Cancer is a lonely disease and it’s fucking depressing. I found solace in cancer social media, especially AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) cancer social media where the memes are hot and the dark humour brightens up my day. It has been comforting to read and hear stories similar to mine, of lives interrupted by this beast of a disease at a time when our adult lives are about to get started. This age is supposed to be the prime of our lives, but now it’s a period of devastation.
It’s an odd group to be in. We’re too old for pediatric cancer, but also told we’re too young have cancer. Yet here we are, sitting in a room of mostly older patients accompanied by their children or grandchildren. We’ve been mistaken as a caregiver or visitor, until we show our hospital bracelets to prove them wrong.
Reading stories of derailed dreams and foiled plans of twenty- and thirty-somethings made me sad while also easing my loneliness. Career changes cut short in the middle of the night. Start-ups ended before they even began. New lives of independence concluded to move back to old childhood homes. Hopes of little additions to a future family defeated by the treatment meant to save our lives.
It’s a lonely place to be because none of our friends understand how much it has affected our lives. There have been too many stories of old friends that became ghosts after a diagnosis. Our peers are living their best lives while we sit in a hospital recliner waiting for the IV pump to say “infusion complete”. They don’t want their bright, happy lives to be clouded by our cAnCeR jOuRnEy. So we’re sidelined, patronized as “inspirations”, with stories they don’t really want to hear.
None else gets it. Just us and our fellow carcinomies.
We all lost the normal future we were hoping for. The five-year plan pre-diagnosis transformed into five-year survival rate, and it’s a terrible thing to Google. It’s a number forever ingrained in my brain, a curse and an expiration date combined. Even for those who survive, we live with the shadow of a recurrence and the ghosts of the friends and acquaintances we lost, and the fear that with another bad dice roll, we could be next.
As I browse through the polls or the rants on my favourite AYA cancer pages, sometimes I am faced by a black screen. It’s a warning that the next story is about death. Another one of us gone. And it hurts twice as hard when I know them and when I share the same type of cancer.
What makes me different?
What if I would be next?
What if my luck runs out?
What if it comes back?
The black screen is a warning of loss. To me, it’s a warning that perhaps one day, there will be a black screen for me too. Although I do hope that day won’t be for decades to come…
One day, I will pass over that bridge where others have crossed.
They say death isn’t difficult if you’re dying. With the right doctors, it can be easy and painless. Death doesn’t scare me anymore. Death is hard on the people you leave behind. They will continue to live with the loss left by your absence. The empty seat during Thanksgiving or Christmas. The birthdays and anniversaries you miss. The nieces or nephews you don’t get to meet. Life still goes on without you. You don’t really stop grieving, you just carry the grief better.
“Too young to be sick” or “too young to die” are lies we tell ourselves because many of us don’t want to face the reality that our health is precarious, we’d rather live in a blissful state of ignorance. We think at the prime of our lives, we’re invincible. We want to believe other people get sick because they did “something wrong” – not enough kale, too much fast food, lacked sleep, excessive drug use, etc.
But when it happens to you, when you’ve done everything right, you realize nothing really matters. There’s nothing and no one to blame. It was a shitty dice roll. Bad luck at the wrong time.