At age 21, Sarah Gordon never thought she would hear the words "You have cancer," much less "You may need a cane, and you'll probably never be able to run or bike again."
The news from Gordon's doctor seemed to come out of nowhere. She had just finished a 500-mile bike race from Minneapolis to Chicago, her hometown. She worked out regularly to keep fit. Running and biking were part of her routine, and she also walked to class every day like many other students living on campus at Miami University of Ohio.
Presumably the picture of health, her first thought after hearing her diagnosis was "How is this happening to me?"
In her senior year of college when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer known as soft tissue sarcoma, Gordon first went to the doctor after feeling pain in her posterior while sitting. Initially, doctors thought it may have been a calcium deposit, but after further tests, she learned the softball-size lump in her right buttock was malignant.
High-profile cancer patients like Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow received a lot of publicity as they told the world about their cancer diagnoses during the past week.
But not every cancer patient is lucky enough to get widespread public support as they fight the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1,444,920 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year alone. Of those diagnosed, an estimated 70,000 will be between 18 and 40 years old.
"These 70,000 voices are the smallest and hardest to hear sometimes," Gordon said.
Gordon was diagnosed with cancer in January 2003. She recalls the day distinctly.
"I remember being with my mom and checking our messages from home. My doctor had called, so we immediately called him back. I watched my mother's face twitch and she broke down to me saying, 'You have cancer.'"
The news devastated Gordon. She lashed out, emotionally broke down, and even physically broke down -- smashing a window out of anger. But days later her mood quickly changed to optimism.
"I will beat this," she told a group of friends in her college apartment
She had to leave her college in Ohio to return home to Chicago. Two months and two surgeries later, Sarah felt weak.
Lying in her hospital bed at 2:15 a.m., Sarah spilled her feelings on paper:
"I'm less than 32 hours away from the injection of clear fluids in a green bag marked 'Hazardous Materials.' I'm lying here in cold sweats of fear. What happened to all those fearless and worriless nights? I'm scared, I'm really scared. I just want someone to tell me that I'm going to be OK after this intense treatment. Can anyone? God, do I have control? Do we have control? Or is it just you who has control?"
Gordon endured six weeks of radiation, two surgeries and five months of chemotherapy, in addition to many more injections and countless cold sweats of fear. She lost her hair, she lost muscle, and she was starting to lose faith.
"Death was a daily thought for me. I thought the treatment was going to kill me more than the cancer would," she recalled.
And then she made a frightening decision in the summer 2003 -- to stop all chemotherapy treatments.