The most important lesson I’ve learnt from a year of living with ovarian cancer


To mark World Ovarian Cancer Day on May 8, I want to celebrate the people who have carried me through the past year.

July 21 2020 was the day I received my diagnosis of ovarian cancer and it was the worst day of my life. Not due to the fear I felt for myself, but because once I knew, I had to tell my loved ones.

Over and over again I watched as their faces would crumple in despair, listened as their voices broke from choking back tears. To make matters worse, a new set of lockdown restrictions had just been announced, which meant all these conversations had to be done over the phone or on Zoom.

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I will never forget the tears running down my best friend’s face as my lame attempts to lighten the mood with humour fell flat. The way my sister’s voice cracked as she said she was coming home from work immediately to stay with me forever.

I couldn’t stand the hurt my illness was causing and decided to keep the reality of my situation hidden from anyone outside of my immediate circle. For months, I confided in my family and a very small group of close friends while blocking out the rest of the world. I’m certain this would have made the burden all the heavier for them, knowing how much I was relying on them not only for support but discretion.

When I was admitted to the hospital shortly after, there was a strict no visitors policy. I was awaiting surgery alone, not knowing what lay before me and my friends did everything in their power to make me feel safe.

Some would FaceTime me every night to watch Netflix or do yoga together, pausing every time nurses came in to check my vitals. Others would prepare care packages of books, pyjamas and chocolates and drop them at the hospital’s reception, unable to deliver them to my room just a few floors above.

When I asked to receive one devastatingly dark joke every day as a distraction, I was inundated with messages. These seemingly small gestures meant the world to me – they gave me a reason to be hopeful for each new day.

As I grew stronger and returned home, my loved ones moved mountains to help me feel like myself again. With only an hour of outdoor exercise allowed a day, my sister would use that time to help me begin walking again.

She would take me a little further every day, at first up the street and back, then around the block and eventually to the local park. One friend working as a nurse throughout lockdown would come over every single night to help administer injections, regardless of how long her shift had been that day.

I was never short of offers of lifts to appointments, pharmacy runs or sounding boards for repetitive cancer complaints. Despite the physical distance imposed by lockdowns, I always felt surrounded by love.

When I reached a point in my recovery where I finally felt comfortable speaking candidly about my illness, my friends were there to brace me every step of the way. I gradually told more and more people until I reached a point where I no longer cared if everyone knew.

The fear I’d held over the pain it could cause faded once I knew the people most important to me weren’t buckling under the pressure. They were far stronger than I had ever given them credit for.

I often say that my cancer has been harder on my support network than it ever has been for me. They always dispute this claim and say that it’s incomparable but I am certain I would go through everything seven times over if it meant I never had to witness it happen to them.

I have learnt so much over the past twelve months but the most crucial lesson was realising just how much I rely on my friends. I had no idea the levels of compassion, patience, support and grace my friends were capable of until it became integral to my survival.

As I come up to a year since my diagnosis, I’ve been wrestling with ways to appropriately express my gratitude. How do you repay someone for carrying you through the darkest days of your life? How do you show them how grateful you are? How much their unwavering support means to you? How you couldn’t have done any of it without them? You simply can’t.

There will never be a way to make this a fair trade-off. All I can do is cherish every day I get to spend with them and never again take for granted how lucky I am to be surrounded by such remarkable people.

If you take anything away from my experience, I hope it is a renewed appreciation for your chosen family. To my wonderful friends; please know how deeply I adore you and value all that you do.

Visit Ovarian Cancer Australia here to learn more or to donate. 

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