There are two types of people in this world; people who are terrified of those with cancer as if they are going to catch it or those who pity cancer patients and overcompensate by being extremely nice. It’s very rare to find someone who doesn’t treat you differently, because essentially you are still the same. Cancer doesn’t change anything about a person, except maybe their outlook on life.
I happened to get diagnosed in October of 2018 with a rare form of bone marrow cancer. Because of some blood cell abnormalities caused by my genetics, my bone marrow will eventually start scarring, and over time I will be in need of a stem cell transplant. Luckily there was absolutely no scarring present in the painful bone marrow biopsy that took place last year. Nothing about me has changed since the diagnosis. I am the same 22 year old girl, confused about what to do with her life, scared of everything, and still spends most of her time cooped up in her bedroom reading. I may be the same but the people around me are not. It seems like everyone treats me differently when they find out I have cancer. My friends appeared to get squeamish, didn’t know what to say, and started treating me to food and drinks or just stopped hanging out with me all together. Random guys who were interested in me suddenly quit engaging in conversation – I guess cancer made me less appealing. Girls who have always been mean to me are suddenly interested in my life and stopped the rude name calling. My parents didn’t even treat me the same. They felt bad for me so they started to overcompensate by buying everything I wanted, from clothes to books to food. It has become really exhausting.
I’ve spent my entire life being singled out – In elementary school it was because I didn’t look like all the other girls, in high school it was my “slut” reputation and now out of high school its my cancer status. Woe is me, people are tiptoeing around me and giving me what I want. I don’t really mind that much, I mean 99% of the time I know their kindness is fake but who is going to complain about acts of goodwill? What really gets to me is the ones who are fearful of me, like because I have cancer I’m suddenly contagious and if people spend time with me they will somehow catch my bone disease. It confuses me, as soon as people find out about this they think I’m suddenly high maintenance and they can’t deal with it, “it’s just too stressful to deal with right now, as if life isn’t already stressful enough”. I don’t know how many times I have to explain that I’m literally the exact same person I’ve always been.
The only thing that really changed about me was in late November 2018. I experienced something that really opened my eyes to the real world. Let’s start with how I’ve always felt like a child. I live with my parents, I rely on them to drive me around, they cook dinner every night, and my room is the same as it has been since I was 16. It wasn’t until my bone marrow biopsy that I realized I’m not a child anymore. I was laying on the hospital bed, with my back half exposed to at least 4 people, vulnerable and staring into the eyes of my powerless parents. They were standing in the corner watching me lay helplessly while I had a huge needle stuck into my pelvic bone. I wanted one of my parents to hold my hand while all of this happened but they weren’t allowed near me. I was so scared and crying. I wanted them to take the pain away but they couldn’t. They were in that room and I was too but we were miles apart. This moment made me realize we are all alone in this world. Every person has their own experiences and feelings and no one can understand except the person going through it. We all see things differently. No one can take your pain away, no one can feel you sorrow, and no one can feel your happiness and joy. This whole experience made me realize that even if I have a support system, it’s me who is facing these challenges, it’s me who has to go through the chemotherapy and me who has the cancer. I learned I had to toughen up. I had to stop being a child, stop being that baby who my parents take care of and start to do things for myself.
My outlook on life changed – I’m not a child, life goes by so fast, and we need to make the most of it while we can. There is no point in complaining about my cancer or wallowing in my sorrows. It wont change a thing. Thankfully, by the time I’ll need a stem cell transplant, there will be advancements in medicine and technology that may cure my disease pain free. In the meantime, I will be focusing my time on trying to take the stigma away from cancer sufferers – I will try to show people I’m the same girl I’ve always been. People with cancer aren’t going to break if we get hurt or shatter if something bad happens. We just want to be treated like everyone else. Don’t be scared of us, or extra nice because you’re afraid of us. We are a tough group of people, just looking to live our best lives under the unfortunate circumstances life has given us.