Coming out as a cancer survivor

I had cancer. There. I said it.It's only three words, but telling friends or new acquaintances that I'm a cancer survivor can be difficult. Somehow the topic arises--usually because someone's family member has been affected by some type of cancer. My heart begins to beat wildly, but I can't stop myself from exercising my intense desire to share common experiences. So I say it.Eyebrows raise, eyes widen. I'm very familiar with this shocked and sometimes panicked expression. And then of course I have to explain.I explain that when I was only two years old I was diagnosed with leukemia, more specifically acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and that I was enrolled in a randomly selected drug trial. I explain that I almost died, but that I unexpectedly went into remission at age five. I also explain that my sister, who is five years my junior, went through the same thing, only less severe."I don't remember anything," I hurriedly say as a sort of reassurance. And it's true. I don't remember the countless injections or the spinal taps or the incessant hospitalizations. I've managed to piece together my experience with cancer thanks to verbal memories from my father and my memories of my sister's experience with the same disease. Although I regard my status as a cancer survivor like an invisible medal, a unique characteristic of mine, I often fail to realize that so many people tend to associate unfounded stigmas with cancer.I'll receive responses like, "Are you OK now?" or "Did your hair fall out?" or even "Are you still being treated for it?" Yes, yes and no, for the record.Sometimes I don't have the opportunity to explain, like at the dentist's office. A new dentist will see what I call my "mini tooth," which was stunted because of the chemotherapy. "I had cancer," I'll awkwardly and almost unintelligibly explain. Usually silence follows, and I'm unsure whether he or she understands.I don't want to be characterized as "the girl who had cancer" because there are so many other things that define me. I'm a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, a cook, a writer, a music lover and so many other things. My status as a cancer survivor is a part of me, but it's certainly not the most important part of me.Yes, I had cancer. Now let's move on.Rachel Post is a 21-year-old, magazine journalism student at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a proud leukemia survivor.