This piece is part of our PANpov series — firsthand stories from employees about unique experiences they bring to integrated marketing, PR and communications. Read more.
September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month and I am one of the 1.3M individuals in the US living with or in remission from blood cancer. I officially reached one year in remission on August 8th and am still grappling with my title of survivor—a word I never thought would define me. For each person who holds this title, the meaning varies—there is no one-size-fits-all for what it means to have survived. For me, I am working to embrace my new label, to wear it with pride, and to share my story—not because it’s special or unique—but to bring awareness and advocacy into the conversation in the only capacity I know how. So, here’s my story.
It took a grueling nine months to receive my cancer diagnosis—delayed diagnosis is an unfortunate reality for adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients. I had read about medical gaslighting in healthcare articles before but had never experienced it firsthand. Medical gaslighting is a term used for physicians that dismiss symptoms and medical challenges, which is often more prevalent for women, and ever more so for women of color. While I knew something was wrong, the dynamic of having a provider consistently tell me my symptoms were of no concern left me confused and without answers. Unfortunately, prolonged intervals to diagnosis directly correlate and affect survival for cancer patients, especially for those with aggressive cancers that spread throughout the body, as mine was. In January 2022, I was finally diagnosed with Stage IVB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and thankfully, I had answers.
Following diagnosis, I received chemotherapy every other Friday for over six months, for a total of twelve treatments. This meant putting my life on hold for nearly a year. I had to step back from a job I love at PAN and isolate from my friends and family due to a compromised immune system. To say this was challenging is an understatement; I missed birthdays, holidays, celebrations, and career milestones. There had never been a time in my life where I wasn’t working towards a career goal or planning a trip, but suddenly, my only travel was to a cancer center with the simple goal of surviving.
While this was the most challenging time of my life, it was also filled with unconditional love, unimaginable support, and pockets of immense joy. I found an online community of “Lymphoma Ladies,” who were going through treatment at the same time, who were key in my journey, and who still are in survivorship. There’s a saying in the cancer community: it’s the worst club with the best members. I can attest to this. I am grateful to have a community of friends, family, and coworkers who show up for me without question in all the important ways—never letting me feel alone.
In August 2022, I was officially declared no evidence of disease, and in August 2023, I was officially one year in remission—a survivor.
I am lucky to have hit one year in remission. More importantly, I am lucky to have had a cancer that’s not only treatable, but also curable, and the resources to obtain high quality care. This is not the case for everyone, and care and outcomes shouldn’t hinge on luck.
I’ve been in healthcare PR for just over five years, working with companies who are actively changing the industry to bring health equity to the forefront, breaking down barriers to ensure accessibility, and working to bring empathy and love to the patient experience. I come to work every day because I believe in our clients’ missions and thought leaders as well as the journalists telling these important stories. All patients deserve accessibility and equity when it comes to healthcare, and I’m proud to help support the companies doing this work.
While I was nervous about coming back to work—challenges of brain fog, fatigue, and being bald on Zoom calls one day and with a long purple wig the next—I was immediately welcomed back with open arms by my PAN team and am proud of the stories I’m helping to tell. Most recently, we’ve been focusing on utilizing technology to close gaps in cancer screening, research surrounding operational challenges at cancer infusion centers, combating challenges of healthcare burnout, and removing barriers to care for patients.
I am proud of myself for advocating for all those months and not wavering until I received answers. I share my story because awareness of these challenges is critical for knowing how to advocate for yourself in the face of medical adversity. Today, I still face residual trauma and the effects of treatment, including those specific to AYA patients, but I am grateful. My experience has not only fueled my passion for work, but also for opportunities to share my story and advocate for all patients—especially my fellow AYA thrivers and survivors.
In addition to using my PR skills to pitch and having my insights included in SELF on how to support individuals going through chemotherapy, I’ve also joined my local chapter of the American Cancer Society’s Young Professionals Against Cancer on the Associate Board of Ambassadors, and I am working to personally raise $10K this year through fundraising to help advance health equity, support patient programs, and aid in groundbreaking research for other patients. I also attended the ACS CAN conference to help start an affinity group for young adults to help ensure every patient has a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—because cancer impacts everyone, but doesn’t impact everyone equally.
So, here we are in September—Blood Cancer Awareness Month. I’m once again working full time at the job I love and telling these important client stories, but also taking advantage of unlimited PTO to continuously say “yes” to new adventures and spending as much time as possible with the people I love. One out of three blood cancer patients do not reach five year survival following diagnosis; these are the chilling facts. That’s why this month, and every day, I’m embracing my survivor label. I will continue to do what I can to share my story and drive awareness and advocacy, because how lucky am I to be able to be here and call myself a survivor.