As soon as I heard this assignment, I immediately knew who I should interview. However, just as quickly as the idea came, reservations did as well. What if it made her uncomfortable? Would asking about a more recent event be insensitive? Still, I knew that this could be a learning experience for me and a perfect example of immersion journalism, so, pushing aside my doubts, I asked Cali if I could interview her about her diagnosis with ovarian cancer. Much to my excitement, she eagerly agreed, more than willing to share her experience.
Cali was first diagnosed after going to the hospital due to pains in her abdomen during a volleyball practice. Eventually the results came in; Cali had two benign tumors on her ovaries, which the doctors said would have to be removed through surgery and chemotherapy. Her initial reaction was pure, stone-cold shock. She was the image of a healthy teenage girl: good diet, regular exercise from volleyball, and no prior history of cancer in her immediate family. How could this have happened?
Before Cali even got much of a chance to process this earth-shaking news, she was put under the influence of a cocktail of drugs to prep her for her first surgery. The sedative nature of her medications and the long preparation and recovery from her surgery ended up taking about a month out of her memory. When she woke up, she was happy to see the gifts from all of her many supporters filling her room and to see several visitors throughout the following week.
The issue of boredom quickly set itself into her daily routine as Cali struggled to keep herself occupied during her stay at the hospital. In order to do this, she would decorate her hospital room as much as she could (this was also with some added energy from steroids). Generally, her go-to activities were watching TV or doing some sort of craft to pass the time. In fact, one day she made over one hundred friendship bracelets and passed them to everyone she could find in the hospital, from doctors to nurses to other patients.
Still, the long road to recovery stretched out before her with no definite end in sight. As she began chemotherapy, she gradually began to lose her hair, eventually opting to shave her head. This, in addition to the weight she had gained due to her medicine, made her extremely nervous about how she would be received when she went back to school. She looked almost unrecognizable, had to quit volleyball, and was surrounded by people who were only now acting like they were friends with Cali. The idea of people pitying her and being “fake friends” was more difficult for her to deal with than any negative reaction she could possibly get.
Finally, after months of chemotherapy and a second surgery, Cali was officially declared cancer-free in November of 2015 and was able to return to her life, thankful to have been lucky enough to eliminate her cancer once and for all.
Hearing this story from Cali’s point of view definitely changed my understanding of her experience. I was there with her for several days in the hospital when she was first diagnosed, but we never really discussed the possibilities of her diagnosis or her feelings on the matter. I believe I had the ability to sympathize with Cali, because I felt terrible for her and wanted to help in any way I could. However, I think it was beyond me to empathize with her because I didn’t have a good grasp on what she had been going through and I had no experience that even came close to comparing with this ordeal.