Things to Remember if You’re Diagnosed with Cancer

My Doctors Office

Replying to emails

I get a good amount of email from this site. A lot of it is people asking questions about signing up or hosting a drive, which I’m more than happy to answer or redirect as necessary, but some of it is more personal. From a parent of a child diagnosed with cancer, or someone who has previously lost someone dear to them in the past. These are the emails that make me pause in front of my computer, searching for the right words to affirm, or comfort, or explain.

I’m not an authority on this stuff by any means. I do my best to provide as factual information as possible, but I’m not formally trained in medicine, psychology or counseling. I’m only an authority on my own experiences. I have lived this, and I believe that counts for something. And I know that experiencing the weight of a cancer diagnosis is something that can’t be taught in a classroom.

The timing of my diagnosis was interesting. I was 20 and halfway through college, which is arguably one of the most formative times in anyone’s life. I was old/mature enough to fully understand the reality of my circumstances, which may not be completely true for those who are diagnosed at a younger age. I signed my own medical forms, and by virtue of my age my parents were legally bystanders in my medical procedure. I wasn’t old enough to see my diagnosis through the lens of a spouse or family, which I’m sure creates an entirely different slew of thoughts and concerns in a patients’ head. I was toeing the line between adolescence and adulthood, somewhere between loving the independence of college and longing for the comfort of my mom’s home cooking. I was awake a lot of nights in the hospital, wondering about things like marriage, kids and careers. All of these things I assumed were just around the corner, only to then realize that the corner might not even exist.

I particularly enjoy emailing with patients who find themselves in similar circumstances: 20-something, semi-unbelieving that this is actually real, and full of questions/uncertainty about the future. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few newly diagnosed patients about their situations, and while I can’t fully explain how, I feel an automatic connection with these people that I’ve never even met before. When you’re diagnosed with cancer at any age, you join a pretty exclusive club. A club of people who can’t help but empathize with you on a level that others cannot, and in a way that neither of you can even express. It’s the unspoken acknowledgement that finally, someone understands. And when that connection is age-specific, it’s even stronger.

Some people have asked me if I have any tips for them before they undergo chemo. After thinking about it for a while and reflecting on my own experiences, it turns out I do. These are adapted from an email I previously sent out a couple months ago:

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