09/17/2013 03:59 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2013

The Contradictions of Cancer

Cancer is full of contradictions. We allow doctors to inject our bodies with near-lethal levels of chemicals and toxins in hopes of saving our lives. We weaken our immune system and transplant another person's bone marrow into our bloodstreams so that their cells can kill off our own. We cut out and off body parts left and right as a means to save whatever is left of the body. We fight for a cure, but are hesitant, maybe even afraid, to claim the title too soon. We talk about "the good kind of cancer," as if that's actually a thing that exists. So I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that this world of paradox has followed me past the hospital rooms and doctors offices, extending into the furthest corners of what I once called my "normal life."

After spending the better part of a year in chemotherapy infusion bays and hospital beds, I finally returned to college a few weeks ago to pick up where I left off. But as I've noticed since being back, it isn't quite as simple as that. Cancer's pesky paradoxes seem to follow me around everywhere I turn.

I've become hypersensitive to what's going on around me now, while somehow also being completely distracted by the past. Allow me to explain this contradiction better. When I wake up and don't want to get up and go to class, I instantly remember the seemingly endless weeks spent bedridden in the hospital while attached to a million different machines and tubes and cords... suddenly, getting my butt out of bed for an hour-long class doesn't seem so bad at all. I get to walk in the crisp morning air, all on my own and without a wheelchair or a facemask or port needles sticking into my chest, and do something that challenges and engages my mind and makes me feel accomplished. That alone is enough to get me up in the morning no matter how much I'd rather sleep in.

I've yet to have a bad day because classes were boring or the homework was hard or my hair wasn't doing what I wanted it to (ha!) The little things that used to wear me down just roll off my back now. Similarly, the little things I used to take for granted, like my mobility, independence, and ability to have a social life, all seem so amazing to me these days. It's exhilarating to be doing such normal things and be feeling so... alive.

Yet, always in the back of my mind is a little voice that says, don't get used to it. I'll look off into space for just a moment, and suddenly I'm back in that hospital room, watching a terrifying neon yellow poison race down the tubing and into my chest. My throat starts to tighten and my eyes water as I think about the other young adult survivors I knew of who died within the past few months despite their brave fights. Survivor's guilt and fear set in as I ask myself, why them and not me?

I have no good answers.

And so, the paradox continues... the uncertainty about my future serves as both a stressor and a comforter. I am anxiously fearful of what awful thing could happen next, yet at the same time, I can't help but enjoy this beautiful life and hope for the best. All that I can really say for sure right now is that I consider myself to be one of the luckiest unlucky people I've ever known.