“My Voice” by Jennifer Pates

Jennifer Pates - 'Survivor'

This is me….

My name is Jennifer (Jenni) Pates. Up until I was 23, I was like every other 23 year old. My main concerns were college, friends, having a good time and of course partying. Then in March of 2003 everything changed. I went in for my yearly pap and came out with cancer. I felt fine and had nothing that would tell me something was wrong with me, except sporadic periods, but I guess my body had other plans in mind. What I found out was: at age 23 I had stage IIA cervical cancer. My first thought was “WOW, I have cancer”. The second thought was, “Okay, now what?”.
Through the coming weeks I had a numerous surgeries as well as internal and external radiation. The surgeries and the external radiation were things that I could deal with. I think the hardest part was the internal radiation, as you are secluded and you do not have contact with others for fear of you getting sick. They insert these radioactive rods into your body and then say, “Okay, no human contact for 3 days”. That was probably one of the times that I wish I had human contact. Actually, it’s like I craved it.  During that time in the hospital, all I had time to do was think. I had never felt so alone in my life. All that was on my mind was that I was 23, could never have kids and in the support group I belonged to everyone was 50 years old or older. For a young woman who was going through a divorce and desperately wanted children of her own some day, this was all extremely devastating news. I had no one to turn to that would understand what I was going through.  Not my family, not my friends, not even the people in my support group! No one can understand how you feel unless they too have gone through it.  I rode an emotional roller coaster for many months. I was depressed for even longer periods of time. I think that’s fairly common when dealing with cancer. I also found out that some friends can’t cope with cancer and drop out of your life, but others are there for you every single step of the way.
It’s hard sometimes to know I am 29 and have already gone through Menopause, to know that I will never have children that I carry myself, to know that I get tired easier now than before cancer and to know that sometimes I just need to relax because my body is different than it was just six years ago. Yes it is a lot to deal with, but I always remind myself that I am a SURVIVOR! I am very involved in various cancer organizations for young adults. I think this has been my savior, I guess you can say. I get to speak about something I feel so passionately about; I get to pass on the knowledge I have gained to people in search of help. I get to help people who were just how I was about six years ago: people who are young, scared, and also confused, people that think they are at the end of the road and that have never felt so alone before in their lives. This is where I step in; I get to be the one that reaches out to them, that gives them my hand and lets them know that no matter what, they are not alone!
There is a quote I live by that defines my survivorship: “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful”. Cancer didn’t leave me broken. It left me full of cracks that have now been filled with the gold I call my cancer family.