Life as a young adult cancer survivor: An awkward age

513kayce.jpgBy Kayce Smith

I got the call on my 25th birthday. “Kayce,” my dermatologist said. “You have stage one melanoma. You need to go to MD Anderson for cancer treatment.”

I never thought I’d be facing a melanoma diagnosis — or any kind of cancer, for that matter. And I certainly didn’t expect to be a young adult cancer survivor.

Most of the time when people approached me after hearing about my melanoma diagnosis, they said things like:

  • “Wow, you are so young …”
  • “How are your parents dealing with it?”
  • “Will you have help financially? If you need extra support, please don’t hesitate to call.”

I quickly realized that my melanoma diagnosis came at a very interesting time in my life. I was not young enough to be “a kid” with cancer and not old enough to be perceived as “an adult” with cancer. I was sort of in limbo.

The challenge of acting my age

The strangest part was watching how my family and friends saw me throughout the early stages of my melanoma diagnosis.

No matter how old I get, my parents will always see me as their baby. On the flip side, no matter how old my little sister, Ally, gets, she’ll always see me as her strong big sister.

Older people treated me like I was way too young to be a cancer patient. My friends didn’t know what to say or how to act because I was the only person they knew at our age dealing with it. Sometimes it felt like I was the only 25-year-old in the world that had cancer. I was just … different.

At 25 years old, I was confused about how to act. I found myself almost reverting to child-like behavior when dealing with my melanoma diagnosis.

I remember one day while I was waiting for my doctor, I sat in my mom’s lap and cried. I’m about 4 inches taller than her, but I bundled up in a ball like I did when I was a kid. I remember thinking how ridiculous I must’ve looked, but I was scared and it just felt comfortable.

But every time I walked around MD Anderson, I was reminded that I wasn’t a kid. I saw kids — babies — dealing with situations much worse than mine. Kids who should have been out playing with their friends were battling cancer. I thought to myself, “Do they even know what is going on inside their bodies? Are they old enough to understand?”

I knew that I was old enough to process the situation. I wasn’t a child, even when it felt like I was one.

What I’ve learned as a young adult cancer survivor

People don’t know how to act when someone they love tells them that they have cancer. Life doesn’t really prepare us for that — especially when we’re young.

Life also doesn’t prepare us to tell our friends and family that we have cancer — certainly not when we’re as young as I was. Looking back, I think I spent way too much energy trying to act a specific way. I was torn between being the child my parents and their friends wanted me to be — and the adult I wasn’t quite ready to be.

But now that I’m on the other side of melanoma, I can see the gift I was given — new life at a young age. As crazy as it is to say, maybe I was SUPPOSED to have cancer in my mid-20s.

My job wasn’t to play a specific role while fighting cancer. It was to beat my disease so that I could use the many years ahead of me to better the world.

I now have the opportunity to share my story and to love and support those battling this horrible disease — no matter their age or stage in life. And I plan to do that for many years to come.
Read more by Kayce Smith

Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.

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