- 25th Jun. 2020
Cancer doesn’t end at remission
“Sharing my “cancer story” has been extremely difficult and thought provoking. Not because I struggle to share – anyone who knows me will tell you that I have no problem sharing my thoughts on a matter. It’s been difficult because my cancer story began before I was born… 17 months prior to be exact.
“My sister was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 3 months old. She was so small, and the tumour was in such a place, that they couldn’t operate. Radiotherapy was also out of the question due to the risk it presented to her. Chemotherapy was her only option, so that was the way forward. She spent the first year of her life undergoing treatment at Starship, her first solids were hospital food, and she learned to walk holding an IV drip pole. Although I wasn’t around through that harrowing time, I have come to realise the vast impact it has had on my life. This awareness has taken a while, and I have always felt out of place when fellow CanTeeners are sharing their stories. I don’t have a story because I wasn’t there, right? How can I possibly compare to the stories of heartache, strength, and inspiration of others?
“The conclusion I have arrived at is simple: I can’t compare. All I can do is share my story as it happened…and continues to happen…it’s not going away any time soon!
“I was also a problematic baby for my parents, so my sister has always been the epitome of strength for me. I vaguely recall doctor visits when I was little, and Abi being declared to be in remission at 5 years old. My 3 year old self had no idea what was going on, but Mum and Dad were happy, so I was happy. Child Cancer was a massive part of my life, as CanTeen has become. Being exposed to this community has meant I’ve had friends growing up that have been going through treatment, friends who have passed away, and I’ve never considered that to be a part of my cancer story….but it is. Assuming I’d be an auntie one day and then realising that chemo can affect a patient’s ability to have kids – that is a part of my cancer story. Always having a niggling fear about health complications for Abi has also contributed to my cancer story. All these indirect effects of Abi’s cancer have impacted me, even though I wasn’t present for the actual trauma.
“I was meant to join CanTeen on my 13th birthday, because that was the natural progression from CCF/Camp Quality. Abi, however, had other ideas…she didn’t want her nerdy little sister to hang out with her cool CanTeen buddies. Obviously, that just made me want to join all the more. A few months later, she gave in (may I note that our younger brother was allowed to join straight away). I really haven’t looked back. I joined the Hawke’s Bay committee when I was 15, I attended camps and workshops, I’ve met some pretty groovy people and have made lifelong friends. A CanTeen sibling session first made me question how Abi’s cancer had affected me, and attending the Empowering Self workshop with my brother allowed us to confront this thing we’d always felt removed from, together.
“Cancer may be what brings CanTeeners together, but it certainly isn’t what defines us, or what makes us special. What makes the CanTeen team phenomenal are our values and our understanding. This is not necessarily our understanding of each other’s cancer story, because they’re all unique. More, it is an understanding of the importance and value of a support system who is there for you no matter what.
“It has taken me a while to work out how I can give back to this organisation that has given me so much. I don’t feel “qualified” to advocate on behalf of members, and I struggle with the thought of me trying to support a fellow sibling member, as I haven’t watched as my sibling goes through the treatment process. I’ve helped at appeals and such, but have always felt I could do more.
“In 2018, I really found my niche in CanTeen through facilitating the Foundations of Leadership course for the Northern South Island. Since then, my involvement in leadership has evolved, and my passion to embrace the member-led status of the organisation has grown. My fellow member leaders never fail to blow me away with their energy and dedication for the development of themselves, their peers, and the organisation. There is something immensely special in seeing someone realise what they are capable of, flourish, then pass their awesome skills on to younger members.
“This is what CanTeen is about. It is so so much more than a bunch of young adults that have gone through Cancer…it is a family where no one is judged, and everyone is helped. It is the coolest club that no one wants to be a part of. I’ve found my place in CanTeen (it only took me ten years) and I am doing what I can to help others find theirs.