[Guest Blog by Shayla Benoit]
I was about to get the “all clear” to fully dive back into my life.
After being diagnosed at 34 years old, at the beginning of 2020, with stage IV primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, I was about to walk into my two-year post chemo PET scan, and waltz out of there with cancer being a thing of the past. This was a huge milestone for me.
Instead, I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer from that scan.
There I was, the “cancer-free” clock rolling back its hard-earned progress. I was looking at surgery and recovery. Again.
When I was diagnosed the first time, I had a collapsed lung at the beginning of a global respiratory pandemic. This basically meant I had to quarantine to the extreme for two and a half years while the world, and people with cancer, navigated a disease we knew nothing about. The world shut down and so did my business and life as I knew it. I was solely focused on beating cancer.
This diagnosis was different. I had just moved back on my own to New York City. I was starting up my film production company again. I literally thought, I don’t have time for cancer again. It had already taken so much from me.
I knew it was impossible to get out of this without some kind of deficit to the “new normal” I was creating. I was fortunate in the fact that this cancer was “way less scary” than the first time, so why was it such a bigger mental ballgame for me?
Any cancer survivor knows what life and death fear can feel like. I wish this knowledge and fear on no one. It wakes you up in the middle of the night. It invades your thoughts even when you’re experiencing joy. It grips at your heart, your stomach, your throat, and it has a firm grasp if you let it.
While I was waiting for the copious tests for this diagnosis, I felt that deep fear to the point where I felt it might break me. I knew too much. I had already done this. When it got to that breaking point, something snapped in me, but not in the way I thought it would.
The life and death fear can be paralyzing, but it also comes with another side. The knowledge that we all do die at some point and time, and nothing is guaranteed.
What will you make of the time you have?
I’m not asking if you will win a Nobel Prize, or if you’ll accept an Oscar, or if you’ll change the world.
I’m asking – Will you notice the way the sun hits the trees in the most beautiful light? Will you realize that “problem” was really not that big of a deal? Will you tell your people that you love them?
Will you make the most of your circumstances even when the odds are stacked against you?
And that’s what I chose to do. I decided to keep on living. To be a survivor. It’s not rainbows and butterflies every day, and inevitably the fear will creep back in here and there, but I won’t let the fear run my life again.
I have started the “cancer-free” clock again. I look forward to the milestones that will bring.
Being a survivor is a gift. Not everyone is granted that.
So this is why I’m celebrating National Cancer Survivors Day because, you know what? We’re lucky enough to still be here to do that.
Shayla Benoit is a filmmaker and performer who loves to create in a variety of mediums. Shayla is the President and Founder of Shady Theatrics LLC, an innovative film production company that has produced multiple works for an array of organizations including The Tony Awards, The Actors’ Equity Foundation, The Juilliard School, and The Miami Dolphins. Additionally, she has appeared at Radio City Music Hall, 54 Below, and in regional theaters across the country. Shayla can also be seen and heard on television, film, and radio.
Shayla was diagnosed with primary mediastinal B-Cell lymphoma at the age of 34 and with papillary thyroid cancer at 36. She is now a survivor in full remission and plans on staying that way. You can find Shayla on Instagram @shaylabenoit and @shadytheatrics.
Shayla is part of the Official NCSD Speakers Bureau Roster.