On May 11, 2007, eight years ago today, I became an adult. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. On this day, I learned that my parents could not hold my hand through every difficult part of my life. That day was also the day that I learned that I had to take care of myself, look out for myself and advocate for myself, even though I had an incredible support group with my family. That day, I learned how to fake a smile, that I was not invincible, and that I will, eventually die someday, and it might be sooner than I thought.
Three words changed my entire life, “you have leukemia.” When my parents (I don’t remember which one) told me these three words, I felt that I must have done something to deserve cancer. However, as time went on, I realized that my sickness was a test for survival and perseverance. Although it was a challenge, it was the greatest accomplishment of my life.
Eight years later, I am considered cured. Physically, I escaped with only a battle wound on my chest from having a portacath and scar tissue around my “good vein” from blood draws. I do not know if it is related, but I believe the cancer unleashed a different monster I have to live with for the rest of my life, that monster being mental illness. I have had to fight anxiety, depression, and fear in a whole different way since May 11th, 2007.
Major life changes have a way of affecting us in ways we never expect. I never thought one of my parents would have to tell me that I have cancer. In a way, I feel guilty they were the ones that had to tell me. I felt guilty that they had to witness their daughter grow more and more sick from the chemotherapy. But I am proud of me for defeating such a horrible illness, and I know that my parents are proud of me, as well.
During this time, for some reason, I did not think it was okay to show that I was struggling. I was scared that I was going to die, but I thought I had to be strong and show no weakness. I refused any kind of counseling because I believed the stigma that asking for help makes you weak. I also thought that I would just get over it, but as I have gotten older, I have realized that I should allow myself to show my emotions especially to those I love.
What I realized after my ordeal is that it is acceptable to show your emotions, regardless of the person. It does not make you weak, nor does it make you weak to ask for help or for a hand to hold when you are scared, pained or anxious. No one should feel alone when dealing with an illness, regardless of what kind, whether it be physical or mental. As a former patient and a current nurse, I have made a promise to myself that I will reach out and help individuals who have physical and emotional issues, just as I would have wanted during my times of need.