“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Matthew Bristol

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Matthew Bristol:

Matthew Bristol holding a sign saying Despite my diagnosis, I still find ways to laugh.
Matthew Bristol

I’ve spent my entire life using humor as my go-to way of dealing with adversity. It’s given me a pretty good sense of humor, at least in my opinion, although some of my professors may disagree. No matter how bad things get I still find ways to laugh. My family often says, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can always laugh at your enemies!” From my earliest years, I’ve done comedy writing with my family, and one of my greatest passions in life is not just cheering myself up but getting others to smile and laugh.

Even at my lowest points during my time in the hospital I still remember drawing cat faces on medical masks because it gave me a laugh and made others smile. Later in life, this would include such things as wearing a full suit ensemble and a box cut to be a knight’s helmet on my head, to deliver the newspapers.

I sometimes like to joke that my life started at its lowest point, so it’s only up from there. At times that can be debated, but despite all of this, it’s still an upward climb. I was born unable to breathe and extremely ill, and my doctor found that I had encephalitis, swelling of the brain due to infection. Seizures soon followed that has lasted my entire life. Now begins the debate if that was the lowest point of my life. When I was three, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer that affects both blood cells and bone marrow. While I went into remission after many years of chemotherapy, I was left with mental and physical scars that haunt my life to this day. Some of them, such as those on my chest, is more literal than figurative. I dealt with this along with some general problems that arose as I grew up. Because of the chemotherapy, I developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis which caused depression and weight gain. I haven’t always been this impressively sleek and aerodynamic.

One of my earliest memories of my mothers sometimes alternative sense of humor was at Disneyland when I was on vacation thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation. A very rude woman approached my mother at the pool where I was swimming and pointed at the hole in my chest and bellowed out “What happened to him!” My dear mother, never at a loss for words simply said back “He was shot.” She didn’t have a response to that.

As I grew older anxiety and depression ruled my life and dictated much of my decisions. One of my biggest struggles in life has always been my Neuropathy that impairs my ability to write or work with my hands. Neuropathy leads to intermittent pain all throughout my body. This on top of one of the other symptoms that are often reported in those in remission from chemotherapy, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, memory loss, and memory loss. Cancer does not only impact you as you go through it but continues afterward, leaving lasting impacts on your body, varying differently from cancers and treatments. The side effects or “late effects” are especially prominent in young children. Lucky me.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled through my classes, and I’ve struggled through my writing. Whether for fun or for classes, I’ve always struggled to keep myself on task. I can’t count the number of times in my life I’ve stopped and simply said to myself “It may not be perfect. But I’m doing it. I will do my best.” I just keep on as a mantra, and no matter how it turns out. I will do it. Even as I write this now, my anxiety hinders me. I stop to rethink every word I say. I think and rethink everything I do.

During my time at CCM, I’ve joined in on many different clubs and taken many different roles. Despite all my troubles, I’ve found myself at home here. I’ve been the vice-president of the SGA and worked for and I run many other clubs and organizations on campus. Despite all my troubles in life, I’ve come to a point where I can get out of bed each morning and know there are people out there, I can’t wait to see and do stuff with.