Would it make any difference to you if someone were to say you only had 18 months to live, 18 years to live, or you would live to be 100?
What if you were just 12 years old and were asked this question?
Because that is what Heather Othick asked her then 12-year-old daughter Ellie - who was terminally ill with brain cancer.
To which Ellie replied, “I just want to be happy.”
So Heather never told her child that she was going to die.
Now, I ask you, was that wrong?
It is hard enough for me to say, “I didn’t have cancer.” I don’t know how I could ever tell a child that she has a deadly one.
Typically, this is not the type of information I share with my readers – or even my friends – or even some of my family. But, I think it is important that we share this type of information with as many people as possible, in hopes that it will prevent more sad stories from being shared.
A couple weeks ago I went for a routine physical that broke the routine.
And so today, I’m breaking another routine, and telling you about it.
I’m in a paper gown, lying on the table-like bed, in the doctor’s office. Scared that the doctor will feel something, while at the same time, oddly confident that I am invincible.
“Everything seems perfectly normal,” she says. “You should only be concerned about things that feel like…”
The awkwardness of my exposed chest from a paper dress - under fluorescent lights - is now superseded by a flash of fear that surges through my entire body. From that moment on, the word “cancer” would not come from my mouth, though it did spread through my mind.
Just because you or your doctor may feel something unusual in your breast doesn’t mean you have cancer. But it can mean you have fear, which like cancer can metastasize.
And even if you do have breast cancer, when caught early, it is one of the most curable cancers with a 95 per cent cure rate.
Nonetheless, in our society we have been so inoculated with fear over cancer that the two words almost seem synonymous.
So this was my plan…
1. I would go for my ultrasound.
2. I would not Google “breast” or “cancer” or even “Pamela Anderson” for that matter.
3. I would not say the word “cancer” - aloud.
4. And I would do my best not to think the worst.
Again, the strange mix of worry tempered by feelings of invincibility.
But, from the day the doctor felt “that”, to the day I found out my results, I had to wait almost two weeks.
Over that time, I thought about Matt Cook and Mandi Schwartz.
I walked through crowds of people, wondering how many of them were oblivious to the fact that they had cancer or would have cancer at some point.
And, I contemplated, given the worst-case scenario, what I would do.
B-cup = A+
My first thought? Cut out the cancer. Get a double mastectomy. Get fake boobs. B-cup. (The cutest bras are always B-cup. And no matter what, I aim to be cute.)
(All right, that’s not a just a single thought, but it is all of the same thread.)
My second thought thread were I diagnosed with cancer? Enjoy my family. Enjoy me (and my new B-cup boobs). Finish my book.
And hell, write another one after that.
Because, like young Ellie, I just want to be happy. I want to live my life to its fullest. I don’t want to look back with regret. I don’t want to be a shoulda-coulda-woulda-oh-well.
What is the point of living 18 months, 18 years, or 100 years if we don’t live them?
I am lucky – and thankful – that my test results were negative. Never could negative sound so positive.
But even though through those two weeks I promised myself, regardless of the results, I would live life to its fullest, during that time, I couldn’t help but be overcome with some sort of sense of doom. And to a degree, it clouded even the most positive of moments.
This is only natural, as it may be too late for me: I, like many, have already been inoculated with the fear of cancer.
Heather knew her daughter's brain tumour was terminal. Nonetheless, she decided to hide the truth from Ellie - a decision, she is convinced helped prolong her daughter’s life - who defied expectations surviving almost three years after her initial diagnosis.
Ellie delighted to become a godmother.
Doctors were astonished. They said it was extremely rare for patients with that type of tumour to live longer than six months.
Ellie was only 12. She knew she had cancer. And maybe even somehow knew she would die young.
Ultimately, Ellie just wanted to be happy. Live her life as full as she possibly could. And though she lived a much shorter life than I, it was never too late for her.