On June 9th, I quietly celebrated another milestone — I'm six years cancer-free. No one in my family remembered the day. I didn't even hardly remember it myself until I looked at the date while I was helping someone at work and realized another year had passed.
I found a picture of my brother and I right after I had been diagnosed. It's crazy to think that six years have passed since then. And last year, when I was officially in remission, I was away from my family and didn't get to celebrate. So I'm posting the essay I wrote for a contest recently to have a little party of my own — and to maybe help someone who has gone through cancer or watched someone else struggle with it.
“You have Hodgkin’s Disease,” the doctor said, holding a box of Kleenex in his hands and expecting my parents and I to grab one. So we did, blotting tears with a tiny scratchy square of fiber and wondering what we were going to do next. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I thought, even though I was obviously not OK. Nothing was OK. I was sixteen years old, and all I wanted was a car, a boyfriend and a bunch of cool friends to hang out with. I got cancer instead.
Within a month, chemotherapy treatments had come and my hair had gone. I had a tube in my arm and a small mountain of pills to take daily. Pain was a constant now; so was throwing up.
Through six months of chemotherapy and two-and-a-half weeks of radiation therapy, writing got me through the worst and helped me relive the best. I tried to write in my journal every day, scribbling down everything that happened. I wrote hundreds of e-mails to my aunt in Hawaii and kept other family members updated, too.
And all that writing paid off. I can look back on journal entries and laugh at how silly I was at times — and how much pain I have forgotten. But I can also look back at one of the happiest days of my life, the day of my final radiation treatment, which I punctuated in my journal with exclamation points and capital letters:
“On January 23, 2004, I officially finished my radiation and won the battle with cancer. I’m done! I defeated the enemy! I can’t even explain how ecstatic I feel. I’m just so happy to be alive!”
It has been six years since I won my battle with cancer, and the memories of that time have begun to fade. I have forgotten some of my nurses’ names. I have forgotten some of my experiences with tests and scans and how I felt during chemotherapy. I have forgotten how it felt to take medicines daily and to be in constant pain.
But there are some things that I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t forgotten how lucky I am to be alive. I haven’t forgotten how much I value the relationships I have and the people that love me. I haven’t forgotten what cancer can really mean — conquering a disease and living to tell your story.
Someone once compared my appearance while receiving chemotherapy treatments to that of a death camp survivor. In a way, I have realized, that is what I am. I faced death, and I survived it, as have millions of others.
“You have Hodgkin’s Disease”: four words that changed my life forever. I got cancer instead of everything else I wanted at 16 — but I got a second chance to be more compassionate, more understanding and more grateful for the things I had. And that’s something I never would have gotten otherwise.