I have a pretty wide, eclectic group of friends, but a lot of them are in their early 20s or late teens, and they didn’t really know how to relate to me: they didn’t want to overstep or they didn’t think they had the right words. It was tough. Even after I was in remission, it was hard for me to talk to my friends about what was going on. They were rising through the ranks of their professions or graduating and I always felt like I was driving much slower. A lot of times I wouldn’t want to talk to anybody. It drove me insane because if you spend any time with me, you’ll see that’s just not the type of person I am. Many times, I definitely lost a piece of mind.
Either they left it alone or I kept to myself because I assumed that people were going to feel sorry for me. I confided in my family and a few other people. My baseball travel team coach, who I’ve known since I was 10, became an additional mentor and someone who I look to for guidance and a different perspective from my folks. I’ve been the kind of person who seeks a mentor who can tell me the right times to talk with friends and significant others about some of the personal challenges that come with cancer–that I had cancer in the first place or that I may be sterile. I’m sure people are aware of those challenges, but knowing when and how to have that conversation is tough.
I also confided in this kid from high school. We hadn’t been all that close in school, but we hung out and became really good friends in the year or two before I got sick. He was the class comedian and his sense of humor was almost as good therapy as any of the drugs I was getting. It really helped. But most everyone else who knew me when I had cancer—we all act like nothing really happened.
Now, I’m not as up front when I’m meeting people. I’m definitely more reserved about my health history. Unless I feel comfortable with another person—in a relationship or a budding friendship—it’s an avenue I try not to walk down. I’ve always been very forthcoming and open about what’s going on in my mind and my heart, but I do keep that part of me to myself most of the time.
Since my treatment, I’ve been leading more with my heart than my head because I’ve just seen and done much more than your everyday 23 year old. Before, I was looking too much at the long picture. I had this idea of what I would be doing five years from now, then 10 years. I’d get my undergraduate degree, go to law school, and work for my father’s firm. It was just going to be smooth sailing the whole time.
From the time I was diagnosed, I wanted to get back to school and nothing or nobody was going to stop me from getting there. Once I finished, I did a lot of soul searching. Instead of law, I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Sports Management. I played year-round baseball growing up and loved it, and I wanted a way to combine it with my degree in economics. If I couldn’t play professionally, I could work with an agency or behind the scenes with a major league team.
I’m just trying to take every day as it’s coming and enjoying it as much as I can, but even though I’ve relaxed a little bit with my career, it’s not always easy. Once I was in remission, my doctor set up my PET scan schedule. I was supposed to have one in March this year and then another a year later, so I was programmed to have a little sense of relief for that year. But due to insurance complications, it got bumped to June, and between March and June, every little chest pain made me think my cancer was back. Some days, I felt this sense of worthlessness—resigned to going back to treatment and putting my life on pause again. When I got the PET scan, fortunately, everything went well. But those three months, when I had to adjust my plan, definitely warned me to stay away from that place in my mind—that gloom-and-doom place.
I did end up reaching out to a psychiatrist. I found it to be somewhat helpful, even though it was hard talking with somebody. It was kind of generic advice on how to go about recovering from a traumatic experience and stuff like that, but it wasn’t for adjusting to life as a cancer survivor, so I feel like I’ve been doing it on the fly. It has its highs and lows.
There are times going to sleep when I think about the dark side and what could go wrong, but it’s a two-sided coin. Mostly, I’m pretty happy to wake up and know how fortunate I am. I think about this little boy named Ari who stayed in the same room with me in the hospital; the hospital staff used to switch up our meals and give him the adult portions and me the kid’s portions. I saw him again recently, and it was the ultimate high when his dad told me he’s healthy and in remission from his leukemia. I don’t think there are many things that have put me in that frame of mind.
Even though cancer was so negative and has been such a tough time in my life, it enhanced my emotions—from the highs to the lows. It’s much higher highs for me now and it’s much lower lows sometimes. It’s the higher highs that make life worth living, and I’ve ended up being eager for tomorrow.
Orry is a three-year survivor.