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Ocular Melanoma Patient Story: Derek

Since being diagnosed 3 years ago, I am often asked what has helped me the most through multiple treatments, surgeries, injections, procedures, and scans.  My response is twofold: shared resilience and living in the present. Resilience is necessary for all of us facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment path and even just life’s challenges, but what why do I say “shared” resilience? 

In the beginning of my treatment, I really did not share much about my cancer with anyone except my family and a few close friends. I was being self-reliant and did not want to be pitied. I was scared that work would think I was something less and move me to the sidelines. Does that approach sound familiar to anyone? 

Fortunately, two very important things happened to teach me a better way.  First, I joined the MRF support group that meets monthly, and I went to an outdoor adventure camp for cancer survivors. In both settings there was an emphasis on small group discussions. I met others who faced similar challenges in their treatment and found out that many of my feelings were not uncommon at all! Here were folks who understood everything I felt and did not find me crazy for having those thoughts. More importantly, I also learned from others journeys ways to make mine a little easier as well as share my own experiences. It is in these small group settings and discussions that we share our experiences and strengthen each other for what is next. Shared resilience, for me, means drawing on the collective strength and wisdom of those who also walk this path alongside me, making each step forward a testament to our united spirit. Another thing I learned at MRF meetings and outdoor camps is that the best way for me to go forward is to live in the present! There was a character in a TV show who had a terminal illness who had a line where he said, “…. you know if I focus on what bad things may or will happen in the future, I will miss the joy of what’s happening right now.”  I liked that a lot. I love being outside and doing things in nature (hiking, rafting, fishing, biking). Doing these things is when I enjoy life best, so I do them more often than before cancer. Maybe not as aggressively or fast as before, but I am out there. I am enjoying the now with my loved ones. It’s kind of an awesome way to live, cancer or no cancer.  I never would have learned this way of resilience had it not been shared in the small groups of MRF or camp activities. 

Embracing the present moment has not only allowed me to cherish the beauty of nature but has also connected me with a community of support, reinforcing the shared resilience that sustains us all.