I am 27 years old. I stand in front of the mirror and sigh tiredly as I stare at my reflection. I scowl in annoyance at my seemingly expanding waistline and wonder if I should complain about it. But then, my boyfriend doesn’t seem to mind, so I decide to momentarily put away my girlish tendencies and consider something else.
I have been bleeding. My abdomen hurts. Well, no, let’s not be shy; my uterus hurts. I have suddenly gained weight, even though I take a martial arts class twice a week and fill my weekends with volunteering to hack away unwanted trees and transplanting wanted ones. My skin is breaking out and my body is healing significantly slower than normal. Much of my time is spent wading through a cloudy fatigue. I don’t know what’s happening, but I am concerned.
I recall that my mother had cancer. Not just my mother, but her sister and mother, as well. They are my little hereditary axis of evil. I try to remember any symptoms my mother recounted during her chemotherapy, but I can’t. I was too young and it was too long ago. I could call her, but I won’t, because she might panic at the mention of such a scary word.
I don’t feel afraid. Not yet. I concluded many years ago that I would be diagnosed with a form of reproductive cancer. I even concluded that I might have to undergo a hysterectomy. That doesn’t scare me, but sometimes I think it should.
I am 27 years old and I sit in a doctor’s office. I’ve only met my doctor once before and I hate gynecological exams, but I tell her I’ve been bleeding, my uterus hurts, and I’m healing slower than normal. I tell her I have a family history of reproductive cancer.
She begins the exam and ticks off the list of possible causes for my symptoms. I stare at the ceiling, at the wall, and keep up a steady stream of questions in an attempt to stave off the silence and the one possible cause I really don’t want to hear.
Unfortunately, I was dealing with a professional and she paused mid-sentence. The pause turned awkward and uncertain as she asked the assisting nurse to come closer. I didn’t like the pause. I didn’t like the nurse. I didn’t like being there and I wasn’t certain if I liked being there alone.
She cleared her throat and asked if I’d had any work done on my cervix. To which I gave her an inquiring “no” to answer her and encourage further depth into her question. There are some cells that aren’t responding the way they are supposed to. She’s going to send some to the lab.
As I leave the office, I try again to remember my mother’s symptoms, my aunt’s, and my grandmother’s. One had chemotherapy. One had a hysterectomy. What did the other have? How did they find out? I can’t remember, so I adorn my nonchalant tone and call my mother. She doesn’t panic. I vaguely wonder why, but I am acting nonchalant and she doesn’t have much to say. Her cancer was found on accident during an ultrasound. She has a natural healing book she wants me to pick up. My aunt used it to help cure a bad infection.
I get home and I have nothing to do but wait for time to pass. I contact my boyfriend and give him a breakdown of possible causes. I want to call him on the phone, but I can’t, so I say this to him in text. I bring up cancer and I act nonchalant. I wonder if he would be there for me if I was diagnosed. I wonder if he would want to kiss me a little longer or hug me a little tighter. I want him to tell me he would, but he doesn’t. I want to ask him if he would, but I don’t, because I’m acting nonchalant. He tells me it sounds scary and I tell him I expected to be diagnosed with it at some point in time.
I think about my daughter. A near mirror image of me and the best sidekick I could ask for. She tells me I’m the best mom ever and she giggles when I tell her that makes me feel special. I have been the only solid figure in her life. She doesn’t know my boyfriend well enough to think of him as a father. Where will she go? This isn’t the way I want it to be.
I am 28 years old. I have cancer. I talk to my doctor. I talk to survivors. I go to the library and beg to recheck the books just one more time. I eat “super fruit”, I take vitamins, and I hide vegetables in my food. When I’m not tired, I try to laugh. Isn’t laughter supposed to help? When my daughter and boyfriend are sleeping, I whisper to them, “I will live for you.”
I am 30 years old. I stand in front of the mirror and sigh tiredly as I stare at my reflection. I purse my lips, contemplate my expanding waistline, and consider complaining about it. But then, my husband doesn’t seem to mind, so I turn to Eskimo kiss the dopey grin off his face and let him rub my pregnant belly one more time.
As we depart for work, he kisses me a little longer and hugs me a little tighter. Before he lets me go, he whispers, “I live for you.”
This short story was inspired by James “Rhio” O’Connor, whom was diagnosed with a deadly cancer, mesothelioma ( www.survivingmesothelioma.com ), and given a year to live. Through rigorous and extensive research, Rhio O’Connor outlasted his prognosis by more than six years. He chose life, too.