Friday, December 20, 2013

The Common Denominator

Since being diagnosed with near stage 2 cancer last year I have built a rather substantial network of support within the young adult cancer community. I like to think of myself as a bit of an advocate for those I know in Edmonton and have supported quite a few people on their own journey through this disease. When I was diagnosed I initially found no support. I had not told my friends, except about four of them, and the only people at my cancer center who had what I had were about fifty years old. People would constantly run up to me and say things like, “Oh, my aunt has that” or, “my grandma had that, don’t worry she’s fine.” While I am sad that your family member, coworker, person you met once on a street has cancer, their age kind of doesn’t apply to my situation. Losing ovary function at the age of fifty is extremely different than losing it at the age of twenty one. But I digress.

Since then I have united with a huge network of people my own age with cancer. People who literally understand everything that I go through. I have even had the pleasure and the honor of attending Stupid Cancer’s OMG Summit in good ol’ Viva Las Vegas! If you don’t know what Stupid Cancer is and are interested, feel free to check them out online or on facebook. They are an amazing organization who have changed my life and I urge any young person facing cancer to reach out and see what they have to offer. Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) is another amazing organization who also have plenty to offer for my Canadian homies. Both of these organizations have introduced me to plenty of amazing friends from both Canada and the United States. They have allowed me to connect with people similar to me and have made my journey that much easier.

My point of this post, however, is not to share how wonderful my network of support is (although they are. They really are). It is to shed light on a common issue I have observed since finding this network. I first noticed it in Vegas at my conference, but since have witnessed it a thousand times over here at home. All of us young cancer warriors, myself included, absolutely love, with all of our heart and souls, to the moon and back kind of love; our prescription drugs. Prior to being diagnosed I prided myself on being extremely natural. Being the dirty hippie I am, as my family so lovingly calls me, I did not even like taking a Tylenol for extreme migraines. I used herbs and natural remedies to shake off a cold. Smelling like garlic I would drown myself in teas and honey, refusing to let any nasty manmade substance fight my symptoms for me. Even in the first few months of my cancer treatments I would throw out my prescribed pain killers. Having suffered with an addictive personality in the past I was hesitant to allow any sort of narcotic to again enter my body. This all changed with my first dose of morphine. After suffering with an undiagnosed infection for a solid month I was rushed to the hospital. When I arrived the doctors asked me what I was taking for pain. I told them I took Tylenol on occasion but otherwise had been using a heat bag to try and calm the pain. I had actual burn marks where the heat bag had been overused. I have a high threshold for pain. So high, in fact, that the doctors told me that what I was suffering from was a cyst larger than a grapefruit which had literally shifted all of the internal organs in my abdomen. I had been living with this over a month….without pain killers. Needless to say they injected me with morphine within minutes. Ten minutes later I was on cloud nine. I had never felt so amazing. Thus began my journey, actually, thus began my struggle with prescription medication.

This is not just my story. When in Vegas I witnessed young cancer warriors popping valiums like they were sour patch kids. When I complained of not being able to sleep, everyone suddenly popped three different kinds of pills into my hands. Pills for waking up, pills for numbing throughout the day, and pills to fall asleep at night. White pills, blue pills, pills as big as my head! Zazu from the Lion King would have been impressed. It was a junkie’s heaven. And why the hell not? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to do whatever it takes to avoid the constant pain they feel? These pills help not only with the excruciating physical pain, but also with the emotional pain. This post is not to place blame or judgment upon my peers. But rather shed awareness on an issue that is slowly but surely taking over our lives.  

My question to you all, and also to myself is; what happens when the cancer is over? What happens when we can no longer justify to our doctors the need for the pills we so dearly love and rely on? At the end of the day an addiction is an addiction. The problem with prescription medication is that it is so easily justified. People allow you to take them and even encourage them. The expression, “why suffer when you don’t have to” is thrown around without even the slightest consideration of risk. While some hide their use, others throw it out there in what I believe is an attempt at seeking help. To those battling with this currently, and if this hits a little too close to home, I urge you to consider seeking help before it is too late. If you are still not ready to reach out or do not think that there is even a problem that is OK to. We move through this terrible disease at our own pace. It is only my intention in this post to help make you aware that this problem exists. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in our cancer comas that we do not pay attention to other trivial problems. Fighting for our lives takes precedence over anything else. I just worry that for some, by the time cancer becomes a memory, they will be faced with an addiction that will greatly impact their ability to find their ‘new normal’.

Pay attention to your habits. Be honest with yourself. Help can be found easily online or within our AYA community. Reach out, get educated and most importantly, don’t beat yourself up – you’re still a fucking warrior.

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