Twenty-eight. I was only twenty-eight when the doctor said to me, ‘I’m sorry, the biopsy has come back negative and you have cancer. Would you like someone to speak to?’
When you’re in your 20s, you’re invincible. Absolutely unstoppable, filled with energy, plans for days, friends, fun, life to the hilt. And suddenly the giddy merry-go-round that is your young, happy life jerks abruptly to a halt, and piece by piece, life as you know it falls to bits. You lose not only your physical resources to get through a day, but friends disappear. Replaced by the doom prophets of You Did Something Wrong for this to have happened, and You’re Going to Die. Mirrored in the faces of my younger sister and brother too: fear of it all being over too fast, too soon.
I could fill library shelves with tomes on tests and doctors and endless waiting in government hospitals, sitting on hard seats, watching people emerge sometimes from a consulting room crumpled in misery as death sentences got handed out. I could fill galleries on end with snapshots of my memories: concern and love (oftentimes clumsily dressed up as misplaced ‘help’), advice (it’s too late for the Raw Foods Diet, really, I already HAVE cancer, but thanks….), terror in an operating theatre and so much pain, especially the second time round when I knew what to expect from being sliced in the neck (I had thyroid cancer).
Somehow, though, I survived. I lost my singing voice – that was terrible. But I’m living and breathing today and I’m deeply grateful to the skilled surgeon who was able to save much of my laryngeal nerve from total destruction. I got a reprieve instead of the expected death sentence. One October afternoon, I emerged from a consulting room with a come-back-in-six-months for a check-up on my appointment card. And my father in tears, leaning against a hospital wall crying that he thought he was going to lose me.
Having cancer taught me that not every disaster is a death sentence – and that adversity need NEVER … NEVER… be the final word on where you’re headed. I have been in the valley of the shadow of death, and its terrifying fangs could only nip at me, and not shred what was most important. I am not so quick to open my mouth now with quick counsel when people confide their misery or pain to me. I know the value of sitting in the dust and mourning. And I have witnessed firsthand how treasures found in the darkness glitter resplendently in the light of a new day.
And I am so grateful.