The passing of time is a gift.
I have found time cannot be grasped nor exchanged like currency but nine years after my cancer treatments concluded time has transformed, healed and redeemed my treasured life.
With each passing cancer-free anniversary I add another year to the list titled, “Years-since-I-was-a-teenager-with-cancer.” I did not even realize it was my “cancer-free day” until after dinner this past year. Time often makes a fool of me.
I am rarely asked anymore how I am feeling or if I will speak about my experience with cancer at rallies, fundraisers or 5Ks. I find myself using the “cancer card” less and less. There are fewer cancer anniversary social media posts and most days I do not even remember those months spent in hospital rooms or the haunting sound of an IV pole rolling over an elevator threshold.
Time has been a gift for my memory.
While I had cancer I believed I would always be remembered as, “that girl with cancer.” I was certain this title would remain with me for all of my days and would be the first memory a family member, friend, teammate, teacher or coach would ever have when they thought of me. Time has allowed for this fear to fade away. I am no longer thought of as the bald girl showing up to school dances or the sick teenager dodging the stares of elderly women in the waiting room waiting for their dialysis. My life has transformed into much more than the title I awarded myself at 17.
Time has transformed.
The passing of time has redeemed this fear of cancer being my story and spoken to the reality of pediatric cancer as only part of my story. Time has allowed for survivorship to evolve from something I run from, to a background theme of my life. The need to compartmentalize the experience of cancer in order to get through the day is no longer present. Survivorship has evolved into an embrace of the entirety of my 25 years on this earth, including that year marked by disease.
Although time has healed, redeemed and transformed, the greatest gift time has given me is compassion. The passing of nine years has opened my heart to a compassion I did not know was attainable. Time has given me space to remember this terrifying experience and enter into the unknown with loved ones and strangers. Compassion has been the greatest gift of cancer. My survivorship has allowed for the gift to suffer with another and accompany them through the unknown of illness and navigate the messy path of survivorship.
I am abundantly grateful for the unraveling of survivorship over the past nine years and I look forward to many more.
Written by Katrina Siebels
Katrina was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 17 years old. Now nine years past her cancer diagnosis date, she works in youth ministry at St. Therese Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minnesota.