Things worth remembering
You don’t know this yet but you’re going to have a rough few years in the future - far earlier than you might expect. Don’t worry – as rough as it gets, it turns out you’re a lot tougher than you thought and you will have a lot more support than you could imagine.
Getting cancer at 34 will teach you a few lessons. Along the way, you’ll have amazing experiences, so don’t fret it’s not all doom and gloom. However, despite all these wonderful things, at age 34 you will unfortunately be diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer. And, by the time you’re 37, you’ll be diagnosed with stage 4 terminal breast cancer.
Cancer sucks. The first time around it’s not the end of the world. The second time around is a more difficult pill to swallow but, again, it’s not the end of the actual world. It will, however, be the end of you in this world - somewhat prematurely.
Cancer will teach you that you can still train, go out, dance, sing, cook, love, work, be a sister, girlfriend and friend.
The main lessons it taught me are listed below (because what lawyer doesn’t love a good list.
Lesson one – Ask for help
Mum always tells you the story of how you were playing with pieces of cloth as a one year old and that you were getting very frustrated because the cloth wasn’t doing what you wanted but you wouldn’t let anyone help. There’s also a great photo of you attempting to dress yourself as a two-year-old and failing miserably - again refusing help.
Getting cancer will teach you that, not only is it ok to ask for help, but it will actually make life a lot easier.
Lesson two – Family is so important
In your twenties you will be so busy working and training that family gets a little too left behind at times. You move to the Eastern States and you are not very good at picking up the phone. You send birthday presents but they are usually late and when you do come home it’s for a whirlwind tour.
Cancer will teach you that family is everything. They will be the ones sitting next to you on the chemo ward, flying across Australia just to be with you, sending you care packages and flowers. It will not be workmates.
On top of this, you will find people who aren’t blood related - but they might as well be. They are the friends who call, even after there’s bad news; there will be friends who support you and love you and accept you, even if you’re a very different person from the one they met.
Treasure your family and spend as much time with them as you can.
Lesson three – Stress less.
I promise you, you won’t be sweating on the small stuff when you are facing the end of your life. In the grand scheme of things, missing a day of work because you have a cold is fine. It doesn’t matter that you got 69% in an essay instead of 90%, in the long run no-one looks at your marks.
Working Christmas Eve instead of spending it with family is a really terrible idea. (You don’t even get paid more on Christmas Eve!). Don’t worry if you’re a tiny bit late - no-one will remember. Same as no-one will remember if you wear the same dress to two functions with the same people.
Lesson four – Dogs are awesome
You will make the magical and terrible mistake of buying a puppy two weeks after getting a double mastectomy. Magical because Dougal is the greatest character ever. Terrible because you will quickly find out that lifting puppies is difficult post-surgery.
But you will learn that sometimes just cuddling your dog is one of life’s great joys and that, post chemo, having a nice warm body lie with you is just what you need.
You will get your own dog one day. He will be all yours - weird and lovely and he will worship the ground you walk on. He’ll be your only dog ever and he will be wonderful.
Lesson five – It’s ok to say no
You don’t know it yet but you are prone to saying yes to everything. This is one of the biggest lessons cancer will teach you. You will learn that you do not have to always say yes. Often, there are other people who can do the work.
You will learn that if someone gets a touch cranky when you say no, that’s not actually your problem, but theirs. Cancer will teach you that a lot of people have been taking advantage of your generosity and kindness for a long time. The earlier you learn to say no, the better.
Lesson six – Travel.
Travel as far and as wide as you can. Don’t worry about taking time off work - it will always be there when you get home.
As a wide-eyed, borderline fan girl law student, you and your friends will be dumbfounded when the Hon. Justice Michael Kirby tells you how he drove across China and Russia in a Kombi when he was a young lawyer. At the time, you will be so busy applying for law internships that you can’t fathom the idea of taking that much time away from your floundering career. Do it. There are so many places for you to explore. Go to Africa while you can and yes, Europe is amazing but there are a lot of different places to explore beyond Europe.
There are so many places to go but, by the time you’re 34, cancer means you won’t be able to travel anymore.
These are the lessons you will learn. You will wish that you had known them before getting cancer.