Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along’…” After surviving cancer at the age of 15, I thought that that chapter of my life had closed, and I would never have to relive the horror of what I went through ever again. I may have defeated cancer, but the battle definitely has not stopped there; the negative effects of it still persist in my life and probably will never end. Here are some struggles that I continue to face as I go on with my life:
- Having to deal with the anxiety and fear of scans
Even if it has been years since you were told that you were cancer-free, there were always be a part of you that worries every time you have a follow-up scan. The worst part is having to wait to hear from the doctor after a scan, which could take a number of days. There is nothing more nerve-wracking then sitting by the phone and praying that you are healthy. It’s hard to keep living your life when you know there is a chance you could relapse again.
- Not wanting people to pity you or view you differently if you tell them that you had cancer
When I tell people that I survived cancer, I never do it for attention or to get pity from anyone else; it is simply part of my life story and what has shaped me into the person I am today. However, when I do open up to people about my battle, people tend to get an automatic look of sorrow or pity on their face. People started to only label me as the “sick girl”, but I am so much more than that. I want everyone to see me as the person I am today, not just as someone to feel sorry for just because I had so much trauma at a young age.
- Feeling alone and like no one understands you
No matter how supportive your friends are, there is always going to be this sense of loneliness. It’s kind of like being a soldier who has been to war and comes home. No one understands what he or she has been through except the other soldiers. Especially in high school, I felt isolated from my peers because they had all been doing normal teenage experiences while I had been memorizing all the different types of medications I was on.
- Something triggering an old memory of your battle with cancer
The memories never leave you. Sometimes even small things can trigger you, like a certain smell or taste. For example, one time I was on a plane and there was this smell that reminded me of the smell of the infusion room. It almost made me vomit. Your brain will never forget what you’ve been through, no matter how long ago you were in treatment.
- Feeling afraid of being sick again or having other problems for fear of affecting your family
Cancer doesn’t just affect the person who has it; it affects everyone in their life, especially their family. When I was sick, my parents had to focus so much of their attention on taking care of me, and I felt terrible because I didn’t want my sister to feel abandoned or alone. I don’t know if I could bear putting my family through any more pain, because it was already rough enough on them before.
Surviving cancer is a huge accomplishment, but it also involves a lot of emotional and physical distress. I always have to remind myself of my tattoo that says “fighter”, because although my treatment ended over five years ago, I still have to fight and deal with battles related to it for the rest of my life.