It was February, freezing cold and dark outside the first time Ylva felt that little lump in her right breast. She was only 43 years old and could never have imagined that the tiny lump a few months later would turn her life upside down. Read Ylva’s story about her cancer and how it helped her to share it with others.
“The chair in the doctor’s office suddenly felt uncomfortable. And I realized how cold my hands were. They were freezing cold. The doctor had just uttered the words I had denied for months. Blindly denied since the first time I felt that little lump in my breast. “You have breast cancer.” I knew it before he said it. The call I got three days ago, asking me to come into the office and preferably bring someone with me, divulged everything. But it had been a fog of uncertainty until now, now everything was clear, I had breast cancer. The chemotherapy would start in just a few weeks, they would remove my right breast and then I would have radiation treatments. Clear. As. Ice.
I’m not sure if it really was that cold in the room, but I tried to wiggle my frozen fingers back to life while I glanced at my husband. He cried. Maybe I should cry too. But I felt a bit like my hands; cold and stiff. So instead I began a list in my head of the people I was going to call when we got out of this room. My mom. My sister. Johanna. Erika. My boss.
As soon as we came out of the room, I got the urge to pick up my phone and post on Facebook: Just so you all know it right away, I have cancer. But I didn't, I called my mom. And then I continued calling everyone on my mental list, reassuring them it would all be fine. It wasn’t easy, hearing the pain and fear in their voices, but I had to tell them. Telling the kids was the hardest, trying my best to sound as convinced as I possibly could when I told them “Mom is going to be just fine”. And I think I said it so many times that afternoon that I, myself, started believing in it. It was going to be fine. It had to be. But it was with a new and uncomfortable feeling I went to bed that night.
Just a few days later I did post on Facebook, maybe not quite the post I had in mind leaving the doctor’s office, but still. I wanted people to know. Usually I’m not much for sharing on social media, and if I do it’s about a nice dinner, fun day with the kids or a weekend trip. But something made me want to share this. Right away. Maybe because I, after the doctor explained that I would lose my hair after the first chemotherapy treatment, pulled my ice cold fingers through my hair thinking I didn’t want people to look at me and wonder if I was sick. Maybe that’s why it felt easier to tell them ahead of time. Maybe so they wouldn’t have to ask. Maybe so I wouldn’t have to answer.
I was abruptly thrown into the world of illness. I started my chemo treatments within a couple of weeks and after every batch of chemotherapy my well-being deteriorated. My hair had to be shaved off and although it almost felt worse than the fact that I would also lose my breast, it made me feel a little better sharing it. Sharing it with my husband who didn’t just help me shave off my hair, he also shaved off his own. Sharing it with the women in my cancer group who were going through the same thing. Sharing it with my best friends who saw me. And sharing it on social media, getting so much support and love from friends.
The upcoming months, when everyone else went swimming in the lake, went on road trips and had dinners at the beach, I was mostly at the hospital or at home. In the waiting room. In bed. On the couch. I was tired all the time. I didn’t matter how much I slept, I still woke up feeling tired. And I had been so excited for this summer. We had so many plans, adventures and trips to look forward to with the family. But this was the summer that didn’t happen. At least not for me. Plans that never happened, adventures that were never experienced and trips never explored.
Instead I watched my family do their best to live life like normal. They went on summer adventures without me and of course I wanted them to taste the feeling of summer. I just wished I could be with them. For all of it. But between the hospital visits and the treatments we did find our moments, our light. And even if the summer didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, it was still summer.
And then in the middle of everything, everyday life also somehow continued. The kids were excited to start school again after summer break, they had practices and hung out with friends. The house had to be cleaned, the leaves collected in the backyard and dinners cooked. The months passed. The feeling of not being enough, not having control of my own life and of being physically and mentally exhausted. But somewhere in the darkness I also saw that it was going in the right direction, the cocktail of chemo was working as it was supposed to, better than it did for many others. And I could see there was an end to this somewhere not too far away.
After what felt like a lifetime, I was there again. The same doctor’s office I sat in for the first time about a year ago. I had been to this waiting room too many times, I had gotten good results and bad news, I had cried in there and also somehow laughed too, I knew the doctor's face and the nurse’s eyes all too well. But this time the room felt warm. Not at all as cold as I remember from my first memory here. I looked down on my hands, rubbed them against each other, they were warm. I pulled my hand through the small hairs growing out on my head. Yes. I was going to share this too. I didn’t have cancer anymore."
The purpose of Once Upon is to empower people’s mental health and wellbeing through memories and real life stories. That’s why we want to let other people tell their important stories here. Just the way they are. The good, the bad and everything in between. So that their stories can help others who have experienced something similar, felt the same feelings or can be inspired by the story of someone else’s life.