Medically speaking, I am a cancer survivor.
In truth, I am nothing more than a cancer treatment survivor. I survived chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and a stem cell transplant. In deeper truth, I’m not sure I can take that title either, because the effects of the treatment have left me ridden with anxiety, fear, and lead me down a dim path of endless questions.
I’m not a survivor. I’m just an outlier, virtually unique in circumstance.
I was 14 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. I was 16 when I found out that the cancer had returned. It was also at 16 years old that my parents attempted to discuss with me what was surely the most disheartening effect of additional cancer treatment: unavoidable infertility. I was 16 when my response to them was, “Ok. Am I allowed to go to the lacrosse game with my friends tonight?”
The idea of the inability to reproduce becomes irrelevant to a 16-year-old more concerned about high school social status and the never-ending reminder of a cold, bald, head contrasted against the long, healthy locks of friends.
Fast forward. I am now 27 years old. In medical terms, I am cured. In truth, I am 27 years old and I can’t visit a doctor’s office on my own, for fear of what I may find out or a procedure that may have to occur.
At 27, I cannot find a single medical professional who knows how to provide care to a childhood treatment survivor. I don’t go a day without talking myself out of the premise that something is wrong. A twinge: nerve damage. A headache: brain cancer. Poor memory: Alzheimer’s. All listed as possible late effects of the cancer treatment I received.
At 27 years old, I live with one undeniable truth that overshadows all others: This could have been prevented.
Truth: My teenage lifestyle caused my body to develop cancer. Our ignorance as a society on how to care for the human body and mind has caused an epidemic of preventable disease.
This became evident to me as I sat in the office of my oncologist at 18 years old. I heard her tell me for a third time that my CAT scan revealed cancer yet again.
It was my parents who decided to lead me down a different path this time around. It was a path toward healing, and I’ve never looked back. I didn’t go to college the very next day, as was planned. Instead, I stayed home and wondered if eating a salad instead of a bologna sandwich would make the cancer go away. I stopped eating pop-tarts and started eating fruit. I had never known vegetables but we became acquaintances and eventually, good friends.
Three months after eliminating food from a factory and replacing it with food from the earth, a secondary CAT scan showed no sign of disease. This is where my mission began. “Hey everyone! I got rid of cancer by eating vegetables!” And again, the truth: had I known how to take care of my body from the start, I would never have had cancer.
Armed with this knowledge, it is now my mission to deliver it to as many people as I can. I do that through motivational speaking. I’m starting with women. Women have the power and desire to take control of their health, and influence others around them to do the same.
It will be exactly 10 years from that life-changing day this August. My mission has now expanded to new realms I never thought possible. My desire for learning and discovery will never cease.
True wellness is more than food. True wellness involves your mind and spirit, your emotions and your relationships. I’m 10-years-deep, but it could take me a lifetime to learn all there is to know about wellness.
My cancer could have been prevented, but I will not dwell on that. Instead, I will use the fear and anxiety that it has caused for the greater good. My chin is up, my eyes are focused, and I will get my message across.
In medical terms, I am a cancer survivor. If that gives me the platform that I need to accomplish my mission, then I will gladly accept the title.