12 Years Childhood Cancer Free: Annette's Story
January 26th, 2011 - January 26th, 2023. 12 years cancer-free.
At this point, you would think that I’d be fine. No such luck. I’m sad, angry, anxious, depressed, and everything else in between. For a few months before my yearly survivorship appointment, I had fully convinced myself that my cancer was back. I thought I would get my bloodwork and MRI results just for them to tell me the worst news.
The good news: I was wrong. I’m fine, just anxious and paranoid. Those appointments always leave me crying even though everything goes well. The bad news: I'm still struggling in other ways physically and mentally.
This year, I sat, talked, and cried with my social worker for over an hour. I feel like a terrible human, but honestly, I told her that I’m not grateful to still be here. I’m grateful for my team and everything they do to help me, but I’m not happy. I’m ungrateful because everyone always preaches about how lucky I should feel to have this second chance at life. Why? Lucky? I’m not happy. I’ve been struggling for such a long time, and I can’t see what there is to be grateful for right now. I survived cancer, yet this is the life I have to live? Not worth it.
She responded by telling me that she hears this regularly from childhood cancer patients, years after their final cancer treatment. This broke my heart. There are so many kids (adults with cancer too, but I’m specifically speaking to my experience with childhood cancer) struggling with anxiety and depression over their past and current cancer diagnoses. It’s not talked about enough; we’re clearly not doing enough. I feel like I’m drowning constantly. It’s the worst feeling in the world. People say it gets better. When? How? There’s so much more I feel I could be doing in regard to helping the cancer community. I need to find a beneficial way to channel my struggles into helping or giving back, making sure nobody suffers as I do.
I truly don’t believe that I’ve ever been so unhappy in all my life than in the past year or two. IBS has caused severe stomach problems, which will likely affect me for the rest of my life. I need to get my mind, body, and spirit in order just to be able to live the life I want to live. Right now, I’ve only been existing, not living, for the past 12 years. Part of me wants to crawl under a rock and sleep until everything is okay, but the other part of me wants so badly to start truly living again.
I started seeing a therapist again just over a year ago. I love my therapist and worship the ground she walks on every day. I never thought I would be lucky enough to find someone like her. I’ve never had a good fit with past therapists. God gave me her when he knew I needed her most. I wouldn’t be here without her and am so grateful for her guidance. I’m learning and growing through the help therapy, but I’m still depression and anxiety-ridden. How those things affect my life changes daily, but it’s always there. I started a new anxiety medication recently, hoping that helps!
Things I’ve learned this year:
- Find doctors that will work with you to find solutions. Don’t stay somewhere that isn’t working for you just because you’re comfortable.
- Not all medications will work for you based on your genetics. Genomind is a testing kit that will give you exact results on medications you can and cannot take, based on how those medications interact with your genetics. I used it to (hopefully) find an anxiety medication that will actually work for me.
- Diet change is essential for IBS. Triggering foods, albeit yummy-tasting, are not worth the pain afterward. Some foods will be eliminated completely from your diet, no questions asked anymore.
- Daily Gratitude: It changes your mindset and helps you to focus less on your struggles. This year, I’m grateful for my family, my boyfriend, his loving family, a supportive therapist, good friends, hobbies that bring me joy, and continuing to work on my personal healing journey.
- Journaling: It’s helpful to organize your thoughts and lets your consciousness flow when you can’t talk to someone.
- Choose to do what makes you happy. Make your own decisions, regardless of others’ thoughts and comments about them.
Your annual angry rant, brought to you by childhood cancer.
Photo courtesy of the author.
I am a photographer, a graduate fo New York Institute of Technology, and a 12-year childhood cancer survivor. I want to continue to raise awareness about the truth of long-term life after childhood cancer so that those who come after me don't have to experience the same post-cancer struggles I did.