Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 22

FINDING YOUR HERD
ENT (Ear Nose Throat Specialist) in the case
that I was experiencing the same issue. Once
I was seen by the ENT, he instantly wanted
biopsies and studies done on me, which was
a little alarming. We waited two long weeks
to receive the results, and we were told it was
Rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscle cancer in the
sinus duct. I was told I have to start treatment
within 2 weeks. Within 2 weeks, I would have
to stop going to school, leave my job and enter
a life changing treatment. I would endure 10
months of aggressive chemotherapy, 5.5 weeks
of intense radiation and 2 months of recovery.
Being a young adult affected by cancer is a
uniquely challenging. At this age, young adults
are still discovering themselves, establishing
relationships and figuring out what path they
want to take in life. When cancer becomes their
life, they have to think intensely about their
future: if they wish to have kids then they will
have to freeze their sperm or eggs, all medical
decisions are legally their responsibility, coping
through additional stressors such as academics,
as well as how to maintain a healthy lifestyle
on top of treatment. There is an immense lack
of resources and support in regards to young
adults who are faced with cancer.
Through my experience, I learned many
valuable life lessons that still remain true
today. I learned that with any given situation,
you need a sense of community in order to
be able to maintain healthy coping mechanisms. Every community looks different for
every person. My community was my family,
friends, loved ones, and other patients who
are affected by cancer. When I was emotionally and physically struggling, it was my family
who truly picked me up and kept me going.
When I needed to vent or receive unbiased
advice, I could always rely on those patients
whom I had become close with. Once you
have experienced cancer and meet another
person who is, or was, affected by cancer,
there is an instant bond that is created. There
is an overwhelming sensation of empathy
and relatability that is shared. When the
cancer is gone, a magic wand isn't waved
and all of your problems are gone. On the

contrary; life after cancer is still incredibly
difficult. Coping with the anxiety and PTSD
is a daily struggle, which reinforces the need
for community and support.
Even though cancer was one of the worst
things to have ever happened to me, it also
was one of the best. I truly discovered myself, my purpose and my values throughout
my treatment. I am eternally grateful for my
health, as well as the health of my family and
friends. It is definitely something we take for
granted far too often. Strangely enough now,
there is no other place that I feel a stronger
sense of purpose than when I am speaking
with and helping those affected by cancer.
This inspired me to join multiple organizations, such as Teen Cancer America and the
UCLA Daltrey Townshend Teen and Young
Adult Cancer Program, where we advocate
for Teens and Young Adults who are dealing
with and/or affected by cancer in any capacity. Following this path has inspired me to
become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in
hopes to work in a children's oncology unit
one day. I am currently pursuing my Masters
of Social Work at San Diego State University
to make this dream a reality. I firmly believe
that I will be able to serve these children and
their families to the best of my ability with my
first-hand experience, allowing me to express
true empathy to my patients.
I am a firm believer in that everything
happens for a reason, at least, I have to be.
Without this mindset, I would not be able to
keep pushing on like I do. There are things
that have happened to me, to my friends and to
my loved ones that I cannot quite make sense
of. However, I have placed my faith and trust
in a bigger purpose. When one survives such
a traumatic, life-changing event, it seems as
if this is the only mindset that will carry you
through. You choose hope. You hope and
trust that everything will be okay. You hope
and trust that everything will work out as it
is meant to be. You hope and trust every single day, over and over again, even if it seems
impossible at times. And THAT in itself is
surviving cancer. l

With any given situation, you
need a sense of community in
order to be able to maintain
healthy coping mechanisms.
22

ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
DECEMBER 2020

FINDING MY TRIBE
BY R AC H A E L WA L K E R

I thought my cancer center had given
me excellent care. I loved my medical oncologist, who drew extensive illustrations on
blank white paper to teach me about my
cancer. My radiation techs were fabulous. My
breast surgeon was funny and straightforward. I felt really good about the whirlwind
of the months in the middle of 2016: diagnosis to two surgeries to six weeks of radiation
in less than six months. I felt like I was in
good hands from start to finish.
Except nobody told me it would never
really be finished. Nobody told me how it
would feel when the whirlwind stopped.
Nobody told me what it would be like to
have the ground rushing up to meet me.
The cancer center offered a support
group/survivorship course called " Finding
Your New Normal (FYNN). " The program
was full when I finished treatment in September. I didn't get to start until April,
more than six months after I finished radiation. In that time the whirlwind released
me, and I hit the ground hard.
I did not have a good six months before
FYNN started.
April came around, and here I was, angry and miserable. I walked into the only
support group that I had been offered and
realized that I was the youngest person
there. At 36, I knew that I was not your
typical breast cancer patient - hell, the
pamphlet they'd handed me in the " bad
news room " on the day of my diagnosis had
not a single person who looked like me in
it - but as I looked around the room and
saw women my mother's age - my grandmother's age - I felt out of place. But I was
there for support, and I was determined
to give it a shot.
On the first night, as part of an icebreaker, the facilitator laid out a deck of cards,


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Elephants And Tea - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Elephants And Tea - December 2020

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Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover1
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover2
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 1
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Contents
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