In starting my third year of studies I am sorely reminded of how terribly scary and fearful my second semester in second year was, but not for the any other reason than my health. For six months of this year I found myself standing on the threshold of failing health, on a line that divided cancer from something completely unknown. Spoiler, it wasn’t cancer, but dealing with that fact was so much harder than I had ever anticipated.
The new year kicked off fine and aside from the regular exam-induced stress, nothing was bothering me and everything was, to all intents and purposes, okay. It was on the second day of the new semester that whilst putting on my makeup I felt a lump. A lump. The two words sure to strike fear in anyone. Rather than rush off to see any doctor I left it, and fast forward three weeks, one emergency GP appointment, two minor injury visits and one late night A&E trip, I was being sent for a blood test to determine whether or not I had, as I saw on the form in big bold letters, LYMPHOMA.
I knew this word to be a division of cancer, but more shocking to me, this was connected to the cancer my sister suffered with – Hodgkins Lymphoma – and to say I was scared would be wrong. What I felt was so much more than scared I don’t think I can attribute a word to it, especially considering later that same week I was being admitted to hospital for a total of five days. This feeling would not leave me for the six months that followed, and pervaded every visit (of which there were many) to the hospital to be prodded and poked in every scan, consultation, and twenty-five plus blood tests I endured.
I knew what it could be, my boyfriend knew what it could be, and my family knew not only what it could be, but how they might deal with it considering they’d been through this only eight years ago with my sister. But it wasn’t…
I had prepared for six months the plan of action for when my oncologist would turn to me and say that I had cancer. That sentence never came and when I try to explain the numbness that overcame me to anyone they can’t quite grasp what I mean. Of course I was happy I didn’t have cancer – I wouldn’t ever wish for cancer and nor would I wish it upon anyone else – but I had prepared myself for it so much that both my mother and I knew exactly what steps to take and the plan of action, as it were, so that not being diagnosed with it felt like an anticlimax.
‘An anticlimax.’ How selfish does it sound to say that not being diagnosed with cancer was disappointing? It was a gruelling six months, from being bedridden for two weeks to lying in an operating theatre being sliced and stitched, and to undergo all of that for a diagnosis of a completely untreatable and unknown disease. But it just felt like my diagnosis should be something more, something substantial, to give some semblance of purpose to this (can I call it) suffering.
I was standing on a threshold for six months not knowing which way I would fall and when I finally fell I couldn’t, and still can’t, process that it wasn’t cancer. But why does this matter?
Its difficult to describe but I felt like I was prepared for cancer and prepared for everything that diagnosis meant, and so I was happy to deal with something that was manageable. I was not ready, not in the slightest prepared, for the acceptance of a diagnosis that was never going to be treatable or manageable, but I had to.
I don’t want cancer. I don’t wish for cancer. I just feel cheated by cancer. I feel as though I was being lead down this path, following all the signs that came my way, to a destination marked ‘cancer.’ I have no idea as to why but I felt I should be on this path. And suddenly I wasn’t. In the last moment someone, something, decided against it… Rather than accept and rejoice at this, I felt lost. I was suddenly thrown into unknown territory which wasn’t where I had planned to be and meant I didn’t know how to find my way out again. In many ways I still feel lost, with only the scar upon my neck to remind me of what has been and the quiet niggling thought at the back of mind that this could all happen again, but worse.
I feel as though I will be led down this path at some point in the future, undergoing the same tests, scans, and conversations that will eventually lead me to a destination I should’ve been at years, months, weeks, earlier. However trying to ignore and live without that thought is the hardest and something I don’t think my brain will ever allow me to do. Instead, my thinking is that when, or if, I do start along the same walk, I’ll be glad for this test run.
For now, I’m still trying to enjoy my health.