When you are first diagnosed with cancer you hear the phrases “Stay Strong” and “Be Strong” a lot. Sometimes it can be difficult to remain “strong,” not only for yourself, but for your friends and family as well. Often times you want to show your loved ones strength by denying your pain and needs. We interviewed 21-year-old college student Thomas Rimmer about his battle with cancer and how he found strength in accepting his limitations.
Thomas was 20 when he first noticed the lump on his upper thigh. He ignored it, thinking it would go away on its own. But it didn’t go away and over time it began to cause him pain. When he went to the doctor, he was told that it was likely the result of an infection and was prescribed oral antibiotics. When the lump remained, a second doctor suggested he see a urologist. It wasn’t until this final third doctor that Thomas received his ultimate diagnosis: the lump was a Rhabdomyosarcoma.
From February 2016 to April 2017 Thomas underwent a total of nine cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle meant being hospitalized for three straight days of treatment, every three weeks. Midway through his cycles he learned that he was going to need an additional two months of radiotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor. Finally, after the initial cycles of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and the surgery, he finished his treatment with additional maintenance chemotherapy.
We asked Thomas what he found the most difficult to deal with during his treatment, and what brought him the most comfort. He explained:
“At first I didn’t realize how sick I was and how bad chemo was. I would always say ‘I’m fine’. I would put on a brave face for my friends and family, but I wish I had told them, ‘No, I’m not ok and I would love if you came to visit.’ I wish I had realized earlier that it’s ok to be truthful and to accept the effects of chemo on your body. The reality is that undergoing chemo has a huge effect on you as a person and I often found it difficult to express how badly I was hurting, or how sick I was feeling. I found it hard to say, ‘I’m not feeling well and I want to stay home and not do anything.’ I was afraid to sound weak, but, in time, I realized that it’s OK to sound weak. It’s OK be vulnerable because you’re going through something really tough so it’s OK to admit that you need rest. It’s hard to always maintain a positive mindset when you’re in pain, but that’s the importance of having people you care about near you. I am very grateful to my friends and family - the positivity and support I received from them reminded me to take care of myself. Because of the strength they gave me, I always made sure I was doing things that made me happy and eating healthily, while respecting my physical limitations. It’s extremely helpful to have someone to talk to and it’s important to know that you CAN be vulnerable and honest about your pain. Accepting your limitations and vocalizing them makes it easier for your friends and family to lend you the support you need - from that you can draw the strength you need to keep fighting.”