52 People You Need to Meet: #13 Stacey Gravina

52 People To Meet Posts

What I wish I knew before my son was diagnosed with brain cancer…


On July 27, 2011, after fifteen days, three hospitals, a CT scan, medically induced coma, intubation, an MRI, a spinal tap, a craniotomy… we received the diagnosis: Brain cancer ~ Gliomatosis Cerebri with Anaplastic characteristics. Gliomatosis Cerebri = a rare brain cancer that is highly aggressive and very resistant to treatment. These malignancies are not lumps like other tumors, but cancerous threads that spread very quickly and infiltrate deep into the surrounding brain tissue, or into multiple parts of the brain simultaneously, making them very difficult to remove with surgery or treat with radiation. Gliomatosis cerebri is extremely rare, with fewer than 100 cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Anaplastic = A term used to describe cancer cells that divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells. And the prognosis = 6 months to a year.

One year and four days from that day, my beautiful, energetic, full of life, silly, fun, compassionate, loving 8-year-old little boy was gone. At that point all of that medical jargon really didn’t matter anymore. The 12 months of searching for a cure, trying everything that we came across that we thought might help him even a little bit, traveling across the world to Germany for one final attempt at a cure… none of that mattered.

On Tuesday, he should be turning 10 but instead on Tuesday, it will be 20 months since he went to heaven. Before he was diagnosed with brain cancer, I wish I had known he would never be 10… not even 9…

I wish I knew the value of every moment of every day and how we should have taken advantage of that before and after he was diagnosed. We did celebrate him and share him and our journey with the world… or at least as far as our world reached. But we also spent a ton of time trying to save him. That’s what a mother does, right? We are supposed to protect our children and make it all better… no matter what. I can’t imagine doing it any other way but at times wish we had. I might trade some of the time it took to get him to take his many pills, which included many natural supplements, with some cuddle time (although he took them like a champ). I might play a game instead of trying to get him to drink his “green drink” or eat his Budwig protocol concoction (not so much a champ with those). I might keep him in the comfort of his own home surrounded by his friends and family instead of flying him to Germany because I just couldn’t give up hope that there was a cure out there. Or maybe if given a do-over, I would do it all the exact same way because how can you not do everything you possibly can to try to save your baby? They say hindsight is 20/20 but I’m no clearer now on what happened, or why it did, than I was on July 27, 2011. In fact, I feel more lost than ever. I wish I knew that I would go in circles over things like this and that as soon as I was comfortable with the decisions we made, I would start all over again with questioning everything we did.

I wish I knew how others would deal with my grief. It is true that you find out a lot about people when you go through something like this. It is truly shocking who is there through it all and who disappears. In your greatest hour of need they just disappear… Some people that you never thought would be there, step up to the plate and some people that you expect to be there, just aren’t. We make them feel uncomfortable, they think we need to move on or they just don’t realize how much we still need the support. I am sure I’m guilty of this because I didn’t always know how it feels. And even now that I have faced the worst thing that could happen, I don’t always know what to say to other moms in my position. Through this you definitely see true colors… it is eye-opening and somewhat freeing. I wish I had known.

I wish I knew that people would avoid talking about him. That it would feel awkward to talk about him in front of some and that I would have a need to seek out those who would listen and equally enjoy hearing his name. I wish I knew that most people who will ask how you’re doing won’t really want the truth… especially if it’s more than six months out. I wish I knew I would have to work daily to keep his memory alive, to continue parenting him, to develop my new relationship with him and his with the rest of the world.

I wish I knew that I would start grieving the moment I was told he would die. I lived every day inside a dichotomy… The hope of finding a cure vs. knowing the statistics and that we were facing his death. There is nothing more confusing, nothing more exhausting, nothing more devastating, Decisions to be made every single day about his care, his quality of life, what’s important, what’s not, what will help, what won’t, when should I stop working, when should I stop trying so hard and just enjoy the days we have left. And that was just for Jacob… In the mix of all that you also have other children to consider and make choices for, not only in their every day lives but in how all of this affects them.

I wish I had known what to expect from this beast of a disease: how things would change so quickly after months of “stability”, how much time we had left when we decided to go to Germany, and what the end would look like, because that is what I was seeing after a week in Germany – the beginning of the end. I wish I knew how much having this awful disease eating at his brain would take from him… before it took his life.

I wish I knew how this experience of fighting for my son life’s and then losing him would change me forever. Brain cancer alone is not something you go through and come out of on the other side unchanged… Brain cancer resulting in the loss of your child means a part of you dies with them.

To this day, I wish I knew what was going on in that beautiful little mind of his. What did he know, what did he understand… especially in those last days and hours. I wish I knew… I wish he could tell me.

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ― Rose Kennedy

Let’s make a movie!


I am SO excited about this project. Many of you have encountered Alex’s blog, and you know that he is a wonderful storyteller. What an amazing opportunity to have a brain tumor survivor tell this story in a way that could literally reach millions of people.

I know that people impacted by brain tumors/brain cancer frequently have very limited budgets, but the beauty of crowd sourcing is that you don’t have to give much. Just $5 will make a difference – especially if you then share the link. Please share this link far and wide: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogs, Google+. Anywhere people gather online!

I can’t wait to see this film come to life!

The New Normal


“Sometimes in life you step out in faith and it’s always a scary endeavor”.

I’m about to do something that is very hard for me to do but I know deep down that it will be very rewarding and I’m hoping it could also excite and unite the Brain Cancer community in a unique way. Over the past 8 months or so I’ve been developing a fictional film inspired by my journey with Brain Cancer and have been shopping it around. It’s a comedic (and I think unconventionally heartwarming) take on the Cancer journey, similar to the film “50/50” (that ironically came out in theaters the day I had my second surgery). There has been a ton of interest in and excitement surrounding the idea, but no bites yet.

A couple months ago I was talking with a friend who is a pretty successful industry vet and they encouraged me to…

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52 People You Need To Meet: #12 Shawn Ratcliffe


What I Wish I Knew Before My Son Was Diagnosed with Brain Cancer

I wish I had known how big a role you truly play in the medical care of your loved one. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! They are nearly always right and you know your family member much better than the doctors. Also, make friends with the nurses – they can be a huge advocate when you need a different opinion or help in understanding the “system” or even getting past some of the quagmire you encounter with all the different specialists insisting on their unique treatment plan.  Ask to see the “chart” (if they will let you) so that you can better understand just what the doctors might be thinking. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you are given, keep asking, don’t be brushed aside as if you are too paranoid (“just being a Mom”), don’t back down, and know that the doctors are doing their best but in the situation of brain tumors their best is still greatly lacking in knowledge and expertise.  Every patient is different, and YOU are the best one to help your loved one. From diagnosis to death is a rollercoaster ride on every possible level, take one day at a time and always look for the positives.

For us, it started out like any other Saturday morning.  Matt and I had breakfast, no one else was up yet. He was off to get his eyes checked as we were sure that was what was causing his headaches. Not long after he arrived at the Dr’s office he sent me a text “They want me to get an MRI”. I was stunned, and in my heart, I knew we were headed for something scary.  Within a few hours, we heard the words that would change our lives forever. “A very large mass on the right front lobe of your brain. It is cancer.” He was 20 years old.  By Sunday afternoon, 24 hours later, the tennis ball size tumor had been removed, or at least 90% of it. Matty bounced back like a true warrior, despite major pain and swelling, and on Thursday afternoon, he and I walked out of the hospital, confident that the worst was behind us.  Naïve, I know.

Within a few weeks, the swelling was so bad that they had to put in a VP shunt.  Within about a month, they removed the shunt as it had caused massive infection.  He was now experiencing Grand Mal seizures, loss of memory and functionality.  Shortly after that, he was fired from his job, and we added major anxiety and depression to our list of issues.    Basically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  He continued to focus on school, and within just over a year, he graduated top of his class at ITT Tech. It was truly a highlight of his life.   After 6 weeks of radiation, 11 months of chemo, and 5 stays in the hospital we finally heard the words “no evidence of tumor”, and it looked like we were finally getting a break!

With his confidence at an all-time high, he accepted a job in San Francisco, California, and we moved him out there.  I was, of course, devastated and proud all at the same time.  There were many struggles during the 18 months he was there.  He had just gotten his dream job working for Google when we realized the infection had never really gone away, and two more surgeries would be required.  The first was to remove the infected brain plate and start him on aggressive antibiotics.  Of course, during that time the cancer returned, and by the time they were able to replace the brain plate, the tumor had grown to the size of a fist.  It was stage 4 and angry.  The doctor was so aggressive in the recession of the tumor for the fifth and final surgery that Matty lost half of his eyesight in both eyes, the use of his entire left side, his short term memory, and some of his cognitive skills.  We managed to get him home to Valley Center, Kansas after an extensive stay in the hospital and quickly signed up for a clinical trial through Mayo Clinic.  But to no avail.

Just days after his 24th birthday, we were told there was nothing more they could do.  Matty wanted to go home and party with his family and friends and that is just what we did.  For the 3 weeks and 3 days he was with us, we opened our home to anyone, anytime.  Friends and family came from all over the country to spend time with him, reminisce about the good times and embrace the present, soaking in every moment with him. It was such a difficult time filled with tears, laughter, heartbreak, stress, and always love. Lots of love.

Matthew came into this world on a Sunday morning at 8:53am as a content, happy baby boy and left on a Sunday morning at 8:35am as a peaceful young man ready to let go of this life and seek out new adventures. It was a true privilege to be with my son for both. I cherish the memories that help me never forget, help me learn, help me survive.

During his entire fight my son displayed a kindness and gentleness that I could only watch, I felt none of that.  He always thanked everyone for their assistance and never lost his patience, despite severe pain at times.  He was constantly trying to help people feel comfortable with his cancer, with a ready quip or comeback to make them laugh.  Often times when a nurse finally arrived with pain meds to help with a horrible headache, he would purpose marriage and make them know he appreciated their efforts. I, on the other hand, was tenacious if not demanding when it came to his care and pain management.  His last effort to help others was to donate his body to science.  It was his hope that somehow he just might help find a cure so others would not have to endure what he did.

My wish is for everyone to enjoy today, whatever it brings, and make the most of it.   My son is gone in body, but he lives on in our hearts and our memories.  I am a better person having experienced this pain and heartache, no matter how awful it has seemed at times. It has softened the rough edges, dimmed the harsh blacks and whites and helped me focus more on the moment. I have finally come to a sort of peace with the fact that I’m alive and healthy, despite my desperate pleas that I be allowed to somehow take his place.  Matthew is my hero, and I just hope that I can make him as proud of me as I am of him!  Live, Laugh, Love





Sometimes You’ve Just Got To Stop and Say Thanks


My “to do” list is LONG. Work projects, running a non-profit, and life in general make me a busy gal most of the time. But today, I had to pause in the middle of all that to just say a very public and very heartfelt “THANK YOU!” to the people in my life who believe in me and offer their own special kinds of support.

My family is always behind me encouraging me and helping me accomplish various tasks, and I don’t thank them enough. On top of those blessings, I had two really special people reach out to me today to give their unique support. The first one was a very concrete donation of office supplies and furniture that we can use to set up our offices for Dragon Master Foundation. We don’t even have office space yet, but she had the vision to think of us and make sure we would have everything we would need for 6 different workstations! Everything except computers and phones are taken care of with this one generous donation! I’m so excited to have this part of our office needs met!

The second person let me know that he has mailed a piece of original art that he painted in memory of my son. This particular artist is a great friend that I have not seen in many years. He is someone I have learned a lot from over the years, and I admire him as a person and an artist. I am so touched and honored that he painted something in memory of David. And he emailed me to let me know it is coming, which means I have a few days of eager anticipation! How fun is that?

I guess my point to this post is that we all have gifts to give – big and small. From helping carry supplies in from the car to using your artistic talents to encourage others gifts come in all shapes and sizes. I may not verbalize it enough, but I am very aware of the many gifts that are given to me, and I am very, very grateful. And dare I say… happy. 🙂

People You Need To Meet: #11 Julia Russell Lawler


What I wish I had known before my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

Jefferson Forest

My husband, John, was diagnosed with a grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme brain tumor in May of 2011.  He was 57 years old and otherwise in perfect health.  The only symptom he had was a grand mal seizure, which led to a trip to the ER, an MRI, a biopsy, and the devastating news that his chances of surviving more than 5 years were about 5%.

The day of John’s seizure was the 25th anniversary of the very day we met.  John’s cousin, Patty, has been a good friend of mine since high school, and she introduced us, telling me “You need to meet my cousin, John.  He has a nice car.”  Little did I know her idea of a nice car was a Chevy with manual windows and no air conditioning.  Knowing her as I do, I surmised the reason she thought the car was nice was because it was practical, affordable and paid for!  She knew I needed stability in my life, and John was nothing if not stable and responsible.

On May 25, 2011, the day of John’s seizure, it was unusually warm and windy. The weather man was predicting severe storms.  John and I went out on our deck after dinner and found a huge branch from a tree had been blown into our yard and was stuck perpendicular in the ground.  John said “That’s an omen.”  Little did we know. Within the next hour, we were in an ambulance on our way to the hospital.

John’s battle with GBM was short and brutal.  He had the standard radiation and chemotherapy.  We also sought out clinical trials at Duke University’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Center, which is one of the top brain cancer treatment centers in the country, and where Ted Kennedy sought treatment for the same type of tumor.  Unfortunately, John didn’t qualify for a clinical trial, so we were sent home to try Avastin. Avastin has worked well for some brain cancer patients in improving quality of life and in some cases extending life, but for John it only raised his blood pressure to dangerous levels.  After two treatments that resulted in no reduction of the size of the tumor, the medical oncologist asked John if he’d like to “take a break” from all treatment.  He knew exactly what she was asking and told her “Yes, I’m at the end of the road.”  It broke my heart to hear him say that, but I knew it was his decision.  I feel blessed that he was able to make the decision himself.  Many brain cancer patients lose the cognitive ability to make decisions about their treatment, but because of the location of John’s tumor (in the occipital lobe), he retained most of his awareness and personality until very near the end.  I’m glad I never had to make the difficult decision to tell the doctors to stop treatment, as many family members do.

John survived for 10 months after he was diagnosed, and passed away peacefully in our home on March 31, 2012.  Ironically, the only person who was with us when he left this earthly plane was his cousin and my dear friend, Patty.  The very person who introduced us.  She was with us for our first hello and for our last goodbye.

Like many others who have endured the tragedy of GBM, I wish I had known how strong I really am.  When you’re faced with such a horrific disease in someone you love, you know that you will do whatever it takes to help them, comfort them, and ultimately to make their transition to the next world as easy and peaceful as possible.  If I had known the strength I would have I may not have been so afraid.

I wish I had known the depth of my husband’s love for me.  I always knew he loved me – I never doubted it.  But when he was close to death he said things and did things that told me that, even though his brain was being eroded daily by this terrible tumor, our love was what he knew for sure.  Once, about three days before he passed, he asked me for a pen and paper.  He said, “Maybe it would help if I write this down.”  I didn’t know what he wanted to write or what it would help, but he wrote “Julie” – the name he called me, and that was all.

There is no more devastating cancer than cancer of the brain.  Because of the very nature of brain tissue, cancer cells quickly spread throughout it, and treatment in most cases is only able to slow the progression of the disease.  Treatment can also severely impact quality of life, forcing patients and families to make horribly difficult decisions about what treatment to take and how long to continue it.  Recent research into the genetic makeup of individual tumors is showing some progress, mostly by helping doctors determine what treatment will most effectively slow down the beast, and therefore spare patients unnecessary pain and suffering.  But there still is no known cause and very few survivors.  More needs to be done to understand what causes brain cancer and how to treat it.  I hope that someday there will be just as much awareness of the need for research into brain cancer treatment as there is for breast cancer, prostate cancer and the other more common forms of this terrible disease.  Brain cancer is not as common as breast cancer or prostate cancer, but it is the most deadly of cancers.

The most important lesson I learned from the whole experience of caring for my husband during this journey is that love is really all that matters.  When everything else is stripped away, love is what remains.  It sounds trite, and people say it all the time, but I never really knew it in my soul until I felt the depth of the love I had for him, which made caring for him a privilege instead of an obligation.  Until I saw that even though his brain was damaged so badly that he no longer knew if it was day or night, or how to use a fork, or where he was in the house, he knew me.  He loved me, and he knew I loved him.  For that I thank God.  Knowing the true power of love has given me a new and deeper appreciation of all of the people in my life whom I love and love me.  It’s helped me to understand what is really important.

52 People You Need To Meet: #10 Karen Simonds


There are many things that I wish I’d known before my brother, Jon, and my husband, Andy, were diagnosed with GBM brain cancer. First, because I think of this all the time, I really wish I’d learned to skip rocks from my brother. He tried to teach me so many times, and it was the last outdoor activity I did with him before he died. When he showed me, I could do it. On my own, not so much. My last truly happy memory of my brother was when we were on the Sacramento River with his kids and mine. We had a really good time even though he was having difficulty walking. We shared memories of our childhood and all the fun times we’d had on that river. I wish I could skip rocks.

The second thing I wish I knew before my husband was diagnosed was not to form opinions so quickly. I remember thinking when my brother was so sick that there were so many people around (hello – I was one of them!) and that I didn’t know them so therefore, who were they? Well, now that my husband is bedridden, we cherish the close friends, from all aspects of our lives, who stop by. It may be his work friends; it may be our daughters’ friends who grew up with us; it may be a school friend of mine, but all of them are equally important and none of them are “family.”

I wish I’d known to cherish, truly cherish, the little things. There was the coffee my husband made and delivered to me every day while I was still in bed. There were the hikes he took us on and the “secret adventures” he planned. There were camping trips and picnics. There were the gifts of a mountain bike, fly rod and kayak . All of which I adore and none of which I realized how very much I actually wanted. Now that he isn’t able to participate in these activities it breaks my heart that I didn’t stop and soak in every moment.

I wish I’d known that it is okay to accept help from friends. It’s taken me a long, long time to get this lesson. People want to help. I would want to help. Ask for help. It’s okay, and people are more than willing to give their time and talents to help a family in need. Some of the most incredible gifts have been things I would have never thought of. There was the shoveled driveway, the Christmas lights that came down, the money given for prom dresses just because the giver thought our girls deserved extra special dresses, the counseling sessions that were miraculously paid for, the case of wine that showed up, the cards, the phone calls from people from our past, friends that showed up on our front door, the school counselors helping the girls, all gifts from the heart. It’s been incredible and so very hard to accept with grace.

I’d wish I had known what a difficult job it is to research treatments and clinical trials and alternative nutritional information. I would have been reading these books a long time ago and changing my family’s diet (even though we eat quite well!) years ago. It’s important to stay on top of new treatments so that you are able to question your doctors and understand your options. I assumed that this was something I didn’t have to worry about because the doctors would do it (and in our case, they did) but that’s not always true.

I’ve always had a lot of respect for medical professionals, but now, they are my heroes. Really. From the first doctors and nurses we had here in Boise to those at MD Anderson and UC San Francisco, we have hit the jackpot. These people are amazingly kind, compassionate, and skilled. Oh, and underpaid. Coming from an elementary school teacher, that’s saying something! However, what I wish I had known and what I now tell others, is that when all else fails, go with your gut and ask lots of questions. It helps to bring someone along to take notes. We always, from the very first appointment, had someone to take notes. They know who they are and they are invaluable.

Another thing I wish I had known is how very much I despise the statement, “God only gives you what you can handle.” Really? Because I’m kind of at my limit and so are my parents, Andy’s mom, his brother, and our kids. Don’t say that. Ever. I know people mean well but that just might cause me to reach out and scratch some eyes out. I. Can’t. Handle. Any. More. The end.

I wish I had known that my brother and my husband were/are absolutely amazing human beings who never for one second deserved this and who both fought this so bravely. Of course, I always loved both of them, but I really wish I had realized what absolutely amazing people they were/are. Both of them put their family first and during the brain cancer years, always, always supported other people with the disease – even when they were barely hanging on themselves. Both of them cared more about others, and both of them said they wouldn’t have changed a thing. Crazy. I would have changed a lot of things if I could. I guess that’s why it’s not my time yet. I haven’t learned true compassion, and I haven’t learned to skip rocks.


Can You Hear Me Now?


Have you been missing our new posts in the #52Blog Series? That’s probably my fault. In an effort to make sure people understood what we are doing, I had “pinned” one post to the top of the blog. Unfortunately, that meant that all other posts were so low on the page that you wouldn’t see them unless you scrolled down. My bad!!

We will be on week #10 with this Sunday’s post, and it is from a lady who has been by the side of her brother and her husband as they battled GBM. This “rare” cancer has really tried to take this family down, and her spirit is just amazing. You won’t want to miss reading her story.

So please watch for a new post on Sunday, and if you haven’t been seeing the new posts each week, you might want to go back and catch up on some of the great folks we’ve introduced so far.

Saying goodbye


This blog series we’re doing, 52 People You need to meet, was designed to introduce you to people living through the extraordinary circumstances that brain cancer introduces to life. Today, however, I want to introduce you to someone that you will never meet. You won’t meet her because she passed away this morning, and outside of my parents, was the largest single influence on my life.

Her name was Pauline Jones Elmore, and she was my maternal grandmother. “Miss Polly” to those who knew her about town, she was at once classy and supremely humble. Generous to a fault, she gave more of herself than anyone I’ve ever known – and I know some generous folks. She didn’t want an announcement in the paper, but she didn’t mention social media, so I’m going to write my own tribute to her here, knowing that any words will fail miserably in comparison to the woman.

When I was little, too young to remember, her first husband died. They had six wonderful kids, and my grandfather is remembered warmly by the family. When I was still small, she remarried the only man I remember as a grandfather, and he made such an impression that I named my daughter after him. My grandmother have us the gift of these wonderful men in our lives. Through her parental guidance, she also gave us the gifts of a close family with aunts, uncles, and cousins who are people I am proud to call my family.

Her open door – to family or strangers- taught me a lot about how to treat people in this world. Too often I worry that my house isn’t clean enough (hers was always spotless) or that i don’t have anything to offer (she always had food at the ready – and a candy bar or two if you knew where to look). I’m sure she worked hard to make her home welcoming, but it was mostly welcoming because of her. Over the years, various family members lived with her as get navigated a rough patch of life, and she was far more gracious about it than I think I would have been.

She loved music, and frequently surprised me with her choices. She wore colorful clothes in her prime, always with the perfect matching accessories. She liked to travel, but I think she likes being home more.

At her house, you could count on family dropping by, more food than any group of people should eat, and one or more spoiled dogs. When I was a kid, I remember her going to McDonald’s to get the dog a cheeseburger, and then almost as an aside, asking if I wanted one too.

I also remember one day, in the parking lot of that same McDonald’s, when she parked the car after going through the drive-thru for our food. I asked her if something was wrong, and she pointed to an old man walking down the street. He had on a long brown coat, and he looked pretty dirty. She said, “I’ve seen that man before, and I don’t think he has anywhere to stay. It’s gonna get cold tonight, and I’m gonna go give him some money so he can get a hotel room.” She took every bit of cash out of her wallet to give to him. That’s who my grandmother was in a nutshell.

She outlived two husbands, two of her children, and a few of her grandchildren. She was a pilar of strength showing that life goes on even after loss. She had faced death many times, and I know that she was ready for her own. That makes it slightly easier, but I don’t like the idea of a world without her.

Everything I am, I owe to her. (Yes, my parents did a great job, but without her, my mom wouldn’t even exist.) Even if I live as long as she did, I will never do half as much good for this world.

So today, on this day that she left earth to reunite with her loved ones in Heaven, I wanted to introduce you to my grandmother.

PS: The pic is of my two kids and “MawMaw”. David, I’m sure, was there waiting to give her a big hug when she reached Heaven’s gates. Austin will be here with me, carrying forward their legacy.

52 People You Need To Meet: #9 Liz Salmi, aka The Liz Army


What I wish I knew before my brain was diagnosed with cancer:
It can happen to anyone.

Liz Salmi

I was diagnosed with a low-grade, but malignant, brain cancer just one week after my 29th birthday. The diagnosis was like, “Happy birthday! Thirty is just around the corner, and in case you didn’t feel like an adult yet, you now have cancer!”

I used to think cancer was a disease for kids. Or older people. Or for smokers. Or overweight folks who made poor food choices. Or better yet: old, overweight smokers who ate fast food and drank 2-liters of soda on a daily basis.

So when I was diagnosed I was afraid it was my fault.

I was a healthy 29-year old. I exercised and consumed a diet rich in fruits and “good fats.” I didn’t drink alcohol and never did drugs. I was a nice person.

What did I do wrong? I asked myself.

The most frustrating part of cancer is that it doesn’t discriminate. Cancer doesn’t care for whom you voted, or to which god you choose to pray. Some of the most controversial matters humankind wastes our time fighting about are rendered meaningless in the face of a disease like cancer.

What I wish I knew before I was diagnosed is: it can happen to anyone.

When I came to that realization I was able to get rid of the weird guilty feelings that I was somehow at fault. And with guilt out of the way I was able to focus on being awesome (i.e., dealing with adversity) and putting myself in a mental space to get better.

So in the first few weeks or months after diagnosis you find yourself wondering why? or what you didn’t wrong, please know it is not your fault.

It is up to you to choose how you want to handle your cancer. My advice is to be awesome.

Editor’s note:

Liz is an awesome survivor and advocate. You can read more about her on her blog: http://thelizarmy.com/how-to/