A New Lease On Life Told By An 18 Year Old Cancer Survivor

I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago today.

Two years ago. Wow. That’s hard to believe. 

This time two years ago, I was (understandably) petrified. My mom got the call from Nemours the day after my biopsy. Before the procedure, they told us that no news was good news. So much for that. 

Some would assume that hearing her first relay the message to me was the hardest part of that night. They’d be mistaken. 

The hardest part of that night was watching everyone else receive the news. 

I saw my mom’s worst fears morphed into reality by a 90-second phone call. I saw my dad cry for just the third time in my life — delivering a speech at his grandfather’s funeral and telling my sisters and me that his mom had passed were times one and two. I saw my sisters crumble under the weight that my diagnosis piled onto their association between cancer and death in our family. And I saw the boy I’d made plans to spend the rest of my life with paralyzed by the idea of this sentence cutting our time together short. 

They embraced me upon hearing. Their hugs were tight and earnest, as if they had to hold on as best they could or else float away like a balloon that had slipped through a child’s fingers. Or maybe they thought that I couldn’t go anywhere if they squeezed me hard enough.

My heart ached for them. When everyone else had long since gone to bed, I stared up at the ceiling, too afraid to fall asleep. What if I didn’t wake up in the morning? I couldn’t leave my parents without a daughter. I couldn’t leave the girls without their oldest sister. 

Exhausted by the emotional trauma of the night, I did, eventually, close my eyes and fall asleep. I did, also, wake up the next morning. And four arduous months, 13 pounds and a whole head of hair later, I beat it. I became a survivor. 

Now here I am, two years later, transcribing my bout with cancer as bygone times. While the scans and the blood work and the deafening sound of my heart beating rising with the discovery of every lingering cut, scrape or bruise on my body will never go away, I can still say that I won. 

I won a new lease on life. I won a slew of forever friends. And, most importantly, I won the opportunity to tell important stories that would otherwise go unheard, including my own

So, whether you have a significant cancer-versary coming up or not, think about where you were this time last year. Or maybe the year before that. Take the time to really look in your rearview. Study it. Appreciate all that’s behind you before you overwhelm yourself with the road ahead. 

Can you see how far you’ve come? 

I know I can.

-Payton Titus: Cancer Survivor


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