Angela Fortino via Crowdrise
September 28, 2011
It's not okay that every 8 minutes, a young adult is diagnosed with cancer and every hour a young adult loses their fight against it. Cancer is now the #1 disease that kills young adults, but no one really realizes it...
It was 2008 and I had just rung in the new year with my friends when I became extremely ill. I had felt sick on and off for a few months but thought nothing of it since I was a junior in college living life as all college kids do. But this time my illness put me in the hospital: fevers, extreme fatigue, hallucinations, hearing loss, slurred speech and all sorts of crazy things. However, the ER said I had the flu, gave me a couple meds and sent me on my way. I didn't recover from the "flu" and began sleeping every minute I wasn't in class.
Spring came, the fevers went away but some symptoms didn't. I shrugged them off because I had received a scholarship to get out of Kalamazoo and spend my summer in Perce, Canada studying architecture and anthropology. Two days before I left I complained about a sore in my mouth that had persistently grown since winter. I immediately went to my brother-in-law's colleague, an ENT doctor, and had a biopsy. Trip cancelled. I had cancer. I spent my summer in Ann Arbor at the UMHS Taubman Center and met amazing doctors that fought for the appropriate treatment. I ended up with some pretty gruesome scars and had to relearn how to speak but the aggressive route we took meant no need for traditional chemo or radiation and that I could go back to school in the fall and live life. (Although a pre-surgery experimental drug left me quite a mess and I now know I am severely allergic to EGFR drugs. A story for another time.)
I seemed to handle cancer better than most that was until I left Kalamazoo and headed back to Ann Arbor, this time for a different Taubman Center - the Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning. Everyone back in Kzoo knew me before cancer, during and after, so I never had to explain the 7 inch scar on my arm or the ones that covered my neck. But suddenly I felt uncomfortable knowing these new people were looking at me and thinking, “What happened?” Strange thing is when you are surrounded by new, polite and intelligent people no one ever asks what happened. This curtesy was lovely at first but the I realized I never knew how to bring it up and not feel like I was hungry for attention so I just never did. Because of this I felt alone especially as the stress of school trigger long buried anxiety left over from having cancer.
The anxiety only got worse as I realized by not ever talking with my new friends about my experiences there were strange gaps in the past 2 years of my life.To this day most of my grad school friends and colleagues still have no idea about my life during 2008 & 2009. I had stayed strong through all of this so why now 1 1/2 years later, would I get fears of reoccurance and sadness even though I was now cancer free?
My answers came when I found I’m Too Young For This! Cancer Foundation. They give people like me a voice and raise awareness for the unique issues that I face as a young adult post cancer: issues like isolation, self-esteem, PTSD, fertility, sexuality, dating, insurance, career building and more.
Their annual conference, OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults, is a pivotal event that brings together hundreds of young adult survivors and caregivers for a one-of-a-kind experience of healing, education and community. No one should go through cancer alone. The OMG! Cancer Summit makes this possible.
Please support my efforts to ensure that I, and hundreds of other survivors like me, get the chance to attend this event, experience the support and community I need and make a difference for thousands of young adults affected by cancer.
As I raise money to not only attend this summit but create programs and research that actually HELPS young adult cancer patients, I am still learning that it's ok that I had cancer and that the only one who feels uncomfortable about it is me. Help me go to the Summit and realize that is is OK and that I am not alone.