A Challenging Age to Have Cancer

Looking back on my experiences I was privileged as a cancer patient. Being diagnosed with AML at 15 was only relatively challenging in the moment, and it all seems trivial to me now. I remember that my biggest question during my treatment was not, "Am I going to live?" It was, "Am I going to be able to play baseball this year?" Navigating through health insurance was never a concern because my mother worked hard to provide that for me. Making decisions in regards to my treatment and health were also not on my plate mentally. The grown-ups dealt with all the heavy stuff while I cracked jokes and provided entertainment for everyone around me. As a minor my biggest responsibility was to communicate when I was in pain, or something didn't feel right, and learning how to maintain sterility around my broviac (a type of central line) because it was a direct line to my heart.

Diagnosed at 15

But when people ask about my experiences with cancer, people often assert that having it as a teenager is difficult, perhaps more than an adult, or even a baby. For the most part, I understand what the message is. Having cancer as a child presents challenges that no parent would ever want for their children growing up. It is the same protective feeling that kicks in when we think of giving our children better lives than our own. But when put into perspective, the truth is that I was fortunate. I didn't have to worry about a job, or providing for my family. Heck, my biggest concerns were being able to participate in sports at the same level, and getting cleared to participate as soon as possible. I wasn't popular in high school, but sometimes I even wondered how being bald would affect my social life.

As I continue to read stories about adults experiencing cancer and how treatment affects adult life, I can't help but feel fortunate that leukemia was not a burden I endured alongside supporting a family, being responsible for a mortgage payment, etc. As a 15-year-old with little responsibility or knowledge of what was going on, I remember processing my sickness as a couple weeks of excused absences from school. Devastating, right? To top it off, I had access to a Playstation 2 in my room, a floor full of computers, a game room full of board games, and volunteers willing to sit around, play games, and crack jokes with me. There's no way my brain was filled with worries that were remotely similar to a parent with cancer. When you're a parent with cancer, you have to think about things beyond who to start next week in your fantasy football league. Bills don't stop coming in when you're sick, and your workload certainly doesn't get abbreviated as my schoolwork did. As an adult, you actually have to confront the possibility that you might not live and how that affects your loved ones.

Does cancer suck? Totally. But the challenges are relative.

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