This April, I’ll be celebrating two milestones – my 22nd birthday and my 2nd anniversary of having finished chemotherapy. Celebrating these milestones together can be a little odd, as it often feels like I’m simultaneously celebrating life and tragedy.
I cannot sugar coat it: being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 19 is the most tragic thing that’s happened to me. When I felt that lump on the right side of my neck, the ‘c’ word didn’t come to mind. At the time, I was incredibly healthy and fit and when I presented myself to the first doctor, he shrugged the lump off as “some kind of muscle sprain.”
It was only after a few weeks, several doctors, many procedures, and countless scans that I was told by my oncologist that I had cancer.
People who know my story often thought the reason I had difficulty ‘dealing’ with and ‘accepting’ my diagnosis is because cancer is such a difficult illness to come to terms with. Although this is definitely true, I also had a difficult time conceptualising my situation because of how fast everything happened.
The same week I was diagnosed, I needed to start fertility preservation, and then more scans and blood tests were needed, and more appointments and consultations and then all of a sudden I was in the ward having my first cycle of chemotherapy.
If you have had chemotherapy, then you would know just how debilitating it can be. Over the six months I had it, it often felt more like torture than treatment. My chemotherapy regime was not only painful, but impaired my cognitive abilities.
Now, when I think back to treatment, everything is fuzzy and it feels like trying to remember a forgotten dream. Even the diary which I regularly wrote in during those six months is littered with unfinished lines where I was too tired and nauseous to continue writing.
That time weighed heavily on me. It felt like everything was going so ‘well’ until cancer hit, and I tried to maintain the high as long as I could. In hospital I could accept I was a cancer patient, but outside I didn’t want cancer to be my life or to be me.
I didn’t tell many friends about my diagnosis, as I didn’t want people to see me as weak, sick, fragile or terminally ill.