Thriving Cancer

by Jennifer AnandJune 18, 2019View more posts from Jennifer Anand

I’m writing this on National Cancer Survivor’s Day. But somehow, I don’t feel like a survivor.

I do feel very, very tired. My Facebook and Instagram pages are flooded with cute posts and before and after pictures from my many cancer friends. This year I didn’t post anything though.

To be honest, writing for Elephant and Tea has made me so much more aware of cancer, and has been one of the hardest things in my life. When it launched, my life was in this teeter totter of what I would do with my cancer.

Would I throw my weight on the cancer side, and use my voice and story for advocacy and awareness?

Or would I throw my lengthening black hair and covered scars on the side that will act like my life wasn’t altered by earth shattering events?

I was trying to ride the fence.

I wanted to help out the cancer community, and be somewhat involved (hint: sporting events that offered the YA (young adults) survivors tickets) but not the hard events (any time/place you actually have to become vulnerable and think about your life). But when I decided to write, I realized that I had cast in my lot. I’m officially on the cancer side.

My body decided that years ago, but my brain finally caught up. But this writing, it has made me reexamine my life, and at first I hated it. Suddenly, I’m living and breathing cancer thoughts, 24/7. I look at how far I’ve come.

Yesterday I celebrated my two years at my full-time job. Frankly, I didn’t know if I would have the strength to pull of a full-time job. It’s made me see that my body has aches and pains for a reason. I have a valid excuse for that lunch time siesta or turning down party invites. Even when I’m driving or doing my daily routines, my mind is always swirling with ideas on what to write about, and the numerous half-finished ones. Currently, there are paragraphs in my work and personal email folders, on my laptop, and on my phone in the texts and notes sections.

So many cancer thoughts have come to me. It’s made me celebrate my little accomplishments so much more than I had before, which has been awesome.

But survivor? I feel like it should be a heroic admiration of a huge accomplishment. I’m here, alive, and decently well. But I didn’t do anything different from anyone else.

The word survivor makes me think of those that didn’t. Of Sam, and Rajee, and Vanessa. It makes me think of a friend who did survive Hodgkin’s, only to be greeted by infertility in her new marriage. I remember crying on the phone together, as she wondered if she’d ever have a child post-treatment.

Surviving cancer should not have to include surviving infertility. I think of another friend. She was at my housewarming, and I introduced her to someone, and said we met at CancerCon. The lady asked if she was also a cancer survivor. This friend has a chronic cancer and there was an awkward moment as we both struggled to answer the question. She hasn’t technically “survived” cancer, but she survives everyday as she lives her life. I don’t think it’s fair that I get the survivor label and she doesn’t either.

I remember my first CancerCon. I was in college, post-cancer. Technically a survivor. Ten days before the conference, with my tickets and hotel booked, and my excitement skyrocketing, I found out my hemoglobin levels were still very low.

I had just been diagnosed with a hemolytic anemia and was on steroids to help boost those numbers up. However, they had been climbing way to slowly and my oncologist was uncertain if I should go to CancerCon. I didn’t feel like a badass cancer survivor. I felt like an exhausted, sick, demoralized college student, who was just trying to catch a break. Miraculously, my numbers increased enough to go. In the opening sessions, Alli Ward came on stage, and her picture/bio thing read cancer THRIVER. And I started crying. Because that’s what I aspired to be. A thriver.

Thriving at the life I’ve been allowed a lease on.

Thriving at a job I didn’t know if I could do.

Thriving at doing the humdrum daily tasks I was once too weak to complete.

Thriving at the relationships I have in my life now.

Thriver doesn’t define my cancer status. It tells you nothing of where I’m at on my cancer journey. It tells you that I’m here, showing up and doing what I can. It doesn’t define me to have finished cancer treatments. It means I’m doing the best I can, where I am, at this point in my life.

It doesn’t define my friend with infertility, who is investing in the lives of countless children as a nurse and a diabetic children’s camp volunteer. It doesn’t define my friend with chronic cancer, who is thriving in her job in a male-dominated field, leads an active lifestyle, and maintains a house. It doesn’t define a friend who just got an internship in Seattle, and boldly moved cross-country and is trying to learn to cook now!

It does define our community.

Some days, it’s not going to feel like we are thriving. It’s going to feel like we are doing everything we can just to survive. But we are thriving. We are showing cancer we will not stay lying down. We will rise, and work towards advocacy, research, and awareness. We will rise and support each other through our online communities. We will rise and pay forward the kindnesses given to us.

But of course, Destiny’s Child said it best- I won’t give up. And I hope you don’t either.