Forgiveness & Thriving

October 27, 2021
Forgiveness & Thriving

Written by Jonny Puglia

Back in 2019, I had an opportunity to partner with an organization called TMI Project, a local non-profit located in Kingston, New York. I had struggled with finding my voice during a part of my life that challenged me the most – newly diagnosed with Stage IV Colorectal Cancer. Although common, Colorectal Cancer is very rare in young adults, especially those who are very fit and healthy; and it's among the most aggressive and lethal cancers.

TMI Project, specifically two friends there, gave me the motivation to “come out” and share the raw emotions of a “terminal” diagnosis. By helping to destigmatize my view on cancer (and in opening up to others more emotionally), I was able to enter a space that not only was safe, but created techniques on how to express yourself without any limits.

Definitely a radical take on coping with cancer from my perspective.

This six week writing workshop, hosted an hour south of me in Albany, met on Thursday evenings. I remember rushing down the New York State Thruway trying to make it on time from work (and chemo!). Nervous as all hell, sweating like crazy, I walked into a room with seven other people who were no different than me. All with their own quirks or personalities. Two people in the front of the room, who looked important; later introducing themselves as our facilitators. Each workshop started with writing prompts that helped recall specific memories that I can share quickly by writing it down. Not only have I never written a journal, but the fact of writing them into words scared me. I am terrible at grammar (I had to change the last vowel from an “e” to an “a,” just now), not to mention writing with a pen!

After our ten minutes were up, I attempted to read out loud my story to the group. 'WOW,' I kept thinking, 'This is so freaking embarrassing, my story will sound the weirdest!' But sure enough, my story was pretty on par and random just like the rest of my co-journalers. After a few sessions, I became more open, both voicing and writing down these small prompted stories.

Towards the end of the workshop, we had to chose a worry story that was very impactful on your life, one that you can go into detail about. That story would be drawn out with the intent that the written work becomes a script for you to preform LIVE and recorded! Believe it or not, I went into this workshop with the intent to not share my “cancer story," it was still very new and incomplete. But, as I started to review the criteria and outline for the performance, I kept coming back to this story that was only a year old.

My diagnosis was the effect of a very rare hereditary disorder that is genetic, meaning passed down from a parent’s DNA. This mutation was the reason why cancer develops from the unstoppable inflation that starts in your colon or rectum. Called Familial adenomatous polyposis, I lack the genetic structure to fight or mitigate this inflammation that later results in cancer. FAP, as it’s commonly called, requires lifetime surveillance; including endoscopies, colonoscopies, and scans annually to limiting or prevent the inflammation from turning cancerous. This exhaustive process does not include cancer, in fact, most FAP’ers have dental issues and early on-set arthritis.

Needless to say this condition is not taken lightly by anyone, this includes myself. How did we not know that I would inherit this condition and potentially received treatments that would of prevented stage IV cancer?! I then had a flash of memory back to my youth when my mother was putting on a wig…”She must have had cancer and went bald for a few months!”. It was confirmed right after telling my mom about the doctor’s assumptions about my cancer diagnosis.

My mother, back when we were all young, brought my brothers and myself to get genetic testing done, investigating if anyone of us has the known gene to this condition called FAP. My one brother and I tested positive back when we were 12. Again, flashbacks started occurring to when I was traumatized by annual procedures done at area hospitals. “Colonoscopies!” I remembered. They knew back when I was younger, how was this the first time I was hearing about this!

The story takes off from here and dives into my emotional state, after thoughts, forgiveness and how I learned to not just survive but THRIVE with cancer – even in my early thirties!

Watch and read Jonny's full TMI performance on ThrivR. 

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