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Learning to be Me. Not Cancer.

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Through our work over the past 12+ years, we’ve crossed paths with some pretty amazing people. Danielle is no exception. A 2010 Samfund alum, she wears many hats (which she describes below) and is constantly working to support others who are struggling. We are proud to have her in The Samfund family and to welcome her as today’s guest blogger!

 

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Hi, I’m Danielle. I’m 31 years old, soon to be 32.

I live in the Kansas City metro area. I’ve been married for 10 years to my hubby, whom I met in high school. My daughter Mae just turned 5 years old and loves pre-K. She’s very excited to go to school next year. She has the biggest imagination I’ve ever witnessed and loves everything princess. I believe she’s going to change the world one day.

Day-to-day I work for a colorectal cancer nonprofit, Fight Colorectal Cancer, where I direct our communications. I went to school for public relations and enjoy spending my days writing, editing and strategizing. I feel very fortunate to work this job.

In my free time I love to bake; this year I’ve turned to pies. Homemade poptarts and pumpkin scones are up next. I love watching movies and reading books. I spend a lot of time with great friends and my faith plays an active role in my life. I’m a sucker for fall-scented candles. And peanut m&ms.

It might sound crazy, but typing that intro was really hard for me.

You see, I’m also a young adult cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with colon cancer initially at age 17, and again at age 25. In light of my treatment, we looked to adoption to build our family. I have a genetic disease called Lynch syndrome that is behind my cancer cases. It’s also why I’m on a very aggressive follow-up plan. I’m at the doctor a lot and get sick relatively easy.

And I’m still learning how to know who I am outside of my cancer experience.

Facing cancer as a young adult has brought unique challenges. Many of them are told in Samfund grant recipient stories. The physical and financial needs are real.

But another hurdle we don’t often talk about is the identity struggle and post-diagnosis mental stress we face as young adult cancer survivors. Staring down a threat of death at a time when many of our peers are stepping up into endless possibilities can make understanding who we are complex. It’s quite traumatic for a lot of us.

Cancer can easily change from something that happened to us to something that is us. Or, it becomes really difficult when we try to separate the two.

Everyone handles a traumatic young adult cancer diagnosis differently. Not one of us faces it the same way. The stress of the trauma plays out in different ways, and at different times over our lives. Studies even show that there are other factors that can impact how much we will struggle with post-traumatic stress like our gender, age of diagnosis, social support and family support. 

But in light of the risks, stress or struggles we may face, I’ve found there is always hope.

Cancer stories have heavy endings – regardless of whether survival came into play or not. Facing a diagnosis and then fighting off another for the rest of life is heavy and hard.  Fortunately (if I can say this), there are others out there who also know this fight and share their experiences.

It’s these shared experiences that bring hope.

When I share my experience of cancer it helps me realize it’s not me – it’s something that happened to me – and many others, too. In fact, sharing my cancer experience is what connected me with The Samfund, the foundation that graciously paid for our home study when we adopted my daughter. It has opened many other doors too that are bringing much joy and light into my life.

But in addition to sharing my cancer experience, I’m also learning how to share other parts of my life, too – the parts that cancer didn’t touch. And I’m learning that they’re just as important and impactful.

The pictures of my family.
The quote that nearly hopped off a yellowed page.
A warm pot of coffee brewed and shared between friends.
The homemade pie freshly baked from my oven.
It’s when I share the cancer, and the non-cancer, that hope reappears. And I remember that no, I am not cancer. I’m me.

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