I remember looking at my tonsil in the mirror thinking, “Huh, looks a little big…” I let my tonsil continue to increase in size over the course of the next month. It was the holiday season of 2017, and I didn’t want to bother with establishing a PCP or going to an urgent care just to tell them I had a large tonsil. After the holidays, I found my way to an ENT to get my now huge tonsil removed in March of 2018. I remember not being worried about the biopsy; I felt completely fine, I was young (I had just celebrated my 30th), relatively healthy, and with no known family history of cancer. I was just establishing my career and settling into my new promotion at work – everything was on track.
The call came as I was sitting in an empty office at work, “I’m so sorry sweetie, pathology finally came back and it says it’s cancer – I’m just an ENT, I can’t interpret any of these values for you and I’m not sure what they mean.” Just a simple phone call to turn my entire world upside down. Sparing the details, I ended up taking this as my cosmic cue to move back home and begin treatment.
Transferring care between states was tricky, as was manipulating my work situation and figuring out all the bases I had to cover in order to get medical insurance upon relocation. Somehow, it all worked out; I spent the rest of my spring and summer finishing up my treatment back at home. The rest of that year I simply had to let my body recover – it had survived what I hope to be the worst of what I ever put it through again.
The fatigue was harsh, and I felt confused and conflicted. I felt worse at the end of treatment than I ever felt when the cancer was “in” my body. Nothing made sense, and that’s one of the difficult things about cancer. Cancer doesn’t play nice, nor does it follow any type of rule book – side effects hit some and not others, aftereffects are long reaching for some and not others; some people can mentally push it off and seem to get along fine, others -we’re left feeling confused, having to navigate a post-cancer life with only our cancer friends and some internet memes.
Over the last few years after finishing treatment, I ended up reconsidering my career – as a near death experience may do for some. I ended up deciding to go back to school for Nursing, and working as a Nurse Aide at a local hospital in the heme/onc unit. While I will never say that “cancer was the best thing that happened to me” because I don’t think that gives cancer the right narrative, I will say it changed my life.
In ways I miss my old life, just floating through and living for myself – but at the same time, this new direction has given me so much more purpose than I could have imagined before. Silly stupid cancer, didn’t know I wasn’t going to let it ruin my life without a fight.
By Jenn Freeman