But You’re Too Young to Have Cancer

But You’re Too Young to Have Cancer Sabrina Shelton

by Sabrina Shelton

This is what everyone says the moment they learn about my cancer history – and, oh yes, there is a history. My internal response has always been a sarcastic remark like, “I wish you would’ve told my cells that before all of this happened.” But my actual response is usually along the lines of, “Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?”

Coming out of college, the last thing on your mind is having to worry about your health. Your main focus is landing a job that is somewhat related to the degree you just earned and will pay you enough that you don’t have to beg your parents to let you move back in with them. So, what happens when you’re fresh out of college, and instead of run- ning toward your future, you get rushed to the hospital for a lifesaving blood transfusion? You really only have two options: move forward or fall into despair.

I will admit that, at age 22, when you think your life is really just beginning and you have so much ambition and hope for the future, option number two may seem like the easiest choice. But, as for me, I didn’t want to take the easy way out. There was no way I was going to let something – anything – keep me from the life I had envisioned. Call it faith, willpower, insanity, denial, drive, whatever, that was my reaction when doctors told me I had leukemia – of course after the initial shock of it all. I am only human.

So, what happens when you’re fresh out of college, and instead of running toward your future, you get rushed to the hospital for a lifesaving blood transfusion?

It is so easy to be sad and mad and just stay in that state of mind when life takes you somewhere you have no desire to go. It definitely takes a conscious and committed effort to stay positive and optimistic when presented with circumstances that make you want to run in the opposite direction. I would be lying if I said I’ve never been in a dark place, where I just wanted to give up, in the whole 12 years I’ve been going through this.

There is hope, though. I attribute most of my cancer contentment (which is really not actual contentment but rather a strange peace with cancer) to attending CancerCon, an annual conference for young adults affected by cancer, hosted by the Stupid Cancer organization.

Cancer can feel so isolating, especially for a young adult. Even more so for a young adult in a rural town where you’re the only person under the age of 50 to have ever gotten cancer. After I attended my first CancerCon, I instantly felt renewed. Revived. Empowered even. It was an experience that I knew I wanted, but learned that I needed. To know you’re not alone and to be able to connect with other people who just get it, no explanations needed, is indescribable. It was the one place where I felt like I could just simply be.

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Yeah, I’m too young to have gone through something as life-threatening, life-consuming, and life-altering as cancer. But to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, somehow I’ll escape all this waiting and staying and find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing, ready for anything under the sky, oh, the places I’ll go!


Sabrina Shelton was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2008 at age 22. Since then, she has had three recurrences and is currently chasing life while trying to help others along the way. Sabrina lives in Bedford, VA, has a semi-active blog (sahbrynuh.wordpress.com) and a semi-active Instagram account (@srs2.0).

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2020.

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