It had been easy sailing until now. Gentle zephyrs and ocean currents allowing the spinnaker of life to billow and flourish. Life was fun; nothing was too hard, too challenging. I lived each day according to a familiar and comfortable routine. A uniform student in a uniformed school, living a uniformed life. But it seemed that there was another course which had been mapped for me. Little did I know that storm clouds were brewing over the horizon and Force 12 winds on the Beaufort scale were approaching.
There was an explosion inside my head. Medulloblastoma. Tiny lumps previously lying dormant were suddenly, malignantly, dividing deep within the recesses of my brain. Searing pain overwhelmed me.
I swallowed pills to ease the agony, alternating paracetamol and neurofen to dull the pain. It ebbed, but not for long. Every few hours there would be a sudden increase in pain. Doctors were left scratching their heads in befuddlement. Migraine? Anxiety? Dehydration? ‘Was I getting enough rest?’ they enquired politely.
The pain worsened. Sleep became impossible. The light switch turned off. My eyes had rolled back inside my head, leaving the whites visible as if I was some kind of zombie from a horror flick. My sister told me that my father was distraught, tight lipped and warn with fear. He could not let me know the depth of his horror. He had to be strong for his boy. My mother was inconsolable. I was rushed to emergency, again. This time the doctors did not scratch their heads. They had seen this before and activated the protocol. I was stabbed with dye and scanned with an MRI machine which I realised resembled a giant coffin.
My darkness was now perpetual as one of the tumours pressed on my optic nerve. I put was now face to face with nightmarish visions: gleaming yellow eyes, fanged teeth able to rip through the toughest flesh.
This was how I had come to see this threat – a demon, lying dormant, lying in wait for the opportune moment. Now we fought for possession of my soul.
My treatment necessitated a change of scene and I was transported to The Children’s Hospital to commence radiation therapy. My sight lost, my other senses became more acute but I wished they hadn’t. I could make out the cries and sometimes even the screams of young children who were also locked in battle with their own demons. Machinery alternately hummed, whirred and beeped around me, seeming much louder than it probably ever was. The worst thing about my superhuman hearing was that I could easily detect the tones of dread and fear in my sister’s voice when she told me ‘Everything was going to be alright.’ I knew it wasn’t. Worse still, I could sometimes catch the stifled sobs of my mother and father, whose strength was slipping away. I had entered a place of sadness, a place of misery, a place of constant pain.
As I regained my sight and remained conscious for longer periods of time, I noticed that the demon still kept a firm grasp on me. Chains of tubing wound in and out of my arms, thighs – even my head. I was imprisoned. And yet, the pain was not as intense as it had been. It was still there, certainly, but dulled.
I was moved to the Camperdown ward of the children’s hospital. I was struck by the brightness of the ward. Vibrant warm coloured feature walls greeted me and I was immediately aware of the brilliant light after weeks of living in shadow. The nurses were different too. They were younger and carried themselves differently, smiling and laughing with each other as opposed to the grim, pursed efficiency of the nurses from intensive care. It was a welcome change. My parents and sister were buoyed by my recovery. Their joy was palpable. My sickness had left them worn, gaunt. They were sallow cheeked and hollow eyed and I felt guilty for what I had put them through.
The demon was not slain, however. We had ‘scorched the snake, not killed it.’ The tumour was smaller from the radiation but it was still a threat. I visualised it, emaciated, gasping for breath, holding up its hands in submission. But this was a fight to the death and I imagined myself taking the malevolent fiend by the throat and strangling it, looking deep into its yellow eyes as the light slowly left them.
Even after I had made peace with my demon he had still left an incredible toll on my body. Countless surgeries. I spent months lying in bed. Never to see the outside world. Every week a new neighbour, a new nurse. When will it finally end? When will I see my home that I have yearned for in these lonely months? When can I leave this misery?
Every night I dream the same dream. I dream that one day I will change the world.I hope and pray that maybe one day, through my experiences I can help others.
Create a better world for my family and someday maybe I can increase the wellbeing of future generations? Who knows, I feel anything is possible. Anything can happen. Having cancer has taken away so much… but in the end it returns it ten times over. I have gained knowledge that people their whole life search for, but are unable to find. I have a duty not only to myself but to family and friends to make life a better and more enjoyable experience, to diminish the pain and the suffering that goes on in life. Hopefully one day I can achieve my dreams of a better future and my dream of being able to go to university and get an education. Hopefully one day I will be doing what I aspire to do. Hopefully one day I can look back at all this and smile. Hopefully one day my dreams will become a reality and not just a fantasy.