It’s Monday. It’s Personal. Weekly, we’ll be sharing with you a story from someone who It’s Personal for, as they tell their unique story of how cancer affected their lives. Everyone has a different story to tell, but in each of them, we hope you will find inspiration. This week, we’re sharing Katie Jozwicki’s story, a business student who began her battle at age 31. Aided by the strength and suport of her family and friends, she overcame and learned some valuable lessons along the way.
Since 2005, B4BC has been encouraging you to “share your story” as a means to connect with, inspire, and inform our community at large. Breast cancer has touched many of our lives…Tell us why It’s Personal for you by sending an email with your story and a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org
For some survivors, certain specific days are etched into their minds. I remember diagnosis day 10/16, surgery 11/21, first day of chemo 12/11, New Year’s Day with no stamina, my birthday, when chemo was cancelled by an ice storm 1/17, last day of radiation 5/15, etc. As a young adult, I also had unique concerns. How could I continue to finish my MBA? Would I need to cancel my semester abroad? Would my friends stand by me? Could I date, even when bald? How could I keep my parents from treating me like a baby, but also ask them to look after me? Could I still have my own babies? What about my job interviews? One of the hardest things was balancing my desire to continue leading my life and the need to treat my cancer.
I did need to cancel my semester abroad (chemo in another country seemed just too complicated, though I would have loved to be the bald girl who conquered Europe). As a result, I was determined to participate in a two-week intensive business course in China, which took place between my fifth and sixth chemo infusions. One of my favorite photos is of me, bald, at the top of the Great Wall of China. My oncology nurse loves that you can see my pollution-filtering mask hanging around my neck. (She and my oncologist had lobbied hard and convinced me to wear the mask, especially in Beijing.)
Chemo was a low point of treatment. My clothes no longer fit me; my stomach was bloated from the steroids. Some nights, as I cried in my bed, I wished I could just sleep the night through. My saviors were my friends and family who stuck strong by me, sometimes even too strong! Yes, at times, I needed to push back and ask for my space. But after having cancer, traveling, finishing my MBA, and exercising even when weak, I realized one of the most comforting things: I am not alone. While each of us is unique in our battle with cancer, I am ever-thankful of the companionship I have found amongst other cancer survivors.
My Essay: The “Benefits” of Cancer Cancer has taught me so many things, but these are the three that resound most:
I have always been a bit of a control freak, and often planned my life down to the last detail. When cancer struck, I was in the midst of interviewing for a new career and completing my MBA. Control was taken away from me by my diagnosis, and, for a while, I did not know what each day would bring, making it impossible to plan ahead. This has relieved a huge amount of stress in my day-to-day life. I no longer feel the need to plan every detail, and I am more accepting of the fact that I cannot control everything.
Before cancer I never really felt passion, not for a person, not for a cause. Now I am starting to understand what it means to feel passion: passion to learn more about cancer, passion to improve my own health and body, and passion to find ways to help other young adult cancer survivors. I hope to gain a better understanding of how my mental strength can be transformed into physical strength and wellness.
One of the best things I have gained from cancer is my network of new friends. In Austin, Texas, where I was in graduate school, I became a member of the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls. I met other young women who faced breast cancer, and we shared stories, advice and support. I learned even more about cancer, about how differently each person faces cancer, and how no two experiences are the same. When I moved to California, I met a similar group in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve also met casual friends and acquaintances in many places, from the bookstore to an airplane, who share their own stories with me. One time, while shopping, a random woman stopped me (I was bald at the time) and asked me about my story; we talked for a while. My friend came up to me later and said how annoying she thought that must have been. But it wasn’t. I cherish any opportunity I have to share my story with others and listen to what they may have to say. This past summer I was fortunate to be able to spend six days with the First Descents program, learning to white-water kayak with other young adult cancer survivors. Together, facing a challenge of a brand new sport, we found quick support in each other and the varied intensities of each other’s stories.
There are other benefits as well. My list grows longer all the time. Even so, I would never wish this upon anyone. It is a challenging battle and it one I am happy to be through.