Is there a fringe benefit of cancer?

On Friday, September 9th, I had the opportunity to share my story with over 200 cancer survivors, artists and their loved ones at the 5th annual Voices and Visions Art Exhibition at the Art Center Highland Park. Curated by Caren Helene Rudman, this exhibit features art that expresses how cancer can be a metaphor for so many areas of our lives- from facing one’s mortality to survival and strength. The Artwork for those that participated, not only showcased the struggle, but it revealed how art has the ability to empower and heal.

This exhibition was particularly moving as Caren has recently lost her mother after a long battle with breast cancer. Her beautiful family was with us that evening to show support and honor her memory.

Caren reached out to me to ask if I could share what I consider to be “the fringe benefits of cancer.”

Here are the words I shared with those that attended.

In 2010, at the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma, a rare blood cancer that affects less than 200 people around the world. During months of treatment and immunosuppression, I was grounded. Grounded by a disease that forced me to face my own mortality. Grounded by a disease that stole so many moments. Grounded by a disease that forced me to live in the shadows, excluded from the world I was so desperate to be a part of.

During the hundreds of hours of  ground-breaking chemotherapy, I was given the privilege of time. This borrowed time became a sacred time. It was an opportunity to take stock of what was really important and examine what it really means to be grounded. What keeps me rooted, centered, and focused, as the world around me unexpectedly shifts and changes? Cancer may have caused irreversible changes, and temporarily shackled me from my former self, but it also provided me with an opportunity to be set free, to reinvent myself, and to find a path full of meaning.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in my late 20’s, I was admittedly searching for meaning and fulfillment. I had dreamed about moving to Israel, a place I felt a deep spiritual, emotional and cultural connection to. I had wondered if I would one day fall in love and find employment in a role that nurtured all parts of me.

In the midst of filling out the application to make aliyah- and to fulfill that dream of living in Israel, I was diagnosed with cancer.

While Cancer may have physically grounded me, preventing me from world travel and exploration, I sought refuge by looking within. I was determined to learn more about  my inner world, my emotional world, and my spiritual world. As my physicality became more severely compromised, I was determined to find meaning in my suffering. My heart and mind were like a sponge waiting to be filled up. Within a few months, I had never felt more plugged in and in tune with my inner compass.

By the time I finished treatment, I had a much clearer sense of my hopes and dreams. I had a acquired a sense of fearlessness, perseverance and determination. By finding and listening to my inner compass, I changed course, seeking out a new path that I was excited to explore and take on.

In May of 2011 I finished 720 hours of chemotherapy. In October of 2011, I founded the nonprofit Twist Out Cancer which focuses on the emotional side of a cancer diagnosis through creative arts programming. We believe wholeheartedly in the fringe benefits of a cancer diagnosis. We call the fringe benefits- our “twist on cancer.” There are plenty of lessons and blessings that can accompany a cancer diagnosis- you just have to be open to experiencing them.

In November of 2011, I met my husband, my soul mate, my everything, who saw beyond the scars, beyond the baggage, beyond the diagnosis, and saw the spirit that lives within me. We were married in Israel, in May of 2013 and we gave birth to our daughter Noa in May of 2015.

My life has evolved, changed and grown exponentially since cancer.

Cancer at the time may have grounded me physically, but it has since rooted me and guided me towards decisions and choices that are fulfilling. Cancer has provided me with meaning, with direction, with purpose. It has shown me that hope, love and light can come from even the darkest of places.

Tonight we celebrate the voices and visions of so many of you here this evening. Thank you for being brave, thank you for being bold, thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. I believe that when you share- the world opens up. And from sharing comes healing. Tonight is a testament and celebration of just that. Caren- thank you for vision, your voice and your leadership. It is because of you that we continue to share our story- and we continue to remember.

Thank you.