At a time when my friends were finishing school, getting married, having kids, buying houses and other things typical of a young adult I was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2011 at age 26. I received treatment for a year that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation over the course of twelve months. I have been in remission for a little over one year.
It puts a person in a really odd position, and it is one that I have struggled with. How to deal with having cancer, receiving treatment, and paying the bills is difficult enough. Seeing all the people you have grown up with start their lives, begin to achieve their career goals, as well as starting families, from a hospital bed is an impossible situation. You seem to lose total control of your life, while others have everything together.
To say this has been a difficult place for me is a bit of an understatement. I had a plan, and now it is gone. I went to university, worked hard, and took a good job at a university. I thought a lot about a career in chemistry, and I was driven to get there receiving my Ph.D. in 2010 at age 25. Then in a moment, I was told I had cancer. My plan was gone.
I fought hard, and was fortunate to win, but I had to start over. How do I make a new plan? The uncertainty that comes with being in remission, as well as many of the financial difficulties for the future are ever-present. How do you plan for the future, when yours (like mine) is so uncertain? In short, I still don't know. I had a lot of career goals, I wanted to buy a house, and maybe one day start a family. It feels like many of these opportunities have been taken away before I had a chance at them.
As any young person who has had cancer will tell you, family planning is drastically altered. Outside of adoption, or artificial insemination, children are an option in many cases. Buying something "expensive" like a house or a car is complicated by banks who don't want to lend you money, and furthermore, insurance is problematic.
One of my biggest fears has been to plan save money for the future. How do you plan for retirement when you are not sure you will even make it. I have started to save some money for the future, which for me was a big step. Starting investing or RRSP's or any sort of financial planning is intimidating and often complicated by "previous health conditions." It took over a year after treatment for me to be brave enough to start saving. I would sooner spend my money on today than the future that might not be there. It is a big step to start saving money, and I am proud of myself for finally being able to make it. I figured this would be a logical place to start. Something I could control.
As for my career, I no longer feel I know where it is going. Is this what I want to do, and am I happy doing it anymore? I struggle to find motivation and purpose at work when a fear or recurrence hangs over my head. Cancer has also changed my priorities, how do these fit into any career I have now? I really am unsure, I feel this is not an uncommon sentiment among young cancer survivors.
For the coming months and years, I am sure I will still spend frivolously on some things, and still have to "wait out" the allotted time period until I can start taking out loans (looks like I am a renter for awhile!) but I am confident that I will get through it all. I am still unsure about having a family, and I don't know where my career is going. However, I finally feel like, after the struggle, although I have an uncertain future, I have some sort of future. And that is good enough for now.