I had cancer.
I know, I know, I got too serious too quick. But I honestly, couldn’t think of any sort of opening paragraph or phrase or quote that would lead up to that sentence with enough warning. Because, it’s a harsh sentence. “I had cancer”. It doesn’t matter who you hear that sentence from, your automatic, gut reaction is “awwww”. Pity, guilt, sadness, anger, bitterness, I don’t know what you feel, but I do know that I have never said the sentence “I had cancer” without getting an “awww”.
And I think that that’s why I have held back from telling my story for so long. Because I was afraid of the “awww”. I hate pity, who doesn’t? But the worst type of pity, is the pity that comes from admitting to having had some deep dark illness in your past. It’s a horrifying moment, when you realize that you can’t escape bringing it up in conversation any longer. It makes me anxious. I don’t like talking about my cancer.
But it’s hard to avoid talking about it. I had cancer really young. I was diagnosed for the first time when I was 4 months old, and I relapsed two times within the next two years. Meaning that I had cancer three times before I was three years old. I’ve grown up with cancer in my life. I don’t have any memories of life before cancer, because I didn’t have a life before cancer. I grew up with scans, hospitals, and procedures as normal in my life as toys, church, and soccer games. It all just went together. My life wasn’t changed by cancer, it was shaped by cancer. And that makes it hard to avoid talking about, when my friends tell stories about their childhoods. I hear stories from my friends about their first day at school, and I want to contribute into the conversation, but I was homeschooled because I had huge amounts of separation anxiety as a result of all my years at the hospitals and treatment centers.
Let me just clarify here, I know that I should be grateful. I know that I am extremely lucky. I know that I am blessed. I know that I am, as my mom likes to say, proof of miracles.
But, sometimes it’s hard being the cancer kid, in the room.
Today marks 17 years since I was declared cancer free for the final time.
Today is the day filled with the most tears in my family.
Today is the day that everybody in my family, gets a little bit weepy at the small things.
Today is the day that we play a lot of “What If’s”.
Today is a big day in my family.
I was under three when I was declared cancer free, for the final time.
I was very young.
Most people don’t have any memories from when they were that young, and while I have some, they are very few and far between.
I didn’t grow up with cancer.
I didn’t grow up death hanging over me.
I didn’t grow up with hospital stays and ports.
I didn’t grow up with it.
I did grow up with CAT scans every five years.
I did grow up with “Survivors Clinic” every six months to a year.
I did grow up with parents who cried overtime some minor happened.
“You were never supposed to be able to read.”
“You weren’t supposed to live to ten.”
“You were never supposed to be able to do a sport.”
So I didn’t grow up with cancer, but I did grow up with the after-effects of cancer.
I grew up with the knowledge that someday I will probably get cancer again.
This day gives me a lot of feelings and emotions.
And sometimes I don’t know how to process all of them.
But today Is a hard day in my and my family’s life.