I sat in a doctor's office and learned that I had Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes. I'd waited all weekend after a needle biopsy and lumpectomy knowing that something was wrong, but Dr. Dickson confirmed my fears. I was 16 years old and wondering if I'd just been issued a death sentence.
Obviously, that wasn't the case — and I firmly believe it's because God has other plans for me. So many of the people battling cancer the same time I was are now gone; some are still battling cancer or related health issues 10 years later. I am a survivor thanks to a brilliant team of doctors and nurses, but I'm also here because God protected me and wanted me to learn something from this illness.
So what have I learned? Here are a few thoughts:
- It's absolutely crucial to be in tune with your body. If you notice any lumps or abnormal growths on your body, go to the doctor immediately. I noticed the lump on my 16th birthday (about a month and a half before I told my parents about it) and hoped that it was just a swollen lymph node from a cold; it wasn't. Don't put off going to the doctor if you feel like something is wrong. The peace of mind of knowing you're OK if it is nothing is better than letting something continue to invade your body.
- Most people are comfortable talking about their cancer because there are so many misconceptions about the disease. Often when people hear that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, they don't know what to say — so they say nothing. This is one of the worst things to do. The majority of people I know who have battled cancer have welcomed questions about their treatments or about the disease in general because it means that people are genuinely interested and care about them. If you know someone with cancer and aren't sure what to say, just send them a card to let them know you're thinking about them. Feelings of loneliness or indifference about your own mortality are perpetuated when others pretend that nothing is wrong and don't say anything at all.
- Make 'em laugh. There is a lot of truth to the phrase "Laughter is the best medicine." So many people in my hometown lent me funny movies or TV shows to keep my mind on something else when I was sick, and it was fantastic. I remember giggling through Ice Age even when I was throwing up and exhausted from the chemotherapy treatments, and I had some great friends who would come to visit and leave with stomachaches from laughing so hard because my family and I were just cracking jokes. Right before I finished my cancer treatments, I went to a renaissance-themed dance with some friends and had a beautiful blue silk veil made to cover my bald head. As my date and I were sitting down at my house before we went to the dance, he sat on the veil and it flew off my head. He was horrified, thinking I'd burst into tears because of embarrassment, but my parents and me both started laughing. You really can't take yourself too seriously when you have cancer because everything is a serious matter.
There are so many things having cancer has taught me, and I've been emotional this week as this milestone approached. I keep wondering if I've learned what I'm supposed to learn from my battle with cancer. I guess I'll probably never know; I just have to keep pushing forward to see what life holds for me. But I've already set some goals for the next 10 years, and I'll be sharing them soon. I'm so grateful to have the chance to accomplish them.