I’m a long-time survivor of cancer. I was diagnosed with childhood leukemia in 1980, when I was 13. No age is a good age to learn you have cancer, but 13 seemed particularly rough. Fitting in? No chance after losing my hair, missing three months of school, and choking down more pills a day than all my grandparents combined.
Years later I learned I was actually lucky to get my kind of cancer when I was a teenager. At the time, standard treatment for ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) involved very high doses of radiation to the brain. For younger kids, whose brains were still developing, this could lead to learning disabilities and difficulties at school. Other serious problems could occur, too, including brain tumors caused by the radiation therapy and certain chemotherapy drugs.
I was very fortunate to avoid learning disabilities. And so far I’ve been spared other medical late effects of treatment. But even now I still worry that something could go wrong.
One way I’ve coped with these lingering fears is to work in the healthcare field. As an English major, healthcare communications made career sense. At work I’ve written articles, brochures, booklets and Websites about cancer. I’ve interviewed doctors, scientists, nurses, social workers and patients. And along the way, I’ve learned about the medical side of cancer as well as the many ways it can infiltrate your life – physically, emotionally, financially – you name it.
When a co-worker at Providence St. Peter Hospital created this blog, I wanted to figure out a meaningful way to contribute. I plan to write about issues I’ve dealt with as a cancer survivor. Many of these topics have already been expertly addressed in the blog. But hopefully something I write will resonate with someone, and make a small difference in the way he or she copes with their own cancer experience.