What's It Like to Have Cancer as a Young Adult?

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March 27 2014 8:50 AM

What's It Like to Have Cancer as a Young Adult?  

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Angela Teng:


In July 2012, at age 33, I found out I had cancer.

After going over the pathology reports and letting me know that the type of cancer I have is a “rare and aggressive” kind, my doctor said I needed to get my uterus and ovaries removed right away. I will never have kids of my own.

Before she referred me to a specialist, she suggested I start writing a journal as a keepsake for my parents in case I do not make it. Trying to keep it together as my mother (typically not a crier) sniffed and tried to keep her tears at bay sitting next to me, hearing all of this, was the start of the hardest thing I have ever done.

Over the last year, the word aggressive was used at me a lot. Not only was my kind of cancer aggressive, my treatment plan was even more aggressive. Due to me being “so young,” they thought my body should be able to tolerate it. I ended up in the emergency room during my first chemo treatment.

I can go on about how hard it was to get through the chemo and radiation (both external and internal), but instead I want to focus more on how I coped with this hardship.

Since I was 33 and single with no kids, living with my parents during this was the best option.

During the past year, I have read a lot of blogs and postings on people who were or are dealing with cancer. Although everyone had different experiences and stories, there seemed to be one constant factor: They all seemed to have a significant other by their side, helping them through their difficult times.

I spent quite a lot of time reflecting over this. Who is going to want me now? I have lost two major features as a woman. First, my ability to reproduce. Second, my once long and beautiful hair. Not to mention that I am now a “cancer patient.” This is not just your typical baggage early thirtysomethings have to deal with.

I had to toy with the idea that there was a possibility that I would be single for the rest of my life.

In order to keep myself from feeling too down on myself, I worked as much as I could throughout treatment. Besides taking a few weeks off to recover from surgery and a few days here and there to rest from just being exhausted, I somehow managed to work on a full-time basis.

Home was where I could stop pretending everything was just fine and dandy. I could drop the fake smiles, and I could be as crabby and demanding as I wanted, and my parents would put up with it. Home was where I rested in bed, trying not to focus on the fact that I didn’t have that special someone like everyone else had, and my father coming in with fresh fruit he had washed, peeled, and cut into manageable sizes for me to eat. Home was where my mother would get up early every morning to prepare me a healthy breakfast and a lunch for me to take to work so I didn’t have to worry about it. She also went to every single one of my treatments and doctor’s appointments. Mom also knitted me hats. Lots of them ... when my hair left me. Home was where my father would give me gentle back rubs, followed by comforting hugs, when treatment was taking a toll on my body.

After a while, I stopped feeling sorry for myself that I did not have a significant other by my side. I realized I had two. At an age where I was the one who should be worrying about their health, my parents were in constant fear of mine. Yet, somehow, their quiet and steady strength guided me through my treatments. I was able to keep it together because they were able to keep it together.

More than a year ago, I found out I had cancer, but here I am, in remission, knowing fully well that there is something even harder I will have to face eventually: the passing of my parents, my two significant others. I will forever be in awe of their unconditional love.

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