For a year of my life, more people than I ever imagined called me brave, complimented my courage, or told me they didn’t know how I could deal with what I faced. To be honest, I feel like a complete and utter fraud. Putting one foot in front of another isn’t bravery – it’s surviving. When I got sick, I saw myself as a pillar of strength that could inspire a Lifetime movie. Instead, almost all of my coworkers have seen me in SOME form of an emotional outburst and the entirety of Newton-Wellesley Hospital has seen me in tears, naked, drugged up, and, if I’m lucky, occasionally not all 3 at once. My attitude is ambivalent at best and bitter and angry at worst.
So once I entered my tenuous remission, I began to force myself to do things that made me really uncomfortable to live up to those mountains of compliments – not only for myself and the people who got me through treatment, but for the many other young adults who I have met along the way who never got the chance. Pollyanna as it may sound, survivor’s guilt is a bitch and in so many ways, my life now belongs to the hope that I can live the way my friends would have if they had the chance. If people want to draw inspiration from me then by gosh, I’m going to do it right!
When offered the opportunity to go on a First Descents trip this summer, I had the choice between rock climbing, white water kayaking, and surfing. I’m deathly afraid of heights. I had to pick rock climbing and I am now on my way out to the Catskills to climb cliffs.
First Descents is an organization aimed at empowering young adult survivors of cancer through physical challenges. For many participants, their week at First Descents is the first time they have ever connected with other young adult survivors. It’s a chance to push ourselves in ways that we had not previously thought possible in a supportive environment. Best of all, first-time participation is free (with moderate fundraising goals for future participation), enabling me to take my first vacation in over 2 years.
Cancer has fundamentally changed my body. Years of misdiagnosis meant that I took steroids regularly to control various symptoms – and meant that I would gain weight with each round. In order to help the body both process chemo better and to battle the side effects, I got IV steroids during each infusion. Between having to drastically reduce my activity levels, the steroids, and REALLY liking ice cream, I gained 60 pounds over the 6 months of chemo. It has been a year since and I haven’t lost any of it.
It’s a vicious cycle that so many of us understand, illness or not. You gain weight and your energy level decreases. You get out of breath easier, and sweat more. It all makes working out all the more difficult. Throw in some lung damage, fatigue, my new-found complete lack of ability to handle temperature changes, and a tendency to take on more than you can handle, and you have me today. Full time work, grad school, a full volunteer schedule, and recovering from illness make doing much else feel impossible
I sit here writing this the night before I head out unable to sleep. I worry about being able to handle the physical stress of climbing more than I worry about the height or learning to trust the rope.
Luckily I have a nice 4 hour drive to work through my thoughts and get my head in the game before I get to our lodge and meet my fellow intrepid adventurers. No matter what happens, I know without a doubt that this will be an adventure of a lifetime.