When I finished treatment for leukemia at age 25, a friend said to me, "Anyone can get hit by a car when they're walking down the street. You have no more reason to worry than anyone else." I wasn't sure how to react to that in the moment, but it bothered me for a while. Of course I didn't say anything to the person, but I constantly thought about it. I felt guilty for still being tired all the time and not wanting to do all the things my friends were doing. They didn't understand why I could no longer go to three different events in one evening or spend a whole day walking around the city. I wanted to, but sometimes my body just didn't allow it. Most people assume that being done with treatment and declared cancer free means you no longer have a care in the world. That made me angry. I so badly wanted for them to understand what I was feeling inside mentally. I found the time post treatment to be the scariest yet. No longer being in the bubble of constant care and attention was new to me. I liked having the doctors around and the safety of the hospital. While I was in the hospital I sometimes thought about the possibility of the leukemia coming back, but now at home, it was constantly on my mind. I had to learn not to live in fear when every little bump, bruise, and cough became a reason to be terrified. I was lucky to have a great support system and doctors and nurses who didn't mind me calling them every day, but they couldn't live with me. Trust me, I asked. I've slowly learned not to sweat the small stuff and to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. Sometimes being good to myself simply means a night of staying in and watching TV. I try to be thankful and live my life in a way that helps and educates others.
Now that I have been in remission for three years, the fear of relapsing no longer consumes every second of my life, but it is something I will live with forever. There are constant reminders and little things that often set me off. The night before a checkup usually involves little sleep and a lot of anxiety. It took me a while, but I realized that nobody is going to understand what it's like inside my head and that's okay. It's okay to listen to friends and coworkers sweat the small stuff. I'd be doing the same thing if I were a 'normal' 20 something. I may not be planning my wedding or having my first child, but slowly I'm becoming a 27-year-old woman again. I even think about the future sometimes. I may never be the way I was before cancer, but I am learning to like the new me and not let cancer define me. I just have to make sure I look both ways.
Melissa Miller is a 27-year-old Acute Myeloid Leukemia survivor living in New York City. She has been in remission for three years and now works for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She hates socks, loves pop culture, and hopes to be a mermaid someday.