By Jordyn Farrell, MPH
This year, 2019, marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 16. It all started when I felt like I had the flu, so my mom and I went to an urgent care clinic. The nurses ran a couple of tests, including a pregnancy test, which funnily came back positive although there was no way that could possibly be true. They also did an X-ray which revealed a mass in the majority of my abdomen. This eventually led to an ovarian cancer diagnosis. I went through four rounds of intense chemotherapy, with major side effects including the typical nausea and loss of hair.
Being diagnosed with cancer at 16 was definitely an interesting experience. I was old enough to understand what was going on and be able to explain what I wanted in an articulate way, yet was young enough to not have to worry about things like work or the cost of everything. It’s a little bit of a weird situation to be in, because when I went to the children’s hospital, I was often the oldest patient and there were cartoons playing on the TV and coloring books everywhere. And at a general hospital for cancer care, I would usually be the youngest patient, where the staff are more likely to address the parents as the patient instead of you. It’s an odd space where you don’t really fit with either group, because teenagers and young adults have their own needs and life experiences that only other people at that age can really understand.
My family was key to making the experience tolerable. My parents were with me at every appointment and were able to take notes and ask questions when I was at my lowest and was so exhausted that I could barely move. They helped me keep up with school, which was really important to me because I didn’t want to be behind by a semester and miss the experiences of high school with my friends.
I think the most important thing to realize is that the impact of cancer doesn’t stop as soon as treatment is finished and you’ve been given the “all clear,” as much as we would like it to happen. I’m unable to have biological children because both of my ovaries had to be removed, I have a foot-long scar down my abdomen from removing a soccer ball-sized tumor and I have to take medication every day to prevent going into menopause at the age of 26. There is stress and anxiety related to going to the doctor, and I question every odd symptom I sometimes feel. But, I try to focus on what I can control. I know there are steps I can take now to reduce my risk of cancer in the future. That’s why the prevention activities that CDC conducts are so important. The fewer people that have to go through a cancer experience, the better.
Having cancer taught me to try to find as much joy where you can get it. A cancer diagnosis and treatment can be so harrowing and overwhelming that it’s important to keep a focus on what you love. For me it’s humor, soccer, friends, and family. Cancer made me who I am, and I like who I am. I also learned that short hair can be cute!
This article was originally published on September 3, 2019, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is republished with permission.