Making Our Health a Priority in Honor of National Cancer Survivors DayPosted on by
By Pamela Bryant
This Sunday, June 4th, I’ll be celebrating the [unofficial] beginning of summer and, more importantly, National Cancer Survivors Day, a day to raise awareness of the challenges faced by cancer survivors by honoring them and showing the world that life after cancer can be rewarding and inspiring. Oh, how I “get” the meaning of this day. Perhaps more today than ever before, even though it’s been more than 20 years since cancer first reared its ugly head in my life.
I’m proud to say that my family is full of survivors. My mother, aunt, and cousin are all cancer survivors. I’m also sad to say that one of my cousins wasn’t as fortunate. So some might think I should have been a pro at handling cancer. However, it’s a whole different ballgame when the person with cancer isn’t sitting across from you or on the other end of the phone, but staring at you in the mirror.
I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2013. Not only did I learn I had triple-negative breast cancer (an aggressive and hard-to-treat type of breast cancer), but I accepted that my treatment plan would include chemotherapy followed by surgery and radiation. My life and my family’s life was about to change, as were my priorities.
Before 2013, my days were spent working, driving a carpool, making dinner, and checking tasks off my never-ending to-do list. Before 2013, I wasn’t anywhere on that list. My true focus centered more on the health and happiness of my two boys: did I make their well check-up appointment, schedule their teeth cleaning, get them a flu shot, and were they eating right and getting enough sleep? Somewhere along the way, I stopped making my own health a priority.
I’m happy to say that I’m thankful to be cancer-free today. For me, life after breast cancer means taking one day at a time and being mindful of the things I can do to stay as healthy as possible. Last year, I read a two-part blog series by a friend, oncologist, and CDC colleague, Dr. Lisa Richardson, which provided a cheat sheet for good health for men and women. It’s exactly what busy people need: a tool that helps us put ourselves on the top of our to-do lists. As I read her articles and printed out the cheat sheets, it reminded me of the “put your own oxygen mask on first” analogy: if you don’t take care of yourself first, then you can’t take care of others.
Having cancer forced me to understand the importance of making my health a priority, and I challenge each of you to do the same. Put your mask on first.
Whether you’re a cancer survivor, caregiver, friend, or medical professional, this time provides an opportunity for all of us to celebrate another day and another milestone. And for those of you fighting cancer or caring for someone who is, here’s a resource I used during my cancer treatment that you might find useful as well: www.preventcancerinfections.org.
For more information, visit CDC’s Web site for preventing infections during cancer treatment.