Learning to Not Be a Cancer-Surviving Control Freak

By the looks of my house, you wouldn't think I'm a control freak. There's often more out of place than in place. Some stuff doesn't even have a place. Clothes, kitchenware and decor float around and change places every now and then. It really doesn't bother me.

I can usually come to grips that I can't control what's around me. What's harder to accept is that I also can't control what's in me.

Empowered by disease.

I live with a genetic disease called Lynch syndrome. It's just as common as the well-known breast-cancer-causing genes. Lynch syndrome is what's behind my colon cancer cases at ages 17 and 25. It's been helpful to know there's a genetic disease behind my diagnoses.

When I officially learned that I had Lynch syndrome, it became empowering. I felt like a superhero mutant and went looking for my cape. I went on a mission to save the world.

And I've been doing just that.

Alongside other survivors, caregivers and loved ones, I joined my voice with theirs for the greater good. I work on cancer issues every day (in fact I work for Fight Colorectal Cancer) and use my skills to advance the cause. I support several young adult cancer organizations. I donate to research. I tell others to get screened and create campaigns to demonstrate why. I work with celebrities, politicians, executives and top leaders to get their passion for colorectal cancer out into the world. In every attempt to model true superhero fashion, I've stayed focused on my mission.

So focused that my personal risk and cancer realities somewhat slip away.

Reality Check-ups

It's a funny thing that happens when you work for a cause. Or, when you dive so deeply into something that lets wounds from a cancer experience heal, whether it be nutrition, fitness, friends or romance.

You start to think there's an invisible bubble around you and begin to believe that all of the work you're doing or love you're feeling will form a new reality for you.

You somehow don't feel at risk anymore.

You assume you won't get sick again. (Or maybe it's pure hope that overrides the fear.)

You don't expect the hangups.

You've barred the doors to pain to keep them from opening. Very subtly, and often unconsciously, you believe you've somehow overtaken the reigns of control. That is until the days come when reality hits again.

And you realize you're not in control.

Poking the control-freaking bear.

There's nothing like a hospital stay, a suspicious spot on a CT scan or pre-cancerous polyps to poke the control-freaking bear that's been sitting in the corner.

And even when the suspicious spot is nothing or the polyps are removed, it doesn't take away the emotional hurricane that just hit shore and the craziness that it stirs in a control-freaking cancer survivor. In a matter of moments, your mind swirls with:

The anger that you didn't choose cancer, or any genetic disease -- that it chose you.

The sadness of the depths of loss and pain that come with saying goodbye to fellow survivors.

The guilt that you can hardly stand to ponder when you look into the eyes of your spouse or kids, and know that this impacts them, too.

The fear of what's lurking in the shadows of the scare.

The pure frustration of the fact that you have no control over your cancer -- or for that much, anything really.

Around and around the thoughts spin until the one thing you can't do, the one thing that got you into this mess, is the only thing that will get you out of it: control.

Accepting what I can change

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

The serenity prayer. It's been used in movies and books, in meetings and the military. Simply put, there's things that can be controlled. And there's things that cannot. If I'm going to make it as a cancer survivor who's not a control freak, I need to learn the difference.

It's not in my power to stop polyps from forming or my genes from mutating. I can't control what scares or realities will or will not come my way, now or in the future.

But I can control what's around me that gets me through.

I can do my research and plan my follow-ups aggressively. I can choose to live a healthy lifestyle so that today, if only for today, I feel better. I can control what I think about, and how I think about it. And I can choose who I put around me.

More often than not, it's the texts, calls and emails from friends and family that soothe the unsettled emotions that need put into place. Love, friendship and hope bring peace.

As a survivor, I cannot control everything, but I can control some things. Not only am learning how to fight off cancer, I'm striving to know the difference.