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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!