I have cancer. There, I said it.
Stage 2B cervical cancer, in fact. I had my first radiotherapy session last week and I feel like I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me, but nothing compares to the feeling of guilt I’ve experienced when telling people. I’m afraid of eliciting pity, or worse, tears. I’m young. I’m strong. I’m otherwise healthy. But I put off having a smear test for years, thinking “it’ll never happen to me.” I can tell you now, a few minutes of discomfort down at the GP surgery is a picnic compared to having radioactive waves directed through your pelvis. Or being told you may never be able to have children.
I’ve spoken to several people about the diagnosis since I received it a few weeks ago. Reactions have ranged from shocked to sympathetic, supportive but confused. I’ve encouraged people to ask questions, but there’s still a definite air of nervousness around me, like I’m an invalid that needs to be tiptoed around. So here’s a few myths to bust that I’ve already come across in just a couple of weeks of being A Cancer Sufferer:
- “But you’re too young to get cancer” (cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35; the last decade has seen an increase in rates amongst younger women)
- “You’ve had no symptoms” (high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection – the cause of my cancer – is linked to almost 100% of cervical cancer cases, but often shows no symptoms until picked up in standard screening)
- “Could this be because you used to smoke?” (Possibly – an estimated 7% of cervical cancer cases in the UK are linked to smoking, but mine has been caused by HPV. Either way, it was a stupid habit and I should never have started)
[Statistics courtesy of Cancer Research UK]
So there you are. All laid out.
But what if you don’t fit the mould of the Patient Cancer Patient? I’ve known people who have experienced cancer, those who have survived and those who haven’t. All of them, good, decent people, who made and continue to make an enormously positive impact in the lives of those around them.
But what if you feel like you actually deserve this? That, if anyone was going to get it, it should be you, because of the stress you’ve caused others? It’s just the latest in a long line of really crap, life-altering events that have happened over the last few months, for which I can’t help but feel entirely at fault. I feel like the Universe is trying to tell me something: “Stop fighting.” And I’ve had enough.
I’ve had enough of giving in. I’ve made mistakes in my life, for which I’m trying to make amends. But, for the first time in years, now I actually want to fight. I want to keep going. I want a nice, quiet, boring life, but to do that I have to get through the drama.
So here goes. Wish me luck. And for god’s sake, get your smear test.