Haven’t I Been a Survivor All Along?

"You have cancer." How is a 14 year old supposed to process this?

This is where my cancer story begins. At 14, my budding teenage life was shaken by a brain tumor diagnosis. I didn’t even know what the word "cancer" entailed. After my diagnosis but before my impending surgery, I asked my mom, "So, will I be able to go on the youth group trip in a couple days?" I had no idea what was coming and was blissfully unaware of what having cancer actually meant.

From age 14 – age 22, I experienced three brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. Through all of the surgeries and treatments, I never pressed pause on the other aspects of my life. My radiation days were such that I had a treatment in the morning at the hospital, took a nap at home, woke up in time to go to school for the second part of the day, and stayed after school to make-up the work that I had missed in the first part of the day. I had my second surgery in July 2012 and started college a month later in August 2012. I started chemo in December 2012 in the middle of my freshman year, and continued my year and a half of therapy through my sophomore year. For my third surgery, I took off about two months from work and returned later like nothing had happened.

My focus was always forward. I was always go. go. go. And never stopped to think that there was any alternative to balancing everything at once. In hindsight, I think that taking time off from school may have been a wise decision. However, what I did was right for me in that moment, and I think it was the reason why I was always blindly optimistic. I didn’t have time to focus on the diagnosis.

Last year, my doctor said the words that I honestly never believed that I would hear. I was told that I was to be moved to a survivorship program. In my head, I thought, "Haven’t I been surviving cancer all along? Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?" Yet now, it had a label. I am a "survivor."

I wasn’t anticipating that the word "survivor" would ever make me feel empty. But I was used to always having the structure of school, and the focus on getting healthy after a treatment, that the idea of it all falling to the side and pressing pause on that part of my life was crazy to me. This diagnosis has been such a big part of me and my family’s lives since I’ve been 14. You mean that I can focus on something else besides getting healthy?

While being diagnosed with cancer at a young age can make you mature emotionally overnight, there are some aspects of life that are slowed down or paused. This was the first time that I really had time to breathe and think about me and what I really wanted to do with my life, not focus on getting a degree or treatment. Cancer can really take a toll on mental health.

I started thinking about what really made me happy and what I wanted my future to look like. I wasn’t accustomed to thinking in such a long-term way; thinking blissfully about the future was somewhat new for me.

On my journey of rediscovering myself after getting the "survivor" label, I reawakened my passion for yoga. I was looking to regain the strength that I had lost during treatment and also heal my mind in the process. Yoga seemed like a no-brainer. Therefore, I started on my yoga journey and haven’t looked back since. It is my hope to one day bring yoga to fellow cancer survivors so we can all experience the amazing benefits the practice has to offer us.

The journey of self-discovery is so important after a truly harrowing event such as a cancer diagnosis. A healthy recovery journey is also full of aspects of self-discovery. Part of recovery is re-envisioning your life after cancer, and finding what makes you shine. I’m looking forward to where my recovery journey takes me and how I can help others in the future.

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