High school graduation season marks the one-year anniversary of my graduation. Attending parties and celebrating the graduates is bitter sweet for me. On one hand I am glad to be part of a happy celebration, but on the other yearn for the complete joy I felt only a year ago. There is a third feeling of being protective- the world beyond high school, because it seems unfair to title it the “real world”, is full of unknowns and simply terrifying. I understand firsthand the terror of the future and how one moment is enjoying college and the next is receiving news that does not seem to be meant for you. The best gift I can offer the graduates I am so proud of, my friends and loved ones, is years of fun, exploration, growth and success opposed to going through trials they feel unequipped for.

I have talked about the ups and downs I experience from day to day in previous posts and I was blessed with an incredible day yesterday. On Saturday, I was proud to celebrate my cousin Sam’s graduation at his party with my aunt, uncle, cousins and Jacob. My aunt Becky who has multiple melanoma dreams of attending every one of her kids high school graduations. Celebrating ten years after her diagnosis in June, I am proud to say she is seen three of her four kids graduate. After the party, I enjoyed a barbecue cookout under the stars socializing with my family. These moments are special enough to distract me completely from the disease and treatment. All was right.

My wonderful previous evening helped me wake up in a better place than usual. Dressing up for my day of parties I headed to Zach’s graduation party. It was incredible how welcomed I felt especially by his family, everyone genuinely seem glad for my appearance. Catching up with his extended family was sweet and they were all incredibly kind to me. I quickly became overwhelmed floating around the party where it was uncertain where I belonged and who I should be talking to but I navigated it. The highlight was sitting in the shade outside catching up with the girls. Zach’s family, and my friend Sarah while reminiscing on high school. Although a mini cancer club formed of fellow survivors and patients, I found so much more joy having normal conversation as it is a distraction rather than a focus on my cancer.

Leaving in a very good mood I went home to rest before the rest of the graduation parties. In a timely manner my friend Evan from high school reached out about meeting up later in the day. I told her about the grad parties I had planned to attend and just like graduation weekends when we were in high school, I planned to pick her up and have her join me for the party hopping. This year Jacob joined along as well and soon enough we were heading to our first party. I make my best effort to go to every party I am invited to because I know it is very important but this can lead to some awkward parties and situations. Since Evan and I have been doing it together for so long, we have figured out ways to make it more comfortable and enjoyable for ourselves and any guests who come along with us. Last year, Evan made it a commitment to go into every bathroom, smell the soap and decide which party had the best and worst bathroom. Those outdoor games that at some parties no one seems to want to touch become an hour of fun for me and Evan. The food was always fun and tasty to try and we somehow usually end up meeting new people. This year was not any different. There were the awkward moments of parties where we seem to know no one, the ones where we ran into people we are trying to avoid and the parties where we just had too much fun and stayed for hours.

Ending at my childhood friends graduation party, I was grateful to know almost everyone. There were people I was able to catch up with and see that in the whirlwind of the past year I had forgotten meant so much to me. The socializing was fulfilling, the yard games competitive and the fire pit a bit out of control- it was a wonderful time.

Throughout the day I had many moments where I felt normal. Weekends like this one help me remember that cancer does not define my life and in the future it will be a piece of my identity but only a fragment. Which brings me to a point I have wanted to write about: what do you expect a teenager going through chemo to answer when you ask how they are? The real answer is long, hard to understand and almost impossible to empathize with if you have never been through it. At one point I turned to Jacob and said, “I am tempted to reply to the question with, ‘ My life is pretty sucky but I’m doing what I can to feel okay and be happy.’” I never had the guts to use that answer rather, I smiled and said something along the lines of “I am doing the best I can” and proceeded to answer the rest of the follow-up questions. I estimate that in the past weekend I was asked how I felt by more than fifty people.

Do not get me wrong, I understand everyone’s best intentions. I’ve also come to understand that cancer patients often comfort and put up a face at social gatherings and public places. I am more than willing to have a conversation about the last five months, my story, the depths of cancer or any other topics of interest. What becomes bothersome is when asked a simple question where a halfhearted or false answer is expected. I am not okay, my life sucks right now, there is some issue to resolve every minute, I am unhappy and consider myself extremely unlucky. Those are my answers and in my perfect world a blunt answer would be welcome and people would invest in having the tough conversations with me.

Would you expect to go up to a survivor of a war or genocide and expect a uplifting and comforting answer when asked how are you or how has your life been. I would not. I would expect a story or conversation. Now mixed into the story or conversation could be uplifting moments or inspiration but those cannot come about if you do not understand the depth of their suffering. That is why through my posts, conversations and continued reflection I choose to use the raw honesty because that is how others will empathize and I gain the potential to inspire and uplift through my journey. Because the only thing worse than my diagnosis and the treatment I am going through is for it to be for nothing. So, I will continue to push myself, to share more honestly and put up less of an act. It is a balance I will continue to try and find between the truth and light of the situation.

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