“It’s a peculiar, lonely kind of impotence, a cancer diagnosis. If you ran a thousand miles, aced a billion exams, hit a dozen home runs, nothing could reverse or erase the fact of cancer.”
Australian journalist Julia Baird says she was “gripped with terror” after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer earlier this year.
A health-concious mother with two small children, she says she often wondered how she might feel to have cancer glowing inside her body, “to blithely be stepping through life, unaware that your insides are betraying you,” — but she didn’t expect it to happen to her. At least, not so soon.
In a piece for The New York Times, Baird, who is a host on ABC’s The Drum, describes how it felt to suddenly be staring down the barrel of a life-threatening illness.
“Your world narrows to a slit when facing a diagnosis like that; suddenly very little matters,” she says.
In June, she was hospitalised with a mass in her abdomen that had suddenly ballooned to “the size of a basketball.”
“In the months beforehand I had felt bloated, and my clothes had grown snug, but my friends laughed and gently pointed to the vats of chocolate I consume when facing deadlines,” she says. “I was exhausted but my doctor put it down to my workload.”
Given the suspected diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer, there was only one treatment option: surgery.
After an agonising two-week wait, Baird underwent an operation to have two large tumours removed from her ovaries and spent a further eight days recovering in intensive care.
She describes the “peculiar, lonely kind of impotence” brought on by cancer diagnosis as she tried to to get on with everyday life in the lead up to her surgery; going about her day-to-day tasks while not knowing if she’d live until the end of the year.
“I was buttering sandwiches for [my kids’] lunches when my surgeon called to tell me it looked as though it had spread to my liver. I bit my lip, sliced the sandwiches in half, and held my children’s little hands tightly as we walked down the hill to the local red brick primary school,” she says.
“If you ran a thousand miles, aced a billion exams, hit a dozen home runs, nothing could reverse or erase the fact of cancer.”
Fortunately, the tumours were revealed to be benign, but Baird was found to have another, rarer and more treatable form of cancer.
She says she is emboldened by the more positive outlook and preparing to return to work, but like many other cancer sufferers, has to live in wait, worrying daily that the disease will return.
“The “brave” warrior talk that so often surrounds cancer rang false to me. I didn’t want war, tumult or battle. Instead, I just prayed to God. And I think what I found is much like what Greek philosophers called ataraxia, a suspended kind of calm in which you can find a surprising strength,” she says.
“I prayed so hard I grew unnaturally calm. I felt like a flower shutting in on itself, bracing, preparing for the night, closing to a quiet stillness.
“It would be impossible and frankly exhausting to live each day as if it were your last. But there’s something about writing a will that has small children as beneficiaries that makes the world stop.”
You can read the article in full here.