National Cancer Survivors Day is a celebration for those who have survived, an inspiration for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families and an outreach to the community. Below, Elaine Brockhage shares her Doernbecher story and how her diagnosis at age 12 continues to impact her life today.
Cancer is something you fight. The patient himself fights. The patient’s family fights. The family’s friends fight. Even good Samaritan strangers join in the battle. When I was 12, I got diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and out of all the advice I got (both the good and the questionable) one theme rang true: to fight.
“Fight like superwoman.” they told me.
“Fight like a flower, growing out of cement.”
“Fight like a survivor; fight for your life.”
So I fought, and so did those around me. Of course, I must admit that I wasn’t always aware of this raging war. First, I was so drugged out half the time that I didn’t really know what was happening. Second, I was not thinking about the fact that I needed to fight. I was thinking about how I didn’t feel good, and wanted to feel better. I was thinking about returning to my former life, exactly as I had left it.
Treatment lasted a little bit over a year, and then I went into remission, and then survivorship. For my follow up care, I go to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. I’m 20 now, and enrolled full time at George Fox University. A lot of the time, it feels like I lead sort of a double life. I am a college student, dealing with stress that comes from being in school, meeting (or not meeting) homework deadlines, and learning how to live with roommates. The other part of me goes back to the hospital for check-ups and deals with the post effects of treatment (messed-up balance, decreased brain function from the radiation, and unstable eyes, to name a few).
Half of me is so grateful and blessed to be alive and walking, able to see things with single, 3-D vision. I can learn things formerly deemed impossible for brain cancer survivors to learn, and I have the ability to go places where we couldn’t have gone before.
But the other half of me is bereaved and hollow. I struggle with some things that other people never will, and I feel overcome by self-pity. I remember other kids who were in the hospital with me, and guilt sets in. And these feelings are difficult to voice, because they are often perceived as wrong, and met with criticism.
And I’m fighting against this second half of me. I fight against envy and grief, feelings of isolation and paranoia. I fight to find out who the new, post-cancer Elaine is, and I fight to accept her. I feel this fight more than I ever did when I had cancer, and like anyone who is facing a difficulty, it’s important to remember what keeps me going and why I don’t just give up.
I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think there are three main things. One of them is my faith, which gives me direction and a goal. The second is other people, because when I can laugh and have a good time with someone who is close to me, or listen and learn from someone else’s story, then I know that I am living. The last one is my attitude. It’s when I can take steps to help myself, and when I can look past the troubles that I am facing now, and on to something better. And then I know that even though this battle is far from over, it will still be won.