Springfield woman: What cancer gave me

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Hearing the words “you have cancer” is overwhelming, but hearing those words as a child is devastating. As I look back on my personal cancer journey, it is nearly inconceivable to me that I have just passed the 41st anniversary of my diagnosis of stage III Hodgkin’s disease.

At the age of 17, I swung like a pendulum from a strong invincible woman who could handle anything thrown at her to a scared little girl who wanted to crawl into her mother’s arms for safety. Fighting the cancer beast became my quest. Little did I know just how long and how passionately that pursuit would be. Treated with a cocktail of MOPP chemotherapy and radiation that had recently been developed by the National Institutes of Health, I fought the cancer beast with all the strength that I could muster.

Cancer took from me my carefree senior year in high school, friends who shied away, cheerleading, hanging out at the movies, going to football games and dances. It was all gone and it was something that I could never get back. In return, however, cancer gave me an early brush with life and death that gave me, at a young age, the maturity and understanding of the importance of family, friends and hope. The things that really matter.

Cancer also took from me the ability to bear children. Marriage/children and the American dream were dashed — those idealistic thoughts of a future that only a teenage girl can have. They were all gone as my parents and I opted for my best chance of long-term survival.

In return, cancer gave me a mind and heart to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems. And later, overlooking the fear of cancer returning, I pushed forward to adopt my beautiful daughter Jodie. She gave me the strength and will to live every day and helped me to become a less selfish person — concentrating less and less on my cancerous past. I learned that what one gives is always returned tenfold.

And, ironically, in the end, cancer took from me my beloved mother, my primary source of strength and courage during my battle with cancer. My mother was tender with me, and a fierce fighter at every challenge. She held my hand through pain, caressed my forehead through fear, questioned every medication and treatment, and boosted my wavering spirits. My mother never let me feel sorry for myself or allowed me to believe that I would not live a rich, full life.

My cancer diagnosis allowed me to experience that powerful source of strength in a person that may otherwise have been taken for granted. Because of our cancer bond, I have been given priceless memories of a mother’s love that taught me to be instinctual and unconditional in my love and unending in my courage to fight this worthy battle. Cancer may have taken my mother, but her best qualities live within me. Even though my mother is no longer with me, I carry the memory of her courage with me every single day.

I discovered many years after treatment that the American Cancer Society had played a supporting role in boosting the spirits of my primary caregiver. My mother called an ACS staffer on a regular basis to discuss my progress and to express her fear to a supportive sounding board. Interestingly, the American Cancer Society also assisted my family with travel expenses so that they could be at my bedside each and every day. Forty years later, that program is now called Road to Recover.

A wise person once said that when you lay dying, you won’t wish that you had spent more time at the office. He said that I should join his Relay for Life team, provoking thought as to how I would be remembered. That Relay for Life experience in 1996 opened the door to years of my passionate and dedicated volunteer work for ACS.

My quest to heighten my assistance for the American Cancer Society opened the door to advocacy where I joined ACSCAN and became the lead advocate in the 8th Congressional District in Ohio. Then came the Clark County Leadership Council, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Voices of Hope. I no longer wonder if I will be remembered — sharing my story and volunteering for the American Cancer Society will leave my legacy of hope, courage and perseverance.

Julie Turner, a Springfield resident, was selected to be one of 15 cancer survivors from across the nation to attend the 8th Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference this past June in Washington, D.C. The conference was a collaboration between the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the LIVESTRONG Foundation.

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