I occasionally feature guest posts from family and friends who feel inclined to write about cancer. My youngest sister Paige, who is currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy, wrote a guest post for my cancerversary yesterday. You may remember her from her first guest entry, posted a year ago today! She normally blogs about about her study abroad experience at Ci Vuole un Fiore (It Takes a Flower).
Yesterday, my family and I celebrated my sister’s two year cancerversary. Two years ago yesterday, my older sister was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer, an extremely slow growing but incurable form of cancer. But this post is not about cancer: this post is about survival and celebrating my decision to study abroad.
Two years ago when I heard the news of my sister’s cancer, I was absolutely devastated. I got through this weird time in my life when my emotional state was all over the place by traveling home a lot and relying on my good friends. Study abroad was about the last thing on my mind. Since I entered college, I knew I wanted to go abroad, but I was unable to go junior year because I knew I wouldn’t be ready to leave my home and family for any extended period of time a year after Lindsey’s diagnosis.
The fact that I’m a relatively well-adjusted study-abroad student is a direct product of the cancer news. I can put things in perspective a lot better than most people (what’s a few messed up travel plans compared with cancer?), which has enabled me to adopt a “c’est la vie” attitude. The cancer news made me a more mature and stronger person. I like to think of the 19 years of my life before the cancer news as blissful ignorance, but the reality is cancer, in part, shaped the person I am today. That person is someone who is mature, competent, with the confidence to handle herself in a foreign country. I’d be lying if I said I wished the past two years hadn’t gone differently. The reality is I would trade no cancer for the “new Paige” in a second. I also can’t say I was happy yesterday on my sister’s cancerversary: I wish I could give back 730 days where everyday I thought about cancer hundreds, even thousands, of times. I wish I could have a carefree life again without the nagging worry I have every second of every day. But despite being unhappy yesterday, I celebrate myself for being torn apart by bad news, but gradually putting myself back together again.
One year ago, I felt merely like I was myself again, after a full year of not feeling like myself. Today, I actually felt like I have grown: into someone who is mature, and handles difficult situations with confidence, and most of all someone who has hope for the future. I guess the silver lining to bad news is how you handle it, how you change because of it.
Study abroad is the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I think this is true for everyone. Its beyond difficult to be away from my friends and family, but the reward is everything I have recorded in my blog. The reward is how I feel when I see a beautifully preserved piece of art that is older than America, and how much I clearly love Italian culture. Today, I celebrate not letting cancer define me: It is easy enough when you get some bad news to curl up in a ball and never come out, but much harder to go on with your life and the plans you had before the news. I celebrate being able to be away from family long enough to experience Italy: a year and a half ago, it was impossible for me to imagine being away from my family for an entire quarter of school. Today, I am on the other side of the world and will be away from my family for a total of 16 weeks. I celebrate my friends (new and old) and family, without whom I would not be in Italy today. Most of all, I celebrate survival.
I am fully aware that the reference to fegato (liver) in the title of this post probably doesn’t have the same word play in Italian as it does in English… but let’s pretend that it does.