(This is the text from a speech I gave for the opening ceremonies of the Monroe/Sky Valley, Washington Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society on June 2, 2012 and, by request, in a slightly altered form at the Arlington, Washington Relay on June 23)
Welcome to Relay!
My name is Robyn Lynn and 4 years ago I began my journey as a breast cancer survivor.
I had an injury on a lower rib – clearly not anywhere near my boob, and I didn’t think much of it. I was the only girl working in a ski shop and was always banging into stuff. But, after a couple months, the bump wouldn’t go away so at my annual check up I mentioned it to my doctor. She sent me to get some tests which, in a couple months, resulted in the phone call no one wants to hear: You have cancer. And not only did I have cancer, there was a lot of it. Funny thing is – the bump was nothing - it went away as soon as I was diagnosed. But there was extensive cancer hiding in my right breast that I would never have known was there. I had no signs or symptoms, I had no risk factors, was an athlete and ate mostly organic and vegetarian. I had no breast cancer in my family. I was a 39 year old single mother of two teenage kids.
They were able to remove the cancer and this fall I will celebrate my 4 year anniversary, but on that day, September 19, cancer changed everything about my life.
I know that I speak on behalf of all survivors, present or not, in saying that your efforts here to raise money for support services for patients, better treatment options and to find a cure for cancer are appreciated more that we can ever say.
We survivors appreciate you taking time out of your lives to do something for us, but I want to encourage you to also take this opportunity to do something for yourself.
You see, when you are told you have cancer, everything in your life changes in an instant. Even for those people who do not have life-threatening cancers, the very word “cancer” itself sets in motion a serious of thoughts about mortality and life that shifts your path to one that is parallel to the one you were on. It is as if the world titled just a little bit so that colors are brighter, details are sharper, emotions are stronger. You start thinking about what it important, the things you regret, the things you still want.
How long you choose to stay on this path is up to you. Some people won’t allow cancer to alter their path at all and they try to resume life exactly as it was before. But, it doesn’t really work that way. You never go back to the way things were.
Instead there is a “new normal” – a new way of seeing the world and moving within it. As a cancer survivor, some of the physical parts of your new normal will not of your choosing – it can take a long time to regain your energy, your hair and your ability to do things that were once easy. Some of the things you will lose to cancer will not come back and you will mourn them deeply, grief becoming a part of “normal” for awhile. But, part of your new normal will also be the ability to look at the world in a different way.
Cancer survivors talk about how they don’t let the small stuff bother them anymore. They often pursue long put off dreams realizing now that life is short and time is precious and not to be wasted. They tell the people they love that they do and they allow activities, people and stresses that are not worth their energy fall to the wayside. There are a lot less “should’s” for survivors – a lot less we feel we ought to do for other people. Cancer gives us the chance to realize our own importance.
Today, you are here walking for cancer survivors and patients who are dealing with these deep life questions while they also struggle with the physical aspects of treatment and the ongoing questions about their health and the future.
I ask that you use the next 24 hours as an opportunity to allow cancer to change your life too – not because I wish this diagnosis on you, but because I wish for everyone to have this opportunity to realize their own importance. I want each of you, as you walk today, to think about what you would change in your life if you were told you could die.
How important would the worries you held yesterday be if your time here was limited? How would you treat your body if you knew that in a day or two you would lose a breast, a kidney, the ability to speak normally, or breathe freely? What is on your bucket list? What is the one thing you have always wanted to do – or always wanted to be – that you have never attempted because you thought it was silly, or frivolous or that it might not work out? What would you always regret not doing if you everything suddenly changed?
And, why are you not important enough right now for these things?
Do you have to be told you have cancer in order to justify investing your own happiness?
As you walk the track today you are raising money for valuable services for The American Cancer Society that make a real difference in the lives of people affected by a cancer diagnosis
I am the Snohomish County Reach to Recovery Coordinator and serve on the national call list for the Reach Program. I am also a member the Great West Division Cancer Resource Network Training Task Force that sets up policy and trainings for regional and local volunteer coordinators. Reach To Recovery is a peer support resource matching newly diagnosed women with survivors of the same type of breast cancer at the same age. Reach volunteers are the “been there, done that” voice of encouragement and hope in a scary time for women.
Reach is just one of the many patient specific programs ACS provides. My father, Bob Banks, is a volunteer at the Cancer Resource Center at Providence Hospital in Everett - a program fully funded and staffed by The American Cancer Society. He visits patients as they are receiving treatments, answers questions and gives hugs and encouragement. The CRC provides information on all types of cancer and related treatment/medication information, newly diagnosed patient gift bags (heart love bags), wigs and prosthetic fittings, hand knit blankets and hats, scarves and scarf tying classes, all available to patients and their caregivers FOR FREE.
ACS also has a free Rides program providing free transportation to and from treatment. The Everett area ACS Road group has 25 + volunteer drivers who provided 800 rides last year. In the past 6 months, that program has already provided 500 rides.
Gas cards and hotel stays are available. Free Cancer specific support groups and classes are also offered for minimal cost on everything from Body Image to Meditation and Yoga. And ACS funds the newest thinkers in the fields of research and treatment development, helping to increase of quality of life when undergoing treatment and gaining insight into how cancer works.
We will find a cure, it is only a matter of time. Your fundraising efforts not only get us closer, but provide priceless support for those in need, immediately.
By your efforts, patients are given hope. They are given time in which they feel they matter. They are able to share their concerns and their triumphs with someone who is in the unique position of knowing exactly how they feel. They have some of the lonely weight of being a patient or a survivor lifted as they realize that people really do understand and care. They are, heard, recognized and buoyed up. They gain hope that their lives will not only continue, but will be better after cancer.
My life is certainly better after cancer. My dad, a prostate cancer survivor himself, told me it would be, and I got mad at him. I wanted things the way they were before. But through the process of diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, I learned so much about myself I would not have otherwise known right now. I followed my dreams and became the writer I always wanted to be. I became a public speaker to give voice to people who do not have one strong enough to be heard. I went back to school to allow me to switch to a career that was more fulfilling. I have made sure my relationships are ones I wanted to be in instead of the ones I happened to be in. And I love my family and friends with all my heart, everyday, instead of letting opportunities to tell them so slip by.
I encourage you to allow the impact of cancer to change your life for the better too. Don’t wait until some sits you down to tell you they have some bad news for you. Examine your priorities now. Be your best person now. Live as if there is no tomorrow. Take risks. Love yourself fiercely. Be your own advocate for happiness. Follow those dreams now – there will never be enough time, so you might as well get going.
When we each become who we were meant to be, the word is changed.
Thank you for making a difference in the lives on cancer patients and survivors. Thank you for letting us make a difference in yours.