The following is a repost with permission from Capital of Texas Team Survivor and survivor, Francine Fowler.
Survival. Once the diagnosis is given, it seems that survival becomes the one main task in life. All else pales and becomes insignificant. Life as we know it stops and another life begins. Decision making, coping with fear, pain, aloneness, desperation, two tongue surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, a bilateral neck dissection to remove my lymph nodes, navigating medical diagnoses and insurance claims; all of this changed who I am.
I’ve had tongue cancer twice, ten years apart and against all the odds, I’ve survived.
After several years of learning how to speak and eat normally again, physical therapy for surgery induced nerve damage, trips to clinics to teach me how to deal with lymphedema in my neck and the long process of being able to look in the mirror and call the person I see Francine. I have internal and external scars from this arduous journey and it has changed the way I react to and view the world. I have felt set apart, mutilated, defective, blessed beyond understanding, overwhelmingly loved when I thought myself unlovable and at a loss trying to explain this to anyone who had not experienced a similar life changing event.
I have been blessed with wonderful gifts, new friends, increased compassion for pain and suffering and a stark realization that I’m not in control and I don’t know the number of my days. I’m not the same person physically or emotionally. The “new normal” they call it. And now what?
I survived the journey. I was back in the day to day of living. My long hair had grown back. But where was the strong vibrant athletic woman who completed triathlons and felt like anything was possible with determination and work? I desperately wanted to find that woman, but as I struggled to regain my fitness, I began to lose hope. I began to feel that my age and exhausting cancer journey had rendered this goal impossible. I had accepted so many losses already, could I accept this one too?
Then I remembered hearing about Team Survivor and the free triathlon training. I was hesitant because I’m not really good at meeting new people, but I really wanted this. As I arrive for training class and greet my fellow survivors I feel a part of something special. Oh my gosh, these are my people! I feel a belonging and a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm for the future. They have walked in my shoes and I feel like they are family. I’m starting to believe that it’s possible for me to regain my pre-cancer level of fitness.
I look around and see women of all fitness levels. We are all different and unique and at the same time we are one. We may have come to training separately but as we begin and our legs spin in unison and our heart rates rise together I feel a subtle shift. Together we have taken the first step in a common journey. Together we are committed to a goal. Together we are moving forward into a new life with hope and determination to better ourselves physically and emotionally. Together we are Team Survivor.
Since then I have biked 100 miles around Lake Tahoe and in the Mamma Jamma Ride, cycled the 170 miles of the two day MS150, joined a masters swim team, completed the Dam 5K swim at Mansfield Dam on Lake Travis, survived Uterine Cancer, a total hysterectomy and another four rounds of chemo and at 58 years old.
I’m still cycling, swimming and fund raising for the Mamma Jamma bike ride. My friends in Team Survivor helped me navigate my third cancer diagnosis and treatment with care and support. It’s not just a team, it’s a family.
If you would like to help support Team Survivor’s work, register to ride. Already registered? Check here for fundraising tips and be sure to say hello to Team Survivor SAG volunteers at this weekend’s training ride.