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Picture Perfect is Overrated

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaJune 8, 2020View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

Every year, my cancer center does a walk to raise awareness and money. The year I was diagnosed, I wanted to participate. I finally understood what it was like to go through something like this, and I wanted to celebrate being nearly done with treatment. I wanted this day to be picture perfect. 

The first time I went, it was pretty much just me and my family, which was fine. I was just excited to be there. We all wore purple for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and we did the one mile fun walk. At this point in my journey, I was still getting chemo. 

We pulled into the lot at the park, and my mom noticed that there was closer parking for those in treatment. However, I am the most stubborn person. I thought, “Surely, I don’t need that. I’m in treatment, but I’m still young. I’ll be fine.” So we ended up parking at the top of a very steep hill with the rest of the participants, and then we slowly made the trek down to the tents and race set up. 

Walking downhill wasn’t too bad, but it was around September in Memphis, TN, so it was an unbearably hot day. By the time we got down to where everyone else was, I was a little tired. But I was okay.

Once the walk began, my mom made sure to tell me that I still needed to take it easy, and if at any point I needed to, I could step off to the side and take a breather. Of course, I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do that. It was just a mile. Surely I wouldn’t need that. So, I pushed through. 

This was a horrible idea, I would come to learn.

It was early in the morning, and my dad really wanted us to all go out to breakfast after the walk. So, instead of trekking back up the hill with my family, I stood and waited for the car to come to me and my mom at the bottom since I was already pretty tired. I climbed in the car, and we were off to breakfast. 

At this point, I wasn’t feeling too good. But I knew my family wanted to be able to spend some time together, so I tried to hold it together. I was tired of not being able to do so many things, and I really wanted to be able to push through for this one thing. This was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration. 

By the time we sat down, I was feeling outright awful. I was nauseous and overheated, and even thinking about that feeling now brings me such bad memories. I finally told my parents I needed to go home.

So, my dad took me home while everyone else stayed and ate, after I insisted they didn’t all have to leave. It was so frustrating that I was incapable of walking a stupid mile. The ride home was terrible, and I felt so weak. I was hot, then cold, then hot again.

I spent the rest of the day shivering with chills, and once I got home, I ended up on the bathroom floor throwing up. 

This was one of the worst days of treatment. I had so many expectations for this day. It was supposed to be a fun day spent with some family that was here from out of town, and I was going to celebrate almost being done with chemo and already technically being in remission. 

Instead, I sat on the couch the rest of the day wrapped up in blankets and trying to hydrate, feeling terrible. 

Writing this brought up a lot of emotions. Some tears came, and it brought me right back to that day. Everything I thought this day would be was everything it was not. I finally had an opportunity to be around people who have been through the same thing, but I couldn’t really enjoy it. 

After that day, I was terrified of overdoing it. I didn’t reach out to get my seasonal retail job back over Christmas because I was so afraid of having to stand for multiple hours on end, afraid of feeling terrible and having to admit to my boss that I needed to rest. Even though I would have finished treatment a few months earlier, I didn’t know what my body would be able to handle. I loved that job, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

Fast forward to exactly a year later, when I was back in school and on my way from my college town to Memphis to do the walk once again with some friends. I have a friend who makes tee shirts, so I had her make us team tee shirts and invited some friends from school and church to do the walk with me. The shirts were purple, and my friend Addie had come up with the team name: Getting Chemotional. 

This was a chance to make up for the terrible experience of last year’s walk. 

It wasn’t perfect, by any means. But, I was able to celebrate with some friends the fact that I had made it through. I had people surrounding me and supporting me, and it meant so much. As much as I feared I would feel terrible again, it didn’t happen. It was still a hot Memphis day, but I was a year out of treatment and my body was doing better. 

I’ve realized that things are never going to be picture perfect. Some days that I thought would be not a big deal meant the world to me. And other days that I put so much into, were underwhelming. I can’t control what the outcome of anything is going to look like, and I’m learning to be okay with that. 

It took having one of the worst days of my life for me to have the courage to go out there a year later and push aside that memory to make better ones. Even if they weren’t picture perfect. 


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

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