Someone can say or do something to you one time in your life, and it can stay with you for the rest of your life.
To this day, I can see and hear kids making fun of me in the halls of my middle school. I was a scrawny kid, who had rapidly lost weight after treatment had started. Stretch marks remain to this day along the sides of my thighs. My head was completely bald due to the chemotherapy. I was given permission to wear a baseball cap to school. Walking up the stairs was hard. They let me take the elevator up.
“No hats allowed in school!” said a student, who then proceeded to take mine off.
“Hey, look! It’s an alien!” someone else said.
Other kids laughed, as a teacher retrieved my hat and allowed me to continue on my way to class. I tried to hold back my tears. I would cry later when I got home if I could wait that long.
The taunting did not stop at my wearing a hat. I would be told by students I was not allowed to take the elevator (even though the school gave me permission to do so). After my chemotherapy treatments, my energy level was severely low. Walking up a flight of stairs resulted in me being so winded, I could hardly breathe.
“Hey, no students allowed on the elevator!” said the security guard. “Take the stairs.”
It was an argument I conceded to very early on. I took the stairs. It felt like a hike up Mount Everest each time.
My attendance was spotty. Every couple of weeks, I was back in the hospital for treatment. That meant missing classes and the assignments that came with them. Upon returning to school, I was reminded of how little I knew about the subjects. Needless to say, my classmates were not enthused when I was assigned to be in their group for projects. My contributions were little to none. Or wrong.
I was desperate for company and friendship from kids my age. Most of my company had been adults (nurses, doctors, specialists, oncologists, psychologists, teachers, principals, and so on). But being gone so much of the year left me feeling like an outsider to my peer group each time I came back. Like the classwork, I missed the recesses and lunches that kids normally spend together while bonding over their latest crush or having weekend sleepovers. I felt alone in a sea of backpacks, ponytails, and inside jokes.
As time went on, my treatment came to an end. But I would still be left feeling isolated as I progressed into the next two grade levels. Although my treatment had ended, my pain was ongoing.
Teachers would say, “She’s not in treatment anymore, so she can do the work,” despite me having missed substantial coursework the prior year. My “friends” (if you could even call them that) had grown apart from me. I felt like an extra wheel that did not fit. Like I was dead weight to them.
These events would then lead to thoughts and feelings of wanting to be dead myself.
It is ironic. After evading death, I wanted to die anyway.
Natalie Frazier with her faithful companion, Muffin, while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Circa 2000; 11 years old.
Though my cancer was behind me, there were repercussions that followed me into adulthood. These obstacles were unexpected and emotionally draining. The emotional healing that came from these experiences took a lot of years and a lot of therapy sessions. Going into romantic relationships, new friendships, and new environments remained challenging. My family was supportive throughout it all, but it was still difficult for them to understand and relate to me. I could only talk to them about so much. I needed professional help from someone outside of my personal life.
I was invited to a childhood cancer camp and that changed my life. I met other kids my age who had gone through similar things. We had an unspoken bond. We “got it” because we understood what it was like to be the “cancer kid.” Additionally, talking to a professional therapist who was not involved in my personal life, though hard at first, was incredibly helpful. It took a few before I found one that was a good match. The therapeutic relationship is kind of like blind dating – sometimes it is a good match, and sometimes it’s not. It takes time to find someone you are comfortable with.
As my therapists helped me gain self-confidence and purpose, I became more and more able to redefine my life. They helped me spread my wings, helped me learn to fly, and cheered me on as I went forth with a new sense of self.
One of the reasons I was drawn to this field may be that I know how much therapy has helped me personally. If it were not for my own journey of healing, I would have very much been stuck in the same headspace as the 11 or 12-year-old who was bullied in school – isolated, alone, and not wanting to live. Now, I am so grateful that I am here.
Cancer was the worst and the best thing that has ever happened to me. Without having had this experience, my perspective on life and relationships would have been much different than it is today. A lot of my gratitude goes toward those who professionally helped me overcome those difficult moments.
I can still remember those kids in the hallway, taunting and teasing me, pulling my hat off, and exposing my bald head. More than 20 years later, those memories have not gone away. What has gone away, however, is my suffering.
After a long journey of healing, I can now say that those memories no longer hinder me or hold me back. I also know now that my worth did not come from their jokes or judgments. I am worth so much more than that.
Life, for me, is now worth living.
Natalie Frazier, LMFT Associate
Natalie’s work is primarily focused on Couples and Individual Adults. She is experienced in grief and loss counseling, traumas (sexual and life-threatening), marital relations (including communication skills and infidelity), and emotion regulation (such as anger management and depression). She seeks to be an ally to all communities.
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