By Jack Ganster
As a person who has spent the last ten years willing to share my experience about life after diagnosis, it’s still difficult to simply say “I am a cancer survivor”. So much goes into this statement.
It’s been an incredible journey and I have seen and experienced so much during this period in my life -- a period that almost seemed out of reach.
At the time, I was strong and healthy, Lance Armstrong was still a hero, and the Livestrong Foundation was just gaining traction. Since then, I’ve attended a conference at their headquarters in Austin, Texas, started my own program (Survivor’s Outdoor Experience) and have witnessed Mr. Armstrong’s meteoric fall from grace.
As much as I deplore this man’s constant flippant denials and bully-style behavior, I can totally relate with him about how rewarding it is to help others through simply surviving against the odds -- the most basic form of leading by example.
This is why share my story. It goes beyond this simple idea of outlasting the disease. I felt like I would, but I still feel like it’s a temporary victory. Even though it’s been ten years and multiple MRI exams later and all the evidence suggests that I should declare victory.
Anytime I have felt like commenting that I beat brain cancer, I could feel an immediate splash of cursing myself. I do have a healthy and active lifestyle and I do my best to keep the odds in my favor in outlasting the disease.
I also feel a sense of guilt for outlasting all who have been diagnosed and died during my tenure as a survivor. I’ve made friends because of the disease. And I’ve lost friends because of the disease.
More than anything, I’ve learned lessons about life and possibilities of that it brings.
These are some of the things I’ve learned:
I’ve learned that life can indeed be too short for some and that it should not be taken for granted. None of us was promised a set number of days that we will get to enjoy our mother earth and we should appreciate how lucky we are on a daily basis.
I’ve learned that even as I was spending my days fighting for this life, and as many days as I could get, it was still easy to lose sight of this simple concept. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of responsibilities and concerns. Remember to take a moment to think about what is going right in your world.
I’ve learned the power of friends and family is immeasurable.
I’ve learned to see the struggles of others through their eyes and not simply through my own. They might be dealing with unseen issues that I can’t see from my world.
I’ve learned that people can change, and sometimes it can happen without a life- changing event like cancer. They may just need to decide for themselves that it’s time for a change.
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t need a cancer diagnosis to think about these things.
I’ve learned that I should not keep my distance from those who want to be with me simply because I may hurt them if I succumb to this disease.
I’ve learned that I can make a difference in the world. Even if it is on a minor level and it’s something that just two of us share; if I’ve made their day brighter, then my day becomes brighter.
These lessons were brought to me by living my life with cancer and not for cancer. With these 10 years behind me, I can now comment on my future.
I want to die young -- at an old age.
Jack Ganster is a native of Richland Township, PA, and now lives in Port Angeles, WA where he is the founder of Survivor's Outdoor Experience.