I guess that I’ve always had an awareness of cancer. From an age much younger than most, I knew what cancer was and how it affected people, and what it did to lives. When I was very young, both my Nana Winnie and Auntie Audrey died from cancer. I don’t remember it much, I was too young to remember anything about Winnie, but I remember Audrey. She lived a few doors down from my nan, and she always spoke to and played with us as kids. She gave me a lot of old coins once, and I think they’re in a pot in my nan’s bedroom now. I still wasn’t old enough to really understand, but I was sad when she died, and I used to sit and count those coins for a long time afterwards.
When I was twelve, a very close family friend who’s the same age as me was diagnosed with bone cancer. It was three years before he finally got the all clear, and even now, three years after that date, he’s still having treatment to try and fuse the bones in his legs. He’s had plaster casts, operations, and metal frames with pins. Even when the cancer has gone, it doesn’t ever go away, really. It still follows you and haunts you and impacts on your life, forever.
Recently, my mum is being tested for cancerous cells, and that worries me a lot. She doesn’t tell me much of what is going on, and I panic about her well being much more than I should. The doctor told me a few months ago when I went to see him about an issue, that although the chances are minute, there’s a chance that even my symptoms could be a sign of cancer. That thought haunts me every day, and it doesn’t go away.
If you’ve got to my age and never known anyone who’s had cancer, you’ve done amazingly well. I don’t know at exactly what point I decided that I wanted to go into cancer research. It was only a couple of years ago that I found out what pharmacology actually was, and then I was dead set that it would be my career. Somewhere in the mess that has been the past few years, I decided that I wanted to go into cancer research. Not once have I wavered from that decision. Especially with my family friend suffering for such a long time and at such a young age, cancer has had a massive impact on my life. I’m so determined to do well in my degree, because I want to make a difference. Of course, one person cannot save the world on their own, but if I can make a positive impact on the lives of others, then I will. I could never ever be a doctor or a nurse, that’s an extremely challenging profession both physically and mentally (oh, I don’t do blood or needles which doesn’t help!), so being a pharmacologist is my way of making a difference.
And then today happened. I found out that one of my ex A Level teachers has a brain tumour. When I heard this news, my panic stress induced freeze attack hit me faster than it ever has before, and I couldn’t control it. I overheated, and I fainted. Luckily, I was sat down and so I didn’t injure myself, but even I was a little shocked. Even now, I’m surprised that I reacted in such a way to the news. After all, she’s only a teacher, right?
Let me take a little side track here, for a second. Bare with me, because hopefully it will allow me to explain. Back in my last year of middle school, I had to give a fifteen minute presentation about my heroes. At the time, I didn’t really have any heroes. In the end, I chose my cousins, my friend suffering from cancer, and a random flautist that I’d never heard of but a quick google search provided me with the answers. I was very much a ‘do it on my own’ kind of person, and I still am now. I didn’t look up to anyone, because I couldn’t see anyone around me that I thought was worth looking up to. Perhaps if I’d have thought a little harder, I’d have come up with a better idea, but I didn’t want to think too hard because the more personal I made it, the more difficult it was going to be to give the presentation. Presentations are hard enough anyway, and make me panic enough anyway without me talking about something personal on top of that! Now, five years on, things are a little different. Although I’d still be horrified by having to give a presentation about my heroes, I’d have some to talk about. I don’t like the word ‘hero’ because it’s glorified. The people that I look up to and want to be like don’t deserve that title. To me, they’re more than ‘just’ heroes. They’re not drawings in a comic book. They’re real people who have made a difference to me. It’s a little difficult to put into words, but the reasons I appreciate them are very personal to me, and a little difficult to explain to the outside world. I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, because my understanding of the word hero is bound to have changed since I was thirteen.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, without revealing the whole list, that teacher is someone who would be on it. To me, she’s not ‘just a teacher’. Her name would be there in a brightly coloured pen with something along the lines of ‘nosy, laughable, caring, and can give a bloody good motivational speech!’ She impacted on my life in my A Level years more than most of you could even imagine. From the first few months of AS when I was dragged to her room in tears by my best friend because A Levels were all just too much, all the way through my grandad’s illness when she excused me from homework (I had NEVER missed a homework deadline in my life – except once when I was eleven. I had done my RE homework, but I just left it at home. I was horrified.), to my A2 mocks when I failed and she offered to give me extra tuition at lunch time, from the times that I arrived late to her lesson to sit on my own in total silence, and she asked no questions, to the hundreds of times that I stood in her room after a lesson staring blankly and on the verge of tears, desperately trying to force myself to say something that I was hiding, weather it be my friend’s eating habits, my state of panic, or something else. I never did say, and I never did tell. Until leavers. I don’t want to talk about leavers, or what happened. It’s a story I’ve told before, it’s a story that tears chunks from my heart, and it’s a story that I try my best not to think about. But what she did that night and the days that followed in order to help me cope was unbelievable. She sat next to me on that coach and held me and hugged me when all I was trying to do was ignore her and push her away, but all I really needed was someone to do exactly what she was doing. She spoke to me the next day, on DofE, to check in, and to give me one of those fabulous motivational speeches. I saw her a few days later and it was just the same. A few months later, she sent me an email and arranged to meet me for coffee in the summer holidays to check on me, to give support, and to give me one final speech before exam results day. She still emails me occasionally now. I knew she hadn’t been in school recently, and I knew she’d been ill.
I didn’t ever dream or expect that she’d have cancer.
It doesn’t matter how educated I am about the disease, what I know, or what I want to be, when there’s someone you care about that gets ill, it hits you. Hard. She may ‘only be a teacher’, but I do care about her, lots. And she cared about me. I’d like to think that she still does care about me. On reflection, I know she’ll be a fighter, and I really hope she’ll be okay. It was a shock when I heard the news. Again, I don’t have the words to describe it, I just hit freeze mode.
The news may have knocked me out today, I may not have revised as hard as I perhaps should have this afternoon.
But four hours after I was told, and on reflection, I know one thing for sure. I’m now even more determined to go into cancer research. I’m determined to do well in these exams, and this degree. I’m determined to be awesome, just like she is, and like she always told me that I was.