[Guest Blog Post by Christine Corrigan]
As a two-time cancer survivor, a teen with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1981 and an adult with breast cancer in 2016, National Cancer Survivors Day® is both a day of celebration and remembrance. During this day, I remember family members and friends who lost their lives to cancer. I also reflect upon how far I’ve come in the years since my cancer diagnoses. Five years ago, I would have never imagined that the dream I had since I was a teen of writing a book would become a reality. But it did in October 2020 when I published my memoir, Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists.
When I was diagnosed for the second time, I wasn’t a teen with parents caring for me. I was a wife of 24 years, a mom of three, and a professional. I didn’t know how I would manage. I wanted a trail map, so to speak, to help guide me through the experience. In my search for such a guide, I found books written by medical professionals about cancer, its diagnosis, and treatment. I found celebrity cancer narratives. I found beautiful memoirs about the meaning of life written by individuals who died—from cancer. I found plenty of inspirational guidebooks and journals. I didn’t find those books helpful. So I decided to write my own in the hope that when other individuals hear: “I’m sorry, you have cancer,” some of my experiences may resonate and help them.
In Again, I share in a frank, honest, and sometimes humorous way my dual cancer experiences and how life-altering they were. My cancer diagnoses broke the timeline of my life twice—into a before and after. When I finished my treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1981 as a teen, I didn’t want to think about those months of having radiation therapy, being sick and losing part of my hair. I didn’t want to think about how alone I felt. I wanted to go back to high school to my friends and activities. I put the memories of that time in a “box” labeled Hodgkin’s 1981 and stuck it on a shelf in the darkest corner of my mind. But, thirty-five years later, when I heard those words, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” I knew that the life I’d had up to that point had ended. This reality came with grief, struggle, pain, and incredible amounts of love and support as I went through chemotherapy and surgery. Yet, after I finished my year of treatment, I found myself unmoored and anxious about recurrence. As I wrote Again, I realized that I’d lived much of my life in fear of cancer, and I had to confront those fears.
Writing Again allowed me to heal. I also wanted to debunk some common
misunderstandings about cancer, its treatment, and life after cancer, particularly that cancer never really ends. Patients and survivors must live with lingering uncertainty for the rest of their lives, but it is possible to make peace with that uncertainty as a young survivor who’d read Again shared with me:
“I have lived in fear for years… anticipating that one day, I would face a secondary cancer linked to the treatments that had been administered. This led to many discussions with my care team to help me plan for the possibility.
Still, I could not shake the fear of possibly having to go through the cancer experience again.
That is, until I read your words.
Your words, your book, have helped me see that my biggest fear is something that can be managed if it comes into my life.
It wouldn’t be easy, as I’m sure your experience wasn’t. But it would be possible.”
In my years of survivorship, I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in our most ordinary moments, which is where we live—the first sip of coffee or tea in the morning, the brilliant blue of an autumn sky, and even in the steady rhythm of folding laundry. It’s up to us to infuse the mundane with meaning, “for we are only stewards on this glorious, imperfect planet.” What I’ve found repeatedly, both in writing Again and living as a survivor, is that life’s suffering is never the real or the truest story; rather, how that suffering transformed us is. And, those transformations allow us to journey forward with hope, even in dark days. For the light always will return.
Christine Shields Corrigan is a two-time cancer survivor, wife, mom, and author of Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists. In addition to Again, Chris has published a number of lyrical and practical essays where she gives voice to the beautiful ordinary. Her work about family, illness, writing, and resilient survivorship has appeared in anthologies, magazines, and other publications including, The Brevity Blog, Grown & Flown, Horn Pond Review, The Potato Soup Journal and Anthology, Purple Clover, Ravishly.com, Wildfire Magazine, and the Writer’s Circle 2 Anthology. Chris’ essay, “Not Back to But Forward,” about how her cancer experiences helped her cope with COVID-19 is included in (Her)oics: Women’s Lived Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic edited by Joanell Serra and Amy Roost, an anthology that draws together the stories of 52 women across the US during the Covid-19 pandemic (March 2021).
A graduate of Manhattan College and Fordham University School of Law, Chris built a successful career as a labor and employment law attorney and as a legal writer and editor. After surviving cancer in midlife, Chris became a freelance writer. She also teaches creative nonfiction writing for an adult education program, provides writing workshops for cancer support groups, and is the chair of the programming committee of the Morristown Festival of Books. She lives in New Jersey with her family.
Christine is part of the Official NCSD Speakers Bureau Roster. To access the Roster, register your event today.