Cancer Is Not Who I Am

August 17, 2023

“Something with your health…” 

“The trial you’re going through…” 

“The C word…” 

These were all the phrases people said to me after hearing about my cancer diagnosis. 

I didn’t realize it was taboo to say the word “cancer” until I had cancer. People don’t like to say it. I’ll be honest, as a 30 year old with no family history, cancer was so far from my mind I’ve never thought about it. People would avoid saying it in the same way characters in Harry Potter avoid saying the name “Voldemort.” But *nerd alert* Hermione taught me, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” I hate when people won’t say it. But that’s my personality. I don’t beat around the bush, I don’t mince words, what you see is what you get. I have cancer. Say it. Ask me about it. 

Maybe people don’t like to say it because they associate it with death and dying. In the first weeks after my diagnosis my thoughts drifted that way. I thought I was going to be bedridden while I got treatment; that I was going to have the bald head and the sunken eyes and I’d slowly wither away to dust within the year. I’m happy to report that I’m less than 3 months into my diagnosis and I no longer believe that. If you are reading this and have been newly diagnosed, it’s true what they say, the beginning is the hardest. The fire hydrant has been opened and you’re drowning in words you’ve never heard, needle pricks, and treatment drug names. Eventually the flow slows and somewhere along the way you become your own cancer expert. Hang in there. 

While everyone responds differently to treatment, I wish someone would have given me some hope while I learned about what my chemo regimen would look like (4 rounds of Doxorubicin and 12 rounds of Taxol). Medicine has come a long way in reducing the side effects you typically experience while undergoing chemotherapy. During my 4 rounds of Doxorubicin, also known as “The Red Devil”, I have a rough 7 days following my infusion, but after day 7, I’m able to have a fairly normal week with minimal side effects. I play pickleball, and go on walks, and go blueberry picking with my 5 and 3 year old. It’s not all fire and brimstone. I won’t sugar coat it, the first 7 days are hard. But after I come out of it, I’m left with a lot of gratitude for what my body can do.

As a stay at home mom of young children, my identity was almost entirely consumed by motherhood, and not in a good way.  Over the years I’ve taken intentional steps to make sure that’s not my only identity. Getting a cancer diagnosis pushed me back into that space. A cancer diagnosis is all-consuming in the beginning. I was now “the cancer girl.”  But I refuse to let that be my only identity. I am a wife, mother, cancer survivor, pickleball novice, sports enthusiast, bread baker, and board game lover. Cancer is not who I am, just a piece of what makes me, me. And I get to add as many pieces to my puzzle that I want.  — Ashley Nelson

Read more from the community on identity, here!

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