It warms my heart when I hear people call me “Brave” or “ Strong.” However, I don’t feel brave or strong…at all. I feel weak and broken. I feel like a rug was pulled from underneath me. I feel like a beginner magic act where the magician removes the tablecloth from under the dishes, and instead of standing up straight like it’s supposed to, they all fall down and break into pieces. I feel like my life had so much more potential before cancer.
In 2021 I was going to class, teaching, going to work, and doing service with my national service sorority. I lived on the third floor of my apartment, enjoying my life away from home, getting a step closer to my dream of being a teacher—a dream I had since I was six. Instead of being a happy college student, I was in extreme pain, which worsened throughout the semester. Until finally, I had an MRI which showed a tumor in my spine compressing my nerves and causing pain in my back and legs. I immediately had a PET scan followed by surgery. After the surgery, the pain was immediately relieved. Hooray! Later I found out the tumor was cancerous, and that started my long journey.
Instead of college, I spent Spring 2022 doing radiation and chemotherapy—five rounds of chemo, 8-9 hrs daily. In Summer 2022, I was recovering and ready to finish my last year of undergraduate. That fall, I went back to school, my three-month scans looking clear. I had five classes and made the dean’s list with four As and a B in education law.
Fast forward to February 2023, four weeks into my student teaching after multiple falls, my professors and I realized that I should stop my academics and work on my health. In March, I had tough scans and had to re-do the MRIs. Later we found a suspicious spot which meant I would need a PET scan. On April 19th, 2023, I was told my cancer was growing back. However, this time it was biologically different and growing rapidly up my spine. I had surgery on May 16th, 2023, where 90-95% of the tumor was removed. I was told chemo would no longer be a treatment option as I had the highest dosage last year, and more radiation would damage my spinal cord. They did not remove all of the tumor because I would have been paralyzed, and that would not even have guaranteed the cancer would have been completely eradicated.
Everyone means well when they say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “ I’m so sorry you’re going through that.” What they don’t realize is that most people are saying things like that.
Instead of asking what you can do for someone going through treatment and living with cancer, just do it. Instead of asking, “Can I make you dinner? Or dessert?” just make it and bring it over while visiting for a while. Just show up on a random day instead of asking to come over. Actions speak louder than words. Actions like these are what show you are there. Not merely making an empty gesture.
Even texting to see how someone is feeling goes a long way. I know lots of people don’t know what to say, but that’s okay. It’s okay to say you don’t know what to say. Just hug them and show they aren’t alone in this journey.