Leukemia survivor’s blog lets people with cancer know they are not alone
At a time when Aspen Heidekrueger’s high school classmates were thinking about what to wear to the prom and whether their team would win the big game, she was instead wondering if she would survive the cancer that was wracking her body.
This is my story, beginning to end, with all the gory details"
Heidekrueger was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 12. For the next three years, she fought to survive grueling chemotherapy and high-dose steroid treatments.
Now cancer-free, Heidekrueger is a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, studying philosophy with a communication minor. She’s interested in ethics and metaphysics, fascinated by the kinds of questions that don’t have firm answers but which she enjoys delving into.
Questions such as: Does God exist? How did the universe come into existence? What can we know about reality?
As a way to work through her cancer experiences and fulfill a desire to share her story, Heidekrueger has designed and built a blog called Complicated Cancer to spread cancer awareness and offer advice and encouragement to patients and survivors.
She wants people with cancer to know they are not alone.
“Anyone out there who’s surviving cancer, trying to recover after chemotherapy, or supporting a loved one who is struggling, just know that help is out there,” she said. “I created this blog to connect all of us.”
She has much to share.
Because of her age at diagnosis, Heidekrueger was considered a high-risk patient. For the first 18 months of her treatment, she endured intense pain and dealt with numerous physical side effects, including hair loss, neuropathy in her hands and feet, and nausea.
“The chemotherapy did its job killing the cancer, but my body didn’t handle it very well,” she said. “During the first treatment, I went into a coma for seven days. My doctors thought the chemotherapy would kill me. When I woke up, I was in so much pain I felt like I was going to die.”
For three years, cancer, chemotherapy and emergency surgeries put her life at risk.
Through the entire ordeal, she managed to keep up with her studies, so she only missed one year of high school. During treatment, returning to school was difficult. Just walking was a struggle, let alone carrying a backpack full of books. As challenging as the physical part was, she also faced a struggle she hadn’t expected and wasn’t prepared to cope with: The social aspect of cancer.
“It was a disaster,” she said. “Everyone in my school was generally nice to me, but conversations never got below surface-level topics, like the weather. When my peers asked how I was doing, they caught themselves and had panic on their faces. You could see them thinking, ‘Oh, no, what do I say now?’ Even after I finished my treatment, I couldn’t get past the ‘girl with cancer’ social perception they had of me.”
Despite being cancer-free now, Aspen’s health battle continues. Years of intense chemotherapy and high-dose steroids have left her with chronic health problems. Doctor’s appointments and hospital visits have become frequent occurrences.
Even just a year ago, emergency abdominal surgery was necessary to remove the scar tissue built up from a previous surgery. Years of physical and emotional trauma have also forced her to wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and panic attacks.
But she refuses to allow the events of her past or the challenges of the present to prevent her from pursuing her goals.
Writing on her blog has been cathartic for Heidekrueger, and she presents the information unvarnished, yet in a lighthearted way. The goals of Complicated Cancer are to share her story and experiences; spread awareness about cancer; and offer encouragement, advice and information to those who battle the disease.
As she pursues her bachelor’s degree at CU Boulder, she hopes to connect with a community of friends.
Her plans are to continue to grow her website—including adding discussion boards, selling items of use to cancer patients, and finding new ways to promote her content—to try to reach as many people as possible. She’s eager to be a resource.
“This is my story, beginning to end, with all the gory details,” she said. “I don’t want to sound like I know everything. I’m just like anyone who has struggles and challenges they’re trying to figure out. But I hope this will help those who read it.”
You can find her website here: https://complicatedcancer.com/