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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 12 August, 2020

'Once you start talking, it's hard to stop, and suddenly people are avoiding you, their cancer friend'

It’s been three weeks since I was diagnosed with stage one Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, writes Áine O’Connell.

Áine O'Connell Copywriter, volunteer and blogger

I’D LOVE TO tell you that this post will be well-written, lyrical and introspective on life, death and illness. Unfortunately that’s not what I’m going to write here. I’ve tried, and it’s just not my voice. Also, as I’ve been repeating to myself for weeks now, I’m not dying.

It’s been three weeks since I was diagnosed with stage one Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and I look forward to waking up from this highly elaborate dream of hospital waiting rooms, tiny vials of my blood and upset relatives.

The most famous disease of all

It’s been three weeks since my biopsy showed surprise swellings in my neck; happy birthday to my boyfriend, who turned 25 two days beforehand. Welcome to the Cancer Club. It’s been three weeks since I sat in St Vincent’s Hospital eating a Mint Crisp, wondering what the fuck to do next.

It’s been three weeks since I, a reasonably healthy young person, got slapped with arguably the most famous disease of all despite feeling absolutely grand. Not a single symptom has slowed me down the past few months, and the small lump in my neck was something I cheerfully ignored for weeks. And yet, I’ve been subject to numerous tests since D-Day, from a scan that made me radioactive to a breath test that had me sit in a box breathing into a space age looking tube.

I’ve had surgery that left me nauseous and in pain for weeks. And in a few days, I am starting literal chemotherapy.

Counting the days

In between these super fun appointments, I’ve called friends, something so comically terrible that I may need to write another post about it. I’ve read books, I’ve spent more money than is justifiable on clothes and makeup. But mostly, I’ve just sat about waiting for chemotherapy to start. Counting the days.

The nurses have been very kind, telling me to take this time to “get my head around things”, but to be honest I’m not sure where to start. I don’t know how to focus on this one big thing so instead I think about the little things. W–ill yellow still suit me when I lose my dark hair? What can/can’t I eat? How will my Leaving Cert history teacher feel when he hears?

Cancer as a freewheeling, space-invading concept feels impossible to think about. As someone who has always written problems down, this one seems insurmountable, a much bigger deal than terrible boyfriends or dissertation deadlines. I can’t journal about it, and right now I feel almost light-headed at my need to abandon this stupid blogpost, because “I don’t need the stress”. Talking about it is hard, too — once you start, it becomes very hard to stop, and suddenly people are avoiding you, their cancer friend. Which I totally get, to be honest.

But I have to climb this insurmountable hill. I have to get my head around it, as it were. Because one of the many things that bother me about my new situation is that I don’t have a choice in the matter. I have to get my head around things, things like self-administered injections, things like losing my hair, things like losing six months of my normal life to various different therapies. Yikes.

But all I can do is keep normalising it, keep talking about it, keep writing about it.

Áine O’Connell is from Kildare. She’s now living in Dublin, with three pals and two cats. She’s a recent graduate of Trinity College and was diagnosed with cancer a month ago. She works as a copywriter and volunteers with in her free time. You can follow Áine on Twitter @himynameisaine and on her blog

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About the author:

Áine O'Connell  / Copywriter, volunteer and blogger

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