Young Adult Survivor - Elexa Kopty

Diagnosis
Hodgkin Lymphoma
Date of Last Treatment
April 2010
Cancer-fighting Motto
One day at a time!

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma when I was 20 years old. I was in my third year of college and it was finals week when I found the lump in my neck. The next day, my life changed forever. The doctor in the hospital emergency room told me, "We can't say for sure, but this looks a lot like cancer."

The first time I walked into Roswell Park was surreal. I'll never forget looking up at the sign above the entrance emblazoned 'Cancer Institute,' and feeling like this all must be a big misunderstanding. I didn't belong here. Little did I know, this would soon become my safe place. During my chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the pediatric unit was my second home. My doctors and nurses were my dear friends. I celebrated my last day of treatment with a cookie cake and silly string from the staff. After my treatment was over, I felt sad and confused and found myself back there asking for help. I'd come for follow-up appointments riddled with anxiety, but also found comfort in seeing familiar faces who always asked how I was doing or commented on my growing hair.

One of the biggest challenges of a cancer diagnosis for a young adult is coming to terms with who you are after it's all said and done. I struggled for several years trying to figure out what to do with a life that I felt I almost lost. In the end, I kept coming back to the idea that I wanted to help people the way I was helped. I went back to school for my master's degree in social work, and during that time had the opportunity to work as an intern at Roswell Park. I learned to provide psychosocial support to patients and families experiencing cancer, and though it was familiar to me, each day brought new challenges and more to learn.

I realize now that while my cancer does not define me, it has undoubtedly shaped who I've become. Today, I'm six years cancer-free and I'm a social worker at a hospital in Chicago, Illinois. No matter how much education or training I get, I believe that my most valuable work experience will always come from being a patient. Every time I walk in to a patient's room, I try to remember what it was like to be on their side. I try to have compassion and empathy and patience. I tell them I'll be thinking about them, because I will. And I hope it makes a difference.