I'm a survivor of a rare cancer. During treatment, my boyfriend left me and a friend ghosted me.
- When I was found to have a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at 25, my career was taking off.
- During my treatments, a friend ghosted me and I learned my boyfriend was cheating.
There's a moment in most people's careers when they think: "Oh, my God, it's working. I'm finally getting somewhere." It comes right after working hard to no avail.
For me, it happened when I was 24 and a major casting house in New York called me to audition for "Jersey Boys." That's when I realized my dreams were about to come true.
Five years of standing in long lines in the cold for casting calls and being cut from auditions was finally paying off. Although I didn't ultimately get to audition for "Jersey Boys," it was the start of something. I was getting into the doors that were previously shut. I was getting auditions for dream parts. I was on the up-and-up.
But just as these big opportunities started coming my way, it all fell apart; I didn't get the glamorous Broadway life I'd dreamed of. Instead, I was found to have a rare, aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at 25.
After a lengthy battle, I became a survivor of this type of cancer. Though I survived, I lost a friend and a lover along the way. It's been 10 years since I was declared cancer-free, and I've finally landed on my feet.
My first day in the hospital began with the unexpected and unceremonious stripping away of who I was as a person
Who would have thought a tiny lump under my arm I found six months prior would morph into the size of a grapefruit, taking everything I ever knew with it?
Overnight, I went from being an actor on the brink of a career boom to a science project whose sole purpose was to discover a new protocol for a nearly unheard-of cancer. All because of some stupid lump.
My diagnosis was rare enlarged B-cell, Burkitt-like non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I was told the Burkitt component usually shows up in young children in Africa, so there was a lot of confusion as to why I even had this cancer. They couldn't even give me a life expectancy.
Spotlights and dressing rooms were replaced with harsh fluorescents and hospital rooms. Costumes and hair spray were replaced with gowns and chemo.
On my first day in the hospital, I violently cried when I was told to put on the hospital gown. I cried some more into my mom's shoulder. I've never cried like that before.
Eventually, I adapted to my new normal — rather, I wistfully resigned to my new life as a professional patient. After months of failed chemo, 30 days of localized radiation therapy, and an insurmountable pile of pills, normality was the only drug I craved.
During my treatment, I learned not everyone in my life wanted to stick around
All of my friends were on a rotating schedule to make sure I was OK — all but one.
When I told one of my closest friends I had cancer, he half smiled and assured me I would be fine. It was a jarring and hollow reaction from someone so close to me. He never reached out again. One of my main support systems had suddenly ghosted me. It was just one of many disorienting events that sent me into an emotional spiral while going through chemo.
At the time of the diagnosis, I was also in a long-term relationship. When I told my boyfriend I had cancer, he was stoic. I interpreted that as strength — strength I so badly needed at that time. But it turns out, he'd been seeing someone else for months and just played the part of "the boyfriend" because he thought that's what I needed.
As my career, my body, my hair, and my life fell apart, I also had to face the reality that the future I dreamed about with my boyfriend was not reality. He was yet another person to leave as I faced mortality.
After more heartbreak than I was prepared for, I got the call
It was two days before my 26th birthday and 100 days after my stem-cell transplant when I got the call: No traces of living cancer were left in my body.
I felt as if I could breathe again, and only then did I realize I had been holding my breath for the better part of the prior 10 months — through biopsies, chemo, and steroids.
The reality of what I'd been through really set in. It was good news, but it was also a dire reality to contend with — a badge of honor and a lurking shadow.
Right after my treatments, I thought I could have my life back, but the life I had before didn't exist
After my treatments, I didn't have the same friends. I wasn't the same person, and the big casting offices weren't calling. I couldn't figure out how to move forward even though I was given a second chance at life.
In time, I returned to auditions. But I was shoving myself into the pockets of what was familiar to me, and it didn't feel right for some reason. Auditions, happy hours, performing — it all felt wrong.
That was 10 years ago, and I've spent a lot of time failing since then. I'm still trying to find myself, though I've long given up trying to bring the old me back.
I'm still growing and discovering new parts of who I am. I've recently published a book, and it's being turned into a TV musical. This feels like where I'm supposed to be now, and I think it's safe to say: "Oh, my God, it's working. I'm actually getting somewhere."
Do you identify as part of an LGBTQ community and have an interesting or unique story about the queer experience that you'd like to share? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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