Until the summer of 1999, I had lived a quiet and pleasant life on the idyllic Isle of Anglesey, UK. I enjoyed days out with my parents, reading lots of novels, doing well at school, and playing post office with my grandparents. I was teased at school for being shy and studious. It was upsetting to my sensitive, introverted nature, but my life was generally peaceful and loving.
During that summer, however, my life was torn apart with grief when my grandmother died. I couldn’t understand why the world was still turning when I was catapulted into pain and deep mourning. Outwardly, I wanted to be strong for my parents and grandfather, but inwardly, I was becoming even more withdrawn and confused about life.
Nothing, however, could have matched the shock and distress which a cancer diagnosis brought into our lives. I had been experiencing debilitating stomach pains and, after being ignored by doctors for weeks, I collapsed in the school gym and was taken to a children’s hospital 100 miles from home.
One evening, after a six hour operation which had taken the pain away, my dad came to my bedside and told me what had happened during surgery. He said I had cancer. He said that a tumour and my ovary had been taken out of my abdomen.
The whole world fell away from me with those brief words. All I knew about cancer was that it killed people. I was a 12 year old girl. How on earth could I hope to survive against cancer? It was more than my innocent, young mind could understand. Gripped with intense fear, I hardly dared move or breathe for fear of keeling over and dying on the floor at my father’s feet.
Yet, on the other hand, I had come this far. I had the surgery and was recovering well. I took one look at my parents’ faces and saw a million reasons to live reflected in their eyes. Suddenly, small actions took over from the fear. I began to learn about chemotherapy. I began to walk again after the operation. I began to amuse myself by reading and doodling rather than lying listlessly on the pillows.
I was already on the mend. My body was already healing and growing. Could I live instead of die? Could I really and truly make that happen?
It was a conscious choice for me to have chemotherapy. I chose that path towards recovery. Death and its menacing shadow receded into the background as we all focused our efforts on more practical things. Anti-sickness medication. Coping with hair loss. Home tuition and not attending school for six months.
Slowly but surely, I felt myself step into a deep place of love and life. As cancer left my body, I was filled with the enchanting prospect of a whole new world unravelling before me. Rather than the dark corridors of chemotherapy, I walked into a beautiful mansion of survivorship.
But my journey wasn’t over yet. I had to learn how to navigate the new life on the other side of cancer. I had experienced the lowest points of humanity and been restored to glistening health in a way that no one else could understand. Despite the loneliness, bullying, and isolation I felt back at school, I knew that I had a sacred purpose in this world to share my story and help others. And that purpose is, and always will be, fueled by my decision to grasp life after the surgery.
I still choose life. I choose it every day. Cancer is (hopefully) forever in my past, but the lessons it taught me still very much frame my present.