Trying to Make the Best Out of the Worst Situation
I had cancer. The fact that I had this disease (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), now in remission, does not make me unique, special, or extraordinary. I am merely one of about 4,800 people diagnosed with some form of cancer every day in the United States. When the doctor said the words “Cancer” it hit me like a ton of bricks. More specifically, I knew my life would never be the same again, but it really takes a little while for that fact to sink in and even longer to come to terms with it. Looking back on it, the choice I had to make was how hard and how long I was willing to fight.
My decision was binary, cancer outcomes are mutually exclusive – and as I saw the tears starting to well up in my parent’s eyes, I knew that there wouldn’t be a limit on how hard I was going to fight. My unexpected diagnosis and subsequent ‘quietness’ were born out of a desire to escape others’ pity, I didn’t want to have to reassure my friends, extended family, and teammates that I was okay. But more importantly, I didn’t want to feel like a burden, I didn’t want to feel like a deadweight on their shoulders, and I didn’t want them to have to worry about me.
Six months of chemotherapy, three months of radiation, and prolonged stints in the hospital later I was officially in remission. Thankfully, I had finished my last chemo cycle before my 21st birthday so I was able to celebrate with a beer, which brought some sense of normalcy to my unruly and not-so-normal 21st year of life.
When other people hear of my story, they often express their profound sadness that I had to go through something like cancer at such a young age. “You were only 20?!” or “I am so sorry that you had to go through that and miss some of the best years of your life”. I guess what makes me special is that I never saw it this way.
I had to learn to live even when I felt like I was dying.
As weird, atypical, and abnormal as this sounds, cancer was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. It taught me what it meant to be a fighter, to face something head-on and give everything you have towards a singular goal. I grew up more in those 18 months than I had in my entire 18 years leading up to my diagnosis because I had to learn to live even when I felt like I was dying.
Understanding the value and meaning behind your fight will give so much purpose to your life that one day you will look back and not remember your chemo cycles, but you will remember the lessons from your time as a patient. So much of who I am today is due to my fight against cancer. It has been the most influential and guiding force in my life and has allowed me to see life in a way that many other young adults can’t.
I feel so grateful for my experience because I had a perspective shift on life at the age of 20 and 21 that most people don’t often get until they’re in their later stages of life. I now understood the fragility, meaning, and value behind waking up every day. My relationships with family and friends became even stronger, I found more love and care at my cancer center than I could have ever imagined, and I even found a career and a calling to help in the fight against this horrific disease. Looking back, I feel so incredibly thankful that I now understand that the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.
When things happen to us that we don’t like, we have two choices:
1) To become bitter and hateful or
2) To find the good that comes from it (albeit very difficult to find sometimes).
It all comes from choices. How am I going to react? I had my whole life planned out but clearly, it wasn’t what God planned for me and I had to accept that wholeheartedly. I could be confused, angry, and pessimistic about my diagnosis and subsequently let it ruin the rest of my life, or I could fight to know that something good would come out of it.
I know that being a young adult cancer patient/survivor has its many downs, but rest assured that the soon-to-come good times will become the best memories and the soon-to-end bad times will become the best lessons.
Photo courtesy of the author.