Hi, I’m Megan and I’ve been part of The AYA (adolescent and young adult) Movement through the CHC since its inception in 2016. While reflecting on what I wish I knew before cancer treatment that I know now, I realized there are a lot of directions I could go with this topic. My now 25-year-old-self facing a pandemic as a cancer survivor would like to impart the following wisdom to my then 17-year-old-self facing a life-threatening illness in her high school naivety. Here are just a few takeaways for my pre-cancer self:
1. Find the Blessings. Life is really hard while undergoing chemotherapy. But life is also so, so precious at the same time. Try to find something good in each day and celebrate the small wins! Some of my wins during those days in treatment would include things such as keeping down a few bites of food, not needing oxygen for a couple hours at a time, or walking a lap around the hallway. Also, enjoy the relationships with people around you that you would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet. It’s so easy to focus on how crappy you feel and all the things around you going ‘not as planned,’ but a positive attitude (I believe) is one of our best defense mechanisms against cancer.
2. This is only temporary. And for the times when you just can’t find the blessings, remember this is only temporary. The pain will subside, the nausea will pass, the pokes will go away, the hair will grow back (this one was much harder to accept as a teenage girl), and the sun will shine again. When it’s just too difficult to find something good on any particular day, you can find peace in knowing that there is an end to this journey.
3. Stop Comparing. Guilty – I still need this reminder even now! In an age of social media and needing to keep up with the Jones’, remember that there is no such thing as “normal.” Comparing yourself to your peers can be very destructive. I know they’re all out having fun in the real world and doing all the “normal” things that you wish you could be doing, but right now, you’re fighting the most important battle of your life. Taking care of your health really is your top priority right now. Keep in mind, again, this is only temporary. Also, comparing yourself to your pre-cancer self is equally harmful. Your pre-cancer self was not your “normal” self while the current version of you is some alien version – even though it often feels that way! You’re still you. You are not what you look like, but who you are in your soul. And your soul continues to shine through despite a devastating diagnosis because YOU ARE A WARRIOR.
4. Mental Health is Important too. When you are going through such an excruciating physical battle, mental health can be put to the side. However, your mental health is equally as important. Do whatever you need to do to take care of that amazing brain of yours – pray, journal, meditate, talk to somebody, cry, exercise, put social media away, read – whatever helps you. Your body won’t be equipped to fight for its life if your brain isn’t on its side too.
5. You’re Not Alone. Cancer is isolating. Nobody really seems to understand what you’re going through. Especially as a young adult, it’s challenging to find your place in the world, even within the cancer sphere of the world. It can feel like the deserted no-man’s-land between little kids at the children’s hospital playing with toy cars and port dolls and the adult world bringing their knitting projects showing off pictures of their grandkids. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but that’s how my 17-year-old self-interpreted the circumstances I found myself in. However, there are many different forms of support groups available – yes, even for young adults – going through similar experiences with cancer. It can be intimidating at first and, honestly, unappealing. I would say, step out of your comfort zone and try it out! There are so many benefits to being around others who “get it.” You don’t even have to talk about cancer, just being in their presence feels therapeutic. Shout out to all my AYAers who have provided me with a community of supportive, encouraging, and uplifting peers at the CHC! Love you guys <3