The following blog was written by Juliet Zymeck, a Summer 2017 intern at Squeaky.
When I started interning for Squeaky, I had no idea how eye-opening it would be. My role was as the IHadCancer (IHC) team’s intern. When I found this out, I was excited to continue to be a supporter of the cancer community but I thought it would be like all of my other cancer-related experiences. I expected the exposure to the cancer community would be the same as it was when I fundraised in the past. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Up until this summer, I had always thought of myself as an ally to those who are fighting or had fought cancer. In high school, I would participate in my town’s Relay for Life event. In fact, I was team captain for three years. I took great pride in that position, deeming myself a fellow cancer warrior, not for fighting the disease myself, but for fighting to help raise money to help others. Preparations for the event began in February and ended in June. As the summer came into view, I could wipe my hands clean of the thoughts of cancer and enjoy the next few months in the sun.
Luckily, only one close person in my life had cancer. My grandmother was diagnosed in January 2007 with Stage 4 Lung Cancer and passed away a short three months later. I was only in fourth grade at the time, so my understanding of the disease, or any disease for that matter, was limited. However, the word “cancer” wasn’t unfamiliar to me, even at that age. Two of my childhood friends lost parents to cancer by then. I don’t remember much about the medical part of cancer; it was the emotional impact it had on everyone else around me that stands out, and lasted long after my grandmother’s passing. Being so young, time has healed the wounds left by the loss of my grandmother. Cancer became something I could pack in a box and put away when I didn’t want to think about it and bring it back out for fundraising events.
IHC is different from any “cancer world” I had been exposed to before. It isn’t a faded childhood memory or a well-thought-out, edited speech at a fundraiser that skimmed over the reality of the effects of the disease. IHC is raw, emotional, and honest. It doesn’t hold back or shield the audience from unpleasant truths. It’s not that I had never heard of cancer, but in that moment, it became real. Almost too real.
It was hard to read stories that often didn’t have happy endings. They weren’t the classic narrative of a person who simply defeated cancer with tons of support, then went on to become a survivor who lived this fabulous life of badassery. They were stories of real people. Sometimes, they did have this happy narrative, but most didn’t. Dozens of blogs were about life after cancer.
Um — “life after cancer”? Shouldn’t that just be amazing?
That’s what the classic narrative would have you think. IHC revealed a community of survivors who didn’t all feel like heros. It has some members who still struggled tremendously with health issues directly caused by cancer treatments, some who even said that life after cancer was harder to deal with than life with cancer. It wasn’t pleasant to read, but it was the truth. I finally felt that I was starting to understand the disease in a more legitimate way.
The first few weeks were difficult, but then I started getting emails back from the authors of these stories. They were so thankful for the IHC team for giving them a voice they didn’t know they could have. Their excitement radiated from the computer screen and I couldn’t help but nearly jump out of my chair with excitement too (which one of my fantastic coworkers documented!). I knew that the mental toughness I needed to work on this team was incomparable to the toughness of these fighters and survivors, so I could handle it. Maybe some of them don’t feel like heroes, but they certainly are in my eyes.
Everyday that I have interned for the IHC team this summer has been an absolute privilege. The extraordinary women who run this site are the most incredible teachers and supporters. The people in this community inspire me to live my best life and not to take anything for granted. I hope that everyone who cares about the cancer community continues to help fundraise, and I hope no one has to deal with cancer head-on.
But, most importantly, I hope that supporters will start to really listen to cancer fighters and survivors, hear their unedited story, and try their best to understand what it would be like to say, “I had cancer.”