BALTIMORE - During the holiday season families get together to remember what they're thankful for in their lives. What you don't hear very often is people saying they are thankful for cancer.
Crystal Parker, a Carroll County resident, is thankful for her breast cancer diagnosis back in November 2009. She underwent a mastectomy of her right breast, sixteen weeks of chemotherapy and radiation at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. Surprisingly, Parker said her cancer diagnosis led to the best year of her life. "I'm very grateful and thankful for the experience and process of cancer. After I was diagnosed it ended up being the best year of my life. I was able to maintain a positive outlook, even during the toughest times," she said.
Parker understands people may not comprehend how she was able to make a positive experience out of her diagnosis but said that her faith saw her through. "I attribute having such a wonderful year and being at the place I am in my life to the fact that I had gotten cancer," she said.
She continued, "I know people have a hard time understanding that but having cancer allowed me to feel free, empowered and hopeful about my life. I see cancer as a stepping stone. I have always had a very strong faith in healing because I am no stranger to illness. God has proven himself over and over again. I firmly believe a positive outlook has a 75% outlook on healing."
The experience left Parker with a different perspective about life's little difficulties, "having cancer put a lot of things into perspective," she said. "Now if something small happens I don't worry about it as much. I realize it's usually not worth wasting energy on. My time at CTCA has allowed me to try to spread this hope and positive outlook. Even if someone has a cancer that isn't going to be cured, it's good to be positive."
Instead of allowing breast cancer to consume her life with negative thoughts Parker chose to see the experience as empowering, "Many people, when they hear the word cancer, get angry and bitter. I don't think it is helpful to hold onto those feelings. I know that I am thankful for everyday and thankful I'm alive. This is even on the days when I'm feeling sick or in pain," she said. Parker also credited her treatment with keeping her spirits up. She said, "Cancer Treatment Centers of America encourages you to be an empowered patient. I traveled to Philadelphia for my care because they gave me the best options for my treatment and encouraged me to take an active role in the decisions about my care. That made the entire experience feel like it was more in my control or in my hands and that's not something you feel very often when you're diagnosed with cancer."
Since being declared cancer free Parker decided to live life to the fullest. She's always been an active member of the community and enjoys it even more now.
"I have always been very active in community work, even through my process at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. I am the youth leader at my church and I deal with a lot of young people in tough situations at home, I am a committee member for Heal A Woman to Heal A Nation Conference, I volunteer at a center that helps young mothers and fathers and I do tutoring and life coaching at Waverly Family Support Center and I also do some public speaking on finances and health issues. Most recently I began volunteering at the Senior Center in Reisterstown.
Parker has even more ideas about helping others. Next on her agenda is creating a support group for cancer patients and their caregivers. She said of her ongoing journey, "often times my husband doesn't really know what to say or how to talk with me about my cancer. I would like to start a support group to be able to help men in similar situations still be able to connect with their partners."