Diagnosis or 'You Can't Do This Here'.

"Would you like to know why you got cancer?"

This question haunts me now. Dr Creighton, sitting opposite me at a large wooden desk, looks at me from behind her glasses. Her eyes are warm but serious. She's clearly on her game and I think that I would like to be like her one day. I am completely oblivious to what she is about to tell me. I look at her with enthusiasm and delight. No one ever gets to really know, how lucky am I? Why did a fifteen year old get ovarian cancer? This whole ordeal is going to be wrapped up and put away. This is going to be closure.

She starts to draw a diagram. She explains how babies come to be, and what chromosomes boys and girls normally have. She says boys are normally XY, and girls are normally XX. She says that these chromosomes determine the development of gonads into testes or ovaries. She say in this case, in my case, I have XY chromosomes but they didn't do what they were supposed to and so I reverted to phenotypic female. She explains the difference between phenotype and genotype. I am fascinated. She says that because my gonads never developed that they became cancerous. The wrapping is finished. Here is your box. 

The conversation ends with a handshake. I walk a dozen steps out of the hospital and into a bright June day in London. It's hot. I start to shake. I feel faint. There is a ringing in my ears, distinctly different from the tinitis leftover from chemo. She was talking about me. That was no biology lesson. She was talking about me. 

I can't breathe. I can't look anywhere. I know my mum is next to me but I feel like the pavement is jerking around like an earthquake. Suddenly, she's miles away and I'm alone and I don't know anything anymore. Nothing makes sense. What the fuck is happening?

I snap back into London. I can hear sirens. I can hear cars. I can hear my mum. 

"Are you alright? Do you need to go back inside?"

"No." I feel tears well up to my eyelashes, my lids keep them back like dams about to break. I feel hot like menopause. I feel my hands swell and sweat. I become acutely aware that we are in the middle of London. I'm having a panic attack and I realise that I can't do this here.

"Did you know?" I make myself look at my mum.

"Yes. Are you angry?" She looks at me with eyes full of apology and worry, and I instantly understand. They couldn't have told me during chemo. We didn't know which way it was going to go. Why tell a bald, sick, fifteen year-old, grappling with stage four cancer, that she has XY chromosomes and her ovaries were not really ovaries. She explains that back in November Dr Townsend came out of surgery white as a sheet and told them his suspicions. The other ovary didn't look like it was 'supposed' to and he suspected that there was something else afoot. 

The train home is near silent. I decide not to go to the fifth form prom. I think about the Kate Moss inspired, off-the-shoulder, yellow chiffon dress from ASOS. I was so excited about it. I finally have a wig that looks like real hair. But I don't feel like wearing a dress tonight. I watch a movie and wait for it to go dark outside. 

I stare blankly at the screen. My dad comes home. He's had a couple drinks with work friends. He cries and says he's sorry. He's worried about me and he wants to make it better. The Krispy Kremes and comedy DVDs that distracted me from cancer won't do here. He's Ashkenazi. He feels responsible, even though he isn't. It's no-one's 'fault' because there is nothing wrong with my body or who I am. But I don't know that yet. He loves me and he is proud of me, he supports me but he doesn't realise this makes me feel my first ounce of shame. Why would he be crying if this wasn't a 'bad' thing? Why would he say 'sorry' if he hadn't inflicted harm? At twenty four I know this is because the year has been terrible for him, he's had to watch his first child go through surgeries and chemotherapy with no certainty of the outcome. He thought he would lose his daughter to cancer. He's trying to show me he loves me. But at fifteen, I think that this means that I am wrong. 


Susannah TemkoComment