Last week, I met with my pre-health advisor, who took one look at my science and math GPA and said, “You have to bring this up.” Oddly, I keep finding terrible news travels in very small amounts of words. Granted, I knew my science and math grades weren’t great. Some were terrible, in fact. I was aware that even the extra time I receive on tests doesn’t even seem to help them. What I have been in denial about, however, is why those grades are so bad. I study and study, yet it doesn’t add up to what it should. So, my pre-health advisor told me I should meet with a learning specialist. For a girl who’s whole life has revolved around her academic achievements, this hit me really hard. I proceeded to go back to my room and cry before pulling myself together and recognizing her statement was still just a suggestion, and lower grades in science and math don’t necessarily equate to not getting into medical school.
Last week, I found my lifelong dream threatened by something my treatment did to me and it made me angry. My treatment when I was little left me without physical talents needed to have athletic ability. So I spent my life cultivating my academic talents. I excelled in high school and made it to a prestigious university. I was so proud of myself for getting here, for proving to myself I was really good at something. But, as I have reached year 5 since completing my treatment, I have also reached year 3 of increasing academic struggle. I didn't want to admit I may have a learning disability because I felt like it would mean I was admitting I cannot achieve my lifelong dream. Suddenly, I found my life plan seemed to be falling completely apart. Would I ever be able to do well enough academically to become a doctor? Is cancer going to take this away from me too?
And then I recalled something one of my psychology teachers had said in class just before I went to that dreadful pre-health advising meeting. My professor said something he heard from his neighbor:
“Life is what happens when plans fall apart.”
So, I got help. Yesterday, I met with a learning specialist at Duke’s Academic Resource Center. It was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I walked out of that meeting with hope. I was hopeful because I felt like there was a plan, a way for me to get back on track. I did not feel alone and I no longer felt defeated. I no longer felt that I had completely lost my one shining talent, and I knew that the woman I met with was going to do her best to help me in all aspects of my academic life. From time management skills to study techniques, she is working with me to help me improve. I am admitting that the skill I was proudest of - my academic abilities - is no longer what it used to be. While that is hard, it is also freeing just to admit that. It was like a weight was lifted off of me after that meeting with the specialist.
That is why I am writing this. As cancer survivors, we are entering an uncertain future. We never know what effects will hit us, or how they will do so. We do not know if our plans will work out the way we want. I know I have written here extensively about setting goals for the future. And now I would like to amend that. Set goals for your future, and have dreams. But, also plan for life to happen. Do not define yourself by what you are and are not able to do. Maintain flexibility and accept deviations from your anticipated path.
I can sit here and be bitter about feeling increasingly more stupid compared to my classmates, and hide it in shame, or I accept it and get help, as I have. When confronted with late effects, or any health challenges that threaten your life plan, don’t be afraid. Recognize it is part of this life you have been given, because you have basically been given a second chance at life, and find out how you can work through the challenge. Whether it be seeking academic assistance or admitting your physical capabilities may never be the same and seeking support for that, don’t hesitate to ask for help. There is no shame in it, and no one can know you are struggling unless you say something. Most important of all: remember you are not the only one.