Meet the One Million Strong – Chris Heffelbower


Champion Stories
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Publicly Sharing My Battle, by Chris Heffelbower

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Being diagnosed with colon cancer is a lonely and isolating experience…until you find other awesome and fabulous survivors.

My first reaction when I learned that I had colon cancer was: “a 37 year-old doesn’t get colon cancer.”  I felt embarrassed that I had a cancer involving my bowels.  There was a brief time when I considered not telling anyone that I had colon cancer or keeping it as private as possible.

Instead, I decided to publicly share my battle.  I maintained a Caringbridge site and shared my story with family, friends and neighbors.  It was silly to think that I could keep my battle a secret when I had two young daughters who coped with the situation by telling everyone that their mamma had cancer.  It felt good to be able to share my experience with others and not hide in shame and fear.

Even though I was open about the roller-coaster-cancer-ride, I still felt alone.  The physical pain going through cancer treatment and surgeries is hard to describe.  The people closest to me could see the pain that I was experiencing, but there was little they could do to help.  The emotional pain was often worse than the physical pain.  Thinking about my own mortality was very scary, and few people wanted to discuss the prospect of death with me.

All of this changed when I found other survivors.  Colon cancer survivors know the physical and emotional pain that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.  They know the joy of having a “good day.”  They know the terror of scans, and the pure elation when a scan is clean.

I found those survivors at Fight Colorectal Cancer.  This past March I attended the 2014 Call on Congress with Fight CRC.  We did amazing work on Capitol Hill, advocating to our senators and representatives for colon cancer legislation and advocating for funding for colon cancer research and programs.

I was accompanied on the Hill by over 80 other colon cancer survivors and caregivers.  We were a group of collective joy.  We had walked through the valley of darkness, and now we were bathing in the light.  I did not have to explain myself to them—they just knew what I had gone through.  I no longer felt alone.

Thank you Fight Colorectal Cancer for bringing colon cancer survivors together and empowering us to raise our voices to demand a cure for colorectal cancer.