“Survivorship means living every single day with the primary outlook of gratitude.”
No one sees it coming. Not the child or their parents. When you are a teenager, all anyone talks about is your future and how great it will be. No teenager ever expects to go into their future as an adult with cancer as a part of their past.
I was 17 and literally starting my senior year of high school as I went through the diagnostic testing that would change my life. I had a biopsy the day before classes started and went to school the next day because, after all, it was the first day of school and I loved school. I didn’t last very long before ending up in the nurse’s office. Two days later, we had a name for what was happening to me: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Since then I have undergone chemotherapy and radiation. I will have a biopsy next week on a small area before I can get the “all clear.” This fall, with or without cancer, I will be a freshman at Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas.
To me, survivorship means living without fear. It means not letting cancer rule my future the way that it has ruled my past year. It means living each day to the fullest, not in the cliché way, but in the way that only a person who has faced a life-threatening illness can. It means not being afraid of what the next scan will show or that I will develop a secondary cancer from the radiation that I received. It means living the knowledge that none of us has a guarantee for a single extra day on this earth.
Survivorship means living every single day with the primary outlook of gratitude. Cancer has taught me how important it is to be grateful for even the small good things and to look for them daily when things aren’t going so well. There were a lot of things that I used to complain about, and wish were different. It sounds silly, but I used to hate my hair. The color was fine, but it was so thick that it was hard to style. And a little on the frizzy side. So many times the past five months I have wished to have that hair, my hair, back. It was hard to let it go, but I made the decision that I could not dwell on what was no longer true. Nothing could change the present. So, I focused on imagining what my new hair would be like when it grew back. I found the good in a terrible circumstance.
Survivorship means staying focused on getting to go back to school in January when you had to do chemo in the fall. Survivorship means staying focused on getting to go back to school in March when you have radiation in January. Survivorship means staying focused on going to college in the fall when your school closes because of the coronavirus. Survivorship also means being grateful for my family and the doctors and nurses who helped me in every way imaginable over the past seven months.
Survivorship means having a special empathy for current cancer patients and a new lens through which to see all people. I would like to help other teenagers currently facing cancer. I want them to know that they are not alone and what life may look like for them on the other side. I want to help them find resources and feel like they still have some control over their lives and to be encouraged. Survivorship means sewing port pillows for myself and other cancer kids who I don’t even know.
Survivorship means that I have grown into a different person during this time. It means that if I’m honest I’ll admit that I am still struggling with all the things that I wrote about in this essay. I still struggle with fear, gratitude, empathy, and sympathy. I’m not perfect. It means that sometimes the people who I go to help may also be the ones who help me stay on track with my recovery goals. No, I may not have seen it coming, but I know what it looks like now and my future as a cancer survivor is bright.
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