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It’s sort of funny – the way three simple words have to power to change you. Three tiny words. They are all it takes to turn your entire world upside down. November thirteenth – that was the day that those three words were spoken to me. That was the day my life was thrown into a somersault of madness and fear.
I was on the way to the doctors’ with my mother. We had the radio on, and mum was humming softly along to an old rock ballad. I sat back in my seat blowing my nose and wishing mum would slow down a little. I hate the doctors’ – with everyone coughing and spluttering, you feel like you’re contracting about seventy diseases just from sitting in the waiting room!
I was in to check the results of a blood test my doctor had taken from me a while ago, when he thought I had glandular fever. Lately, I had lost a lot of weight very quickly; along with feeling awful from what we thought was the glandular fever. As well as checking the results of the blood test, mum was getting me some antibiotics – anything that was going to stop my head from feeling like a dangerously over-inflated balloon, I was grateful for.
We pulled up outside the surgery, and I rubbed my aching knee. Medicine, here I come, I thought.
In the doctor’s office, after a fifteen minute wait in the contaminated waiting room, my doctor sat me and my mother down. He looked stern.
“Sarah, I’ll tell you now that you do not have glandular fever,” he said in his clear, deep voice with the slightest of French accents. “But there is something very seriously wrong here. Your results have come back and the news is bad. Sarah, you have cancer.”
Those ones. Those three words right there. “You have cancer”. Those words changed my outlook on the world and life itself.
Dr. Jones’ words bounced emptily around in my head, until the reality of the situation sunk in.
“I… have… what?”
“Cancer. Leukaemia. Sarah, we need to start treatment as soon as possible, before this gets any worse,” Dr. Jones said softly.
In my head, this wasn’t happening. I was numb. I was fourteen years old, for goodness’ sakes! Fourteen-year-olds didn’t get cancer! I knew other people got cancer. Other people – not anyone I knew… not me!
I was vaguely aware of my mother crying beside me. I reached up to rub an eyelash out of my eye, and to my surprise, my finger came back wet. Tears were spilling from my eyes unconsciously, and what was the point of trying to stop them?
“Go home, you two, and we will be in touch with you soon about chemotherapy.” Dr. Jones ushered us out of his surgery. “I am truly sorry for your situation.”
I don’t remember anything but sounds and smells from the ride home. It’s funny – when you get bad news, your body protects you from the pain, leaving you feeling numb, making you focus on things you would normally pay no attention to. To sounds and scents filled my brain: my mother’s ragged breaths as she struggled to calm herself down. The rubber tyres on the warm bitumen road, humming like giant bumble bees. The sweet fairy floss smell of the lilacs growing in someone’s back garden. The musty scent of coffee and old bananas that had, over time, embedded itself into the car seats.
The next week or so – time seemed unimportant now – was repetitive. I told someone the news. They either cried, or told me they were sorry. I went to my room and cried. Mum or Dad came in. They cried, though they tried to hide it. We went to the counsellor’s. They asked us how we felt. Mum cried. We got home. Dad yelled. Mum cried. I cried.
It was a depressing cycle.
On November the twenty fifth, I was admitted to hospital, to start the chemo.
I shared a room with a girl called Sandy, who never spoke.
The chemo was awful – I threw up every day, and I lost my hair. Mum, Dad and my best friend Maggie visited every day, bringing presents, some things of mine from home, or just some simple words of encouragement. I felt weak and helpless.
Eventually, though, after a few months, something changed. The doctors reduced my treatment, and a little colour returned to my cheeks. I smiled more, cracking jokes here and there. I felt stronger – getting up and walking around with my family, showing them around my level of the hospital. Most importantly, I felt as though the end was getting nearer.
In my darkest moments, right in the middle of my treatment, I felt there was no point. What was the point in fighting? When the black clouds of doubt and depression hovered over me, I remembered my family. I was doing this for them. It was those moments of realisation and memories; I knew I wouldn’t give up, and I didn’t.
A year and a half later, I was given the all-clear.
When I got the news, it was easily the biggest sense of achievement, pride, relief and happiness I’d ever felt.
That year and a half I spent up close and personal with a life-threatening disease made me strong. It’s taught me to make the most of what you’ve got.
You never know when three small words could change your life.