• jon-asato-246160

    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.

  • goldhands

    Uncovering My Scars

    When I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma; a rare form of bone cancer.

    I underwent months of chemotherapy and an intensive limb salvage surgery that left me with a total knee replacement and metal rods the entire length of my right leg. Due to some complications, I underwent a second surgery, where I underwent a skin graph and muscle graph, to close up the wounds from surgery.

    This, of course, caused some pretty crazy scars. Scars that I’ve struggled with for the 12 years I’ve had them.

    I wish I could tell you I embraced them like I embraced my cancer diagnosis, with laughter and optimism, but I did not. I hid them for years. I hid them for five years to be exact. I was the crazy looking person on a 95-degree day wearing long pants. If I did get brave enough to wear shorts, I covered my leg in bulky braces that served no purpose other than to cover me up. I had seen the stares I got the few times I ventured out with just shorts on, and I hated every minute of it. I watched people crane their necks to get a better look and I focused intently at people in large crowds, scanning for eyes on my leg. I could always find them and I always felt them.

    It took me five long years to realize that people are going to stare and that I shouldn’t let it affect me any longer. Having 13thirty as such a significant part of my life helped me overcome these struggles tremendously. The more people I met at 13thirty, the better I felt. I watched in awe as they were rocking their bald heads and scars (seemingly) without a care in the world. Slowly but surely, I was building my own self-confidence. I stared at them, not to be rude, but because I was overwhelmed with how they carried themselves and how powerful they must feel to embrace all parts of their cancer journeys, even if it meant they looked a little different at times.

    The more I was around these types of people, the more I began to throw my insecurities out the window. If they could be proud of their scars, then there was no reason I couldn’t be too.

    Fast-forward to today, and I’m a completely different person when it comes to my scars and insecurities. I don’t care if people stare anymore. In fact, I want people to start staring, to start asking questions. I’m proud of that part of my life and truly believe the experiences I’ve been through have shaped who I am today. I enjoy telling my cancer story and I hope that by doing so, I can help others through their struggles, whether it be physical, mental or emotional.

    If I had any advice to give someone struggling with the after-effects of cancer, it would be to not wait as long as I did. Rock your bald heads. Rock those crazy scars. You’ve been through more than most people can ever imagine, and you should never feel bad about that.


     

    About the Author 

    brittanyBrittany McNair is one of our 13thirty participants! She is an 11 year cancer survivor, married with a puppy, and a baby on the way!