Where was I when I found out I had cancer? The mall. I was out shopping for Christmas presents with my best friend when I received the call. Hearing “You have cancer,” while in the midst of a typical, carefree activity like shopping pretty much embodies the bizarre nature of cancer and the stage of life in which I found myself fighting the unthinkable.
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma the day before Thanksgiving during my senior year of college. I started chemotherapy in December and finished in May, four days after my college graduation. My peers were busy planning their weddings, focusing on their careers, or preparing to backpack through Europe as part of that seemingly ubiquitous college graduation gift. To the endless stream of curious people who asked about my future plans, I felt like shouting, “I’m trying to stay alive here, so thanks for asking!” Though I never said that out loud, it was nevertheless my thought: I will worry about the future once I make it to the future.
I don’t think having cancer as a young adult is harder than at other ages; cancer at any age is unthinkable. However, having cancer as a young adult presented unique challenges and has definitely shaped my life. I was at a crossroads in life between college and career. Right when I was deciding on future plans, cancer came along and changed my whole perspective. When I think about what I gained from cancer, I think that’s the best I can sum it up: perspective about how I will live my life.
I was recently talking with a counselor about my results from a personality test, and she asked whether I’m a risk taker or not. I immediately replied “no,” but then had to qualify that with, “but I did move across the ocean to Honolulu to teach high school English two months after finishing cancer treatment…and then two years later I quit that job to move back in with my parents and write a book about my experience… ” and the list went on. I realized that, though I have typically played it “safe” in life, post-cancer, I’ve taken more risks than I ever could have imagined.
Cancer showed me that life is short and I need to make my days count. That doesn’t mean I wake up every day proclaiming how wonderful life is; on the contrary, most days I roll out of bed annoyed at whatever woke me up probably like many other young adults. However, cancer has reminded me of the fragility of life and not just “life” in general, but my own life. It might be subconscious, but I think I realize I may not get a second chance with many opportunities. I’m not sure if cancer gave me more gumption or whether it showed me that I better do things now because I may not have another chance. Either way, for that, cancer has been an unexpected blessing in my life that definitely will continue to influence my next steps.