The Big 21

I know some people who make a big deal about their birthdays every year and have to go all out to celebrate each one. I’m not saying these people are wrong to do that, but that’s not me. Sure, growing up I celebrated every birthday with a pool party and sleepover, but as I got older, I didn’t find the big deal in them. My “sweet 16” included my three best friends at the time coming over for a movie marathon. Talk about big and exciting. My 18th was pretty much the same thing, except I was more focused on leaving for basic training than I was on celebrating my birthday. So, yesterday, July 11, I celebrated my 21st by going out for dinner and drinks with my dad and enjoyed downtown Harrisburg.

Here’s the thing, I couldn’t have alcohol yesterday. I’m the “rare” person who doesn’t drink on their 21st, and that confused a lot of people that didn’t know my situation. What the waiter or bartender didn’t know is that I can’t drink for two different reasons: going through chemo for cancer and recovering from a transplant. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have a drink last night to celebrate, but I don’t feel like I missed out. If all goes as planned, I’ll be able to celebrate later, and I’ll be celebrating more than just turning 21.

When I was first diagnosed, it didn’t really hit me that I had cancer and would be going through treatment until a few weeks in. Starting that journey included many changes in my life including my diet, especially when my diagnosis was changed to stage 2 and chemo started. Towards the end of my “first round of cancer”, my diet was down to eating rice and fighting to keep it down with an NJ feeding tube to give me the nutrients I couldn’t eat. I lost the most weight at this time, and all I wanted was to be able to enjoy the food. I was in this state for a total of 3 months. It made me realize the difference in the mental state when I couldn’t feed myself by eating and had to “feed” myself through a tube. I was the girl on campus with a mask from my immune system being so down, a feeding tube from my backpack to feed me, and another two lines (one for fluids and one to monitor readings) leading to my arm. I was connected to my bag 24/7 and hated every minute of it. I was known on campus for what was seen, and I hated that too. “Oh, you were the one in a face mask and all the tubes/lines.” Yes, that was me. Glad that’s how you remembered me.

After I reached remission after my surgery, relapsed, and was able to eat a variety of foods (2 months after my last chemo), I went out with a few of the people I’m closest with on campus for lunch. I had a steak, and it was wonderful. I enjoyed every bite of it because I just went through 44 weeks of chemo and had no clue when I would be able to eat another steak after learning that I relapsed. At that lunch, we all made the plan that we’d do it again once I was back in remission. I didn’t realize at that point that I wouldn’t be able to drink on my 21st, so I guess I’ll be getting a steak and a drink when I get in remission. That’ll be a nice thing to celebrate, but I won’t be celebrating my 21st, I’ll be celebrating remission. I gotta get there first.

I never thought I’d be in this position. Never thought I’d be in many positions: rape, child loss, loss/suicide of those close to me, and cancer are the top situations. Here I am. I’m still alive. I may not always feel alive, but I’m still living, breathing, moving, and eating. I’m surviving. I don’t think life was meant to ever be easy. I have learned so much about the people around me and myself through everything that I have faced, good and bad. I have grown so much as an individual from going through what I have. Yes, I hated every bad situation and still do, but I know that they have matured me and taught me so much that has made me the person I am. This is me. I will be honest, raw, and open about what I faced to help someone else because I know what it’s like to feel like there’s no one else who knows what you’ve been through. If you feel alone, you are not. I promise you that.

So, here’s to being 21. I’m ready to see what the world holds for me, at least as prepared as I’m going to be.

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