My theme for 2012 was vitality, as I mentioned in a previous post. After reflecting on what vitality meant for my experiences in 2012, I thought of what has now become my motto for this year. “My disease may be in my genes. But it will never chose my destiny.”
The easiest way to describe Gardner’s Syndrome is that having it means I have a 100% chance of having colon cancer at some point in my life. For a period of time after I was diagnosed, I thought cancer was a part of my future and there was nothing I could do to change it. It was only after I had been in remission for two years that I even considered going to college. After I was accepted to college, I still worried that my disease would return, leaving me in debt without finishing my degree. Cancer was living my life for me before I even had it.
I still haven’t had cancer. In fact, this past summer I had no polyps. Even though I have been in remission for almost 8 years, I still find myself asking “what if” before I face my yearly colonoscopy.
When I first started writing, before this blog, all my “what ifs” were about my fears. What if I get a desmoid tumor? Will I have children who have my disease? Would having children, knowing that there is a 50% chance they will have my disease, be cruel? What if I have cancer this year? If I have my colon removed, what will be next?
When I wrote about all my “what ifs”, I only was focusing on the future. I don’t even know if cancer will be in my future. Right now, I am in healthy and in remission. But when things become stressful, it’s so easy to focus on the future. But I no longer believe that all of my “what ifs” are going to be a part of my future.
No matter what happens, I will always have a mutated APC gene on my chromosome 5. What I do with this knowledge will determine my destiny. I know that if I did nothing, I might have had cancer by now. With Gardner’s Syndrome, doing something is better than nothing. I have knowledge than many people who face cancer don’t, I know that I am at a huge risk for it. While cancer catches most people by surprise, I have time to prepare for it.
This year, one of my goals is to fight back against Gardner’s Syndrome. The past 7 years that I have been in remission, I haven’t done much to fight back besides taking a pill everyday. But this year, I’m changing my diet and getting serious about exercising regularly. Basically, I plan on doing everything that typical people do to protect themselves for having colon cancer.
In the past, it seemed like my disease was my destiny. I thought my life would revolve around my health. It’s easy to write about being scared of cancer, having children with my disease, and desmoid tumors because I have seen my family go through it. It’s easier to give up than to fight my fears. I know that because I have almost given up before.
But maybe, somehow, this disease could be a part of my destiny. How could having a disease be a part of my destiny, or anyone’s destiny for that matter? For me, I see my disease as a gift and a blessing. I have had to see things and go through things that I hope no one ever has to experience. But challenges will always be a part of life.
Today, I started my final quarter of college. As I am writing this, I am asking myself how my disease has shaped my life. I have chosen to fight back and remission has allowed me to pursue opportunities and take a path in life that I may not have taken if my life were different.
I know what the outcome would have been if I gave up. But in not giving up, the possibilities are endless. I will never know how long my remission will last. But I think it’s time to stop asking “what if my polyps come back” and to start asking “what if my polyps never come back”. I will never know what my future holds. Right now, I don’t have polyps. If I live my life guessing when I will have to part ways with my colon, I won’t just be possibly missing life with a colon one day…I’ll have missed out on living. I have control of my destiny. My disease will always be a part of my life. But I can chose what roles we play. I could be the bystander and let my disease control my destiny. Or I could be the artist, and turn my disease into something beautiful.
By: Alyssa Zeigler
Alyssa the fourth generation of her family that has been diagnosed with a hereditary colon cancer disease. She was diagnosed with Gardner’s Syndrome when she was 14. Having Gardner’s Syndrome basically means that she would have a 100% chance of having colon cancer at some point in her life if her disease went untreated. At the time of her diagnosis, she did not have cancer yet but she had polyps. Her family chose to try to avoid surgery and instead opted to try a NSAID medication to see if her disease could be slowed down. Eight years later, Alyssa’s disease is in remission and she is currently living polyp-free!
Alyssa is currently student at Western Washington University where she studies psychology and will be graduating in March. After graduation, she hopes to continue blogging. Alyssa hopes to pursue a career that involves helping others. Some careers that she has in mind include nursing, advocacy, or special education. She is currently working with the F.A.P Foundation to help create social resources for people whose lives have been touched by hereditary colon cancer diseases.
Alyssa has also written a memoir about her experiences living with Gardner’s Syndrome and hopes that she can publish it as an ebook by February. She hopes that her story will encourage others to find meaning from their own experiences. She also enjoys hobbies such as playing sports, photography, and writing. Her blog can be found at alyzee17.blogspot.com