Source: Jamie Aten

I'm not a bicep-flexing selfie sort of person. 

But this March a friend encouraged me to post a #StrongArmSelfie on my Twitter account for a Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC) campaign happening during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month to help raise awareness and support for people affected by this disease. 

I wasn’t ready for what happened next.

When I’d check the hashtag to see the selfies others had taken, I began to see that we are strong even when we feel weak—and that we are even stronger in community.

Incredibly inspired by this experience, I wanted to share the insights that have been the most transformative for me. 

We are strong even when we feel weak.

I’ve never felt weaker—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—than in the weeks and months after my surgery when I was receiving chemo and radiation treatments. Being unable to do my job as a professor and researcher with the vigor I’d always had didn’t help, either. But when I looked at the #StrongArmSelfies others had shared, I saw people who were strong and courageous and powerful. I saw children and parents, sisters and brothers, friends and spouses, who were fierce and determined. And I was reminded that even when we feel weak, we are strong.

We are even stronger in community.

During my treatment and recovery, I was fortunate to have the amazing support of a community that loved me and my family. But I also noticed that I had withdrawn from them, a bit, for two reasons. First, there were others in my community who had lost their lives to the disease, and I felt guilty for surviving. Secondly, I was afraid of making others feel bad because my body and life felt like an open wound. But on the journey, I discovered those around whom I could be myself. They were “my people!” Before my illness I hadn’t even known that there was this cancer community of fierce warriors who loved and supported one another. But when I found them, I learned that we are even stronger in community.

This community saw me-not my cancer diagnosis.

What was unique about this cancer community was that they were able to see me, and not my diagnosis. And while I did experience an outpouring of love and support from my local community, I was, for a season, still identified by my cancer diagnosis. Within this cancer community, though, I was just “Jamie.” Ironically, in a group where we were all facing what is decidedly not normal, I felt the most normal I’ve felt since being diagnosed. The #StrongArmSelfie campaign, and others like them, not only shine a light on a cause that needs attention, research, and funding, but they do so much more. They unite and strengthen those who are, and have been, in the fight for our lives. 

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