I survived cancer when I was 24. Here's how it changed my life


My diagnosis

I never imagined that I would be where I am today. In early 2014, I noticed a mole where I had accidentally smacked my head at work. This one, stubborn mole would change my life forever.  The mole continued to irritate me for weeks on end. It didn't worry me much, but my mom urged me to have it checked. I went to a dermatologist and neither she nor I thought it was of major concern, but, following protocol, it was sent off to the lab for a biopsy. A week later, and to all of our shock, it came back as borderline melanoma.

Melanoma is the most fatal of skin cancers and extremely rare at my young age of 24. I met with my surgeon and it was decided that the site on my scalp needed to be cleared for fear that the melanoma would spread into my lymph nodes. My first surgery went smoothly. It was relieving. On the other hand, the results of the surgery’s biopsy made my stomach drop. The cancer had spread into one of my lymph nodes and a second surgery would be required to see how much further it had spread. Less than a month later, I was back in the hospital being preparing to undergo another surgery. I remember thinking, “Why me? I’m only 24. I have my whole life ahead of me.” But I kept my chin up. I was taught that the grass will always look greener on the other side. I was taught to be thankful for what I have because I am, in some way, more fortunate than somebody else. I knew that there will forever be a greener-looking pasture. These lessons calmed me down as the anesthesia overcame me.


The physical repercussions from my surgery were obvious. Nerve damage rendered the left side of my face paralyzed. I could not close my left eye or even blink. I could neither form a smile, nor fully open my mouth to eat. Yet, the worst part of the surgery was my inability to do any physical activities! I had become passionate about the gym and hated being kept from it. It took time to recover, but once I was cleared to return, I went as much as I could. I did not care that half of my face was still “dead", I just wanted to regain my bulk! I was discouraged to see I had lost much of my strength. I wanted it back immediately.

My journey to recovery

At the time, I was studying to become a personal trainer, so I applied what I was learning to my own workout routine. I spent hours at home reading books, perusing articles on the Internet, and scrolling through comment threads to discover what had and had not worked for others and why. Circumstances had left me downtrodden, but I was determined not to quit! Cancer changed me. It sounds cliché, but when your life is in question you fight harder than ever to keep it. I am trying to apply this lesson to all areas of my life.Why wait? Why wait for something to change you? Why not dig deep down and change it yourself? It is easier said than done, and I certainly still fail. I am not perfect, but I will never stop trying to better myself. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said “Winners never quit and quitters never win!”

cancer changed my life pumpup

Today, I feel better about who I am because of what I have accomplished. I am mentally stronger. I am striving to better myself in other areas the same way I attacked my fitness. I’m still not 100% back to where I was in terms of strength but I’m significantly happier. I know I’ll get there and I’m learning to be patient. Everything takes time and happens for a reason. I know I can turn the bad into good and I want people to know that they can do the same. No matter where they are on their journey, they can always move forward. I have learned that the grass is truly greener where you water it!

This is a post by PumpUp member Zach P. Encourage him along his journey on the PumpUp app @zpoisson, and find him on Instagram at @poisson_fitness. Do you have a recovery story to share? Any thoughts for Zach? Comment below! We'd love to hear from you! (Top image c/o flickr)

cancer changed my life pumpup