What It’s Like To: Battle Cancer as a Teen

Photo credit: Emily J. Davis

Lesley Ramirez of Anaheim beat Ewing sarcoma and learned how to care for her mental health.

I’m a dancer. I’ve been dancing my whole life. I was taking dance classes and business classes at Orange Coast College. In late 2017, I felt a lot of pain in my back, but I thought it was because I had pulled something.

Maybe for two weeks, I was like, “This isn’t normal; I’d better get this checked out.” I was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma (cancer in soft tissue and bones). It turned out it wasn’t in my bones, thankfully. It was in the soft tissue around the bone area.

I was always a very independent person. At the time I was diagnosed, I was hardheaded and ready for war. I knew I was strong enough for even the craziest thing that could happen, and nothing could have brought me down, not even cancer.

I started my treatment right away. I took chemo from November 2017 to August 2018. I also had surgery to remove my right kidney. They said it was full of dead cancer cells. I have a scar across my stomach. In September, I took radiation. Then I started preventive chemo in October 2018, and I just finished in October (2019). So it’s been two years of treatment. It’s been a wild ride.

In the hospital, every time the psychiatrist would walk in, I’d hide under the blanket. I guess I thought I was able to take on cancer by myself, and maybe even afraid to ask for help.

That worked for a while, but as my journey went on, I was faced with challenges that I needed help understanding. Sometimes I would peek out from the comfort of my blankets to talk to her. I was still new to this whole therapy thing, so I was still very much to myself. But as my inpatient chemotherapy came to an end, I found myself talking to her more and more as I grew weaker and weaker. I found comfort in her persistence, and I knew I could rely on her.

I needed her after I went back to school in February straight out of treatment. I thought I was ready to go and do the normal stuff. I thought my journey with cancer would start at the hospital and end there; but life after cancer was something that I was not prepared for. I didn’t give myself time to grieve and understand what I went through. It was really hard for me. I started having anxiety and depression. It was hard to get back into the normal lifestyle and meet people and talk to people.

I started seeing my psychiatrist again, and I’ve been learning how to cope with anxiety. She has given me ideas that helped me get back into the real world. She’d say, “When you’re having an anxiety attack, ground yourself; breathe in and breathe out; know you’re in this moment right now.”

The hardest part was losing old friends, or maybe outgrowing them because I’m in another stage of life. I’ve just grown so much, so quickly. But I’m happy because people I’ve met (at CHOC’s Adolescent and Young Adult treatment program), we just relate so well; we’re so close to each other.

I learned more about myself. Before when I was going to school, I majored in business. I wasn’t giving myself a chance to major in dance because of self-doubt or fear. I feel like this is my second chance at life.

When I go back to school this month, I hope to be dancing again.

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