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The Way I See It: Lessons from A Twenty-Year Cancer Survivor

10-19-2016

The Way I See It: Lessons from A Twenty-Year Cancer Survivor

In October, landscapes across the country turn gold, orange, crimson—and pink. Pink ribbons crop up everywhere—in doctor’s offices, on cars, on football helmets— a show of support for an important cause. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: a time to remember those affected by the disease, raise support for cancer research and renew our commitment to personal prevention.

Twenty years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, survivor Lyn Anderson has made it a point to do all three. In 1996, her cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock. At 43, she went in for a routine check-up and left with an array of tests scheduled for a suspicious lump. They confirmed she was Stage II invasive breast cancer. No one ever wants to hear this news, but Lyn chose to face it head on. Around this same time, national researchers discovered the BRCA 1/2 gene, which has been linked to cancer. This discovery would prove to be a major advancement for breast cancer detection and treatment and would even impact Lyn and her family down the road.

Immediately after her diagnosis, Lyn’s doctors at CaroMont Health put together a personalized treatment plan that included surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Lyn remembers that her early morning radiation sessions were quiet and peaceful, a moment to reflect before her workday started. In fact, cancer gave her lots of time—and reasons—to reflect on her life and embrace change. Lyn finished her last chemo treatment in September 1996 and celebrated being cancer-free. In the 20 years since, she has continued celebrating her “second chance” at life and sees the world with fresh eyes. She shares some of the most important lessons cancer taught her:

  1. Make annual screenings a priority.

It can be all too easy to let regular checks-up and screenings slide, especially if you feel healthy. But if I hadn’t gone for my yearly exam, who knows when my breast cancer would have been detected? That routine screening saved my life! Be sure to keep your annual well visits and follow through on all the recommended screenings. They play such an important role in maintaining your health.

  1. Commit to regular exercise.

Don’t wait for a major life event or health crisis to get serious about exercising. Not only is regular exercise key to a healthy lifestyle, it’s also one of the most powerful ways to lift your mind and spirits. For me, cancer was the motivation I needed to start waking up early, exercising and staying healthy for my girls. It quickly became a positive force in my life that relaxed and rejuvenated me. Now, I start my day at the gym 5 or 6 mornings each week.

  1. Consider genetic testing if you have a family history of cancer.

Because multiple people in my family had faced cancer, I decided to undergo genetic counseling and testing. The results confirmed I had the BRCA gene mutation. When my daughters were older, they were tested, too. Genetic counseling can help you understand your risk for cancer, support early detection or prevention efforts and assess your treatment options. Knowledge is power, as they say, and the genetic information has helped my family make better decisions about our health.

  1. Make the most of every moment.

I feel like I got a second chance at life—but that’s because I decided to make some changes, follow my passions and soak up every minute I had with those I love. I joined a book club that still meets today, 20 years later! I joined the Y. I set goals for myself and worked on becoming them. And since I decided to look for ways to be present, I have led a happy, rich and varied life over the last two decades. Life is precious—don’t waste a minute of it!

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