“You have cancer,” they said. How is a 14 year old supposed to process that?
This was where my cancer story began. My budding teenage life was shaken by a brain tumor diagnosis. I didn’t even know what the word “cancer” entailed.
Later, before my impending surgery, I asked my mom, “So, will I be able to go on the youth group trip in a couple days?” I had no idea what was coming and was blissfully unaware of what having cancer actually meant.
From ages 14 to 22, I experienced three brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Through all of the surgeries and treatments, I never pressed pause on the other aspects of my life. My radiation days were such that I had a treatment in the morning at the hospital, took a nap at home, woke up in time to go to school for the second part of the day and stayed after school to make-up the work that I had missed in the morning.
I had my second surgery in July 2012 and started college a month later. I began chemo in December 2012 in the middle of my freshman year and continued for a year and a half, through my sophomore year. For my third surgery, I took off about two months from work and returned later like nothing had happened.
My focus was always forward. I was always go, go, go and never stopped to think there was any alternative to balancing everything at once. In hindsight, I think that taking time off from school may have been a wise decision. However, what I did was right for me at that moment, and I think it was the reason why I was always blindly optimistic. I didn’t have time to focus on the diagnosis.
Last year, my doctor said the words that I honestly never believed I would hear. I was moving to a survivorship program. In my head, I thought, “Haven’t I been surviving cancer all along? Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?” Yet now, it had a label. I am a “survivor.”
I wasn’t anticipating that the word “survivor” would ever make me feel empty. I was so used to the structure of school and the focus on getting healthy after a treatment that the idea of it all falling to the side and pressing pause was crazy to me. This diagnosis had been such a big part of me and my family’s lives since I was 14.
You mean that I can focus on something else besides getting healthy?
While being diagnosed with cancer at a young age can make you mature emotionally overnight, there are some aspects of life that are slowed down or paused. I finally had time to breathe and think about myself and what I really wanted to do with my life, not just focus on getting a degree or treatment. Cancer can take a toll on mental health.
I began thinking about what really made me happy and what I wanted my future to look like. I wasn’t accustomed to thinking in such a long-term way—thinking blissfully about the future was somewhat new for me.
On my journey of rediscovering myself through survivorship, I reawakened my passion for yoga. I was looking to regain the strength that I had lost during treatment and also heal my mind in the process. Yoga seemed like a no-brainer. I began my yoga journey and haven’t looked back since. It is my hope to one day bring yoga to fellow cancer survivors so we can all experience the amazing benefits the practice has to offer us.
The journey of self-discovery is so important after a truly harrowing event like a cancer diagnosis. A healthy recovery journey is also full of aspects of self-discovery. Part of recovery is reenvisioning your life after cancer, and finding what makes you shine. I’m looking forward to where my recovery journey takes me and how I can help others in the future.