A Journey of 1,000 Steps Starts with an Ugly Pair of Socks
When you’re 21 and spend as much time as I did focused on eating well, exercising, and doing the things you knew were meant to keep your body healthy, it’s really weird to find out you have cancer.
My name is Jake, I’m a Refractory Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and I’m the founder of Resilience.
Each time you’re admitted to the hospital as an in-patient, you’re given a welcome package of sorts: a gown and a pair of poorly made non-slip socks. Initially, I wore those lifeless beige socks and embraced my role as a patient, but the more time I spent in the hospital, the more I started bringing my own socks in. Fun socks. Socks with fish. Socks with dinosaurs. Socks with wolves. And it helped. It may seem ridiculous, but that little change reminded me that ultimately, I was in control of my experience. Whatever the circumstances, no matter how little I wanted to be isolated in the hospital, I could choose to use this as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person.
Meanwhile, as days inside the hospital turned into weeks, I received an outpouring of support from people I would’ve never expected to hear from. My high school honored me at a basketball game and Skyped me in so I could see the ceremony. It was awesome. And then something strange happened. The next day I found out that fans had passed around a hat to collect donations to send to me. I was sick and needed to get better, but I wasn’t struggling to pay for that treatment. My insurance was covering the bulk of my expenses and I was fortunate to have family that could help with the smaller expenses. Here was a community wanting to provide support in any way possible and here I was, on a hospital floor with people that needed that money so much more than I did.
Resilience is about lending support to those people that need it. We use our passion for fun socks to represent the individual struggle of each patient we work with and harness the power of community to help those who are especially financially-strapped patients to get the care they need.
So... Why Resilience?
The idea for Resilience may have fallen into my lap when I was given my umpteenth pair of boring non-slip hospital socks, but it remained just an idea until my journey with cancer forced me to reconsider what I knew about resilience.
When I was diagnosed in May of 2015, I was wrapping up my junior year of college and knee deep in No Bad Apple, a project I had been working on for 2 years to make local and organic foods more easily accessible for busy professionals. As a first time entrepreneur, I was gradually adapting to a difficult learning curve and after two consecutive successful small scale pilots, things were looking up for us as we geared to open on a larger scale for the upcoming fall semester. Cancer, in my opinion, didn’t really have justification to disrupt those plans.
After proving to myself and family that I was tolerating the chemotherapy well enough to return to school, I drove down to Wake Forest University to begin the balancing act of running a business, biweekly chemo, and being a student. Walking a thin line between resilience and stupidity, the weekly juggle took a toll on my physical and mental capacity; but all things considered, I felt like I was managing it well.
Then, just after midterms I received a call from my doctor alerting me that the most recent PET scan showed the lymphoma clusters in my chest continuing to grow despite the chemotherapy. We had to begin a more aggressive plan. She then very frankly explained to me that due to the intensity of the new treatment plan and frequent hospitalizations, the rest of the semester would have to be put on hold.
I thought I knew what it meant to be resilient, I thought resilience was about persevering through trying times.
When I returned to school that fall, I resisted telling many of my classmates about my diagnosis because I didn’t want to be pitied. In my mind, part of this challenge was not only about sustaining inner strength, but also managing how others interpreted my well-being. Was I scared to be vulnerable? Yes.
What I misunderstood is that resilience isn’t necessarily about persevering through trying times on your own. When you’re sick, you are vulnerable whether you want to admit it or not. Don’t get me wrong, being independently strong is absolutely essential to your recovery. After all, what other choice do you have when you’re hospitalized for weeks at a time watching your muscle atrophy, losing so much strength that you have difficulty standing up? When you’re looking at yourself in the mirror day after day and not so gradually your hairless face becomes bonier, your eyes more sunken, what choice do you have but to stare into the depths of your soul and question what strength you have left?
While Resilience may begin with the self, it doesn’t end there. Occasionally, day after day of staring into those sunken eyes, doubt will creep in—it is merely a product of our human nature. Doubt that challenges the very essence of who you are as an individual, doubt that questions whether or not you have the strength to defeat a disease killing you from the inside out. It’s at these moments when we’re most vulnerable, and it’s at these moments when we need external support to bolster our resilience. For me, it was a letter from a professor, it was a group of friends driving 1100 miles to give me a hug, it was an absurd music video created by siblings and cousins, it was a pair of socks, reminding me what it felt like to be loved and letting me know that despite the dilapidated state of my body and mind, I had others fighting to lift my spirit.
Resilience Project is about fighting to become stronger. Stronger in body. Stronger in mind. Stronger in spirit. It’s about embracing terrible circumstances to learn and grow as a person. It’s about sending support, love, and of course, awesome socks, to someone that needs it.