How do you put an illness in past tense?
In this blog teenage cancer survivor, author and speaker Mette de Fine Licht share her thoughts about getting over cancer. The illness has left her with a big scar on her right leg. Not to mention the mental scars from long lonely days at the hospital. But what do you do when life gives you scars? How do you live with them? Can you live with them? And is it possible to get rid of of the identity as ‘patient’?
There’s Nothing Pleasant About Uttering, “I Had Cancer.”
“You don’t say. There’s no way. No one would ever be able to tell.”
That’s the response I usually get when I say “I had cancer.” Fortunately. Who would want to be gaunt, pale, and bald forever after? Although the grim days of cancer are past me, there’s nothing pleasant about uttering, “I had cancer.”
Because it reminds you of the hell you lived through, and because it can make people’s eyes pop quizzically out of their sockets as they do a double-take about whether they heard “have” or “‘had.”
To put an illness in the past tense requires both experience and awareness. I practice every day. I have to. Not because I want to declare it out loud to everyone I meet, but because cancer has left a big scar — a constant reminder of what I experienced — on both my body and soul.
The Physical Scar
My right leg is now made of metal. The prothesis sits under my skin. My foot and thigh are my own, but the bone in between is made of metal.
(If you’re raising your brow, it’s completely understandable — I’ve even met doctors who didn’t believe it was possible).
Were it not for my physical limitations and the long scar, people wouldn’t be able to tell that anything had ever been awry. But my life today comes with some limitations that often require me to ask for help or find an excuse if I don’t decline an activity outright. To take one example, I can’t walk very far. Two kilometers in total, from the moment I wake up in the morning until the moment I am back on my pillow in the evening. And I can hardly carry my own suitcase or take the trash out. And I’m certainly no longer able to ride horses or go skiing, the very activities that were once my favorite things in life.
The Mental Scar
Not a day goes by without I think about what I am no longer — and never will be — capable of enjoying. Ever again. Cancer stole a whole year of my teenage life. But it has also stolen a lot from my future.
Luckily, not a day goes by either without my thoughts wander towards all the things I still can do. Despite cancer.
- I can breathe
- I can smile
- I can cry
- I can put on mascara (chemo killed my eye lashes. For a whole year I looked like a mix between Gollum and a fish!))
- I can wash my hair (chemo made me bald)
- I can kiss my husbond (I found love)
- I can hug my sons (chemo killed my fertility, but I have managed to get pregnant anyway. Twice)
- I can enjoy a cup of coffee (chemo made everything taste weird)
- I can feel the warmth from the sun and take a dip in the ocean
- I can read and write
- I can travel
- I can dream
- I can follow my dreams (most of them, at least)
And so much more. So. Much. More.
16 years has passed since cancer. My leg has hardly become normal. It has, however, healed as well as possible. The limitations will never get easier, but my hair is long and shiny again. And I consider my book ‘Willpower Girl – A Teenager’s Trek Through Cancer’ as the healing proces of my mental scars. Like a silent therapist. This book is a constant reminder of what I am today despite cancer and chemo and scars. Or maybe because of it all?
You can be sure that sometime, somewhere, somehow life will give you a scar as well. I hope you don’t get yours from cancer. I know that life will give me more scars. Hopefully from a lighter category. My eldest son, Erik, has already gotten lots of scars from the playground. I bet that every scar on his three year old body tells it’s own learning.