I went through two grueling bouts of cancer when I was a young adult, which drastically shaped my life.
A little over two decades ago, a growth was found on my left thigh. After several visits to different doctors, and over six months, I found out I was a young college student at California State University, Bakersfield with epithelial sarcoma.
Life moved fast after that.
Surgery after surgery, chemo sessions and radiation, I thought I was done. Tired, throwing up, going bald and beyond thin for my frame, I kept pushing forward and I was determined to beat it.
I went into remission for almost a year, then was sick again. This time, it was worse. Again, I went through the same routine, only this time there were multiple trips to UCLA Medical Center.
Then they broke the news to me: I had cancer again. This time it was more severe.
I was told that the average survival rate was 15% for liver sarcoma at the time, and if I did survive, there was a good chance I would have permanent immune issues, constant chronic fatigue and would be unlikely to have children — that was just a few of the treatment impacts that were stated.
I had a year of college left. I was in my 20s with so much ahead of me. Was I just going to give up? The first fight was harsh enough and I struggled through it. I was told this would be more aggressive treatment, but that was ultimately my decision, since survival rates at the time were minimal.
Was I just going to be comfortable and slowly wither away? Or was I going to gamble and fight? After discussing my choice with family members, again, I moved forward with the mentality of, "What have I got to lose?" I'm stubborn enough. I got this.
Not only did my physical health suffer, but my mental health was also shook. I questioned everything— my existence, my faith, my purpose, family and friends. I was angry to the point where people (related and non-related) cut me off if I didn't cut them off first.
I fell into a severe depression; I was beyond tired and just wanted to die. I constantly felt alone, even though people were around me because they couldn't understand the pain I was feeling.
I was sick of hearing, "You'll be fine" or "You'll figure it out; you always do." This was f****** cancer, not the flu!
I felt abandoned, isolated, frustrated and angry.
I also hated taking pictures with those who wanted a token just in case I didn't make it. Man, I'm so glad social media didn't exist yet! I was already at my worst. Why would I want to document it?! So they had something to show at a funeral?! Or show it to others so they could feel good and say, "See? I was there for her." I refused it all.
I suppressed a lot of emotions and decided it was time to just take care of me. I was the patient. I was already exhausted and shouldn't have to justify the path I chose and what I was going through, while also trying to console those who were trying to "be there" for me.
I completed treatments, pushed through recovery and kept moving forward.
This year, 19 years from my original date of remission on March 3, 2003, I'm still here. I have a degree, a career I've worked hard for, I'm married, and have amazing children.
I still have personal, emotional, mental and physical battles, but I also see the world in a different light. My expectations of people always seem to be high, so much so that I fight disappointment regularly because I tend to forget most people take things for granted that I don't because I've lived a different path.
I have my peace for the most part; my health is decent as I still follow up with all the maintenance appointments and my faith is still strong. I have been a volunteer for my local county cancer foundation — especially as a voice of a survivor — because I want other survivors to know we’re never alone in our journey.
When I was a patient, especially since I was a young adult, I had no one to talk with who could relate to what was happening. A little over nine years ago, I was approached to attend a survivor meeting after a follow-up doctor’s appointment, to meet and talk with patients and survivors and share my story.
The first meeting I attended made an emotional impact not only on me, but also on those who were shy, ashamed, scared or angry to share their voice and experience. Now I’m an active volunteer committee member for events, raising money to help local patients with cancer and an active survivor voice when needed.
My attitude, personality and outlook on life spills over into everything I do, and I always hope the positive vibes shine through and inspire others.
As Walt Disney said, "Keep moving forward."
This post was written and submitted by Melody Saberon Ybarra. The article reflects the views of Melody Saberon Ybarra and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.
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