Chelsey Gomez of Ohyouresotough: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

--

Sugar doesn’t feed cancer. Lemons don’t cure cancer. Dancing under the moonlight at 3am with a lucky rabbit foot tied to your hand won’t cure cancer. Unfortunately cancer is one of those things that attracts a bunch of crazy and unsolicited opinions. Do your best to educate yourself and nod and smile — and keep walking when a cancer “muggle” tries to tell you they would NEVER do chemotherapy. They would just eat 10 pounds of kale to cure their cancer.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelsey Gomez.

Chelsey Gomez is a 31 year old artist and two time cancer survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She is the owner of the cancer awareness brand “Ohyouresotough” which sells humorous nontraditional cancer products on Etsy. She has also developed an online community on Instagram, which aims to change the way society views cancer patients, especially young adult cancer patients. She resides in Florida with her husband Michael and her 5 year old daughter Luna.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in central Florida. I was raised primarily by my mom Lisa and my step dad Chris. I have one brother named Brandon who is 7 years younger. I met my husband Michael at a very young age and we have been together for 17 years. I was always a very hard working and motivated person. I attended the University of Central Florida and majored in Business. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer I worked a typical office job in the insurance industry.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote that resonates with me especially after cancer is “Never be too busy living that you forget to make a life.” Prior to cancer a lot of my identity was wrapped up in climbing the corporate ladder. I was working 70–80 hours a week trying to achieve monetary success. Once I got sick, that part of my identity was almost destroyed overnight. I was sick. I couldn’t work. I was no longer useful in my mind. I now see that I was so busy “living” that I truly wasn’t making a life. Your life is not defined by a job.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?

As I mentioned, I was working a lot. Naturally, with that level of work comes fatigue. I was always exhausted, I was short of breath, and I was losing weight. That last part was okay with me but when I lost ten pounds in one month I was concerned. It was never that easy for me! I went to several doctors about a variety of symptoms trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally, approximately 9 months into my hectic career and increasing strange symptoms — I found a lump on my neck. It was a swollen lymph node. After it did not go away after 2 weeks of high dose antibiotics, my family forced me to go to the ER. It was there that a simple chest x-ray showed a huge mass in my chest. I had my first ever surgery the next day for a biopsy which confirmed I had stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In October of 2019 my cancer relapsed and was the exact same cancer and stage. I underwent a stem cell transplant in April 2020 in the middle of lockdown.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

The scariest part of this entire event was … well… everything. When you are diagnosed with cancer it disrupts absolutely everything in your life. Most importantly, I was scared that I would die and leave my daughter without a mother. My daughter was only 3 at the time I was diagnosed.

How did you react in the short term?

In the short term I coped by basically falling into the exact societal expectation of a cancer patient. I was depressed and scared but I put on a happy face. I found myself comforting other people about my diagnosis instead of the other way around.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

When my cancer relapsed I took a whole new approach. I decided I was done making everyone comfortable with my cancer. I wanted to speak openly about the true experience of a cancer patient. I pulled out my phone and started filming a video which I subsequently uploaded to YouTube. I began documenting much of my experience on my Youtube channel as a way to process what I was experiencing and help others. I had always had a goal in my life to help others, but never guessed that it would manifest itself in this way. I also began creating art. I have always been a creative person, but drawing was something I thought only amazing artists could do. I started sharing my blunt yet humorous art pieces about cancer on Instagram and got a wonderful response.

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

My husband is absolutely an angel for all he did for me during cancer and beyond. I was never a person who was okay with conflict or difficult conversations. I often tried to gloss over the bad (hello, I did that with cancer the first time)… but my husband helped me see that was not the best approach. He helped me talk about all the feelings I had — bad, ugly, and even uglier. He reminded me that I was not alone and that I was loved.

In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?

I tried to kill you but I also did it to save you. Cancer isn’t something I would ever choose. However, cancer completely changed my life and in many ways- for the better. My whole life has a lot more meaning post cancer.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?

About myself, I learned that I was placing too much emphasis on “traditional success” aka the American dream. So much of my identity was wrapped up in my job, but that job defined nothing of who I truly was. I have learned that society doesn’t want the reality of difficult topics such as cancer. They only want the view of difficulty when it comes with a success story or rose colored glasses. We don’t allow space for people to feel sad or angry. We expect constant positivity even in the face of major life upheaval. Example, when I relapsed I was afraid to tell people at first because I felt I was letting them down. I was holding myself responsible for other people’s emotions regarding my battle for my life.

How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?

When I relapsed I kind of threw caution to the wind so to speak and started talking about the reality of cancer. My YouTube videos on the subject have now translated into a career in art. I began drawing humorous and eye opening comics that illustrate cancer. The actual cancer experience. This led to the beginning of my personal instagram turning into a sort of cancer community. It also led to a business for me- I opened an Etsy shop to make products for cancer patients that were non-traditional. My first ever design was “My Lymph Nodes are Assholes” — which is exactly how I felt about mine. My brand and page is called “Ohyouresotough”.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel? That people have unlimited support and understanding from their family, friends, or significant others. Most cancer patients are “ghosted” by friends, judged by family, and even sometimes left by their partners. Cancer is a lonely place to be.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be selfish. When you are diagnosed with cancer a sort of crown is set upon your head that shines a light out attracting those around you. That girl you once sat next to in high school science class? She’ll probably reach out to you even though you haven’t spoken in 20 years. Don’t text her back unless you really want to. Don’t post your diagnosis on Facebook unless you really want to. You decide and you are in charge. You don’t owe anything to anyone but yourself. When I first was diagnosed I spent hours a day texting back every single person — sharing details of my cancer and treatment that were painful to me. Things I really didn’t want to share with people who weren’t a real part of my life.
  2. Prioritize your mental health- especially after cancer treatment ends. When you are diagnosed with cancer obviously many mental health issues arise : depression, anxiety, etc. Even the girl on the billboard smiling with her bald head probably goes home at night and sits on her Mychart account until 3am reading her records. You need support — professional support. I would enroll in therapy proactively and don’t wait until treatment is over. When treatment is over the fight or flight mode you’ve been existing in is over — and everything your body and brain has been protecting you from — hits you like a freight train.
  3. Find a community. Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, in person groups — wherever you can find a community of like minded individuals dealing with cancer — go there and join in. Nobody understands what you are going through unless they themselves have had cancer. The sense of validation and being seen that a cancer family or community brings to you- is irreplaceable.
  4. Reframe your ideals about cancer. Truly even this question asking “5 things you need to beat cancer” makes me cringe a little. It should be “5 things you need to cope with cancer”. The reality is — battle metaphors such as fighter and battle set you up for failure. It makes it seem like those who die from cancer are somehow less or didn’t try hard enough. That simply isn’t the case. Nobody “loses” their battle with cancer — some just simply have cancer that can be successfully treated and some don’t. Further, cancer doesn’t make one an inspiration. You don’t meet someone who had a heart attack and right off start calling them an inspiration. Cancer is an illness. it is not your new identity. You do NOT have to be strong. You do NOT have to be brave. You can admit when you are sad, angry, etc and should expect to be supported and seen. You don’t need to be more positive… you just need to be exactly who you are.
  5. Sugar doesn’t feed cancer. Lemons don’t cure cancer. Dancing under the moonlight at 3am with a lucky rabbit foot tied to your hand won’t cure cancer. Unfortunately cancer is one of those things that attracts a bunch of crazy and unsolicited opinions. Do your best to educate yourself and nod and smile — and keep walking when a cancer “muggle” tries to tell you they would NEVER do chemotherapy. They would just eat 10 pounds of kale to cure their cancer…

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

To see cancer as it truly is and to allow it to authentically exist in society. Cancer patients have two “battles” — against their illness and against the expectations of others. So many people would feel “seen”, loved, and supported if people would simply say “You know what, cancer simply SUCKS and I love you.” Don’t try to fix it, don’t stick a pretty ribbon on it… just acknowledge and see us.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

This is probably a very non-traditional answer, but music has always been something that has brought me comfort in my life. Particularly my favorite band — Taking Back Sunday. Their music has been a constant in my life from the age of 12 and I am 31 now. I have been a preteen, teenager, young adult, professional woman, mother, and cancer patient — all while listening to their music which has always meant so much to me. I would really love to have lunch with them sometime.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I have an Instagram, Etsy, Youtube, Twitter, and Tiktok — all under the name Ohyouresotough.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

--

--

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor