it's also a chance to educate on life with and after a cancer diagnosis. You can imagine the medical side. The risks of many treatments involve long term health side effects, some that aren't known until years later. Medically, cancer survivors tend to be at a higher risk for developing secondary cancers and can have drug side effects that include loss of hearing or vision, low immunity, infertility, mobility issues, changes in behavior or mood, and many others.
There are other things that cancer survivors deal with as well. Financial burdens and insurance nightmares become a big part of life. Fighting battles to have claims paid and to have continued coverage, being denied life insurance because of pre-existing conditions, ridiculous loopholes that exist in insurance documents that cause people to have certain things be denied even though they are necessary. I have friends who have insurance that denied paying services from out of state providers when a medical emergency happened out of town. I hear stories of insurances that don't cover certain necessary medicines. Many families have to file bankruptcy because the overwhelming amount of medical bills that await on the other side of treatment is more than they can ever handle. How unfair to have to endure the physical and emotional toll that cancer takes on your body and then have the cost of survival rob your financial future!
A cancer diagnosis often causes relationship troubles. People really rally around families in the beginning but soon, their own lives get busy and they move on. For some people, their feelings are hurt and it draws a wedge in those relationships. Once treatment is over, it can be hard to return to those relationships where they felt abandoned. For some people, they understand that others have their own lives and are okay with it...on the outside. It can still make for lonely times and sometimes there is underlying hurt that remains after treatment. For couples, the balance in the relationship can be thrown off during treatment and sometimes things aren't able to go back to the way they were before. Often people think of how people become closer during trials but there are many who are torn apart by those same things. Relationships are hard, y'all!
For Tillery, life with cancer is all she will know. It won't be all she is or what defines her, but it will be a part of her. She will have medical challenges that her peers may not experience. At times, she may look different, need assistance, or have setbacks. We expect that her future will be one where she blends in and can do all that anyone else can do like go to school, have a job, and have a family. We will meet each challenge head on and continue to do what we have been doing ever since diagnosis - surviving.
Shout out to some other survivors in our world:
Natalie Justice, Vicki Malone, Cathy Paul - See you all this week!
Grandma Nancy Stephenson - She missed our wedding because of cancer but I wore her veil to have a piece of her with us.
Chase Busby - Keep kicking cancer's tushie! (And tell Ansley to do the same!)
Sara Woolard - Thanks for being an adult we know with a childhood cancer battle. You give us hope daily.
High School Friends - Jamie and Jenny - Keep fighting, friends! You are both an inspiration!
Brain Tumor Friends - Wyatt, AJ, Peyton, Peyton, Zach - Gray Every Day!
Lighthouse Friends - Caralyn, Ollie, Conner, Iyana, Ben, Jayna, Tara, Macie - We can always "come on down to the Lighhouse".
RMH Kiddos - Timothy, Brett, and Mattisyn - Seems like we should have more survivors in our group! Let's keep fighting for our friends.
To all survivors, Congrats! You've made it to today! Let's keep going!