Today I was reminded people still don’t understand that cancer doesn’t give a f*ck how old you are. There is no “you have to be this tall to ride” sign for cancer. We’re all eligible for this terrifying roller coaster.
Still, it surprises people when I tell them I’m a cancer survivor. Yes, I’m young, yes I’ve had cancer, and yes there are more just like me. We are a unique breed, us cancer survivors and fighters, we are tough, and we have been through hell and back. And we did it when most of our peers were still figuring out who they were. We just had more drugs, and they had more freedom (and hair).
Today, on a random call, a woman trying to sell me on a job selling life insurance (I have no idea where these people come from) started her sales pitch with “Imagine you have cancer.” Of course, she didn’t know me; she didn’t know I didn’t have to imagine… so I did what anyone would do, I let her continue. She went on to explain how great it is that money from the insurance doesn’t have to go exclusively to hospital bills; instead, when you’re diagnosed with cancer you’d get a deposit of $6,000 in your bank account to do with how you please. (I guess she doesn’t know that $6,000 would cover maybe one chemo infusion?) For the majority of the call, I just said “mmhmm” into the phone. Once she finished her pre-written speech for our “conversational” call, I paused, then said, “Now, imagine you’re talking to a cancer survivor.”
She was silent, and then: “But you sound so young.”
That one phrase: I sound so young; I was even younger when I was diagnosed. What difference does that make? Cancer sucks for everyone, at every age. My cancer diagnosis at my age if anything was a blessing. Because I was still in my mid-twenties, I was able to get a treatment that has a proven high success rate in pediatric patients. So really, I’m glad it happened when it did in that sense. Well, happy as anyone can be, I guess.
“I am young,” I told her. “I was younger when I was diagnosed.” She went on to say how amazing it is that I survived and how brave I was and blah blah blah… and I told her what I tell everyone. “I did what anyone would do given the same circumstances. I chose to live and got lucky.”
I chose the path of chemicals, and needles, and people in white lab coats. I chose what most people choose when given a semi-treatable prognosis. I chose science. I chose fact. And I got lucky.
The fact that I’m young doesn’t make it any more challenging. It doesn’t make it worse, or more depressing. The fact that I’m young played to my benefit, in this case. But wake up!
Young people, children, young adults, teenagers – we’re all getting sick. Cancer does not just affect the older population anymore. Please stop assuming 20-somethings are too young to have seen a life that didn’t include them growing old in it. Stop assuming the person on the other side of the phone is too young to understand or imagine some crappy scenario.
Everyone is on their own journey full of their own issues. Respect that. And stop pretending that young adults with cancer are rare – we’re not. And yes, we need to put an end to it.