September 15th, 2017
| Survivor: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
At age 25, doctors discovered an enormous cyst in my right jaw which had been quietly building up for years. I was living and working in Stockholm, Sweden with my at-the-time girlfriend, but this news made me move back home to live with my parents for treatment. I went through a complete amputation of my right jaw, which was then reconstructed by the use of my left fibula (lower left leg) followed by radiation therapy. During my treatment I suffered from a compartment syndrome on my left leg, which confined me to a wheelchair for a long time. I spent two years rehabilitating.
When I finally recovered the strength to embark on a new chapter in my life, I moved to Los Angeles to work in the fitness industry as a personal trainer. Three months later I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Once again, I packed my entire life up to move back to Belgium for eight months of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
The chemo took its toll on my body and my newly reconstructed jaw didn't prove to be strong enough to withstand the attack. My face started slowly rotting away, day by day. Five months after completing chemo, I underwent a second jaw reconstruction. This time they used my left oblique muscle. It took me another year to bounce back from this. When I finally felt strong enough to be living independently again, I made a drastic decision and moved to Barcelona.
In my "Building A New Life" series I document my daily life in my new home, Barcelona. I introduce people to my friends, fears, hopes, everyday struggles and most importantly my happy times. I aim to give inspiration and hope to those who are going through it right now. I want to show them that one day it can and it will be better. If my videos allow just one person to hang in there a little bit longer, I will consider this YouTube project a success. Following is a transcript from my most recent video, My First Crush After Cancer (Crippled By Insecurity)
Big Boi Benzo, back in the building! Welcome back guys for another video. Today I want to talk about a true story that happened to me in my life -- 100% reality -- that taught me a really valuable lesson. The story I'm about to tell you right now happened about eight, nine months ago. You guys have to understand -- nine months ago, I was a completely different person than who I am today. I was still recovering, I was still getting back to who I used to be. I was visiting Barcelona because at the time I was still living in Belgium with my mom and my dad.
One day, I was just done having breakfast all by myself, I went to get some cash from the ATM. As I was waiting at the ATM, there was this beautiful girl right in front of me ... getting cash out of the ATM, obviously. I still remember looking at her from the back and thinking, Wow, she looks great. And then she turned around and she smiled at me. And I didn't know what to do! I fuckin' panicked, guys! I think I giggled like a little baby… and I was just like , "Eugh… yeah, hi."
And that was it. We just exchanged a smile at that was it. I remember thinkin', She must work for one of the clubs, or she must work for one of the bars here, because she looks like a promo girl -- in a good way. She had on some heels, some jean shorts, and long, blond hair. She looked like an angel to me.
Right then and there, it felt like I had never seen a more beautiful girl in my life. The way she turned around and she smiled at me, I remember telling to myself, Man, I need to move back to Barcelona because you don't get to see people like this every day.
And that was that. It was just this little encounter, for me, made my day. I remember going home to my friend and telling him, "Man, I saw this beautiful girl today, and she actually smiled at me!" Like, I was so surprised that a girl like this would smile at me. I know it sounds crazy, but I have to remind you guys, at this time I had very low self-esteem, I was all the way down, I didn't think highly of myself, and I was just startin' to really crawl back to life: coming back outside, lookin' at the world, opening up myself to new experiences and new people.
So then the next day, I was walking home from the gym, me and my friend Alex, and all of a sudden I see this girl again, and I see her from afar. Instantly, I recognized her 'cause she made such a big impression on me. And I'm thinkin', Fuck, that's the same girl from yesterday. Should I say something, should I say hi?
But I was too scared, I was too insecure. I knew who it was after a split second, but I thought, Man, she's never going to remember me. For me, this was a big moment the day before was a big moment. But for her, she was probably just being nice and smiling, as she does for everyone. So I wasn't going to say hi, but the whole time I was lookin' at her like, Maybe she's gonna look at me and recognize me again.
And then she looked at me and we locked eyes, and she had this big smile and she waved at me. I couldn't fucking believe it, my heart skipped a beat. I just didn't know anything better to do than to just wave back like a goofball. I must've looked so silly, but I couldn't even stop to talk to her because everything was happening so fast and it was really weird to me to be acknowledged by someone like her. To me, this girl looked like a fucking movie star. Finally, I was back in the real world and people are noticing me -- more specifically, people that I felt attracted to were noticing me. This gave me a huge confidence boost. For the next two days, I felt on top of the world. I couldn't be happier.
Two days went by, I'm walking to my hotel, and guess who I run into again for the third time. The same girl. I couldn't fucking believe it. So then, I thought, Come on man, you have to say something. Are you a man?
So again, she stopped me, and thank God she did, and she said, "Hi! This is crazy, this is the third time I'm seeing you in four days. Do you live here or something?" She felt it too, that it was weird, so finally I was able to get back to my normal self and put together a few words and talked to her. It was her and a few friends so we just talked for one minute. It was just like, "Hi, what's your name, yada yada yada." I said I kinda lived here, she lived here too -- yeah, I said I lived here, I guess I jumped to that conclusion.
We said goodbye and I took two steps and thought, I couldn't believe I was walking away from this girl again for the third time, and I still don't have her number or nothing. She turns around and she says "Hey Lorenzo, we're going later on to grab a drink at this bar near by, would you like to join us?"
I tried to play it cool, I said, "Yeah, maybe I will, maybe I'll come check it out."
So I asked for her number, I texted her later. Later on that night, we went out for a few drinks and it was really nice. It was crazy, guys. It was like I was on some type of drug. For the next three weeks, I couldn't barely sleep, I had so much energy because of this encounter. The fact that she was interested in me, the fact that she acknowledged me, the fact that we connected on this level made me feel so fuckin' good.
All my friends and my family could see it, they were like "Man, what happened to you? Ever since you came back from Barcelona, something's changed." And I knew what had changed, but I played dumb, I said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Then, we're talking, we texting, I flew back to Barcelona. We went on a few days, but it turned out we didn't really connect that well the way I was hoping we would. We were very different people. Obviously, when you get to know each other better, you start finding out, maybe you're not that compatible. Then, I noticed that she lost a little bit of interest in me. I got really mad, I got really hurt and upset, it hurt my ego. I was blaming her for this, I was like, "Fuck this shit, fuck this bitch, I can't believe this."
Then I took a second to really think about the whole thing, and I realized she came into my life not once, not twice, but three times and three times she was the one who reached out to me, who started talking to me, and she gave me this feeling that I had forgotten I was able to feel. I hadn't felt this way in fucking four, five years. So then I realized, just the fact that she was kind enough, and open enough and confident enough, to reach out to me, it made a permanent change in my life, it made a permanent change in the way I felt, the way I looked at myself, and the way I perceived everything around me.
Instead of me being angry and hurt or not wanting to take it further, and instead of me being mad and upset with her, I had to be so grateful that this person reached out to me and made me feel this feeling of having this one-second crush again, feeling like a teenager. The point of the story is: not everyone who comes into your life is there to stay. It's okay for them to go, because everything happens for a reason. When things go back, don't embrace the negative feelings, don't focus on your ego being hurt, focus on the good they did. She did so much good for me. And I know to this day she has no idea what she did for me, she has no idea the impact she made on me at this time -- but she did.
It took me some time to realize to realize, wow, I should be so grateful for this confident woman to come in, make me feel great, and start the rebirth of Big Boi Benzo! She's one of the many factors of why I'm talking to you today, she is one of the many factors of why I'm in Barcelona again. She made me feel what felt like to feel confident again, to feel loved again, to feel this rush of adrenaline again.
You can do and have anyone in this world that you want to if you're just willing to open up and believe in yourself.
What's your dating-after-cancer-treatment story? Share in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of the author.
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