Since childhood I have always wondered where I “fit” in. You know, the regular teenage angst of wanting to be accepted and loved but at the same time still trying to figure out who you really are. Yeah, that was me early on. See, I was adopted as a baby. My amazing parents thought it would be best to tell me as early as I could comprehend that, although I was different and my beginnings where different that I was special none the less. To my Mom I was always her “special girl” and I knew they loved me, but there was always a sense of disconnect.
Being adopted and knowing young however, gave me a greater sense of love and affection because that meant my parents chose me! They could have chosen any child, but as they tell the story – my Dad saw me in foster care and just knew I was his daughter!! I grew up in a loving and caring home, you know, the “typical” African American family where cousins were really sisters/brothers and your Mom straightening your hair by the stove was a rite of passage, I couldn’t have asked for a better family!
Growing up I learned to find comfort in the unknown and that your family, those that love you aren’t just connected by blood, but by love. My family on both sides didn’t treat me any different – most didn’t find out I was adopted until we were adults! My life as an adoptee taught me that a genetic connection isn’t what makes you family – it is the love, acceptance and honesty that others have for you when you are just being you!
Why do I bring up my adoptive past when it comes to my breast cancer diagnosis? So glad you asked!
I think a lot of young adult cancer patients/survivors can relate to the feeling of not fitting in. Going to oncology appointments, treatments and follow ups and seeing people in the waiting rooms that look like our Grandparents. It’s a sense of disconnect, a sense of not fitting in and brings up a sense of longing that I think we can equate to from our teenage years. We are going through a traumatic/emotional episode in life and all we really want are people who just understand what the hell we are going through!
Being diagnosed at 36 of breast cancer totally changed my mindset around my own immortality. It made me realize even more that tomorrow is not promised and that I need to live every day to the fullest. That the timeframes to do things we thought we had don’t really exist, time is precious. After my active treatment I yearned again to find someone who just got it, someone with whom I could relate. Someone that was different from the “normal cancer patient”, that would still love and accept me just as I was and that I could really tell honestly my story.
After my diagnosis, I yearned to find a space where I could be just me and all that came with me after diagnosis – the fear of reoccurrence, the literal pains of everyday life, the anxiety of yearly scans and the unanswered questions of what my future holds. Finding my people, finding my herd became important because I knew I couldn’t continue as I was – a 30 something breast cancer patient that needed to find a connection to others just like me – being in a space and place where others just get it!
After active treatment there were a few organizations that I got involved with that I felt had people who were “just like me”. Organizations like Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Young Adult Initiative and Young Survivor Coalition. Both organizations specifically focused on breast cancer but also took an interest in the young adult perspective to breast cancer. But it wasn’t until I found YACS, now Young Adult Survivor’s United (YASU) that I felt like I found my people!! YASU is an organization that I came in as a lost and hurt YA cancer patient and am now a thriving survivor trying to make a difference in the AYA and African American cancer space. The founder Stephanie accepted me with open arms and to this day is a lifelong friend!
I honestly don’t know where I would be right now as a young adult breast cancer survivor if I hadn’t found my herd. Yes, my oncology team was exceptional every step of my journey. My surgical oncologist easing my mind in the very beginning that I wasn’t going to die despite my diagnosis, my medical oncology team who to this very day saves my sanity year after year and lastly my radiology oncology team who became like family during the daily visits for the 6 weeks I had treatment. During my active treatment they were the herd that saved my life!
But let’s be honest, they never prepare you for the “after” and what life will be like once you are no longer in their daily or weekly care. I had to buck up and find my people, find those like me, who unlike other YA people in” normal” life, could relate to chemo induced infertility before the age of 40, the 2nd /3rd degree burns from a machine that is supposed to save your life or what dating life as a 30 something year old looks like when your opening statement is “breast cancer baddie, want to know more just swipe right!” No one has ever gotten me like a fellow young adult cancer survivor!!
Finding my herd has been so largely instrumental in who I am as a young adult breast cancer survivor today. I found my advocacy voice in spaces where there were YA cancer patients just like me! I know with reassurance that I wouldn’t be the fierce breast cancer advocate I am today if I didn’t have the push and support of people like me, who just get what it looks like to navigate young adult cancer.
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 https://elephantsandtea.org/contact/submissions/.