What I Remind Myself When I Compare Another Cancer Journey to Mine

When people tell you that cancer touches everybody – it is true. Every family, every neighbor, and every friend has been affected in some way by cancer. It is a reality of life that transcends race, gender, creed, socio-economic or political contexts. This month has been a sobering reminder of how different everyone’s journey with cancer can be.

I had my fists pumping in the air for an incredible woman halfway across the country because she finished a full marathon – without a stomach. This finish line was significant. She was the first blog I came across from the CDH1/hereditary diffuse gastric cancer community who encouraged me to see the fullness of life after a total gastrectomy. Seeing Marne’s photos early in the morning at the start line and seeing
her split times was truly inspirational.

In the same month, I learned of friends starting their cancer journey and prayed alongside others right in the middle of the fight. As someone who has been declared cancer-free, it can be difficult for me to reconcile the varying degrees in which cancer affects us as a community. After almost three years, I have learned of the
unique nuances of experience within the stomachless community, from diet to
psycho-social-physiological and physical abilities after a total gastrectomy. No doubt, listening to another person’s story can be deeply helpful, but it is when I begin comparing my journey, progress, or abilities to another person that it can become unhealthy because we all have such unique circumstances.

Cancer is brutal any way you slice it, and each circumstance is deeply personal. Unhealthy comparisons of one person’s journey to another can lead to doubt, resentment, and frustration. Each of us, can only take what our bodies will give us each day. I really believe you do not have to be a triathlete or a marathoner to determine why you get up each day. We are all on a journey to discover our “why” and how we answer that why profoundly shapes how we view our circumstances, take the next step, and get back up when we have a setback.

man wearing bike helmet

Contrary to the millennial life I live on Instagram, this week has been a struggle as I
battled random intestinal pains. It has been a little disconcerting as the pain is emanating from new places in my abdomen. As I shook open my bottle of Norco I was shocked to discover I had gone through 13 pills this past week – more than my intake over the past three months combined. In these moments, I too have to rehearse my why and allow my answer to settle into my soul so I can get dressed, take care of my kids, pay bills, keep walking into my doors at work, get on my bike, lace up my running shoes and keep cultivating friendships. This week has been a fresh reminder of how each person’s journey is deeply personal.

Working with high school students, I received a thank-you note from a student who reminded me of something I said the first time we met for coffee: “Run your own
race.” It is always a temptation to look at another person’s circumstance, but to compare their situation to your own is a moving target. There will always be someone with better or worse circumstances than your own. Running your own race is about embracing your situation and doing what you can each day. I find when I run my own race, as opposed to comparing my circumstance to another, I can better celebrate each victory and empathize with each heart break of my fellow sojourner.

When navigating life with some kind of challenge, whatever it is, it really is about running your own race. Trying to keep up with someone else is a false finish line. In the process of running our own race we create personal milestones that are significant to our unique journey. Running our own race helps us discover our “why” and make the necessary decisions to move forward with a deeply personal and unique next step.

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