11 Lessons Learned from Cancer
My Timehop has been full of Facebook posts and pictures from nine years ago when I was in the middle of my fight with Osteosarcoma. It’s crazy to look back at those photos and to realize how sick I truly was. Being nine years in remission now, it’s easy to kind of forget the details of that time and to block out the more unpleasant parts of my illness. But, looking back at those photos of 16-year-old-me, I can’t help but think about where I was and what I was going through and how much I wish I could go back in time and tell her that everything is going to work out.
I’ve been thinking about what I would want her to know; what lessons I learned from cancer. Nine years later, here are the things that I still think about, still carry with me and would want my 16-year-old self to know.
1. People will want to get your gifts because they don’t know what else to do. You’ll get a lot of lotion and stuffed animals and it will seem a little ridiculous at first because how are lotions and stuffed animals supposed to help you fight cancer? But you will fall asleep every night in a bed covered in stuffed animals and feel so loved and protected by them and the people who gave them to you that it will all make sense in the end.
2. You will miss being able to do the dishes. You never realized how much you took for granted being able to stand at the sink and wash the dishes and you will give anything to be able to do that simple chore again. Be grateful you can wash the dishes and that you can walk down the driveway to get the mail.
3. The kindness of strangers will amaze you. Your holidays spent in the hospital will be some of your fondest memories because of the generosity shown to you by volunteers and donations. Your parents will rarely have to pay for their parking garage tickets. You will watch people show up randomly to mow your lawn and have meals brought to your door. Your siblings will be taken on vacation just to escape from the hell in your home. People you don’t even know will send you cards and gifts and prayers for you.
4. Hair is just an accessory. It will suck to lose it, but it will force you to let your personality shine through everything you were hiding behind before. Without your hair, you will discover parts of yourself you didn’t know about. It will be hard and your self-confidence will be shaken, but you will learn that long hair and eyelashes are not necessary for making friends.
5. That being said, it’s okay to be excited when your hair does grow back. And it’s okay to take extra good care of it and to enjoy experimenting and playing with it. You know what it’s like to be without it and to never take it for granted again. Just don’t get caught up in looks and remember how important your personality is!
6. Friends will be very supportive of you until they aren’t. Try to understand. They simply cannot fathom or understand the kind of emotional turmoil and complications that arise from fighting cancer. You’ll learn who your real friends are very fast because they will still be around when the last chemotherapy treatment is administered.
7. Learn to stand up for your body. It’s fighting the biggest fight of its life and you have to take care of it so it can do that. Be good to it, even after the chemo is over. Eat well. Do your physical therapy. Say no to activities that will risk your knee getting hurt, but don’t limit yourself to not being active.
8. You will appreciate your mother more than you ever thought possible. She will be by your side every night, let you throw yourself pity parties for five minutes every day and then help you pull up your bootstraps and be a survivor. She will watch all the movies in the world with you, crochet you a blanket, read your school books with you and stand up for you to your doctors, your school and your friends when you need it. She will become your biggest cheerleader and your best friend along the way.
9. You will get to choose how cancer defines you. You can be someone who will forever be bitter or someone who can’t move on from it. You can choose to let it be a part of your definition or you can choose to let it completely define you. You can choose to never talk about it, or you can choose to talk about it too freely. Find the balance and let it define the best parts of you.
10. Survivor’s guilt is real. And it is painful. And you will never truly learn how to cope with it or deal with it. You will forever be haunted by the 15 children you watch loose their battle on your floor. There are days it will completely immobilize you. That’s okay. Just try your best.
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11. Never be ashamed of your scars. Never be afraid to tell parts of your story. Never be afraid to stand up and raise awareness for those you loved and lost and those who fight the same battle as you. Be proud of your body and the things it has overcome. Be proud to be a survivor!
Have you had a significant health obstacle to overcome? What lessons have you learned from it? If you could go back, what would you want to tell yourself?
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