Guest blog series: Dealing with isolation
Welcome to the first appearance of our brand-new guest blog series! We will share real-life opinions on issues young adults face when they are dealing with cancer.
This month we are talking about isolation. Amy Aubin is the brave soul who is taking the first leap with us into this new endeavor. Enjoy her story and take a look at her blog if you’d like to learn more about her!
It hardly seems that long ago I was listening to my old-school iPod and training for the Ironman triathlon I had dreamed of doing since I was 10. Then I started feeling these sharp pains. I was passed over by numerous doctors and I continued my training until I was in so much pain I had to slow down; I then knew that something was wrong. It took me over a year to finally get a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and by then it had spread beyond my one ovary.
My name is Amy and I am a cancer survivor and a current cancer patient. I never thought that I would be wishing to be in remission for my 30th birthday, but that’s just the way it is. I live in a suburb of Toronto, Ontario; I’m married; and I have a daughter who is four-years-old (turning 14).
YACC asked me to be a guest blogger and I don’t think I could have answered the email fast enough. You see, YACC has helped me in so many ways. I have my own blog, Bobloblaw’s Medical Blog, which started out just as a means of communication to my very large family on my medical status. Now, nine months later, it has evolved into something that seems so much more.
I was at the height of my “life” at 24. I was going into law school, training for the Ironman triathlon, and living in downtown Toronto the way I had dreamed, but there was one flaw—I had cancer.
No one else I had ever known had cancer at 24, and none of my friends understood or knew what to say. I turned to my best friend, Denial, and ignored it. I had my surgery and “moved on.”
Since then I had my daughter, got married, and moved back to my hometown only 30 minutes from my downtown apartment.
In 2011, I received the bad news that I had cervical cancer. It was happening all over again.
I had a great job I loved in human resources, I had just bought my first car, and I was starting to train again. My spirit crushed and my hopes of a “normal” life dashed, I turned to YACC (oddly recommended by my in-laws who saw Geoff Eaton talk about it on CBC). YACC was holding Retreat Yourself East in Rocky Harbour, NL and I signed up, unsure of what to expect.
Before going out east, I sat in the waiting room at Princess Margaret Hospital, looking around, and seeing only women over the age of 45 or 50. I felt like I had been sucked to the bottom of a bucket.
I headed out east the first weekend in May and it changed my life from the first minute. I was in a group of people who were all my age, and although they had different kinds of cancer, our feelings all fell under common themes.
It’s a little ironic that I was feeling so isolated and I went to a tiny place with, like, four stores and just ocean. I cried more that weekend than I have in my whole life—all of the feelings I had been pushing down and “forgetting about” came pouring out.
I left feeling stronger for my battle ahead and pretty drained—after all, getting out five years worth of emotions can be pretty exhausting.
Since the Retreat, my ovarian cancer has metastasized to my right lung (stage 4); I no longer work in human resources; and my husband, daughter, and I had to move back home with my parents. Now I feel like I am at rock bottom, and alone.
I am completing a six-round chemotherapy therapy regimen (four down, two to go), possibly 15 radiation treatments, and then who knows what.
With treatments, it’s difficult to have a routine, hold a job, make plans, or even get out of bed. Isolation feeds so many other feelings; depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy. It’s easy for so many of these feelings to take over, especially if you feel quite alone.
I used to be a social butterfly, I loved going out dancing, trying new things, doing extreme sports, just jumping into anything at any time. I miss working, I miss running and being busy. Laying in bed and lazing around the house sucks.
I started my own business to try and keep me busy but there are a lot of days I am far from busy. The chemo I have sucks all the energy out of me. Almost every month I have at least one blood transfusion just to get my complete blood counts up.
Isolation is probably one of the hardest elements of having cancer when you’re young. In a society where people our age are made to think that now is the time to focus on our careers, have families, buy houses, and ‘grow up,’ having cancer just doesn’t fit into that equation. There are so many pieces to this puzzle of life and no one expects cancer to be one of those pieces because unlike the other pieces, you can’t put cancer aside and worry about it later.
One of the most powerful things I have learned about isolation I had tattooed on my arm (very impulsively at the last YACC conference). Inspired by Geoff Eaton’s presentation, it reads “1% is more than 0%” and underneath it reads “Find the good” so any time I feel so alone, I try and find the good. No matter how small, there is always something good, even in cancer (as odd as that sounds).
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in blogging about dealing with cancer as a young adult.
Retreat Yourself 2012
Photos courtesy of Amy Aubin