Cancer has been one of my greatest teachers. Having cancer twice has actually been like having a professor the past 25+ years. Not a scholarly professor, but a life professor. Cancer has taught me things about life that I never would have learned. That I never would have had the opportunity to learn. The word “opportunity” may not seem like the most appropriate word to use when talking about cancer as it can be defined as a possibility based on favorable circumstances. Cancer is certainly not a favorable circumstance anyone wants to find themselves in. I know I never wanted to hear the words “you have cancer.” My world was never the same after that. Unfortunately, many can relate and know the kaleidoscope of emotions.

Cancer changed me. How could it not? Even in remission and between cancers I still had follow-up appointments and regular scans. When you have cancer, you don’t have the opportunity to go through treatment and never see an oncologist again (wishful thinking at its finest)! Therefore, cancer was always on my mind; some days more than others. I still had to wait for results of tests and scans, which became routine and part of my life.

My mindset on life and the world around me could never be the same. My life changed – not once, but twice – in a split second. All because of three very heavy words, “you have cancer.” That is all it took. Life stood still. It was just me and cancer. Sure, I go through life and have family and friends who know what I’ve gone through and some, more than others, see just how much it changed me. As I’ve gotten older, I have realized that much of the change is on the inside. It has grounded me so much. My thoughts are different and I try to be gentle with myself and others. Happiness is more and more of a priority. Genuine happiness. I find joy wherever I can. Quality of life is imperative. I find myself more willing to step out of the box. Seek peace. Surround myself with loved ones. Help others and reach out as much as I can. Just be kind. I found all of this has evolved over the years and continues to evolve. All because of the “opportunity” I first had in 1994.

What if that opportunity never presented itself? What if those heavy words were never said to me? What if I never met chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or MRIs? Never understood what a PICC line or pseudomonas aeruginosa infection was? Who would I be if I had not gone through such traumatic events?

Was cancer an opportunity?

About the Author

Jennifer Pichelman was born in Racine, Wis. She graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin with an undergraduate degree in business management and communication. She recently celebrated 25 years with a manufacturing company in Racine and currently works in marketing. Jennifer was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1994 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Due to the radiation to her chest, Jennifer was told she had an increased risk of breast cancer, which her oncologist diligently screened for with mammograms and breast MRI's. She remained cancer free until December of 2012, when she was diagnosed with a secondary cancer, breast cancer. When a small mass was discovered after a mammogram, deep down Jennifer knew she had breast cancer. After biopsy results came back, Jennifer was formally diagnosed on Dec. 28, 2012 -- 3 days after Christmas.

Joe Vitale

Jennifer-Well said. So true. Fight on.