On the surface, I look fine.

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Someone once implied that my life was easy and smooth—I had no “real” problems. When I first heard this, I was offended, yet understood the sentiment. In comparison to them, I did have fewer problems. I knew they were going through some personal hardships I could never imagine. As much as I wanted to help, I knew it was difficult to relate. I let it slide because from where I stood, I truly did have little to worry about other than school and work. But this implication has bothered me recently because I’m realizing – maybe a little too late – just how unfair of a judgment that is to make. Having fewer problems than someone else doesn’t invalidate those problems, and just because everything ​appears​ fine doesn’t mean it truly is.

I’m pretty good at looking put together. I used to wake up at 7 every morning and go to the gym, at least before my cancer diagnosis. My mom also taught me from a young age to always look presentable. Sometimes, you just have to curl your eyelashes and put on a good outfit, and head out the door. It’s nothing more than vanity at its very core, but I believe there is some truth in the “look good, feel good” mentality. The point is – on the very outside, it may look as though I have everything together.

And I’m seeing now exactly why this implication someone had of me bothers me. Such a judgment is only based on outward appearances. It’s nothing more than superficial speculation, especially if you don’t truly know someone. I can count on one hand the people in my life who know me. There is perhaps even only one person who truly knows me at my inner core. It bothers me, because of how unfair of an implication this was, but also because of how easy it can be to make such judgments.

My intention to write about this isn’t out of spite. I know their intention wasn’t malice. But I’ve begun thinking about how easy it can be to judge someone off solely the exterior. I know I am guilty of this myself. I’ve been learning and trying to give more grace. To myself, to others, and to strangers. Give kindness to people, because on some days, that might be exactly what someone needs.

On the first day of my last semester of college, I’d felt a confidence walking through campus, unlike anything I’d felt before. It was relieving to begin this last semester content with how my past ones have been. On the outside, nothing has changed; I’m still me.

But I’ve been struggling to find a balance between maintaining normalcy and avoiding being in denial. My last semester also started off with me driving to the fertility clinic at 7 am, before class started at 10. For two weeks, I’d been giving myself a combination of subcutaneous injections on my lower abdomen to stimulate follicle growth and ovulation. I’d had to make sure I was back in my apartment around 5 pm every day when I’d inject myself in my bathroom. 

My mom, a nurse, had first shown me how to give these shots: prep the alcohol wipe. Flick the syringe to dissipate any bubbles. Always inject with the bevel pointing upwards. Always inject at a forty-five-degree angle. It was nearly two weeks of these shots, and this past Saturday, I was IV sedated for the egg retrieval. Thirty-six oocytes were harvested, and of those, thirty-three were cryopreserved for my future use. Hopefully chemotherapy will be kind to my ovaries, but this was a fortunate precaution nonetheless.

Yesterday was my first round of chemotherapy. When I walked to the bathroom, I’d wheel my IV pole with me as the medications hung from their bags and continued to drip inside me. I caught a glimpse of other patients in the clinic, the majority of whom were easily twice my age. It was during these bathroom breaks down the infusion clinic that I was reminded of my youth.

My day, however, ended up being a hundred times better because when I got home, I’d received an email of an invitation to present at a research conference at Johns Hopkins University in April. I’d recently applied to two conferences, and as of officially yesterday (!!) I was accepted to both. I was in pure elation. I couldn’t be happier than I was at that moment. Unexpectedly, yesterday was somehow simultaneously the best and worst day.

Grasping hold of everything that’s happened since my diagnosis has been the hardest struggle I have ever had to face. The past month shattered me. I considered having to take a semester off of school. I considered having to take a gap year before starting medical school. But I was relieved to hear my oncologist’s words to “live life” and move forward with all the goals I set for myself, even if tentative. Being accepted to this symposium reminded me of the value of the goals I have, both the near future and the distant. Receiving the opportunity to present my research reminded me there is so much I can be grateful for. In light of my cancer, I know I’ll be okay. The road ahead is long, but the goals that lie along the way still exist.

Admittedly, it’s fairly easy for me to put up an exterior to the world and showcase only the best parts of myself. I’m guilty of this on social media and for the most part, my daily encounters at school. It’s been difficult to find a balance between staying true to myself and to the life others know me by. This distinction almost perpetuates the ease of making implications such as the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post. But by sharing my experience, writing becomes my anchor to authenticity.

By Kendahl Servino