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Friday, December 16, 2011
I Wish You Knew I Had Cancer Too
Melanie Gaffney is a proud childhood cancer survivor, and a contributor to the Focus On Cancer blog. Today she is cancer-free, but lives with the after effects of her cancer treatments.
I’ve been cancer free for many years. Although the cancer has physically been removed from my body, it really never leaves my life. I think about it every single day, usually more than once, and have done so for as long as I can remember.
If you read about me on the Focus On Cancer blog, you know I am a stage IV childhood cancer survivor who is now living with the long-term effects of my cancer and treatments.
Because of this, I have many appointments at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center throughout the year. As soon as I pull into the parking garage at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, when most people feel anxious or scared, I have an eerie sense of calm come over me. Once on the elevator, without fail, I see a fellow cancer survivor – someone fighting his or her battle now. The people in the midst of their fight are easier to recognize, but I have a pretty good eye for survivors too. Maybe we are part of a gang now and are in tune to each other.
Before getting to my floor I have to go by two other cancer floors. The first is radiation oncology. Someone inevitably gets on the elevator looking tired and weak; maybe baring a bald head or perhaps covering it. It’s the first time in my visit that day that I want to reach out, touch their shoulder and say: “I know it’s hard and it hurts, but it’s worth it, it will get better. I had cancer, too”.
Then I go by the first oncology floor. There, I usually see someone that has just been diagnosed. He or she has that, “deer in headlights” look, sitting with a loved one trying to comfort them, but looking just as scared. I want to reach out to them, tell them: “Please ask me anything, I had cancer, too.”
I get to my floor, I check in, sit down and try to read or work. But I am easily distracted. Looking around I see fear, pain, boredom, laughter and love. As I meet the eyes of these other cancer warriors, we give each other a small nod and smile with our eyes. An indication of comfort and understanding, but I feel all the emotion in the room as if it were all mine. It’s incredibly overwhelming. I run through the overload of emotions in my head, and there is always one that is at the forefront:
I feel guilt. I don’t look sick. I don’t look unhealthy. I have long curly hair. I look like the person who is waiting for someone that has an oncology appointment, not the patient. I have this huge sense of guilt for winning my battle with cancer and its aftermath so far, while most of the people I sit with are still fighting.
I wish I could say aloud, “I had cancer, too.” Then they could know that I do understand. They don’t have to feel uncomfortable in front of me, or think I am staring at them because they are bald. I wish they knew I’m admiring their strength and silently hoping that by seeing me, they can know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I want to tell them it won’t always be like this, you’ll never really get to run away from your diagnosis all together, but it’s possible to have a full, happy life as well.
I truly feel an emotional bond to everyone I meet that is going through cancer treatment or is a survivor. I wish I could help everyone I meet, talk and share our experiences, and grow as a person from sharing my story and learning about others.
It’s a very scary disease that affects us all in different ways, but there is always a positive way to look at something. We aren’t defined by our illness, but it does become a part of who we are.
In addition to being a mom and a wife, Melanie operates a small marketing and graphic design boutique called Melanie Gaffney and also founded Mason’s Mission to raise awareness and funds for Chiari malformation research, a neurological disorder that affects her son. Read more about Melanie here.
Watch for Melanie’s blogs here, and connect with Melanie on Twitter.