Cancer doesn’t begin when you get diagnosed. It’s the physical symptoms, doctors appointments, tests and emotional distress that comes well before you get diagnosed.
So let’s take it back to the very start…
I suppose for me, it began a year before I was diagnosed with cancer. I was on holiday with my boyfriend, and I simply couldn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. It had started with fatigue and a cough. Like any normal 19 year old, I thought I was just ‘under the weather’ so I completely ignored these signs. I had ignored the signs for months. Until finally I decided that I couldn’t hack this cough any longer, so I took myself to the doctors.
The nurse took one look at me, and decided that I was a healthy young adult and dismissed me, saying
“you’re healthy, the cough will pass, please don’t come back again for this”
and I believed her. Another couple months pass, and I start feeling breathless, to a point where I couldn’t get up the stairs without stopping for a rest. I was scared to make an appointment with my doctors, with the nurses words imprinted on my brain, but I knew in my gut I had to, so I did. Back for another attempt, a different nurse saw me this time, she looked at me and also decided I was a young, healthy female. The coughing in her books was down to anxiety, and she told me my lungs were fine. Once again, I was left with no answers and feeling scared, let down and confused.
The hardest part was that I had to tell my mum what the doctors had said, and she believed them because anyone would, they’re the professionals. I believed them too. So I spent endless nights laying awake at night, coughing, keeping my whole family awake. I decided that I had to do something about my anxiety that’s causing me to cough and feel breathless, so I downloaded endless apps, read anxiety books and practiced breathing. But I would feel frustrated as I couldn’t take a proper breath, and I would think to myself, how did I let this get so bad? I blamed myself.
It got to the point where my mum hadn’t slept for weeks, so she wanted to take me to the doctors herself. This time, they saw a girl with her mother, demanding for answers. They decided they would take a blood test, to prove I was fine. The results showed that I was anemic, which would be solved with iron tablets. She then suggested I could be asthmatic and took me to see another doctor in the clinic. This doctor gave me steroids and an inhaler, which I would try for a week and see how it goes, followed with a chest x-ray. I felt so much better while I was taking the steroids, I could breathe again. I came off the steroids, and found I was struggling once again…
My mum was tired of the waiting, so she took me to the doctors again to see if there was an update on the x-ray results… and then this happened.
I sat down with my mum next to me, a nurse pulled up the image (for just her eyes), she stares for a few seconds and then looks at me with panic in her eyes, “I’m going to send you next door, to a doctor, who can walk you through the results”. Me and my mum sat in silence, my stomach sank to the floor… I knew it was bad news.
The doctor had sadness in her eyes,
“you have a mass in your chest, it’s most likely lymphoma but we will need to do more tests to make sure.”
I didn’t say anything. “Do you know what lymphoma is?” I didn’t actually, but I nodded because I just knew it was cancer by her body language, by the atmosphere in the room, and how my mum was still and silent. I was sent to hospital right after that appointment and that’s when they started the diagnosing process.