September 4th is right around the corner. It is Childhood cancer awareness day. 41 years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3B Hodgkins. I was 7 years old. I was a guinea pig on experimental drugs while suffering from shingles and then viral meningitis. My years of treatment included radiation and chemotherapy cocktails created from the same serum mustard gas used in WWII, and the Pink Periwinkle flower from Madagascar. Cancer treatment was archaic in the 70s. Brutal. I watched all of my little Leukemia and brain tumor friends die. I am the only child who survived our group.
I was left with huge physical and emotional scars. Radiation left me sterile. I never went through puberty. My teenage years were hell. I was pulled out of P.E. and got breast implants at age 16 because teasing was so bad. At age 21 I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. At age 46 I was diagnosed with kidney cancer in both kidneys. I suffered renal failure. Both kidneys were removed. I spent two years on dialysis. It was no way to live. Two and a half months ago my husband gave me his kidney for our 24th wedding anniversary. It is such a blessing, but I am still struggling. It is still a fight. Slowly, there is progress, but I find myself re-living the haunting memories of my past. I try to be strong, but I am not. I am the terrified child inside.
So the next time you are tempted to tell a cancer survivor to “Get over it,” remember that it is never over. The side effects of childhood cancer never end. They are decades long. They creep up and blindside me. Again. And again. And again. So please get over your discomfort when cancer fighters and survivors must talk, must weep, must grieve. We are broken. Often shattered. It takes an uncertain amount of time for us to pick up the pieces of shard and rebuild our lives. Your thoughtless words only add to the emotional scars we carry. Please spend less time trying to shut us up, and more time spreading the hope because your friend, your co-worker, your family member, or the love of your life survived.
I am still here. I am surrounded by the most precious guardian angels that went before me. They are etched in my memory forever. And some day, when it is my turn to go, I will embrace them with tears and laughter. I know it.