Cancer is Never Really Over

by Alec KupelianSurvivorAugust 31, 2020View more posts from Alec Kupelian

I remember how good throwing up after running one sprint at my first ultimate Frisbee practice after treatment felt. After eleven months of in-patient chemotherapy, I had really honed my vomit craft and my cardio was lacking at best. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  when one, seventy yard sprint left me doubled over with my head in a trash can as student employees wondered loudly if I was hungover. 

I remember the look of astonishment my new, and completely random, roommates gave me when they realized I had already turned 21 by the time I started my second year of college. “Will he buy us alcohol?” I can see my roommates thinking as they tried to figure out my vibe. No. No I won’t.

I remember laying in bed unable to even unlock my phone to scroll through idle pictures of people smiling with their friends on the beach in front of a Santa Barbara sunset or open my computer to watch another season of The Bachelor. I would just stare up at the ceiling and wonder why I’m being so useless all the time.

And I have to give my friends a lot of credit here because they did everything right. They texted me often, made plans to come visit, and followed through. They didn’t make cancer a big deal but listened and asked questions whenever I talked. They invited me to all their events and were excited when I could come visit on my year off from school without letting my circumstances consume their lives in any way. Unfortunately, my friends did everything right. 

For me, cancer was one of the best years of my life. I say that and people freak out at me all the time, but it’s true. I laid in a hospital bed most of the time. I could barely eat. My medication made it so I could barely string a sentence together. I developed a narcotics addiction. I was constantly in pain. But you have to understand, my life was simple. I didn’t have to think and worry about the complicated issues and everyone reached out to me. I have never felt more loved than I did while I was sick.

I have never felt more isolated than when I tried to go back to college the next year. I was diagnosed when I was 19 years old and never got to finish my freshman year of college. So coming back meant I wasn’t quite in intro classes anymore where people are trying to meet each other, but all the friends that I did have were also a year ahead of me in school. They had a year of new friends and inside jokes and memories that I wasn’t there for. They tried to explain all the inside jokes but no inside joke has ever, ever, been funny out of context. (And this is the part where you will be trying to justify in your own head why an inside joke that you and your friends have is so funny but keep it in your head where it’s still funny) It seems silly because I would just tell myself to go make new memories and that it doesn’t matter if I wasn’t there because I’m here now. However, I couldn’t help but feel like an outcast in my own circle. Even my ultimate frisbee team got to go to college nationals the year I was gone! 

So when I say cancer was one of the best years of my life, you have to put it in context because it will always sit next to one of the worst years of my life. I started binge drinking. I was depressed. I cut myself off from the people around me and put a happy mask on when I went out in public so no one would know. And I was good at it. 

As I sit here at home in my bed writing this piece and reminiscing about the past five years I’ve now spent out of treatment, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that no one talks about cancer, after cancer. It’s as if I was supposed to finish treatment and then waltz right back into life like nothing had ever happened and pretend like everything is okay. But it’s not. It’s not. I wasn’t equipped with the tools to talk about what happened and my friends couldn’t relate to it no matter how hard they tried. Thank goodness they at least tried. I could barely exercise. I was still rebuilding my muscles not to mention my body image. I’d lost my hair and it never came back. I lost my athleticism and it never came back. I felt like I’d lost myself and my friends and my future. 

I want to be clear. I’m not better now. I’m not cured and looking back. I am still in the thick of it. I just started to go to therapy and learned the tools that I need to manage those feelings better. I began to speak more openly with my friends so they would know what I’m going through and what kind of support I needed. I’m still depressed, but I’m better than I was. I still have up days and down days but as long as the trend is steadily going upwards that is progress to me. 

I was talking to another person who’d had cancer recently and they told me, ‘Cancer is never really over.’ I think that is the message that I want to share to all the formerly-cancered humans and their support systems, the people going through treatment now and those that will be diagnosed in the future. Cancer is never really over. So instead of pretending like the problem has just gone away, let’s face it head on so that maybe, just maybe, those of us who have been touched by cancer in one way or another won’t feel so alone. 


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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