In June 2018, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) while living in Italy. I was shocked. After six months of mysterious rashes and illnesses, the pieces finally came together at a walk-in clinic off Piazza di Spagna. Sounds romantic, huh? It wasn’t.
I was in the middle of an MBA internship in Rome and now needed to fly back to New York City the next day and check into Memorial Sloan Kettering for five weeks. I reached remission and did not need a bone marrow transplant, but my journey was just beginning. When I checked out of the hospital, I underwent ten more months of intensive chemotherapy and now am entering my third and final year of maintenance.
My life was put on hold, and I felt intense suffocating pressure. Adolescent and young adult cancer patients are the most underserved cancer population and, in many ways, experience some of the hardest existential questions: How will I reenter the workforce? How will I ever find a partner? Will I be able to have children after chemotherapy? Will I ever feel normal again?
On top of these general questions, I felt increased insecurity and sadness around my diagnosis as an LGBTQIA+ community member. Much of my life had been lived in the closet with no one to talk to about what I was feeling. Once again, I felt I had no one to talk to after being marginalized for so many years before. And now my life might end?
I asked myself all of these questions, and I can now say things are looking up. I am very fortunate. Despite thinking that I could not accomplish anything after cancer, I did. I went back to school and finished my MBA while in maintenance treatment. Further, I have recently signed with a literary agent to represent my cancer memoir. The memoir discusses my lifelong struggles with shame that left me overwhelmed and unable to ask for help during my battle with leukemia. And, finally, I am launching my own non-toxic skincare business this year — another positive that came out of my cancer journey. My diagnosis made me acutely aware of toxins in the environment, and I found that no men’s personal products fit my personal criteria of non-toxic. I am looking to fill this void.
Everyone tells me how strong I am all the time for how I’ve handled my cancer situation. Until recently, I doubted them. I’ve never felt so fragile and terrified.
Now, looking back, I believe them. The strength is in you too.