The whole experience was one unexpected experience after another. I was 18 when I was diagnosed, no 18 year old expects to have to deal with a cancer diagnosis or chemo. I suppose there were two big things that struck me the most however. The first was how quickly my cancer took hold of my body and started to wreak havoc – it was about two weeks after diagnosis that my body began a fast downward spiral. Two weeks prior, I had just finished my final season as a Cross Country runner for my school, a successful season I might add, one where I felt strong and healthy. Then to be hit with cancer and completely bulldozed by it so quickly took me and my family completely off-guard. The second, much more positive thing that happened that was not expected whatsoever, was the incredible amount of support we received from our whole community. My family isn’t one that readily asks for help, and we didn’t really even after I was diagnosed. And yet, almost immediately, there came wave after wave of support from people in our community we hardly knew. Teachers, church friends and families, friends of friends, and at one point, complete strangers from across the globe. That support and the support from many others in our community took my whole family off-guard, but was one of the best, and least expected events that came out of my diagnosis.
I can barely put words to what it felt like to be told I was cancer free. Partly because it was completely unexpected. I had only gone through 6 months of chemo at that point, so in my mind I was in for the long haul of treatment and we had just been made aware that my form of cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) was stage 4 and very aggressive. Also partly because I had not yet prepared myself for what my life would be like not in a hospital, not fighting cancer. Given those things however, my family and I rejoiced. The doctor’s rejoiced. My case was unique, one with little case history by which to dictate my treatment schedule, so it was up to them to decide what was the best course of action. They were just as shocked and excited when my scans came up clear. We were all relieved, exhausted, proud, and happy.
For me, fear didn’t play a big role in my treatment or recovery. I attribute it in part to the fact that I was 18, and to this point had never questioned my health or capability. In my mind (and in most teenagers minds) you’re invincible. Now, of course I didn’t maintain this particular thought when I was diagnosed. In the face of cancer I didn’t feel invincible, in fact, it was the first time in my life my body was failing me. However, neither my team of doctors nor my family brought fear to the table. It wasn’t an option. The message given to me by both parties was this is “treatable and curable”. A phrase that was repeated to me countless times from my lead doctor.
My support system didn’t bring fear to the table out of a lack of compassion, but more as a mindset for me. The mind plays an incredible role in the healing process. If you believe you can beat your diagnosis, if you are told it can be beat, your mind can contribute to how resilient your body is. Of course I didn’t think that if I believed hard enough it would make my cancer go away, but not allowing myself to give into fear overall helped me get through each treatment. To see it as a fight for my life, one that I was not about to lose. I trusted my support system, my family and my doctors, so if they weren’t afraid, neither was I. Certainly there were moments of fear. Receiving new and increasingly toxic chemo treatment was scary, facing the unexpected damaging side effects as a result of these drugs was terrifying. The unknown in cancer can threaten to swallow you whole, take away whatever is left in you, but I wouldn’t let it. I chose to take a stand in the face of the unknown, so fear wasn’t an option.
– Kelly, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma Survivor
This story was originally published by One Thousand Design as part of our collaboration to produce The Last Clean Scan – a documentary film about the complexities of life after cancer. If you or someone you know has been impacted by cancer please consider contributing to the project kickstarter campaign now through December 6.