My Journey with the “C” Word

Maressa Williams Montel Williams Doctor Oz Show

If you had told me in August that by the end of October I would have been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, appeared on Dr. Oz to discuss it and started blogging about my journey to remission, I would have called you crazy.

Many people will probably ask why I decided to share this part of my life with the world. It’s a relevant question that needs to be addressed. As the daughter of a celebrity, I’d be naïve to think it wouldn’t have become public organically, so I decided to tell my story my way. Early in this process, it hit me that the biggest reason I am going to do this is that I’ve lived my father’s journey with multiple sclerosis. I’ve watched as he fought to remove the negative stigma associated with MS and face the fear of the unknown, inspiring hope in countless others as he fights for his life every single day. I meet those people often, so I decided early on that I wanted to follow his example. Doing so thus far has allowed me cope with all the feelings that come with getting cancer at 24 years old, and helped give meaning to this seemingly unfair and unpredictable turn in my life. It’s provided me a way to turn the indignities I’ll certainly face into something I can feel good about.

I go back and forth between crying and laughing; from feeling utterly defeated to having nothing but hope for the future. The pride I feel from seeing my family rally around me is immeasurable. I won’t lie – even though I know I’ll be okay I can’t help but feel completely wrapped in terror. I’m a 24-year-old woman, and I love my hair  – how will I deal with it falling out? Although I joke about how I’ll soon be a carbon copy of my father without my hair, a big part of me can’t face this looming reality. This brings on feelings of immense guilt for focusing on something so trivial, considering how many others facing cancer and other challenges in life have it so much worse.

As I begin this process, I find I’m petrified yet hopeful; grateful yet incredulous. I know how lucky I am to have the unwavering support of my mom and dad, my loving “stemmy” (my stepmom), my brothers and sisters – especially the gorgeous and grounded Ashley – and all the others I know are rooting for me. What gets me through the day right now is the hope that I find in sharing my journey; that through putting pen to paper I might make this journey a bit less scary for other young adults going through it.

What has become so clear to me in the past week is how blessed I am. How blessed I am that I’m able to be on my father’s health insurance while I am in school, to have access to the best doctors, and to have had a freak accident leading to the early detection of my cancer.  I often wonder to myself what would happen if I were not as fortunate. What if I were like anyone else without health insurance and without the ability to go to any doctor I want? What if I were one of the thousands of cancer patients who face what I’m about to go through and face it alone? That’s ultimately why I think blogging about my experience is so important.

One thing I really want to make clear is that I am not doing this in hopes of somehow capitalizing on my cancer diagnosis to become famous – that ISN’T me. I am currently in nursing school so I can dedicate my life to helping others. I compete in bodybuilding competitions, and I am fortunate I was able to grow up outside the limelight of my father’s celebrity. If there were two things I’d like to get out of this, (aside from beating cancer and getting my bodybuilding pro-card in the same year), it’s achieving a deeper empathy and understanding for the plight of the patients and the ability to use my story to show others, especially young women, that being proactive about their health care is essential. My goal is to walk through this with the courage, honesty and hope that I can be a source of strength to others facing a similar fight.

This is not going to be fun. It’s going to be awful, scary and really emotional.  I want people to see and feel that as I go forward with my blogs. I want people my age, especially women, to understand the importance of being proactive about their health. Young adults like myself tend to think we’re invincible; a huge mistake which can have devastating repercussions.

I’ve been truly blessed in my life, and it’s time for me to step forward and give back. Sharing my journey will be not only cathartic, but also help me face some of the horrors that come to every cancer patient fighting for their life. I’m taking this opportunity to shed light on this very real experience, with the ultimate goal of making it less scary for others facing the same challenges.

You can follow Maressa on Twitter, Facebook and read more on livingwellwithmontel.com.