I had always thought of the scar on my chest as my scarlet letter. The scar that was once site of such a bad port infection that doctors used me as their “worst case scenario” exhibit, but now it’s the scar that people most tend to think is a hickey. When my treatment ended in 2005 I didn’t want to look back. I did what I had to do to be a normal 13-year-old. I went through chemo, had blood transfusions, spinal taps, dealt with a bald head and chipmunk cheeks from steroids. When I was given the all-clear from my oncologist that was it, the cancer chapter was finished.
It wasn’t until 2008, right before I was graduating high school that it hit me; I am a cancer survivor. I never went to a support group or met other patients or survivors. I never absorbed what was going on around me. I just looked straight ahead.
In the midst of college applications I decided I was going to Montana to a cancer camp. This was completely out of my comfort zone, but I knew it was something I had to do.
It was there that it clicked. I watched as a young adult with a prosthetic leg climb a rock wall faster than me, a survivor in a wheel chair laugh hysterically when his door-prize was a jump rope, and stood by as a patient had every strand of her long hair shaved off by a beautiful bald survivor.
It was that week that I absorbed. It was that week that the scarlet letter on my chest started to transform into a badge of honor.
It’s weird how things work out sometimes….
My second day at Ulman I met a 13-year-old girl going through treatment and learned the 4K stopped at the camp I attended in Montana. I listened to a fellow survivor speak and motivate a room full of people.
I wasn’t diagnosed as a young adult, but I am a young adult and I am a cancer survivor.
I’ve never been shy or uncomfortable to share my story; I just chose to avoid the sad faces and generic remarks. Although, at times, when a stranger would congratulate me on such a hickey, I loved throwing them off.
But, here at Ulman I was reminded on my first day that everyone here gets it. Whether it’s someone in the office, a Team Fighter, a 4Ker, a volunteer…someone gets it. And when they don’t know right thing to say, there’s no generic lines because they get that sometimes saying nothing means more.
So, during my Year of Service I will not only absorb, but I will share. I will share my story, learn from others, and continue to look ahead. But this time I’m remembering to look back.
UCF Year of Service Fellow