From the moment I finished treatment, I was faced with a question that almost everyone I knew put onto me; what was I going to do to “give back” to the fight against childhood cancer?
I was always a little put off by the assumption that I would dedicate my life towards a disease I didn’t choose to have. For the first year or so in remission I had no desire to be involved with pediatric cancer. I wanted distance. I wanted my own life. I wanted to be Mary, not cancer survivor Mary. And I could never find the words to explain to people that advocating just wasn’t in my radar.
Things have changed since then. I’ve volunteered, raised money, done some public speaking, but I’m still faced with the question of advocacy as if it should be involved in everything I choose to do. If I present a business plan or a new product that I want to start selling via social media, the assumption is that I will somehow be giving back to pediatric cancer through all of my projects. Is it selfish of me to say no to that? Am I a bad person if I want to personally benefit from something I do? I struggle with those questions every time I hear a new suggestion of how I can donate time or money. As if I’ve been hired for a job I never really applied for; as if having cancer means that I’m the one responsible for spreading awareness. And I want to spread awareness- I do every day- but there’s a lot more I want to do that doesn’t involve cancer at all.
Are we wrong for wanting our own lives after
cancer? Sometimes I feel like I am. I think of my friends who’ve spent treatment and remission and beyond FIGHTING for a cure. I look at the social media pages that share every in and out of their treatment and I feel like maybe I’m doing something wrong. Like maybe I don’t deserve to be a survivor because I don’t have it in me to become a dedicated advocate. Is sharing my story and my journey enough, or do I need to visit my congressmen and write big checks and become a pediatric oncologist? Am I a bad person for wanting to be a teacher and work in mass communications instead of run a nonprofit full time? Am I making a mistake by having expectations for myself outside of cancer?
I think that as a survivor, my job is to take care of myself and to learn from my experience the best I can. I also like to think that blogging about my life and coming up with small projects to give back is my personal way of coping and helping others in my situation. I won’t find a cure or fund a big hospital with what I’m doing, but maybe I’ll help the girl who just lost her hair, or the boy whose friends don’t understand, or the young adult whose been told there’s no hope. You won’t hear about what I’m doing on the news and maybe that makes it less valuable or maybe it doesn’t.
Sometimes I do feel like I’m making the wrong difference, but then I get a message that says I made somebody’s day just a little bit brighter, gave them just a little bit more strength and hope. Or that my photography or videos inspired them as an artist. And I think that maybe we shouldn’t expect people to give a certain type of difference to the world; maybe we should just appreciate whatever difference they do give, cancer related or not.