My Life After Cancer

My Life After Cancer

It doesn't stop after remission
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I never would have expected that at 17, I would be dying. I would have never expected that at 17, all my plans would be shattered. I never would have expected that at 17, I would be diagnosed with cancer.

I know that what most people know about cancer is about the journey during treatment: the chemo, the radiation, the doctor’s appointments, the hair loss, the fear of dying. You physically see the suffering imprinted on their faces, on their bodies, and you can’t deny the facts displayed, the cancer now branded on them. But after the hair loss, the chemo, the radiation, what’s next? After their hair grows back, their scars begin to diminish, the doctor’s visits are farther and fewer between, what is left? What happens to the person when the cancer journey is done? Well, it doesn’t stop at remission.

My life is categorized into two different parts: pre-cancer and post-cancer. I can’t remember things in terms of “what year” or “when”; it’s only what happened before and after I was diagnosed. When you have cancer it, in fact, becomes your new normal. The doctor’s visits, the chemo, the poking and probing, seems so normal in comparison to the lives of others, and your life is shattered again when that ends. I cried my last day of chemo not because I was in remission, but because my new life was going to fade away, the one I had built for myself for 8 months. I had been institutionalized, like a criminal being released from prison. It’s like you have to re-learn how to live the life that didn’t involve cancer, relearn social interaction, relearn school and work habits; adjust back into normal society. Honestly, I didn’t want to. I wanted to still be that cancer kid. The depression of missing your old cancer life and the anxiety of trying to piece it back together still haunts me. It will never end.

The thought of a relapse never leaves your mind. Even if you aren’t actively thinking about it, it lays dormant in the back of your brain. It lives in your dreams, allowing itself to metastasize fully when you sleep. I can’t count the number of times I have woken up at 4am, in a panic, thinking I have cancer. In a few seconds, I realize it was a dream, a dark fantasy, but the thought still burns on my mind throughout the day.

Certain sounds, events, stories, things bring me back that that time. You forever associate these things with your dark past, and it permanently taints them. I love the Golden Girls, but the cancerous stigma never goes away, because I was diagnosed while I was watching it. Loud beeps, like oven timers, remind me of my chemo pump going off, which rang loud and late into the night. Shit, I even hear it in my dreams. I still can’t wear one of my favorite dress shirts because I was diagnosed in it, two years ago. It still hangs idly in my closet, probably never to be worn again. When I see these things, hear these things, I feel like my heart stops beating. I flash back. For a second, I have cancer again. I relive everything in that one second; every memory is condensed. And then its over, and I have to go on living life ordinarily as if I didn’t just die a little more on the inside.

The shame and guilt you feel is the most unimaginable, the most horrific. You cannot grasp why you are alive. I mean, modern day medicine is amazing and your doctors are amazing, but you don’t understand why your friend, who had the same doctors, the same treatment, died, but you lived. Of course, not every cancer is treatable, not every will to live is strong enough, and not every person tolerates chemo, but still; the survivor’s guilt still remains. I think to myself: why did I live? I am not a good person. I am not a pure life. I am cynical and jaded; I have lots of sex and do not so desirable things; I am not the most compassionate or caring or sympathetic. So why the fuck am I here? Why did this beautiful five year old, who did nothing wrong, the most innocent thing in this world, die? I don’t know. I will never know. If there is a God, I will ask him though.

I will never say that having cancer wasn’t the hardest thing I have ever faced in my life. However, the future, the uncertainty I face, is worse than dying. I was never prepared or warned for what would happen post treatment, and I will always struggle to make my life feel normal. But it’s worth it. In honor of my two-year cancer-versary, I want survivors to feel like life is worth it, and that their struggles are real, even years down the line.

This is for you.

Cover Image Credit: Rachel Kiser

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A Letter To The Tomboy I Used To Be

To that girl with the baseball hat, board shorts, and grass stains, thank you.
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To the tomboy I used to be,

Thank you so much for making me the strong, beautiful, determined, and badass girl I am today. I am proud of who you've become. It is because of you that I can stand on my own two feet. It is because of you that I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

You were never easy to deal with. Mom and Dad had a lot to handle growing up. It was Dad who had to fight for you to be able to play boys' baseball. It was Mom who had to stand up to the boys that were mean to you for playing a boys' sport. It was both of them who had to cart you around to all of your games and practices, because playing one sport a season was just not enough. It was Mom who had to wash your clothes endless times, because the grass and dirt stains would never come out the first time. Don't ever forget who helped you become who you are.

Your attitude and thought process is very different from that of most girls. You grew up dealing with your problems through wrestling or fighting. Pettiness was not something you could deal with. Your anger came from losing a game, not drama with girls. You didn't understand why girls fought, or were so mean to each other, and to this day, you still don't understand it. You are different. You aren't like most girls by any means, which can be difficult for you, even now. You are so much tougher. You think differently. You are determined.

I love who you turned into. You are so strong; you handle everything with such passion and grit, that I can't help but thank you. Thank you for pushing yourself, and for not letting anything or anyone get in your way. The boys were mean sometimes, and the girls talked about you, but that never fazed you. That chip on your shoulder only made you strive even harder for greatness.

Thank you for making me unique. Thank you for making me extraordinary. Thank you for making me, me.


Love,

Amy

Cover Image Credit: tumblr

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If You're Against Abortion, Here's What You Should Do About It

There's more you can-- and should-- do than picket outside Planned Parenthood

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Upon the recent passing of a law that permits late-term abortions, I have seen many of my friends cry out uproariously that our country is fallen and has forsaken God. While you could probably argue this point with other examples, I don't think that this particular one serves as proof of our current state. Let me first explain to you what this law really is about and then encourage you to take other actions to lower the abortion rate.

Now in case you're not familiar, New York recently passed a law allowing abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy. What I think a lot of people have still yet to realize is that this is only allowed in the case that the fetus is not likely to live once outside the womb or the birth will be of danger to the mother. So one more time for those who still might be confused, abortion doctors are not just taking babies out of the womb and killing them a day before birth because the mother decided she didn't want it anymore. This is to save lives and prevent pain and suffering.

I know many think that aborting a terminal fetus before birth still counts as murder, but let me equate it, instead, to ending life support for a loved one who is brain-dead. In many cases, these children are experiencing pain inside the womb only to be followed by more pain shortly before death once born. Parents that are choosing to abort their pregnancies in the third trimester for these reasons are devastated and only trying to end a child's suffering, often at the expense of their own.

Hopefully, I have convinced you that not all abortions are just being used as a form of contraception and that there are many painful stories about the necessity of abortion for a mother. What can you do to lower these rates though? Well, I might add that making abortion legal probably isn't going to do the trick. While you might want to close your ears to this information, women who want an abortion are probably going to get one whether it's legal or not. Many anti-abortion individuals happen to be the same individuals that are anti-gun control with the argument that illegal guns will be procured no matter the laws. Might I turn your eye than to the case of abortion and the fact that people will probably always do what they want to do. Anyhow, let me get off of my soapbox and actually provide some information.

If you're really in it to lower abortion rates, walking outside of Planned Parenthood with a sign, shaming the women who enter probably isn't going to do the trick. First of all, Planned Parenthood does more than just provide abortions, so you may be scaring/shaming a woman who just wants access to healthcare for her pregnancy out of seeking help at all. What you can do, however, is push for your local schools to teach real sex education and not abstinence-only contraception. Yeah, scary pictures of STD's might do the trick for a while, but as we've previously discussed, people are probably going to do what they want to do regardless of what you tell them. We need to be teaching our young people how to have safe sex, and just be teaching them about sex in general. I know that the thought of your teenager having sex probably scares the crap out of you but, if they're going to do it anyway, don't you want them to be safe?

Another thing that you can do to lower the rate of abortion is to call for easier access to birth control for women. When they can easily and affordably access safe methods of contraception, there are bound to be less unwanted pregnancies. The United States needs to not only be educating its youth about all aspects of sex, but it needs to be making it as easy as possible for them to be SAFE about it. It may not be your first preference for young people to be having sex, but if they're going to do it anyway, we need to ensure that they feel comfortable taking the countermeasures to be safe about it.

The last point I'd like to make before I finish up is that even if you think that abortion is morally wrong, it's not your choice to make whether or not another individual decides to get one. Many times this decision is going to be a painful one for the mother, especially if she knows that her child will not survive outside the womb. There is no reason to make this process more painful for her, or even dangerous by illegalizing it. We need to be supporting mothers and not shaming them for whatever decision they decide to make.

If you're anti-abortion, that doesn't mean you have to be anti-choice. If you would choose not to get one, that's totally fine and I understand that, but it's important to look at the bigger picture and ensure both the physical and mental health of our women who are probably already going through a lot. Now is not the time to tear others down for their choices. Now is the time for the human race to stand together and support each other and make sure that our country is a safe one to live in regardless of your beliefs.

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