20 Years Ago


With the current benefit of life experience, I can only write this from my adult perspective now so every insight is from this space.  At the time, I simply suppressed the mental and emotional trauma.  The jarring juxtapositions herein are intentional because it’s how I experienced it.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in the January and recovered sufficiently from the oopherectomy (removal of ovaries operation) to walk through the large entrance gates of high school to begin my final year with everyone else.   Becoming a fiercely self-reliant young adult, although I spoke about my condition, it was mostly from a detached space and I guarded my hurt and anger.  I didn’t want this.  I wanted to enjoy the end of high school and despite what I thought was my independence, I wanted to participate like everyone else.  And I did.  I pushed myself.

I remember being so alone and pushing the uncomfortable feelings of anger and frustration aside while I focused on playing volleyball (and being benched often by the coach to prevent injury) and socialising as much as I could get away with.  Anything to distract myself.  I battled to study because I couldn’t concentrate.  With a doctor’s note, I was excused from trial exams; a relief.  On the days returning home from chemotherapy or radiation therapy, my driver father was on high alert to stop in case I had to swing open the door as a violent urge to vomit surged through me.  I couldn’t control the timing, what can I say.

I suppose my teachers watched over me to some degree.  They often asked how I felt but to their credit they never made me feel watched and outwardly, I was able to keep up with my classmates.  I had a group of friends who kindly carried my school bag around for me between lessons as I recovered from both surgeries I underwent during that year.  The second operation was a complete hysterectomy.  Both ops ensured I’d be on hormone replacement meds for the majority of my adult life and a new concern about bone density became an issue no regular kid should deal with.

Being different

I often vomited up my supper and fell asleep exhausted.  I discovered my hair loss during one particularly boring class.  As I brushed my fingers through my pony tail, the loose hair kept on webbing my fingers.  To my own shock and that of the girls around me, I gathered a small clump of hair into a tissue to take home for show and tell.  Fortunately, our school uniform included a hat in those days and so I was spared the scrutiny on the bus home.  I wasn’t particularly vain so it wasn’t the end of the world.  Besides, I had to deal with the vomiting, discomforts and leaving school early for treatment so I had more pressing concerns.   Have I mentioned the vomiting?

As much as I didn’t want it to be, my life was different.  I was a step aside from the norm.  In a warped way, it felt a bit superhero-y.  I was living a strange duality – appearing and behaving as a normal teenager but struggling with the mental, emotional side effects.  I had no tools to deal with the latter and so I suppressed what I didn’t understand and couldn’t deal with in my very limited capacity as a child adult.

The aftermath

I thought I’d gained a lifetime’s worth of wisdom through the experience though I’m not sure that’s accurate at all.  It certainly gave me a level of maturity that set me apart but I’m not sure what else I gained besides a benchmark for this relapse.

I was asked over the subsequent years how I felt about not being able to have children.  How would I know?  The ability to have children was something I’d lost even before considering using it. You can’t miss a luxury vehicle you’ve never owned.

With treatments over by the September, the tumour had been obliterated.  I passed matric well!   Life went on.


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