I beat cancer in in October of 2013, I was 24 years old. I remember when the doctor told me my tumors were gone, I didn’t have to do chemo again, and I was cancer-free. As you could imagine, I was thrilled. I thought to myself, “Wow, I get to start over, I can’t wait for my life to start again, I’m going to go forward and do great things.” That feeling lasted for maybe a day. It was almost instant the next day when I woke up from being told I was cancer-free. I felt a dread, a horrible crushing anxiety. I thought to myself, “Oh shit, what do I do now?”
That feeling and question sat right in the front of my mind for weeks. I tried to go back to my old life but it wasn’t that easy. That’s the thing they don’t tell you about cancer- after you beat it you’re not the same person. Life didn’t stop and wait for you to get better, life kept moving. And often, you find that the things you used to do no longer bring you joy. You’ve changed. Everything has changed, and you’re left to try to catch up and figure out how to life your life again.
After beating cancer, I had a lot of trouble finding happiness in anything. Some days, I even wished that I hadn’t made it. I wish I had died and that way I wouldn’t be left with what I considered a disaster of a life. I had a file for bankruptcy because of my medical debt. I had no hair. I didn’t have a college degree yet. I had to live at home with my parents. I had trouble finding work. My immune system was still battered and I got colds and sinus infections and flus regularly. My list could go on. And then there was the guilt for not feeling grateful for my life.
So what did I do? What advice can I give? What helped me was talking to other survivors that went through the same thing post-cancer. Seeing people who I considered successful and happy that shared with me how they experienced hopelessness and struggled to get their life back on track inspired me. If they could do it, so could I. I knew I wasn’t alone in this feeling. I decided to take my life by each moment, and not looking at the big picture. I started accomplishing small things each day and one at a time like enrolling in for my last semester of school, going for a walk, taking my vitamins. And then I took on bigger things like applying for a new job. If things felt overwhelming, I recentered myself on remembering that I am okay in this moment, the past and the future don’t exist yet.
It took almost a little over a year after chemo to feel like i was back on my feet. I was able to finish up my degree, get a job I loved (Starbucks Barista). But most important I felt happy again. I felt grateful for my life and my health.
In the four years I have been cancer free, I’ve been able to do some amazing things. I found the love of my life and am engaged. We bought a condo, and now are in the process of buying a house. I went to Thailand for two weeks and traveled to Vegas, New York, and Texas as well. But the thing I’m most proud of is IgniteHope, and doing my best to inspire and empower others touched by cancer.