Life tips from a young adult cancer survivor
When I was diagnosed at 21 years old with bone cancer, I knew my life would change. Little did I know just how much it would change (you really have no clue even when people try to prepare you). Being diagnosed on the cusp of adulthood set the course for my life to journey down a different path than planned (of course life in general has a way of doing that, right?).
Today marks 20 years since I walked out of the hospital done with a 13-month treatment. It included inpatient chemo treatments and a major surgery that removed most of my left femur and part of my tibia, replacing those with titanium. I don’t even know the words to describe the treatment – intense, terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting – those seem so mellow to what I felt deep down. And yet, here I am, 20 years later. I feel blessed, grateful, humbled, joyous, overwhelmed and so much more. Cancer anniversaries, or cancerversaries as it’s often called, are different days to different cancer survivors. I celebrate the day I completed treatment, while others acknowledge the date of diagnosis, surgery date, treatment start date or something else. It’s personal and every day is special.
Treatment and surgery threw me for a little, okay big, loop. While my friends were thinking of careers, marriage, children and other adventures, I was focused on not throwing up, accepting a bald head for a few months, learning to walk after surgery, and adjusting to life as a cancer survivor. The side effects sometimes keep me on the sidelines when I don’t want to be. It’s at times made dating/relationships and even career ambitions challenging. However, I promised myself that I would not let cancer or other life battles make me bitter, angry, resentful or jealous. I admit it has been hard at times to keep that promise to myself. Especially when my dad died from cancer. But, I know he would be more disappointed in me if I let those emotions run my life.
As I think of my life journey, I often see a path that winds in all directions, with some steep hill climbs and sharp drops, and some flat road in between. Some of the road is smooth, other parts are full of annoying potholes. But there is always a ray of sunshine. I by no means have the answer to life. I am not always happy and often catch myself overthinking situations. I am a continuous work in progress. And I’m perfectly happy being that. Because it makes me who I am.
On the anniversary of a very special day, a life-changing day, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along my path of life. I’m excited to discover where else this path leads. I sense it’s going to be great.
Surround yourself in color. Buy bright flowers and artwork. Find people who smile and laugh often. A friend recently told me that I’m like a ball of sunshine wrapped in color ribbon, which made me laugh, but I also was really flattered and honored that’s how she sees me and I can bring sunshine to her life because so many do that for me. Even during gray moments of life, look for colorful moments. My chemo treatments were all inpatient, meaning I spent days and days in the hospital during those 13 months. While it was at times horrible and I was terribly sick, I truly did smile at least once or twice every day, thanks to my family and friends, care team, other patients, hearing good results, my little niece walking in with a Slurpee, and other times.
Live your own life. Stop living your life around others. I don’t mean drop people from your life, or do things deliberately mean, but don’t plan your life around others who are off enjoying their own lives. For instance, people sometimes comment that I’d never move from Michigan because I’m so close to my family. While it’s true we’re close and I love them dearly, if the right situation (career, relationship, fun opportunities, etc.) presented itself to me, I would consider a move. And my family knows that. I’d expect the same from them. And you know what? There are these awesome technology things called phones, airplanes, cars, FaceTime and more to keep in touch! If you’re always waiting or planning around others, you’re going to miss some great opportunities to live your own life.
Don’t stay in one place because it’s safe, comfortable, expected, obligated, whatever. It’s easy to get comfortable in our life, isn’t it? Our daily lives become, well our daily lives. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your daily life, in fact you hopefully do! But don’t get stuck. Keep growing. Check in with yourself to make certain you’re doing what you want in a life full of love and happiness. Society often ‘tells’ us how to behave, think, act. To feel obligated to do something, stay when it doesn’t suit you, plug along. I say be brave. Be courageous. Be happy. Be you.
Love does not come in a perfect package. I am a sucker for a great love story. I’m an optimistic romantic who still believes in fairytales and happy endings. My parents are a great example of a relationship that overcame obstacles because they recognized a special connection, friendship and love. A friend recently got engaged to a man who she met during a layover at the airport, even though she told me he was too much older, too recently divorced and too far away when she first met him. All that doubt disappeared when she let herself get to know him and see the happiness and love they share with each other. They are perfect together. I admit, during past relationships, I got pulled into ‘society’s ideas that I should settle down, maybe get married, instead of really paying attention to who made my mind, body, heart and soul happy, content and light. And while I did love those men in different ways, it seemed we were seeking something different. Each of my relationships taught me a lot about myself and who I’m looking for, and I know I’ll completely trust my choice for me when it’s time.
Say yes to opportunities and adventure. Be open to what else is possible. Something seemingly simple can start you on the course of positive change, adventure, fun and love. There are so many stories I can share about my own life, from travel trips to special people to awesome opportunities, that suddenly appeared, and while I may at times been nervous or uncertain, I am so grateful I said yes. My life is fuller, happier, broader, thanks to these adventures and people.
BONUS life tip…..Spread kindness. To yourself, those in your circle and far beyond.