September 15, 2020
Wisdom From a Seventeen-Year-Old Cancer Survivor
This post is brought to you by National Breast Cancer Foundation. Learn more about their mission and find out how you can help here.
Note: Written by NBCF High School Intern, Campbell Sena
My name is Campbell and at age seventeen, I am a cancer survivor.
When I was diagnosed with cancer at age fifteen, I felt completely blindsided. I woke up one morning with a strange lump on my chest, which caused me to go to the emergency room. Hours later, I was told I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and needed treatment. Within moments, I went from being a healthy, active teenage girl to a cancer patient. How could this be happening to me?
For the next few months, I endured four rounds of chemotherapy that caused countless detrimental side effects. I suffered through excruciating bone pain that inhibited my ability to walk, potentially fatal stomach bacteria, a partial lung collapse, extensive mood swings, multiple biopsies, blood transfusions, and much more. Although all of these physical complications were extremely painful, some of the worst scars I have are the emotional ones.
I remember exactly what it felt like to lose my hair and question my femininity. I constantly struggled with how my newfound appearance was affecting me emotionally. When I shaved my head, I lost all confidence in myself and didn’t know who I was anymore. The moment my hair was gone, I completely broke down. My identity was attached to my long, luscious locks for so long, I couldn’t recognize myself without my hair. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a lost, sick girl who was struggling to find hope.
How was I supposed to be beautiful when society was constantly saying that long hair was desired?
During this period, I tried to find other ways to feel beautiful. I wore cute head scarfs, dressed in ways that were traditionally feminine, always had my nails done, and would wear makeup. I took the time to practice self-care and started to slowly gain my confidence back. Soon after, I started going in public and began seeing my friends again. The first time I went out with no hair or head covering, I was astounded at how the public reacted – I felt like the target of every stranger’s visual fixation. No one ever explicitly says being bald is ugly, but the non-stop stares and whispers spoke louder than anyone could have.
This was the most difficult time in my life and, at times, I was unsure how to navigate through these challenges. No one around me was going through the same thing as me. I felt alone and broken. Nothing made sense. I was a teenage girl who belonged in the cheer gym, but instead I was going through chemotherapy. I was surrounded by people who loved me, yet I still felt alone because no one knew what I was experiencing. I think a lot of cancer patients feel this way.
Working at a non-profit dedicated to helping cancer patients has given me a sense of peace, almost as though my journey has come full circle.
Now that I’m out of the woods of my cancer treatment, I can look back and understand the value that a community and resources would’ve provided me on my journey. And that’s why my experience at NBCF has been special. NBCF’s purpose is to educate women and make sure no one faces breast cancer alone. There are people out there, just like me, who are struggling through their treatment and new normal right now. To those patients I’d like to say: Remember that you don’t have to fight this alone. NBCF is built off of community and compassion to make sure women facing breast cancer have the resources to be surrounded by love, support, and hope.
Find your community. Find your people. And rediscover yourself after cancer.
Discover more Stories of Hope on National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website.