OCEANSIDE — After surviving stage IV colorectal cancer, Ali Gilmore recognized an opportunity to face other fears and help others. She shares her experience with The Coast News to celebrate National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March.
“If I can survive stage IV colorectal cancer, so can a lot of people,” she explained. “I wasn’t an athlete and, at 47, I wasn’t considered young. I smoked on and off for 25 years and I wasn’t wealthy — yet I beat cancer.
“I’m an example of luck and the rapid advances in medical technology.”
Gilmore received her diagnosis on her birthday, Sept. 22, 2010, just before arranging to meet friends for a celebration at a local martini bar. She decided to keep the diagnosis to herself so she wouldn’t spoil the party.
“I laughed at the stories and jokes and smiled like a Cheshire cat,” she recalled. “All the while, the words, ‘Technically, it’s stage IV’ kept whirling around my brain like a buzz saw. Man oh man, how I wish someone had been there in that moment to do a quiet slide under the table. ‘Psst … here’s a guide that’ll get you through it all.’”
Because there wasn’t such a guide Gilmore, kept a journal, which has become a book, “The C Card and Me: How I beat stage IV cancer (to a pulp).” Gilmore offers practical advice, with a stiff dose of humor and optimism, in a short yet comprehensive guide with the cancer patient in mind. Topics include what to do after receiving the diagnosis, advice for loved ones, treating side effects of chemotherapy and managing medical bills. Most importantly, she said, is planning a reward once treatment is completed.
After finishing the second round of chemotherapy, Gilmore began checking things off her bucket list starting with facing her fear of heights by skydiving. It was during the process of researching the second item on her list, facing her fear of sharks, that she met Brandon Bethea, founder of FinForward. Bethea established the nonprofit which offers shark dives and marine encounters for cancer survivors to honor his late mother who passed away before being able to take a dream trip to Australia.
“In addition to being one of the most common ‘bucket list’ items, shark diving can also have therapeutic benefits and act as a catalyst for change,” he explained. “It’s about embracing life and moving forward.”
Gilmore admits that she still isn’t ready to face her fear of sharks, a fear that goes back to the movie “Jaws,” which was released in 1975. But she has thrown down the gauntlet with a proposal to Bethea.
“I said ‘Let’s shoot for the moon,’” she recalled, wryly. “If we reach the donation goal of $90,000 by April 1, then I’ll sign up for one of the next shark encounters.”
Bethea accepted her challenge.
“Ali’s story embodies the very spirit and strength that we are trying to represent at Fin Forward,” he said. “Her offer to help could dramatically improve our ability to support other survivors in the community.”
Coincidentally, the title of Gilmore’s book reflects a connection between sharks divers and survivors.
“‘C card’ is also a term used by divers for their certification cards,” Bethea explained. “Both cancer and certification cards represent a rite of passage to some people, and we would love to be part of Ali’s next big adventure.”
Between now and the end of April, Gilmore is running a weekly Q&A prize giveaway on The C Card and Me Facebook page designed to inform and entertain followers while inspiring them to become less afraid of cancer and better prepared to deal with it.
“Who says you can’t have fun and save your own life at the same time?” she asked. “Enjoy life regardless of ‘x,’ whether it is cancer or something else such as a bad relationship or something in the past. Don’t wait for a daunting diagnosis to enjoy life regardless of an ‘x.’”
“The C Card and Me,” 2nd edition, is available at Amazon.com and most bookstores as well the Oceanside Library and Tri-City Medical Center gift shop. For more information, visit facebook.com/theccardandme or theccardandme.com. For more information about Fin Forward, visit http://finforward.com/.