I no longer listen when doctors tell me I’m ‘too young’, and neither … – The Sydney Morning Herald

Posted by on Sep 28th, 2016 and filed under Pharmaceutical News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

I no longer listen when doctors tell me I’m ‘too young’, and neither … – The Sydney Morning Herald

 The prospect of having cancer is scary at any age. Your heart starts to beat faster in the doctor’s office and you’re studying their face for any kind of indication that they’re about to tell you good news or bad news. The doctors are usually trying very hard to keep you calm and explain things in plain English so that you aren’t worrying. They reassure you, and when you’re in your twenties, one of their tactics is to use your age as a reason for why everything will probably be okay.

Don’t worry, you’re very young. It’s probably nothing. It’s very rare for someone your age to have this type of cancer.

"I've learnt to ignore doctors when they use my age as an excuse for anything." “I’ve learnt to ignore doctors when they use my age as an excuse for anything.” Photo: Stocksy/Tara Romasanta Images

As I type this, I am in bed recovering from my second surgery in six weeks. I’m not wearing any pants, because I’ve been overheating, and my hair is almost as greasy as the late Professor Snape’s. And I’ve just vomited into a salad bowl in my boyfriend’s car on the M4 because the anaesthesia didn’t agree with me.

Six weeks ago, I had my cervix scraped out because tests found that I had pre-cancerous cells. And yesterday, I had a large tumour removed from my left breast – whether it is benign or malignant is still to be determined. They’re rushing the tests to find out.

Jessica Seaborn Jessica Seaborn Photo: Supplied

Is it bad luck, or is it purely coincidental that I have had both a cervical cancer scare and a breast cancer scare in the short space of two months? These surgeries are completely unrelated. I thought I’d conquered my cervical abnormalities only to feel a lump in my breast two days after the surgery.

Now, I’m not one to tell doctors how to do their job, because they really are the Gods of our world and I couldn’t be more grateful for them. But please, stop starting your sentences with “Don’t worry, you’re very young, so…”

Because being in your 20s does not automatically render you exempt from every medical condition. In fact, it almost seems to cloud your judgement. You walk through a hazy mist believing yourself to be healthy and fit. Because young people don’t get sick, right?

Over the last two months, I’ve learnt that people think cancer really only affects those of us who are much older, so there’s an automatic reaction of “don’t worry too much about it – I’m sure it’s nothing.” If I were twenty years older, the reaction would be “well make sure you get all the information that you can and get all the tests done.”

When I had to inform family, friends and colleagues of my impending surgeries, I noticed that their responses followed an eerily similar pattern: “But you’re so young! Well good on you for getting the tests done. What did make you want to get the tests done? Did you have symptoms?”

People were genuinely surprised that I took myself to the doctor to get check ups for odd things I’d been noticing about my body. Perhaps it’s common for young people to assume it will disappear. Or perhaps they wait for a more obvious symptom to reveal itself.

There’s nothing that frustrates me more than talking to friends who feel too embarrassed to get a pap smear. I’ve got a friend who has never had a pap smear before.

But they test for sexually transmitted diseases, and I don’t have any?

I’m not too young for cancer – no one is. I’ve had to learn this the hard way, and I don’t think it’s fair for doctors to assume anything based on age.

Wrong. They test for cervical cancer. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to convince this friend to get a pap smear. And what makes this even harder is that as of May 2017, there will be changes to Australian cervical screening and women will be discouraged from getting pap smears until they are 25.

I’ve just turned 24 and had to have cervical surgery. Things might have been very different if I’d waited until I was 25 just to get the preliminary pap smear test.

I’ve spent the last four years having gynaecological tests because every pap smear always came back abnormal. I’d go back every six months to get more testing done, because that’s what I was told to do. And when my GP told me to come back in two years because I was young and cervical cancer takes a long time to develop, I took her advice.

By a stroke of luck, a nurse came across my file and rang me to ask if I’d ever gone to see a gynaecologist about my results. She urged me to do so, with a stern voice that still gives me shivers. One month later I was under the knife. And then two days after that, I woke up at 2am because I had to scratch my chest. And I felt a lump.

There are many things that I’m too old for, like authentically playing a teenager in a television show. Or training to compete in some kind of sport for the Olympics. And there are many things that I’m too young for, like menopause and retirement.

But I’m not too young for cancer – no one is. I’ve had to learn this the hard way, and I don’t think it’s fair for doctors to assume anything based on age. When you’re in the doctor’s office and they’re calming you down by telling you how unlikely it is that there’s anything wrong with you, that’s what you hold on to because it makes you feel better. But that’s also why it can come as a shock when you walk back in for the results and they’re different to what you and your doctor thought they would be.

If your GP asks you to come back again later in the year, or in twelve months, ask her why. Get as much information as you can. When the mammography technologist discourages you from getting a mammogram because, and I quote, “there is radiation in the machine and you’re young so we probably shouldn’t do the mammogram,” disagree with her. Tell her you have a referral and a mysterious lump.

I’ve learnt to ask questions and make my own choices, and most of all, I’ve learnt to ignore doctors when they use my age as an excuse for anything. Being young is no excuse for ignoring medical tests. And yes, it may be extremely rare to get cancer in your 20s, but it’s not impossible.

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