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Grant Winner: Rachel Trieu

Hi! I’m Rachel. I went from being a hyper independent 31-year-old woman to a cancer patient in a hospital for eight months of straight chemotherapy. Luckily, I was able to get on oral chemotherapy and regain some semblance of life again. I have been using this time to make the most out of it and live every moment fully. I currently have Stage IV Synovial Sarcoma that has metastasized to my lungs.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was unbearably and toxically positive. I was one of those, who preplanned for chemotherapy with a to-go bag, watched countless YouTube videos to be prepared for cancer, and already was looking up juicing recipes that “help combat cancer.”

Due to a strict upbringing and a horrible relationship, 31-year-old me was hyper independent. I was in my “boss babe” era as I had just been cheated on. Shortly after the breakup, I went on my own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey for six months across the United States – although it was more like “Sleep, Smoke, Meditate.” I felt fearless and powerful, and I was finally completely independent from everything and everybody.

So, you can imagine how I was quickly humbled with a slap in the face from God, and it all happened in a Walmart parking lot. It was 11 p.m. and I had completed my first week of chemotherapy. I was still irritatingly positive because I grew up in a household where “sadness” and “anger” were negative emotions. I felt like absolute trash, but I was still bottling it all in and telling myself I was okay. I had finished my first week, look at me go.

Suddenly, I had the uncontrollable urge to throw up.

“What is happening? What is going on? I didn’t have any of this nausea during the week.”

I start walking to the local Walmart and I rush in right before they close and grab some Tums to ease my stomach. I still keep telling myself that I’m so strong, I’ve got this.

“I went through this entire week of chemo by myself. I am a strong, independent woman who can do this by myself.”

I'm at the checkout and I can feel myself throwing up in my mouth and I just smile and swallow it back down. As soon as I leave the store, I pop a few Tums in my mouth I run to the side of the curb to start the walk back to my condo.

“See? I am a strong, independent woman. I can handle cancer all by myself. I don’t need anyone’s help.”

A few steps off the curb into the parking lot. Uh-oh. I didn’t see this on YouTube.

“I’m a strong, indepen-”

It starts coming up.

“I’m a strong, ind-”

I take another step.

“I’m a s-s-s-”

I throw up everywhere. I look like the Grudge, wailing with throw up on the edge of a Walmart parking lot, right next to the bushes at midnight. I am a 100 percent certain I could have made a grown man cry and quiver with fear at the sight of me.

“I’m a mess.”

I finally admit it. I’m a mess. I haven’t processed these emotions. I was never allowed to feel these emotions before. I didn’t tell my family because I thought I could do chemo alone. Hilarious, I KNOW.

At that moment, everything changed for me. It was traumatizing then, but when I see how far I’ve come, one year later, it makes me laugh. Cancer will humble the crap out of you, literally.

You will need to throw up in Walmart parking lots. You will have diarrhea at Barnes & Noble, and the nurse may pump you with too much Ativan before you find out what works for you.

All I can say is that I’m so grateful and blessed that my family and friends have supported me throughout my cancer journey. It’s not easy, and I know I have a long, long way to go, but I also know that I have come such a long way from the prideful girl who threw up in a Walmart parking lot.

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