“The most important thing we can do as a cancer survivor is share our experience.”
Shortly after being diagnosed, a woman from my church, who I had seen struggle with breast cancer and bravely fight to defeat it, sat me down to talk. She said to me, among other things, “Welcome to the cancer club”. I’ll admit, this struck me as odd. It seems like having cancer had made me a member of some selective elite society. At the time, I suppose I took it as more of just an expression. To my surprise though, a club is exactly what it ended up being. For those of us that experience cancer personally, whether it be our own battle or the battle we are helping fight as caregivers, friends, and family, that cancer is an intimate enemy – know it well. We unite in its terrifying nature and the destructive path it takes. This enemy, though, brings us together in a common goal. We share our strategies, tips and tricks on how to deal with chemo. We provide support, remembering what it was like when we lost our hair. Most of all, as survivors especially, we serve as a model that shows that this enemy is defeatable! It has been done, and it will continue to be done. This ‘cancer club’, as I now like to imagine it, is one of the most valuable resources a recently diagnosed patient has. Just like with any venture in life, a person about to embark on any journey wants to talk to someone who has been there. Think about taking a new job or traveling to a foreign place. The best resource is someone who has been there. That is exactly what survivors are to a recently diagnosed patient.
Within the last month, we found out that my roommate and lifelong friend’s little brother has Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. This is the exact cancer I have diagnosed with only three years ago. It is amazing to me that already I have had such a close contact to be struck with a disease that until my diagnosis seemed so rare and far off. When I got to the hospital, my friend told me her brother had already been asking about me, about my experiences and my treatment. He must have known about the club. Through talking to him, I realized there is so much I have to give a patient in his shoes. I may not be very knowledgeable or well versed in many things, but having cancer is something I am an expert at! I mean, I have experience! It felt so good for both of us to talk about what it was like hearing you have cancer, how intimidating the medical jargon can be, and how horrible hospital cable is. He already had such a positive outlook. He kept saying things like, “As soon as this is over … ” or “Whenever I go back to school…” and so many other ‘I am going to beat this in no time’ phrases, I was immediately uplifted. And I believed him.
The most important thing we can do as cancer survivor is share our experience. We all have a degree in cancer that no college offers. This is exactly what I plan to do. I’m in a sorority at my university and our philanthropy is Children’s Miracle Network. Through our efforts to benefit our cause, we are involved in many activities benefiting East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. My favorite of these is hospital parties. When we have hospital parties, we go to the hematology/oncology clinic in the hospital and set up crafts, games, and snacks for the children waiting on treatment. During that time, I like to be the girl who mans the waiting room. I talk to some of the older patients about their experiences, we chat about cute alternatives to wigs and how to stay caught up in school. I talk to their parents about things my mom did during long hospital stays. I basically compare notes and just relate to my fellow club members. And it never fails, we always have something to talk about.
I just found out the beginning of March that I was accepted to the University of Tennessee’s extremely competitive nursing program. I could not be more excited to begin nursing school this fall. Ever since my diagnosis, I have known I wanted to be on the forefront of the battle fighting cancer. My dream is to be a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required”. Well, I’ve been given a second chance. I survived cancer, with gusto I might add. I plan to dedicate my life to helping children like me do the same thing. Imagine if we continue this process of survivors helping patients survive. Cancer won’t stand a chance!
If you would like to help Ashley and other children battling cancer, donate today!