As a cancer patient in your 20s certain doctors seem to somehow take a bit more interest in you. They can’t help it, you’re the exception to the rule. I was recently at a vascular appointment to see what the blood clots were up to and the registrar who was about my age asked, “How did you discover you were ill?” Quickly adding, “If you don’t mind me asking?” If I had a quid for every time a registrar had enquired about my illness or commented “but you’re so young,” I’d have, ooh…at least a fiver.
Once when I was waiting for a scan the doctor was called to try and get a vein. She inquired about all my ailments and commented, “Poor you.” Quite, now can you concentrate on putting that cannula in please?
“I’ll look out for your brain scan results” she joyfully called after me as I made a sharp exit. I know it was just a clumsy attempt to make small talk, but what good would that do me? I’d never see her again.
I used to get upset by it – it’s not easy to recount to a stranger that your life has taken an entirely different turn to what you had planned. They’ve read the notes (well at least they should have) so is it really necessary for me to explain it in person?
Those who suffer from cancer in their 20s and 30s are a relatively rare breed. There’s certainly not a whole lot of support out there specifically aimed at this group of people. I think there are only two occasions throughout my many chemo sessions that I’ve not been the youngest patient on the ward. You’re in your prime and your cells are meant to be top notch; they’re not meant to let you down and steal your dreams before you’ve even gotten started.
As my body receives wave after wave of toxic treatment to fight these cells I have had to come to terms with the fact that I won’t have children. Funnily enough, the thought of this upset me more when I was initially diagnosed and the chance of having children wasn’t entirely ruled out.
I have always wanted kids and having met the man that I want to spend the rest of my life with it seems like such a kick in the teeth to have that chance taken away; not just from me but from Tom also; I feel guilty, that I have let him down, that I can’t be the best for him.
Once my secondary diagnosis came the prospect of ever having children was well and truly scuppered. But when I found myself fighting for my life children didn’t seem as important any more; living as long as possible for myself and Tom became the focus.
I love children and am fortunate there are a fair few kiddiwinks in my life who I get to spend time with. Before my diagnosis I could only see the benefits of having kids but now I realise that life can be just as fulfilled without; when your life is threatened your priorities change. Don’t get me wrong, I would have tried for children if the secondaries hadn’t come along, but a long life with just Tom seems pretty attractive right now.
I’m lucky I have a great support system around me, with Tom and my friends always on hand. I can’t compliment Maggie’s enough on the emotional and practical support they’ve provided me with, but not everyone is lucky enough to live in a city or have friends and family nearby. Often someone in their 20s or 30s won’t have savings to fall back on if a cancer diagnosis comes. If they have to give up their job how will they afford to live? I’m sure there are many who retreat back to their family home, relinquishing their independence and the life they loved.
I miss work terribly. On a good day I could manage it but I can’t guarantee good days or when they’ll be. It can be disheartening to be stuck in the flat when you’ve worked hard to get to a certain point in your career. Your job becomes beating the cancer, and FYI it’s a shit job. Don’t ever willingly apply.
The benefit of having cancer in the Internet age is that your world is opened up to support services that you might not ordinarily have access to. Through Twitter and blogs I’ve learned of and met up with women who are going through a similar situation to me, which has helped me massively.
It’s refreshing to be able to discuss issues that you might not want to bring up with other friends through fear of upsetting them. Recently Fran, who I’d ‘met’ on Twitter came to visit me for the first time. The conversations took a natural cheery steer towards questions about death, brain metastasis and how our partners will cope without us. It sounds pretty macabre but if you heard the tone in which we were calmly discussing these topics you’d think we were sat talking about shoes, the latest episode of TOWIE and George Galloway’s victory in Blackburn…er sorry, I mean Bradford.
My case may be a rare one but it’s by no means a one-off, which is why I’d really rather not be treated as a curiosity when I’m going for one of my regular appointments. Save the medical marvel stuff for when I beat this shit!