Relationship status: Cancer

Good friends play important part in every person’s life. They laugh with you, give you advice so you don’t embarrass yourself, they don’t give you that advice and then you all laugh because you’ve embarrassed yourself, they defend your honour, cry with you, support you no matter what and all that jazz. But, that only applies to good friends.

As we all know, people come in all kinds of shapes and colours, and with individual personalities. Sometimes you think you know them, but the truth is you do not. You will never know anyone a hundred percent. We only have access to our own thoughts and feelings, hence we are only capable of knowing and fully understanding ourselves and even doing that is quite difficult at times. There are times in life when you realise that some people, who you thought you were close to and who cared about you, are actually not as close and caring as you believed. Suddenly the image of them that you’ve created in your mind turns out to be false.

In my case, cancer was the eye opener. In fact, I highly recommend this, or any other life threatening illness, when you plan a cull of your Facebook friends list. You know what they say, hard times reveal your true friends. I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to be around people when everything is a-ok. But once shit hits the fan, some people run the fuck away.

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I consider myself extremely lucky, because I have a fantastic circle of friends. Cancer allowed me to test my relationships with them, and I know they’re solid and far from temporary. Of course, there were a couple of people I was wrong about, but the majority of them proved to be exactly the way I’d imagine them to be, and for that I am forever grateful to them. They were there whenever I needed them, went out of their way to help me and most importantly, believed in me and supported me for the entire time. Even though they are all unique and I connect differently with each one of them, at that time I’ve seen them all as one, huge source of support.

I was also amazed by the amount of people who showed me compassion, even though they weren’t in any way obliged to do so. I was suddenly getting cards and gifts from my friends’ parents, my lecturers were sharing their stories with me and offering all the help they could, even friends of my friends were sending me uplifting messages. As someone whose faith in humanity is close to non-existent, I was truly overwhelmed. I would never even imagine having so many people truly touched by my situation.

Of course I could also rely on my family (some of them anyway). I can’t even imagine how hard dealing with my illness was for them, considering how many thousands of kilometres there is between us. Phone calls and video chats were all we had, but I didn’t feel like being on the phone all the time. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t making a big deal out of my situation. I was told that I will have my surgery, I will go through the recovery and I’ll be fine, so I believed that was exactly what was going to happen. For my mom, however, it wasn’t that simple. Sadly, she’s one of the most negative people I know, so she tends to go for the darkest scenario. I know that not being with me was very hard for her and she most likely thought that if I was telling her that I was feeling alright, I was doing it so she wouldn’t worry, rather than it being the truth. Thankfully, she had my grandmother, who is the complete opposite to her, to comfort her and assure her that everything was going to be alright.

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Lastly, and most importantly, I had Owen. He supported me more than anyone ever did. I couldn’t even describe how grateful I was and am to have him. He was there for me all the time, helped me with everything, and cheered me up whenever I was feeling down, even when he wasn’t in a great mood himself. And it was all so pure and selfless. He didn’t even complain once, and if he did, he made sure I wasn’t aware of it. At that time, I knew that what we had was rock solid and I felt loved like never before. Sure, my friends, family and even strangers made me stronger, but Owen did much more. He made me feel invincible.

Being sick creates quite a phenomenon – strangers become friends, and some friends become strangers. And what did I do about that? I’ve decided not to waste my time on people who don’t care about me. Instead, I’m going to use that time for those who are worth my while. After all, life is too short to be wasting it on people to whom you’re insignificant.

And watching football. I fucking hate football.

 

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Relationship status: Cancer

Grass is always greener

Under normal circumstances, being stuck at home wouldn’t be all that bad for me. I could spend my days playing video games from dawn to dusk with little breaks for fulfilling my human needs in order to survive. But the two months’ recovery time I was going to spend at home weren’t looking all that fun.

When I first got back from the hospital, I could barely walk. My tummy felt super tight and I was in extreme pain whenever I tried to move even an inch. Bed was now my best friend. Or so it should have been. I found it very difficult to sleep on my back, but turning on my side was close to impossible, unless I was a masochistic maniac, which, sadly in this case,  I was not.

Being in bed, as fun as it is at first, quickly becomes boring and annoying. On top of that, I hate not being able to do things around the house. Since I was advised not to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup, I couldn’t cook or clean. It was driving me insane. The fact that my bedroom was upstairs also became a big problem for me. All the fun was downstairs – TV, my console, even the kitchen. Coming down the stairs was quite challenging to say the least, and getting down would take me the same amount of time as it would for your typical not so mobile granny. So I was stuck in my fortress of boredom, dependent on Owen who I had to call whenever I needed help with something.

When it comes to illnesses, the lack of independence is the thing that terrifies me the most. Having to ask someone for help even with the easiest tasks, like fixing your pillow, because your body failed you, scares the absolute shit out of me. Not being in control of your flesh, even though your mind is perfectly healthy, is my idea of a living hell.

Even watching movies on Netflix and reading books became extremely irritating after a while. You know the way it usually is – the grass is always greener. And don’t get me wrong, I love watching films and reading, but all I wanted there and then was to be up and running again.

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But as the time went by I was getting progressively, if slowly, better. I was still in a lot of pain and in no mood for video games, movies or books, but thankfully there were other things I could spend my time doing.  Even though cancer barged into my life and flipped it upside down, I wasn’t going to let it ruin everything I’d worked so hard for. I had a lot going on at the time, and I was going to finish what I’d started, despite my obvious physical limitations. It was the second semester of my first year of college, and I wouldn’t even dream of stopping at that stage. I knew that if I left, I wouldn’t go back, and it was important for me to finish it as normal, with the class I’ve started it with and as scheduled. That became my mission.

Myself and a friend of mine were also working on a short comic we were submitting to publishers for their anthology, and I had that deadline hanging over my head. So if anyone asked me what having cancer was like, I would tell them that it was inconvenient more than anything. I guess the timing could never be good when it comes to those things, but I felt that in my case it was particularly bad.

Despite the odds, however, I managed to get all my college projects finished on time, and comic sent off before the deadline and published a few months later. I didn’t give in, even though I had a good excuse to do so and no one would blame me for it, and for that I was very proud of myself, and still am.

Cancer, to me, was a parasite trying to ruin my life. And I wasn’t going to allow that to happen. I would kick its ass and kick it bloody hard, and go on with my life as if nothing happened (and of course use it as an excuse whenever I wanted Owen to make me tea).

 

Grass is always greener

Expecting?

I was told by my doctor that I will require surgery. Considering my young age and the fact I didn’t have children, I was given two options: trachelectomy, which would allow me to get pregnant, or a radical hysterectomy, which would mean removing the womb completely. They asked me to think about it and decide in about a week, but my mind was already made.

When I first met Owen, he didn’t want to have children. And me? I always thought that someday I would have a kid, sure, but couldn’t really see myself ready to be a mother at any point. I didn’t have a well-established career, my own house or a ton of money, which I felt were essential before starting a family. But my main objection to parenthood was the amount of sacrifices I would have to make.

With Owen’s career going well and him being at work most of the week, there would be no way he would be at home with the kid. So if we were to be parents, I would have to be a stay at home mom. And I couldn’t do that. I can’t imagine not working, not getting 8 hours sleep every night or not being able to travel. I value my freedom too much, and couldn’t give it up. I love my alone moments when I can disconnect from reality and listen to music or lose myself in a good book, and well, video games wouldn’t play themselves either.

There were also other aspects that helped me decide. Trachelectomy meant a lot of possible issues. Even though I would be able to get pregnant, it would be extremely difficult. If successful, pregnancy would be classified as high risk, and would require constant medical care, months in hospital and heavy medication, including steroids. But most importantly, it would raise the possibility of cancer coming back. Would I risk my health and possibly life for pregnancy from hell? Fuck no.

I told my doctor that I wanted to go with hysterectomy and my surgery was scheduled for early March. Then it hit me – that’s it, I definitely won’t be able to have children. And you wouldn’t believe how relieved part of me was. No more biological clock pressure bullshit and no more stupid questions about our plans. The choice wasn’t ours anymore, and I felt like our life just got much easier. And since we tend to forget to feed our cat, it’s probably best if we don’t have children.

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Where I live, when you suffer from an illness on gynecological background, you are sent to maternity part of the hospital. While in the waiting area, you see all the posters about parenthood, pictures of newborns and the likes, which I found a little insensitive. For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but there are plenty of women who are devastated by becoming infertile, and slapping them in the face with baby pictures and photographs of happy parents is just crude.

But it gets better. When I woke up after the surgery and regained my senses, I realised that I was right next to the woman who just had a baby. As some of the common side effects of general anaesthesia are emotional outbursts after awakening, I was feeling really upset and angry already. You can imagine my reaction to laughing parents next to me, crying baby and balloons peeking from behind the curtain separating our beds.  Then I heard the woman saying it was her fourth child. In my rage I thought ‘enjoy being broke’ and demanded to be taken away from there. Asked if I was ok, I looked at the nurse, uncertain if she was stupid or just ignorant, and drawled ‘how am I supposed to be ok?’.

Imagine if in my place was a woman who really wanted to be a mother. The woman who just lost the ability to bear a child, lost all the hope to fulfill her dreams. Imagine this woman waking up next to a crying baby and a couple of laughing, new parents. To me, this is nothing but outrageous. If someone is already going through the nightmare of a horrible illness, they shouldn’t be put in a situation, where they are basically being kicked in the balls.

And of course, if you are admitted to the maternity part of the hospital, strangers assume that you’re there because you’re pregnant. So, being the type of person I am, I’ve decided to take advantage of it and make people uncomfortable. After all, opportunities like this don’t present themselves every day.

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I was sent home two days after I was admitted. I could barely walk and was unable to use the toilet, so was given a catheter. Owen, who stayed with me the entire time, took me to the car and we drove home. My belly was really sore and I could feel every single pothole on the way. After a while, I noticed the bag strapped to my leg was getting fuller and started laughing. Seeing confusion on Owen’s face I looked him in the eye and said: ‘I just peed in your car’.

Expecting?

Boy, do I have news for you!

For many long months, I wondered how should I start this. I guess the only way is to sit and write, so here I am now, doing exactly that.

Having gone through two cancers and exhausting treatments in the space of only one year, I thought I’d share my experience (or adventure, as I call it) with whomever may stumble upon this blog. So make yourself a cup of tea, sit comfortably and let me tell you a story.

When we hear about other people’s illnesses, we often wonder what would we do if it happened to us. We tend to have a pretty solid imaginary treatment plan figured out, and feel absolutely and totally confident to say: ‘if I were you, I would to this’. Well, let me tell you one thing – it’s bullshit.

The truth is we have no idea how we would act until we are actually in that situation. I know that first hand.

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So what is it like to get the big news? It’s bizarre. I will never forget it. Never in my life have I felt the way I did on that memorable day in February 2015. Following a doctor’s appointment arranged to check the symptoms I was experiencing, I ended up in a hospital, where I was told I had cancer.

Have you ever seen that movie 50/50? Remember the bit where a doctor is talking to the main character, delivering the news, and all he hears is some jibba jabba, while his thoughts become complete and utter chaos? That’s exactly what it’s like to get the news.

I remember thinking ‘this can’t be right! Things like that happen to people on TV, not me’. I was 27 at the time, just back in college, getting my shit together, and then this happens? I was enraged rather than scared. Mostly because I considered myself a good person, and found it unfair. I could have right away picked 5 people I knew, who should have gotten cancer rather than me (ok, maybe I’m not THAT good of a person).

I remember getting out of the room, back to the waiting area where I broke the news to Owen (my fiancé), by showing him a booklet I got about cervical cancer. He couldn’t believe it, I was in shock and in that state we drove home, without saying a single word to each other.

And then another problem emerged – how do I tell my mother? So I’ve decided to do the only thing I thought was rational at the time: smoke a joint. Having calmed down an awful lot and told everyone close to me about what happened, I sat on the couch and thought to myself: ‘This is going to be shit’.

Boy, do I have news for you!