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Blossoming Through Adversity

by Deysi VatmanSurvivor, OsteosarcomaMay 9, 2024View more posts from Deysi Vatman

Blossoming Through Adversity: A Journey of Growth Beyond Cancer

My mother named me after a flower, with the intention and the idea that I am capable of growing and blooming. When I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma as an eight-year-old child, I learned the ability to grow. At first, I was confused by the word cancer. However, by the look on my parents’ faces, I understood that not only was it something serious but also something to be fearful of. Not long after, I learned how to push through physical pain, to stay “strong” for my parents, who often had this worried look on their faces, and to keep positive, being the “happy Deysi” that the nurses came to love and appreciate. I learned about wound care and when to take my medications for nausea, and the importance of Italian ice and ginger ale a few days post-chemotherapy, because to this day I remember how refreshing and cold they were.

Now, as I am older and a psychotherapist with a focus on life changes, depression, and anxiety, I have learned that life after cancer is often not discussed enough. Throughout my teenage years, I had difficulty expressing my emotions and often felt isolated by my peers, feeling that I could not disclose what was really bothering me. I overextended myself and excelled in academics so as not to focus on the bubbling anxiety and bouts of sadness that came across every visit at Yale New Haven’s Children’s Hospital. I learned that excusing myself from elementary school, undergrad classes, and graduate classes for yearly oncology appointments wasn’t the norm. Sitting out from gym classes due to my physical limitations made me feel ostracized. Even having a tremendous scar on my left leg impacted my ability to wear swimwear properly, and it wasn’t until I turned 30 that I was able to get into a two-piece bathing suit.

Explaining to my parents how cancer impacted me during my teens was difficult. My parents are Ecuadorian immigrants who were planning to return to Ecuador with me the year that I was diagnosed. Since I was receiving treatment, my parents changed their plans, and we have stayed together in the United States since then. I tried to convey to my parents my struggles and oftentimes was given the reply, “You are lucky to be alive, be grateful.” By doing my research and understanding through my own therapy, mental health conversations are different and often difficult in various BIPOC communities, but they are necessary conversations to be had. My parents are more understanding of what a cancer diagnosis entails as they have also learned more information after my initial diagnosis.

Moreover, it was not the norm to have a sense of fear going to my appointments, fearing the words “recurrence” or “it came back” and seeing other patients during treatment and knowing that I have been there, but also can return there in a quick moment. Through my artwork and writing, I saw the trend that I am fearful of my life changing again. As I grow older, I think about family planning and how that could possibly be impacted by receiving a specific cancer at a young age. As a young girl, I remember the complexities of cancer but did not have the language and emotions to express it. I remember sitting in this state of perplexity around the older adults, doctors, and people who came by the cancer clinic each passing day. I have been in remission for over 24 years, but there is not an appointment that goes by since my diagnosis that I do not think of the fear and anxiety that comes along with that appointment. I remember to breathe, I remember to journal, and I count that visit as another birthday for myself. Like the flower, I learned to grow amongst the rain and sunshine.

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