In the early 2011 I was 21 years old and on my third year of law school, just about to write my bachelor’s project to get my bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2011. As always in these kind of stories everything was going quite well for me. At the same time I had had some thoughts in relation to children; I had been on birth control pills since my mid teen-years and was worried that it might affect my ability of getting pregnant later in life, so I went to a gynaecologist to discuss my options. The 3 months that followed was pure chaos.
In April 2011, after many appointments with gynaecologists, doctors and hospitals, I was diagnosed with cervix cancer. The kind of cancer you get from the HPV-virus.
The doctors concluded that there was only one thing to do with the state my cancer was in: to remove my uterus and the lymph nodes in my pelvis. I went through this surgery in May 2011.
A few weeks after the surgery it was discovered that the cancer had spread to my lymph vessels, not yet my lymph nodes, though. But either way, I had to go through 6 weeks of intense chemo and radiation therapy to make sure that the cancer was completely fought down.
And that was pretty much it. Only a few months after being diagnosed with cancer I had undergone surgery, chemo and radiation and it was all over. Now I “just” had to battle through the mental reaction to all this, which I did by working my butt off for the next six months while waiting for being able to pass the last exams before getting my bachelor’s degree. (When looking back I can definitely see that it properly should have been handled another way, but I got through it the way I needed at the time.)
Of course you do not get out of a thing as serious as cancer treatment without some side effects. But I coped and found ways to function despite of those few problems and I actually managed to feel like I found my way back to who and what I physically was before being diagnosed.
A year after the surgery I was out dancing with a couple of my girlfriends. We had been out all night and wandered home on the Copenhagen sidewalks in the early morning hours. I was walking in my usual high stilettoes and at some point I slipped at bit and twisted my right ankle. When we got back to my apartment my ankle had swollen up a lot (!) and I expected it to be a reaction to twisting it. I went to bed and did not think much more about it.
My right ankle kept acting out, though. It was swollen and did not seem to heal. I called my doctor and she said that I had probably strained my ankle. Since there was not much to do about a strain, I kept on doing my usual things and a few days after I jumped on a plane and left for summer law school in Paris.
I was in Paris for about 6 weeks and throughout these 6 weeks my ankle did not get any better. I tried massaging it when I was home during the afternoons and this had some effect on the swelling, but not much.
At some point my Dad visited me in Paris and he was convinced that this was not just a strain. Not only because of the intense swelling but also because the swelling seemed to spread up into my lower leg. I got a bit concerned, but at the same time the doctor back in Denmark could not do much for me and I was gonna be back in Denmark in a few weeks anyways, so I chose to wait it out until I got back.
While in Paris the swelling spread from my right ankle to my lower right leg and then on to my thigh. By the time I was about to leave Paris the swelling had “jumped over” to my left ankle with the result of me thinking: “Yep, this is not a strain, no matter what opinion the doctor may have.”
When I got back to Denmark I contacted a specialist at one of the Danish hospital physiotherapist departments. She explained to me that I had to go into treatment immediately, cause this swelling was not gonna stop itself.
I still remember lying on the physiotherapist’s bauble when she told me that this was a permanent situation. That I would have to wear stockings for the rest of my life. That there was a lot of things I would not be able to do any longer or would have to do differently. I did not believe in it. I kept on thinking that there would be some kind of way back.
In a rare moment I can still catch myself thinking: “What if I had not gone out dancing that night? Would all this have turned out differently?” And who knows, it might have. And it might not. I was later told that it was strange that I had not been informed of the risk of lymphedema when they did the surgery on me, cause when you remove the nodes you are practically guaranteed to get lymphedema.
But it does not contribute with anything to think like that. So I don’t with an exemption of those rare moments. Instead I focus on how to function the best possible way I can under these new circumstances.
And to end off on a positive note: Do you know who can still look absolutely beautiful in a short business dress with just a pair of nylon stockings in the winter and not freeze to death? People wearing a pair of compression stockings underneath.