I almost forgot what my mission for MollyROCK is. The mission is to foster radical, open conversation between those whose brains aren’t fully developed and those who have a fully functioning one. Because of Molly’s story, I’ve assumed it would center on teen sex and pregnancy issues. But, I was recently slapped in the face by my personal story and how parts of it are not talked about. I can say with absolute assurance that my cancer story impacted Molly. Yep, childhood cancer has some issues that need to be brought to the forefront. I want to share this. I am not sharing it for pity, I’m not sharing it for shock value. I’m sharing it because I can’t expect kids and adults to be open and radical if I keep a dark place in my life hidden.
I got an email the other day from a young adult cancer survivor. She asked if we could talk, and I almost said, “Sure, in a couple of weeks.” Luckily, the part of me who had just spent two days in pain, on medicine, and having my abdomen checked from the inside out shut up, and the part of me who wants to help adolescents took over. This young lady is a living miracle. I know hundreds, if not thousands, of childhood cancer patients (former and current), and I know very few who have beaten her cancer. I listened to a sermon on Friday by Andy Stanley. The gist of his sermon was saying that if you’ve experienced something traumatic, your job is to go to others who are experiencing it to show them that they can survive. I had to answer this precious child’s plea.
As she and I began to talk, I recognized the quiver in her voice, I understood the hurt in her eyes, and I was thrown back into a dark part of my life. Certainly it was the darkest point before losing Molly. I have admitted this to very few people in my life, but I’m going to admit it here on the World Wide Web. It breaks my heart for my teenage self, and it will ruin many people’s opinion of me as a generally happy person. By the time I was in high school, the years of treatment, medical crises, teasing over my facial deformities, facial reconstruction, torture at the hands of opthamplogists and oncologists, debilitating sinus problems, and guilt over my survival versus almost all of my best guy friends from camp had left me broken. I felt guilty, depressed, angry, resentful, exhausted, weak, and useless. I didn’t understand why God had let me survive cancer at the cost of so many problems. Surely, some of my precious friends who lost the battle could have made more of an impact on the world than I. I was suicidal. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. (P.S. Now that I’ve gotten older, I know that God doesn’t have a quota of how many cancer kids he’s going to accept in heaven every day.)
Fortunately, as I’ve said before, I have parents for whom no adjective could adequately describe. They had experienced PTSD with my brother, and once again, they put their focus on helping me get through. I started seeing a wonderful counselor who has been a part of our family since my brother’s PTSD from his head injury. For many months, Mom drove me to Marietta several times a week, and often Dad would meet us there. I learned coping mechanisms, I learned why I was having the feelings, and I learned that I had in fact had a very traumatic childhood the whole way through.
As I listened to my friend talk yesterday, my MollyROCK brain was spinning. I felt so guilty. When this child was diagnosed, I was just thrilled she could come to camp! My 31 year old self had forgotten about those hours curled up in a ball on the therapist’s couch, in my bed, and in my mom’s lap. I couldn’t believe I didn’t warn her of what happens after you get through the treatment.
So, let me be clear in this radical, open conversation about childhood cancer survivors (whether they’re still children or they are adults): the hardest part of being a survivor isn’t surviving the bone marrows, spinal taps, and treatment— you don’t get a choice in that. The hardest part is navigating life after. The hardest part is watching people you’ve grown to love like family die from a disease that you were supposed to die from. The hardest part is getting very sick from late effects, resigning yourself to the fact that you will probably die, and then surviving. The hardest part is being scared to death any time you have a weird pain that your cancer friend is coming back to visit. The hardest part is having your face so deformed from the treatment that kids make fun of you. (It is also super shocking because your parents always told you that you were beautiful and you couldn’t really see well enough to see in a mirror.) The hardest part is convincing plastic surgeons in the 6th grade that you need a forehead. The hardest part is the excruciating pain you endured to get a “normal” face. The hardest part is finding out that some of your organs are suffering from years of antibiotics and steroids used to treat the terrible sinus infections that resulted from your treatment. The hardest part is trying to be a “normal” college student who has abnormal sleeping and health needs. The hardest part is being 34 and finding out that the “one day that cataract on your good eye will start impeding your vision,” is directly on the horizon. The hardest part is realizing that your lifelong battle with cancer and the aftermath is not the worst thing God had planned for your family. The hardest part is that nobody talks about their psychological struggles after cancer. The hardest part is that survivors think they’re crazy, or alone because nobody talks about it. So, consider it talked about.
I am so thankful that this young lady reached out. Though the circumstances were different, she reached out, we are developing a plan, and I am committed to seeing her through this. If only Molly had reached out. I could have done the same. Parents, adults, teachers, youth workers, preachers: pay attention to what the young people in your life are saying or not saying. It rarely comes out as, “I need help.” Even the happiest and kindest ones are facing demons and battles. Sometimes, you may think the battle is over because the physical battle is. Unfortunately the war of emotions and heartbreak is just beginning. Don’t ignore the signs. If you have a microscopic feeling of concern— DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
We will return to the typical mix of sarcasm and sermon asap.
Keep MollyROCK in all of your conversations. Radical and open dialogue can save lives!
More than meat loves salt,