I was diagnosed with Stage 4A Hodgkin's lymphoma, a relatively uncommon type of blood cancer, on my 27th birthday. As you might guess, I spent the first few days after diagnosis in denial and then the next few days in panic mode. Less than a year before, I had moved to Washington, DC to run a project for trafficked domestic workers. I had moved to DC with the contents of a studio apartment in a U-Haul, social work degree in hand, only knowing two people: my best friend and my boss. At 27, I felt too young to know what to do next, and too old to run back to my parents.
Once I had the first round of chemotherapy, and learned how to manage and plan for the side effects, I felt more in control. I accepted the treatment plan and had faith that it would work. I kept my new job, told my mom I was fine, and still managed to make friends during treatment. By all accounts, on the outside I was the stereotypically "inspirational" patient. Of course on the inside, I was churning with anxiety.
The hardest part during that time was explaining my increasingly visible illness to my social work clients and colleagues. As my hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes started to fall out, it was nearly impossible for me to hide my cancer, which impacted my ability to inspire confidence. I looked sick. Even with a wig on.
I regularly consulted with supervisors to ensure that while I was physically able to continue working, I was also ethically able. I was working with people who were recovering from severe trauma, so I had to be vigilant about knowing my boundaries. When the cancer was out in the open, it took a lot of work to refocus the sessions away from my own issues, even when my well-meaning clients insisted that they check on me (and not the other way around), but we were eventually able to move past it and our work was successful.
When I found out that the chemotherapy wasn't working and I would have to undergo a stem cell transplant, we made arrangements to transfer the remaining clients to partner organizations. It was a heartbreaking experience and one of the hardest ones I've gone through in this whole journey. I felt I had failed. My body had failed. Not only was it another bump in the road for the women I was working with, it also validated one of the most prominent fears I had as a young adult cancer patient: losing my place on my career path.
Young adults face a slew of unique challenges when it comes to cancer -- from dating and sex, to finances, to career interruptions, to the fact that our cure rates haven't caught up with other age groups. We juggle all this while trying to stay alive at the same time.
Fortunately, my stem cell transplant was successful, and two weeks ago I reached my second year of remission, a big milestone in the blood cancer world. While I was undergoing intensive treatment, my employer helped me modify my work plan and I was able to keep my insurance and stay busy working from the hospital while I was recovering. I got additional support from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help cover co-pays and prescriptions. I was lucky. I made many friends in my age group in online support forums who were applying for Medicaid in their twenties.
Blood cancers are the number one cancers affecting kids, adolescents and young adults. We need better, more-targeted treatments, and programs that will address our needs.
So this March, I am using my voice as an advocate and survivor to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the organization that helped me when I needed it most. They are the largest voluntary cancer research agency specifically focused on finding cures and better treatments for blood cancer patients. I hope that through this Generation Why series on The Huffington Post, the community of young adult bloggers with cancer will be able to paint a picture of our lives, and inspire readers to take action in a variety of ways.
Also on HuffPost:
I'm a 22-year-old and this isn't my first bout with cancer. I am now in my seventh iteration of the most crucial battle of my life. Being the most popular guy at the hospital is a lot like being the coolest guy in prison; a hard earned position you would rather not be in.
Caring for a person with cancer can be extremely rewarding, but it can be exhausting as well. A diagnosis of cancer during adolescence and young adulthood interrupts a person's life and comes at a time when they are trying to complete the life steps that are necessary for transition into adulthood.
For young adults, cancer comes at a time when life is sweet and our awareness of our mortality is the furthest thing from our minds. A host of unique psychosocial challenges make it even more important to seek life, meaning and purpose, to reclaim it from cancer.
Ownership begins with patients taking control of their health and starting with the simple questions to their physicians, "Did you know there is an adolescent and young adult cancer segment called AYA?"
In the rom-com of life, I'm free, I'm single and I'm happy (cue saxophone music), even though I have this horrible new quirky best friend called "Cancer."
You will be different. You will never have the same sense of self. You should embrace this. Your old self was probably really great. Your transformed self will be even better. Give into what is happening and trust it.
Compared to other risky activities I've engaged in (read: chemo), dating isn't too scary, but it is complicated.
The two to three hours spent in chemo are absolutely no fun. There was a Silver Lining though, when I reminded myself that I could watch feel-good, no-brainer movies either on my laptop or iPad.
Every day, I have the choice to let myself be defined by the disease, or to live in spite of it. And every day I have the choice to retreat into what was, or to accept what is.
The oncology world is overdue for an etiquette guide. There's no script for what to say to someone with a life-threatening illness, but if you can avoid saying these 10 things, you're off to a good start.
I've been sick since I was 10 months old. When I was diagnosed with cancer in college, the trauma of the illness just added another layer to something I already knew. Living your life twice is no easy feat. But that's what I am trying to do.
Recently, a woman wrote me in honor of her daughter, Elizabeth Blue. Her story is at once heartbreaking and strengthening and it seemed at this of all times, it must be shared.
Follow Tiffany Williams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Tiffany_IPS