This article was written by lymphoma survivor Claudia Martino
I wanted to share a part of my story with this community because we obviously have some things in common! I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at four years old and again at 11 years old. I am now seven years in remission. I am writing this article to share with you what I learned from the Kids Write Network (KWN) process that has helped me identify my coping mechanisms which today I re-use over and over again especially during this epidemic.
I became an author at 12 years old. I wrote and published the book My Magic Box after my second bout with cancer back in 2013. I had spent pretty much a full year working with the KWN program on my story. What started off as a story, has become so much more for me today. My experience was super positive and I am who I am today because of it.
So here I am again reliving the same feelings I had once upon a time in the isolation room except that this time, it has nothing to do with cancer. Ironically, it’s pretty much the same sense; having no control over what is going on and yet, the feelings that are coming up are identical! I have struggled a lot with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and still do today but I now know how to cope with it and get through some of the basic "normal" everyday life experiences.
Isolation was one of the toughest parts of my whole cancer experience. I was isolated in a hospital room for 6 weeks, the period was hard because I could not leave the room unless I was going to take shower. I was not allowed to have anyone just come into my room and have physical contact with my family and friends. The way I coped in the hospital for 6 weeks was keeping busy. I knew I had to look forward to when I would get out but I wasn’t there yet. One of the things that I was able to experience and look forward to was when it was time for my session with KWN program. It would distract me from my illness and allow me to escape into my storytelling world as I developed what would become My Magic Box.
I had many visitors that kept me company; I would play on the computer, on my iPad and listen to music on my iPod. I also had a tutor that would come and we would play educational games. Going home after the 6 weeks was just the greatest feeling because I was in the comfort of my own home. It was still tough because I was not allowed to leave my house and I couldn’t have any visitors. Sound familiar? Looking ahead was the biggest thing that got me through this whole isolation period. I used what I learned with the 6 steps from the program to reflect on my journey, what I had overcome and what I had to look forward to. I learned how to tap into my coping skills by doing things that gave me peace of mind as much as possible. I am not an artist by no means, but drawing and journaling became my escape. I knew that I had to go back and apply what I learned and this is exactly what I am doing today. I am talking myself out of my moments when my PTSD hits, lifting myself out of the moments of depression that come with the situation we are living but most of all looking forward to hugging my family and just be face to face with people.
Now in present day, this whole COVID-19 crisis has got me re-living the isolation and has me stressing but I just continue what I learnt which was to look ahead to when WE AS A WHOLE will be free once again to go out and finally just get back to "normal." My self-talk is what I learned to change. This has made a huge difference in my daily activities because I have learned what my coping tools are and I can reach into my toolbox of my coping skills and use the ones I need depending on how I feel! Here is a little exercise you can do that I would like to share with you- take a piece of paper and pen, now make 2 columns. On one side write all the things you have had to overcome and on the other side, write what you learned from each event you had to overcome. Now start to measure them and compare to today. You see? Today we are pretty ok compared to where our journey has taken us, right?
My wish for you all is to know that you are not alone, know that you do have others to lean on and even though only we really understand our pain and suffering, sharing it whether it is by writing or talking truly helps bring a sense of order in our brain that reduces the chaos, empowers us and helps us keep the pieces together so we can feel whole again.