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by Jon Dephouse

This past February I reached the two year point since I finished a long treatment process for a rare cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. As a “survivor” I get to reflect publicly on my story from time to time. On Saturday I spoke on a panel with 3 other survivors as part of an AYA symposium, (Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer) at USC. AYA represents the age range of 15 -32, and sometimes to age 39. I was 32 when I was diagnosed.

One doctor from Seattle who was speaking at the symposium, and with whom I had a rich conversation, said this age range is a like “wasteland” in the cancer world. The research and resources are limited. She impressed upon me the importance of using my voice and story in any way possible to make a difference.

One question we were asked on the panel was, how does being a young adult with cancer differ from children or older adults. I talked about what I referred to as “denial” and “fierce independence.” The attributes that make a “healthy” young adult successful, do not necessarily serve you the most when faced with a cancer diagnosis. If children are totally dependent and older adults have learned how to lean on others for support, the AYA category are faced with having ascent into “success” in life come to a screeching halt. Fierce independence and denial of mortality need be morphed into fierce interdependence, where one has to learn to rely on the support of others. I know this was the case for me.

Survival will always be the goal in the cancer world and as we know survival is not always the outcome. Perhaps the deep work is coming to some level of peace with the possibility of both outcomes. We could apply this thought in many circumstances I think. I am pondering that in Lent we are walking towards a day of death, and also a day of life. It doesn’t help to leap ahead to the resurrection, because life does not give us such resurrection on our own terms, (as much as we would like to have more control). Yet, the grace of universe brings transformation in both.

The question of “why is this happening to me” becomes less important, but to ask rather “what will I do and how will I respond to this reality and this life I am actually living? I know this is the question I am asking myself.