I walk into work, play, anywhere (besides home, sorry mom) with a smile on my face. That’s just me.
People tell me, almost daily, I’m “inspirational” or “brave” for appearing not to let my battle with cancer affect me. Folks, much older than I, tell me they admire my strength or my will to survive. Sometimes, I have people comment that I must have grown through experiences. I’d like to think I have.
I may be me on the outside, but I don’t always feel like me.
Before my diagnosis in late 2014, I would sit in the shower at 3 in the morning and cry, sob and shake. Sometimes I compared it to being a drug addict in withdrawal. While I don’t make that comparison anymore, I still cry in the shower.
There are emotional scars of having to face my mortality, several times, throughout treatments. Even a simple head cold can knock me out a few days longer than that it would the average person.
In August 2015, signaling the success of the first round of chemo, I rang the “Survivor Bell” at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Still, I faced every day the same. A smile, two feet on the ground and a stretch to cap my morning.
Finishing treatment is a victory for so many people. And, rightfully so. The days of sleeping for hours, not eating, being cranky are finally over. Many, like Lance Armstrong and Robin Roberts, continue to do great things and become people we can look up to.
The sad part, the honest part —now I feel like I have to act, look and feel that way. Survivors’ treatments are complete; their lives have moved on. Sure, I beat cancer once and feel like I have a grip on beating it again, but there are times I feel like I’ve let my mom down, I’ve let you, my readers down, I’ve let the world down.
Some days I feel weak and ashamed that I’ve been hit with the same disease twice. I’ve got a network of people who do their best, daily, to make sure I don’t feel that way. But when they leave, the feelings return.
It’s not easy to smile when talking about the worst thing you’ve ever faced, especially when you’re young. I’m going on two full years of fighting an uphill battle that seems never-ending. From driving to chemo, to talking about it, to realizing it’s once again chemo day — the days blur together.
Three weeks seem like three days.
When I’m sad or angry that this experience has happened to me (why me?), I look at how far I’ve come, how much cancer has NOT held me back and how much I’ve improved since it all began. I choose to believe that, hopefully, one day, I’ll get back to normal.
I can still do so much. I can still read, write and smile, unlike some cancer fighters. I can walk and talk, unlike some cancer fighters. And, perhaps most important, I can still annoy my mother.
The weak feelings come and go and I know I’m not alone. I know I’m stronger because of what has happened to me in the past two years, from chemo treatments to hospital stays to a daily cocktail of pills.
For those of you who may know someone going through a tough time, be it cancer, loss of a loved one or other difficult situation, know that just because they say they’re all right doesn’t always mean they are.
Some are just better actors than others.
Don’t be afraid to share a simple smile, a kind word, or a quick hug; you can turn someone’s day completely around.