I Am Not a Failure
I have been hesitant to write this as my first *real* blog post, mostly because it is something that I was not confident about, until today.
As some of you may know, others not, I have chosen to take a break from my education at Elon University. My decision to leave campus, and return home to Philadelphia was a hard one to make but I knew deep within my heart that it was the right one.
My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) seven years ago, when I was a freshman in high school. He went through extensive treatment, including a bone marrow transplant, and it was a very trying and painful time for my family. We kept the faith, and eventually he went into remission. Life moved on, and so did we. I graduated high school, and set my sights on a new adventure of beginning college in North Carolina.
Fast forward to Super Bowl Sunday this past year, when the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos were going head to head. I was getting ready to go to a friend’s party and I got a phone call that I had dreaded since the day I moved away from home. My father’s cancer had returned. Only this time, my family was home, and I was hundreds of miles and hours away. It was February, which meant that I had a whole spring semester to live through before I could come home from school and be home with my family, which is the only place I wanted to be. That semester, my mind was somewhere else. I was in a constant mindset of fear, stress, and agony. I felt like I was in a nightmare I could not wake up from.
I eventually made it home for the summer, and I figured things would get better, and they did. I had two incredible internships I was passionate about, I was surrounded by my childhood friends and family, my dad was in treatment, and I was happy.
Near the beginning of August my father’s doctors revealed that they wanted to give him another bone marrow transplant. For those of you unaware of what goes into such a transplant, or want a bit of a medical lesson, here’s the jist:
Marrow is the soft tissue inside bones that produces blood-forming cells. Blood-forming cells are immature cells that can grow into red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.
Healthy marrow and blood cells are needed to live. Certain cancers and diseases can affect the marrow’s ability to function. Many times, transplant offers the only potential cure.
A transplant takes usually 2-5 weeks in the hospital and that consists of preparation, the actual transplant and treatment itself, and recovery. It is extremely painful and isolating. The body is very delicate during this time because any outside disease or infection can cause major implications, which meant when my family went to visit my dad there were precautions we had to take, even ones you wouldn’t think of. (The best example I can give to illustrate this is on my father’s hospital floor, there was absolutely no living flowers/plants allowed, or fresh fruit.) The recovery afterwards is a slow one, that includes a lot of medication, doctor’s visits, and time.
Okay! Medical lesson over!
Hospitals to me are not an inviting place, and they are my least favorite place to be at any time. Even the maternity ward freaks me out, and that's the happiest wing of the whole dang place. Nevertheless, it is really hard to see a loved one in the hospital, but it is especially hard when it is your father. I tried to visit at least every other day, which took a toll on me. I had to say goodbye to my father when he was in the hospital, in the middle of treatment, and I had been through this before so I didn’t think it was going to be difficult, but in reality, the thought of leaving my family in the middle of my father’s treatment was really unsettling for me. I did not expect to feel that way, but sometimes you surprise yourself.
At that point, I felt completely uneasy and confused about returning back to school. I felt like I had finally reached a point where I wasn’t filled with constant worry, I was able to be surrounded by my family, have the security of being at home, and now suddenly I felt like I was uprooting myself to move away again. Away from my father, away from the rest of my family, and I wasn’t ready. But I packed up, and off I went.
I moved into school, classes started, and I immediately knew something was wrong. I lost my appetite, I could not sleep for more than four hours a night, I wasn’t paying attention in class, I wasn’t attending church, or practicing yoga; and that is not me, all of these things were part of my core and my identity. I was deeply unsettled. Every phone call I had from home, my heart ached. I thought it was because I wasn’t in a routine yet, or that the fact I was now a junior was subconsciously messing with me but it took about two weeks for me to realize it wasn’t either of those things. I was not where I was meant to be. I was meant to be at home, with my family.
Although I had this realization, I felt a sense of worry about making the decision to go home. What would people think? Do they think I’m weak? That I wasn’t able to handle it? Will people think I’m a failure? Am I a failure? These questions clouded my mind. But, my decision was made and after filing some paperwork, I returned home.
I felt an instant relief once I arrived back in Philadelphia, and was able to see my family and be surrounded by familiarity. By this time, my father was returning home to recover, my younger sister was going into her junior year of high school and my mom had her full time job. So I had a lot of time to reflect. These two questions kept popping into my head: Do people think I’m a failure? Am I a failure?
I thought I was a failure. I resented myself that I couldn’t do it. That I couldn’t just focus, and stay at school. I was embarrassed. What did this say about me academically? Emotionally? I beat myself up because I thought by me taking a break, it meant that I had failed. I had failed myself, my family, my friends, my professors, and my school. These thoughts sat with me for awhile.
Until one day, I was sitting in a park by my house, where I regularly ride horses. (Riding horses is something I had been doing since I was 6, and I had learned my love for horses and the sport of equestrian from my dad, who was a horse trainer back in the heyday.)
It was sitting there, gazing at the horses, when I had a moment of clarity. I wasn’t a failure. I was the furthest thing from. I was a warrior. That was the word that popped into my head: warrior.
A warrior is defined as a “brave or experienced soldier or fighter” and that is what I am. I have seen some ugly things in this world. I have stared death in the face more than once with my father’s illness, and my mother’s (who is a breast cancer survivor) and I have felt despair, confusion loneliness, heartache and frustration at the world around me because of my circumstances. Many of these circumstances are things my peers have not experienced yet. I'm only 20 years old, so I don't expect them to. At times, this had made me feel like the ugly duckling, like an outsider and I envied others who did not have to walk my path, which at times seems to heavy to carry. I have cursed God for handing my family and I a bad deal, and not giving us a break, and I have lost hope in humanity many times not only for my personal problems, but the world’s wounds as well. Through all of this, the bad days and the good days, I have fought on, and because of my decision to leave school, I will continue to fight on. I am here, on this Earth, facing my problems head on, without excuses. I set my formal education aside for a short time because I know that in order to fully be able to learn with my mind, body, and spirit, I had to be present. Right now, my life did not call for me to be present in my education, my life is calling me to be present with myself.
I do not regret my decision because I am stronger. I am more determined. I am more successful. I am more resilient, because I made this decision; because I chose me. I chose to put myself first, and that is something to be proud of. Someone once told me it was okay to be selfish, hell, it was a good thing. That perplexed me. How could being selfish be a good thing? Aren’t we taught from a young age that selfishness is a bad thing? No, because in cases like this, like mine, selfishness is necessary. Making this choice does not make me a failure. It makes me a warrior because I am choosing to fight on. I will fight on for my family, for my education, and for myself. I will not stop until the battle is won.
So, although I have decided to take a pause in my journey to rest, it does not mean my path no longer exists. It does. Just like everyone else’s. I have simply taken a detour, or what I like to call, a more scenic route. And I intend to enjoy every moment of my path, and embrace my journey.
To anyone who has ever felt like a failure, I can assure you that you are not. If you have ever felt alone, I assure you that you are not. And if this is the only time you hear it today, you are unique, you are wanted, you are cherished and I love you.
A special thanks to my family, friends at home and at school, my professors, and above all God for your support and allowing me to share my experience with the world.