I was supposed to die this year. If the doctors hadn’t found the tumor growing on my third rib in October, I would have been told by now that I only have a few months to live. It’s a terrible thought, knowing that you could have been buried in cold dirt six feet below. I’d never faced mortality before, and now I’m all too aware of it.
Having cancer, or more specifically Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer, has made me really reevaluate my life. It sounds clichéd, since almost anyone going through cancer will have an epiphany at one point during their treatment – but for me, it altered my view on life. Being on the brink of death caused me to think about my priorities and who I wanted to be as a person. I also discovered that I wasn’t who I thought I was.
It was initially difficult for me to accept that I had cancer. I couldn’t wrap my head around it– who has cancer this young? After most of my high school years had been spent studying and testing so that I could get into the college of my dreams, I felt like I’d just turned over a new leaf at Williams. I didn’t want to leave. When my parents unexpectedly announced that we would be moving to northern California so that I could receive treatment at Stanford (where they would be better able to help and keep an eye on me), I was furious. I threatened to sleep in the bathtub, screamed like a banshee, sobbed nonstop, refused to eat and drink and threw pillows and Kleenex boxes at them. It was a difficult time for all of us.
I knew that cancer was going to be one of the “most challenging” obstacles in my life, but I didn’t know just how much it would turn my life upside down. Being given chemotherapy isn’t painful – only the side effects are. As expected, my hair fell out, including my eyebrows and eyelashes at one point. But this was the least of my worries. My fingertips became numb (nerve damage), my fingernails turned black, I was more easily fatigued, I had frequent headaches, my digestive system quit on me and I had horrible bouts of nausea. I would often vomit for days, sometimes to the point where nothing but saliva would come up.
There were times when it was so painful that I contemplated quitting. It’s hard trying to stay motivated enough to go in every two weeks, especially since I’ve developed a phobia of hospitals, blood and needles, but I’ve continued plowing through this treatment because I can’t get Williams off my mind. Williams is the reason why I keep hoping. Even though I only spent a marvelous 42 days on campus, I finally found a place that I could connect to. I was surprised by how supportive everyone was, from my entry (Willy F!) to the professors and Dean Dave. Without them, I wouldn’t have known just how amazing Williams is.
I still have three months to go: six more cycles of chemo. But I’ve finished eight cycles of chemo already and I’ve gone through surgery to remove the tumor and the ribs it was attached to. I only have two weeks of radiation, and radiation is relatively painless since it’s more like taking an X-ray. So I have a lot to look forward to. I’m more than halfway over the mountain at last, and I think I’ll be able to go back to Williams in the fall. In the meantime, I still have lots of time to relax and do whatever I want to do. It’s almost like having an extended vacation – except my mom doesn’t bug me about homework. Instead, we go out to eat (since I always have weird cravings from chemo), do a lot of retail therapy, read or watch movies from Netflix. I’ve picked up the guitar, and will soon be taking a bartending course. Of course, this wasn’t the life I’d been expecting but, considering the circumstances, it’s good enough for me. After all, any day when you’re not sick or in the hospital is a good day.
It’s easy to blame cancer for all of my hardships, misery and pain. After all, my life would definitely have been a lot more fun if I had been allowed to stay at Williams as a student. But I came to terms with the fact that I could choose to make the worst out of this situation or the best out of it, even though I deeply resented what life had dealt me. Guess which one I chose?