by Morgan Thompson
Scared. Confused. Hurt. Ashamed. When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at just 26 years old, I was overwhelmed with so many different emotions, but the feeling of shame kept washing over me. I naively believed that cancer was something that happened to “other” people. It had never touched my life in a personal way, and I assumed that if I did the right things (exercise and eat a healthy diet) — it never would.
So when my doctor looked me in my eyes and told me I had cancer, I immediately burst into tears. I not only felt terrified, but I also felt embarrassed that now I was branded with a scarlet “C.” Although it’s unclear what causes Hodgkin lymphoma, I blamed myself. I blamed my body. Suddenly, I was different from everyone I knew and thrust into this world of disease – I was now the cancer patient.
After I started sharing the news with friends, I was asked if I would move from my New York City apartment back home to Charlotte, North Carolina, to be closer to my family for chemo treatment. The thought actually hadn’t occurred to me. My life, my job, my friends were all in New York. As scared as I was, I couldn’t let cancer take control of my life, and moving home would mean that I let cancer win – and that wasn’t an option.
My decision to take control was a turning point for me. I realized that my embarrassment had morphed into determination, and instead of hating my body, I learned to love it. I learned to be grateful for the fact that I could get up every day and put one foot in front of the other. Instead of referring to myself as a cancer patient, I started to refer to myself as a survivor.
I decided to share my experiences with other survivors and prove that you can live – even thrive – with cancer. So I started a blog called Beating Cancer While Staying Fabulous. The name kind of says it all. My blog became a way for me to document my experience and show everyone that cancer can be a part of your life – but it doesn’t have to be your entire life. I started to live out loud with the intention of making a difference.
My blog also allowed me to connect with Hodgkin lymphoma survivors all over the world – especially other young adults. Although my family and friends were super supportive, I needed to connect with others who were walking the same journey. Other young adults who knew what it was like to sit in a chemo infusion center and see no one younger than 60. Who knew how it felt to see friends get pregnant while worrying that treatment could make you infertile. Who knew what it was like to be mistaken for a visitor, and see the shock and sadness on a nurse’s or doctor’s face when they realize that you are the patient. I finally had friends who had been there and done that, and who made me feel like I could get through this.
Although Hodgkin lymphoma is highly curable and most people achieve remission, my journey wasn’t easy. After countless chemo regimens, a bone marrow transplant, and numerous clinical trials, I finally achieved remission. I reached the finish line in a race I had been running for years, and it was a true celebration. But life didn’t begin with remission, because during my journey, I didn’t let cancer hold me back. Throughout treatment, I made a conscious decision to keep living. I continued to flourish in my career, I got married to my amazing husband, and I learned to cherish the moments that truly matter in life.
Here’s the thing – cancer doesn’t care how old you are, how much money you make, or how good of a person you are. Cancer can happen to anyone. But it doesn’t have to be the end of your story. You have the power to move your life in any direction you dream.
No one’s life is perfect, but it’s the courage you show when the life that you have is not the one you had planned that will get you through the battle.
Morgan Thompson is a marketing professional, TV host, pop culture aficionado, and cancer survivor. Born in New York, NY, and raised in Charlotte, NC, Morgan has a winning combo of southern charm and New York sass. She has held various marketing positions at Parenting, CosmoGIRL!, Redbook, Seventeen, and Cosmopolitan. After Morgan was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, and she launched her blog Beating Cancer While Staying Fabulous (beatingcancerwhilestayingfabulous.blogspot.com) to share her experience with other young adults fighting cancer. Throughout her six-year battle with the disease, she got married, traveled, continued to work, and never lost her trademark smile. Connect with Morgan on Twitter @morgangthompson or Instagram @morganthompson04.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2016.