“I am embracing my life whole-heartedly, and chasing my survivorship with both hands, holding on for the ride, and ready to tackle whatever comes my way.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines survivorship as “the state of being a survivor,” however, this definitely is particularly bare. To me, after cancer, survivorship means being able to overcome something and live my life in a new, adventurous, no-limit way. I have expressed survivorship by living my life to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity given to me, and not stressing out about the little things anymore because there are bigger and more important things in life to focus on.
“Survivorship” is a broad term that can mean different things to different people, just like “struggle” and “hardship” and “achieve” can mean different things to different people. For me, being diagnosed at a young age with leukemia (I was one month past my 4th birthday) means I had no concept yet of doing anything besides what my parents, doctors, and nurses told me to do. I didn’t have any basis for comparison that my life had suddenly veered off-course or was any different from what anyone had expected. When my treatment was over, two and a half years later, I didn’t feel like someone who had survived a cancer diagnosis, I simply felt like a little girl who had endured something she had no choice but to endure.
I was fortunate that my treatment went well (as “lucky” as someone who is diagnosed with cancer can be, of course!) and that I suffered no large-scale after-effects like others do. I think that is a combination of many things, most of which we have no control over. I have been blessed to be able to move forward once my treatment ended, and have a “normal” childhood, teen-hood, and soon-to-be young adulthood. I also moved to a new state (with my military family) the year after my treatment ended, so at that point, most of the people in my day to day life weren’t familiar with my cancer experience like the people around me at the time of my treatment were.
To that end, even today, it is a fairly common occurrence for someone close to me to suddenly realize, “Hey, I didn’t know you had cancer!” People see me as a healthy, active, content, busy, involved, happy young woman and are shocked that someone as “normal” as me could ever have gone through such a thing. All that to say, “survivorship” probably feels different to me than to others who have continued to struggle, beyond treatment, with lasting effects from the disease.
That does not mean, however, that I take my survivorship for granted or that my cancer experience doesn’t shade all other aspects of my life. Because for me, “Hey, I didn’t know you had cancer” is one of the best things someone can say to me, after they’ve seen me run a cross-country race, or compete in a soccer game, or play my saxophone in a marching band competition. What I work hard to remember, always, is that EVERYONE has challenges. And EVERYONE has to choose how to face those challenges. Whether that challenge be pediatric cancer, or juvenile diabetes, or an injury from a car crash, or some other accident… everyone struggles at some point in their life. I feel blessed that at the time of diagnosis and treatment, I was too young to realize I was struggling, and too inexperienced to know any different. Now that I’m older, showing people that I refuse to let my cancer experience define me, or put limitations on what I can accomplish, is how I attempt to show the world that oftentimes, survivorship means succeeding IN SPITE OF.
Because of cancer, a few years of my childhood were much harder, and much more frightening, than they should have been. But IN SPITE OF cancer, I had a full, busy, amazing childhood.
Because of cancer, there was a period in my life where I physically could not keep up with my peers. But IN SPITE OF cancer, I have been involved in various athletics since the age of six, and determined to be successful at them.
Because of cancer, it was a concern that I might struggle academically in school. But IN SPITE OF cancer, I will graduate high school with academic honors in May.
Because of cancer, I am well-aware, and eternally grateful, for the opportunity to attend college, and know not everyone gets that chance. But IN SPITE OF cancer, I will be attending college on a soccer scholarship, which I am thrilled about.
I am embracing my life whole-heartedly, and chasing my survivorship with both hands, holding on for the ride, and ready to tackle whatever comes my way. I have a unique perspective that many people my age do not have, and I am thankful for that. I am grateful that when someone says to me, “Hey, I didn’t know you had cancer,” that is actually one of the best compliments I could ever receive, because it means I am doing things right.
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