After the Cancer Is Gone, the Real Work Starts: Britta's Story

Cancer Survivor Britta Aragon.jpg

This two-part article was written exclusively for by Britta Aragon, a lymphoma survivor who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease when she was 16. Britta discusses the alienation she experienced as a teenager with cancer, the eating disorder that developed during her journey to recovery, the devastating news of her father's passing after his own eight-year battle, and how these experiences led to her many efforts to help others.

"You have cancer."

For many, these three words feel like a death sentence. But I was only 16 years old when I heard them. At the time, I was a naïve teenager, and it never occurred to me to be worried for my life. My biggest concern? Losing my hair. (Think back to when you were 16. You know you would have had the same worry.)

I had Hodgkin’s disease, diagnosed after I found a strange lump on my neck. I went through surgery and chemo, and was supposed to have radiation too, but my body responded so well to the treatment I didn’t need it. That is not to say everything was rosy. I did lose my hair, plus I suffered night sweats, extremely dry skin, and got puffy all over because of the steroid medications. But after about six months of treatments, I was pronounced in remission and good to go.

Cancer and I came to a fairly quick understanding – physically, at least. But as most survivors know, the disease’s emotional impact was much more difficult to manage. My biggest challenges would come after my scans came back clean, when everyone expected me to be happy and return to normal. I was happy the cancer was gone. But what was normal? I didn’t know anymore.

Alone in My Recovery

I didn’t feel pretty anymore. I was bald, overweight and bloated, my skin had lost its radiance, and I wasn’t getting the attention from my peers that I was used to. Don’t get me wrong – everyone was very supportive, but it felt as though they were feeling sorry for me. That was the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want to be “that girl with cancer” who everyone pitied.

While I tried to deal with the changes cancer had created in my life, the people around me had no idea what I was going through. I was told to “move on,” but I was confused and had no one to talk to. I now know that survivors need support groups, counseling and other types of therapy to manage their experience, but I had none of that, so I turned to the only thing I could control – food.

For the next several years, I would battle with an eating disorder without even really knowing why. While I tried to recover, cancer came back into my life – bigger and meaner than before.

Click here to read Part II.

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