My Cancer Diagnosis Redefined My Life

I am a lot of things to a lot of different people: a proud Mama’s boy, protective older brother, reliable and dedicated student and loyal friend. In 2013, I became something that my parents, brother, teachers, closest friends and I never thought I would become: a cancer patient, when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which required immediate surgery and cycles of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was four months from completing my final high school exams and six months shy of graduating. I was only seventeen.

The moment I was told I had cancer, I was in room with my surgeon and lead oncologist who occupied one half of the room while I occupied the other, cocooned by the presence of my mum and dad who sat on either side of me. My surgeon was the one who was tasked with the daunting responsibility of informing me of my diagnosis. Though I don’t remember his exact words, perhaps because I’ve tried so hard to forget them since, I remembered that as soon as the reality of the situation sunk in I collapsed my face into my hands and burst into tears. I felt that in that moment all that I was, a proud son, brother, student and friend, was reduced to simply being a patient number.

My lead oncologist reached out and placed his hand on my shoulder in an attempt to alleviate the gravity of the situation. “You have a whole team of people that are going to do all they can to get you through this” he said. “You are not alone on this one.”

I was shocked. More than anything, I was deeply saddened but in that moment, with my parents beside me, I was determined to wipe my tears away and put on a brave face.

My diagnosis had a profound effect on my mental health: It triggered regular bouts of anxiety. My anxiety felt like I was living under a microscope, constantly worried about how the people in my world perceived me.

At first, I had no intention of letting my closest friends know about my diagnosis – to them, I was their boisterous mate who was not one to submit to any kind of uncertainty and sadness, so I was determined to remain the person they knew me as.

Gradually, I had lost the energy to uphold this image of myself. As I was having to regular trade time at school for time at hospital, I no longer had the energy to pretend that I was ‘OK’ with the way my life had turned out. I eventually opened up about my diagnosis to my close circle of friends, the ‘lads’ as we called ourselves, and in doing so, they became an extraordinary support network that provided unwavering comfort and guidance throughout my journey.

Like all my friends, I had dreams of graduating high school and pursuing a University education. My final high school exams were to be my ticket to my dream of a University education. My diagnosis had seemingly put those dreams on hold. Recognising this and the immense strain that it caused on my mental health, my friends and family advocated that I seek professional counselling support at my treating hospital.

Seeking professional counselling was exactly what I needed; the sessions I had with my psychologist helped me address the angst I felt in regards to all aspects of my life. Most significantly, my psychologist helped facilitate my receiving of special provisions from my school that allowed me to complete my assessments and final high school exams with extra time, which in turn afforded me the ability to graduate high school and be accepted into University.

An expression that I have often heard from people who have overcome profound adversity is that the adversity was ''the greatest thing that had ever happened to them''. Being diagnosed with and overcoming cancer was certainly not the greatest thing that has ever happened to me but in hindsight, now that I have been placed in remission, I recognise that battling cancer had significantly redefined my life: it helped me reinforce genuine personal relationships and become educated on, and appreciative of, the fragility of life.