I remember the moment my parents told me I had cancer. I remember the shock, and my boyfriend's arms around me. I remember crying, calling my friends. I remember how Rachel and Gen rushed over, tears in their eyes. Meghan and Erin's cracked voices over the phone. My cousins...my siblings...my parents' fear.
I don't really remember surgery. I remember checking in. I remember going home.
I remember the radioactive iodine treatment. The men in Haz-Mat suits, giving me a toxic pill to swallow as they stood the recommended amount of feet away, tape measure in hand. The walk behind my mother to her car.
I remember driving to New Jersey with my mom, who wasn't afraid to be near me, even though I was quite literally toxic. My friends visited through the bathroom door. I was isolated for a week. My dad bought me a TV. My siblings were scared.
Next month, I'll undergo a full-body scan to make sure nothing's left.
My doctor said there's abnormal lymph nodes, so I'll get an ultrasound too.
These six years post-diagnosis have been the hardest of my life. Cancer doesn't end when treatment does; it's effects linger, especially if you are young when you are diagnosed.
Young adult cancer survivors used to exist without acknowledgement. They still have the highest mortality rate out of all cancer populations, because they are often overlooked. To be young and vital and then suddenly sick is terrifying.
I remember the depression right after treatment. It was all a blur; I graduated from college 2 months after I was diagnosed. Everything was happening at once.
I can't imagine my life now without the friends and community that I've come to know through this terrible disease. I can't imagine a world without their friendship and support. It is the silver lining.
Cancer destroyed my body. Cancer provoked Type 1 Diabetes; last week, my doctor told me it was the trigger. It took a mild case of lupus and made it suddenly more severe. I have been so sick and so sad. I have been angry and depressed.
This week, I move to Brooklyn. I have been home for almost 18 months, recovering and then getting sick again. I've accepted another diagnosis. This month I turn 28 and I'm getting an insulin pump for my birthday.
I didn't live for so long; I slept. I call them the Lost Days. But as I look toward the end of my twenties, I don't want any more Lost Days.
I am not better, but I am okay with that. I am moving forward. I am healing, even if that means I'm not medically any better than I was a year and a half ago.
I have had so much support. My parents are amazing; my sister and my brother and cousins are my rock. My friends are steadfast and this community builds me up when I am lost.
Let's support each other. Give whatever you can to fight cancer. It takes so much. It is not a gift, and we must defeat it.
I recommend the American Cancer Society and First Descents. Too Young for Cancer is also a good organization for young adults battling this disease. Give toward metastatic breast cancer and Ewing's Sarcoma. Give toward melanoma, or Hodgkin's and thyroid and pancreatic. We need advances. We need them now.
Link to donate to First Descents is here: http://tfd.firstdescents.org/site/TR?px=1004761&fr_id=1060&pg=personal
Thank you all for inspiring me to keep on. Thank you for all your support these past six years.
I am so lucky. I am so grateful.
I'll never forget the friends we lost and will lose. I'll always remember their fight and determination and I will call on that on days I am not up for living.
This is what it means to survive.