Thank you Pfizer for sponsoring this post. Join Pfizer’s #InspirationLives initiative by sharing your story with the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram to support and inspire those who have been affected by cancer, and be sure to check out the LivingWithTM mobile app available via iTunes and Google Play!

When you find yourself facing the “c” word, there is a range of emotions that follows. Knowing what to say, what to do and how to help both emotionally and physically can be complicated and fragile. There is no one-size-fits-all reaction or step-by-step guide to see us through.

As we get older, most of us will be impacted by cancer in some way. Whether it has happened to you, an immediate family member, a friend or a friend of a friend, chances are you know someone who has gone through a diagnosis and treatment. A staggering 32 million people across the world are living with cancer. Those people are our loved ones, our neighbors and our friends. It’s a time in our lives when we need to lean on our support systems more than ever.

The Impact of Cancer on My Life

My first brush with cancer happened when I was in the fourth grade. My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a difficult and confusing time for my family. My dad was learning to understand his diagnosis and going through treatment while my mom was his primary caregiver—taking him to appointments, making sure he took his medicine and was taken care of. They both were still taking care of me and my 3 other siblings at the same time. It was hectic with his treatments and 4 kids all under the age of 10. Family and friends came by and always did what they could: taking us to and from school and sports, making sure we had dinner and anything else that we needed. Recognizing the presence of cancer in your life is never easy. No matter how it sneaks its way into your life, you will forever be marked by the experience.

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It was devastating to watch the strongest man in my life struggle and suffer. I came home from school one day to find that he had shaved his head. “You have no hair!” I remember saying. He said, “Nope. Do you like it?” and waggled his eyebrows at me. Of course I liked it.

My dad went through months of chemotherapy and radiation before his doctors determined that the best plan of action was to remove his left lung where the cancer was. I can’t imagine being in my parents’ shoes as that reality made its way into their minds permeating their future. Removing an organ is a major surgery. Adjusting to life after that is a challenge all on its own, and with a family to take care of . . . that is impossible for me to fathom. Yet he did it and was stronger for it.

Following his treatments, we finally had some good news: he was in remission. For a few years, things settled into a new normal. Even though his cancer treatments had reduced his muscle mass, he still managed to have a thriving business as a welder. He still had to be careful, only having one lung and all, but he made it work. The human spirit is powerful. It’s adaptable. We persevere.

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In 2004, we found out something that would change our lives forever. My dad’s cancer was back and had metastasized to his brain. He had a tumor the size of a tennis ball in his right occipital lobe. He had surgery in May to remove the tumor. It grew back. He had another surgery to remove the tumor. It grew back. His doctors determined that his only option at that point was to go into an experimental study because he could not receive any more radiation or chemotherapy. I was 14 when my parents sat us down at the beginning of October to tell us that he had decided not to enter the study. His body had been through enough. When my dad had his final set of scans, they stopped counting the tumors in his liver after they reached 40. His spirit and strength couldn’t will the cancer away. He passed away a month later on his own terms.

What Cancer Taught Me

Nearly 14 years have passed, and it doesn’t get any easier to talk about it. Sometimes, it’s fine. Other times, I find myself imagining all of the “could haves,” “would haves” and “should haves.” But what I know is that, that is no way to live.

My dad’s journey with cancer taught me that we are capable of far greater things than we’ve ever imagined. The biggest lesson of all, though, was learning that no matter what happens, life continues. Not to sound too morbid here, but we will all leave this world eventually. It’s the legacy that we leave behind that matters the most. It’s how we treat others, what we create, the memories we make and the risks we take that define our legacies. My healthy dad taught me to have fun, embrace the unknown and believe in myself. My dad with cancer taught me to fight hard, face life on my own terms and to find peace.

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Truthfully, I can’t say that one experience with cancer prepares you for a second, third or fourth. Every cancer and every person is so unique that there is no one-size-fits-all response. The one thing that truly matters is having a support system around you. This is not a journey a single person should ever go on alone.

Living With Cancer

With this in mind, Pfizer launched This is Living with Cancer™, a national awareness program that includes a mobile app for anyone living with cancer called LivingWith™. It is designed to help manage some of the daily challenges faced by people living with cancer.

The LivingWith app, a free mobile app for people living with cancer, is designed to help manage life with cancer and organize certain important information in one place. Patients can connect with loved ones by making requests, writing a post or update, tracking their health in the “health notes” section, storing documents and more.

For more information and to download the LivingWith mobile app, please visit Patients and their loved ones also can find the initiative on Facebook and Instagram.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.