The first week of April is Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week – which is a big deal around here! To commemorate, we have interviewed several members of our community. Each has been affected by this illness and faced that diagnosis with grace. Below is a compilation of their answers, which paints a broad picture of what young adults facing cancer experience. This is part two of a three part series.
“My friends and peers were super supportive of me during the time leading up to my surgery and during my year of treatment on interferon. They continued to invite me to everything and treat me like they always did.”
The types of reactions that cancer patients receive from the public vary. Some interactions can be uplifting. Others, while well intended, can be frustrating. The only thing that remains constant is that everyone, from family to people on the street, seem to want to weigh in on your diagnosis.
Q: What has been the most encouraging comment or response you received during treatment?
Christa Bennett: The most encouraging response was from a friend who said that I helped her get through her hard days when she would think of my strength. That was encouraging; it makes you feel like you have to keep fighting because people need you to be strong. I also had friends, nurses and strangers praying for me and just loving on me in my time of need.
Gino DeFeilippo: All my friends were very supportive of my diagnosis. A lot of them set up a fundraiser and stopped by the hospital to give me anything they thought would be helpful. I had a collection of maybe 5 different types of blankets at the end of my 5 month stay in the hospital.
Sonja Wagner: I consider myself really lucky to have a very supportive group of friends who have been by my side for the last five plus years and four battles with cancer. Everyone was also awesome about not treating me differently even when the side effects from chemo, radiation, and surgery started to take over. Instead, they helped me shave my head, pushed me in my wheelchair when I needed it, and always made sure I had food they knew wouldn’t make me sick.
Shannon Shepard: The most helpful response was from my family and the nursing staff. My mom was there majority of the time during the heavy treatment. When she wasn’t able to come and see me, the nurses who took care of me would play games, watch movies, and talk to me.
Kelsey Barbour: …everyone was extremely supportive, and even people I may not have been in contact with frequently reached out to me. I received wonderful cards and well wishes through social media, which was so touching.
James Berry: My friends and peers were super supportive of me during the time leading up to my surgery and during my year of treatment on interferon. They continued to invite me to everything and treat me like they always did. The side effects from my treatment were flu like symptoms, like fatigue, nausea, and extremely sore joints. Also my hair began to thin and fall out, and in hindsight I should have just cut my losses and shaved my head, but losing my hair would actually make me look like a cancer patient. Fortunately, my balding head didn’t affect the way my friends treated me throughout the year.
“The most frustrating response, to be honest, was all the people that kept telling me, ‘You got this. I’m not worried.’ Or the alternative, ‘You’re strong. You’ll be fine.’ Those statements were frustrating for me because the underlying message, at least in my chemo-addled brain, was that I didn’t have a right to feel scared.”
Q: What has been the most frustrating comment or response you received during treatment?
Brianne Kennedy-Brooks: The most frustrating responses–though made with good intentions–were always the initial, aghast responses of “Oh! But you’re so young!” when they would learn I had cancer. I understood their knee-jerk reactions of shock (after all, I felt it too), but it definitely made me feel more isolated when I walked around the cancer center and everyone just knew me as “the young, pretty one who brings presents.”
Olivia Marquart: The most frustrating part of treatment right now is knowing that my diagnosis will be a lifelong issue. Right now with my treatment plan I do not have an end date for chemo like most patients. Trying to explain that to people outside of the cancer world are sometimes frustrating because they don’t understand that every cancer is different. There is no cookie cutter treatment plan when it comes to cancer.
Jennifer McRobbie: The most frustrating response, to be honest, was all the people that kept telling me, “You got this. I’m not worried.” Or the alternative, “You’re strong. You’ll be fine.” Those statements were frustrating for me because the underlying message, at least in my chemo-addled brain, was that I didn’t have a right to feel scared. That if I had a bad day, it meant I wasn’t “doing cancer the right way.” That I had to keep up the strong warrior front in order to live up to their “not worried” feelings. It’s hard enough to say to your friends and family that you’re feeling vulnerable and scared and upset. It’s even harder to be vulnerable when you feel like there’s an expectation that you’re some battle-hardened soldier in the war on cancer. These types of statements don’t acknowledge the range of emotions you feel upon diagnosis and during treatment.
Melinda Hood: By far the most frustrating thing, and this still happens, is the response “but you’re so young.” Uterine cancer is most common among women in their 50’s and 60’s. I remember being in my oncologist’s office waiting for my appointment. A women leaned over and said, “It’s so nice that you’re here with your mom.” I just did the smile and nod. My cover was blown when my name got called for my appointment.
This is part one of a three part series. To be part of the conversation stay connected with us on facebook or twitter. Help spread awareness about Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer by sharing this post with family and friends! Cancer Changes Lives…So Do We!