As a twenty-one-year-old, Junior in college, I heard words I never imagined would be directed toward me: “You have cancer.”
Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer typically found in adolescent males between ages12 and 15, was my new diagnosis. I did not know how to even begin processing those words, let alone understand the weight and the full impact that cancer would have on my life. I immediately withdrew from school and moved home to Columbus to be treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Enduring the cancer journey at any age is extremely difficult; chemotherapy, surgeries, scans, medications, along with the emotional, spiritual and mental sides of the battle. I was extremely blessed to have a great support system around me, the best medical care I could have received and generally positive responses to the treatment. The most challenging part of my cancer journey these past eight years has not been the financial burden of the medical bills, the effects of the 20 or more rounds of in-patient chemotherapy treatment and the multiple surgeries - it has been about survivorship.
To most, that statement sounds ridiculous - even far-fetched - but the reality is that survivorship is a day-to-day fight, in many ways, more strenuous than the battle with cancer. I remember ringing the bell and having the last chemo treatment behind me. Finally, I was moving on. The feelings of freedom and accomplishment were replaced with apprehension and fear. Reaching the finish-line was the goal for so long that I felt like I was being pushed off a cliff without a parachute on that last day at the hospital. I quickly realized that the survivorship battle had just begun.
In the few first months, my life was about getting my strength back, while at the same time trying to build a new normal.
Who am I now, after cancer? What do I want to do with my life? How long do I really have? What did cancer take away? How will my life be defined by cancer moving forward?
Each of these questions and more were daily struggles. I was in my early twenties, I should have been out conquering my dreams, instead I was having to start over. Sometimes I felt that I was having to get to know my new self.
The years since, although a battle with doubts and fears of when the cancer might come back, were undeniably the most shaping of my life. Journeying to find answers to the questions that flooded my mind, and finding new strength to build my future, has truly been a gift. I have found new hope after treatment, and even in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, I have found life.
My challenge to you is that you would choose to not only celebrate the great victories of survivorship with your loved ones, friends and acquaintances, but that you embrace alongside them the hardships and triumphs as they navigate through survivorship. Recognize that the cancer journey doesn’t always end once treatment is complete.
My encouragement to all cancer patients and survivors out there is to have faith and hope that you can and will make it through the treatments and that when you come out on the other side, even though life will be different, you can use your experience to change your world and others.
Cancer has taught me that life is fragile, but survivorship has taught me how to truly live. Life should always be celebrated and my charge to everyone is to live each day with hope and gratitude.
Congratulations to all the cancer survivors and Happy National Cancer Survivors Day!