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Panther: Cancer Is Hard, Don’t Make It Even Harder

December 6, 2021
Variety of chemotherapy drugs in vials and an IV bottle.

By Kerri Panther

Over the past few years, I’ve lived by two mottos: “One day closer” and “This is only temporary.” I am a cancer survivor, and these mentalities have sustained me through the most challenging period of my life. They remind me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and each day, I take another firm step towards it. As someone whose battle with the disease has been grueling and lengthy, I understand more than most how essential this progress truly is—and when it comes to healthcare, how much it needs protecting.

It was February 5, 2019, when I received my cancer diagnosis: stage three rectal cancer. I was 47 years old. Over the next 20 days, I was given a port—a device used for cancer patients to draw blood and provide treatment, typically chemo—and began a six-week course of radiation treatment. A few months later, in June, I went under the knife as my excellent colorectal surgeon removed what was left of the cancerous tumor. But I wasn’t out of the woods—far from it.

Following the surgery, a complication left me hospitalized for a week, after which I was able to begin chemotherapy. But that process, too, was rocky. In September 2019, I survived a blood clot in my liver, and in March the following year, I discovered that I had contracted chemo-induced diabetes, which was a struggle to keep under control. Currently, I deal with Lower Anterior Resection Syndrome (LARS) on a daily basis, and I have neuropathy in my feet, legs, and hands.

But despite these setbacks, I never lost sight of the progress I was making; I never lost hope that one day, my life would return to normal. Today, I’m proud to report that I’ve been NED (no evidence of disease—medical-speak for cancer-free) since February 2020.

This whole ordeal has, without a doubt, been one of the most difficult experiences of my life. But through it, I’ve learned a few key truths—the first being that friendships and community are essential. I initially discovered the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, along with their buddy program and chat group, following my diagnosis in the fall of 2019. Since then, I have made several lifelong friends. We understand each other’s hardships and support one another, even during the worst of times. While we experience occasional loss, we don’t do so alone. We are stronger together than we ever would be apart. Having a community like the Colorectal Cancer Alliance helped make life easier when going through a life-altering disease, such as rectal cancer. Being embraced by a solid community with others who have endured similar experiences as me, allowed me to appreciate the importance of having allies for support in times of need, and encouraged me to provide to give back to others who may need it in the future.

Secondly, I learned that healthcare access and innovation must be protected. Cancer is a brutal disease—one that can lead to countless complications, frequently requiring timely and innovative treatment. Often, patients cannot afford to have access to their medicines cut off, as doing so could be the difference between life and death. In order to keep our disease at bay, the innovation pipeline, so to speak, must not be stifled.

Having survived cancer, I know firsthand the importance of progress—moving one step closer to your goal every day. We need hope, because sometimes all we have is the promise of innovation, medical developments and breakthrough treatments that maybe, just maybe, somebody else won’t have to go through what I have dealt with since my diagnosis. I hope we don’t squander any opportunities to advance cures and treatments.

This blog reflects the author’s personal experience and opinions and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

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