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    Opening My Heart After Cancer

    I met my husband just about two years after I had finished cancer treatments. 

    I was still raw. I was terrified every day that I was relapsing. I had no idea how to have a new normal in my life, let alone know how to make a relationship a part of it.

    Cancer was something that would always be a part of who I am and whoever I met following cancer would have no idea, which meant that I was going to have to be the one to not only tell them, but to help them understand my “baggage.”

    Who doesn’t have baggage coming into a relationship? This is true; however, my baggage would affect most areas of my life including love, self-confidence, and intimacy.

    After I met my now-husband, I was scared. I was scared to talk to him; I mean really talk to him about myself. I was scared that the GVH (graft vs. host) scars would be visible to him and that I would seem ugly. The story, while comedic now, goes that he asked me to be his girlfriend for the first time and I said no.

    I really, truly liked him and loved spending time with him; however, my fears were too great. I knew that I needed to start being honest about my cancer experience. After multiple serious conversations about what I had been through, what I had seen friends go through, and what I was still dealing with, my husband asked me, again, to be his girlfriend — and this time, I said yes!

    I’d like to say that once I was in a relationship, all my doubts and fears disappeared and my self-confidence was completely restored. But this was not the case.

    Sicknesses and ailments came that now not only terrified me, but terrified the other person that I brought into the equation. I still struggled with being able to love myself again, which made it that much harder for me to allow someone else to love me. I had been so hardened by the friends I lost during cancer that I didn’t (and wouldn’t) allow myself to believe that anyone else would stay with me after cancer.

    Having relationships after cancer doesn’t just add another person to your equation, it’s adds a whole new family and another set of friends. I didn’t do any public service announcements to tell everyone about my cancer but it was something that, after time, I chose not to hide. I was open with my husband’s family and his friends. I chose to let them see the strength I had rather than the fears that seemed to overwhelm me at times. The only thing harder than telling my future husband that I could not give him a family was having to tell his parents that I was not someone who could give them grandchildren in a traditional sense. But they continued to love me just the same.

    Beating cancer was one the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but surviving my cancer has been the bigger challenge.

    I push to survive every day now, and the best part is that I have someone alongside me to do it with. Everyone may not get their “fairytale ending”, but I am so happy that I got mine. My husband is the greatest man; he is so strong and confident in all the areas I am not. He is reassuring even when he is scared. And, when I had to share with him that cancer would also affect having a future family, he took everything in stride and supported me. I have been through the ringer — but so has he.

    Supporting me in the aftermath of cancer is not easy; learning that we would not have our own biological children is a loss that we still grieve, but I have found someone who may not have been there for that chapter of my life, but who certainly understands all of those pieces of me.

    Bottom line…relationships are hard. They’re intimidating and they require work, even without adding cancer to the equation! When you find that right person, however, they will accept you for who you are, including your cancer. And they won’t mind the extra “work,” finances, and fears that come with someone who is a cancer survivor.

     


    About the Author 

    Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 10.47.14 AMPaige Strassner is one of our 13thirty participants! She graduated from Roberts Wesleyan College in 2013 with a B.S. in Nursing. She currently works at University of Rochester Medical Center in the Medical Intensive Care unit.  She enjoys spending time with family and friends, singing, and exercising.

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    Celebrating Life at Journeys!

    On November 4, we will gather once again to celebrate the lives of all the teens and young adults with cancer that we have been privileged to know and love over the years. This will be the 16th Journeys, our Annual Celebration of Living!

    If you’ve been to Journeys, you know how special this night is. If you’ve never been, I hope this will be the year you will join us because Journeys is unlike any other charity gala. In fact, we don’t call it a gala because there is no formal dress, the special themed centerpieces are fashioned on my dining room table, and there are only a few, short speeches! We call it a Celebration because that’s what we do.

    We celebrate all the kids who have inspired us to be the best we can be and to give as much as we’re able.

    Past 13thirty members, whose bonds of friendship were forged years ago, reunite as if no time or space has separated them. Present members welcome potential new members in friendship. Our families share stories with common themes and guests who have not been touched by adolescent and young adult cancer are forever changed by the energy in the room.

    During the cocktail hour, student groups provide the music, enthusiastic volunteers sell raffle tickets and corks for the wine pull, while delicious appetizers are passed by the wonderful staff of Creative Caterers. After dinner, the program starts with our time-honored, candle lighting ceremony, during which we remember our friends who — though gone — continue to warm our hearts with their light. We recognize special folks who have helped us. This year’s “Corporate Sponsor Salute” goes to ValPak of Rochester and Dr. Barbara Asselin will receive the “Make a Difference Award.”

    And then, it’s time for the highlight of the night: The kids’ performance!

    Each year, we have a theme around which the “kids” of 13thirty Cancer Connect craft a presentation that will give our guests an authentic view of what it’s like to be a teen or young adult with cancer. As you might gather from our invitation, this year’s theme is “Bridges” —  but I’m not going to say any more. You’ll just have to come and see for yourself what we’ve put together for you! We are thrilled to be working with Larry Moss and Kelly Cheatle from Airigami (airigami.com) this year. Here’s a clue – there are balloons involved. Lots of them! Local poets, Charlie Cote and Danielle Shied, helped the kids put feelings to words and our friend Dan Roach, as always, makes us sound and look great!

    It’s going to be an amazing night and I hope you will be there because if you are, you will see what keeps me going every day.

    When Melissa died, our hearts were forever shattered but I knew we were strong enough to carry on, to continue living, to somehow put one foot in front of the other. What I didn’t know was just how much better I could be, how much more I could love, how much joy I would find in the young people I work with every day. They are the beacons of hope in this (sometimes) dark world. They rise above the small things and keep focus on what’s important. They truly live and love life and I am so very proud of them all.

    I promise you, Journeys is a night you don’t want to miss! You can RSVP online until Oct. 26 at www.roc.13thirty.org.

    See you on November 4th!


    About the Author

    lauren-spiker-1Lauren Spiker is our founder, executive director, and chief visionary with a pulse on what’s happening in the world of AYA oncology. Her dreams are big and bold!