Life as a Pediatric Cancer Survivor

“Pray for me, it’s cancer.” That was my first Facebook status update following my official diagnosis with liver cancer at 16 years old.

While the journey was anything but easy, I am so thankful to have gone through it with my medical team/family at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. As a childhood cancer survivor who just celebrated the six-year cancer-free mark, here are the biggest changes I’ve come across as an adult:

1. Examination tables are larger
Doctor visits now include a full-sized examination table and the wallpaper lacks cute little animals. Your time spent in the exam rooms are about the same, but you are also very thankful when these appointments are boring due to having very few medical updates to discuss with your doctor.

2. Routine visits continue, but it’s up to you to make them happen
This was one of the toughest changes for me. As a child, my parents did everything possible to make the journey easier for me which is something I am very thankful for. As an adult, it’s entirely my responsibility to make sure appointments get made, blood work gets sent to each specialist, and my insurance premium gets paid. There’s a ton of responsibility tied with having a serious medical history.

3. Your perspective on life shifts entirely 
When you have gone through cancer, you’ve seen just how treasured and valuable life is. Your perspective is so deep in your mind that there is nothing you can do to hide it. The experience changes you as a person, but it’s up to you to determine if it’s for the better or for the worse. Cancer was extremely difficult but it also showed me just how precious life is – I believe this has changed me for the better.

4. You can connect with people in ways you never thought possible
Life can be extremely difficult sometimes and at one point or another, everyone is faced with some kind of hardship.  Having gone through cancer, you know what it feels like to go through something you didn’t think you’d be able to overcome. Your story can allow you to relate in ways you never thought possible as well as offer encouragement to people you would otherwise never meet.

5. Your medical team becomes your family
Having spent so much time at Arnold Palmer Hospital, your team slowly becomes your family. They invest themselves in you and you invest in them. My last appointment with the oncology clinic was bittersweet. I had aged out of pediatric oncology.  While I never plan on going back there for treatment, I know the friendships I have made with staff and other patients will follow with me through life.