health

"The façade I've put on for years is becoming very difficult to maintain."

Image: supplied.

As I frantically scurry through my make-up bag, and finally locate my favourite concealer, I give thanks to the universe for the invention of make-up. It not only covers up my bags after a restless night’s sleep but makes me feel and look better.

Like any 20-something year old, I procrastinate and leave university assignments until the last minute, take too many selfies, have an online shopping addiction and pine over men – wondering why he hasn’t made the effort to contact me? Surely my cheesy jokes and funny stories impressed him on the weekend? I am a total catch, right?

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What kind of guy would want to know about my endless list of medical conditions over the years?

“Hey, I’m Anna. I have a reoccurring spinal tumour that causes crippling pain – want to see my battle scars?”

Doesn’t really sound like the most romantic pick up line, does it? For this reason and to avoid any awkward conversations, I have become a pro at hiding my illness.

Anna. (Image supplied.)

Wake up, apply make-up, straighten hair, take medication, slap on a smile, repeat. This is the façade I have been putting on and perfecting for years.

Let me explain.

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It was the year 2002. I was 11 years old when my normal life as I knew it was turned upside down, never to be the same again. This was all thanks to a tumour, the size of a small football, growing from my sacrum (base of my spine). (Post continues after gallery.)

After a long eight hour surgery, surgeons were happy they removed it all. The tumour was benign and had a near to zero percent chance of returning.

However, in 2007, the tumour returned and surgeons had to remove it again. Then again in 2008, after a routine scan, I was told the tumour had returned. This time it was aggressive and at just 17 years old, I was told I had cancer known as a neuroblastoma.

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I was thrown into six months of intensive chemotherapy. I quickly realised that losing my hair was the least of my worries. I was suddenly fighting to survive as my small body rejected the chemo and life threatening infections set in.

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Once the ‘never ending hangover’ that is chemo ended, I was told that the ‘now cancerous tumour’ did not respond to the chemo like we were hoping it would. Another risky, long surgery was my only option.

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In late 2008, I prepared myself for a third major surgery. Neurosurgeons were confident they removed the tumour, but as I started recovering I began to notice loss of feeling and pain in my left leg.

I had increased pelvic pain. This was all due to severe nerve damage caused by surgery and the location of the tumour. My pain worsened and in 2009 I was told my tumour had returned. My body had become accustomed to this pesky tumour.

Since then, doctors agreed it is in my best interest to monitor it with regular MRI scans. So here I am, 7 years on from treatment, still ‘with-tumour’, in constant pain, but trying to live a normal life as possible. (Post continues after video.)

No one needs to know the ins and outs of my medical condition, do they? My body. My business. However, lately I am becoming more aware of the affects this illness is having on my relationships and the façade I put on is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

As I listen to my university friend’s whinge about the struggles of juggling work life and study, I become somewhat jealous.

Jealous because I would give anything to be able to be healthy enough to work and attend university. I want to whinge about annoying customers and long hours too.

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They then turn to me and ask why I don’t have a job. I let down my guard and reply by saying “I’m on a disability pension, I have a chronic illness and university is all I can manage”.

They look at me with confusion and respond with back-handed compliments “but you don’t look sick or run down” and “you’re always happy”. On one occasion I was told “but you’re too pretty to be sick”. (Post continues after gallery).

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I always walk away from conversations like this slightly dejected and left wondering why I should have to prove how much pain I am in. I then calmly remind myself that I am lucky to be alive, I am totally awesome for even attempting university and give myself a well-earned pat on the back. Kudos to me.

It’s a constant mental battle to appear fit and healthy but feel so pained and fatigued on the inside. People question an able-bodied person socialising, studying and using a disability park.

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During chemo, I was given a lot of sympathy because I had the visible symptoms of a ‘cancer patient’ such as weight loss and baldness.

However, as soon as my hair grew back it was assumed I was ‘cured’. Over the years, all of these moments have made me realise that it is human nature to respond in confusion and for this reason I am learning to be more accepting of people’s reactions to an illness they do not fully understand.

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It has also made me realise that we need to change people’s perception of what a chronic illness is “supposed” to look like.

I refuse to let a tumour and chronic pain define me. I am so much more than that. I also refuse the need to justify my condition, just because people might question or judge me due to my exterior appearance.

RELATED: Tessa James has shared a beautiful post-chemo photo with Sally Obermeder.

I admit that there are times when I need to drop the façade and be honest about my condition; particularly for future employees (and potential husbands). I have career goals and big dreams of getting married and having children. On bad days, these dreams seem unattainable, but I never doubt myself, I know I will get there.

Despite my limits, I am happy and content with my life.

About Anna: I am a 24 year old girl from Victoria and in my second year of university, studying Primary Teaching at Deakin. I am tenacious and inquisitive. I can be shy yet annoyingly stubborn. I love laughing with the ones I love and never take anything for granted.