Raelea Lynn Webster, MS/MHC ’17


August 28, 2017

Mental Health Counselor, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

[as told to Jennifer Schaffer Leone]

Raelea Lynn Webster, MS/MHC ’17“Last April, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—a disease of the very young and the very old—not a common diagnosis for a health-conscious, gym-going 26-year-old who held two jobs and was working to complete her graduate studies internship. But swollen lymph nodes—the size of golf balls—infiltrated my neck and signaled that I would need to confront my mortality before I planned on it. I was forced to put all activities on hold as I was admitted to Hackensack University Medical Center. The Center became my new home. From my hospital room window, I had a breathtaking view of the New York City skyline. Outside seemed so close, but so far away. . . . I underwent batteries of tests and procedures—lumbar punctures, bone marrow aspirates and biopsies—and treatments, including chemotherapy. I suffered through the adverse effects of treatment: infections, nausea, insomnia, peripheral neuropathy, hair loss. The worst part was the constant frustration; I just wanted to be normal again. But my lymph nodes shrunk, and for that I am grateful. At present, I am in remission. . . . Because of cancer, my life’s trajectory has changed. I live in the moment. I prioritize better, and I spend quality time with people I love. I am even more spiritual. I meditate. My professional ambitions have shifted. I now intend to practice mental health counseling in a hospital setting, offering group therapy, working with cancer patients post-treatment. I have a profound understanding of what they face. I know the exhaustion of fighting every day—through intense pain, through anxiety, through depression—and that the key is to fight some of the time and then to thrive off of the fight. At the same time, I know what it is like to surrender independence, to become dependent on others for personal and professional needs. I have discovered that family, friends, my healthcare team want to help me, need to help me. I have come to realize that the therapeutic effects of this dependency are bidirectional. This is something I never grasped. But it is, after all, the core of mental health treatment. How can I ever help my clients if I don’t understand how to accept help myself?”