My name is Alessandra. I am 23, a social worker, college graduate, friend, sister, and stage 4 cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with stage 4 Ewing’s Sarcoma when I was 22 years old. I had just graduated from college the week before, the biggest worry on my mind being, where I was going to go to grad school and how much debt I had. I had a mass on my arm that burst. I thought it was a cyst. They would remove it, and I would go back to the regular scheduled program. That was not the case.
You think I would remember something like the date I was diagnosed with cancer, but honestly, I don’t. Everything suddenly happened so fast. I had a series of surgeries to fix my arm and put my port in. I went from worrying about grad school to suddenly having to make the decision about harvesting my eggs, because my course of treatment had a very high chance of causing infertility. I was 22, having children was the last thing on my mind and suddenly I had a day to decide if I was willing to give up any possibility of having children that were biologically mine. I decided to have eggs harvested because I’m lucky enough to have insurance that would cover the costs, many people are not so fortunate.
Next thing I knew, it was time to start chemo. It’s difficult to explain the night before starting chemo. The gravity of what you’re about to do is so heavy you’re almost in shock. It doesn’t seem real that this could be happening. You have agreed to be poisoned for a course of seven months to a year, for 30% chance that you will survive. To make it worse, my greatest fear in the world is needles. Ironic, I know, as I would now be subjected to a minimum of two needles a week for the, in my case, eight months. My favorite quote is “you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice -Bob Marley” because its something I think every cancer patient can relate to.
My treatment involved eight months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation on my arm, 2 weeks of whole lung radiation, and a total of 4 surgeries in under a year. I made it halfway through chemo before I was delayed, and I made it through 8 of my 14 chemo cycles before I needed a blood transfusion. In total I think I had 12 blood transfusions. I was one of the lucky ones. My delays were fairly minimal, and I never once had a chemo induced fever. It took a few cycles, but I found medications that almost fully controlled my nausea. In many ways I led a normal life. However, it was the scariest months of my life.
I am going to be blunt and say that there were many days that I would sit and all I could think was “I am 22 and may very well die”. I was in pain, both emotional and physical, and so was every member of my family, because cancer doesn’t just hurt the patient, it hurts everyone they know. I sit here typing this having just hours ago gotten scan results showing that I am officially three months cancer free. I have been back at work for two months and started grad school classes two weeks ago.
I am getting back to normal life, but I will never be the same as I was before this. I am stronger, bolder, and honestly very few things scare me, because I was handed a prognosis of “a few months, with a 30% chance” and I came out on top. However, I also get anxious about things far more easily, ever time I sneeze my first thought is “oh my gosh cancer” and it’s hard. Not just for me, but for my parents who get nervous every time I leave the house.
My memory and concentration aren’t what they used to be. Sometimes by the end of the day I’m so tired I fall asleep sitting up on the couch. My biggest hope used to be that I would get my degree and find my dream job. Now, my greatest hope and dream is that no other person ever has to go through what I did. This will affect me for the rest of my life. The day that cancer becomes as minor a problem as the common cold will be one of the greatest days of my life. That day will not come until pediatric cancer funding becomes prioritized. Currently only 4% of funding goes to pediatric cancer research. 4. Percent.
I was so honest in the course of writing this because I want you, the readers, to feel the gravity of this in a way that commercials on TV will never make you feel. I was 22, I was an active participant in my treatment. Most kids diagnosed are obviously younger. Imagine being 14 and having to think about infertility. I will leave you with this. If you can, PLEASE DONATE TO RESEARCH. Donate blood if you can, I know it’s not fun, but your 15 minutes and 1 pint of blood can literally make it so a cancer patients blood counts are high enough that they can move. And finally, ENJOY EVERY MOMENT, because you never know when the day that you’ll wish your biggest problem was paying for school, may come.