~By Diana Sloan
For cancer patients, the five-year mark can mean different things. For some, it may be five years since diagnosis. For others, it could be five years without evidence of disease which cuts down the chances of a recurrence dramatically. I hit my five-year mark since diagnosis on December 12th; but, for people like me, it is completely different. I am a stage IV colorectal cancer patient, and I am incurable.
When I found out my staging, I did what any normal person would do. I went online to Dr. Google and scared the crap out of myself. Everyone tells you not to do that, but I wonder how many of us listen. Anyway, at the time, the statistics showed a five percent five-year survival rate for stage IV colorectal cancer patients. Wait, what!?!?!?!?! Talk about instant panic. When I calmed down a little, I read the dates on the studies and exhaled. They were old, but I still felt like a ticking clock was hanging over my head. I needed to find real people like me, and hear their stories.
Meeting people like me proved to be difficult at diagnosis. First, I was thirty-eight when diagnosed and this disease was not supposed to happen to people my age. Secondly, I was in the middle of Missouri at a small Army base and there was no cancer support system. I felt alone and isolated. After we moved to a new duty station near D.C., my oncologist there led me to online resources where I could meet other people like me and introduced me personally to a fellow patient and his future wife. I had found my people.
One thing became abundantly clear after I found these wonderful people. More of us were living longer after a stage IV diagnosis. I met people who had no evidence of disease in their bodies and had been cancer free for five, ten, even fifteen years. I learned five percent was not a statistic I should pay attention to.
I am not going to lie and say everything is sunshine and rainbows for stage IV patients. It’s not. My friend is gone. I miss him so much, and I think of his amazing wife all the time. I have lost more friends than I can count. Some after the five-year mark. Some before. Every time I see another friend gone from this disease, it breaks my heart a little. I grieve with their family and all who love them. I also ask myself why and quickly realize there is no answer.
So, as I look at my five-year mark in the rearview mirror, I am saying to hell with the statistics. Cancer is one of the most random and unpredictable things in this world. I have no idea what my future will bring or how long it will be, and that is okay. I will continue to live life to the fullest with people I cherish. And every day I get after my five-year mark will be a gift met with gratefulness and love.
Diana Sloan, a 2018 On The Rise featured survivor, is a stage IV colorectal cancer survivor and mother of 3 girls. She’s currently making memories in Texas with her husband and daughters while receiving treatment at MD Anderson.