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How Coping With Two Tumors Changed My Perspective on Life Forever

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Family dynamics shape who we are as humans and dictate how we cope and undergo experiences and life-changing events. I am originally from South Korea, and the social norms don’t usually allow for affection or closeness. This dynamic became apparent when I was diagnosed with a tumor on my thyroid and eventually a tumor on my ovary. This caused me to move back to South Korea and leave the United States — where I had been attending boarding school since I was 16.

My boarding school experience was stressful due to the language barrier, the social and academic pressures, and the overwhelming need to do well. This caused me to sleep only three or four hours a day and push my physical body to its limits on the soccer and softball teams. I also worked part-time to immerse myself in American culture. As the physical symptoms of my tumor began to progress, I found myself in and out of hospitals due to infections and exhaustion — which eventually led to the doctors finding the tumor on my thyroid. Due to school policy, I was forced to return to South Korea to undergo testing and surgery.

My parents were not involved in the process as they were working professionals, so I was left with figuring out how to cope with my tumor on my own. I had an advantage because I was young and my body bounced back from the tumor removal surgery quickly, but the mental toll was the difficult part. My mental pain involved a lack of sleep, anxiety, depression and feeling disconnected. To overcome these obstacles, I began researching and trying different coping mechanisms like yoga, meditation, and therapy sessions and sought out different certifications and volunteer opportunities to fill up my time and help me find what I was passionate about. I volunteered at many dog shelters and nursing homes, and it allowed me to see different perspectives, which aided in my healing process. As the days went on, I found myself becoming stronger, I understood the difference between feeling lonely and being independent, and I increased my self-esteem through being productive.

When faced with challenges, we often have the choice to either refuse to face them or to make conscious efforts to change our outlook. This was put to the test when I was diagnosed with another tumor — this time on my ovary. My experience was different the second time because I knew what I had to do to maintain my mental health and not struggle as much. This time, I had built-in coping skills. In life, we may go through many obstacles, but once we change our perspectives, we are likely able to navigate almost anything life throws at us.

I am now 23 years old and have decided that I will be attending college. I could have let my negative thoughts about going back to school as an older student prevent me from applying and attending college, but I made the conscious decision to go back. Earning a college degree would not only boost my self-esteem, it would also help me gain opportunities that are not available to me now. I am excited and passionate about starting a new chapter in my life that is not defined by struggles. Instead, my challenges are the reason why I am choosing to keep moving forward.

Getty image by RichLegg.

Originally published: June 28, 2022
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