I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, stage 2A with bulky mediastonal disease, when I was 22. Luckily, I have been cancer-free for five years and counting. Treatment took almost a year, about nine months of ABVD chemotherapy, plus one continuous month of radiation. It was hands down the hardest battle that I've ever had to fight, physically, emotionally, and financially. Treatment wasn't easy, and it came with its fair share of complications, but I feel so lucky to call myself a survivor. The day I became cancer-free was bittersweet. For one, I couldn't believe I overcame the disease, and I was the happiest that I had ever felt in my life. At the same time, though, I had a huge financial burden on my shoulders that was really weighing me down. I was terrified.
Most people know that cancer is expensive, but I didn't think that most people understood what that meant for a twenty-something. I was lucky to have health insurance during treatment, but that didn't mean I got off scot-free. I owed money to my chemo center, my surgeons, my breathing specialist and my radiologist. Besides medical bills, I had the rest of the bills we all get to experience: phone, rent, utilities, tuition, groceries, etc. It became very overwhelming, very fast. It got to the point where I feared going in for my follow-up treatment because I was a few thousand behind on my next minimum payment due. Scary, right? I felt like I was drowning.
I will never forget the night I was having dinner with some good friends. I remember that I was freaking out about rent and other bills. I was asking for advice: what do I do? They actually knew about a foundation that was out there to help people like me. They told me about it, and I thought it sounded wonderful, but to be honest, I was also thinking, why in the world would anyone be able to help me? First of all, I'm healthy again, so I don't deserve it, and secondly, I didn't think I would be chosen to get a grant. I went home and looked it up, and immediately realized what this foundation represented. They were there to help people trying to survive, post-cancer treatment. They help out with real world financial problems that are impossible to pay when you've just sold your soul to the medical world to be healed.
I applied, and patiently waited. I got a call one afternoon while I was on the train leaving Union Station after class. I found out that I was receiving a grant from The SAMFund. I was literally speechless, but at the same time I wanted to scream because I was so honored, and so happy. That day was the second best day of my life. The SAMFund helped out in so many ways, I cannot even put into words how much they've changed my life, and therefore, opened up opportunities for me.
Beyond the grant, I dove into the community because I felt that connection and wanted to give back. Being a part of something like that has brought so much meaning to my life. I started volunteering with The SAMfund shortly after I received my grant. From there, my involvement began to grow. I sat on the planning committee for Chicago's first SAMFund fundraiser, and then went on to help plan the next two as well. In 2010, I was asked to join the Alumni Leadership Council (ALC), working on fundraising, brainstorming for growth, and reaching out to new grant recipients. Fundraising is one of my favorite aspects of volunteering, and it is so important to me because I am living proof of the impact that the money has on survivors. I have met the most amazing people through my involvement, and today, I proudly sit as the chairperson of the ALC. Currently, I am in the midst of helping plan Chicago's fourth fundraiser, and couldn't be more excited. In addition, I love meeting new SAMFund alumni. It's an instant connection as we have so much in common, and I value those friendships so much. I know that this is where I was meant to end up.
Looking back, as hard as it was, between the weekly treatments, the painful shots, the hair-loss, and constant worry, I ended up growing more than I ever thought I would. Going through something so bad ended up bringing me something so good. It hasn't been easy, but I found my silver lining. The people I've met will be in my life forever, and the imprint The SAMFund has left on me has shaped who I am today. We all grow from our experiences. I became a different person. When life threw me cancer, I had no choice but to take every negative thought and throw it out. I put myself out there, found somewhere that I belonged, found somewhere that made me feel complete. I found my niche in life, and I couldn't be more proud of who I've become.
To learn more about The SAMFund, please visit www.thesamfund.org
The SAMFund supports young adult cancer survivors in the United States as they recover from the financial impact of cancer treatment. Through direct financial assistance, in-person and online support, The SAMFund helps young adults move forward towards their personal, professional, and educational goals.