If You Are Doing Something, You Are Doing The Right Thing

Switching point of views for a second.

I have spoken at length about my experience of cancer as a patient, because that is what feels the most true, the most raw. That is what I need and want to get off my chest, that is where I feel my experience could help others.

But there are two, seven, twenty sides to every story.

Over the last few months, several of my friends and family have had to witness a loved one going through diagnosis and treatment. Have had to be a rock for their family to rely on, despite their own grief and pain. The shoulder for someone else to cry on after the loss of a close relative.

In a strange turn of events, I have become somewhat of a confidante.

‘I don’t know if I’m doing enough.’

‘I feel like I’m not helping.’

‘I don’t know how to act around them.’

‘He said he was fine. I don’t think he’s fine.’

‘I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing.’

‘I said something funny to lighten the mood and she just bit my head off!’

‘I asked what was wrong. That was a mistake.’

‘I don’t know what to do.’

‘I’m afraid I’m going to lose it in front of them.’

‘What can I say?’

‘I’m afraid of stepping on his toes.’

‘Maybe he doesn’t want my help.’

‘I’m afraid I’m going to make it worse.’

‘It’s like they don’t want me there.’

‘I feel like everything I’m doing is wrong.’

‘I’m doing my best but it seems so little.’

Having been on both sides, I can honestly say: whatever you are doing, it is the right thing.

Short of refusing to listen to someone, and ghosting them after you have heard the news, there is no wrong thing to do.

Yes, we will bite your head off from time to time.

Yes, we will be a bit short with you.

Everything is so raw.

But weeks, months, and years later,  we won’t remember the moment you decided to make a joke and it fell flat.

We won’t remember you only being able to text your support because you were in another country.

We won’t remember that you were overbearing in your desire to help.

We won’t remember that you used some really clumsy words which you instantaneously regretted.

We won’t remember the terrible dinner you cooked for us.

We won’t remember that you had tears in your eyes every time you said it was going to be OK.

We will remember you said it, and you wanted to believe it.

We will remember you cooked for us when we didn’t have the strength to do it.

We will remember that you said something, and that was enough.

We will remember you tried to help even when we thought we didn’t need help.

We will remember you were there, in whatever form you could manage.

We will remember that you were making sure life was going on.

There is no need to be afraid. There is no right way to support someone going through a life-threatening illness, or the loss of a loved one, or a traumatic event.

You are doing the right thing, and we are grateful.

Family – The Burden of Genetics (I)

When I think about family, I usually think of people. A moving, imperfect circle, individuals all coming together, fighting, loving, arguing, hugging. People hanging out at big events, related by a multitude of ties, some unbreakable, some so thin they disappear over the years.

I always saw my family as this group of people, some with whom I had great relations, some I barely ever spoke to. I had never defined family based on whether we shared any blood, any DNA. Whether someone had married into the family or was on the same branch of the family tree never mattered to me.

Until one day, when it became all that mattered.

I was told early on, the day after my diagnosis, that there were two potential causes for my cancer. One was that it was random. Faulty hormones, bad karma, a variety of factors that could contribute to my developing womb cancer at a ridiculously young age. The other explanation would be genetics. There could be, running in my family, a genetic condition that had until then remained undetected, and my cancer could be one of the many manifestations of this genetic mutation. The overwhelming majority of womb cancers are random, and happen in individuals who have no family history of cancer. But a small percentage are due to various genetic conditions, and these cancers tend to appear much earlier. Because I was completely out of the usual age range for womb cancer, I was a candidate for genetic testing. It would not change the treatment plan, or the outcome of this particular cancer. But it had the potential to change everything else.

I was referred to a genetics specialist on the very day of my diagnosis. At the time, I did not realise how much that weighed on my shoulders. I was told it would take months for me to get an appointment, and that it would only be the start of my journey into genetics – if I decided I wanted to get tested, after discussing it with the specialist. I agreed to speaking to the geneticist without even thinking about it. Since it was going to take months, it was better to get started early.

Pretty soon, I received a bunch of forms to fill in about my family, about where each branch of my family came from, our ethnic background. I then had to fill in separate forms about each of my first and second-degree relatives. Names, dates of birth and medical history of my parents, brothers, grand-parents, aunts and uncles. Date and cause of death, where applicable. Any medical history that could be relevant: cancers, unexplained medical conditions, etc.

It was an incredible, uncomfortable amount of work. I had to ask each of my parents to quiz members of their respective family. My mum’s family was straightforward. No cancer in the immediate family, and no trace of it for generations. It is actually quite unsettling to realise that I am the first in four generations to get cancer. That seems terribly unfair.

We hit a hurdle as soon as I started filling out the information about my dad’s side of the family. We know very little about his father, and his life after he left his family when my dad was just a toddler. My dad has always refused to look into it, to get in touch, to renew the ties before his father died, back in the early 90s. He could have had cancer, and we might not have known about it.

My dad also had to ask his elderly siblings, two of which are currently battling their own advanced cancers, about any genetic testing they might have undergone. It must have been terribly taxing. I have rarely been so grateful to have someone to delegate some of this work to.

We filled in the forms, using all the sections allocated and then more – the form only allowed for three siblings for each generation, and my parents both come from much larger families. I had to add a few extra pages of names and data, before sealing the envelope and sending it off to Oxford.

As I was doing this work, I also started looking more in depth into what a genetic condition could mean. I did the very thing that the nurse had asked me not to do during our first appointment, and I went on an endless search for answers on the Internet.

I read pages and pages of information about potential genetic conditions, thinking and overthinking anything I knew about my family. My aunt is battling breast cancer – there are several genetic mutations that can cause both breast and gynaecological cancers in some families. My uncle is fighting pancreatic cancer – although there are many factors that could have contributed to his specific cancer, it is also one of the cancers associated with Lynch syndrome, which causes a predisposition to a wide range of cancers, including womb and colon cancer.

Because of these cancers on my dad’s side of the family, and the unknown threat of his own father’s family history, I had somehow convinced myself that the likelihood of a family genetic condition was pretty high. Doctors had told me that my cancer was more likely to be random. But they had also told me before that the chances of me having cancer at my age were almost non-existent. When you are one in a million, how can you then trust that your cancer will follow the most common path?

A genetic condition like Lynch syndrome would have meant that, even if I beat this womb cancer, I was at a much higher risk of developing other cancers in the near future, if it had not started already. My life would be very different. I was scared. I was terrified. For months, I analysed every single thing happening in my body, convinced that it was the sign of another cancer growing somewhere else in my body. More than once, I asked myself if it really was worth undergoing treatment, if I knew cancer was going to be a very real threat in the future. If it was only a matter of time. I will be honest. There were days where the possibility of being riddled with genetics conditions made me think of giving up altogether.

The one happy thought I had was that, if I did have a genetic condition, I would never pass it on to any children. It is bleak, when your one ray of hope is that your hysterectomy means you will never pass on faulty genes.

By agreeing to speak to a geneticist, I had agreed to open the door to an ocean of possibilities, each scarier than the next. I agreed on the basis that it is better to know in advance what you are about to face. I have said it before, I hate surprises. Undergoing genetic testing is pretty much as close to finding out about your future as is possible in this day and age.

In early December, as I was coming to terms with the delay in my operation, I received a letter from the genetics clinic, telling me I had an appointment scheduled for Friday, 14th February 2020. Well. I was not going to have a hot date on Valentine’s Day anyway, so I might as well have an appointment with a geneticist.

It felt so distant, so far in the future that I pushed it to the back of my mind for a while. I focused on the task at hand for the next couple of weeks: getting the surgery done. Everything else could take a backseat. But the moment I saw my brothers again when they came to visit at Christmas, a new threat jumped into my mind.

If a genetic condition was to be discovered, it would not only affect me. It would affect them. It would affect my parents. They would have to get tested. I would be the one triggering a series of reactions I had not foreseen. Was I ready for this? Were they?

All of a sudden, the threat of genetics became unbearable, and the guilt, the guilt I felt at the idea of being the one throwing my family into disarray was undescribable. I could not do that to them. My existence was putting theirs in danger. My medical history could unravel their lives.

Spoiler alert – it did not. But the feelings were there, for months. And they deserve a blog post of their own.

Family – Breaking Traditions, Crushing Expectations

This marks the start of a new series of posts. After spending time with my family over Christmas, a full twelve months since last seeing them, I suddenly had a clearer idea of what my diagnosis meant to them and how, in some ways, it affected them as much as it did me.

I am the middle child. The only girl in between two brothers. One close to my age, one a lot younger.

I only really know my mother’s side of the family. Amongst my cousins on my that side, I am ranked fourth out of nine. The first girl after three boys, amongst a group of six cousins all born within five years of each other. Three boys, three girls close together and then, years later, another three boys.

I never knew the pressures of being the eldest, of paving the way for the ones that would come after me. I never had the attention that comes with being the youngest child, the baby of the family.

What I have had to live with though, were the hopes and dreams of parents and grandparents who had different visions for the future of their boys and girls.

It is very prevalent in my family, more so than it probably should be. There is a sense of tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Boys and girls are not the same, and they should be raised differently. It is the relationship we have with our grandparents, the goals they have set for us since the beginning. Boys are pushed and encouraged to follow their dreams, get a good job, be successful. Girls are praised for having good grades, being quiet and amiable, and they are constantly asked about their relationships, and when they will have children.

Oh, I am sure I exaggerate. There were times when my parents and grandparents were proud of me for achievements of my own. When I finished school, then uni. When I won prizes for best poem and best calligraphy at the tender age of nine. When I found a job and became financially independent. When I started knitting, and proved to my nan that her lessons twenty years prior had not been in vain.

But there was always a sense that I was not following the path that they had wished for me. The fact that every time I went to visit my grandparents, they asked if I had a boyfriend, how serious it was. Whether I wanted children. When I was going to have them. When I moved to the UK, my family were more scared than encouraging. ‘But are you really going to raise your children in another country?’

My family laugh when they hear my brother’s tales of joining this or that political demonstration in Paris. They shake their head when he mentions his political engagement, but still they debate with him and take him seriously. When I told my nan about taking a feminist writing class, she told me to be careful, and not become ‘one of those feminists who scare men away’. After all, political engagement and strong feminists beliefs were not, in her mind, synonymous with a happy, fulfilled life. It is dangerous. I never told her about the many demonstrations and women’s marches I took part in.

My nan used to be a feminist. She used to be out on the street, marching for women’s rights and choice to own their bodies. But as she started having a family, raising her own (many) sons and daughters, she fell back into age-old patterns that imprison women in a role I did not wish for myself. My mum often tells me how differently she and her sisters were treated from her brothers. She does not see that she has repeated the same pattern.

For years, I pretended to go along with it. Shook my head when they asked me when I was finally going to get married and have children. Laughed when my nan kept mentioning how her sisters were already great-grandmothers. How my cousin had had a child – how it would be my turn next. I ignored my mum when she told me that she would love to be a grandmother, when she said she was not getting any younger.

It was always expected that, once my rebel years were over, I would settle down, marry and have children. I still have trinkets that were given to me to ‘pass on to my children’. By refusing to conform to the family pattern, in their eyes, I was only delaying the inevitable. It would happen, and they would finally be proud of the woman I had become.

When my mum and my nan, in turn, learnt of my diagnosis, in addition to the pain, they had to face the disappointment of hopes they had clung onto for years. My mum mentioned how she would never see her only daughter pregnant. My nan sent me a teary, extremely violent email, about how unfair it was that my ability to have a family was being ripped away from me. How sad she was that my life was being torn apart, even if I would be physically fine. How she could not even begin to imagine how it felt, for me never being able to experience the biggest joy of being a woman. In her eyes, I had lost everything I should have lived for. That realisation hurts.

I am more at peace with my future than they are. They had built a world of hopes on something that I had not signed up for. But today, these disappointed dreams and expectations weigh on me. I hear it when my nan barely knows what to say to me anymore. Her whole idea of me as a person, as a woman, has shifted. She does not know me anymore, as the life she had built for me in her head has come crumbling down. What do you talk about with someone you cannot understand, someone who you had imagined a whole life for, and who no longer meets your expectations?

Every time I speak to her, I feel the weight of her disappointment, of her shame. She has voiced this disappointment every time she has written me an email or given me a call, telling me how tough it must be for me, how sad I must be. How she wished we could have traded places, so I could live a proper woman’s life. But the disappointed dreams are not mine, no matter how many times she tries to convince me of it. They are hers.

I will never be able to give her what she thought would be my future. I was the eldest granddaughter. I know she wanted to see me pregnant, because she had told me so. I know she wished to see me happy in the only way she could imagine a woman ever being happy. I know she worries about what my life will look like now that I am no longer able to repeat the old family tradition of having children.

It is taxing, feeling like you have disappointed someone you care so much about, someone whose dreams you crushed without having any say in it. I feel responsible, even though I never wanted these things for myself.

I will never achieve the ideal life of a woman, as defined by the matriarchs of my family. I will break tradition. I will go against their expectations. But I will be the woman I decide to be, my own idea of a woman, and I will grow from their experiences, even if I do not claim them for myself.

Single, Self-Sufficient and Still in Need of Support

‘Do you have a partner?’ That is the very first question I was asked after being given my diagnosis. I said no. ‘Do you have any family around?’ I shook my head: ‘They are in France.’ ‘Do you live on your own? Do you have any close friends here?’

I have always been fiercely independent. I do not trust people easily. I used to think I did not need anyone, ever. I moved to the UK right after finishing uni in Paris, saying goodbye to friends and family I would only see a couple times a year from there on. I liked the challenge, the idea of not relying on anyone but myself. I was building a life for myself, with very little help from anyone else. I was financially, emotionally and physically self-sufficient, and that made me strong.

I am a people person. The coaster on my desk reads ‘I like otters, it’s people who annoy me’ – it is accurate, but also not. I am independent but I love having people around. I am very close to my friends, I am fiercely loyal to them, I enjoy meeting new people and building new relationships. Even during lockdown, I found ways of staying in touch with people – messaging friends at all hours of the day and night (they stopped replying to every single text after a while – how rude).

I get on with my family, most of the time. I see them a couple of times a year, we have a great time, then I go back to my life. We are not in constant contact, they do not know every single facet of my life, and that works for me.

I have been single, casually dating most of my adult life. I do not feel the need to constantly be in a relationship. I have always struggled to let people in, trust them enough to let them be a permanent part of my life. I do not like change, I am terrible at compromise, and that does not make it easy to build a life with someone.

Did I feel lonely? Sometimes, but I think most people have similar feelings from time to time. Would I support my friends through anything? Absolutely. You can call me at any hour of the day and night, and I will jump in a taxi/on a train/on a plane if you need me. Because I was so keen on being self-sufficient, on being independent, because I tend to keep my feelings and my problems to myself, I had never considered a situation in which the roles would be reversed. Would I be able to reach out, if anything was to happen? Would people be there for me like I would for them? Would I even want to ask for support?

I will admit the thought of doing this on my own crossed my mind. In the first few seconds, in the first few minutes after I understood what was happening inside my body, I considered not telling anyone. I thought it would be best. I thought I would protect people by not telling them. But I decided to reach out, and I am grateful every day that I did.

I reached out to my mum. I do not speak to her often, maybe a couple text messages every week or so (mostly talking about cats), one video call a month, two or three quick trips back home a year. But I called her straightaway on that day. And she offered to tell everyone in the family, to break the news herself as I was not strong enough to do it.

I reached out to two different groups of friends whilst still in the hospital. I texted some of my best friends here in the UK, people who knew I had a doctor’s appointment that morning. And then, I messaged some of my friends from home, people who have been by my side for over ten years now. The support started pouring in.

Obviously, I needed to tell work. I asked one of my friends from work to speak to my manager, and tell her that I had had some bad news at the appointment. I walked home. I cried all the way up the hill (and what a hill it is). I went into my room. I think my housemates were in, at least some of them. I did not see them. Did they hear me cry that day? Maybe.

I called my manager, and I gave her the news, lying on my bed, clutching my phone with one hand and the appointment letter in the other. I cried throughout, I said I would come into work later that day.

Once that was done, that was it. All areas of my life had been covered. Work, friends, family (not necessarily in that order). Someone from each of my social bubbles knew about it. It made it real, it also made it easier. Once you start telling people, it is no longer your burden only.

As the hours and days passed, I started telling more people. Every time, I told myself that I was only doing it for a practical reason. I told my housemates, because I was going to be home more often, because they might walk into me crying in the living room. I messaged more friends from the UK, because they were people I was going to see face to face in the next few weeks, and they would realise something was wrong. I told my team at work, convincing myself I was only doing it so they could understand why I disappeared every other day for a few hours, and why I would be off for six weeks later in the year.

But what I was really doing was showing people, for the first time in my life, that I needed emotional support.

Every time I told someone, I felt guilty. I felt guilty of bringing people into this situation, of making them part of something they had not asked for. It felt like I was involving them in something terrible, just to ease my own pain. Like I was forcing my issues on them, like I was asking too much of them, in a selfish and undeserving way.

Because of those feelings, I decided that I would not tell any of my other friends unless they reached out and asked how I was doing. I have always been terrible at lying, so I would not have been able to hide the truth. I would not share the news on social media, I would not do one big announcement, I would not shout it from the rooftops.

The support was overwhelming. I do not think I will ever be able to thank people for the kindness and understanding they showed me. Be it the friends who hugged me on the day of the diagnosis (one of the few times I allowed people to hug me), who drove me to my appointments, sat with me in the waiting room and asked the questions I could not think of, the friends who kept asking how I was doing, the ones who drove across the country just to spend an evening with me, the ones who sent cards and origami otters, the ones who told people I could not face, the ones who came to spend New Year’s Eve with me, crossing the Channel just to be there after the surgery, the ones who held me when I cried, the ones who were angry on my behalf when the surgery got cancelled the first time around, the ones who called the nurse for me when I could not even hold the phone, the ones who drove me home after the surgery, the ones who felt uncomfortable and pushed through it, because I needed them.

My parents who, barely speaking English, dropped everything to be with me for the surgery – my dad who, on my scheduled operation day, waited with me in the hospital for eight hours before the surgery was called off due to a lack of available beds, and was angrier and quieter than I have ever seen him when they told us to go home (and that includes that evening in 2002 when the far-right got into the second round of the French presidential elections). My mum, who came two weeks later for the rescheduled surgery, and listened to me babbling in English when I woke up from general anaesthesia, unable to speak a word of French. My brothers, who came to spend Christmas with me and agreed to watch Home Alone and Home Alone 2 back to back, snuggled up on the sofa.

My colleagues, who cried when I gave them the news, and my team, who bore with me when I kept bursting into tears at random times during the day and could barely get any work done. People who gave me advice, who told me they would be there for me if I needed them.

People who are still here for me today as I am struggling with depression, PTSD and anxiety, and for whom I have vowed to battle through it all, and come out stronger on the other side.

I am still independent. I am still tough, I am still strong. I now live on my own, and I love it. I still have my walls up with most of the world, even close friends, but I now understand the value of support. And you can be independent, you can be self-sufficient and still need a helping hand from time to time.

Fighting For My Right Not To Have Children

In the two months between my diagnosis and the surgery, I lost count of how many times I had to explain I did not want children, and I was not planning on preserving my fertility. I was used to it – after all, announcing to the world you do not want children rarely goes well, even today. But I was not prepared to have to fight for my voice to be heard.

When you are first told that the only treatment for your condition is a hysterectomy, many things go through your head. For me, the first one was ‘will that cure me?’, but I have always had a very rational mind. Before cancer, and during the diagnosis and treatment process, I was very much focused on the big picture. I saw an issue, I thought of a solution. I only considered the smaller details inasmuch as they could help achieve the bigger goal. This has changed since then, I find the bigger picture terrifying, overwhelming, and I find comfort in details and small-scale decisions.

For me, it was cancer, but many women go through a hysterectomy for other reasons. In a way, I probably had it easy. I did not have to fight to have my hysterectomy, the doctors agreed it was the only viable option. It was going to happen no matter what – unless I refused treatment entirely, which is always an option. And obviously, a hysterectomy is a major operation, with major consequences on your life and your future. Although it is a fairly standard procedure, and there are fewer risks than a number of other major surgeries, it has lasting effects, particularly on younger women. Without a uterus, you will not be able to get pregnant.

I have a pretty good knowledge of biology – I took A-levels (or, more accurately, the French equivalent, the bac) in science, and biology was one of the main components. The minute I heard ‘hysterectomy’, I knew what it meant for my fertility. The doctor who gave me the news made sure to explain as well, to ensure I had all the information. At that stage, he mentioned that it might also be necessary to remove my ovaries, due to the grade of the cancer on the biopsy they had taken. The cancer appeared to be Grade 2, and removal of the ovaries is recommended in that case, as more aggressive types of womb cancer have a tendency to spread to the ovaries as well. If the biopsy had shown Grade 1 lesions only (as my cancer would later end up being), I would have been given the option to keep my ovaries, and to harvest eggs later should I wish to have a biological child.

The procedure which I would be undergoing would be a total hysterectomy with bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy. I know, it is a mouthful and a half – try saying it in a language that is not your mother tongue, after you wake up from general anesthesia. No womb, no ovaries, no tubes. It is a lot to take in – or take out, as it is.

On that first day, the first doctor I saw – he did not have an interest in gynaecological oncology, and had very limited knowledge of my case, as he had to break the news to me at a routine appointment and did not have much information – mentioned that I should be thinking about fertility-preserving options. I was overwhelmed. I had just been given the news that I had cancer – you brain cannot process much information after this. Or at least, mine could not. I had understood that meant I would not have children. I was very quickly at peace with that. I had never been particularly keen on having children, and so in my opinion, it was not a huge loss. It was also something I was definitely prepared to do in order to survive, which is what it came down to. I told the doctor there and then that I was fine with it. No children in exchange for a 95% cancer-free survival rate at Stage 1, I would take that any day.

The next day, I had an appointment with a specialist in gynaecology oncology, and a Macmillan nurse was also present. This was exactly what I needed. Facts, accurate information, options, everything was discussed. I had a friend with me, here to support me emotionally and take in all the information I could not process, ask all the questions I could not think of. And at that appointment, they broached the subject which the previous doctor had only hinted at – fertility preservation. That would involve retrieving eggs or ovarian tissue, and freezing them. This could allow for potential future in-vitro fertilization of eggs, and the possibility of having a biological child, using a surrogate. The success rates of such procedures vary greatly, but it was an option.

It was always very clear in my head – this was not something I was interested in. There were several reasons for this, which I had been listing ever since the possibility had been brought up. One of my arguments for not having children even before cancer is that there are too many children in need of adoptive or foster parents, and I was always very open to the idea of adopting instead of having children, if I ever went down the route of having a family. I was not even sure I wanted a family, so it would be a waste of resources and money for my eggs to be preserved, if I ever was to decide I did not want to use them. Finally, I did not like the idea of forcing something that was not meant to be – if I could not have biological children naturally, I would rather not force nature and involve science, resources and energy to try and make it happen. I think it is absolutely right for people who wish to go down that path, but it is not for me. And I think a part of me was relieved. If I said no to fertility preservation, I had a clean break. There was no option, there was no disappointment if ever IVF and surrogacy did not work. I had arguments, I had made up my mind, I was very sure of myself. This was not something I had decided on a whim. I had never really wanted children, I was ready for that option to be taken away from me entirely.

I mentioned this to my team, and they were understanding. They did tell me that they wanted me to see a fertility expert before I made up my mind. I understand why they did. They do have to make sure that you are not going to regret your choice in 5, 10, 15 years. Womb cancer is very rare amongst young women, so not many have to make this choice. Caution is recommended. I was a bit disappointed. In my mind, I had already made my choice. I presented my reasoning, thought it made a convincing argument. It made sense for me. Surely it would make sense for them.

Maybe it did. But they still requested that appointment. I was fragile emotionally at that point, I will not lie. I cried about it, I complained a lot. I felt like I was not being listened to. Now, a year later, I understand. But it did not make it any easier at the time.

Because I was so young and there were factors which could make the procedure more complicated, I was referred to a specialised hospital in Oxford. A new team, a new set of doctors, a new string of appointments. That was going to be my life for the foreseeable future. All appointments, all tests were scheduled. All but the fertility one. At each appointment, I kept mentioning it. I was calling the nurse in between appointments, in between assessments, asking when I could have that appointment. That appointment I dreaded, that appointment I did not want to have.

I was scared. The date of the surgery was getting closer, and still no appointment. I was advised to call the fertility secretary myself. I called, I sent emails, I chased. I was a mess. I was glued to my phone, I was crying in the loo at work, I had to cancel meetings and work trips ‘just in case the appointment falls on that day.’ By that point, I had told about eight different doctors and nurses I did not wish to preserve my fertility, and got the same answer every time: ‘you need to speak to a fertility expert’. I protested (I was truly a horrible patient, and I apologise for it), and was told several times told that it was because I was so young, and there was a risk I would change my mind and they wanted me to consider all the options. I was not young anymore. I had aged about 20 years in the space of four weeks. I knew my mind, I was frustrated. I was afraid it would delay the surgery, as they refused to carry it out without me having spoken to a specialist. Finally, ten days before the surgery was scheduled, I was given an appointment. The hysterectomy was planned for a Tuesday, the fertility appointment would take place the Friday before. Cutting it close.

I had been arguing with doctors, but I was also fighting people in my personal life. People who kept telling me that I should reconsider. Friends. Family. The same arguments that the doctors had made to explain the need for that appointment, my loved ones now gave me to convince me to go ahead with fertility preservation. You are too young. You are going to regret it if you do not do it. You will see, in ten years. But do you not want to try, just do it and see if you want to use them later? It costs you nothing. And probably the most infuriating of all: but what about your future partner? What if he wants children of his own? Arguments that after a while, made me want to cry. Of course I had considered it. Of course I wished that I had been given the choice to have children. Having it taken away from you is extremely violent. It takes away your free will, and even though it is no different from what you wanted, it feels like something has been ripped away from you. I like options. I like having a choice. I often saw myself as one of these women who would decide not to have children, who would stand up against society. By taking that away from me, it was like a part of me I liked no longer existed. But at the same time, it was about making that choice, right there, right then. I would not have children, and that would be it.

All the fight had been taken out of me at that point. I remember going to the hospital, being in a room with the fertility expert, a medical student and another woman. They explained the options. I said I was not interested. And that was it. No explanations needed, no justification. I had made the choice in front of an expert, that was enough. I signed the papers they gave me. I agreed to donate part of my ovaries to research, so they could try and improve on options to preserve fertility in younger girls undergoing chemo or radiotherapy.

I have not regretted my decision. I am still angry about having had to fight to get my voice heard, to even get an appointment. To have had to speak to so many different people about it, to have given the same answer, again and again. To have had to justify my choice in front of people who should have been supporting me during this time, not making me feel guilty about the decision I was taking. To have been told time and time again that I was too young to make a decision like this. I was too young for cancer too, but cancer did not care.

Before cancer, I had to justify my lack of interest in children to people who had no say in the matter. Now, when they ask me, I just tell them that I cannot have children. I see pity in many people’s eyes, but all I feel is relief, because I no longer have to explain myself.