02/27/2014 12:44 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2014

What Cancer Took Away From Me (and What It Gave Back)

Sometimes, it's hard to look forward when you think your entire life is moving backwards. One minute, you're an adult, living on your own answering only to yourself, and the next, you're relying on family and friends to care for you, answering to every instruction made by oncologists and nurses galore. That step backwards is a huge dent in the confidence of any self-sufficient young adult -- why do we suddenly desperately need the help of others when we were, what seems like mere moments before, able to help ourselves?

Being at home during treatment wasn't easy. I started out as a 19-year-old college student, who could go out on weeknights, stay up all night talking to her dorm-mates, or spend all day in bed listening to Jack Johnson and eating nothing but Easy Mac. But over the course of a few weeks, I had transformed into a shell of my former self, no more capable of cooking her own meals or carrying her laptop between her bed and the living room couch than she had been at the age of five or six. Asking my parents and siblings to make my bed, hug me when the chemo got the best of me, watch my favorite movies on repeat, and play endless games of gin rummy is almost belittling to a girl who'd grown up waiting for the day she'd go off to college and finally be her own person.

I returned to college even before I'd finished my chemotherapy treatment. I had been impatient and antsy waiting to go back -- surprisingly, endless Netflix and sleep had gotten rather boring. I missed my friends, my roommate, and the clubs I was in. I missed getting dolled up and going to parties on the weekends. I even missed gag-eating in the dining halls and going to classes. I missed being what I considered a real adult, and I was desperate to have that freedom back.

So I underwent my last session of chemotherapy as an outpatient at a hospital near my campus, holding my friend Vaughn's hand tight instead of my mom's as the nurses pricked my IV port and gave me one final dose of cancer-killing toxins. I went to classes with only a knit beanie covering my bald head, hoping nobody would stare. I did my best to keep up with the social scene, still having to bow out of late-night taco outings and last call at the bars to get the rest my body needed. I ran back to the familiar independence without even thinking of the harm it might do me.

Fast forward exactly a year, to today. I'm attending a community college, taking general education requirements that will transfer back to a four-year university. I live at home again with my parents -- but this time, they're relying on me just as much as I'm relying on them to get through each day. I would never have chosen this outcome for myself when I was sick, but as I learned jumping back into the high tide of college, cancer changes life's course in so many ways. The scars cancer left on my body may be fading, but the ones it left on my soul are still fresh.

It sucks to have cancer at 19. It sucks to remember having to go in for emergency surgery. It sucks to worry that every bump, bruise, and aching pain might be the onset of a brand-new tumor, ready to wreak a new havoc on my life. It sucks to be away from the school that I love, the friends that I cherish, and the life I know I can have away from home. But cancer changed my path, and I can't do anything but follow that path with a smile on my face and determination in my heart.

Sometimes, it's hard to look forward when you think your entire life is moving backwards. But as my body gets stronger each day, my ability to see a brighter future grows with it. I'm temporarily giving up a real college experience, sure. But in all the sacrifices I've made, I definitely can't complain that I'm still alive, waking up every day ready to take on the world and make my family, my friends, and myself proud.