Frankie White, 45, wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone. But she believes even a cancer diagnosis has a silver lining: It forced her to work on her emotional well-being and gave her a chance to be on the receiving end of help.
"I believe cancer affected me for the better," said Frankie, who dealt with colorectal cancer at age 36. "I had time to think about things, and to address issues I wasn’t dealing with, like anxiety and depression.
"I used the time of healing to reflect on my life and what I wanted, what’s important to me," said the Renton, Wash., resident. "And for the first time, people I had always taken care of were taking care of me. I learned to accept the vulnerability of being dependent on others."
Frankie’s stage 3 cancer was first detected through a large amount of blood in her stool, which prompted a colonoscopy. Shocked and numb at the prospect of facing cancer in her mid-30s, she had radiation therapy to shrink the tumor, followed by a temporary ileostomy, a surgical opening created in her belly for waste elimination.
"Though I knew the ileostomy could be reversed, that was the most difficult part for me. I felt very fragile and really self conscious about it," Frankie said.
The diseased section of her rectum was removed, followed by chemotherapy and the eventual reversal of her ileostomy. Complications with the latter meant three surgeries. "It was a bumpy road to get back to 'normal,'" she said. "I was exhausted. I wanted my body back."
Returning to employment two years after her ordeal brought challenges of its own. "When it was time to get off the couch and go back to work, I had major anxiety," Frankie said. "I still didn’t feel 100 percent. My energy level had plummeted. I worried about my body betraying me."
She sought help from the Survivorship Clinic, which prepared a follow-up care plan for Frankie and arranged for her to meet with a nutritionist to get help with her digestive issues. She was also sent to a vocational counselor to work through her career concerns. Frankie received help with chemo-related neuropathy. Though she hasn’t been able to take stress management classes yet due to her schedule, they remain on her to-do list.
Through the clinic, Frankie heard about Exercise and Thrive, a community-based strength and conditioning program for cancer survivors. She joined about a year ago. "The instructors were great," she said. "I was introduced to tai chi, plyometrics and other things I’d never done before. I really enjoyed it and made some great friends."
Though Frankie admits she still gets somber ahead of her routine colonoscopies and tests, she’s determined not to live her life in fear of recurrence. "I’ve been cured. There has to be a purpose for my life," she said. "I don’t want to waste it living in fear."
Frankie, who often shares her cancer story and been-there advice with patients and survivors through speaker panels, said she’s grateful for the existence of the Survivorship Program.
"They take people from just being in survival mode to really thriving and enjoying their lives again. I still need a little help getting where I want to be, but I know I’m going in the right direction," Frankie said. "The Survivorship Program was like an anchor that brought everything together. I like having resources. Why should I struggle when someone’s done the research for me?"