I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed with cancer; I’ll never forget the white walls that felt as if they were closing in. I’ll never forget the look from my doctor or the blank hopeless expressions from my parents. I’ll never forget the sterile smell that lingered throughout the small room. I’ll never forget the crunch of the white paper under me as I shifted with anxiety. I’ll never forget the feeling of impending death. August 1, 2018 is a day that will haunt me for as long as I live. I felt as if the world was crashing down on me. I was only 15. My mind should have been on the start of school and end of summer part. Instead, I was lying in my bed googling the odds that I would live to see the end of the next summer. I remember sitting on the couch a few days after a biopsy confirmed my diagnosis and “Harry Potter, the Prisoner of Azkaban” was on TV. I always enjoyed watching the movie series with my brothers growing up and it was comforting to have it on. I mindlessly scrolled through social media to distract my racing thoughts with the comforting movie paying in the background. That’s when I heard the infamous quote come from the T.V. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”-Albus Dumbledore.
That resonated with me for days to come. I was in my darkest of times and I just needed to turn on the light, but what was my switch?
My light came from multiple sources. Most importantly was my family and friends. They were supportive through my entire journey. No matter the time, place, or circumstance they were there. I remember many of nights that I would get into an argument with my mom and no matter what I said she was there for me, always. Their love, support, and understanding were exactly what I needed to find happiness in a time where it was nowhere to be found. Happiness for me also came from hope. I feel that without hope there is nothing to live for. Whether you have a cancer diagnosis or not, hope is what we all live for at the end of the day. My hope was to beat osteosarcoma and continue with my life. Not letting the disease win. Hope gave me a reason to get out of bed even when every bone hurt. Hope is what made me eat food even when I felt so nauseous, I might pass out. Hope is why I couldn’t give up. I had hope for a future. I had hope to get back in school. I had hope to see my friends. I had hope to experience all life had to offer. I refused to let cancer win and take all that away from me.
Obviously, I didn’t have a choice in anything. At the end of the day my outcome was not because I had hope, it wasn’t because “I refused to let cancer win”.
I understand that my prognosis and outcome was left up to God, fate, the universe, or whatever you may believe. With that said I think having the mindset and keeping hope through the best and worst of news made my experience with cancer much more manageable. It has set me up to persevere through nearly any challenge life may throw at me today.
A question that I have been asked multiple times is “If I could go back and never be diagnosed would I let things happen just as they did?” I would be lying if I said I’m not tempted to choose to never be diagnosed. Mostly because my diagnosis took away baseball and basketball which were two integral pieces of my life that I was extremely passionate about before diagnosis. I would love to see how far I could have made it in the world of baseball. Where would I be going to college? What people would I have met? What experiences would I have had? Those are questions I’ll always wish I had the answer to. With that said I don’t think I would change a thing. Cancer humbled me down to merely nothing. It stripped me of my entitlement and made me see just how easily everything can be ripped away. I now appreciate everyday like it could be my last. I feel like I walk around with a renewed sense of energy and appreciation for the world around me.
No matter what is going on I’m always able to turn on the light and find happiness no matter how dark the times may seem. That’s an ability I will have for the rest of my life and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.
If you’re reading this as a newly diagnosed osteo patient I would say you need to find your light switch. Find what makes you happy, find what gives you hope and hold on to that as tight as you can. If you’re deep into treatment, then you must remember to keep your light on. The end of treatment is like the trenches of war. You’re wounded, tired, and ready to just give up, but in your darkest times is when it’s most important to remember what got you this far. Remember what you’re fighting for. Remember where the light has been coming from for the past months and don’t let it go. For those of you reading this that are out of treatment it can be a difficult adjustment back to the real world. I’ve had plenty of days where I would lay around and think “why me?” “Why did my dreams have to get destroyed?” “Why did I have to undergo all that pain and sickness?” But when thoughts like that creep in, you must remember it’s not all for nothing. You’ve been given a second shot at life, so seize it. Make the best of it in whatever way you can, and hopefully make an impact on the world. That way you can look back and know cancer was just part of the journey that shaped your life into what it has become.
I have tried to stop asking “why?” and start asking “what?” “What can I do with the opportunities I have?”. Asking “Why did this happen to me?” will never change the fact that it did; however, asking “what I can do to change the outcome for others?” can have an unprecedented impact on countless people and is much more productive and self-fulfilling than dwelling on what could have been.