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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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
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Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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Arab-American Heritage Month Is Not A Well Known Celebration And I'm Pissed About It

I'm an Arab-American and didn't even know this was a thing... That's sad.

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The month of April is special for a lot of reasons but this one hits home for me. This is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the culture, history and amazing people who have helped bring something to this country. So many Arab-Americans have contributed a lot to society yet they don't get the recognition they deserve for it.

In today's society, the Arab community is always being looked down on and degraded. The lack of understanding from those around makes Arab-Americans feel like outsiders in a place they should be able to call home. The inaccurate images and stereotypes that inhabit the word "Arab" are sickening.

It's time to raise awareness. It's time to look beyond the media's portrayal. It's time to see a neighbor, a teacher, a doctor, a scientist, an artist, an athlete, a parent, a child, but most importantly, a human being, NOT a monster.

Arab-Americans encounter and fight racism every day. As a society, we should be better than that. We should want everyone in this country to feel wanted, needed and appreciated. Together, we should use this month as a time to shine light and celebrate the many Arab-Americans who have, and continue making this country great.

While you read this list of just a few famous Arab-Americans keep in mind how much they want this country to be amazing, just as much as anyone else does.

Dr. Michael DeBakey, invented the heart pump

Dr. Elias Corey, Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry in 1990 

Dr. Ahmed H. Zewail, Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry in 1999

Lucie Salhany, first woman to head a tv network 

Ralph Johns, an active participant in the civil rights movement and encouraged the famous Woolworth sit-in 

Ernest Hamwi, invented the ice cream cone

Pvt. Nathan Badeen, died fighting in the Revolutionary War

Leila Ahmed, the first women's studies professor at Harvard Divinity School 

We should recognize and celebrate these achievements. There are so many things you can learn when you step inside another culture instead of turning your back to it. This April, take time to indulge in the Arab-American heritage.

Instead of pushing away the things you don't understand, dive into diversity and expand your knowledge of the unknown. Together we can raise awareness. #IAmArabAmerican

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