Never let Cancer Define you!
It was a rough year. We blamed my depression on the move. My weight problem, we thought, was caused from the depression. And all the other symptoms like anxiety and chest pains were probably from the fact that we (my mom, dad, and I) were going through a hard time. We were recovering from just losing everything we had in Texas due to a house fire. I was starting a new school 5 states away and it seemed as if we just couldn’t get a break. Or maybe all of these symptoms were just because I was at that age when you “act out” and your body changes… I was 12.
About 6 months later, it was the weekend and I was playing with a friend in the back yard. I touched my neck suddenly noticing that it was massive and swollen. No pain, just out of no where it was like a grapefruit had attached to my neck. When I returned to school the next week, everyone noticed. We made a doctors appointment and right away they put me on medication for my thyroid. The next couple months a series of tests were made: biopsies, getting blood drawn, and way too many doctors’ appointments.
The biopsy showed that the results from my thyroid were “suspicious”. My family and I had to make the huge decision of what to do next. My options were pretty straight forward: be safe, remove the thyroid. It could be cancer, but maybe not. Then I would have to deal with all the side effects of not having a thyroid, or I could keep my thyroid, don’t have a major surgery and possibly have cancer which would spread.
Eventually, about 3 months later, July 25th, we decided towards the surgery. A two hour thyroidectomy turned out to be 9 hours and the doctors found that I did, in fact, have cancer. Even though the word cancer didn’t mean much to me at that age, I knew something was serious when my family from all over was flying in to be with us. I went directly in to radioactive iodine treatments a week later. They said I would glow, but I think they were tricking me because it was not nearly as cool as I thought it would be. I had to stay in complete isolation alone in a room for days trying to force my nauseated stomach to drink and eat constantly to get the radiation out of my body.
I transferred schools after my diagnosis; I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on and feel bad for me. Having to see my family afterwards was hard enough. They had enough going on and I felt like a burden. I smiled and pretended everything was okay. I was missing the first week at my new school so they sent me lots of busy work to do. I never could find the energy to even look or think about it. All the hospital staff that entered the room treated me like I was toxic, I didn’t understand that technically I really was glowing and that I could harm other people with my radiation. So what exactly was it doing to my body then?? I would later find that out. After what seemed like forever in the hospital, I was so excited when we received the news that the surgery and treatments cured all of the cancer and I was able to go home. Thats when I learned what remission was… a word that I still don’t quite understand. I was happy though, I had beat it and it could NEVER come back again, right? I was excited to get back to school and friends, like a normal kid.
A year later, it was October and I was in my first year of high school. That meant it was homecoming time. Dress shopping, tacky day outfits, and my first pep-rally was all that was on my mind, until we got the message. I had my first yearly scan. My mom was out of town for work and I rushed inside the house from the school bus. My dad has never been good at confrontation, especially sensitive stuff. He just told me I had a message on the phone so I started listening to them. “Hello this is Dr. Z, we just wanted to let you know that there are some areas showing cancerous cells..” and I needed to pack up and get to the hospital immediately. I remember being so angry. I didn’t understand why this was happening again. I didn’t want to go back, I just wanted to be able to do everything like all the other kids at school. My parents didn’t talk with me about the C word, they weren’t accepting what was going on, and I wasn’t either. We just followed doctors orders, packed my things, and headed to the hospital.
This round of treatments my body didn’t take very well. I was sick, fatigued, and my stomach wouldn’t hold anything. Those few days in isolation for treatments felt like a life time. After this round, I again received that they couldn’t find anymore cancer and I was in remission. I was so thankful. During all of the doctor appointments, the overwhelming news, and the treatments my days just got a little blurry. I wanted to get my life back to normal, but the normal I knew was gone forever, I would have to adjust to the NEW normal… the post-cancer normal.
At age 15 I was determined to give back. I started my own nonprofit, Kasie Helpz Kidz, to help “kidz” with cancer. I wanted to use my experience for something positive. I knew there were so many other people going through a life threatening illness. I wanted them to know there is someone they can relate to and lean on. I strived to give them faith, hope, and support. I was young but I was determined. KHKidz gives kidz and their families support, both emotional and financial. I just graduated in May with my Bachelors in Public Relations and in my free time, away from work, my internship, and personal life, I continue to give back with KHKidz. It has become part of my everyday life and I don’t know what I would do with out my kidz and families. My happiness, my joy, and my passion is making sure I make a difference in their lives. Knowing I help put a smile on their face is priceless and worth more than any job could ever pay me. The cancer world is completely different than the normal world.. It’s difficult to explain unless you have been there or experienced it with a loved one.
My friends that I spent hours talking to late at night when I was scared, those were the ones that I met in the play room at the hospital. My mom, she became my “caregiver”. My friends before I got cancer, they acted like it was contagious. My doctors and nurses, well they were my heroes. My new weekends were spent at fundraisers or cancer camps. My adolescent years; wait whats that? That stage of my life was taken away from me. My self confidence was no where to be found. Death became something that I was too aware of: and having to attend my friend’s funerals I used to play with at the hospital because of cancer will never be okay. Why didn’t I die? Why did it take them and not me? The cancer world is scary. A normal headache or stomach made me fear that the cancer was back. The little things in life that never bothered me before.. they just did now and I couldn’t control it.
I have a list of side effects from treatments that I still face to this day; anxiety, PTSD, damaged saliva glands, and Barrett’s Esophagus (just to name a few). After being diagnosed with cancer the normal things in life; like moving away to college, falling in love, or having kids, become a lot more difficult than they would have been.
After 10 years of dealing with cancer (and now being cancer free for 7 years!!!), I still find it hard to adjust to this “new” normal. My medical knowledge is more than the typical person. I’ve taken more medication than some would in a life time. I probably look at life in a completely different perspective than one. But this new normal has taught me so much, most importantly, not to ever judge someone based on what they have been through. Cancer does not label me as a person and it definitely does not limit me from chasing my dreams. Anyone that has faced cancer should not feel different from everyone else. They should not feel limited, and they should never feel alone.