Seven! My Annual Celebration of Being a Cancer Survivor

Posted April 24, 2012 by jimhigley

My annual story of thanks. Repeated year after year. I like it. I hope you do too.

My fifth birthday party has long been the gold standard in my life for celebrations. Just ask Kristin, Kirk, Kathy, Debbie or Nancy. They were there. And I know they all relished in – and probably were a little jealous of – my highly original cowboy theme, the amazing assortment of backyard games, and my mom’s decorations, the focal point being a table covered edge-to-edge with M&Ms. I’ve lived most of my life thinking nothing could ever top that celebration.

Funny thing, during the last few years, I’ve had a different kind of annual celebration that knocks the socks off that cowboy-M&M-rich day. I’m actually celebrating it today. It was seven years today that my doctor called me at home on an uneventful Sunday afternoon to deliver a cancer diagnosis. Since then, life has never returned to the old normal.

The new normal, after surgery, recovery and subsequent treatment is, as my oncologist says, learning to manage this disease. That includes a combination of thirty-some prescriptions and supplements every day to keep sleeping cancer cells asleep. It also includes living three months at a time before heading back to the clinic for a series of tests with hopes of getting another hall pass of good health for the next three months.

“How long will we be doing this?” I asked my doctor shortly after we started our journey together.

“Until you die,” he replied.

Welcome to the new normal.

But, the new normal is also unleashingly good. The new normal comes with the permission to live richer, to speak freely, to cry openly, to make mistakes, to take chances, to say “yes” to new things, and to tell those “someones” in your life just how deep your love is for them.

My someones are my three children. They were drafted into this story without choice.

As anyone who has dealt with cancer will tell you, from the moment you receive your diagnosis, you become a survivor. I also have come to learn that cancer is a family disease. That makes the entire family survivors.

The truth is – and I say this with nothing but respect for the millions of people living with cancer  – my kids and I like to refer to ourselves as cancer warriors. How, exactly, does one become a warrior? We make a conscience effort to make each day count. We help others. We volunteer. We reach out. And, we appreciate what we have as opposed to dwell on the fear of what we could lose.

I started running in races a few years ago. It was part of my mental health program. Perhaps you’ve seen me? I’m the guy at the back of the pack. Always. But being slow has an advantage. It allows you to observe others. My favorite “other” was a woman in the Lincoln Half Marathon a few years ago. She was older than me. We were both bald so we had a natural connection. She was running with a pack of people who clearly adored her. Her husband, I assumed. Children. Friends. Neighbors.

On the back of her pink t-shirt she had written her words of wisdom with a black marker.

Someday I won’t be able to run. But today I can.

She was a warrior, too.

Every cancer story is different. And, it is with the most humble gratitude that I acknowledge my seven year mark. Far too many are not as fortunate.

If you know anyone who deals with cancer – survivors, warriors, family – I hope you’ll ask them how they are doing. Better yet, give them a hug. Do it today because, well, today you can. They will be warmed by your thoughtfulness.

So how are we going to celebrate our 7th birthday today? Probably no different than we’ve celebrated the last 2,555 days. Maybe I’ll spread M&Ms all over the table.

Dark chocolate this time.

  • Jen Singer

    Congratulations, Jim and Happy Birthday. I think you should have that cowboy-themed birthday party immediately. You deserved it.

    • Jim Higley

      I’ll save you some M&Ms Jen!  Thanks for the note….

  • Katherine Krige

    A beautiful message. Congratulations on your anniversary. And you are right. You are never the same after a cancer diagnosis. But some days you are better

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks Katherine. I like those better days. Those are where we find the gold in our lives. Thanks for your note!

  • Liz Gumbinner

    This is so beautiful Jim. I look forward to reading it every year. 

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks Liz. I feel funny when I repost this. But I always tell myself, “I still feel the same way.” So I guess as long as I feel it, I’ll keep reposting it. And thanks – I hope I have the privilege of doing so for many years. Jim

  • Home and Uncool

    Good to have you around for another year, Jim. Here’s to many more after.

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks. I think you, Jerry and I need to go have those Cosmos!

  • Joan Sandberg Larabie

    Thanks to Katherine for sharing this, and thanks to Jim for writing it!  What amazing words of encouragement to those of us other Cancer Warriors.  Bring on the M&M’s!

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks Joan! M&Ms for one and all!

  • Dinaelnabli

    Going to have some M&Ms to toast you today Jim! Moving as always! CONGRATULATIONS!

    • Jim Higley

      More M&Ms!!!!!!