Laura is a survivor of advanced melanoma who has volunteered with Cancer Hope Network for almost 20 years. She and her husband joined the network during a volunteer training that was conducted in California and they have never looked back since! Laura has been a tremendous source of support to over 80 patients and family members dealing with a stage 4 melanoma diagnosis. Following is her Story of Hope:
Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. As cancer survivors, most of us feel that we know that better than most people. If we are fortunate enough to survive cancer, we might find that handling our ‘new life’ is a gift but also sometimes a struggle.
20 years ago this year, during a recurrence of my melanoma, I became aware of and received training to become a Cancer Hope Network Volunteer. This became one of the ways that I handled the life with cancer that I was living. When I first received my diagnosis in 1985, my most profound feelings were isolation, anger, fear and unfairness. I was put in touch with another patient who reached out her hand to help me know that I wasn’t alone. That changed so many things. As I felt the power of that, I knew that perhaps the only and best thing I could do with this misfortune that had befallen me was to also hold out that helping hand to others. During that 20 years, my wonderful husband Don, also made himself available to spouses and significant others as he shared his feelings of helplessness and fear and what he did about it.
We found that a real need had developed to talk to someone who had ‘been there’. During those 20 years I experienced several recurrences and remissions; some life threatening. Volunteering to talk to someone in my situation helped me put a perspective on things and also made me feel useful when there wasn’t much I could really do except talk on the phone.
Life moved on, with me! I wanted to go to my 40th high school reunion. I fretted about what I would tell all my old (no pun intended) classmates what I had been doing since I graduated. I was sure everyone had families, careers, and had advanced in so many ways – while most of our effort was involved in surviving cancer. Who could I talk to about this? I shared this dilemma with one of the CHN staff who immediately put me in touch with another long-term survivor. His words to me were miraculous in helping me know what to say. I had never considered that I could also take advantage of the Network and especially for my own survivorship issues.
So, getting back to those gifts I mentioned at the beginning of my bio. There have been many. I was forced to end a career I really didn’t like and became involved in horticulture. This became a passion for me and my husband. I volunteered for our local Master Gardener program, took classes and now help others find happiness in gardening. I also went back to community college to take all the art classes I could and am still deeply involved in ceramics. The physicality and peace I find in doing it is remarkable. Yes, I lost friends who couldn’t handle my ongoing illness but also found some amazing new ones.
Sometimes I say getting cancer and surviving it is like boot camp for life – you hopefully see clearly what matters and the need to not put things off for the future. We all have things we imagine we want to do somewhere down the road to make us happy but I say don’t wait to be happy. Make time for yourself (yes be a bit selfish) and explore all those things that others wait to do when they retire, or the children go to college or “one of these days”. Just jump in because you have nothing to lose. There is never a right or optimal time to jump back into life. The only loss would be if you looked back and didn’t try.
And hopefully keep on helping others through Cancer Hope Network because we are their lifeline.