The Other Shoe

by Jennifer AnandSurvivor, Hodgkin’s LymphomaMarch 14, 2021View more posts from Jennifer Anand

I remember my freshman Honors College Orientation. We were each given a fill-in-the-blank paper. What are your graduation goals? What academic goals do you have? What social groups are you going to join? Other nonsense questions. 17-yr old Jen, just one week after chemo and radiation for Hodgkin’s, was ambitious, excited, and ready to close the door on cancer forever. I knew I wanted to study mechanical polymer engineering and work with prosthetics. I remember writing on that paper I wanted to make the Dean’s List every semester, and graduate and give the commencement speech and be the valedictorian.

Ah the blissful ignorance. The reality was barely being able to finish my first semester, before I relapsed. As well as dropping out the second semester, barely able to keep my grades high enough to keep my scholarship money, missing classes, failing classes, spending lonely Friday nights slaving away in the computer lab and much more less than glamorous things. But I hobbled along to graduation, and crossed that stage.

I started interviewing for jobs. “Where do you see yourself in five years”. Frankly, alive would be great.  Instead, I smile and say something about being successful, and part of this company, and use buzzwords like collaborative and synergy.

It’s really hard to think long-term after cancer.

Do I buy a house, because it’s a 30 yr mortgage. Will I be able to walk in 30 years?

What’s the point of a 401k or Roth IRA? Will I live long enough to actually retire?

Should I save money for adoption/IVF, or would it be better not to have children, so they won’t have a sick/dying mother?

Should I eat healthy or screw it and enjoy my life?

I could go on and on…and I know many of the rest of you could as well.

I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic. Due to extensive radiation, I’m at a significantly higher risk for secondary cancer. Every transplant birthday takes me farther away from the chance of relapse, but is it ever truly gone? Forget about cancer directly, let’s think about all it’s related cousins. The long term side effects from my cancers and transplant linger daily with me- Type 1 diabetes, arthritis, joint pain, chemo brain, neuropathy, a paralyzed phrenic nerve…how long y’all got to listen?

Sometimes, in a rare moment, there are glimmers of hope. I told my boss yesterday about the position I could see myself working for 20 years. It sounded weird to my own years. I surprised myself when my boyfriend and I hit our 6 month anniversary. It’s surreal to talk about getting married one day.

These conversations still feel forced and unnatural. Am I allowed to hope and dream and plan for the long term? Will the rest of my life be 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years? Or for a moment can I be like other 26 yr olds and plan for another 50+ years?

Am I allowed the happiness to think long term when so many of my cancer homies are facing terminal or metastatic diagnoses? Or is it my job to live the life for those who are gone too soon as well as for myself?

When does the other shoe drop. Because often, if just feels like I’m trudging through this life with my breath held- waiting for something bad to completely derail my happiness.


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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