October 20th, 2017
| Survivor: Hodgkin's Lymphoma
I had been overseas for 14 months directly before my diagnosis. I did the whole surprise-everyone-at-home-thing, that seems to be pretty common among young travellers when they decide to come home (always makes a great video to upload to fb when you capture the moment you jump out and surprise your family into tears). I was diagnosed almost immediately after arriving home and moved in with my brother in the small country town I grew up in. News travelled fast that I was home and I was constantly bumping into people that I knew, which always resulted in the “your trip looked amazing, what now?” or “where next?” conversation.
I knew I could only hide my illness for a short while until my hair started to fall out and I started to look sick.
I decided I didn’t want to have to explain myself to every person I bumped into and I also didn’t want to go to all of the effort to keep it all a big dark secret, so for this reason I decided to make a Facebook post outlining my diagnosis and what the plan was for the next few months. Luckily, I told my mum about 2 minutes before I posted online, so mum frantically rang my grandparents, aunties, uncles and close friends to let them know before they saw it. I’m grateful she did, so they didn’t have to find out online.I just didn’t want to have those conversations. Looking back now, I realise that I probably didn’t want to verbalise what was going on because then it made it real. Even in my Facebook post, I completely avoided the big C word. I didn’t say the word Cancer for months, finding other ways to have these awkward conversations, such as “I’m having treatment”, “I’m having Chemo”,”I’ve got Hodgkin’s” or “I’m being treated at Peter Mac”. Saying the word cancer seemed too strange, it still kind of does almost a year and a half later.
I felt like because my cancer was one of ‘the better ones’ and my prognosis was good that I didn’t deserve to use the word cancer.
I wanted that word to be reserved for the people that were really sick because that word initiates a response from people. The first thing that happens when you announce that you have cancer is a barrage of calls, voicemails, emails, messages, cards and people telling you how ‘strong’ and ‘ brave’ and ‘inspiring’ you are. I didn’t feel like I was any of those things. I wasn’t like a brave soldier going into battle, I didn’t bravely choose to have cancer, cancer chose me. I actually felt like a bit of a fraud because I was all of a sudden getting all of this positive attention and I hadn’t done anything. To me I was just doing what I had to do, I didn’t have any other option. Being treated in a cancer-only hospital is a bit of a strange thing. Once you walk in those doors, you know that every single person in there, whether patient, visitor, staff or volunteer, have all been impacted by cancer in a really dramatic way. I felt a really huge weight on my emotional state from knowing this. I guess I have a sensitive soul, which is probably why I went into a career in nursing. I would completely disregard my own illness and battles when I looked at the others I saw at the hospital and it upset me more than anything else. I felt grateful that I was in my situation but it was upsetting me to know what these other people were going through, people that had lost limbs, were in wheelchairs, had young children, were diagnosed while pregnant or some that knew they were going to die. How could I ever feel sorry for myself or feel like I was ‘brave’ or ‘inspiring’ when I was comparing myself to these people doing it so much tougher than myself.?
If I could have given a medal for bravery out to anyone while going through all this, I would probably give it to my mum.
Watching her only daughter go through cancer at 25 was extremely difficult for her but she held it together around me and was always my pillar of strength. She was there for every appointment, every scan, to rub my feet and bring me Nandos chips at every chemo session, she cooked for me, did my shopping and cleaning, dealt with organising all my appointments, correspondence to family to let them know how I was doing, all while keeping the family together and construction of the house that her and my dad were building on schedule. I know she had breakdowns when I wasn’t around, but she never let me see how much it was hurting her. To me, it’s people like my mum that really are ‘inspiring’.
Another low point come when I lost a dear friend that I met the day we both had diagnostic surgery at Peter Mac back in December 2015. I was finishing up my treatment and returning to the real world when she passed away. It didn’t seem fair to me and it made me feel guilty that I was still alive and she wasn’t. I’ve learnt now that there is a name for this, ‘Survivor's Guilt’. I still think about her a lot and I’ve decided that I need to live each day a little bit more just for her. I was always a positive thinker, but now I practice gratitude every single day, even if things aren’t going my way. I’ve started to acknowledge that what I went through, and continue to go through has been pretty tough, I’ve started to appreciate myself more, be a less harsh critic of myself and give myself credit for how I conducted myself throughout this experience. I have gotten to a point that I can say that I am proud of myself and am starting to accept the compliments that others give to me. I still find it weird to call myself a ‘survivor’, I prefer ‘Thriver’ or ‘Cancer ass-kicker’.
Do any of you have terms that you hate? And words that you choose to replace them with? Would love to hear any suggestions.
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Cancer, for me was a word I had heard many times before in my work as a nurse, but it wasn't a word for me, was it? In the prime of my life, while living it up on a working holiday in Canada, that word all of a sudden became relevant to me. All of a sudden I was diagnosed (on Christmas Eve, Merry Christmas to me!), forced to move back to Australia for the toughest year of my life.