Life as a Survivor

Life as a Survivor

Alice Correj, Online Reporter

There are about 17 million cancer survivors in the United States, and I’m lucky enough to be one of them. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I will say it taught me a lot about myself.

I was 15 years old when I got diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was my freshman year in April of 2018.”

— Alice Correj

I was 15 years old when I got diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was my freshman year in April of 2018.

As a cancer survivor you put it in your mind that everything will be normal after treatment and after you hear your doctor tell you that you are finally in remission. That is one thing I was completely wrong about. Life during and after treatment was nowhere near what I thought it was going to be.

Dealing with cancer not only affected me, it affected everyone in my life. I may have been the only one dealing with having real battle scars on my body, but everyone I loved around me had scars in their heart. I was oblivious to it first, I never really thought anyone else was dealing with the emotion of it as much as I was. But it broke my heart to figure out that they were hurting in a way I wasn’t.

This is a very heavy topic, I understand that, but I have never felt the need to shy away from it. It is a part of me that I love talking about. I feel so blessed that I can answer people’s questions about everything and let them know that they can ask me anything without me feeling uncomfortable. So everything I write here, no matter how heavy it is, is all pride and a journey that I will hold to my heart forever.

I get the question asking me “If I was ever thinking about dying, or scared of dying,” a lot. Which my answer to that is no. Never during my year of dealing with cancer was I ever scared of dying. The thought may have popped into my head a few times but I had always shook it off, determined to beat it. I got told all the time by my nurses in the clinic that I was such a happy, positive soul. At those moments I didn’t believe them, but as I look back at how I handled myself, I now know that I was. I never let a road bump veer me into a dark road. I remember myself always smiling and laughing with my doctor and nurses. A few of my favorite moments at the hospital was with my oncologist. He is probably one of the nicest people I’ll ever meet. Everytime I would come in for chemotherapy, he would bring a magic trick that he would do for me. I was always in shock by how he did them. My reaction was probably a little off and droopy by how much chemotherapy drugs were in my system that day, but nevertheless, those memories will always make me smile.

I will forever be grateful for my clinic family. The oncologists, the nurses, and everyone who worked there. They helped not only my health, but my spirit. Some memories in the clinic may be not so positive, but the most wonderful ones will always overshadow the bad ones.

The pain I felt during this was something that in my life, most likely will never be topped. It wasn’t just physical pain, but emotional pain. Even though I succeeded at being positive, it didn’t mean that I was always there. It was a emotional pain that was consuming. I was drained. It was a never ending battle with chemotherapy and pills. Both things I knew would have to hurt me before they worked. Chemotherapy side effects were as worse as they described it as. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and never ending fatigue. The worst mix ever. What I was surprised from was the pills. I never expected that they would make me feel just as worse. You never think that the tiniest pill could do so much to make you feel horrible and disgusting.

After every cycle with chemotherapy the severity of each symptom got worse. During the end of my treatment, I was in and out of the hospital emergency room a lot. A lot of unknown fevers and colds from having a very compromised immune system. It was a lot for a 15 year old to handle. I had to grow up a lot faster and deal with the bad side of life, when I should have been going to go school and the mall with my friends. It is something I will never be bitter for though. It was a bad experience, but still an experience nevertheless. It was something that gave me lessons to learn from.

Something that stuck with me for a long time was the hair loss. I had a lot of people tell me that it was just hair and that it would grow back. For me, as a cancer patient I always hated when they said that, because they never got the real reason why it hurt so much. It wasn’t just the simple fact that I was losing my hair, it was the feeling behind it. The fact that it was being taken from you without your permission, without your consent. It was a reminder that flew you into what was really happening to you, and made it real. It was something whispering in your ear that, “you really did have cancer.” It made you actually look sick in the mirror. Your hair was gone, so were your eyebrows, and your lashes. It was a horrid show of a wake up call. It was finally a message that cleared the way for me to find out that everything about cancer is it taking away everything without your permission. It took me a while to finally accept it, but when I did, it took a weight off of my shoulder that I never knew was there. Suddenly I didn’t feel as defeated anymore. The decision to accept it was finally something that I choose to do and it wasn’t taken from me. The power of my own perception helped me heal.

The decision to accept it was finally something that I choose to do and it wasn’t taken from me.”

— Alice Correj

After both my chemotherapy and radiation treatments were done, I had yet to be determined that I was in remission, it was normal. It took a long time and a lot of PET scans to finally determine me in remission. That wasn’t until February 2019. It was the middle of Sophomore year and I wanted to go back. I had been doing schooling online and I didn’t really like it. I felt great and I was ready to go back to school. We had communicated with the principal and everything was set for me to go back. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to.

I went back to school and it was the worst morning of my life. I was really nauseous and was minutes away from vomiting. I was in my spanish class for second hour and was listening to my teacher talk about some new spanish vocabulary and all I could think about was when she was going to be done talking so I could ask her to use the restroom. I couldn’t even pay attention to her because I was just thinking about my stomach and how horrible I was feeling. When she was finally done I shot out of my seat and asked to go to the restroom. I dashed through the hall and when I saw a restroom I ran to it. I went inside and looked to see if there was anyone in it with me. There was no one. I knew I was going to vomit and it was embarrassing to me to do it with someone in the restroom with me. That’s what I did, threw up. I honestly was scared, why would I be throwing up and feeling like this when I was completely fine.

It was yet for me to know that what I was feeling was an anxiety attack. At the moment, I hadn’t felt the way my heart was pounding, I didn’t realize how my thoughts were racing, I didn’t even realize I was hyperventilating. I think about it now and hate myself for not figuring it earlier, because I knew that what I was feeling wasn’t normal.

During me calming myself down in the bathroom, I didn’t realize how long I’d been gone from class for, not until a friend of mine came in and told me that our teacher sent her down here. She had seen me and how exhausted I looked and went back to our teacher and told her she was going to bring me down to the office. She got my stuff, and walked me down. I had went home that day and just stayed in my bed, defeated. I loved going to school and seeing my friends, and I knew that after this, I wouldn’t be back for a while.

Before talking about my journey with anxiety, I want to talk about how this affected people around me.

The thing that hurt the most was seeing how it affected my family. It was heartbreaking. My mom dealt with it as best as she could’ve, she would try to be strong around me but I knew she was breaking down when I wasn’t there. My grandma tells me that when I would get home from chemotherapy, my mom would go over to my grandparents house and cry. While I was here physically hurting, she was emotionally hurting. She always made me better but this was one time where she couldn’t do anything to help my health. The only thing she could do was keep my mind off everything and commit to helping me have fun and be positive.

I was usually closest with my dad, but having my mom with me at all times during that year, made me closest her here. She is the one I come to for everything, whatever it is. She still is struggling with what happened, I think she still lingers on the fact that I could’ve died at any moment.

It was heartbreaking to see how it affected my dad. He would throw himself into work to get his mind off everything. His friends told me that he would always talk about how strong I was at work. They all tell me how proud he was to be my father, of course when I would hear that I would tear up.

I remember the day my nurse called my mom at 8 am. She had told her that the PET scan I did the day before came out clean. No cancer anymore. My then 17 year old cousin had came for a few weeks during this time and him and my mom came running into my room crying that I was okay. I was sleeping and a little confused when I woke up to yelling and crying in my room, but when I started actually hearing what they were saying, I joined them with tears in my eyes. I walked into the living room and saw my dads head down in his hands, he looked like he was shaking. When he heard me walk in, he looked up and was crying. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry in my entire life. I went and gave him a big hug, to which he returned.

My sisters had a very different effect with my cancer. My youngest sister was only 5 at the time and she had no idea what was going on, my then 11 year old sister was confused too. I would think a 11 year old wouldn’t really understand what cancer was either.

One of the hardest things was seeing how it affected my best friend. I’ve known him ever since we were 3 years old. He is basically my brother. We see each other almost everyday. I had just recently asked him if I could include him in this, he, as you can tell, said yes. He told me about how this affected him. He told me that when he found out I had cancer, he cried. That is something that honestly surprised me. His mom told me that sometimes both of them would cry together and pray for me as much as they could. It was hard hearing that. I never really knew how much this would affect people in my life. I thought I was the only one struggling, I was completely wrong.

My journey after I found out that I had anxiety was hard, it was completely aggravating. I started therapy and got so lucky with who my therapist was. She is the most understanding person in my life. I can talk to her about everything, my personal life, my struggle with my panic attacks, or just a little stupid thing. It took me a year to finally get a hold of my anxiety. Anxiety can really never be “cured” but you find ways to deal with it and learn how to manage it. I have learned how to do that. It comes up at times but I never let it get the best of me. My therapist calls me her little success story, it makes me so happy hearing that. It really shows how far I have came in my life. I still struggle with things like insomnia and sometimes a little nauseous spout. It really is hard to deal with those and it does become infuriating but after everything I’ve been through, I know I can beat it.

As I end this, I think about my getting diagnosed with cancer anniversary coming up. I don’t remember the exact day I found out because that whole week was a blur, but I know it’s the first week of April, which, as I’m writing this is April 1st which marks the 2nd year of being diagnosed. You would think that this time marks a horrible week for me, but honestly I love this week. It reminds me of everything I’ve been through and how strong I am coming out of it. It’s a week where I thank God for everything.

To end this, I’m going to tell you a quote that will always stick with me.

“Keep striving, for God gives His hardest battles to His strongest soldiers.” -Habeeb Akande