Fifteen to Thirty.

Despite how big a deal cancer is, the weeks following my ultrasound are fuzzy. I remember clearly what happened but I’m not as certain as to when. It’s a bit of a mess.

After the ultrasound I was taken to see Mr. Townsend who specializes in gynecological maladies. Mr. Townsend is an incredibly kind and capable doctor to whom I owe a great deal. At this point it all seemed relatively simple. The idea of a cyst was scary but not too scary. I’m not any kind of medical professional, although an amalgamation of Grey’s Anatomy and long hospital stays have led me to think otherwise, so I won’t begin to explain the science of my cancer. I do however remember being told that my LDH tumor marker level was at 2200 (the normal levels varying between 100-300). Whilst it sounds fairly abstract this really brought home that the mound was no longer a joke.

This is another instance where words fail me. I honestly don’t think the word ‘cancer’ was ever thrown into the mix. I was handed ‘ovarian germ cell tumor’, ‘dysgerminoma’ and ‘malignant’ (don’t Google them it isn’t pretty or helpful). I remember what I was wearing; I thought I looked pretty good. I was with my parents, I remember that too. I remember looking at them to see if they understood. I remember being speechless and numb. I remember most starkly, my mouth cranked open on the car ride home. I remember composing text messages again and again to friends. In hindsight, this wasn’t the smartest way to clue them in. I remember trying so hard to process what Mr. Townsend said and to try to nail down exactly what was happening. I can picture trying to force an acceptance that I was 15 and I had cancer, this was the truth.

I just couldn’t. It didn’t seem like anything. I didn’t cry. I certainly tried. The whole situation was abstract and surreal. I couldn’t accept that this was what it was. I kept trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The whole idea was nonsensical. I remember clearly trying to piece the whole thing together. I tried to tell myself that I saw this coming, when I clearly didn’t. That one time I thought to myself “I wonder what cancer is like,” in an English lesson, perhaps I deserved it.

I say I remember everything because I do but to be honest, 7 or so years on, it feels just as it did then…alien. Some would probably say this was shock, pretty common and arguably understandable, but I’m not sure. It felt more like one might feel after being scolded by a teacher or boss. Between the word ‘malignant’ and ‘surgery’ I think I aged 15 years. Time to put my blinders on, shift into automatic mode, and shape up. Things are about to get rough and there is no avoiding it. There was no more coasting; there was no safety net. 

Susannah TemkoComment