My entire goal in starting a blog, other than updating friends and family who had been asking about my health, was in the hopes that it would help someone else. So I’m going to tell you the stuff they don’t tell you at the doctor’s office, the side effects they don’t list in the medical journals or WebMD. I’m going to tell you the things that no one else will say.
When the doctors give you a diagnosis, in my case a type of cancer, they tell you that a person might experience flushing, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, coughing, stomach pain and a few other things. The side effects they fail to mention are the panic attacks, the fear, the anger, the bitterness and the complete and utter loss of control that you will feel up until the day that they tell you there is no longer anything to worry about. They forget to tell you that some days will be easy, and some days will be unbearable, that some days you are able to be strong and other days it will take everything you have to get out of bed. These symptoms, these side effects, are far worse than any stomach pain or flushing I’ve ever experienced.
I’m telling you this because I know there are other people in this world struggling with terrifying things, and all throughout this battle the only words I’ve wanted to hear are “It’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to be afraid.” I’ve had people tell me I’m going to be fine, the doctors know what they’re doing, I’m praying for you, this will all be over soon, and you are so brave; which are all incredible and true. But when I stop cracking jokes and trying to stay busy I start to realize how incredibly petrified I really am.
When I started to let the effects of everything that was happening sink in, I did not like how it felt. This is the part where my raw, messy, imperfect reality comes in to play. One Friday night I decided that I was going to have a glass of wine, and then another, until I no longer remembered I had cancer. Please don’t misinterpret this, I had no plan to cause myself any harm or drink to that point, I simply wanted to forget about my imperfect reality because the strong girl I kept trying to portray was losing her ability to stand. I drank my wine, I put on my favorite music, and I danced around my house while I got ready for a night on the town with my boyfriend; as any typical 24-year-old does. When my boyfriend saw me he immediately knew something was wrong, he did his best to try and convince me to save my wine and that maybe we should stay home, but I wasn’t hearing any of it.
We left for a friends going away party just a few blocks down the road. By the time we arrived I was so incredibly dizzy I almost fell out of the car. Once I got out I quickly walked over to the sidewalk and collapsed under the weight of the emotion I was so desperately trying to repress. I sat on the cold pavement and sobbed. I cried harder than I have in a very long time and just kept repeating the words “I’m so, so scared.” Luckily, I have the world’s most amazing boyfriend who sat next to me on the ground and scooped me into his arms. He held me, rubbed my hair, and let me cry and fall apart right there. Once we made it home he graciously put me in bed and let me call both of my parents and continue letting all of my fears be verbalized to the people I knew would take care of me.
I’m telling you this because so many people have called me brave, strong, a fighter. All of which are things I believe I can be sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I am cowardly, weak, and all I want to do is run away. I’m telling you this because I want everyone to know that those things are okay, too. That it’s okay to be scared when really scary things are happening, it’s okay to need people and to cry and scream and be angry at the hand life is dealing you in that moment. It’s okay because you aren’t alone, no matter how alone you feel, there are so many other people all around you who are scared too.
I do my best on most days to be strong, to keep it together, and to know that I have so many people on my side. But what I have found so far is the best way to fight those symptoms they don’t tell you about has been to let myself feel. I let myself feel afraid when fear starts bubbling up about another test or scan. I let myself feel angry when I think about the extra stress this has put on me and my family, but I make sure that in those moments I don’t stay there. I let myself feel it, for as long as I need to, but then I pick up the pieces. More often I let someone else much stronger help me pick them up. I put one foot in front of the other and I keep moving, one step at a time.
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