Galen Storey was six weeks into the first semester of her junior year when she noticed an unusual lump on her pelvis. The Texas Christian University (TCU) education major was relieved when a doctor’s visit determined that it was likely just a cyst.
When an attempt to drain the cyst and a round of antibiotics were ineffective, she was referred to an oncologist with the hope that the protrusion was merely a benign tumor. While her peers sat in class, Storey sat on a hospital bed in a post-surgery recovery room. The news was not good.
“…young adults can and do get cancer. We’re kind of this hidden demographic of cancer patients who are looked over. I don’t think there is a spot for us in the cancer world, and I’m blown away by that.”Galen Storey
“My doctor came in and I could tell something was wrong,” Storey recalled. “She sat on my bed and said, ‘The good news is that we got it all out. Unfortunately, it was cancerous.’”
Storey was diagnosed with stage three alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. The weight of the news didn’t immediately resonate. An hour later, Storey cried. When she returned to school a couple of days later, it would be to withdraw.
“I was just about to walk into the school building when my doctor called,” Storey said. “She said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but you need to plan for intense treatment.’ At that point, it was real. I didn’t go back to class that day. I decided to drop out for the semester, which was really hard.”
The phone call was a prelude to a long cancer treatment regimen that would require 42 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. Storey, then 21-years-old, was in a sorority she loved and was entering some of the best years of her life. It felt unnatural to put her life on hold, but no matter the circumstance, she decided to stay true to herself.When Storey began losing her hair, she shaved it off, took a selfie and posted it to Instagram as a way of officially announcing her cancer diagnosis to her friends. When she was feeling well, she would go out to eat or stay in with friends and watch movies. She had many close friends who supported, visited and kept her life somewhat normal amidst the nauseating chemotherapy and physically-draining radiation treatments.
When Storey didn’t feel social, she turned to writing. Putting her thoughts and experiences on paper became cathartic and the support she received helped rebuild her confidence.
Following treatment, Storey restarted her junior year. Her friends helped her get back into the swing of college life, and after nearly a year of being too sick to live apart from her family, she began to regain her independence. She arrived on the other side of her cancer journey a different person.
“Cancer changed me in a million, bazillion ways,” Storey said. “It gave me a new perspective on life. I mean, there I was, a super-typical 21-year-old, and I got cancer. It opened my eyes to the reality that we only have so many days on earth. I think we all take that for granted.”
Despite her positive support system, Storey couldn’t ignore the lack of tailored cancer support offered to young people.
“When most people think of cancer, they probably think of their grandparents or the sweet kids you see on TV who don’t have any hair,” she said. “But young adults can and do get cancer. We’re kind of this hidden demographic of cancer patients who are looked over. I don’t think there is a spot for us in the cancer world, and I’m blown away by that. I mean, having cancer as a young adult is not a new thing. I’m thankful that people have identified a need and are working to create a place for people my age.”
Storey is now a senior and has plans to pursue her master’s degree following graduation. She uses her experiences as a way to encourage and inspire other young adults who, like her, had to put their lives on hold because of a cancer diagnosis. Her advice to others her age is to hold on to that which makes your life unique.
“Hold on to the normal things,” Storey said. “If you always go to a certain place with your friends for dinner, go to those places or have them bring that to you. When you have that taken away from you, that’s all you want, so cherish the little things. And don’t be afraid to be yourself through the whole experience or be afraid to laugh at things that come with your situation, because sometimes that’s all you can do.”
This article is a part of a series of stories that highlight the life-changing impact cancer has in the lives of local young people. The Fort Worth AYA Oncology Coalition exists to ensure that all cancer patients, survivors and their families have relevant resources, comprehensive support and specialized care they deserve. Learn how you can help us make that a reality at our North Texas Giving Day headquarters.