It’s finally my surgery to remove Timmy the Tumor tomorrow. I’m so grateful to have made it this far in my treatment.
I have learned more about myself and about the people around me in these past 4 months than in the past 23 years I’ve been alive. Chances are, if you are reading this, you know someone who had, or currently has, cancer. Chances are, if you are reading this, you have wondered about what its like to have the awful disease. What really happens from the point you are diagnosed to the point where you are getting weekly chemo treatments in a chair or hospital bed?
Your relationships with everyone will change
There are two paths people take once they hear you have cancer. They will either step closer to you and offer their kindness, or they will take a step back and continue to distance themselves from you because they do not quite know what to do. You don’t blame the latter, but you will choose to focus your energy on the people who step closer, because having anything and anyone negative in your life will feel worse than the disease itself. Quoted from one of my favorite songs by Florence & the Machine: “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off”
Your family & friends will become your lifeline. It is almost impossible to fight the disease on your own. You are ultimately the one who battles every chemo treatment, but the people closest to you are also going through something traumatic. They will tell you that they wished some of the pain could be transferred to them. You will smile back and say “no”, and you will mean it. Because you will understand that no one deserves to be going through the pain of cancer. You will finally see and feel that you are loved. That love will support you until the day you are cancer-free, and beyond.
You will feel guilty
You won’t be able to help yourself for thinking and questioning: “What could I have done differently to avoid this? Maybe I shouldn’t have used that extra packet of Splenda…or maybe it’s bad karma.” The truth is, unless you have concrete proof that something specific caused your cancer, there’s no point in concentrating on the cause. You can improve life habits to decrease the chance of it from returning, but in the end, it’s all about luck and chance. Your doctor will tell you that your cancer has a 20% chance of returning, but you will focus on the 80% chance that it won’t.
You will feel like you are burdening your family because they will take care of you and will constantly worry about you, even when you are feeling fine. In the end, you will realize that this is a critical time in your life where you need to be taken care of. But you will also realize that you aren’t exempt from thanking and loving them back.
Life does not revolve around you just because you have cancer
Yes, having cancer is terrible, and you may even possibly lose your life to it. But you will realize that life goes on for others around you. The person who asks “how are you?” is most likely fighting their own battles. After you respond that you are doing well, adding “and how are you?” never hurts.
There will be an entirely new meaning for the concept of trust
Your life is now in the hands of your doctors, nurses and surgeons. They are the ones who will know how to treat you – not Google, and not health books. You follow their instructions exactly, and believe every word they say, because honestly, what else can you do? You will feel like a simple “thank you” isn’t enough for all that they do, but think of the feeling they get when they see their patients are recovering because of their hard work.
Plans for post-cancer are not as exciting as one may think
Almost everyone has been asking me what I plan to do when I’m cancer free. Almost everyone will suggest traveling the world. Although the thought is exciting, getting cancer does not mean getting rich (sorry guys!). In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Although I’m fortunate enough to have health insurance that covers all my treatment, all the gas money for traveling to and from the city, as well as the cost of parking, adds up. The number one most exciting thought is actually just having life return to normal. I miss not having to go to the doctors every day to get my blood drawn. I miss having hair. I miss life before cancer. So while I do have plans to travel in my future, my number one priority is to go back to what a normal 23 year old should be doing: stressing over jobs and relationships, rather than stressing over PET scans and cancer cells.
You will accomplish more than you’ve ever thought you could with cancer
Depending on the severity of the cancer, patients usually do not stay at home for months until they’re recovered. I’m usually only a hermit during treatment and when my white blood cells are too low to go out. Otherwise, I try to spend as much time as possible with friends & family.
Here are some things you end up doing even when you have cancer:
You graduate from college:
Meet my silly cousins. The constipated guy in the middle is my brother.
You reconnect with old friends, and wonder why you ever left them in the first place:
Meet my best friend Jen. We laugh a lot.
Meet Timothy. He promised to teach me how to fly a plane one day.
You keep in touch with current friends and feel thankful for their existence
Meet Marsmellow. Her real name is actually Marissa. Today she told me one of her students reminded her of me because “he doesn’t stop moving and he makes weird animal noises”. This is why I love her.
- Meet Maves. Her real name is actually Mavis. We eat and rant, a lot. She’s been on my team way before I even got cancer.
Meet Pankaj. He likes to do silly things like pose in front of bald things that look like him. He also rocks at Chinese opera.
You spend more time with family, and will love them more than ever
Meet my cousin Al. He tried on my wig and I decided it looks much better on him.
Meet my beautiful cousins Christina & Jenn. They’ve become my sisters in the past 4 months.
Finally, you realize that life goes on. No matter how tough it gets, life will go on.
Meet my friend Jay. He isn’t actually a ninja, we just don’t have a picture together…yet. But he has always believed I could fight this thing, ninja-style.