Isolation in Childhood Cancer Survivors: Melissa's Story

Melissa Long was diagnosed with Wilms' Tumor when she was 10. She wrote to us to describe her memories of treatment: Chemotherapy. Radiation. Vomiting and fevers. Sepsis from a central line infection. As difficult as her treatment was, Melissa found the late effects to be perhaps the most traumatic element of her cancer journey. In this excerpt, Melissa writes about the challenges she faced adjusting back to 'normal' after treatment:

IMG_20110430_205619 (3)I got made fun of for being bald. People would come up to me and tell me I was in the wrong restroom and point me to the boys’ restroom. The friends I thought I had in school all treated me differently. Some felt sorry for me and the others didn't know how to act around me. I wasn't included in things anymore and I had never felt so alone in my life. I would come home from school in tears day after day. School started getting so bad for me that I begged my mom to let me go to a different school.

I loved basketball and had played my whole life, and also had a better opportunity to play in college if I went to this bigger school. I decided that with this new school, I wouldn't tell people about my cancer and I would just try to fit in. That didn't go well for me either because having cancer changed me. No matter how hard I tried to act like it never happened, I was left with physical, emotional and mental scars that were impossible to suppress. Trying to act like I was just like every other kid in school - when I clearly wasn't - still left me feeling so lonely.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 15 from my radiation treatments and from there, it seemed like one late effect after another would pop up. As if going through cancer wasn't bad enough, now I was having problems arise from the treatments used to get rid of the cancer. That put me over the edge and I ended up resentful and depressed. The worst part was that I didn't feel comfortable talking to anyone about it, so I kept it all in for many years.

Although Melissa felt alone, her post-treatment challenges are experienced by many childhood cancer survivors. One recent study found that male survivors of certain childhood cancers had a 50 percent increased risk of mental health-related hospital visits. For females, it was a 26 percent increased risk. Kids diagnosed before age 10 - exactly Melissa's age - had the highest risk of developing a mental disorder like anxiety or depression.

MelissaLong2Today, Melissa is a pediatric oncology nurse in Florida. She turned her traumatic experience as a brave young girl into a career that helps other kids, and we applaud her courage and her work.

Every bad thing that has happened to me as a result of having cancer when I was ten has molded me into the strong, independent, God-fearing woman that I am today. I am so thankful for every day that I'm alive. I'm so thankful for the people in my life and I make sure to tell them that constantly. I might live my life differently than the average person and that still makes it hard at times to fit in, but that's okay now. I find strength from my relationship with God, my family, these children that I am so blessed to take care of and from other survivors who have shared a similar journey as me.

Read Melissa's full story here.

Melissa reminds us how important it is to let survivors and families know that they are not alone. By sharing your story, you can do the same. Thank you!