"Why?" was the natural question I asked when I found out I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1999. Why me? Why now? Why at 17? Could the pains I have been suffering in my chest be so severe? Could the 14th diagnosis be something better then (gulp) cancer? Eliminating all the common questions was the job of my doctors and social workers, but my most important questions were not answered during treatment or by any textbook...
Life answered me on its own time.
Graduating high school in 2001, dating and going into the workplace came natural to me post treatment but becoming a "survivor" was the most difficult. The title "survivor" is a big word and holds a huge responsibility, it is often related to a tragedy and I didn't feel my cancer made me worthy. I now represented the patients that sat next to me in clinic, my friends that lost their battles and those who were in denial and could not accept this "new "life. Now it was time to change my perspective from "Why me?" to "How can I make my life worthy of surviving and give hope to others on a daily basis?"
"Survivor" by definition is a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died. So clearly I am a survivor considering after receiving chemotherapy and radiation I am still here but why do I feel guilty? Now with a fresh start and armed with this new title, I am attending funerals of friends and being forced to help support others... when secretly I cannot support myself. I am now suffering high anxiety about long term side effects and cannot stay focused in conversations referring to the future. I no longer saw tomorrow because I was so focused on living today. I spiraled and decided to forget it. All of it. I stopped taking my meds and refused to attend follow-up appointments, often opting to omit my recent battle with cancer from new conversations. I declared myself normal, like everyone else. But the question still lingered and the search for answers continued within me.
Fast forward to 2007, seven years into remission, I was an expert in "heart-to-hearts" about not being able to conceive due to complications and failures due to lack of motivation; I shied away from long term relationships and burned bridges with the people I loved most because I could not face myself anymore. Who was I? What was my purpose? Why did I... survive? It was time to reopen that chapter and reevaluate me. Doing so led me in the right direction quick and soon all my questions were answered. It became clear who was supposed to be in my life and their roles, the goals I thought were impossible started to check off my list, and the biggest issue I felt was out of reach was indeed right in front of me. Love.
Accepting my diagnosis was the first step and understanding that I had a message within me helped open my eyes to new possibilities. I concentrated on me and decided to focus my energy on the people who stood by me. I made new goals and worked harder than ever before. I was a new and better version of me. Eliminating negativity was key. Within months of this change, I met someone who all along was observing my discoveries from the sideline. He enjoyed my new smile and high energy. This new love made the impossible... possible. Soon after we started dating we received news that we were expecting our first child. Light started beaming into my soul and filling me with the new positive energy I needed. The excuses were becoming a thing of the past and the new fierce me led us to daily victories.
This was not an overnight discovery but the journey made it worth it. It took some serious soul-searching on my part and time to heal from all the losses I had suffered over the years. I figured in order for this to work, I had to be ready if I wanted my opinion of my battle with cancer to matter. I wanted to become a success story without the guilt that I survived.
Celebrating my birthday is another stepping stone towards my survivorship and a year spent finding my purpose. I have two sons now and want them both to grow up aware of mommy's disease. Since they were born, we have held a total of six toy drives for the hospital where I was treated and have developed a strong awareness of my personal battles. I will never be able to regain the years I lost to my denial but the time I have now is dedicated to giving back to those who never left. The constant reminder that I did fight, I did win and I am a survivor is in the eyes of my children now. They are proof why I had to wake up and own who I was to become who I am. The new question I ask is, "Why did I wait so long to start my life?" because honestly, being a survivor is fabulous and makes me a stronger version of who I was.