Claiming the title of Survivor

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So yes another cancer post. I promised this blog wouldn’t be all about cancer but it is definitely going to play a part. Cancer has played a part in my life but does not define it as a whole.

A few days after a CT scan revealed a tumor in my abdomen I began my “cancer journey” at MD Anderson. The experience of entering the hospital and being surrounded by so many sick people was surreal. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

Around the hospital, signs read “You became a survivor the day you were diagnosed.” It was a catchy slogan for a cancer hospital. Good branding, but not really something that I gave much thought to in the chaos.

Fast forward through finding out that my tumor was, in fact, pancreatic cancer and having four surgeries to remove the cancer and repair the damage the initial surgery caused.

I returned to daily life wondering how exactly I was supposed to navigate this world as a “survivor”. I certainly didn’t feel like I earned it. I was a whiney difficult brat through most of my treatment. My misery radiated around me and I made a difficult situation worse with my poor attitude.

Inspiring cancer survivors are supposed to have remained hopeful through their treatments. They do things like dance during chemo and run marathons shortly after. Good cancer survivors don’t spend months wallowing in self-pity and dealing with severe bouts of depression. I wasn’t one of those people.

I also didn’t want to be labeled “that girl who had cancer.” I wanted to be known for other things, not some illness I didn’t handle well. Meeting new people, making new friends, and dating all presented new challenges. Should I mention it and if so when?

I still don’t have a great answer on that. It doesn’t seem right to start a Tinder date off with “Hi I’m Paige and I had cancer.” All I can picture with that is the amusing image of boys running for the hills. Not that I wasn’t good at chasing boys away before but this would be a new level, even for me.

For a while, I stuck with almost a “No New Friends” attitude. It was Drake, me and only our day ones. I felt like a different person and that scared me. I only wanted to be near people who knew me before so that they would know I wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t a great policy but it was where I was at during that time.

I’m more open to new friends and possibilities now. I have met a lot of great people in the past year or so and I am grateful for those relationships. Looking forward, I am excited to meet new people. I promise I’m friendly now guys! Please contact me if you want to talk about anything!

While I still don’t open conversations with the whole “I had cancer” line, I have been trying to embrace my status as a survivor a little more. I am more comfortable with it now. I don’t like keeping secrets. My illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Realizing that took longer than I’d like to admit though.

I am also learning to forgive myself for the way I acted in the midst of the worst period of my life. I was drowning at the time and I handled it as well as I could. While yes I could’ve been a little less grumpy it isn’t the end of the world. There is no manual for being a survivor. There is no formula you have to follow to be one. The only thing you have to do is survive, which I am lucky that I did, even if I was downer while I was in the process of fighting it.

So now I’m trying to be more open and let people in a little bit. If you have challenges you need to talk about I would encourage you to share your story. You can share with your friends, you can message me privately, or you can utilize social media to create an internet community around you. Speak up, there are people out there who listen and care.

With Love,

Paige

PS: If you or someone you know is a young adult cancer survivor (Diagnosed between 18-39) definitely look into First Descents. It is a great program and really helped me process things a lot. Here is the link https://firstdescents.org/out-living-it/

 

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What I’m doing instead

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Shirt: Urban Outfitters Location: Keene, New York

So yesterday I decided to publicly state that I am not going to college this semester.

It kinda feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders honestly. They say honesty is the best policy and it’s true. It is a relief, to tell the truth.

Part of the reason I was so reluctant to make this decision, however, was trying to figure out an answer to the question “What are you doing?”

Frankly, I don’t have a perfect answer for you but here’s my list of ideas so far. Worst comes to worst this post will help me perfect my listing skills so I can write for Buzzfeed.

  1. Working- I am currently working at J.Crew part-time as an associate and love it. My coworkers are nice, which is great. Also, the discount is my life. I could say I’m doing this to make money and while that is kinda true it’s mostly just to fill my closet with more J.Crew and Madewell. I feel fairly certain I will be blogging about my J.Crew and Madewell addictions very soon. The world holds its breath, I know!
  2. Travelling- If you have known me for a while or have scrolled through my Instagram you will know that I love to travel. In fact, I have studied abroad in twice already and might aim for a third when I return to school. That’s cool right, Mom and Dad? Anyways I definitely plan on using this time to visit my friends around the country. It’ll be like that Big and Rich song “Comin to your City”. I am already booked on a flight to LA this weekend to go see one of my best friends and I am pumped. I will also be trying to return to Georgia at least once to catch a game between the hedges. You can take a girl out of the SEC but you can’t take the SEC out of the girl. Go Dawgs! I will definitely be posting about these trips a lot and may even try to post some travel guides.
  3. Blogging- You’re here so duh. I definitely intend to be trying my hand at blogging and posting regularly. Let me know if there is something you’d like me to write about!
  4. Recreation- And no I don’t mean recreational drugs people. Tomorrow I am scheduled to go horseback riding for the first time in a long time. I can’t wait. I am also going to try and rock climb some by joining a climbing gym here in the Houston area. Other than that I will be looking for other ways to get active in a fun way. I may also try playing the piano again since I was a brat as a child and didn’t practice enough.
  5. Volunteering– I haven’t decided where exactly I will be volunteering but I am exploring several opportunities at the moment. I will definitely update once that is decided. If you have any suggestions let me know!
  6. Getting Healthy- This is the less exciting part. I will be going to doctors appointments and working to get answers and find solutions. My mom wants to go vegan together. I’m not really down for that plan but I do realize I may need to alter my diet depending on the results I receive. I love food so that will be very tough. That is another thing I will be eating! I am hoping I can eat my way to maybe a little extra weight and a little extra energy. I also would like to work out a little to try to gain some flexibility and strength. I could use a lot of improvement in both areas. Tips in this area would definitely be appreciated too!
  7. Learning- You don’t have to be in school to learn. Reading will be something I’m going to try to prioritize. Maybe I will even try to read War and Peace this fall? Has anyone managed that feat? Is it worth the read? I just want to make sure that I keep mentally active so I can stay sharp when I do return to school.
  8. Resting- While I have a lengthy list of things I’d like to do, I am also going to prioritize resting this semester. Resting is important. Self-care can only help both my mental and physical health. I hope I get to do a lot this semester but I am also going to try to be gentler with myself. If I need a break I am going to allow myself to stop and take it. I am not going to beat myself up over a few days spent just relaxing and allowing myself to feel refreshed. We need rest to heal and grow, so I am not going to deny myself of it.

Much Love,

Paige

Taking a Break from College

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Top: Madewell Shorts: J.Crew Factory Location: Dallas Museum of Art

I have decided to take a break from college.

When I started college I was the typical over confident “I’m a sophomore by credit hours’ freshman. In fact, I started college with 47 credit hours from AP classes. I planned to graduate in 3 years, then go straight to law school. Preferably a highly ranked one.

Then life happened.

I finished my freshman year, the Spring semester of which I spent studying abroad in Italy. I came home to Texas and worked for the summer. Then as I was getting ready to go back to Georgia, everything fell apart.

“We found a tumor in your abdomen”

Those words changed my life in seconds. Instead of getting to enjoy the fall of my sophomore year; I got to spend fall of 2015 in and out of the hospital where I had 4 surgeries to both remove pancreatic cancer and then repair the damage that removal caused

As soon as January 2016 came, I stubbornly wanted to go back to college and resume my “real” life. I wanted to get back to the plan.

But I was so weak. Cancer had drained me, physically, mentally and emotionally. I returned to campus weighing little over 85 pounds. I had so little energy and had a lot of bad days physically. I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t keep up and be like everyone else. For the first time in my life, my grades were struggling significantly. I was dropping classes like it was hot.

In an act of desperation to try to get my life back to the plan, I applied to the UGA at Oxford program. In my interview with the program director, I told him how I had beat cancer and was back as a student and doing great. I felt like such a fraud. I hadn’t been to any of my classes that week yet there I sat telling him how amazing I was doing.

The UGA at Oxford program ended up being a bit of a saving grace for me. It was extremely challenging academically but I was able to excel. There I gained back confidence in myself and my intellect. I finally felt like I could accomplish big things again.

Unfortunately, January came and back in Georgia; I fell apart again. Everything felt so similar. It was almost claustrophobic, as though I was always on the cusp of reliving my nightmare again. Deja Vu in the worst way.

I started the semester so hopefully, yet along came several difficult to explain health bumps and I began to spiral. Everyday it felt like something new and awful was going to happen. Each doctors appointment and new concerning symptom added to my misery. I found myself in almost the exact same place as the previous spring.  For me, Poor physical health beget exceptionally poor mental health. 

All of the physical issues are still pending. Even tomorrow I am having another CT scan to try to find an explanation for all the symptoms I have been experiencing over the course of this year.

One diagnosis I did manage to get this spring though was clinical depression. I had spent so long trying to force myself to stick to a plan I made at 18, despite the fact that the circumstances of my life had changed so much in those three years. I perpetually felt like a failure when I didn’t meet the high expectations I held myself to. It took a long time before I finally decided to admit that I needed help. I am so glad I did though. While the physical issues are not completely resolved I am in a much better place mentally.

I have decided to give myself a break though. I want to figure out what is going on with my physical health, and what solutions there are to treat it. I also just want to stop making myself miserable by being so overly harsh with my self-assessments. I always felt like if I admitted that I needed help if I admitted I needed a break, or if I admitted that I wasn’t going to graduate on time; I would be a failure. I’ve realized that this narrative in my head is a lie. I am going to be successful. I am going to graduate from college. But if it takes me a little longer that’s okay too. So I’m taking a gap year or gap semester. I’m not really sure right now. I want to focus on myself and my health so that I can accomplish all I am meant to. 

I’m going to be blogging my journey here and also posting fun stuff relating to my various interests. I promise it’s not gonna all be about cancer! Follow along if you’d like.

With Love,

Paige