Ripping down a slope of knee deep powder is one thing that keeps Debi Smith feeling strong and grateful that she’s alive.
Another has been writing a book called “Running From The Cancer Cooties”, a testament of Debi’s recent experience with breast cancer.
“You have to have something in life that makes you want to fight to keep going” she says after her ordeal with surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. “I have my family, my friends and a zest for life that has really been put to the test over the past 18 months, but I’m still swinging. I’m putting everything I have into keeping ahead of those cancer cooties.”
After a friend asked what her biopsy diagnosis was, either good or bad, Debi replied, “Depends on how you look at it. It was bad news that I was about to face a gruelling journey in a battle for my life. But it was good news that they found the cancer in the first place.I’m told they didn’t have the technology to find the macro size of metastasis in my lymph node as early as one year ago. That’s about the point where I became very thankful to the cancer organizations of the world.”
Fundraisers like the Relay For Life promote research projects that strive to overcome cancers. They also have free programs like Look Good, Feel Better where a room full of hairless, waxen women get a box of free make-up samples, wigs to try on and a lesson on how to make it all work together. “It was such a morale booster and a highlight during the month of radiation.”
Debi also says there’s a hot line you can call and talk to another survivor who has gone through what you are facing, compliments of fundraising dollars. Going through chemotherapy alone can be scary but the Canadian Cancer Society hosts group meetings where a room full of survivors together with new cancer patients talk about their experiences and what worked for them. “There is a list of things the Canadian Cancer Society does to give the fallen hope. To raise the spirits and keep us going,” Debi says.
“It’s all about attitude and refusing to give in. Some days it’s harder than others to keep your chin up. It’s been a year and a half now. I’ve been cut up, poisoned and nuked and I’ve had to look in the mirror and figure out who was now looking back at me. I’m definitely not the same person I was, but I’m thankful for every day that I get to wake up. And I hope to keep waking up for many years to come.”
Today cancer patients do have a good chance of living years after their diagnosis, especially when caught at an early stage like Debi’s was.
She adds, “The key is information and prevention; understanding that cancer is like a lottery. We’re all born with tickets. Everyone has cancer cells inside them lying dormant, waiting for something to kick them off and multiply into tumors that can take your life from you.”
“The key is to reduce the amount of tickets you’re playing with. If you smoke, give yourself another ticket. Are you overweight? Get another ticket. Drink more than 7 alcoholic beverages a week for women and 14 for men? Get that ticket. Are you a couch potato that doesn’t believe in daily exercise? Yup, get your ticket. The more tickets you have, the more chances you have of winning the cancer lottery; whether cancer runs in your family or not.”
“The secret is not to help cancer grow in the first place because having cancer sucks. You lose the person you were to someone always wondering if this is their last day/week/month on earth; to a person always trying to stay one step ahead of the cancer cells with drug regimes that are hard on you, with positive thinking that sometimes eludes you.
“If it wasn’t for the friends and family that kept cheering me on, of lifting me up when I started to sink, of the gifts of humor, encouragement and lies that I was looking well even when I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have.”
“The biggest thing is the hope and love that we cancer survivors feel when people like you support the Canadian Cancer Society in any way.”