Greetings and welcome to the Chemotherapy Graduating Class of July 21, 2022 (me, I am talking to just me).
What an odyssey we have been through to get to this day, the day we look chemo in the eye and wave a hearty goodbye.
It is important to take a look back at where we started to see how we got here, especially because this is a place we have been before.
Back on August 23 of 2016, we graduated for the first time with an undergraduate degree in chemotherapy. We were so sure that we were not going to pursue any more advanced degrees. We felt done, complete. The day was a celebration, a triumph of resilience over adversity.
What happened next, and for the subsequent 5 years, can only be described as blissful ignorance. I think we can all agree that chemo felt like it was well behind us, and growing smaller and smaller in the rearview as we built our life anew. Sure there were bumps along the way, but there was never abject fear. Our optimism that our chemo education would never continue was abundant.
This is the part of the speech where we introduce the twist. Every good story has a twist, and this is no exception.
December 26, 2021. A day that changed the trajectory of the lives of everyone in our graduating class (again, just me). We got the definitive news that we had cancer again. Talk about a plot twist! We hadn’t even applied for a Masters Degree Program in Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, but as luck would have it, we were admitted regardless.
We knew the courses ahead of us would prove more difficult than our undergraduate degree. No more remedial procedures, it was straight to the most advanced courses offered. We were in over our heads, but our professors were counting on us. We simply had to strive for perfection.
Our first courses, Surgery 400 and Surgery 401, were a reasonable introduction to the program. These courses reminded us of classes we had taken before and aced so we went in with confidence. The setback of failing Surgery 400, when clean margins were not attained, was a massive blow. What we thought we could breeze through became a hurricane. Thankfully Surgery 401 was a success, and though I can’t say we passed with flying colors, we did indeed, pass.
The tests that followed Surgery 400 and Surgery 401 were consistent with the rigorous syllabus. MRIs, blood work, Bone and PET scans. Each made us question our enrollment in this program, but we remembered, there was only one way out and that was through.
We finally made it to the biggest hurdle of them all. Advanced Placement Chemotherapy: Adriamycin & Cytoxan. This course was the make or break. And it almost broke us. The first 10 weeks sidelined us and made us seriously question if we were cut out for this. We worked so hard on a cellular level to even stay in the game. Obstacles were being thrown at us like it was one of those impossible to beat arcade games.
We thought about quitting. There were times when it felt like passing this course was not worth the side effects it was causing us. In those moments what did we do? I’d like to say we rose up like warriors and faced it head on, but instead we took the road less travelled, buried our head and let the work take us on like a wave, and blindly trusted that we would land ashore.
Land ashore we did as we passed Adriamycin & Cytoxan by the skin of our teeth and moved on to Advanced Placement Chemotherapy: Taxol. We knew this course was a longer haul of 12 weeks, but the material was easier to swallow. Yes, it was long, but it was in bite-sized pieces that we knew we could digest.
The weeks passed both agonizingly slowly and somehow also in the blink of an eye. We were able to carry on a more mainstream lifestyle while always wondering what horror could be lurking around the corner. I am talking to you Covid, you nasty little devil (pause for laughs)! The 12 weeks course became a 13 week course, an unexpected change of timeline, but we continued to show up each week and do the work required of us.
This brings us to the present. We never wanted this degree, but unfortunately this degree wanted us. It wanted us so badly that it grew within us and forced our hand. We have seen and felt things that no student wants to endure for any accolade, but we did it because the only other option was guaranteed demise.
I stand before you today as your reluctant Valedictorian. As I look out at the crowd I see my family, my friends and all those whom I have never even met, but know have supported me throughout my odyssey. Though this was a class of one, I was carried on the shoulders of so many towards the finish line.
I realize that this story is not over, and there are continuing education courses that I must take. But for now, for today, I can stand before you and say that I proudly hold the degree of Master of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with a minor in Advanced Chemotherapy.
Let us look forward with hope while holding the memory of our hardships close, as that is what reminds us that we are alive.