By Robin Adams, 4-time cancer survivor and Cancer Hope Network Volunteer

Whether or not you hear that infamous “C” word for the first time or for the fourth such as myself, it still hits you smack in the face. Sometimes harder than others, but none the less…it hits you.

For me when I hear a doctor say and hopefully with empathy, “it’s Cancer” my breath leaves me for a brief moment before my brain catches up and accepts the words.

I believe when humans are faced with fear, we instantly either subconsciously or consciously, make a decision to either move forward with no holds bar or for whatever reason, with lethargic acceptance of our new found fate.  Neither decision is right or wrong. When facing the “C” word it is our decision and no one else’s how we are to deal with it.

In 1989 I first heard the dreadful words – “Ovarian Cancer” followed by “probably three months to live.” I was 34 years old and a single mom of an 8 year old. I was down to 76 pounds, eating only baby food, water and coffee. I, with nervous humor, informed the doctor that I did not have Cancer but an alien inside me. Putting aside the funnies, I had a small child who had his heart set on a vacation at Space Camp so I instructed the doctor, “Let’s hit this with all you got” and he did.

Happily I am here to tell you about it. In those days, chemotherapy was brutal and radiation was no picnic either. The following year cancer reared its ugly head again but this time on the tip of my nose, my hair line and on my ear, diagnosis…Basil Cell.  10 years later, another Basil Cell on the other side of the tip of my nose. Each time a hole was made and a graft inserted. Now my cute Italian nose was caving in because the cancer also liked to eat away at cartilage.

And with all of this, one of the greatest problems I was facing was the lack of support.  Who could I talk to? Where could I go? Has anyone else my age been through this before? Because I was young and this is considered an “older” persons cancer, it made it difficult to find support from my peers or family members.

In 2007 I saw another dreaded “blackhead” (that is how my cancers first appear). I went to a teaching hospital where they talked me out of a biopsy. After all, what do I know?

And finally again, in 2009 a cute young doctor told me that my biopsy came back positive (he said with empathic puppy dog eyes) I smiled and said, “When can you schedule me for the removal?” This time was a bit more serious. It wasn’t Basal Cell it was Squamous Cell AND (still with puppy dog eyes) “we have to remove your entire nose”.  I wasn’t sure if I lost my breath first and then threw up but it hit me hard and fast. When he said that the process would take a year of numerous (7 to be exact) surgeries and that I would look “hideous” (yes those were his exact words) I had to take pause. However after regaining my self-control I again I said bravely, “well let’s get the show on the road”.

Again, I found no support. No one referred me to any group such as “removal of facial parts anonymous”. I just had my surgeries. And that’s when I knew…when I got better, I needed to give back. I had to do whatever I could do to make sure others knew there was support out there…that there were other people (like me) who got through this. This was my Cancer’s Silver Lining.

Six months after my seventh surgery I decided to volunteer for a cancer support group. I had a year to investigate local and national support communities and that is when I stumbled on The Cancer Hope Network. I met the staff via the phone and because of their warmth and compassion, I chose them.

Today, I am honored and thrilled to work with such a wonderful group of people. I am helping to provide compassion and understanding to anyone that might have to or is dealing with any facial cancer – disfiguring or not. I listen to what they’re going through, talk to them about my experience, and let them know that there is HOPE. And though my type of cancer treatment is not very common – thank goodness – I was recently matched with a wonderful woman in New York who I still support in her very difficult time. The experience has been heartwarming and more than satisfying.  After my four cancer diagnosis and everything that I’ve been through…my experience is able to help others…and I am very grateful for that.