This Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude, and because I’m a college student with a million and five things on my to-do list every week, I tend think on my yoga mat. Like many others, I practice yoga at school mostly for the exercise, but what I’ve learned is that taking an hour away from life just to spend time on a mat can do wonders. It is during yoga that for one hour I get to spend time with myself, my mind and my body completely unconnected. The instructors always remind us to practice with intention — they ask us why are you practicing? My reason has a lot to do with being a cancer survivor.
Of course, being a cancer survivor, when you think of what you are grateful for, health comes first, then family and friends. I’ve gone through a couple of different stages when it comes to being a cancer patient and survivor — stages that are really hard to understand and recognize. As I grow older and further away from the time I was a cancer patient, the whole disease, battle and experience keeps taking a different path back to my mind. Before I begin to describe my different stages of emotions, I want to preface by saying, I am happy and I have been happy. I have had a great life and had an amazing time making the best memories over the past couple of years. The way I describe myself here doesn’t change the fun I have had or the experiences I have had with anyone.
When I was first done with treatment I was so happy and eager to get back to my normal life, I pushed all feelings aside just so I could immediately be “normal” again. Although on the outside I may have seemed totally fine, I forced myself to jump into a life that I wasn’t quite ready for yet. Internally, I struggled. I seemed constantly depressed, anxious, self-conscious and vulnerable. And although these feelings were extremely prevalent and seemed to be creeping to the surface of my everyday life I kept burying them deep down and ignored facing them.
Fast forward to being about a year out from treatment. I was finally starting college and couldn’t wait for a fresh new start. But one thing continued to taunt me — my short, short hair. As a freshman at USC (where unfortunately many students are judgemental), I felt that my appearance was hindering my ability to meet people. I thought my short hair automatically labeled as “weird” and although I wanted to explain to people — “Hey!! I look like this because I just had cancer!!” — that wasn’t really the way to start a conversation during sorority rush or at a frat party. Although the chemotherapy treatments, surgeries and hospital stays were beginning to feel vague to me, I could feel the aftermath of being a cancer patient in my everyday life. Still, I struggled internally with the same feelings of depression, anxiety, self-consciousness and vulnerability.
Keep fast forwarding to two years after my doctors announced that I was in remission. I was happier, but I still hadn’t really recognized my internal emotions. Memories of my physical struggles were drifting further away, but not a day went by that I didn’t think of myself as a cancer patient or just about cancer in general. I tried going to therapy, channeling my emotions into exercise, and keeping myself busy, but none of this worked. From the outside, I doubt anyone could tell how much I was struggling internally because I worked so hard to hide and bury all of my emotions.
Then all of a sudden it seemed like an amazing experience landed in my lap. I was working in New York, living my best life when a family friend from home connected me with Sheri here at Digging Deep. We talked on the phone and she said it wasn’t until five years after her battle that she realized she had never acknowledged the lasting effects cancer had on her mental health. This really resonated with me. Finally, I felt something — I literally felt like I had an epiphany.
So how does this all tie back into gratitude? I took a very roundabout way to get to my main point, but what I want to say is this: I have finally become okay with my story, who I am, and the emotions that seem to forever cloud my mental state of being. I am so grateful to have finally recognized this because somewhere in between a huge breakdown, many hours of alone time, and nights spent writing private diary posts, my friends jumped in and assured me that my feelings are valid. And in turn, I have found self-acceptance.
Once I reached a certain point of comfort with my college friends, I felt that I could open up. Talking about how I felt made me feel more okay with the feelings that I had and all of my friends have shown me support this semester in such different ways. Whether it be a text checking in with how I am, surprising me with my favorite chocolate on my bed, having wine nights, doing a fun activity, tagging me in a meme, doing me favors, playing me a dope song, going out together, understanding my space, participating in deep conversations, making me laugh, or whatever it was — I felt appreciated again and in turn I felt my self-appreciation grow.
After such a long time burying my internal emotions, I let them rise to the surface so that I could finally acknowledge them. Of course, feelings of depression, anxiety, self-consciousness and vulnerability still exist, but they are a little bit less prevalent than they were before. And they are ultimately taking a much smaller toll on my mental state of being. It is all about the little steps in life that make a difference and this semester my friends have helped me take one step ahead in my cancer journey. Although many of them may not have realized all the little things they did meant so much to me, everything adds up. I am forever grateful for their support, love and encouragement. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my health and my family but I want to especially thank my friends for helping me get to the place I am. This doesn’t just go out to all my best friends in college, but to all the friends I have made at USC, all my friends at home and everyone who has brought me happiness!
Thank you for helping me get one step closer to being my goofy, happy me.