As I sit on my couch rushing through homework, I realize it’s been exactly one year and 2 days since I sat in this very same spot, crying and watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. No, my boyfriend didn’t break up with me. And no, I wasn’t failing school—although I wish I that was the case, because nothing compared to the news I had heard earlier that day.
I had a persistent cough for a while and my mother (being my mother) began nagging me to make an appointment at Health Services. Rolling my eyes, I called a nurse just to get Helena off my back (P.S. I love you, mom). The doctors wanted to see me right away, which led to multiple trips to and from St. Joseph’s Imaging Center and Health Services. After five hours of boring waiting rooms and complete oblivion, the doctors finally filled me in, “You might have cancer.”
Long story short: My tumor, which I so cleverly named Hefty Helga (please excuse me, I took a lot of drugs), was the size of a cantaloupe. After visiting two doctors, undergoing three biopsies, and spending two long weeks patiently waiting for pathology results, my family’s Floridian surgeon expressed how rare my case was and refused to perform surgery. My parents and I travelled from Florida to Alabama in search of Robert Cerfolio, the man who saved my life, my friend, and my McDreamy. Within a week, Cerf removed two thirds of my left lung and finally confirmed that I was cancer-free. If you’d like to read more about my experience, scroll down the page or head over to the archives.
Anyway, after two traumatic months, I decided to recover while returning to school. You’re probably thinking, “She’s crazy,” and I laugh because I don’t know how or why my parents allowed me to make that decision. If I were in their shoes, I would have certainly said no. Did I make the right decision? Who knows but ever since then I’ve never felt like “Teresa.” Let me explain.
Firstly, having to re-expand your lung capacity isn’t easy. I struggled night and day for nine months, performing breathing exercises before bed and holding my spirometer close at all times. In extreme temperatures, breathing is no longer instinctive—instead it becomes an exhaustive job. I haven’t ever gotten rid of the mucus built up in my lungs and I have a post-nasal drip that just won’t go away.
Secondly, I had never thought of myself as an anxious person until I did surgery. Whenever my mother panics I yell at her and tell her calm down…now from my own experience, I know it’s easier said than done. Upon returning to school, continuous panic attacks kicked in. Every four months, my anxiety strikes out so hard I lose feeling in my legs, arms, and face. Clearly, I need to see a psychologist but that takes a serious amount of vulnerability I haven’t achieved yet. I’ve also tried noticing the triggers and managing them myself, which helps a little but not enough.
Thirdly, I had always been a lively, vibrant person who loved being friends with everyone. But in some sense when I was given a second chance to live, I cut so many people out of my life. For a former people’s person, I just don’t hold true to that description anymore. Maybe, however, that’s for the better. I learned who my friends are and who they aren’t. Even though I smile with everyone, I know who my heart deems important.
For a smoother sailing ship, I believe I probably should have seen a psychologist during my recovery time. I’ve noticed the lack of societal acceptance in admitting to mental issues, including anxiety and depression with my own experience. This stigma makes people drown in their grief and sorrows. I’ve written about it in my classes. I’ve read about it in other illness narratives. And I’ve also noticed it in my daily life. Recently, I’ve been engaging in activism for extra mental health support. Care needs to be more accessible to survivors and people living with illnesses and conditions without stigma attached to it.
Through my own difficulty in finding a medium to express myself and my experience, I hope to help others as I am planning an event (which I’ll write about in March) that’ll serve as a form of therapy for women living with breast cancer, and to also celebrate the lives of survivors and honor and remember those who have passed. I just sent in an application to volunteer with Make-A-Wish too.
I’ll admit, I purposely keep myself busy—focusing on the day’s duties helps to forget about all the worries in the world. While it may be tough to recover from an illness, I know there are brighter days ahead. It just takes time. One year may seem like a long time to you but it’s flew by for me. My scar still tainted light pink, my heart still filled with unease, and my lung still pushing boundaries to expand, it feels like Nov. 12, 2013 just passed yesterday.
I’m beyond grateful for a second chance at life and love. The world has developed a whole new meaning in my eyes. As I dodged a bullet, I made a promise to myself: help those who were once in your shoes. And it’s a promise I plan to fulfill.