Each year 77,000+ young adults are diagnosed with cancer. My 21-year-old self never thought I would be part of this statistic. My 21-year-old self also never imagined not only living this long but to have REALLY lived. No, I guess I never thought I would die. But, after being told three separate times that I had a life-threatening disease, it was far-fetched envisioning a life beyond infusion rooms, anesthesia, and needles puncturing my flesh inviting poisonous chemicals to flow through my frame.
Chemotherapy alone failed. An autologous stem cell transplant failed. My third and final fight with an allogeneic stem cell transplant from a non-related donor I was in Baylor Dallas hospital for 27 days. Much like today, April 2020, nearly ten years later, quarantine was required to save my life from disease. It’s unbelievable what isolation away from God’s green Earth does to your mind, body, and soul. I saw a different kind of beauty and appreciation in all things that move, make noise, stand still and fly. I was fascinated seeing trains take off and I was grateful to feel warmth when I was met with sunshine.
Identifying as an Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) cancer survivor is unique yet beautiful because of the people I’ve met along the way. From patients and their families to our heroic healthcare workers. The electric energy and spice for life shakes the walls in the AYA community. But this fierce gang wasn’t always as established as it is now, so for me, I was very alone in the beginning. The oncology waiting rooms and local support groups were filled with people no younger than my grandparents. Longing to meet someone my age, I felt isolated and desperately needed someone to relate to for my well-being.
Fast forward to a decade of well-known, established national and local AYA organizations I’ve traveled from coast to coast, fundraised tens of thousands, advocate for awareness and help with post-cancer wellness. I am still here moving, learning, dancing, crying, singing, talking, sassy, laughing, listening, breathing, hurting, loving, and just… being. Every day I have the opportunity to celebrate a reinvented, healthy me. I make it a priority to invest in myself and my quality of life. I get to do what sets my soul on fire while learning other AYA’s stories from all over the world.
I’ve also introduced and empowered many survivors to choose and celebrate their cancerversary – a milestone defined by a survivor. October 7 is my day. The day my donor’s stem cells hung in a bag above my head and slowly dripped through a tube ready to conquer my body and gift me with a cancer-free life. Every year on this day I do something extravagant; something to celebrate the new level of joy I found by just being alive. Something to symbolize and remind me of the importance of good health, love, relationships, lessons learned, experiences and so much more. Something to remind me of my donor’s sacrifice just so silly ol’ me has the opportunity to witness my son vow to his girl in white.
Last year I felt led to serve my AYA friends in a bigger way. And, by bigger, I mean on a smaller scale. More local and more personable. So, for my cancerversary I established a non-profit with the goal of throwing an annual event raising the roof and dollars to support AYA cancer survivors. MarCUREitas, June 7, National Cancer Survivors Day, Downtown Fort Worth. We are here to celebrate US!
Our biggest struggles can offer hope to others. We and our stories are all a part of a greater plan. We are all in this together. This is why I stay connected. This is why I continue to serve the AYA cancer community. Having the AYA community a part of my life renews my desire to accomplish things I never thought attainable. Love is not a superpower. It is a gift we can all give. So, thank you for loving me. You are my people.
Written by: Candice Stinnett