Young Adult Cancer Survivorship

I was only 29 years old when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer. After a whirlwind few months of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and countless other doctor visits, I was fortunate enough to be told that I had no evidence of disease (NED). That was an amazing feeling, but at the same time, I didn’t realize that the most difficult part of my cancer diagnosis still lay ahead.

When you are undergoing treatment as a cancer patient, there is an end goal. You count down each radiation session, or cross off each chemo treatment off of the calendar. There’s comfort in knowing that the treatments won’t last forever. But when they eventually do end and you go off to live your life, then what? From the time I was diagnosed to the time I was told I was NED was all in the span of only about 6 months. My body had begun to heal from the treatments and surgery, but my brain was struggling to process everything that had just happened. I eventually decided to attend a young adult survivorship group so that I could share my experience with other survivors. I went to the meetings for about 3 years, and while it helped me quite a bit to know that I wasn’t alone in my post-cancer struggles, it still didn’t help as much as I had hoped it would. Nobody else at the meetings had cervical cancer like I’d had. I was never able to fully share my experience with somebody who understood it firsthand.

Being different is difficult. By looking at me, you’d probably never be able to guess that I was as sick as I actually was. You’d never know that I had an ugly surgery scar on my abdomen. You’d never know that I have 3 little green radiation tattoos that bring back painful memories when I look at them. You’d never know that the treatments affected my body so much that I still struggle with the side effects that will never go away. And, you’d never know that cancer took away my chance to ever have biological children. I am now at an age where a question that I tend to get from people is whether or not I have any children. When I tell them that I don’t, they usually follow up with the question “Well, why not?” It’s in that moment I always have to decide just how in depth I want to go about my situation, and it can be an awkward experience for both of us.

These are issues I am still struggling to make my peace with today. I am incredibly thankful that my treatments were, and continue to be, successful. However, I still mourn the “normal life” that cancer ripped away from me. I am currently 5 years out from my fight with cancer, and people have been surprised when I’ve told them that life after cancer is difficult. Many people believe that once treatment ends, life goes back to normal and all is well. Not very many people understand the physical and psychological toll that is left for the survivor. For me, the side effects, infertility, and more recently, survivor’s guilt, are all issues that I have to figure out a way to accept and live with, as part of me. It’s a work in progress. At the end of the day,  I’m proud and grateful to be able to call myself a cancer survivor and have hope that I  will be able to continue to do so.

Sarah Thibodeaux is a 5-year cervical cancer survivor. She lives in Southern California with her family and her dog. She enjoys spoiling her niece and nephew, going to Disneyland, and is an avid Dodger fan.

Dream Big and Live For Today

I was 22 when I found out I had cancer. It’s such a funny word, because automatically when I hear it, I began thinking about this thing living inside me calling itself cancer, and how it had been slowly trying to destroy me. Only, somehow I had already knew I had cervical cancer. I had been having surgeries every 6 months for 3 years to clean out my endometriosis, and it was only 4 months prior that, the doctor tried to “freeze” my abnormal cells. My uterus had been scraped of tumors in October, and it was then I begged the doctor to help me. I could feel my body retaliating against itself. I was the one that asked for the hysterectomy surgery, so when he walked in on December 23rd to wheel me into the procedure, it was of no surprise to me that I had stage 2 cervical cancer. However, it did surprise the doctor. I was 22, and according to the “norm”, I was too young to be going through such an ordeal. Perhaps, but hey, the freezing treatment was supposed to be 99.9% effective. So I guess I have always been one of the lucky ones in that 1% or less of odds playing against me.

At a time when I should be enjoying college and late night parties, I was fighting for my life. It wasn’t just physically, but at an emotional level I did not understand. The faith I was raised in held high expectations that I would be a wife and a mother, and I would naturally bear children. Only now, I was thanking my lucky stars I was alive, while many around me uttered the words, “she will never be a mom.” At least, this is what I internalized of their chatter. It was true, I could never naturally give birth, and I was too young to even be thinking about having children. I was battling these internal demons of “you won’t,” “you can’t,” “you’re broken”- while on the outside being the one that smiled and took the news in stride, knowing I would have to be the positive one because I had accepted my diagnosis.

The most detrimental thing of my diagnosis is why I had cervical cancer and what I have never spoken about until now. Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), something that had been gifted to me at a very young age. This was not by choice, but due to being forced to endure sexual trauma in my youth. I hid these facts and feelings, because I was told never to speak about it, or my life would be in danger or people would think I was a slut. This is a lot for a 10-year old mind to process, so I never spoke about it.

Even though I had cancer and survived, emotionally I was a mess. Not shocking to endure my first round of ovarian cancer at the age of 23 and a second round at 25. It took all of that for me to look myself in the mirror and say, “You need help.” This was when everything started to change and transformation took place. Leaving the nest I had always known, I took a job in Florida and the Bahamas, reconnecting with the ocean I fell in love at 10 years old, only months prior to my incredible trauma.

How did cancer change me? It made me re-evaluate my entire belief system. It made me question everything, and it allowed me to get out of a box and explore a wide open world. Before cancer, I had loved to travel. After cancer I reconnected with passion vowing to make it part of my life. Most importantly, cancer connected me to my body. I always credit yoga to saving my life, and nothing could ring more true. It may sound funny, but perhaps not unfamiliar that to find a yoga mat and breath-work to heal. My healing led me to wear I am today, a motivational and awareness speaker, travel/lifestyle/health writer, and yoga instructor. Most recently training in breath-work and mediation to lead healing sessions.

Since cancer I have always had the motto to dream bigger, however I think a more accurate statement is, “Live fully and passionately everyday.” Fall in love with every breath you take. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them. Don’t hesitate in trying or tasting something new. Enjoy the little things. Cherish the moments. Because it is in those moments and memories that we will always be connected to life and to those we love. Believe in yourself and always choose what is good for your soul.

Mandy Murry is an accredited international travel, lifestyle, health and wellness writer, with features published in Thrive Global, Bella Grace, 24Karat, Slug, NC Living, X Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Yucatán Times, Live and Invest Overseas, TravelAge West and more. Her captivating story-telling adds magic to her words and her passion for writing is as contagious as her passion for life and cloud surfing (aka flying). Mandy blogs at cloudsurfing.lifeYou can also find her on Instagram: @cloudsurfinglife