By Patricia Hollenback, R.N., BSN, OCN, nurse navigator, Crozer and Delaware County Regional Cancer Centers
I am a widow of colorectal cancer (CRC), but on December 27th, 2014, I renewed my vows to my husband. It wasn’t the typical exchange sealed with a kiss between a husband and wife to love, honor and obey in sickness and in health. It was the renewal of the promise I made to my husband Harry on that same day eight years ago, as he was dying in my arms. I renewed my vows to forever love and honor him by continuing his fight against colorectal cancer.
I wanted to fight for the sake of our three kids, so that they would be safe from a similar fate and to assure that his passing wasn’t in vain. Mostly, I wanted to protect him from losing. You’d have to know Harry to understand why that was so important. He was a proud, competitive man who always played to win. Whether it was a golf match, a project at work or one of the kids’ games, he did not like to lose in ANYTHING! Losing the battle against the CRC beast was definitely not something I was going to allow to happen. So I vowed that day to finish his fight, and to do whatever it takes to beat this disease.
My Introduction to Advocacy
My experience with Harry gave me the purpose and passion to make a difference. The folks at Fight Colorectal Cancer provided the training, support and inspiration needed to develop my skills as a confident advocate. I will never forget the thrill of attending my first Call on Congress in March of 2008. I’ve become so addicted to that tremendous feeling of exhilaration, the sense of empowerment and accomplishment I get, that I have returned to the Hill every year since.
I have found a lot of comfort and camaraderie among the other survivors and advocates; many of whom I had known only through the internet and who had been so supportive during Harry’s illness. The deep bonds of love and friendship that have developed over the years are so precious to me. I’ve become closer to some of these people than my own family; celebrating the joy of each “stable disease”, “NED”, or scientific breakthrough as if it were Harry’s and just as crushed when CRC steals someone away too soon.
My Continuing Fight
For me, advocacy is a lifeline; a forever connection that started with my Harry and now includes each of those new, precious friends. I fight for all of them, because NO ONE should lose to this disease. The crack in my heart lengthens, but my passion and conviction to fight deepens as the combined spirit of each precious soul works like glue to keep it from breaking.
Whether it’s on the Hill in Washington, D.C., on Facebook, in New York, in Harrisburg or in my own community, I do whatever I can, wherever possible to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of screening for prevention and early detection. Every person I convince to get screened, follow up on a suspicious symptom or ask about their family history keeps me connected to Harry and all of my other precious friends and puts us one step closer to finishing this fight.
“So live. Live! Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.” – Stuart Scott