Let me start by saying I feel a little bit guilty about the title of this post. I realize there are so many people out there fighting hard for their lives and they would do anything to be cancer free. I also understand my cancer diagnosis could’ve turned out much worse and I don’t take that for granted. At the same time, it’s sometimes hard to be thankful for a title I never wanted in the first place. Who actually wants to be a cancer survivor? Only people who were unlucky enough to be diagnosed in the first place, I guess. I went through this terrible experience that forced me to think about death at 25 years old and now that it’s over, I find myself still searching for those “sunny skies ahead.”
It’s been tough for me to go back to “normal” life, especially since I don’t even know what that means anymore. People constantly tell me how happy I must be and, at times, it feels other people have set this impossible standard for me to live up to. That’s why, even on my bad days, I’d force a smile and agree cheerfully that life is great. It felt wrong for me to have a bad day because how could I possibly be sad now that I’m cancer free? I didn’t think anyone would ever understand because I didn’t understand it myself. I made it my goal to get through everyday with a smile, but the second I’d walk into my apartment after work, all the emotions I had suppressed all day would come flooding out. Many times I wouldn’t even make it to my apartment before tears would be rushing down my face. This entire year has been such an unexpected emotional roller coaster. I’m sure these emotions were partly due to the effects that cancer had on just about every aspect of my life- mentally, physically, emotionally, financially… and partly due to the fact that I don’t think I ever fully processed what I went through.
How exactly is someone supposed to process a huge, life-altering event like fighting cancer? It’s still hard for me to believe that any of it even happened. I continually push it to the back of my mind and even forget about it sometimes. That is, until the neuropathy starts to bother me, or I see any one of my scars glaring back at me in the mirror, or a past-due medical bill shows up in the mail. Then it magically feels all too real again.
The one thing I found motivation in was helping others. It sounds cheesy and probably made up, but honestly, it’s what has gotten me through these past 6 months. I made it my mission to turn this awful thing that happened to me into something positive. It all started with my Warrior Bag project where I’d send out tote bags full of goodies to other cancer patients. I put my heart and soul into those bags and it took every bit of my energy… and I loved every second of it. I also helped my young friend, David, raise about $5,000 for pediatric cancer research in memory of his friend, Hunter. I even offered to shave my newly growing hair if we met our goal of $10k. That’s how badly I wanted to help. Directly after that, I got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and raised over $25,000 in 10 weeks. When I say I worked tirelessly on this fundraising campaign, I absolutely mean it. I spent every minute of free time I had planning events and soliciting donations. My days off were not at all “days off.”
I don’t bring any of this up to brag about what I’ve done or to get recognition. That was never my intention. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. I’m finally throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. Even though I’m so proud of each of my fundraising/charity ventures, I can’t continue helping others until I take care of myself. It’s like when you get on an airplane and the flight attendants remind you that if the pressure drops, you must secure your own oxygen mask before you help others. Well, my oxygen mask is still hanging from the ceiling and the more masks I secure on those around me, the more I find myself gasping for air.
This past week has been my very first week all year without any kind of fundraising or charity event to work on and I’ve spent most of it sick in bed. I started feeling sick just two days after my last fundraiser ended. I know it’s my body’s way of telling me I need to take a step back and reevaluate my priorities. I think my body has been trying to tell me this for a while, but I’m apparently stubborn and even a cancer diagnosis didn’t immediately send the message. I’m ready to listen now and I know what I need to do.
First and foremost, I need to start being a little more selfish with my spare time. I need to figure out how to pay off my own medical bills and get back on my feet financially instead of raising tens of thousands of dollars for other charities. I need to take time to hang out with my friends who have been so patient with me and my busy schedule. I need to find out what truly makes me happy and start focussing on those things instead of trying so hard to make other people happy. I need to get rid of the stress in my life because being as stressed out as I have been is only going to cause me to get sick. Again.
Too often, we are pressured into pretending our lives are perfect, forcing that smile, and keeping our issues quiet. When I originally wrote the first draft of this a few weeks ago, I had no intention of actually posting it. There are a lot of things I write about that I prefer to keep private and this was one of them. When I first started this cancer journey (for lack of a better term), I promised to be real and honest and after thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided I need to share this post in order to keep that promise. Maybe I’m the only one who is struggling with life after cancer, but maybe there is someone else out there who can relate and needs to know they’re not alone.