The following post was written by a Hodgkin's Lymphoma Survivor and Champion for Sony Foundation's You Can program.
When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma. I had no obvious symptoms of disease, other than a lump on my neck, rash on my legs and slight weight loss, which at the time could have all been attributed to an infection or stress. To say my diagnosis came as a shock would be a huge understatement. I was young, happy and healthy. I had finished my first year at university, just come back from a getaway with friends, and was smitten in my first relationship.
I still remember the moment I was diagnosed with cancer. My dad was shaking in disbelief and uncertain fear; my mum was listening to the doctor intently, trying to stay strong, (something we all rely on her to do) and I was silent, holding back mixed emotions of grief, anxiety, and worry about the uncertain path that lay ahead for me, my family and my friends.
Like most young people, I was treated in an adult hospital - just me, my chemo, and a sea of sympathetic faces all of which had at least 30 years on my own. For a period of six months, I endured bag after bag of toxic chemicals being pumped into my body, watching those around me wither away into motionless shadows of their former selves. For 6 months I sat in the shadows of my peers, who engaged in the care-free antics I so desperately wish I could have enjoyed.
While I don't think negatively of my treatment or the people I shared it with, it definitely could have been improved. I would have loved if it was age-appropriate, alongside other young people who understand what it was like to not be #livinglife and instead just trying to live. Of course you don't want other people your own age to be diagnosed with cancer - I would never want someone to go through what I and many others have - but it would be nice to know that there are others around you who could normalise the physical scars of a cancer diagnosis and also understand the social and emotional tolls of the disease. The stress, the anxiety, the impact on family and friends - all of it. These were all casualties of my diagnosis, ones that I wish I could have discussed with people outside my close family circle or the psychologist's clinic.
As much as the people you are closest to try to understand what you're enduring: the fear, the pain, the isolation - all they can really do is sympathise with your situation helplessly. It isn't until you meet someone who has been through it all who you can truly unload and relate; something that extends beyond the duration of treatment and is still incredibly valuable in this funny phase that I now know as ‘survivorship.’
While I no longer live with cancer and am in remission from my disease, cancer definitely still lives with me and is something I grapple with every single day.
In my 6 months of chemotherapy, I remember seeing another young person once. He got assigned to a chair on the opposite side of the room as me, and even though our seating plan, treatment-related fatigue and chemo poles did not allow us to communicate, at that point of time it was comforting to know that I wasn't alone. At that moment having someone who understood exactly what it was I was going through, was basically treatment in itself and one that didn't make me shed hair, have hot flashes or turn a ghostly shade of grey. It is a pretty lonely journey, cancer. It is especially lonely for those of us who are divided across hospital wards because of the arbitrary issue of age.
Fortunately, though, this loneliness and isolation is being eradicated, thanks to organizations like the Sony Foundation’s You Can, who are creating environments where young people can talk, relate and feel normal in, let's face it, a not-so-normal situation. These environments will soon extend beyond the wonderful youth space, a home away from home for people diagnosed with cancer, to Sony foundation's latest project: a virtual YouCan center, which can be accessed by all young people who have been affected by cancer, whether they are off treatment, on treatment live in metropolitan or rural and regional locations. This online platform will provide a safe space where people can engage in an uncensored discussion about the real and raw issues faced by young people with cancer, alleviating the stress, anxiety and isolation a cancer diagnosis so often bring.
Despite being in remission now, and I am thankful for that every single day, I can proudly admit that I will use this resource to provide and receive peer support from other young people who are living with and beyond their diagnosis with cancer.