After a cancer diagnosis, people often ask you what the silver lining was, or is. Let’s get real here, cancer is a beast and what I’ve watched it do to my friends and loved ones, and experienced myself, makes it nearly impossible to see any “good.” However, in my personal experience, I did find my cliché silver lining – or rather, what I would consider a catalyst. It is often not in the cancer itself that you find this, but in the epic mental shift it causes, and in turn, the things you push yourself to do that you never thought were possible.
After my first surgery in 2010 – 32 staples down my abdomen and a hellish recovery – I found out that they didn’t get all of the tumor and I was going to need another surgery. Looking back on the physical and mental hell of surgery number one, I thought, I can’t – I just can’t do this again. There is no way. But, I did. In 2011 I had surgery number two. And then, I did it again. In 2012 I had surgery number three. Yes, when you have cancer you are often faced with no choice – no choice but to fight. But, what you unearth in the process is a part of yourself you never knew was there. I truly didn’t think I could get through a second surgery, let alone a third. But, I did. I redefined my strength again and again.
Pre-cancer I would say I was an outgoing, semi-adventurous person. Most certainly not a risk-taker. After years of accepting what happened to me and what was going to be with me for the rest of my life, I discovered an organization called First Descents. They send young adult cancer survivors on life-changing outdoor adventure trips – surfing, rock climbing, or whitewater kayaking. When I first learned about them from my amazing nurse at Dana Farber I thought, No way – talk about my feelings for a week with other cancer people? That sounds scary as hell. And I’m afraid of the water and heights, so no thanks.
Along my emotional journey of coping with what I’d been through and facing vulnerabilities which had always been a challenge for me, I started to warm up to the idea. A year and a half after the idea was first suggested, in the summer of 2015, I spent a week rock climbing in Estes Park, Colorado, with 13 fellow cancer survivors, and strangers, on my FD1 trip. And over a year later I spent 10 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with another group of survivors (and strangers) rock climbing, rappelling into caves, and exploring on my FDX trip.
Did I cry on our “graduation climb” in Estes Park when I was hanging off the side of a cliff? Yes. I let it out with the help and coaching of the amazing staff. Did I cry when I was rappelling nearly 200 feet down into a black cave in Thailand? Yes. But oh boy, let me tell you something remarkable was on the other side of that fear, those tears, and that apprehension. On the other side was this piece of myself I never knew was there. I felt things I never thought possible. Pride, accomplishment, sheer joy – and I had a blast!
First Descents and the people I’ve met through it have changed my life, and transcended into how I live my life. In the past, if someone asked me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with or that was risky, I would just say no. But now, I say yes much, much more. The self-growth, discovery, and sheer act of soaking up all that life has to offer is something I just can’t get enough of. So do I have cancer to thank for that? Nah, I don’t think I could ever say “thank you” to cancer. But, was it a catalyst for me to open my eyes even more to the beauty of this world and what this life has to offer? Oh hell yes.
Becky Sail lives in Boston, MA and works in Corporate Communications. Her passions include family, travel, coaching lacrosse, and adventure. She prides herself on bringing spunk, determination, and fun to everything she encounters on her journey of life. She currently serves as Co-Chair of Dana-Farber’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. You can read her other Dana Farber Insight blog post here, and follow her personal blog here.