What No One Tells You About Terminal Cancer

What No One Tells You About Terminal Cancer

No one tells you that every time you step outside to be greeted by the sun, it will be more than just the sun just shining down on you.

In elementary school, I met a strawberry blonde named Hannah. First impression? She was a total spitfire with a constellation of freckles on her cheeks and eyes that reflected her soul – full of life. Our childhoods were bliss. We were little girls as naive as sprouts whose roots were hardly established in the garden of this world. Hannah was a 13-year-old eternal optimist, forced to grow up too fast.

Because that’s what terminal cancer does. It steals childhoods, obliterates futures, and takes away the life in a little girl’s eyes.

I embarked on the journey of our friendship unaware that I would vicariously live through a battle of life versus death and come out in the end a new person… but without the warrior beside me to tell her own tale.

One year after her original diagnosis of brain cancer, Hannah received an update of massive tumor growth – essentially, her ticket to death. And a few days later, I ventured to the hospital with not a clue of what to expect because my best friend was invincible to me. I had never heard a complaint about the treatment reeking havoc upon her body or the side effects. My hopes were high until reality struck my preteen world that day.

The exquisite pain of wanting something unobtainable usually becomes trivial as life goes on. But what if all you wanted was another day with a beating heart, a functioning brain, or the opportunity to breathe?

Everyone who has walked through a pediatric oncology unit has a different type of understanding of what it means to be alive. Cracked doors and windows reveal children of all ages in the midst of fighting for a change in fate… sterilization masks and hair that’s long gone, but still believing in magic. Even if that magic won’t provide them with a cure.

After getting the news myself, I laid beside Hannah in that hospital bed. And through her slurred speech and tainted vision – we put together a list of her wishes that evolved into a legacy of our friendship, the beauty of life, and death. That list holds an explanation for why I wore hot pink stilettos to the funeral and why the name “Hannah” will definitely be embroidered on my wedding gown.

Inevitably a month later, Hannah died in her very own bed, in her Monmouth County home.

It’s almost three years later, her 17th birthday is right around the corner, and sometimes the realization that she’s gone still hits me as if I’m a child standing in the ocean hit by an oncoming wave. Because when your best friend dies from cancer freshman year, no one tells you how it’s going to affect the rest of your life.

No one tells you that you’re going to be numb at the wake. And you’re going to have trouble finding the words for a goodbye letter to put under her casket’s pillow for eternity.

No one tells you that chances are – you’ll sob alone in the bathroom at school on what should have been her Sweet 16. And each milestone will conjure up more tears because it’s just not fair.

No one tells you that resting sunflowers on her grave every summer isn’t the same as the old adventures throughout the summer haze of your childhoods, and passing her house on your neighborhood run will never become easier.

No one tells you that time doesn’t stop for anyone because life comes and goes by the numbers. But the meaning of time is impossible to define until you’ve realized the value of each moment.

But no one tells you that you can venture on in the face of a horrible prognosis and move forward ready to empathize with others as they face tragedies of their own.

No one tells you that no matter who you meet or where you travel in the world, you will always find a piece of your friend. Whether it’s in that pair of vaguely familiar blue eyes on a stranger at Target. Or how you get a laugh out of Nutella gelato in Europe – because she was allergic to hazelnuts.

No one tells you that if you open your heart – you will gain a new family. Her mother becomes your mother and best friends become your sisters. The teachers who once taught you academics will teach you about life and the names of people in your hometown are no longer just familiar faces. Everyone has a story.

And no one tells you that every time you step outside to be greeted by the sun, it will be more than just the sun just shining down on you.

For me, it’s the personification of sunshine… the life in a little girl’s eyes… it’s forever and always, my Hannah. And not even terminal cancer ever had a shot at taking her away.

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I've Been Sexually Harassed, Even Assaulted, Because Men Pressured Me Into Sex

And the victim-blaming isn't helping women become more confident, just FYI.

 Yes, feeling pressured into having sex is sexual harassment. 

Saying that the girl should have known, that she should have spoken up, that she should have just left his ass right then and there, is victim-blaming. When you say this, you make it more difficult for women to stand up. You tell them what we should have done. They feel like they will be judged for anything they say and do. 

When I lost my virginity, we were midway through sex when I spoke up and said “I don’t think I’m ready to do this.” He stopped. He looked at me. He said “Really? Halfway through? Don’t you think you should have said that earlier?” I didn’t say anything. He kept going. He finished. 

That day, I realized to keep my mouth shut and let a man do what he wants, and to pretend to enjoy it.

Later on, I had been dating a guy for 8 months in high school. One day, I was actually in tears while having sex because I didn’t want it. He saw my tears, but he kept going. Did I say no? No. He saw my tears. He knew I didn’t want it. Did I feel comfortable to speak out? No. This was a boy I swore I loved. But he did this to me. He manipulated me into having sex with him even when I didn’t want to. Months after we broke up, he told my sister that he was dating some other girl because she was “pure,” and I wasn’t. 

After this relationship, I believed that I was disgusting because I enjoyed sex. I was unpure and tainted. 

That day, I realized that sex is to be ashamed of — And I should be ashamed of myself.

My freshman year of college, I went to a guy’s dorm. We were making out. He moved my hand to his pants. I told him I wasn’t ready. He said OK. We kept making out. I moaned. He got up off the bed and went to grab a condom. I said no. I told him I said no. That I wasn’t ready. He spent the entire night trying to get me to have sex with him. 

I was afraid to get up and leave that night because I was afraid to disappoint him. It would have been awkward to leave. I learned from the beginning to be submissive and please.

I didn’t have sex with him that night, and I never talked to him again. 

That day, I became a stronger woman.

I’ve been in this situation more times than this. Does that make me weak? It shouldn’t, but it sure feels like it. 

I can hear so many people thinking, “You should have spoken out,” even, “You weren’t secure enough with who you were to be having sex.” I have been afraid to speak out and speak up because of what others will think of me. 

“Oh, she’s such a slut, and she always has been.” 
“Well, maybe she shouldn’t have had sex at a young age.” 
“Of course he walked all over her, she let him.”

I have been afraid to say no because of what a man will do to me. Will he guilt me into having sex? Will it just be easier to be submissive and let him do what he wants to me?

It’s not the “no” that counts. It’s the consent. It’s the yes. The resilient YES. The “Yes, I want you to have sex with me.” “Yes I want that.” “Yes, give me more.”

Consent is sexy. I say this from being in many relationships where men didn’t use me. They didn’t guilt me into it. It was fun for the both of us. These relationships (with the help of bad-ass women, counseling, and tons of self-help books) empowered me to be the confident woman I’m learning to be today. 

Why aren’t we asking MEN the questions?

“Did you ask her if she was ready? Or did you just assume?”
“Are you secure enough as a person to take a no for an answer?”
“Can you use common sense to see that a tear falling from her face is a no?”
“Are you man enough to ask if she wants this?”

If he has to beg, it is not consent, even if you say yes. 

Let me repeat: IF YOU HAVE TO CONVINCE THEM, THE ANSWER IS NO. 

Don’t try to break her down. “I can change your mind.” “Why not? What do you mean no?” 

Why aren’t we empowering women from the beginning? Never let a man treat you like you deserve them anything. You are a goddess. You are not worth a man’s time if he is begging for your sex.

Instead of victim-blaming (“She should have said no!”), we need to create a safe space for women to feel empowered and allow them to come forward about sexual harassment. I have spent most of my life afraid to speak out because of what society would think. But here I am. 

Here is the darkest, most scarred part of me. And with this, I am healing. 

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8 Facts About Bath Salts

What are Bath Salts?

Most people are familiar with the chunky and fragrant bath salts that are added to bath water in order to relax and invigorate. However, these bath salts are much different and not nearly as relaxing as users would hope. This kind of bath salt is a designer drug that mimics the effects of such illegal substances like cocaine, methamphetamines and MDMA. They belong to a group of drugs classified as synthetic cathinones, which are man-made substances that share a similar chemical makeup as the khat plant, a plant found in East Africa that acts like a mild stimulant when chewed on. Most bath salts on the market are crystalized powders that are often white or brown.

Bath Salts and its Aliases

This drug is called bath salts because of its similar, chunky rock like look as those sold in health and beauty stores as well as the ability to sell the items in stores as a legal product using this name. With law enforcement cracking down on bath salts in the last few years, people are finding them packaged as plant food and jewelry cleaner to continue their sales. These products are almost always in packaging that states that is not for human consumption.

Bath salts are also called by several other names such as:

-Bloom

-White Lightning

-Cloud Nine

-Red Dove

-Lunar Wave

How long have they been around?

Synthetic cathinones have been around since their creation in France in the 1920s. However, it stayed mostly underground until a similar drug resurfaced in Israel in 2004. Shortly after, the recipe was modified in order to be sold under different names. The current abuse of bath salts comes from their introduction into the British club scene in 2010. Between 2010 and 2011 bath salt sales boomed in Britain and America. It was then that America began to see the disturbing epidemic of users and the horrific side effects of the drug.

Abuse and Addiction

According to users, bath salts leave them with intense cravings even after one time of using it. One study even said that certain synthetic cathinones were more addictive then methamphetamines. Bath salt users explain feeling a euphoric high and sexual stimulation, similar to that of MDMA. They also explain that they feel more focused and have higher energy levels for a few hours after taking the drug, similar to methamphetamines.

Bath salts are most often snorted, but they can also be smoked and injected. Due to the ease of purchasing this drug in liquor stores and smoke shops, users quickly find themselves having a recreational use turn into a full-blown addiction. Ultimately the crash from someone coming off the drug is the most intense and uncomfortable part of the experience. In fact, abuse continues because the user doesn’t want to come down and fears the extreme side effects.

Side Effects

Though the drug is fairly new, there has already been increased rates of mental health problems in people that have used bath salts, with reports claiming people suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In fact, due to the inability to test for the drug, many medical practitioners look for these mental health signs before diagnosing a person as a bath salt user.

Some of the side effects are similar to other drugs but they are often intensified. These include depression, anxiety, paranoia, agitation, feeling physically ill, and tremors. These side effects can last for days and there has been reports of users self-harming because of the emotional effects of bath salts.

Overdosing on Bath Salts

Many are familiar with bath salts based on a 2012 news story of a Florida man, high on bath salts, who literally chewed off the face of a homeless man. The homeless man ended up losing 80% of his face due to this horrific incident; the zombie-like side effects of the drug quickly made headlines all across the country. In this incident the man was said to be overdosing on bath salts and experiencing intense delusions and hallucinations. Other overdose side effects can include liver failure, seizures, and heart attack.

Many users are often violent toward themselves and others, and can inadvertently harm themselves because of a high pain tolerance. As of 2015, only 68 deaths have been reported due to bath salt overdose. However, these numbers vary based on an inability to test for the drug in peoples’ systems or if the death was associated with bath salts (such as violence).

Banning Bath Salts

By 2011 the poison control centers received over 3,000 calls which was more than ten times the previous year’s total. This caused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to spring into action in an attempt to effectively ban bath salts. The DEA exercised emergency authority to classify mephedrone, MDPV and methylone (the active ingredients in bath salts) as controlled, schedule 1 substances, thereby making it illegal to sell them or anything made of them. Then in 2012 President Obama signed a federal ban on all synthetic drugs. Even with this ban, though, it has done little to curb the problem as people are turning to the streets in order to continue to use bath salts.

Treating Bath Salt Addiction

Due to the severe and unpredictable side effects of bath salts, detox can be quite trying for the user and medical professionals alike, and it is often difficult to find rehab centers willing to treat users. A large issue is the mental disorders that are often brought on by bath salt abuse. Treatment of bath salts typically deals with detox centers and psychological therapy.

Detox begins with intense medical monitoring as well as medications to alleviate symptoms like nausea, insomnia, and agitation. Just like most drug treatments and recovery programs, those that work with bath salt abuse circle around abstinence, relapse prevention, and rehabilitation. Some take part in outpatient programs after detox but many need a more structured way of rehabilitation due to mental illness. The best way of getting through treatment is having a strong support system and accountability.

Cover Image Credit: Shutterstock

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