Having Cancer in High School
A few months ago as I was meeting with my geneticist, he posted a question I had never thought about:
“Imagine how good of a volleyball player you would have been if you wouldn’t have had cancer in high school!”
Now granted, I was no Gabrielle Reece but I had my share of spikes and serves back in junior high. But as I entered high school and played my freshman year, the fire went out. A sport that I had always loved was burdensome. I wasn’t as good as I had been years earlier. I was exhausted after practices. I wasn’t having very much fun. I felt out of shape, but I was in shape. I chalked it up to being lazy and ready to move on, but after the doc mentioned that the cancer would have been impacting my athleticism, I started to wonder if my body was telling me something back then – and the exit from after school sports was more than my desire to get home early and watch Jerry Springer. (you all watched it at some point or another too, don’t judge!)
As I watched the opening ceremony to the Olympics, it made me wonder what type of athlete I would have become. The dream of becoming a great athlete was always so far fetched and unrealistic. But as I watched men and women my own age ski down mountains, ride 90 mph on sleds, and play ice hockey to a worldwide audience this week, I realized that dreams are obtainable, and our adolescence defines our adulthood more than we ever realize.
I’m not saying that I had the talent to be an Olympic athlete, but this week I’ve wondered what life in general would have been like had I not gotten cancer in high school. I’ve gone back and forth with wanting to go back and change it, and being content with how it all turned out. It felt so unfair at first – instead of worrying about my dress for prom, I was more concerned if I would have hair! Forget the Algebra, I was concerned with blood tests.
Now that I’m older and a two-time survivor, I’ve realized that being sick at a young age actually sheltered me from the real world, and I’m OK with how it all turned out. I’m glad it first happened when I was younger – I had so much to look forward to, the diagnosis felt like a speed bump rather than a road block in my teenage life. Sure, there are parts of the experience that I would do without, but having cancer in high school has made me who I am and given me a unique perspective on life. I wouldn’t have the husband I do now. I wouldn’t be as close to my family and friends. I’d probably still be embarrassed about buying toilet paper at the store. And I wouldn’t have met all of the incredible and inspiring doctors, nurses and fellow survivors had I not had the disease.
It’s taken me awhile to get to this mindset, but I feel I’m finally here. I finally see how to count it joy when your trials come. And while I may not be competing on the snowy slopes for an Olympic medal, I’m in my own race against disease and life is all the medal I need.