Cancer. Cancer is a complicated word that takes on different meanings given the extent it has impacted people. For some, it is a scary and daunting word with many negative connotations. For others, it may trigger emotions that are associated with a diagnosis or the loss of a loved one. For others, it may represent strength and triumph. The dictionary defines cancer as “an abnormal growth of cells which tend to proliferate in an uncontrolled way and, in some cases, to metastasize (spread)” (Medicine Net, 2020). However, this definition does not fully define the complexity of the word and its meaning to so many impacted by the disease.
In April of 2018, Janelle was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an extremely aggressive and rare form of bone cancer that required her to go through rigorous rounds of chemotherapy at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her chemotherapy regimen consisted of frequent visits to the hospital, which led my family and me to build close relationships with her nurses and team of doctors. On the days I went to the hospital with Janelle for her treatment, I observed that the nurses cared for my sister as she were their own sister. I watched in awe as they magically turned a bad day into a good one. The strong sense of comradery among the nurses led me to develop an extreme admiration for their profession and I soon began to envision myself working as a nurse and caring for patients as they conquered their own uphill battles. My sister fought this grueling disease for 7 months, but eventually succumbed to it on November 24, 2018. During her battle, she demonstrated grit, extreme mental stamina, and resilience despite many setbacks, which only furthered my admiration for her and fueled my ambition to carry on her legacy.
In a way, cancer is an analogy for my life. Losing my older sister and only sibling at 19 years old was an abnormal occurrence. The grief and anxiety that accompanied the loss metastasized throughout my body and everything in my life seemed uncontrollable. In this situation however, I could not be treated with chemotherapy or radiation and there is no cure for the loss I suffered. Instead, I found a silver lining. I went back to school and changed my major to prepare me for nursing school, all necessary steps to fulfilling my dream of one day becoming an oncology nurse. I believe my personal experience enables me to empathize with cancer patients and their families, which is the greatest way for me to honor my sister.
As a future nurse, I will be my patients’ biggest advocate. I am committed to being an advocate, mentor, support system, and source of optimism for my patients as they are dealing with their diagnosis and any setbacks they encounter. My sister’s cancer diagnosis has allowed me to develop a wisdom and perspective on life beyond my years. Cancer has taught me to no longer view adversity as defeat, but rather a platform for growth and an opportunity to strengthen my purpose. We do not get to choose our adversities in life. They are unpredictable and often make us question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” However, we do get to choose how we cope with these adversities and what we learn from these experiences. My sister’s mantra during her cancer battle was “happiness is a choice” and she embodied that philosophy every day despite her prognosis. So instead of searching for the answer to a question with no black and white answer, we can still choose to be happy and focus on the good despite the circumstances of situations we cannot control. As a future nurse, I hope to share this mentality with my patients because there are ways to find happiness, even in the midst of a cancer diagnosis.
So, if you were to ask me the definition of cancer, I would tell you it is a disease that will challenge you to the core and make you want to quit some days. It will take a lot from you and out of you. But in the end, it will give you the tenacity to overcome any setback, it will show you that you are resilient, and it will strengthen your goals, ambitions, and purpose in life. No cancer journey is the same, but each experience has the potential to teach so many important lessons and ultimately enhance one’s wisdom. Cancer will not define you, only you can define cancer.