“It is much more freeing to put the disease out in the open instead or trying to forget it.”
I am always amazed at how many people I meet whose lives are affected by cancer. I decided to go to a college over 1,000 miles away, where I would be the only freshman from my state, and I still meet quite a few people who have confided that a relative is currently receiving treatment for cancer. Until I started college, I rarely talked about being a survivor. I would only mention I survived cancer if someone asked about one of the scars left by the disease. Now that I am in college, I find myself talking about it more than ever before.
My advice to fellow survivors who will be attending college soon is to not ignore the fact of their survival but to embrace it as a unique experience. I had cancer a long time ago, and I barely remember it. However, I have heard the stories from all my relatives countless times, and I relive the experience every year when I go for a post-cancer check up. When I started college, I took it as an opportunity for moving on, and I had no plans to bring up past events and risk tarnishing my new present. College changed all that. I now feel compelled to talk about what cancer is really like and help people understand it more. My school has a cancer club that sponsors many fundraisers, such as “Up till Dawn,” that benefit cancer. That’s why I was surprised to discover that most of my schoolmates have the wrong idea about cancer. They want to help, but they don’t understand the mental and emotional toll of cancer, know next to nothing about the disease, and I have yet to meet someone who has ever heard of my type of cancer – neuroblastoma. Some have even questioned if it exists at all. Although I felt uneasy, I went to one of the meetings for the cancer awareness club hoping to find another survivor. I have never met a survivor my own age or with the same cancer as myself. Everyone at the meeting had an adult relative either die from cancer or who is currently undergoing chemotherapy. When it was my turn to speak, I said I was a survivor and no one knew how to respond to my statement. I realized then that I needed to speak up more about cancer, or no one would really know what it’s like to have cancer unless they have cancer themselves. I helped with fundraisers and talked to people about my experiences so they could use the information to help raise money.
I think the best advice for survivors attending college, though, is to listen to any schoolmates whose close relatives are going through cancer. Survivors are the best support group because we are proof that hope exists. I recently found out that a friend’s father has brain cancer. I was tipped off when I noticed he was wearing a grey “Live Strong” bracelet at a party one night. I asked him about it, and he said he was fine and that I probably wouldn’t understand. It was priceless to see the look on his face when I told him I understood exactly what he was going through. We ended up talking for hours as he vented about everything. The thing that struck me the most, however, was when he said talking to me was a relief after people kept coming up to him with lifeless smiles and hundreds of “how are you doing?” questions and “everything is going to be fine, trust me” assurances. I felt for him; it’s always uncomfortable when people talk about things they don’t fully understand, even if they mean well. Talking to him and others has taught me that you cannot have cancer forever, but you can be a survivor forever and you can choose whether you want to be a helpful survivor to others who are not as fortunate to be a survivor just yet. My advice to survivors is to embrace your cancer and help others to do the same. It is much more freeing to put the disease out in the open instead or trying to forget it.
My final advice to college-bound survivors is to remember that although they’re unique, they will also be college students with the same issues as everyone else. So they should make sure they get as much sleep as possible, buy a mini-fridge and a microwave for the dorm room, and enjoy the experience!
If you would like to help Alexandra and other children battling cancer, donate today!