Almost from the day I was diagnosed with stage IIC ovarian cancer, I knew there was a reason and that I could help others because of my experience. I started sharing through Care Pages and soon had a large following of friends, family, and friends of friends. I tend to be a “giver and nurturer,” so learning how to receive and even to identify my own needs during treatment became a big part of the experience for me.
One of my posts included a list of things people could do to help, as well as advice about what they could say to people dealing with cancer. I told them it’s better to say, “I don’t know what to say,” than saying nothing at all. This advice really resonated, and I got a ton of positive feedback. Learning to ask for help can be one of the most difficult parts of going through any challenge, but I think it might be especially difficult for single people who are accustomed to being independent and self-sufficient.
My friends loved my posts, and several of them told me I should write a book. I have taken that advice, and I am publically declaring that the book will be published by 2013. On my one-year “cancerversary,” I started writing a column about my experience as a single person with cancer, and have been posting monthly for the past four years: A Single Cell is published on DivineCaroline.com.
There are so many great resources out there now for young adults, but I could find nothing for those of us who are single. So, I put together a survey, completed by ninety single survivors, to identify the biggest issues of this population and the services that would be most helpful. Their feedback showed some interesting issues and needs:
Dating anxiety (84.6%)
Feeling alone (82.4%)
Body image (80.2%)
Connections with other survivors (80.9%)
Support groups or retreats (71.9%)
A book or other information about dealing with cancer as a single person (62.9%)
Since so many single people were feeling alone and needing to connect, I launched our first event in 2010 to bring single survivors together. Because I am a whitewater canoe guide, I asked the company I work for, Centennial Canoe Outfitters, to donate gear for a three-day canoe trip down the Colorado River, and they gladly agreed. Volunteers helped with publicity, marketing, fundraising, planning, food, and the myriad of other details that come along with carrying out a trip of this nature. Denver’s 9News did a feature story on the trip two weeks prior that generated local interest and added a few participants to the roster. Sixteen people joined us for three magical days in the beautiful Colorado sunshine, and the feedback from the trip was amazing. One hundred percent of those who completed the evaluation said their expectations of the trip were met. Eighty-three percent said they felt a sense of renewed strength and confidence, and that they connected emotionally with fellow participants. The comments we received were inspiring and moving:
“Thanks for four of the best days of my life. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve felt joy and at peace, and this weekend I felt both. Also, I feel hopeful again and inspired to get out there and really live. Thank you SOOO much!”
“I just wanted to say thank you for this weekend. It was something I really needed and it came at the right time. I’m sure everyone on the trip had the best time of their lives, and you touched more lives than you can imagine; not just those attending, but those who are their friends, their family, etc. It’s quite amazing to see the change in people, and you were the catalyst for that change. It was an honor to be a part of this event, and I can’t thank you enough.”
“Thank you so much for making this an incredible trip for me. It was just what I needed. No treatment could have made me more able to beat this cancer than the experience I had this weekend.”
“This weekend was the happiest that I have felt since my diagnosis. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!”
Since then, the response has been tremendous, and we have built a great database of people who are interested in future activities, even if three days camping on the river isn’t exactly their cup of tea or their schedule wouldn’t allow them to participate in the first trip.
A few weeks after the trip, I received news of a cancer recurrence and underwent a complete hysterectomy. My intuition helped us catch it extremely early. Although my doctors recommended chemo and other conventional treatments again, I decided to take a different path this time around. For the past year, I have been treating the recurrence naturally with the support of my oncologist and under the care of a naturopath. I have radically changed my diet to being largely plant-based and mostly vegan (I do eat eggs and fish occasionally), and I have given up white flour and sugar, as well. The goal is to alkalize my body as disease needs an acidic environment to grow. This approach has also boosted my immune system, so I rarely get sick anymore, and if I do catch a cold, it’s often short-lived and/or much less intense. As an added bonus, I have lost 40 pounds and gone from a size 12 to a size 6! I look and feel better than I ever have in my life.
Being an advocate for others is what my cancer experience has given me. I have a feeling of profound gratitude for all of the amazing individuals who have contributed to the foundation of a new organization: Solo Survivors. Since the first canoe trip, Solo Survivors has launched a Facebook Group and a new webpage, and continues to engage more and more single survivors in making connections with each other. It has also expanded the leadership team to include participants from the first trip, one of whom took over most of the planning for this year’s trip, which was a much smaller group, but had just as much impact on its participants.
Because of the extensive research I did before making the choice about my treatment and diet, I am now asked for advice about this approach. Like Kris Carr, I consider myself a “wellness warrior” in addition to being a “connector.” Reading Dean Ornish’s book, “Love and Survival,” has shown me the importance of both approaches to thriving as both a cancer survivor and a human being. I have learned the profound impact of what we put into our bodies and our minds, and I live each day, secure in the knowledge that I am WELL, and thrilled to be able to contribute to others as they seek a place of peace for themselves, too.