But Valentine's Day has a completely different meaning to me since 2005 because on that day as I sat at my office desk, the phone rang, and I heard the Three Little Words that nobody ever expects nor wants to hear:
"You Have Cancer."
Not quite the same ring to it, huh?
So every year on Valentine's Day, since 2005, I celebrate my personal "LiveSTRONG Anniversary."
Six years ago today, I was diagnosed with Nodular Melanoma. It would be another 4 weeks and Surgery #1 before I would learn that I was actually Stage III, Metastatic Melanoma and looking at a second surgery and a year of chemotherapy.
My life changed, on that day. I understood, suddenly, in a way that I never could before, that my life could end. That time was precious. That family means unconditional love and support, no matter how far the physical distance. That friendships could be fleeting but that true friendships will weather the storm. That true love means not having to worry about your boyfriend (now husband) going anywhere, ever, no matter how bad things seemed or how much hair was on the bathroom floor.
And I learned that both "Strength" and "Hope" come from deep within. That emotions can be harnessed and transformed: Anger, Fear, Pain, Sorrow...into what you need on any given day.
I consider myself "a lucky cancer survivor" in three ways:
1.) I was in peak health and fitness at the time of my diagnosis. I was 34-years old, had been doing long-distance road distance cycling, racing triathlons and running for over 4 years.
I tested the limit of every suggestion my DRs gave me in terms of keeping my fitness up while recovering from surgery and going through chemo. I was very in tune with my body, and what it could handle, so that even early in the hardest part of treatment, I would walk the 2 miles from my house to the hospital to get in my daily workout while I still felt "good". After all it was May in VA - Springtime Morning are not to be wasted! It drove my Chemo nurses nuts, because my heart rate was always elevated and I was sweaty when I arrived for my daily infusions and they simple couldn't understand "why" I would want too continue to exercise - They dubbed me their "crazy runner girl" and I wore that name with pride.
2.) I was already aware of the "then" Lance Armstrong Foundation "now" LiveSTRONG.org prior to my diagnosis so I had instant resources available to me.
I have been wearing a LiveSTRONG band since Summer 2004 and our trip to Le Tour de France - I was a fan of LiveSTRONG - the concept - long before I became a survivor myself.
3.) I have continued to survive my diagnosis and each year, I come one day closer and one-percentage point further away from the "Guarded Prognosis" that accompanies Stage III Metastatic Melanoma.
The current statistical average for survival of Stage III Metastatic Melanoma is 63% survival at 5 years post diagnosis and 38% survival at 10 years post diagnosis.
For each survivor, there comes a moment when you decide how you are going to approach your survivorship - are you going to keep it personal or are you going to respond to what some call the "Obligation of the Cured" and I call the "Obligation as a Survivor."
I chose to go public with my Survivorship and my way of giving back to the cancer community is through the development of the CANCER to 5K Training Program. I wanted to make sure that other cancer survivors would have the opportunity to continue to train and stay fit, during or after, their cancer treatment. Because for me, Running and Exercise were my "therapy" from a bad day, week, month, year of dealing with cancer and I knew deep in my heart that if I felt this way than there would be other survivors out there that felt this way and I wanted them to have the program that I wish I had available to me.
The CANCER to 5K Training Program has helped over 30 cancer survivors train for and complete a 5K race and more importantly, given each of these survivors a chance to gain/regain fitness, in spite, of a cancer diagnosis, through support, encouragement, and more than a little "cowbell" on the side.
CANCER to 5K is how I define my continued survivorship and how I continue to look forward to every Valentine's Day - not for candy or kisses or declorations of love - but as a chance to say:
My name is Holly, I am a Melanoma survivor and I LiveSTRONG!
I hope you never forget:
Life is GOOD! LiveSTRONG!