By Sarah Tidey
Sarah Tidey is a freelance writer and former lawyer who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2015. She is currently having her fourth line of chemotherapy. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and three children aged 20, 18 and 16.
If you’ve been on this earth long enough, you’ve probably imagined at some point about having cancer.
There’s nothing strange about it really. It’s not unusual to deal with our fears by torturing ourselves with them. Walking through cemeteries in the dark. Riding rollercoasters. Why should it be any different when we are talking about the Big C? After all, it tends to be one of the most feared diseases.
In your cancer fantasy you are a Hollywood cancer patient, bald but beautiful, wearing a weak smile. You’re lying in a white bed, the lighting is dim, and you’re surrounded by loved ones. These imaginings leave out the day to day banalities of life with cancer– cooking dinner for your kids, grocery shopping, feeling horrendous at work.
THE HARSH REALITY
I had run the Hollywood reel in my head numerous times, but it didn’t prepare me for the reality of an actual diagnosis and the very real prospect of my own death.
I tried reading about it but most of the books or articles I came across were either motivational – I won the Tour de France after having cancer - or miserable – a blow by blow description of ghastly torturous treatments and dealing with difficult news.
I wanted to hear about people like me, ordinary folk with a crap disease trying to get on with life with a dark cloud hanging over their head.
Over the last four years, I’ve had numerous conversations about having cancer with friends, family and complete strangers. There’s some common themes that keep popping up.
I’ve realised that when it comes to talking or thinking about cancer, most of us have a lot of preconceptions about what the experience is like.
Some of the most common questions I am asked are: Why hasn’t my hair fallen out? Not all chemo makes your hair fall out. Another favourite is...what’s on my bucket list? I don’t have one.
These questions come up so regularly it’s like they have been borrowed from a script.
LOOKING FORWARD TO LIFE
Sitting down to write this I wanted to share my experience of having cancer.
People often assume that I must be really unhappy living with cancer. Obviously, it’s not a diagnosis that anyone would wish for, but even though I think about cancer most days, it doesn’t mean my days are miserable at all.
Yes, there are many negative aspects – physical and emotional - but there is also good stuff - laughs, and the community that have buoyed me up. In spite of, or maybe because I have cancer, I’ve travelled to India with my Mum, introduced my kids to New York, spent a whole lot more time with my friends than I had in years, and found the freedom to let go of things I’d hung on to for too long – my obsession with being ‘busy’, a stressful job, my hair straightener.
Through my involvement in advocacy with the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF), I’ve learned a lot and gained some hope. As one of the largest not-for-profit funders of ovarian cancer research in Australia, we can face this head on together. The research that OCRF funds for prevention, better treatment and a cure means that my daughters might be able to grow up free from the threat of this crap disease.
I hope that for those of you who are also having a ‘cancery’ experience that you will find something to relate to, or even laugh about. I’d love you to share your own experiences and join in the discussion.
At OCRF, our vision is to ensure a future where no woman’s well-being is under threat from ovarian cancer. We want to empower women like Sarah to have a voice in this fight.