Saturday morning I trekked early in the morning with my husband and our trooper friends Shannon and Gabriel to the annual American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Santa Clarita. It's an event that is held multiple times over around the country which raises money for cancer research. It is one of those few places, other than your oncologists office or an infusion room, that you encounter multiple cancer patients and survivors with multiple diagnoses. It's a 24 hour event which had people walking around a loop continuously, and the loop is lined with different booths which are raising money by selling donated products or raffling things off or selling activities, and 100% of the proceeds goes to cancer research. My cancer center, UCLA Santa Clarita, has a large team and one of the nurses invited me to come out and walk.
Up until recently, I have avoided getting heavily involved with groups and activities which raise awareness and money for cancer research. Even after my mother died, I never really got involved with anything, and that made me feel guilty. You always hear about different people whose lives are touched by cancer, and they try and make a difference by starting a charity or non-profit, or running a 5k, or so on and so forth. However, I really never felt the urge to do that. Mostly, this was a selfish decision because I was tired of thinking about cancer. I just wanted to go and live in a little bubble where I didn't have to think about the stupid disease anymore and the havoc it had wreaked upon my life. Flash forward 4+ years, and I found myself diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I had kicked around the possibility in my mind that I might have to face breast cancer one day like my mother had, but I had never dreamed that I would face cancer again at 25. It seemed like I simply could not get away, and even then I had no real urge to get involved in any organization or fund. I just wanted to get cured and put it behind me. Then I was re-diagnosed.
I have slowly come to the conclusion that I will never exactly be able to put cancer behind me. It has left an indelible mark on my life story that cannot be erased, no matter how much I shun advocacy or Grey's Anatomy. Amongst the other survivors at the Relay on Saturday there were, maybe, 10 people who were my age or younger. That's not because we're not out there, but I think it's because we're afraid. You see, when you're 45 or 55 or 65 and you get cancer, you've already lived a good portion of your life. That doesn't mean that you aren't severely impacted, it just means that you have lived and had experiences, family, and careers and cancer is another piece of your journey. As a twenty-something, when we get cancer, we fear it defining our journey. I think we avoid walks and raising money and other survivors because we just want to put cancer behind us and not let it define us. We're afraid that it will be not only the defining part of our life journey, but possibly the end.
I've decided that it will not define me, but I cannot ignore it. I have to use cancer to my advantage, to help others and to be a better person. So I'm not going to pretend I'm normal. I'm a cancer survivor....and that's ok.