"I want others to reflect on the fact that we're given such a gift to be here. It's such a blessing to wake up each day and have gratitude for that truth."
For most people, looking back on the day they were diagnosed with cancer would be painful, but Josh Wimberly isn’t like most people.
On the 10-year anniversary of the day he found out he had Stage IIIB rectal cancer, Josh threw a party. He and 100 guests celebrated his "cancerversary" at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in west Mobile, AL, where partygoers slid down two inflatable water slides, took in performances by two bands, and dined on a whole roasted pig.
"I want others to reflect on the fact that we're given such a gift to be here," he told AL.com. "It's such a blessing to wake up each day and have gratitude for that truth."
Josh, a Mobile native, and his wife Kimberly have been married for 12 years, and together they have two children, Bryan, 5, and Norah, 2. It was two years after their wedding day, that Josh found out he had cancer. He was 30 years old, which put him in the 10 percent of all patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer under age 50.
He says the decade since his diagnosis has been "really intense" for their whole family. He’s had four tumors, eight surgeries, and defied the odds at every turn. "I'm happy I made it," he said to AL.com. "The fact that I'm still here is a blessing and a privilege."
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"My scars are a physical sign I'm different," Josh said. "I've had eight surgeries. But life would still have been stressful and chaotic without cancer. Every family and individual has their own struggles to deal with. Cancer patients don't own suffering, illness or terminal diagnoses."
To mark his "cancerversary," Josh raised money to build a playground at his church, and to date he’s brought in more than $7,500. Bryan and Norah will be among the first to play on the playground, which brings him happiness, even if he won’t be there to see it.
"In my thought process, I don't have the privilege of thinking through parenting as a long game," he said. "The probability is that I won't be here when my children are teenagers, when they go to college. So how do I lay the foundation of lessons that have a latent impact? What do I want them to know about me, and how do I convey that?"
Unfortunately, Josh started treatment last September for yet another tumor in his pelvis. He now takes an oral “maintenance dosage” form of chemo, and probably will for the rest of his life. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in Crossfit or from advocating for colorectal cancer awareness.
"Cancer already has enough control of me," he said. "I try to double-down and leverage what I can control. I live with a little bit of pain all the time. If I push myself to the point where I'm sore and hurting, it takes the place of the other pain. I have the agency and power to do it. Cancer hasn't taken that away."
He told AL.com that he hopes his "cancerversary" event will help others realize the importance of colonoscopies to screen for colorectal cancer, which can be curable when detected in its early stages.
"Josh has brought to our community a powerful voice of advocacy and authenticity," Rev. Dr. Joy Blaylock, rector of Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, told AL.com. "His words convey a truth borne of the struggle to live fully. Josh's faith journey reminds us that the Spirit who has given us life will not abandon us in the wilderness without offering a tangible glimmer of hope, a generous life-giving legacy."
For more information on colon cancer, including symptoms and screening resources, visit Colon Cancer Alliance’s website.