My Insight SBS article on youth cancer survival…my life stripped bare

For me, my cancer journey has been a life long ordeal. After losing my father to Leukaemia at age nine, a month later I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent surgery and chemotherapy.

I have always called it my “sympathy cancer”, as I believe it was the stress of losing my father that caused my initial illness. At the time I thought I wouldn’t survive, as the only experience I had ever had with cancer was through my father. All I knew of it was that it was unforgiving, made you so ill that you could barely stand and it eventually would take your life.

But I got through the treatment and after a year I was back at school and recovering quite well. I never thought I would get cancer again. But then at age 24 I heard those words once more. I was a singer, model and designer and again my world came to a screeching halt.

It was cancer, a Wilm’s tumour. I knew it would be months of vomiting and being frail, marking off the days until treatment ended. Unfortunately it was much worse than I’d imagined and at my lowest weight I went down to a tiny 36kg from my initial 55kg. I fatigued walking only a few metres and would get weekly blood transfusions as the treatment started to take its toll. My heart would pound from exhaustion. I had had my kidney removed, started chemo and radiation all at once and ended up with blood clots in my lungs, lost all my hair and had other complications.

I felt completely isolated seeing only my boyfriend at the time,my mother and the hospital staff for many months on end. I needed help dressing, washing, cooking and cleaning. My independence was completely taken from me and eventually it would be the catalyst that would end my relationship.

It was the most trying time physically, emotionally and financially, yet it wasn’t until my final day of treatment came around that the depression and anxiety really began. Cancer is not like a cold or broken leg where you go through your recovery and think nothing more of it. This cancer took from me long after the signs were no longer visible to the outside world. I think while I was going through the hell of it all, I had a purpose and would try to help patients around me not doing so well. But when it finished I felt lost, depressed, alone and different – like an outsider in my own life, bare & exposed. It had caused social anxieties to develop and everything I once found easy had become more of a chore.

But again, now taking almost seven years to recover to an acceptable level, I did finally make it through but with a lot of effort. I was tired, but eventually glad I made it back to health.

I wasn’t as confident now in the thought that I would never get cancer again but I was 80% sure. Again my confidence was shaken and I received a diagnosis after eight years in the clear, I was 32. I had just finished a psychology degree that I chose to begin after my second cancer. I had wanted to help other cancer patients as much as I could after having experienced the unique issues young people go through with this awful illness.

This time it was thyroid cancer.After two surgeries and some radiation treatment,I thought I was in the clear again but unfortunately they hadn’t gotten everything. Within six months I was back in surgery and had all my lymph nodes on one side of my neck removed.

Today, I don’t know if I’ll ever get ill again, or if I’m 100% in the clear but what I do know is that life is so short and fleeting. We need to make the most of every moment we can. Sometimes we don’t get second chances. I’m so grateful to still be standing after all that I have been through.

I am now an advocate for ‘You Can’ a youth cancer organisation for 16-30 year-olds going through cancer and also support young people through an online platform called ‘I had cancer.com’ developed by ‘You can connect’.

It is so important to have someone to speak to and often in these times it can be hard or impossible to find others that truly understand. If anyone you know has been through or is going through cancer or is looking after someone who needs a little social support please suggest CanTeen or www.Ihadcancer.com

I hope one day cancer is a thing of the past, but until then we need to support each other and invest in research, not only for cures, but also for improving outcomes for long-term health complications after these aggressive treatments.

I will be a guest on Insight on Tuesday 20 February at 8.30pm on SBS, which explores how young people get on with life after cancer.

#InsightSBS

No assumptions…

I’m starting to believe that assumption can be found at the root of every relationship break down. I’ve had so many friends currently going through relationship issues and it seems when you really start exploring the common thread that shows up again and again it’s that some kind of assumption was made by one or both people before it started turning south. It’s our nature to do this as we think we’re saving time or understand something more fully than we really do. More often than not though, what we assume of someone else is nothing like the reality & we actually create disconnection & sometimes fall out with people for the wrong reasons (if only we knew at the time)

Good communication is such a necessary component to any relationship, be it friendship or romantic. We just need to learn how to be open, and to never assume anything until it’s actually directly said & clarified. It’s a very active way of existing and takes work but in the end I think this would save far more time than continuing on both seemingly together but in different head spaces. Both in a parallel but not truly connected fashion, always guessing away at the situations that arise.

We’ve seemed to have lost our ability to talk to one another these days & to be excited about actually getting to know how someone works. If they don’t match us exactly we run a mile. We don’t all have to be the same, it will never fully happen like that.

We just have to appreciate and accept how other people think and feel and consider this with our next interaction. We must also consider our biases and influences & how that feeds into these assumptions. I.e. If someone is attractive people sometimes assume they could be superficial or mean etc. Know that we will never be exactly the same as one another with how we experience and understand things. Falling in love though sometimes we just assume the other person is on the exact same page, it’s that feeling of oneness. Such an unhelpful & sometimes flawed thought to have, unless it’s genuinely true.

The human condition…

The human condition is one of the most perplexing things there is on this beautiful earth. At the end of the day we seek nothing but connection and love but we look for it in all the wrong places. We have created this consumerist world to make money to afford to buy things that fill the void that we have created & in doing so make ourselves ill. We are told everyday of how we are lacking; on the television, in the magazines, every day in subtle ways and sometimes blatantly obvious slaps in the face by beautifully manicured and polished hands. We lap it up like we need to be told what life is all about & how to live it. Drinking up the poisonous words of some seething corporate greedy bastard entity. We aren’t even fighting people anymore, we’re fighting corporations that can’t even be confronted to be able to fight back. We are just a mere cog in this intricate and grubby new machine.

Anxiety and depression rates sky rocket as our world is supposed to be easier and more accessible, but we sit here and talk to each other through screens and type our incomprehensible expressions of love and anger towards each other and our feelings of urgency & being behind to do what we should have done. For things of love and awe sometimes there are just no words to express what you can only show through human touch or that effervescent twinkle in someone’s eye. No wonder love has become only sex and looking for bank accounts that fit someones lifestyle for some people. Nobody sees each other anymore. We walk past amazing souls each and every day, we sit next to them on the train on the early morning commute to work but we only see our own faces staring back at us, tired and worn in the reflection of our iPhones. We swipe left or right on people’s faces which reduce them to a few lines of text and a photoshopped image. We give our bodies over to strangers in the hopes that superficially being held for a night will fill us up for long enough that we can escape our perpetual feelings of loneliness if only for a moment. While we search for this connection we destroy everything in sight, we knock down reserves to build skywards to climb towards something as close to heaven as we’ll ever find. We destroy each other through our own expressions of hurt, trying to make sense of it all. As they say, “hurt people hurt people”.

But then the flip side, as humans we have this need of love which shows us just how fragile and real we can be. It exposes our soft little underbellies as we grunt and put on that tough guy face and say “I don’t need anyone”. It’s such a sad day to know some will never experience true happiness as they chase these corporate made dreams and subdue that little voice buried deep deep down in the pits of their stomachs. Some appreciate the twinkle of a diamond more than the spark that ignites between two people made for each other – JLF (JaxTrax)

(I’d just like to add, I don’t only see the world in this way, reading back it seems so one sided and negative, this was a mere snap shot of a thought I had while sitting on the train going home from an appointment haha. It’s just showing the cracks in society and the pitfalls we sometimes succumb to unknowingly, if down trodden long enough. It’s more about the lack of connection I felt that day from people around me) hugs. Big love xoxo

Hope

A small tear falls gently on the floor as a fragile ember burns from the hope of a more simple day. A day when love is enough and people speak the truth. Not hiding from all the egoic walls that we’ve helped build. I’ll hold my breath and sit in the silence as I wait for this match to ignite – JLF (JaxTrax)

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