Wednesday, May 24, 2017

PCL4: Lessons Learned from Cancer Part II

To say cancer changes your perspective on life would be an understatement. There are physical changes, financial costs, and numerous emotional tolls that you’ll encounter along the way. For me, cancer forced me to take a good, hard look at my life. Just as I teach my students, cancer taught me many lessons.

Everyone Has a Cancer Story

Cancer affects nearly one quarter of the population, whether that is from directly having it or an indirect experience from a friend or family member having it. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you will find that everyone has a story to share.

On one hand, this can be comforting. You’re not alone in this battle and you know who you can turn to. On the other, it can get overwhelming. I would get advice, sometimes unsolicited from complete strangers, that would contradict others’ advice or what my oncologist had told me. I was often confused by what would be “best” for me to do.

If I am asked now about what to expect with cancer, I always preface it by saying it’s my take on it. I’m hesitant to offer advice without being asked because I know it wasn’t something I always appreciated. Be cognizant of that - your best intentions can be somewhat damaging to a cancer patient who is just trying to survive from day to day.

Cancer Can Consume You


As I shared in my Spring Break Paranoia post, I still have a real fear of recurrence. I just scheduled my second post-chemo CT scan, and I could feel those fears pushing through again. I’m sure that everything will be fine (and that I can finally get this itchy port removed), but it’s always on the back of my mind.

Some evenings, I’ll find myself browsing the Internet and ending up on the oncologist’s website or scrolling through cancer patient forums, reading stories of people who had their cancer come back after remission. I don’t know why this is, but I normally realize that it is not helping quell my recurrence fears and put an end to it sooner rather than later.

Running a cancer blog and Instagram might seem counterproductive to not allowing cancer to consume me, but just like it’s important for me to let my emotions out, it’s important to get my feelings about cancer out on my terms and in a way that is helpful for others. Additionally, I think it’s important to have a real perspective for other potential cancer patients, since it was something I had a hard time finding.

"Survivor" is Just the Beginning

Being a survivor is hard, which is something I noticed very early on. People see the hair growing back, the energy levels returning, and other physical signs, but they can’t see inside. In some ways, chemo was weirdly easier than real life. People told me what to do and I could focus on that. I get overwhelmed sometimes with everything I need to do post-cancer, but I’d much rather have my survivor status than spending hours on end hooked up to my chemo machine.

I also don’t like the word “survivor.” It seems so final (and overused by Jeff Probst). Like many cancer survivors, I have a bracelet that says “SURVIVOR” on it in big, bold letters, but I wasn’t crazy about the wording, plus I couldn’t wear it to school, since it also says, “Love my nut.” That’s probably a one-way ticket to HR.

I decided to design my own. (Side note: Finding a website that will make a single silicone wristband for a reasonable price is insane. I ended up going with AmazingWristbands.com.) While I was designing, I used the word SURVIVE instead of SURVIVOR. ABSOT is about ongoing survival. Being told you’re in remission isn’t the end; it’s just the opening to Act II of your life. In the words of Alexander Hamilton (via Lin-Manuel Miranda), I’m not going to throw away my shot. (That’s literally the extent of my knowledge of Hamilton.)

My life was changed by cancer, which is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from a cancer survivor. In a way, I’m fortunate to have learned these lessons at 25, instead of later in life. (I would have preferred to learn this lesson by maybe losing my iPhone instead of a testicle, but zesty Las Vegas [which is how I say cie la vie]). I’ve found what’s important to me, who I can count on, and how to balance my emotions and cancer journey so I can rock this second shot at life.

Read Part I of Lessons Learned here.

1 comment:

  1. Numerous tolls that one encounters during this disease. Other than that the ones associated to them. Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of writing with us.

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