The cancer came somewhere between breakfast cereals and evening snacks. Between work and house dreams. Between love and … life. I was unsuspecting.
A pap smear in 2002 shows an atypia which is “difficult to interpret”. Something in my vaginal parts differs from the usual. The sample is retaken after a week and it comes back as normal. I think, that sounds quite weird. But buy entirely the explanation that it “sometimes happens”. At age 23, of course nothing bad happens to you.
Three years later, I have a new appointment with a pap smear. Before the routine check, I have troubles with a stubbornly aching abdominal pain. I have also sought help for bleeding and irritation in my lower abdomen that feels strange. Then I get the answer that I have an “easily annoyed cervix”, which also seems reasonable. The midwife who does the test this time raises her eyebrows a little surprised when I now have pain and bleed heavily. ”Come back if you get a fever”.
(After those words, I still find it difficult to take midwives seriously. With a few exceptions)
A week later, I call the gynecologist reception at the hospital. I get hospitalized and get antibiotics intravenously for a severe infection on the cervix. The doctor’s test also shows cell changes. The general surgeon is called in and examines me. He plans for an operation where the cervix is to be laser irradiated. A psychologist comes into my room, sits on the side of the bed with her head tilted and puts her hand on my leg. The family is visiting, worried. I calmly explain what is about to happen and what has been indited to me by the doctors. “Cell changes are not dangerous”. It is even a little exciting to be sedated for the first time.
On the post-op are other girls who have undergone the same procedure. They go home after a couple of hours, I am being rolled up to the ward again. At that time, an invasive cervical tumor has taken root in the body, but doctors cleverly avoid the word cancer. Afterwards, I have understood that the staff very well knew what was expected and that cell changes were just a small pretext for the operation. The term “happily unaware” is shoved down the throat. When the doctor enters my room after the operation and wants to talk about his findings, I am completely unprepared. I’m being paralyzed.
We sit in a cell-like minimal room, me and my partner. I see the lips of the doctor moving, but do not understand what he is saying. Thoughts wanders off. I am bothered by the psychologist’s red lipstick and aunty hairstyle. And I think to myself that it is a strange thought to be having when the doctor tells me that I have cancer.
My case is taken over by the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, where the doctor does an examination under anesthesia. The general surgeon at the town hospital is confident and assures me that he has probably removed everything when he did the radiating. “This is just a routine procedure”. Once again, I’m being fooled. The second time in a short while I am lying in a post-op. I see the doctor who examined me walking around to the other women and talking reassuringly to them, they are smiling relieved. Me, she walks just past, without wanting to face me. The fear grabs me, instinctively I know what that means. Quiet tears aches within me. I hold my breath for two days.
I’m back in the hospital on a Wednesday. In an as small room as the last one. In sweeps a storm of disaster, disguised to my doctor. As scaled-down and light-hearted as announsing what´s for dinner, she gives me the information I have feared. “As I suspected, the cancer remains, so we will remove it”. Cervix, lymph nodes, tissue and uterus. Everything will be removed. It takes a while to realize what she says. Within me, an abyss opens. I have hold my breath for so long that I no longer can breathe. Out comes a scream and the beginning of a flood of dammed and uncontrolled crying. The doctor is confused, “I thought you were informed”.
I leave the hospital shocked and mentally turned off. In the car home, me and my partner sit quiet. The tears run down my face, I don’t even care to wipe them. In the luggage there is a drying rack for the bathroom, which we had intended to return at Ikea after the conversation with the doctor. How incredible stupid. It is no longer possible to ignore the problem, this is really happening. On Tuesday I will be operated. For five days I cry constantly, there is not more time. The partner says the right things in the moment, but deep down I know this will not last. Not because I am playing martyrs and feel sorry for myself. Because I just know. Our relationship is not built to cope with this disaster. We have just moved to a house, it is now that life with plans for family should take over. Something called cancer gets in the way. My life will not be the same.
April 12, 2005, at 6.10 am, I am outside the hospital gate. I haven’t slept all night. I do not understand how the body is steered into the hospital when the panic and predator within me scream to run away. I have such anxiety that it feels like I’m going to fall apart. I am 10 minutes late and I get a scolding from a stodgy nurse. I feel like I want to kill her.
With thin drapes in between we are lined up. Like cattle on their way to slaughter. One after the other we are rolled away, sometimes there is a slight traffic jam in the hub into the operating rooms. Someone screams in anxiety – “I don’t want this!”. It could have been me. If it wasn’t because I’m afraid of losing it. Even in the worst time of my life, I am too well behaved to be troublesome.
The surgery goes well. The test results are positive. As quick as I was with cancer, as quick it is removed from me. I never even felt sick. Left is a scar on the stomach, which reminds me the days I wake up and supposedly believe that everything is like it was before. That everything was just a nightmare. And that I could still be a mother. Left is also an indescribable anger that the universe and one of Sweden’s foremost hospitals deprived me of the most sacred. Afterwards, they leave the anxiety of not understanding why I, by a gathering of older women, is the only 25-year-old at the ward. A nurse wants to talk about how I look inside after the surgery, wants to give me the tools to process. But I’m not there. I do not know how to explain that the doctors dug a larger hole within me than the size of a uterus. Surely I will regret that I do not listen, but I just want to go home. Establishe a strategy to cope with the days in the hospital, one minute at a time. I bury the psychological pain in a safe place deep within me where no one can access it. Cancer is gone. Outwards, everything is just fine.
Two months after I first received the diagnosis, I am back at work. Everyone seem relieved that I take everything so well. I talk about everything that has happened and I feel invincible. Feed of the attention I get. I tell myself that I am indeed strong and that I got away lightly. “There are always those who have it worse”. The partner moves out and I bury myself in work. What defined me up to the cancer has been an insatiable energy and demands of performance. I’m not going to stop now. Fight bravely not to change. It works for a while. As people move on from what has happened to me and the everyday is back to normale, the emptiness within me grows larger. At lunch breaks, I pull away from the others. Can’t bear to listen to their talk about families anymore. Can’t bear to keep up the facade for their staring eyes. I’m not the same anymore. My rescue becomes a fatigue depression, one year after the surgery, which is piercing everything. Only then, I let go of the control over my feelings.