By: Andrea Batt, Project HEAL guest blogger
I feel like my purpose in life is to help people. I think that’s what I was put on this earth to do. To raise not only the spirits of those who are plagued with illness, but raise awareness to those who are blissfully ignorant and shielded from the truth. There are monsters hiding among us, taking over innocent lives everyday. Pediatric cancers; the number one killer of childhood illnesses. Eating disorders; the number one killer of all mental illnesses. We need to destroy these monsters and prevent them from continuing to claim innocent lives. Funding for research and treatment for those effected by these deadly diseases is painstakingly minuscule, and something needs to be done. Everyone knows someone whose life has been affected by cancer or an eating disorder—and unfortunately, some lives have been affected by both. I want to help. I see the families of the little girls and boys, the teens, the adults, the siblings and parents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins and grandparents—these people are hurting for their loved ones suffering from these illnesses. They want to take the pain away. They want more then anything to go back to a simpler time, when their emotions seemed to be set in bliss and their most pressing decision was what movie to watch or what ice-cream flavor to choose. A time when this monster called cancer or this monster called an eating disorder didn’t inhabit their loved ones body. They hold onto the memories of their loved ones smile caused by true happiness and not forced as a mask to hide their pain. Instead, their recent thoughts are consumed with worry and fear that funeral arrangements will, one day soon, need to be made. When these monsters enter your body, time stops and your world is turned upside-down. “Life” becomes a foreign word, as you feel as though you are no longer truly living, just existing.
Once living a life of a student shuffling from class to after school activities, talking and laughing with your friends; now, existing as a patient shuffling from hospital visits to doctors appointments, talking and crying with specialists. Existing to spend countless hours receiving different laboratory tests and waiting with baited breath for the results–hoping and wishing that everything will come back in the clear; being administered an over abundance of medication to ensure your body has the strength to fight, while simultaneously ingesting toxins with side effects that are mentally and physically pulling away at your energy; staying under constant watch and attendance delivered by caregivers, nurses and counselors; Winters, Springs, Summers and Falls spent in hospital settings away from most of your family and friends; months spent sleeping in a bed that, as much as you try to make it feel like home, just isn’t your own; rules preventing you from going outside or dancing to your favorite song in order to preserve your health and strength; bone pain, muscle aches, energy drained, weakened immune system, hair loss, feeding tubes, IVs, blood tests, bone scans, surgical procedures—this is the life of a cancer patient; this is the life of an eating disorder. Never fully knowing the damage that has internally been done to your body. Never knowing if your treatment will worked or if you will relapse; never knowing if you’ll get the chance to live the life you see other “normal” people living—those other cancer free, eating disorder free lives. And still, through all the uncertainty, you push through the tears and the silent desire to give up and you fight. You fight because you want the chance to live that life you still envision—however distant it may seem. As a child —you want the chance to sit next to your dad on the couch and watch cartoons. You want the chance to read stories with your mom as you fall asleep curled up in your bed. You want the chance to laugh with your siblings and play with your friends. You want the chance to grow up and give those same chances to your own child. I’ve shed many tears asking myself, why me? But then I look around at the children, teens and adults battling cancer—and to all of my new found friends also suffering from an eating disorder and I think, why them? Why anyone?
Children as young as ONE HOUR OLD are diagnosed with cancer. Children as young as SIX YEARS OLD are entering eating disorder treatment centers. I was four when I can remember first exhibiting signs of an eating disorder. I entered my first treatment center at the age of sixteen. I’m twenty-two now and am still fighting for recovery. Something has to change. A person’s life shouldn’t be dictated by these deceitfully powerful diseases. No child should experience such mental and physical pain before they even have the chance to open their eyes or learn to tie their shoes. No child should feel ostracized and alone due to their disease or endure such intense self-loathing that they feel they deserve the punishment their illness provides. They can’t fight these monsters alone. WE can’t fight these monsters alone. It’s been said that once a person suffers from cancer, they will never be considered fully “recovered” only in remission— same has been said for those suffering from eating disorders. In my opinion, recovery is a state of being and a way of living. To be recovered is to be free—free from cancer cells, free from eating disordered thoughts—free to break away from the diagnosis once encompassing your world and free to live your life.
Pediatric cancers and eating disorders are whispered about and talked around like they only exist in movies or in the tabloids. Society avoids talking about children with cancer because it is such a sensitive topic; however, we encounter society, scrutinizing bodies of those suffering from eating disorders on a daily basis in the tabloids. We see a celebrity visiting a hospital to cheer up sick children with cancer and we get the image in our heads that, yes, children get cancer, but they are resilient and they recover quickly. We then see celebrities talking about not eating and dieting, making eating disorders sound like they are just another diet fad and not a serious deadly illness. These are sad misconceptions, and the stories of those whose lives were claimed by cancer or an eating disorder are rarely talked about. BOTH illnesses are extremely deadly and BOTH illnesses need awareness to be raised. I personally know of more families that I can count on my hands that have lost a child to cancer or a loved one to an eating disorder. Both cancer and eating disorders seem to claim the most amazing, talented, full of life and caring souls. We have a day or a month that is dedicated to raising awareness for childhood cancer and eating disorders, but the acknowledgement can’t stop there. People are battling these monsters 365 days a year, and awareness needs to be “trending” every single one of these days until proper funding can be provided for cancer and eating disorder research and treatment. Recovery is possible and attainable, as long as the funding can be provided to give afflicted individuals the chance to fight. Everyone deserves a chance to fight for a life free of monsters–the life we are all destined to live.