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How Cancer Changed my College Plans

by Brianna MarieSurvivor, Typical Carcinoid TumorFebruary 3, 2023View more posts from Brianna Marie

How Cancer Changed my College Plans

I hit the jackpot of winning the medical diagnosis lottery right out of the gate. I was born with a condition that has involved many surgeries over the last 20 years.

I graduated high school in 2020. As a person with many medical conditions, this was an accomplishment. I was ready for college. I was accepted to multiple colleges and chose one close to home. I was ready.

The pandemic worsened and it shut down many places. It did not make sense to go to college during a pandemic with my medical conditions. I wanted a normal college freshman experience. After making some decisions, I ended up taking a gap year.

During this time, I developed a chronic cough and breathing issues. After seeing multiple specialists, I had a CT scan which revealed that I had a tumor in my lung. I had a biopsy that confirmed the truth.

It is not a common cancer, despite it being called a typical carcinoid tumor (also known as a neuroendocrine tumor). I was 19 years old and the average age of diagnosis is around 50 to 60 years old. The specific tumor I have makes up one to two percent of all lung cancers. Once again, I hit the jackpot of winning the medical diagnosis lottery.

So, instead of going to college, I was on a completely different adventure: the cancer experience. I started my first oral chemotherapy on August 1, 2021, and on September 28, 2021, I added a second oral chemo drug.

Not only did I have to take a year off from starting college in 2020, but I now had to take a year off in 2021. I had already gone through the process of planning to go to college once and being disappointed. Now it is happening again.

I had a variety of side effects from oral chemotherapy. One of them resulted in being so nauseous that I barely could sleep at night. I lost my sense of taste, which is not fun.

Food either tasted like nothing or like a block of metal. That was the same for anything I drank as well. My hair started thinning and turning gray. I had a hard time adjusting, especially with the hair changes.

After four months and 25 days of oral chemo, my medical team decided it was time to surgically remove my lung tumor. So on January 10, 2022. I had a pneumonectomy (the removal of my right lung). After surgery, I woke up with a breathing tube and a few chest tubes and eventually was able to return home.

So here I am. One year later, I survived surgery and long months of recovery, and never in a million years did I plan on making it to college.

There are still times when I am reminded of my cancer while at college. When I realize that everyone my age is already a couple of years into their college degree and that I am the oldest among my suitemates. When I feel bad for taking the elevator instead of the stairs from my classes, even though I only live on the first floor and my classes are on the lower level. Or when I have to ask people to slow down and stop walking too fast because my one lung can only do so much. Those are the times I still get upset when I am reminded of what cancer took from me.

However, I am alive and I know that not every cancer patient makes it to the “no evidence of disease” status. Some of the ones who don’t get that are the patients I meet through support groups—they may even have the same diagnosis. Yet, they are like me in the fact that at one point they wouldn’t have ever thought cancer would come into their life. Nevertheless, they deserve to reach no evidence of disease status, because they have so much life left to live. They did the treatments they thought were best and somehow they were still dealt an awful hand of cards. Some may know that because of this disease, they won’t get to be cancer free, and eventually, their life will be cut short.

So I no longer care for things that I once longed to dream of. Material things don’t fascinate me anymore. I used to want all sorts of things for myself, for holidays or birthdays. Post-cancer life I now value the time of the people I love. Cancer sucks, but it taught me that life can get messy. You never know when your time is up, so I’m just blessed to be alive.

Even though I am one-year cancer free, I still am active within the cancer community. I use my social media to educate people about cancer. I have hosted a fundraiser on Facebook and Instagram for my cancer center, and I am still actively engaging in cancer support groups online because I know the first-hand feeling of receiving a cancer diagnosis.

I never imagined a cough would lead me to a cancer diagnosis. You never think it is you until it is. The clock doesn’t stop, and we are just here for a short while and cannot change that. God can call us any day.  So make it count. It took cancer for me to understand this. I hope that you don’t take life for granted—even the things that seem so simple.

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