I’ve wanted to record my experiences for quite some time now. I refer to bits and pieces of it all the time, whether they are sensory memories or just through storytelling and what not, it seems to come up--at least in my mind--on an almost daily basis. Even my closest friends only know the “shell” of the story. The frame-work. And that’s not because I hold back when I discuss it with them. It’s because there is really so much to it all that it is just impossible for me to say what I want to say and keep it in the context of a conversation.
I was only seventeen. Seventeen. And yes, I am aware that teenagers deal with this “stuff” a lot--more than I really care to think about—but what people don’t realize is that because I was seventeen when I was given the big C-word (not that C-word), it shaped who I am almost entirely. When a forty year-old woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and embarks on the war-like journey of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc, she is already whole. Meaning she knows who she is. She has experienced life and gotten to know herself as a person—separate from cancer and sickness.
When a young child is diagnosed with leukemia, they will (hopefully) be cured by the time their id really starts to develop. The experience will already be over and done with to the point where a) they were so young that they won’t remember, or b) they are young enough to be able to leave the majority of the experience behind as a part of their childhood.
But a young adult who suffers from a debilitating disease such as cancer—well, he or she is branded for life. Not necessarily in a bad way, no. It depends on how they mold the experience. But because they dealt with it during the time in which they are having their initial bouts of self-discovery…wham, bam, thank you ma’am—it’s who they are. What I learned from my experience with cancer as a young adult has directly lead me to who I am today, and plays a role in every thought I have, every decision I make, and every word I say. And it always will. Not to say the woman who defeats cancer at age 40 is not significantly changed—because she is—but she knows who she is separate from her illness. And a child who beats cancer—well, they have a lot more time to develop and to move on.
Not me. I am my cancer, through and through. And let me tell you—I am DAMN proud.
Often, when I talk with people, I just naturally refer to a time ‘in the hospital’ or ‘during treatment’. And half-way through the statement I think “shut up, Jesse, no one wants to hear about that. It’s so depressing.” But it is SO much a part of who I am. It was my entire life for a year and a half.
When I say ‘I am my cancer’, it is not because I want everyone to look at me and think ‘poor baby, she had cancer’ or ‘there’s that girl who had cancer’. No. It is because the person I am today is a direct reflection of what I went through. And I say I’m proud because I am. I am so proud of myself. I went from a girl who had to have twenty four hours to mentally prepare before a flu-shot to a badass chick who bit her lip every fucking night while her father injected her with two intramuscular shots in the leg (and mad props to you too, Dad). I went from a girl who thought her life revolved around becoming some famous big-shot to a girl who realized...famous to whom?
I will not, however, claim to be some perfect human being, though. While I do consider myself a strong person, there are little things that I still can’t seem to shake. Growing up—for some God-damned reason—I let society convince me that looks are important. So when I lost my long brown hair, shit hit the fan. I never, ever, not ONCE, went out in public without a wig on. Now, part of that was because I never wanted any pity from anyone, and I’ll be the first to admit that the thought that immediately pops into my head when I see a bald chick walking around is---‘oh my gosh, I feel so sorry for her’. But the majority of my reasoning had to do with vanity.
Today, my hair is back, but very short still—and I give myself a really hard time everyday when I look in the mirror, wishing it was long again. And I know…it’s just hair. But that’s the thing…cancer attacks the things that seem unimportant to you. Including your overall health (ahhhemmm, this is dedicated to teenagers and other young adults who insist on filling their lungs with smoke, obliterating their livers, getting high, and then driving a fucking car). It was just hair, it was just my last performance in high school, it was just awards night (that I wasn’t even informed about—thanks West Genesee). The only reason I even got to go to prom was because the freaking nurses worked around the clock to make sure all my chemo was given at precisely the right time, that I was tanked up on blood and platelets, and that my kidneys weren’t going to shut down in the middle of the event---yeah how’s that for pre-gaming before prom! Woo! (Another thing…nurses. So freakin’ underappreciated. High five, nurses).
And family. Maybe you’re surprised that I include family in a list of things that seem unimportant. Well. Don’t you think you take them for granted? Pretty sure I did. Until it was a possibility that my time with them was limited. Give your loved ones a freakin’ hug. Seriously. Go, do it.
I think you can clearly see that these events are fresh on my mind. I remember every detail. So when I stop myself from talking about stuff that happened to me during my illness—I have to think about it for a second, and then I let myself continue. Because just as the things that have happened to you in the past few years are some of the freshest memories you have…I spent a lot of time battling this illness. So many young people do. Too many young people do. So when you hear me, or someone like me, refer to my experience it’s not because I want your pity (trust me, if you look/talk to me like I’m a freakin’ helpless puppy, you are GOING to get called out on it), and it’s not because I want attention. It’s because it’s who I am. It was my life during a critical period of self discovery. I am my cancer—whether I like it or not. I kicked the shit out of my cancer, and I’ll do it again if I have to. But the things I learned from it made me who I am.