I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in March of 2018 when I was 25 years old and living abroad. As the story normally goes with life threatening illnesses, my world was flipped upside down and I was thrown back into a life that I had obviously not planned for. As I’m sure most of those reading this will understand, the path you’re on after a cancer diagnosis is an intense one and never something that you can process in a satisfying way. Mortality is one of the most basic components of human existence, but it’s something we rarely talk about. For some people this method may work- only dealing with these thoughts and conversations when they see their grandparents pass away or as they approach old age and feel like they reached the end of what they were promised here on earth. But what about those of us who are told we are probably not going to reach that ‘finish line’?
No one has an easy answer to this, but it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I have been in somewhat of a denial about my diagnosis for the past few years, but recently, with mets to the brain and multiple failures of treatment plans that were supposed to work a lot longer than they did, it is getting harder and harder to push to the back of my mind. I’ve had to accept that this is a life-long disease and not just a temporary inconvenience that I can somewhat block out from consciousness.
Part of accepting this reality was realizing that I was living with a false sense of expectations for life and what I thought I deserved. It’s easy to compare to others and desire a future where all your dreams fall into place- I’m right there with you and not trying to dismiss the pain of accepting that might not happen. It’s so hard, especially for the young audience that I am writing to – I wish I could take that away from you.
The reality is though, nothing in life was promised to us and a cancer diagnosis puts us in a unique situation of realizing this before most other people do. How you handle that information is of course up to you, but this is what I have learned over the past few years.
Taking ownership of the aspects of my health that I do have control over has greatly increased my spirit. It is hard as a young adult, and I know a hundred times harder for someone even younger than me, to already see our health decline and the frustrations of seeing peers do things that we cannot. I think it’s normal to approach this with a too little too late attitude and just eat pizza everyday (or was that just me?), but the moment I started prioritizing nourishing my body after being put through the ringer of chemo, radiation, and all the other drugs, was a game changer me for me and is something I would encourage everyone to do. Cancer makes you feel bad- the treatments can make you feel even worse. Your body is doing amazing things to keep you alive, so help it out and take some of the power away from the disease.
Your fulfillment in life can 100% be created here and now. Milestones defined by society- graduating college, building a career, getting married, etc. are not necessary building blocks to a happy and complete life. Focus more on the adventure and joys of the days right in front of you instead of pouring too much of your attention on years that there is no guarantee you will reach. Clearly define feelings that you want to experience in life and chase that, not just the experience itself. There are always going to be limitations on what you can do in life, whether that be physical, financial, or time constraints, but none of those can limit what you can attain as inner fulfillment in life and the adventures you create with what you’re given.
Cancer really sucks and it is scary – I’m not trying to make it sound better than it is – but sometimes I need to remind myself that I always have way more to be grateful for. The tough days remind me of all I have to be grateful for.
It makes me remember that I have maintained the physical capacity to spend most of my life living exactly how I want to. Despite being sick, the medications/treatments that go along with it, and the amount of time spent in the hospital, I get to continue traveling and adventuring. That’s something I try to remind myself of every day so that I never take it for granted. I get to spend way more time out living my life rather than in the hospital fighting for it and that is such a gift and privilege.
It also reminds me that I have survived and am doing well with a pretty aggressive, metastatic cancer over 2 years past diagnosis. I know that so many have friends and family that they would have done anything for that much time with after diagnosis. I realize how fortunate I am in this, so in honor and remembrance of those that others have lost, I will try to never complain when I count another year inflicted with cancer, but instead be thankful for being given these years.