This Saturday, February 28, will mark four years since my cancer diagnosis. Instead of my typical Wednesday Wisdom advice, I wanted to talk about some lessons I learned from my experience with cancer. I really love the picture below because it was taken less than two weeks before my diagnosis, and my life was so carefree and fun.
The day I was diagnosed started out like any other day. I went to my classes and had Chik-fil-A for lunch with one of my best friends in our student center. I remember getting a call from the general surgeon who had taken a biopsy on my arm and letting it go to voicemail because it was so loud in the student center, and I knew it was one of those calls to let you know that you had a good result. I tried to call back, and they told me I had just missed the surgeon, but that she would call me back shortly.
I went on about my day, thinking nothing of it. I went to the library with my sorority little sister to study for a big Econ test that I had the next day. When the general surgeon called, I was actually kind of excited because I hate Econ. But then the words “cancer” and “treat quickly and aggressively” and “surgery” and “lymph nodes” were thrown around. And I didn’t know what to do, so I just laid my head on the table and then texted my parents, who promptly called me freaking out, my dad in God knows what time zone. And then I just cried. I was twenty, I was pretty, and I was going to be a lawyer… Cancer did not happen to girls like me. It just didn’t. (That thought is the main reason that I’ve started speaking so openly about my battle… I want people to realize that cancer can happen to anyone.)
A co-worker was diagnosed with cancer recently, and I was sitting on the other side of the cubicle wall when she got the call. I immediately felt so ill for her that I thought I was going to have to be sent home. And my heart broke in half, because I knew not only what she was going through, but how my little must have felt being in the room with me and watching a metaphorical car crash.
I give my little Ashley so much credit, though. She saved the day. It was late and anything that could have been fun became difficult because my arm still wasn’t functioning properly from the biopsy. We eventually just went to Wal-Mart and goofed off and took ridiculous pictures and then went to Cookout where we sat and gorged ourselves on onion rings and Diet Cokes for hours. And as awful as it was, it’s one of the best memories I have with Ashley.
[photo credit: My Sweet Savannah]
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my experience was to love everyone. Not a selective love, but a love like Jesus loves us. When I was dealing with things, I was horrible. I was withdrawn, I was snarky, I was an all around unpleasant person. I refused to tell my sisters what was going on, but they loved me anyway. Once, my sorority sister Kayla heard me talking about having a PET Scan and pulled me aside, basically demanding to know what was going on. She had been through her own cancer battle and ended up being my roommate my junior year. Whenever I was going to need to do something that I physically couldn’t do or didn’t have the energy to do, she maneuvered around and saw that it got done without anyone realizing anything was wrong. Another sorority sister was super interested in medicine and used to ask to massage my scar for me. Some days I was just flat out unlovable, but the people around me continued to love me. That’s the biggest piece of advice I could ever give anyone – love everyone. You really never know what anyone is going through.
For anyone that is facing cancer or a chronic illness, it’s important to accept that your life is different, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After my surgery, I lost most of the range of motion in my right arm. (I finally gave in and went to physical therapy a year later.) It was hard to brush, straighten, or braid my hair. So I accepted that, and I adapted. I was living off campus for awhile, so I sucked it up and parked in handicap so that I could go out to my car and switch my books out in between classes instead of trying to carry a bunch of heavy books. They think that my cancer was caused by a medication that I take, so I went from taking the highest dose every four weeks to the lowest dose every six weeks. That was rough at first, but I eventually had to accept it and move on. I don’t think that accepting that your life is different is admitting defeat, but instead, accepting that sometimes you’re dealt a bad hand, and making the best of it.
The biggest thing I learned from my cancer battle was to be resilient. Cancer is a horrible, awful disease, and I learned very quickly that it does not discriminate. My doctors and friends told me to take time off from school during my diagnosis. But I absolutely refused. My GPA suffered, but I knew I needed the stability of classes and a work schedule. I love Relay for Life because of their motto “Fight Back!” I used to hate the scar on my arm because I felt like cancer had literally taken a piece of my arm and all of my confidence away from me, but now I wear it proudly. It’s a daily reminder that I won my battle.
I want to say thank you so much for reading my story about my diagnosis and lessons learned. I promise tomorrow’s post will be much more light hearted 🙂 Have a very happy Wednesday!