“You’re so young”: What it feels like to be diagnosed with an ‘old person’s cancer’ at 20.

Video by MWN

“You are so young.” Those four words. Four words that made me shrivel every single time I heard them.

I was 20-years-old when the doctor looked me in the eyes, as I failed to react to his words – “You are so young, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer”.

In that moment my biggest worry was how do I tell my new job that I could no longer start on the 18th? How I was going to tell my friend why I couldn’t make it to her 21st at the end of February?

It didn’t sink in…. what this meant for me. That was the day I was diagnosed with a rare form of appendix cancer and early onset bowel cancer. Before that I didn’t even know appendix cancer existed.

Lying down in the hospital ward, I remember looking around and noticing a 40-year age gap between me and any other patient, any other visitor, as well as any other nurse. I was in that hospital ward just after having had my appendix and 30cm of bowel removed.

I had to grow up pretty quickly. Having to think about things like fertility treatments, undergoing chemotherapy and several rounds of surgery does that to you. Cancer became my every day normal. It became my life. I had to defer my employment with the Defence Force indefinitely and could no longer focus on my studies. I felt so lost at this time. When I looked around that hospital ward I couldn’t help but think I was unlike the other cancer patients around me – I was yet to start my career, or buy a house, or have children.

The first thing I did when I went got home from surgery was attempt to pick up my guitar. The pressure on my stomach after surgery was too much. Without my only coping mechanism, I ended up being left isolated, frustrated and miserable.

Advertisement
"“You are so young.” Those four words. Four words that made me shrivel every single time I heard them." Image: Supplied.

I had no idea how to talk to my mum, my dad, not even my partner. They were so busy trying to care for me that I didn’t want to burden them with how much I was struggling. The hospital has supports in place but they were focused towards adults and were not targeted to me and my needs as a young person. That was when I found CanTeen.

Reading stories of other CanTeen members, relating to experiences and even being able to laugh about whingeing grandmas in hospital wards complaining about blood test needles, uplifted my spirits. For me, it was so important to know there was a dedicated organisation for my age group that could support me through my life-stage perspective dealing with cancer.

Knowing that I had six months of treatment ahead of me, without work or study to fill my time, I turned my focus to art, creating something I called ‘The Six Month Project’. I developed a collection of art work, making things at home to help me with isolation and act as a coping mechanism. I went on to sell them at markets and it became a passion of mine I still have today. I’m now studying social work in Sydney and hope that I can weave my passion for art into helping people in the long run.

One of the biggest changes since my diagnosis has been trying to understand my new identity as a Cancer patient to now being a Cancer survivor and how this is different yet similar to the person I used to be.

I first got involved with CanTeen because I lived in rural Victoria but since moving to Sydney to study, I’m still actively involved in the incredible CanTeen community here. I’m now a member of the Youth Advisory Group and I love every minute of giving back to an organisation that gave me so much support and addresses the age gap in cancer support services.

CanTeen is calling on Australia to #Band Together for National Bandanna Day this Friday 27 October to show their support for young people experiencing cancer, whether it’s their own or a close family member’s.

LISTEN: Samuel Johnson tells Mia Freedman about how Connie would have wanted to be remembered...

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
FROM OUR NETWORK