All I Want for Christmas:
is for young adults to feel empowered when it comes to their health.
Hey there, Kayla here. Friend and fan of Leigh Ann’s, with a less serious TV addiction (Now streaming: House). Another fun fact about me is that I was diagnosed with breast cancer a month before my 25th birthday.
Cancer. Not exactly the merriest or jolliest of topics, but still an important one. At any age, it’s the worst. But getting it as a young adult is somehow even worse. And it’s not just because young adults typically are diagnosed at later stages because of delayed diagnoses (they are) or the fact that they usually give more aggressive treatments to young adults (they do). It’s because you’ve built this momentum to get your life going and it comes to a screeching halt. It’s because you’re supposed to be out with your friends, but you have no immune system. You want to date but you’re bald and breastless. You live with a roommate you met on Craigslist. You go into menopause at 24. Most of all, it’s because you have to watch the world keep turning, see people keep advancing, as you slip farther and farther behind. Oh, and the resources offered to help you cope? They’ll be designed for a 60-year-old. Because that’s helpful.
Yep, having cancer sucked big time. Thankfully, I survived and have been cancer-free for 5 years now! I mean I still am undergoing treatments for it (for the next 7 years) and will have to get my ovaries out prophylactically in my thirties, BUT I am without cancer!! Wahoo!
Like many, I grew a lot from the nightmare. You grow up pretty quickly when the c-bomb gets dropped on ya. It changed my views and many things about me. It taught me to speak up and to trust myself. I have no interest in pre-cancer Kayla. Kayla 2.0 is a bo$$ and I’m proud to call her me.
Today, to spare you the medical bills, pain, and life tornado, I’m going to share with you a few key lessons that I learned when I got sick.
Because all I want for Christmas is for young adults to feel empowered when it comes to their health.
Lesson 1: LEARN YOUR BODY. It’s hard to control something you don’t know. Take off your clothes, look in the mirror and do some different poses. I’ll wait. Seriously.
It’s crucial that you know what is normal for your body. Have your moles changed? Is that knee pain still there? How long have you been coughing? For me, it was a normal night. I was lying in bed, just kinda playing with my boobs. When my hand grazed the outside of my left one I felt a large, hard mass. How could I have never felt that before? How long did it take me to even notice this monster? (I was oblivious to the fact that I had palpable tumors in my armpit until my doctor showed me.)
Why? Because no one had ever told me to do what I’m telling you. I wasn’t thinking about a breast exam, I was just playing with my boobs. Self-exams were something I heard of in health class while I sat moritified, trying to block out the fact that the captain of the football team was sitting next to me while an old man talked about our changing bodies (vom). There’s a huge gap in education for young adults regarding their health and that needs to change. Getting to know your body is an easy way to do that. Ladies, there are lots of apps out there to help you track what’s happening (I’ve used Clue). The most important thing to remember is to do your exams on the same day of each month because of how your bodies change throughout your cycle (if you felt them on the 1st of January, feel ‘em on the 1st of February and so on). Dudes, feel yourself too.
Lesson 2: BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. Now that you know your body it’s time to start advocating for it. When I found the lump in my breast, no one took me seriously. My friends called me dramatic. My doctor’s office told me it wasn’t a priority issue and to come back in a month (I came back 20 minutes later). My doctor told me I was “too young to have breast cancer” and made me beg for an ultrasound. And when the tech who did my ultrasound immediately ruled out a cyst, SHE STILL HESITATED TO LET ME HAVE A MAMMOGRAM BECAUSE I WAS “TOO YOUNG TO HAVE CANCER.” I was repeatedly dismissed because of my age.
The second I found the lump an amazing warrior woman bloomed inside of me and started calling the shots. I am forever grateful for this because if she hadn’t, I’d probably be dead. I had to make demands and cause a small scene, but I got my diagnostic tests because of it and caught my cancer because of it. You have a voice, USE IT. If something doesn’t feel right, say something. If your concerns are being ignored, keep talking. Don’t wait for someone else to advocate for your own health.
Lesson 3: CONSIDER QUALITY OF LIFE To make this post even less jolly, let me spend a quick second talking about quality of life and end of life decisions. What does quality of life look like to you? What would you want to happen if that quality diminished? Thinking about being sick or dying is uncomfortable, but one of them is gonna happen regardless so you might as well do everything you can to pass according to your wishes. Filling out and filing an Advanced Directive allows you to communicate to others in advance of how you’d like to be treated medically in the event you are unable to communicate. Designate someone you trust and knows your wishes to be your healthcare proxy/durable power of attorney, so they have the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t. You can find these forms online, fill them out, file them with your doctor, give out copies- for a tough topic it’s quite easy. And don’t overlook the importance of quality of life when you do it.
Lesson 4: REMEMBER YOU ARE VINCIBLE. I get it. Your skin is glowing, you’re active and your gym #gainz show you’re the epitome of health. Prime of your life! Young and invincible! Well spoiler alert: You’re not. None of us are, some of us just make it out with a few less bumps and bruises. So stop taking your life for granted. Listen to your body when it is screaming at you about something. Talk to someone you trust about your emotional experiences. Eat those vegetables and break a sweat daily. Familiarize yourself with every inch of your body. Wear sunscreen. Take a Lyft home if you’re drunk. Do better. This is the only body you have and no one else is going to take care of it for you.
Did I ruin Blogmas? I hope not. Sorry if this wasn’t the holiday spirit you came looking for, but I promise you that these lessons are actually little gifts for you! I hope you feel more empowered and realize you are capable of making decisions about your health. Thanks for letting me share my Christmas wish with you. Young adult health is a huge passion of mine, especially advocating for young adults with cancer. I actually even made a movie about it called VINCIBLE (get it now?). You can check it out here.
Thanks for reading and loving on yourself! Now go watch Elf.
*Note from Leigh Ann: Blogmas is absolutely not ruined. Kayla is living and breathing proof that not all heroes wear capes. I’m to understand that cancer is an absolute bitch, and from my point of view, she handled it with the grace of a ballerina, the ferocity of a tiger, and the bravery of *googles bravest superhero* herself (no superhero compares; she has the most courage of anyone I know). Throughout her battle with cancer, she helped me to become a better version of myself, and reading what she wrote, I think she can help you too. Every single link on this page is uncomfortable, but I urge you to take control of your own health and get educated… it may just save your life. To keep up with Vincible, follow @vinciblethedocumentary on instagram. Kayla, you are super loved! Thank you for being you, and for sharing your story with us!