One day I’m a normal 22-year-old girl, living and working in a new city. You hear awful things, you see crazy storylines on TV and in the movies, and you never imagine these bad things could ever happen to you. As humans, we take our health for granted until you realize how valuable it really is.
In March of 2021, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer. Everything paused, everything was turned upside down, and everything was terrifying. I was mostly confused as to why this was happening to me at this age in my life. I was so overwhelmed and there was no time to truly think. All of sudden, I was thrown into chemotherapy and the life of hospitals and tests and being poked and prodded like no other. My initial experience with cancer was relatively easy and made me think too naively about the situation. I accomplished most things in my life easily, so why should cancer be any different? After only a few rounds of chemo, I quickly found an anonymous donor and received a stem cell transplant on July 27th, 2021. It was supposed to be my cure—my escape from the horrible nightmare of cancer and my return to normal life.
My world was shattered for the second time in October of 2021 when I relapsed with leukemia. It was worse than the initial diagnosis because everything I saw for my new future came crumbling down. I never experienced so many emotions at once—complete and utter sadness, frustration, anger, confusion, and disappointment. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be cured. I kept repeating these words to myself over and over again because I couldn’t believe I had to fight again and go through more of what I thought was a closed chapter in my life.
Since the relapse, I’ve been through rounds and rounds of chemotherapy. The easy journey I knew of cancer was abruptly over and reality caught up with me. These past few months have been anything but smooth, and it feels like I am constantly getting hit with bad news and more challenges to overcome. The leukemia is stubborn and I get infections left and right, landing me in the hospital so often that my phone is starting to think it’s my second home. And if cancer wasn’t enough, I’ve been through abandonment and disappointment from people that would’ve broken my heart in any other situation—but something can’t break if it’s already broken, and cancer has already accomplished that task.
I didn’t want to write my story to only highlight and dwell on the negatives I have experienced through cancer. Everything I have said is mere fact, but those facts don’t define me. Throughout this whole journey, I gave myself time to cry and grieve privately, but I barely shared my true feelings with others because I saw myself as strong enough on my own. When the cards are on the table, I step up and do what needs to be done with a smile on my face. I embrace the worst and accept there’s nothing I could do to make it better besides get the treatment and care I need. It’s normal and healthy to let out emotions (and I now annoyingly cry at anything), but I also love being amazed and proud of my strength every single day without even realizing that I’m exhibiting it.
To anyone who is suffering from cancer, directly or indirectly, I hope you remember that even the best fall down sometimes. However, it just gives you another chance to prove how you can stand back up and keep fighting. I would never wish any of this upon anyone, and the catch-22 of it all is no one can truly understand unless they go through it themselves. So, if you ever find yourself crying in front of a mirror because the test results weren’t what you wanted, or you’re tired emotionally and physically, or you’re just so sad about the situation, and you somehow find the ability to wipe the tears away and go on with your day, know how tough and courageous you are. But, if you find yourself unable to control the tears, I hope you have someone like my mother in your corner to run to. Someone who is there no matter what and holds you when your world is crumbling down time and time again. Someone who reminds you how awesome you are and how as a team, you will continue to fight and do what it takes. Someone who says, “I know how strong you are by yourself, but sometimes you don’t have to be.” Thanks to her, I have opened up more and more throughout my journey and it has made a difference in only the best ways.
I have lost many things because of cancer—physically, emotionally, and some people who I once relied on—but I have gained insight, new perspectives, and maturity I wouldn’t possess otherwise. I am now almost 24 years old and continue to endure way more than what most people will go through in their entire lives. I learned to enjoy each day as it is and do whatever makes me happy. I realized whose actions I needed to focus on actions in my life and from that have found out who my real support system was and where to place my trust and vulnerability. Firsthand, I see how unfair and cruel the world can be to good people but I choose to look forward to happier and freer times. No one can know when my bad luck streak will end, but I do know I will continue to be optimistic and hopeful that better days are coming. I believe this because I refuse to take any other option as an answer—because I can also be stubborn.
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This is Amber’s mom. Just wanted to let everyone know Amber passed away from complications from AML on October 6, 2022, just a week after this article was published. She was so excited about her article and couldn’t wait to show us the published article. We are devastated and miss her every day, every hour, every second. She was our Amber Baby Sunshine and our days are much darker and always will be. She was the ultimate warrior, and even at the end, she was so strong and communicated her wishes. I’m so proud and honored to be called Mommy by her.