RTÉ 2fm presenter Louise McSharry on dealing with the shock of her cancer diagnosis
After months of investigation into a 'mystery illness', cancer was the last diagnosis I expected but I know I'll be okay.
Three weeks ago I didn't know I had cancer, although it had been within me for months.
I was going about my business, complaining about my lack of energy, delighting in my weight loss and attending appointments with a consultant I'd been seeing for help with what I affectionately called my 'mystery illness'. Something had been up for ages, and yes, it had resulted in a week long hospital stay for tests, but I still wasn't expecting cancer when I went to get the results the following week.
I recoiled, physically when the doctor said it. Lymphoma. I knew what that meant. It meant cancer. And, for a split second, everything cancer meant to me flashed before my eyes. Bald heads. Bad head scarves. Blankets on knees. Friends speaking in hushed tones. Crying familes. Death.
The doctor was still talking, and my boyfriend (whom I had thought was being dramatic when he insisted on coming with me that morning) had moved his chair closer to mine, putting his hand on my leg. There were tears in my eyes, but I wasn't actually crying. I just couldn't bloody believe it.
It occurred to me that I should probably listen to what the doctor was saying, and by the time he actually used the C word, I was breathing again. He told me I was young and healthy and in the best possible position a person could be in heading into the recommended treatment. Chemotherapy. Another C word. Again, I recoiled. Chemo-bloody-therapy? No bloody way.
At this point, I wasn't thinking about death anymore. The cancer I have is treatable, and my brain immediately began to comfort me, telling me that I could beat this. It literally didn't give me any option but to assume that I would be okay. It's a good brain, mine.
We walked out of the appointment, through the waiting room full of people. 'Lucky bastards,' my boyfriend muttered to me. 'Not really,' I said, 'This is an STI clinic too. Some of those people could have HIV.'
I felt detached, somewhat, from what was happening, and yet, I desperately wanted to tell everyone we passed what was going on. 'I have cancer!' I wanted to shout at the doctors chatting outside the hospital entrance. 'I have cancer!' I wanted to shout at the kids playing outside the flats we passed on the way home. 'I have cancer!' I wanted to shout into each shop we walked by. I was so shocked, I wanted everyone to share in it with me. I wanted people to look at me and exclaim, 'You? Cancer? No way!'
Once I got home though, telling people became very real, and suddenly the reality of calling my family and giving them the news closed in. The first phone call was hard. I wept. Afterwards, I realised that I needed to approach these phone calls differently, and suddenly sharing the information became more about managing reactions than my own feelings.
Instead of, 'It's Hodgkins Lymphoma, which is a form of cancer,' it became, 'It's Hodgkins Lymphoma which is a really, really curable form of cancer, and people like me get it and beat it aaaall the time,' Instead of weeping, I found myself comforting weepers saying, 'Yes, I know it's a shock, but once you get over that bit I promise the prognosis is so good, there's nothing to worry about!'
After saying it twenty five times, I believed it too. It helped that it's the truth.
I think it's sunk in now. I've had my first bout of chemo, and my first few days of feeling rubbish as a result. My toilet functions have become an obsession. I've bought a wig. You know, cancer stuff™! There are good days and bad days but to borrow an expression from another ailment, I'm taking it one day at a time.
I'm okay. I'm going to be okay.