This is a small article I wrote for ACCOIN about what it means to me about being a childhood cancer survivor. ACCOIN is a local group here in the Inland Northwest that helps families who have kids in treatment for cancer. They help provide gas cards, grocery cards, hotel vouchers, and most importantly; support. Everyone who works with the organization is somehow connected to childhood cancer-most of them being a parent of a survivor, or a child who has passed. This group is incredibly close to my heart, because they helped me and my family when I was in treatment.
When I was three, I was diagnosed with Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma. For those of you not familiar with cancer talk, that means; a tumor in my abdomen. Cause unknown. It grew out of my bladder and wormed its way around my insides. Because that’s what cancer does. It worms. It wiggles. It weasels its way into every aspect of your life-even when you try to not let it. One way or another, “cancer survivor” becomes an identity. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I am immensely proud to be a cancer survivor. But GOOD LORD, sometimes I am tired of it all. I am tired of having been sick. I am tired of still being sick. I am tired of having first hand knowledge of what phrases like “port access”, or “long term side effects” mean. I am tired of people calling me brave, or “inspirational.”
For those of you who may already be tired of ME, and this article, and are thinking, “my goodness, she seems bitter”-the truth is-some days, I am. This is honesty. Some days I hurt before my feet touch the ground in the morning. Some days I am so nauseous that I can’t eat anything. Some days I am reminded that I am unable to have a baby, and all because of the cancer and the treatments used to cure me. Yes, some days seem endless and impossible, and I am angry and devastated that I have to spend another day in this body that doesn’t work quite right. But please don’t think that that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of how unbelievably lucky I am. I am blessed beyond compare. I get to wake up next to my husband that God himself picked for me, because no one else in the entire universe could have made a man better suited for me. He is understanding, and caring, and funny, and picks up slack when I simply can’t do anything. I am lucky enough to have parents who are supportive, and love me, and fought hard my entire treatment. I have two sisters who are my best friends in the entire galaxy, who understand me better than I understand myself, and whom I can turn to for any tiny reason. And I have seen amazing things in this world. I have ziplined through a eucalyptus jungle in Hawaii. I have stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris at midnight, and watched the entire city twinkle below. I have stood with my feet in the sands of the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico. I have found that there is hardly a thing that a hot bath in the dark with only candles lit can’t fix. And I wholeheartedly believe that a good cry will always make your heart feel lighter. I have lived an amazing, difficult, wonderful, awful, confusing, INCREDIBLE life.
And that’s what being a cancer survivor has taught me most. You take the good with the bad. No one is going to get out of life without a few bumps and bruises, whether that be to your body or soul. Some people may suffer a few more bumps and bruises. To those people I will offer the following advice:
Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a small child. Tell yourself nice things, and eat good food, and take lots of naps, and watch movies that make you think. And then watch movies that don’t make you think. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend if they came to you and said they were having a hard time. You wouldn’t chastise them, or criticize them. You wouldn’t tell them to keep pulling themselves up by their boot straps. For Pete’s sake, relax! Calm down, take a breath. Treat yourself with some damn respect.
Cry it out. Cry it out, my friends. Loud and proud. God may have made me with a few extra tear ducts, but honestly, I’m pretty sure crying it out is the fix I usually need. Whether they are sad tears, or tears of frustration, my heart always feels lighter, and my head always feels clearer after a good cry.
Find a doctor you trust. Don’t settle for someone just because you’ve “heard good they’re good.” I’ve heard about restaurants that are good, and you know what? It’s not always the case, is it? Find a doctor willing to listen to you, and a doctor who trusts your gut.
And finally, this. Whether you are a survivor yourself, or a parent, sibling, spouse, aunt, uncle, grandparent, next door neighbor of a survivor: HOWEVER YOU FEEL IS OKAY. Feel your feelings! Don’t shove them down into the depths of your belly. That’s how ulcers are formed. (kidding. maybe.) You were born a complex person who feels a thousand ways about a thousand things, and cancer is a HELL of a thing. So if you’re sad, mourn. If you’re angry-that’s okay, too! Just remember to not take your anger out on another person. That helps nobody. Kick boxes, break dishes, throw stuff around in your garage. Whatever you feel about the situation; it’s normal. You’re human. Forgive yourself, if that makes you feel better, and move on. Because sweetheart, time is a wastin’.
I will always be proud of being a cancer survivor. Along with many other emotions. And I will always be grateful for the community that ACCOIN has developed. I’ve met some incredible people through them, many childhood cancer survivors, like myself. And the bond that we share is unbreakable. So, if you’re looking to be friends with a childhood cancer survivor, who apparently cries multiple times a day, watches a lot of movies, and won’t judge you for your feelings, you know where to find me.
Information about ACCOIN can be found on their website: http://www.acco.org/inlandnw