Most of us know at least one person who has been directly affected by cancer. What you might not know is that I am one of those people. Since World Cancer Day is this week, I’ve reflected on my own journey and how different it might have been without my music, friends, or family.

As a metastatic cancer survivor, each and every day that’s passed since my diagnosis has been a gift. I’m not sure where I’d be today without my brilliant team of doctors. While researchers and organizations try to reduce this disease’s impact, let’s do our part by sharing our stories and supporting each other through the process.      

The Diagnosis that Changed Me

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event. My very identity was shaken in 2011 when my doctor told me that I had cancer. I felt frozen in disbelief and shock. How could my own body betray me like this? How will I continue as a piano composer and teacher? I thought about how I had entered the doctor’s office not long before feeling so normal. It’s a routine follow-up, I had casually told myself. But I left that appointment feeling like my individuality and independence had been replaced with the words cancer patient. And it was two just days before Thanksgiving.

Me, a Cancer Patient

By Christmas that year, I had broken the news to my family and friends, had two surgeries, and had my first chemo and radiation treatments. My oldest daughter was my substitute piano teacher when I was too sick to teach. My youngest came home from college every weekend to cook, clean, and grocery shop. Friends from the local church where I directed music were understanding and kind without pitying me. My then-boyfriend (now husband) took me to and from my appointments and checked on me daily.   

Having a network of supportive people helped me get through each day with cancer. But music helped me feel more like myself and less like a cancer patient. I listened to music for relaxation and meditation throughout chemo and radiation. Music also helped me push through the pain and sickness long enough to fall asleep some nights. Playing and listening to piano music reminded me of who I was as a composer and teacher. No matter how sick I became, I had too much to accomplish to give up. 

Life Beyond Cancer

By May 2012, just six months after an advanced-stage cancer diagnosis, doctors told me I was in remission. I became a cancer survivor. Even with some continued side effects from treatments, being a cancer survivor is a daily reminder of my faith and the value of each life experience. Every piece of music I write comes from a place of gratefulness: grateful for victories, happiness, even disappointments and sorrows; simply put, thankful for life. 

Cancer changed a part of my identity forever. Going from a cancer patient to a cancer survivor has been a life-changing experience. It influences the music I create and how I live each day. I’ll always be thankful for my brilliant team of doctors, my friends, and my family. I learned to accept help from others and how to be more present with the people who matter most. It’s my desire that sharing my story will offer hope, encouragement, and faith to someone in the spirit of World Cancer Day.