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Faces of Blue: Robert Desjarlait

Faces of Blue: Robert Desjarlait

What is survivorship? What does it mean? Survivorship has different meanings for different people, who are survivors of cancer.

For me, survivorship means much more than surviving surgeries and chemotherapy. Those are the physical aspects of being a survivor. Being a survivor is about attaining a quality of life, one that replaces the quality of life before they contracted cancer.

Faces of Blue: Robert DesjarlaitIn 2013 I learned that I had colon cancer. My ascending colon was removed. My cancer was considered Stage I, which meant I wasn’t required to have chemotherapy. I was assigned to yearly CT-scans for five years. The first two years were NED. Then in the third year, 2016, my CT-scan revealed colon cancer metastasis to the left lobe of my liver. Surgery was performed in November and the left lobe was removed. Currently,  I’m on adjuvant chemotherapy until late June.

It was frustrating to go through a recurrence of cancer. I went from Stage I to Stage IV because of the liver tumor. The tumor was removed and my surgeon declared me as clean of cancer.  My current status is High Risk and, hence, the necessity of adjuvant chemo.

Despite my setbacks, I maintain a positive outlook on life. That’s an attitude that goes back to when I first contracted cancer in 2013. What were once priorities changed. More immediate and meaningful priorities came to the forefront. The most important priority was to cherish life and my life as a cancer survivor.Faces of Blue: Robert Desjarlait

Developing a positive attitude hinged on Ojibwe cultural teachings and experiences related to cancer. One experience that deeply affected me was a young woman who had cancer. She saw her cancer as a spirit within her and she would offer asemaa (tobacco) to appease the spirit. It was a part of her daily praying. Then there is a teaching by Ojibwe healer, Herb Sam. Herb teaches that cancer should be approached with respect and not hatred if it is to be healed.

Faces of Blue: Robert DesjarlaitTo me cancer is not simply something within me. It is part of me. It is not some foreign and invasive disease from an unknowable source. My cancer is me. It’s like Augustus Waters says in The Fault in Our Stars: “The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart is made of me.”

My cancer is me. At first, there was grief in when I was first told “you have cancer.” But then came an understanding that cancer was/is a spirit within me. Like that young woman, I too offer asemaa to appease that spirit within me. In doing so I am not honoring death, but rather life and death. I honor both because life and death are the two predominant aspects of the human experience. This then is the meaning of my cancer survivorship.

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Ron Frisendahl says:

    Please see that Robert gets this note.

    Robert, when we were very young you about 4 and I was about ten or eleven we
    spent many weekends together. At that time both our families lived at 1828 2 1/2
    street in Minneapolis. I have been looking for you and your Mom and Dad and thanks
    to the internet I have found you. On weekends your Mom’s brother and others would
    come to the cities for the weekend. You and I would spend the evening together until they
    came home. I my search for you and your family I found your Dad and his info page he left
    us at and early age according to the info page. It does not give any info about your Mom, does
    she have a e-mail address and if so I would like to send her a note, you all were blessed to have
    her in your life, I know I was. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thank you

    Ron Frisendahl

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