The words “bone marrow biopsy” had never been on my radar until the day I met the oncologist in the emergency department. As a 24-year-old medical student, I had suddenly found myself faced with a cancer diagnosis that would completely alter the course of my life. The shock and uncertainty of that moment were overwhelming, and my journey as a young cancer survivor began.
An Unexpected Detour
Walking into the emergency department, I was unaware of the true nature of my symptoms. The fever, nausea, vomiting, and bruises on my legs were not simply due to the flu or my energetic puppy. The bone marrow biopsy I underwent that day revealed that I had acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). In an instant, my carefully planned path veered off course, and I was thrust into a battle for survival.
Cancer is not an individual disease; it affects the entire family. My diagnosis had a profound impact on my loved ones, and their unwavering support became an integral part of my journey. Together, we faced the unknowns and challenges that came with the diagnosis. But with their love and support, I found the strength to fight.
Navigating the Uncharted
As a young adult facing cancer, I was completely unprepared for the physical, emotional, and psychological toll it would take. Questions flooded my mind: How would this affect my relationships? Could I still achieve my goals? Would I be able to manage the mounting medical bills? And what about my self-esteem and body image? The uncertainty was overwhelming. I searched for answers, for other young people who had faced similar challenges, but found only more questions.
A Grueling Journey
Fortunately, the chemotherapy worked, and I survived. However, the journey to recovery was far from easy. The “chemo brain” and the physical toll my body had endured took its toll. But just as I had shown resilience and tenacity as a collegiate gymnast, I pushed myself to reclaim my life. I returned to medical school with a determined spirit, but a shift was about to occur.
A Shift in Perspective
During my medical school rotations, my oncologist subtly nudged me towards a career in oncology. At first, I resisted, unsure if I wanted to immerse myself in an environment that constantly reminded me of my own mortality. But as I encountered patients who mirrored my struggles, I realized the potential to use my experience as a source of education, healing, and inspiration for others. Slowly, my perspective shifted, and I embraced the idea of becoming an oncologist.
My own experience as a young cancer patient shapes how I approach caring for my patients today. I understand the nuances of their lives beyond their illness – their support systems, commitments, and the obstacles they face. Drawing from my background as a competitive athlete, I empathize with the silent resilience ingrained in pushing physical limits. This understanding guides my focus on providing comprehensive care, addressing the psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis, and supporting my patients through survivorship.
Advocacy and Transformation
Recognizing the gaps in support that I experienced firsthand, I have taken on the mission of advocating for better care for young cancer patients. At Mayo Clinic, I have been given the opportunity to spearhead the development of an adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer program. My goal is to ensure that every young adult facing cancer can find support, navigate the challenges, and emerge resilient. I want to redefine what it means to thrive beyond illness.
The journey of a young cancer survivor is filled with unexpected detours and unimaginable challenges. It transforms not only the individual but the entire family dynamic. However, with resilience and empathy, the impact of this journey can be turned into a source of healing and inspiration for others. As a survivor myself, I am dedicated to providing compassionate care, advocating for improved support, and empowering young cancer patients to redefine their lives after illness. Together, we can transform the experience of cancer into a catalyst for growth and thriving.