Surviving the Cure, Choosing to Live
by Andrew Bundy
I guess you could say I was lucky – leukemia wasn’t too bad for me. I mean, sure, at the time, it was horrible, the worst thing I thought anyone could go through. But four rounds of chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and six months later, I was in remission and already thinking about joining my high school friends in college, although I’d be a freshman, and they’d be sophomores.
I thought once I’d kicked cancer, I’d have my old life back, with a couple bumps and bruises. I didn’t have any reason to think differently. From the start, just about everyone told me cancer was the biggest hurdle to overcome and gave examples of celebrities who beat cancer, dusted themselves off, and went on with life as normal. So, when I beat cancer, I expected the same.
Except, that’s not how it works. Not for me, anyway. My bone marrow transplant turned on me, the side effects of the cure hit me harder than cancer ever did. And the treatments for those side effects hit me harder still. I should have died, but didn’t. I’d survived, but was battered and broken in both mind and body.
I thought once I’d kicked cancer, I’d have my old life back, with a couple bumps and bruises. Except, that’s not how it works.
For years, I thought I must have been weak, a failure, because I wasn’t able to recover like all those cancer survivor role models people touted back when I thought losing my hair and puking into a bucket every five minutes was the worst thing that could happen to someone. But as I pieced my body back together – quite literally, since my bones were crumbling and needed replacing – I began to realize my experience wasn’t unique at all. I spoke to other survivors, and they were almost all facing issues for which they had been poorly prepared, if they had been prepared at all.
We shared a lot in common – the body and mind hit hard by physical and mental trauma, finding ourselves with far less support than we had during treatment, when whole communities had rallied around us to fight cancer. It shocked me.
After dealing with the after-effects of cancer treatment for leukemia, and getting treatment for the side effects of that treatment, I have come to realize that cancer is only the beginning. Now, I am working to raise awareness about survivorship – all the struggles and complications that occur in life after cancer. Because cancer doesn’t end when treatment does.
Andrew Bundy (pictured above) was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2007, weeks before graduating high school, and takes solace in the fact that he at least didn’t have to take finals. He is the author of Surviving
the Cure: Cancer was Easy*, Living is Hard, a humorous and frank memoir exposing the rarely discussed challenges survivors face after cancer. In addition to writing, he is also a survivorship advocate and works to educate people about the issues of living beyond cancer. As the result of side effects from his treatment, he has had to replace ten joints and is now in hot pursuit of the super-enviable world record for most joints replaced. Learn more about Andrew and life after cancer by visiting his website surviving-the-cure.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2017.