FIGHTING THE FOG I CANNOT SEE

It’s a question that hangs over my head like fog whenever the first symptoms start to emerge.

Am I depressed again?

In this post, I talk about the what ifs that surround me when it comes to a potential cancer diagnosis. I monitor symptoms, research every possible cause, and panic at the inevitable truth—I have cancer.

But that hasn’t come true, and I’m thankful for that.

But what does seem to arise every few months is a bout of depression. I monitor symptoms, research methods of coping and regaining energy, and then succumb to the inevitable—I’m depressed.

Every person’s journey with mental health is unique. Each story deserves to be heard and each person needs to be loved. And as I tell you a bit of where I’m at with my mental health, I ask for that love and grace to be shown to me and everyone in the comments.

My first sign of a depressive episode is always isolating myself from friends and family. That study session at the coffee shop? Sorry, I’m busy. Want to go for a walk tonight? Can’t, I’m not feeling well. No matter the event, I find a way to stay home, buried in my blankets and senseless entertainment. Then comes the sadness that I can’t process—where did this come from? I wasn’t sad last week. The sadness turns to anger, and the anger tries to find an outlet. And finally, I put the pieces together: I’m depressed.

But now what?

I first recognized my depression while living on campus during university. It was there that I began going to therapy on a weekly basis and working through my struggles. I still see my therapist on a monthly basis, five years later. And while she’s given me many tools to manage my mental health, I have to resign myself to the reality that, to some extent, I will always have mental health challenges.

But over time, the way my struggles manifest has changed.

I still isolate. I still get sad and angry and hide within myself. But if this past week has shown me anything, it’s that as I change, my symptoms do, too.

Tonight, I was on the phone with my fiancé when I asked out of nowhere: “Is something wrong with me?”

Bless him for knowing what I meant, because that question is as vague as they come. I was referring to my headaches, my nausea, my inability to sleep through the night, and my preference for laying on the couch watching Netflix. I was talking about the lethargy, the realization that I don’t want to do those things that I find fulfilling, and how all I want to do is cry. My voice never got above a loud whisper as even talking took more energy than usual.

“I don’t know, honey,” he said. “Maybe you’re depressed.”

“I don’t want to be depressed,” I said, almost in tears.

I don’t. No one does. Being depressed is awful; if the symptoms we experience aren’t hard enough, add to it the societal stigma associated with mental illness which makes it difficult for many to reach out for help, and our depression is just compounded.

But it may be happening again. And as much as I may fight it, I may be in the early grips of a depressive episode.

I do have the tools to work through it. I have my therapist, my support network, and my antidepressant medication which helps to keep me stable. But nothing is foolproof, and even with all those measures in place, I still struggle.

And I’m scared. I’ve been here before and it’s a scary place to be.

But as I stare down the barrel of yet another depressive episode, I’m trying to remember three things:

  • It won’t last forever.
  • It’s okay to feel what I feel.
  • I have my God and my people to walk alongside me, no matter what comes.

THE QUIET SIDE OF CANCER SURVIVORSHIP — LIVING IN A WORLD OF WHAT IF

January 27, A.K.A. Classy Glassy Day to my family in honour of my first prosthetic eye, is the day each year that I celebrate being cancer-free. Although I underwent a few rounds of precautionary chemotherapy after the final enucleation, this day will always be near and dear to my heart. After all, it’s the day that I became blind and the cancer was eradicated from my tiny body.

Yes.

And no.

True, the cancer was gone and that part of my life was in the past. It was now full speed ahead into learning braille, using a white cane and adjusting to life as a six-year-old without sight. But what everyone failed to mention was the fact that what I had just endured was traumatic, and that I would live with that trauma for the rest of my life. Yes, the physical cancer was gone, but the psychological ramifications would be a constant fight.

I was in middle school, deep in denial about my blindness, when I was handed a book of reports written by a fourth-grade class… about me. I flipped through it, astounded at what I read. I recall one report vividly which stated explicitly that the doctors expected me to be depressed, but I wasn’t.

“I was supposed to be depressed?” I said to my mom, shocked. I hadn’t heard about this. Why did they think that? I wasn’t depressed.

The Clock Syndrome

“I’m going to die,” I announced to my therapist one afternoon when I was 20. “I’m not going to live past 22. I’m going to die young. You just watch.”

Spoiler alert: I lived, and am now a grand ol’ 25. But what was the deal with 22? It’s hard for me to explain without fearing that you’ll think I’m crazy, but if I write for anything, it’s to normalize the unspoken experiences that many people are too afraid to say aloud.

Growing up, I saw my future stretching before me like a road. I could see the twists and turns and the landmarks that I would pass by on my journey through life—high school graduation at 18, travelling abroad at 19, earning a university degree at 22, and then—
Then what?
That’s where the road stopped. I had no more visual concept of what my life past university could be. It was blank.
To me, the emptiness of the road meant there was no road at all.

But I kept this to myself. To be “normal,” I dreamt about what life might hold for me, and I even planned parts of it. I wrote a list of my favourite baby names, I designed wedding invitations when I was 15, and I speculated at what kind of old lady I’d be. But deep down, I knew it would never happen—I would die before I got the chance.

My therapist and I called this the Clock Syndrome. Many days, it was a physical weight on my shoulders and I felt the tick tock, tick tock, thumping in my brain like a hammer. “Don’t waste your life,” it whispered. “Pack in all the experiences you can now, before it’s too late.”

As a result, I raced through my late teens and early twenties. I graduated from university in three years, enduring a five-semester streak that ran me into the ground. I pressured myself to get married and have children before I lost my opportunity to, and I made myself a deadline to be a published author by 25.

The fear that I would die young was paralyzing.

And every time I contemplated my inevitable death, it was because of cancer. I had it once, of course I’d get it again. And I wouldn’t be lucky enough to survive twice. But what kind of cancer? And when would I get it? Would I have symptoms? What if I had it now and just don’t know it? Thus, I fall into what I term “cancer spirals,” and they look a little something like this:

  • I feel fatigued. It must be leukemia. Wait, where did that bruise come from? Am I having a night sweat or am I hot because I sleep under four blankets? This hasn’t happened before—it must be cancer.
  • I’m not on my period, so what’s this discharge? Is that a sign of ovarian cancer? Cervical? Have my periods been extra painful lately? Wait, was my period on time last month? It must be cancer… I’ve always been regular.
  • My heart is beating faster than normal. I heard that advanced lymphoma can cause rapid heartbeat. Let me check the results from my last blood test; is anything out of the ordinary? What if the blood test doesn’t catch it, and then it’s too late?
  • Do I want to undergo chemotherapy again? What about immunotherapy? Where do I get a wig? Maybe I should get one now so I have it… just in case.

If you’re exhausted reading that, welcome to my brain. These cancer spirals are as normal as dipping chocolate chip cookies in milk. I don’t even have to have symptoms to fall into the world of medical articles, diagnosis stories, the latest experimental cancer treatments, and which secondary cancers to be on watch for. I live every day, expecting to be thrust into this reality. Yet, it mightn’t ever happen. I might die before I turn 26, or I may live another 70 years in perfect health.

But, what if I do get cancer again?

It’s that what-if that keeps the clock running. And every day, I wonder if I’ll ever outrun it.


September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a busy time, with fundraising for cancer research and programs to support the children and their families taking their well-deserved place in the spotlight. But amidst all the activity that September brings, take a moment to remember the quieter side of survivorship.
Remember the ones who live each and every day with the fear of relapse and recurrence. The ones who won’t tell you that they lay awake, examining their body for any potential threat. The ones who have to leave the room because the smell of bananas triggered a memory from the hospital. The ones who have trouble remembering things because of the chemotherapy. The ones who you didn’t even know had cancer.

Take a moment this September and remember us. Our stories are still unfolding, and at least for me, all I pray is that with each page turn, every childhood cancer survivor will know that they are loved, supported and heard, no matter what happens.