COPING WITH CANCER AS A YOUNG ADULT

YAPConferenceDigitalAd-smallI was 22 with one year left of my undergraduate career, a job lined up and living in one the best cities, Boston. Life was great, as long as I ignored my constant chest pains. I decided to take the second half of my summer off and go home, relax and take this time to see a gastroenterologist for my heartburn. After months of acid reflux treatment, blood tests, an endoscopy and a very strict diet the pains had actually worsened. Eventually a family friend who is a doctor recommended me to have a CT Scan to see if maybe my pains were caused by something other than heartburn. The next day I received a call from him with the results: a cyst, a mass, a tumor, a lymphoma. This conversation was so shocking that it all still seems like a blur and left me with no time to react or process what he had just said.

My parents and I immediately drove 5 hours to see him. Again, no matter how much research I had done I had no idea what to expect and was hoping for the best. Sitting on his couch I will never forget the intense pains I felt in my chest. This time, however, it was actual anxiety and stress. “You will lose your hair, but it grows back,” he said. That is when it hit me. This wasn’t going to go away, I wasn’t going to go back to school, this was no longer heartburn.

The biopsy confirmed it was stage two of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I would need six months of chemotherapy starting as soon as possible. I considered going back to Boston and receiving treatment there and lowering my course intensity. I wanted my life and my routine to stay as normal as possible. What was going to happen to my college career? When would I be ready to go back to school? Once I was ready, I contacted my co-workers, professors and my school to update them of my situation and with their support I applied for a medical leave and moved back home with my parents. But how should I tell my friends? Facebook? How much should I share? Should I write a blog? I was more reserved and only told my closest friends and kept a journal with occasional Facebook updates since that was were people reached out to me.

I was the youngest patient where I received my treatments and had few people I could relate to. I turned to the Internet and social media and found many inspiring and encouraging stories and resources, including the LLS. As a young adult I worried about what my new look would be. I used YouTube to find tips on wigs, make up and head wraps. I googled places to get wigs and had a hair-halo made from my own hair! Thanks to everything that I was able to find I was confident in myself and my treatment.

On Saturday, March 29, 2014, I will be celebrating my remission by attending the 11th Annual Young Adult Cancer Conference. I hope to get many of my questions answered and share my experience. I am very excited to meet other young adults and learn how they manage(d) college, how they share(d) information and what other young adults did or are doing for self-expression.

I will be writing a follow-up post to share my experience from the conference and any new information I find. If you are a young adult or a Caregiver with similar questions and would like to attend the conference, you can still register by contacting Dana Farber’s Young Adult Program.

-Written by Ana Hurtado, Boston Light The Night Walk walker and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor.

The Young Adult Cancer Conference: Saturday, March 29th from 8:45am-2:30pm:

“The Young Adult Cancer Conference is an annual conference for people treated for cancer as a young adult and their caregivers. After an opening session presented by a young adult who has coped with cancer, facilitated workshops provide opportunities to learn about the many issues faced by young adults, as well as opportunities to converse with other young adults and their caregivers.”-YAP@DFCI

For more information or to register, contact the Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: yap@dfci.harvard.edu

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