When I have talk about having cancer or the side effects of chemo, people give me the pity face. Even my closest friends can't help but give it. It pains them to hear the details of cancer, because they love me. Unfortunately, that pity face and that pain that they feel when I talk about my reality, have left me feeling like an alien. It's nothing that can be helped, it's just the way it is.
I am an alien -- any young adult who has gone through cancer is. To the healthy, we are weird reminders of mortality. We are probed, violated, and injected with stuff by people in hazmat suits.
I signed up for First Descents this past summer to learn how to surf and get a free trip to the beach. As the trip approached, I became filled with anxiety about going. I feared that:
All of the other campers would be whiny
They would also be close-minded bigots
I would be the oldest one with a bunch of young kids
I was not physically strong enough
That I'd have to have a goofy nickname
I didn't deserve the experience and that I was taking the spot of someone who didn't have much of a support network at home
Mostly, I just feared spending time with a bunch of people with cancer in general. I had a strong community of support at home and hadn't spent much time talking to anyone else with cancer. I assumed that First Descents staff would push us to talk about our cancer feelings every night around a bonfire. I pictured trust falls and teary bald kids complaining about how hard their lives had been.
Fortunately, my fears were unwarranted, except for the goofy nickname. Yeah, you can call me Ripple. Luckily though, none of the staff or volunteers tried to get us to talk about cancer or our feelings at all. In fact, it wasn't until the third day that a staff person even asked me what kind of cancer I had.
We cancer kids talked about it all, though. But it was all so matter of fact; the constipation, the sexual side effects, the prednisone, and our swollen bodies. We cracked the eff up. There weren't tears or awkward moments while talking about it. We mocked cancer, and we laughed at what it had done to us.
Together, we went on a dolphin cruise, kayaked, stand up paddle boarded, and we ate amazing, healthy meals served by a woman named Cha Cha. We were all bunked up in a massive house in Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, surfing under the tutelage of a guy named Farmdog and a crew of very attractive people. They got me up on that board a couple of times, but mostly the sea and her angry tide just wore me out. There was no pity face when I got stuck in a riptide, instead my new cancer comrades just cackled at me from the shore, then fed me snacks when I finally made it back in.
I found a lot of inspiration in my new friends, especially Hot Mama, a woman who has had her life pretty well rocked by breast cancer. She has these hot reconstructed boobs made out of her belly fat. She showed them off then showed off her mad surfing skills by spending more time on that board than anyone else. She is a Christian in the way that the Bible says you're supposed to be. She doesn't judge and believes that the presence of God is shown through your passions. As an atheist myself, I hadn't ever spent time with a loving and accepting Christian. Nothing and no one has changed my perspective as much as Hot Mama.
My roommates and I stayed up late into the night talking about everything under the sun in our bunks. I miss Hot Mama, Hairband, and Dotcom, and I really wish that I could've brought them all home with me. It was just like camp when I was a kid.
I still feel like an alien, but being at First Descents was the first time in the last year that I felt like maybe I wasn't alone on my planet.