“They called from the hospital.”
My father stood at the threshold of my room. His forehead was creased with worry.
“They know what’s wrong with your leg, Mette. It’s cancer,” he said.
A thousand questions
I got the message on a Sunday afternoon in July. The sun was shining, and I was on my way to a music festival with a friend. The moment my father said those three little words, ”You have cancer,” everything changed, and my happy life turned into a nightmare. My first thoughts: That’s something only old people get. It’s something that kills you. Am I about to die? I cried and couldn’t comprehend it. I looked around the living room where I sat with my mother, father and best friend, to find something concrete to focus on. In my hand I held the ticket to the festival, and that was where I set my sights.
“But I still get to go to the festival, right?” was the first thing I said.
There were a thousand other and far more important things to ask about, but the festival was the only thing real enough that I could relate to.
How I tried NOT to think about cancer
The day after I focused on whether to choose tea or cocoa in the afternoon. And on whether or not my striped sweater was still in style. I tried NOT to think about cancer. This was how I continued to think throughout the year that I was sick. Every time my thoughts were dark and heavy, I focused on what was in front of me right then and there. Is my wig on straight? Can I eat lunch? What clothes should I wear tomorrow if I get out of bed? Can I go to school today — at least for an hour or two? I didn’t try to deny what was happening. I was aware that I had a malignant disease and nobody knew whether I would survive. But I had a feeling that it wouldn’t help if my mood also plummeted and dropped off altogether. It was enough that my hair did and that my leg might too.
Energy in the bank
Instead of being eaten up by worries, I created an internal account that I put energy and experiences into. Every time I could go to school, to a café or out with the girls was energy in the bank. That energy I would need in the periods I was hospitalized. The bank account helped me keep my focus trained on concrete and good experiences, and at all the tiny amazing things that my life still sometimes contained. Things like the taste of hot chocolate and freshly baked cinnamon rolls, good company, or beating my brother at a game of backgammon.
This was how my life came to be about all the good things I experienced in spite of the cancer, rather than being consumed by everything that I suddenly could no longer do because of the disease. Instead of asking myself, ”Am I about to die?” I asked myself, ”What can I do today?”