By Jessica “JP” Protasio
Last summer, just a few days before my 27th birthday, I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma. Believe me, cancer was nowhere on my birthday wish list. The diagnosis came after the sequential deaths of my parents and two years of enigmatic bouts of illness. I had no family in the area and was newly diagnosed. What did I do? Research.
I scoured the Cancer Information Collection at the Central Branch of the Howard County Library System, hoping to find anything on this rare and elusive cancer. I dove into the online medical databases, skimming medical journals and magazines, collecting all the information I could. Unfortunately, I still gave in and made the mistake of using an Internet search engine to find more material. Thatís when I became overwhelmed and truly frightened. I needed help.
I spoke with a friend who had just learned about a local organization dedicated to helping young people diagnosed with cancer: The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults (UCF). Through their partnerships with local and national cancer support organizations, UCF connected me to people and resources that would help me through this crisis. They even had a patient navigator waiting for me at the hospital where I was getting treatment. She acted as my advocate and helped decipher what the doctors were saying. UCF helped me get organized.
Finding help and accepting help are very different things. I pushed my pride aside and let the people in my life support me in the ways they wanted. Co-workers coordinated a rotating calendar of meals, visits, and transportation while I was in treatment and recovering. Another friend took on the task of being my second set of eyes and ears at doctor visits. UCF staffers and other friends offered guidance in financial, legal, and medical assistance. Team Fight members kept me active and encouraged. My brother, who lives in Oregon, created a webpage to chronicle my journey and connect friends from around the world. They networked and showed me that I wasn’t alone. They became my family.
Living with cancer and recovering from various treatments is terribly challenging. I hope that the books, events, and resources I share with you in my posts will aid in your fight against cancer or help you to better assist the people in your life who are cancer warriors. I offer no medical advice, just a personal account of the resources that have helped me in my journey.
I have cancer and I’m a survivor. I lost my liver to this disease, but not my life. I celebrated my three-month, post-transplant anniversary last week by leading the Survivor Walk, sharing my survivor story at “Screw Cancer, Brew Hope,” and participating in Survivor Harbor 7‘s four-mile race. I cannot express the elation I felt running across the finish line. The funny thing is, the real race has only just begun.