Journey with cancer can be very lonely, especially for a young adult.
You look around you and none of your peers go through the same thing. And that itself is already depressing.
Although it is good, in fact, very good that none of them experience what you do because it means none of them have cancer, basically. To live a life without cancer or any chronic illness is already rewarding – but it’s something we do not realize until cancer itself knocks on our very own lives.
Even I never ever imagined this for myself, at least not at this point in my life.
Immediately after my diagnosis I already felt as if I was the only one going through this journey. Many times I asked my mother to sleep with me in my room on the other bed. Even though I know my parents’ room is just upstairs just beyond the wooden floor, I felt extremely lonely that I wanted Mama to be with me while sleeping. It didn’t made me fall asleep faster or made my anxiety go away, but it made me feel secure and, at least, accompanied.
When you‘re young and you’re on top of or maybe just starting your game, with so much great plans ahead of you, you never would expect cancer happening to you-especially if you’re the ‘healthy’ type of person. Who thinks of cancer when you’re 23 and about to go to med school?
These years- 20-somethings- are supposed to be the best years of your life. It is supposed to be the time when youth and health should just walk hand-in-hand easily without a hint of uncertainty. But then all of a sudden, as young as your body is –it betrays you, fails you, and you begin to realize that the world works in a totally different way.
When I was going through the treatment, I envy healthy people a lot. I envy them because they get to continue their life while mine have to be put on hold. Until now, I always wonder if there would still come a time when I could have fun and not worry about getting sick at the same time.
My intense chemo phase was also my worst phase of depression. It was for 3 months- but it seemed like forever. It was the slowest phase of my life consisting of the most dragging days. I was numb, physically because of neuropathy (a side effect of chemo) and emotionally. I was mentally exhausted, too. No vigor for life or living. All I could feel was sadness, extreme sadness. I didn’t smile or laugh for months and getting up from bed and stepping outside seemed like a very difficult task.
I remember watching TV and absolutely feeling nothing at all- my cousins would laugh or react on whatever that is going on the screen, but I just kept staring. All I could say and think was that “I’m tired” and no matter how much I rest, it didn’t go away- that type of exhaustion that seems to be embedded on your bones. I kept thinking- “I’m not supposed to be here, I’m not supposed to be here, I’m supposed to be out there.” I wanted badly to go back to normal and feel normal again.
There were times that even if I did something ‘normal’ or fun, I felt happy, but only for a moment because reality brings me back to sadness, again. It doesn’t change everything, I am still fighting cancer and my life is still a mess and I am a mess. And I wanted so bad to get out of this mess.
But there was something in me that wanted so bad to live. I was too tired of dying that I kept looking forward to living once again. I kept telling myself that once I am done with this hard part, I will become the healthiest and strongest version of myself. Thinking all the things I could have done during the time I was going through treatment – starting med school or meeting new people or taking trips- made me really sad and the fact that I do not know anymore how my future is going to turn out or whether or not I still have a place in the future just made things worst. It felt like I was back to zero or square one, at least.
Today, I still struggle calling cancer a “gift”. I know a lot of survivors call it a ‘gift’. I am aware that a lot of good things can come from a cancer diagnosis as I have experienced it, but I still feel very resentful calling it one, to be honest. I wouldn’t call cancer a gift. I feel like if I do, I would hurt millions of people and families impacted by it. For now, I think I would never give cancer the privilege of being called a “gift” in my life. Consider that my punishment for cancer, that devil stays on the ground, not in the lives of people.
I realized in this phase that I cannot go back to normal- the old normal. As much as I’ve always wanted to. I definitely cannot go back to where and who I was before. I can’t be that girl again- the girl who’s got her cells mutated, never again.
I always try to imagine what I’d look like if I go back to where and who I was before, but I always end up backing up because I realize that is not what I truly want to do now- I want to start over. I want this second chance to be a blank canvass for me to start things all over again- a reset- the right way, the healthier and happier way.
Some of my friends before cancer wanted to see me as I haven’t seen most of them since before I started the intense phase of my treatment. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I honestly don’t know how to reappear before them. I’m not sure if I am ready to face them.
I know I left an image of me as a sick and out-of-shape person, just as how they have last seen me. If I appear to them this time, I want to show them the best version of myself- the strongest and healthiest me. Somehow I want to make them feel intimidated by my presence, maybe because I think I feel entitled to it, somehow.
I immediately got over the fact that I wouldn’t be able to live life without regrets, disappointments, and fear- especially over that cancer diagnosis and the possible recurrence. They will always be around me, anytime, anywhere. I could try to leave them in the back of my closet for now and go on. They might as well stay to remind me, but they will never stay to control me and take over my life. I have to learn to live life with uncertainty now. I need to learn to accept them, not fight them. Maybe with time and distance I can finally burn them to ashes someday (maybe when I reach the 5-year cure mark?), and probably be able to call it a ‘gift’? Why not?
But for now, I’ll embrace them as part of my new ‘normal.’ I’ll take everything- the bad and the good and all the lessons I’ve learned and I’ll box them in and make them into a stepping-stone so I can have a better perspective in life and be able to take the next step with courage and joy over this troubled, yet beautiful stream called life.