They say one never forgets the day they were diagnosed. What they were doing, how they were feeling, what they were wearing, eating, thinking. They say time stands still, preserved and impressed into your memory forever. For me, that day was December 14 2015. A year today. I was eating lunch with my best friend. It was a Monday morning. We were coming down from a wild weekend away, running around, young and free and careless, like unsuspecting holiday-goers naive to the tidal wave of tragedy soon to wash our world away. I wore a printed floral summer dress, my long blonde locks hung loose beside my shoulders. My dad called me. His voice sounded wobbly, uneasy.
“Come home, Michelle. I need to talk to you.”
I probably already knew right then and there that everything was about to change. It’s like the way an earthquake can destroy a city in seconds, one minute everything’s the right way up and the next second its all falling to pieces around you, the ceiling becomes the floor, the floor’s the ceiling, you cant recognise what’s up or down any longer. Everything goes hazy. You can’t even recognise yourself.
“You have cancer”
Just three little worlds and your world is forever changed. And you can never go back.
The first reaction is always disbelief. Confusion. Then a wave of anger permeates your entirety. You hit, you scream, you cry, you break things.
“Not me! Not me! Not me! Not me!”
When life gives you hardship, tragedy, loss… you have two choices, you fight or you die.
So you stand up and you push and you fight and you cry, deep unearthing sobs as you are stripped of all that you thought made you who you are.
And then when you experience the profound realisation that your external body is not actually you, everything changes. You stop obsessing. You stop resisting change. You stop fighting against the current. You turn to face yourself, bald and pale and hairless and you say,
“Hello there. Nice to meet you. I love you”
You embrace yourself in your darkest hour and that’s how you come back to life.
Getting sick is the greatest lesson in the world for perspective. You walk out of there hungry for life. Determined to never again take any of this for granted. You vow to go out there and grab every day. You stop the internal, consistent dialogue that’s always comparing you with everyone else, telling you over and over again you that you aren’t good enough, you don’t have enough, you are too this or too little that.You stop. You look up at the sky and you proclaim with complete, utter joy, “This is the gold”. This is the gift cancer gives you.
This year I survived. I went through chemotherapy and now I am a cancer survivor. This year I’ve also been dealing with my mother’s dementia diagnosis. Somehow, I survived. This year I graduated from University with a bachelors degree. This year I became a qualified Foreign Language English teacher. This year I got back on my feet, I got fit again. I surfed, I travelled, I had a connection with a beautiful man who changed my life, I went to the biggest musical festival in the world, I watched my best friend have a baby, I made some of the strongest connections with people, new friends who have changed my life.
This year I nearly died.
This year I fucking lived.