Being diagnosed with cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) at ages 18, 20 and 22, wasn’t the way I had planned my life to unfold after I graduated high school. I don’t really know what the plan was, but I know it did not involve 2 bone marrow transplants, exorbitant rounds of chemotherapy, and 100+ days in the hospital over a span of 6 years.
Looking back, it seems overwhelming, but at the time, I do not think I fully understood the magnitude of what I was going through. Maybe that was denial. Maybe that was coping.
I took each round of chemotherapy and each moment in the hospital, day by day. My family did what they needed to and absorbed the brunt of my suffering. They made it possible for me to live my life as normally as possible. While I was in and out of school in treatment, somehow I was able to travel across Europe, be with friends and work several jobs. The goal, not allow cancer to dictate my life. Of course, in the dark corners of my mind there was always the fear of reoccurrence, which happened more than I ever imagined. In those moments, it’s hard not to say 'why me'?
After my last transplant in 2012, it hit me. I was no longer in denial. I could no longer cope. At age 22, my ‘put your head down and get through’ attitude was no longer working. The match unrelated donor transplant (MUD) put me down for the count. My body was not accepting the new stem cells, causing many external and internal issues. Skin rashes for weeks, stomach illnesses, fatigue, and general depression. For a period of many months after transplant, I never thought I would have a normal life again.
I am now 26, cancer free, and healthy. My energy level gets better every day. I have a full-time job, live on my own and am actively pursuing my dreams. It has been quite the ride. Naively, I thought that cancer and its effects would be over when the chemo stopped, or when the doctor visits diminished. But that is not the case. I can’t be angry at cancer for taking 6 years of my life, and I can’t act as though I can get those years back. Ages 18-24 had some good moments, but they are clouded with cancer. I have to accept that, but I am changed.
Questions around ‘Who am I? What do I care about? What will my contribution be?’ all seem more important than ever before. How will I define myself? By what values will I live? How will I contribute? The urge to give back and the desire to help other young adults in their battle with cancer is where I find deep value and happiness.
Am I still dealing with the effects of cancer? Absolutely. And I will never be grateful to cancer, but I am grateful for what I took away from cancer. It has shaped me in ways that I think make me a better person. I have a unique view on life. I know what’s important. I am no longer in denial about what I went through. The war with cancer may never end, but neither will my mission to contribute by bringing joy and hope to others.
Ben is the founder of Cuck Fancer, an organization dedicated to raising awareness for young adult cancer and helping survivors get their feet back on the ground. A contributor to the Huffington Post, Ben lives in Los Angeles where he works at FOX Sports in social media and production. He will continue to visit college campuses to raise money and awareness for young adults fighting cancer, while saving lives by encouraging students to enter the bone marrow registry through a simple and free swab.