Through the Eyes of a Childhood Cancer Survivor: 5 Ways Life Changes after Cancer
“Pray for me, it’s cancer.” This was my first Facebook status update following my official diagnosis with liver cancer at 16 years old. Looking through my Facebook now, there’s photos of my beautiful bride and I celebrating with our closest friends and family - including my former oncologist, Dr. Eslin. While the journey was anything but easy, I am so thankful to have gone through it with my medical team/family at Arnold Palmer Hospital. As a childhood cancer survivor who just celebrated the five-year cancer-free mark, here are the biggest changes I’ve come across as an adult:
1. Examination Tables are Larger
I was just over 6’ tall when I was diagnosed with cancer which left me on the upper end of the pediatric patient size spectrum. Doctor visits now include a full-sized examination table and the wallpaper lacks cute little animals. Your time spent in the exam rooms are about the same, but you are also very thankful when these appointments are boring due to having very few medical updates to discuss with your doctor.
2. Routine Visits Continue, but it’s up to you to make them happen
This was one of the toughest changes for me. As a child, my parents did everything possible to make the journey easier for me which is something I am very thankful for. As an adult, it’s entirely my responsibility to make sure appointments get made, blood work gets sent to each specialist, and my insurance premium gets paid. There’s a ton of responsibility tied with having a serious medical history, but I am so thankful that the Follow-up After Cancer Treatment (FACT) Program at Arnold Palmer Hospital could help smooth the transition for me. The FACT clinic was set up to help pediatric cancer patients transition into life following cancer. They also do an incredible job with helping pediatric patients transition into the “adult world” when they have aged-out of pediatrics. Instead of making a huge jump between major medical divisions (pediatric vs adult,) the FACT clinic was the bridge that gave me comfort and guidance during the transition to my new adult medical team. With the help (and a couple of “motivating lectures”) from my incredible FACT team, the transition to the adult medical world was done in several small manageable steps. Thanks to Laura and the rest of my team, I’ve got a roadmap to preventing cancer from coming back, a new adult medical team, and I can sleep easy knowing I’m in good hands.
3. Your Perspective on Life Shifts Entirely
When you have gone through cancer, you’ve seen just how treasured and valuable life is. Your perspective is so deep in your mind that there is nothing you can do to hide it. The experience changes you as a person, but it’s up to you to determine if it’s for the better or for the worse. Cancer was extremely difficult but it also showed me just how precious life is- I believe this has changed me for the better.
4. You can connect with people in ways you never thought possible
Life can be extremely difficult sometimes and at one point or another, everyone is faced with some kind of hardship. Having gone through cancer, you know what it feels like to go through something you didn’t think you’d be able to overcome. Your story can allow you to relate in ways you never thought was possible as well as offer encouragement to people you would never otherwise meet.
5. Your Medical Team Becomes your Family
Having spent so much time at Arnold Palmer Hospital, your team slowly becomes your family. They invest themselves in you and you invest in them. My last appointment with the oncology clinic was bittersweet. I had aged out of pediatric oncology. I honestly didn’t want to leave because of how much joy I got from being around them. My mother even requested to come with me because she, too, missed the team and always took whatever reason she had to go and see them. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) came with us and met some of the most influential people in my life- the people who were cheering me on and praying for me while I fought cancer. While I never plan on going back there for treatment, I know the friendships I have made with staff and other patients will follow with me through life.
An Open Letter to the APCH Oncology Clinic
To my incredible Arnold Palmer Hospital for children Oncology Team,
I cannot thank you enough for all the love, support, tears, and laughs you’ve given my family and I over the years. You are the strongest team I have ever met and are so dear to all of us. Thank you for putting up with my teenage hormones, my parents’ anxiety, and all the rough days at work to make sure my days were as good as they could be. The fact that you did it with a smile- for years- is inspiring to me. Your work has made me a better person and has lead me to places I would otherwise never be. Want an example? Well, something tells me it’s no surprise that I ended up marrying a nurse!
We love you and thank you for everything!