To the kid who is going through what I went through, you are not alone. I understand your fears and uncertainties. I’ve been there, and I lived to share my story.
I know what it’s like to hear the word “cancer” in reference to myself and feel dumbfounded and confused, knowing that my childhood would no longer be carefree. The floor tiles of the clinic will forever be imprinted in my brain as I felt the same paralyzing fear of the future, wondering if I would become a cancer statistic.
I felt overwhelming fear when I realized that there were cancer cells growing in my body. How fast? I didn’t know. My personal space was invaded by this unwelcome intruder, and I had to rely on an equally icky medicine to get rid of it.
Not only that, but it would take time consumed with pain, sickness, exhaustion and emotional rollercoasters—all to rid my body of this monster of a guest that was not invited. I felt the same anxiety before each scan, test and x-ray, wondering if the cancer had spread and praying that it hadn’t. I watched in fear as nurses, sometimes covered in a protective apron and mask, carried the bag of chemo into my hospital room, hooking it up to my port and draining it into my already weak body. It took this potent chemo to kill the cancer. This is a nightmare I understand.
I felt the frustration of finding out that my blood counts were too low to attend my best friend’s birthday party (or insert any other anticipated life moment), even though I felt just fine. Sometimes this frustration may lead to an all out temper tantrum and that’s okay; it’s not fair. I’ve experienced the stares that come with wearing a mask in a public place so as not to breathe in any germs that might harm my poor immune system. It’s embarrassing. I get it.
I know the pain of mouth sores, throat sores, ginormous blisters on my heels and toes, all from a chemo that’s supposed to be healing. Making me better. It doesn’t always make sense.
I had the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every morning, waking up to clumps of hair on my pillow. I remember trying to decide if it would be less devastating to just shave it all off. I also recall feeling envy when looking at the other girls my age with pretty curls in their long hair, comparing them to myself with no hair. I felt less pretty, and in a way “incomplete.”
I remember the despair that I felt every time I heard that one of my little hospital mates had lost their battle. The tears my mom and I would cry as if we knew them. We were connected to them through shared experiences and wished with all of our hearts that their battle would have ended like mine. This was perhaps the hardest part.
I tell you this because I want you to know that if you feel these feelings and fears, you are not alone. I felt them too.
During one of my long hospital stays, there was a night when I woke up crying. The nurse that was on duty that night, in an effort to make me feel better, said very sweetly, “don’t cry honey, you need to be brave for your mom.” After she left the room my mom told me, “Anna, you do not need to be brave for me. If you need to cry, cry. Feel your feelings.” This is my advice to you. Feel your feelings.
If you’re angry that your life is different, feel angry. It’s not fair.
If you’re sad that you can’t hang out with your friends, cry. Don’t hold it in because you want to appear brave. You are brave even with your tears.
If you feel frustrated, tantrum. Take a minute, lay on the ground, kick your hands and feet in the air and yell. If it helps you to release some of that internal frustration, I say go for it. No judgment.
And on days that you feel good, own it. Be silly. Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the lighter feel good moments, because some day, when you get past all of the crappy stuff, the good stuff is what you will want to remember. Even though it’s hard, this is a part of your life and it will shape you.
The good stuff is what I choose to hold in my heart:
My family who spent several nights on the uncomfortable hospital recliners just in case I woke up in pain.
The nurses that sang to me on my birthday.
The girl in the room next door that drew me a picture of a “cloud with a silver lining.”
The wig that I snuck on backward so that I could catch my mom off guard and hear her belly laugh.
The deep conversations that I had with the hospital chaplain about life and God.
The cards and letters that I got from people I didn’t even know, saying that they were praying for me.
Those are the memories I will cherish.
Oh. And take a picture of your bald head. When you have hair again, this is a memory you will want to see. A visual reminder of your strength.
The bad memories will hopefully fade a bit. Cancer will continue to suck. But you will find a sense of strength and empowerment. There is no feeling greater than knowing you beat the odds and nothing that will give you more motivation to make a difference in the world.
And when you’re passed it, you will be able to share your story. You will be able to teach others about perseverance by showing them what you were able to overcome. Keep fighting. A day at a time. You got this! And when it’s all over, I can’t wait to hear your fight story!
To everyone else. I describe the horror of cancer in an attempt to be a voice for those children who are currently fighting. Those who are living the pain, the fear, the anxiety. Please donate. Give to childhood cancer research so that more children are able to share their stories. Give so that someday, treatment for childhood cancer is less painful and more healing. Thank you.
Written by Anna Schetinski
I was just a regular girl, living a normal life when in an instant something terrible happened. I realized that life is fragile- not to be taken for granted. I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when I was sixteen years old and it changed me forever. I survived to share my story, and I am thankful for what I’ve learned about life through this experience. We are all here for a reason, and what we choose to contribute to this crazy world has the power to make a difference. I choose to love. I choose to empathize. I choose to share my story because I know that it has the potential to help others who struggle.
A little about my life now: I am an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher and love that I get to help little ones learn and grow every day. My husband and I do not have children, but we have the sweetest nieces and nephews. We love to spend time with our friends and family, enjoy all four seasons of Minnesota weather, and cheer on the MN Vikings. My life goal is to do HIS work well because HE is why I’m still here.—Ephesians 2:10.