One of the hardest parts of my recovery post-cancer has been coming to terms with what I have deemed “the lost year”. The year I spent receiving chemo, in and out of the hospital, and too tired to do anything but lay in bed.
I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma with 6 weeks left of my sophomore year of college. I literally woke up March 16, 2015, went to my 8am as usual, and found myself in the oncologist’s office that afternoon. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last class I would attend for almost 18 months. I started that day as your average college student, and ended it as a cancer patient.
I was just beginning to feel at home at school. It took awhile for me to adjust to life away from home, but I was finally feeling confident in the new life I was creating an hour and a half away at college. I lived in an apartment with some great friends, had finally found a group of college friends, and was about to start the professional program in the school of education the following fall. I was just starting to be able to say that I liked college, when it was all taken away.
Obviously, I was not able to go to school while undergoing treatment. I somehow managed to take several online courses while undergoing massive amounts of high dose chemo (math and computer science no less—not my best idea!), so as to not fall too behind. People told me to keep up with school to keep somewhat connected to my old life, but do you know what the last thing you want to do while tired and nauseous is? Homework. I am thankful I did it now, but in the moment, I wanted to be sleeping or watching TV!
Anyway, during my treatment, my main goal was to get back to school. Originally, I figured I would return in January for the spring semester, therefore only losing one semester. I quickly realized that was a bit ambitious, since chemo symptoms tend to drag on a bit, even after the last infusion.
After a back and forth battle with myself, I made a very, very difficult decision to transfer to a university closer to home and commute. It was not at all an easy choice, but I know it was the right one. That doesn’t make it any better though. I am still bitter I had to make that choice at all. My new school is just fine, but I will forever wonder what “should” have happened.
I lost a whole year. When I tell people that, they tell me not to worry about it, that it really isn’t a big deal. I know that. In the scheme of life, it won’t matter that my diploma says 2018 instead of 2017. I really do know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
I am bitter about it. Angry, if you will. I should have been student teaching with my education friends this past fall, not just seeing pictures on Instagram. I should be walking with all of my friends in May. I should have been living with two of my best friends, in our apartment we decorated together. It is not fair, and nothing anyone can say will convince me otherwise.
I did not just lose out on a year education wise. I can make that up, no problem. I lost out on a year in every other respect too. I lost out on a year socially and emotionally. Your twenties are a formative time in your life, and I lost out on some of mine. I feel like I am developmentally behind in someway.
Like I mentioned above, I was living in an apartment, completely independent. I made my own dinners, washed my own sheets, and cleaned my own bathroom. I took pride in these new responsibilities and was happy to be finding my independence (I was totally the girl that made her bed everyday before class). Cancer took all of that away from me. I went from being totally independent to being more dependent than I have been in years. I backtracked so far. I couldn’t eat, let alone make my own dinner. I couldn’t walk let alone drive, clean, or do any of my laundry. Heck, there were days I couldn’t even make it to the bathroom or bathe without help. It has been a struggle to remember my independence. It wasn’t until almost 10 months off treatment that I began to really remember that I used to be able to function on my own.
It is very difficult to relate to your peers after going through something as traumatic as cancer. I see things differently than some people my age do, and while that is fine, it makes things harder.
It is a weird place to be in, this life post cancer. I am simultaneously behind my friends, but also far ahead of them. I am not sure I will have the college friends everyone talks about and I definitely won’t have what one would consider an average college experience. I am behind in that way, but I am ahead in many ways. Cancer is traumatic no matter how old you are, but no one expects to get cancer at 20/21. I am not even one of those college kids that thought I was invincible or that bad stuff wouldn’t happen to me, and I still didn’t think I would get cancer. It does make it hard to relate to people my age. I have experienced pain and suffering that some people may not ever experience. I am aware of a whole world that most people my age are not. It is hard. I see my friends making college friends and having relationships and I just feel so foreign from that. Sometimes it is hard for me remember that while my world was stopped, everyone else’s kept going.
Sometimes I feel like the only thing I got out of college was cancer.
I have tried to make peace with this, as there is nothing I can do about it. It just makes me sad and angry. I was always a planner and hate to be behind. I remember, right before the first day of classes freshman year, sitting in the opening convocation. I remember one of the speakers saying that their goal was to have everyone in that room graduate in May of 2017. I remember thinking that obviously that would not be the case, but I never expected it to include me.
It is going to hurt to see my friends graduate in May and know that I should have been up there. I don’t know yet what I will do because I don’t want to be unsupportive (as I am so happy and proud of my friends), but I will be mourning my place. They are all looking at jobs and posting their “lasts” and I just can’t help but think that if cancer were not a thing, I would be too.
I believe so strongly in what TCA is doing because I was treated in the adult clinic, since I was 20. It is absolutely awful to be torn from your world and thrust into the cancer world regardless of your age, but to go from being around my peers to being the youngest person in the clinic or on the floor by a good 20 years was a huge challenge. It was extremely isolating. My nurses and techs, many who were around my age, became my friends. It would have helped SO much to have a space to go to just for people my age. I think my experience would have been much different had I had some support from other young adults going through cancer. There’s not a lot one can do to make getting torn from your world better, but I am confident what TCA is doing can help make the transition easier.
I will always wonder about what “should” have been. I will forever mourn that Lost Year. It shouldn’t have happened to me and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else. I am thankful that organizations like TCA exist to give this often-overlooked age group a voice.