In short: A young adult cancer survivor with a soft spot for mental health issues. In drawing from my experience with cancer, I hope to shed light on some of the obstacles that come with trauma, anxiety, and depression, that may resonate with others.
In-depth: Throw it back to 2013. Between working late nights as a supervisor for Shoppers Drug Mart, studying for finals to end my first year at the University of Toronto, and online shopping for a trip to Cuba with friends, I found a lump in my neck.
Them lump ended up being a swollen lymph node, (symptom is not always cancer related), but after running some blood tests I learned that my immune system was shot. I had little to no white blood cells or neutrophils to fight any illness or infection.
After months of tests and dragging my study notes to hospitals and emergency rooms, at age 19, I discovered that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I was forced to leave school, work, and cancel my trip to Cuba. A cancer diagnosis was about to get in the way of my life, my sense of self, my sense of security, and my happiness.
In exchange for what?
To be rushed to a hospital room that I would call home for a month. ONLY to leave a month later and continue treatment for a little over two years.
I’ve had a tube injected into chest and watched it dangle out of my skin to feed chemotherapy into my body. I’ve had concoctions of chemo injected into my arms, my butt, my spinal cord, and digested it orally. I’ve had radiation swim through my brain that smelt like a sea of sour sewage making me want to vomit all over hospital machines. I’ve lost muscle mass from every portion of my body making it almost impossible to climb stairs, open water bottles, and sometimes even step into houses without falling over. But you know what was the worst part of treatment?
The mental health demons.
“You are the strongest person I know.” I was told this constantly over and over, even to this day. People would commend me for my strength and bravery when at times, I felt as though I was the exact opposite.
With the sudden life change, I was forced to quit everything that I had worked so hard for and thought defined me. As my body experienced drastic physical changes, I slowly slipped into depression and fell into the pit of social anxiety. The strong, independent, adventurous, funny, smiley-girl, turned into the sad, depressed, socially anxious 19, 20, and 21-year-old. I rarely wanted to leave my bed, was afraid to go to the mall, and absolutely dreaded holidays and family functions. But of course, I hid all of these fears for a long time. To be entirely honest, I was ashamed of my depression and anxiety.
The more comments I received about my strength and bravery, the more I realized that people tend to automatically associate cancer with physical pain and sickness. But when I think of my cancer, I think of how debilitating the depression and anxiety was.
Coming out of cancer, the existing passion that I’ve always had to help others has heightened, but most people would assume that this passion would be centered solely around those struggling with cancer. While I’ve got an itch to help my fellow cancer warriors, I equally have to hand it to the mental health squad.
What I’ve learned?
Mental health is universal; cancer is one forum to introduce those demons.
Completing my treatment in July of 2015 at age 21, I am still dealing with these issues today. But a year later, I am so much better, and continuing to get better.
So what is the goal now?
To spread awareness on mental health. Prove that its importance is equivalent to physical, coming from a young adult who experienced both simultaneously. Without your mind, without your sense of self, you cannot take on the world, or at least it is extremely difficult to.
So welcome home my fellow sad, and fearful friends. Whether you’re in the midst of trauma, starting to climb out or know someone who is going through a tough time, I invite you to my blog.
I hope this blog assures you that you’re never alone, and I hope that through reading my posts, you find something that resonates with you. If so, I hope you are comfortable sharing your own feelings on the subject.
We all experience the same emotions of sadness, happiness, anger, grief; it’s just a matter of degree as to how strongly we feel them, how often, and what experiences introduce these emotions in the first place. At the end of the day, asides from the grief, sadness, fear, and guilt, you’ll be okay, you always will be, and I hope I can help you see that.
Check out Young Adult Cancer Canada to read more about my story here. You can also check out the other lovely survivor profiles on the site too!
Check out the UTM Medium’s article on my return to University and my first time going public about my cancer at the UofT Relay for Life event!