Marianne Wright - When Life Gives You Cancer...

by GEM Magazine / Jun 25, 2015 / Comments

"On a scale of one to ten, how bad is the pain?”

Wailing, "TEN!" didn't nearly do it justice. At times, I was so low I believed that the entire purpose of my existence had been to simply get cancer and die, aged 27. I certainly hadn’t prepared myself for 'The Aftermath', a period of depression which mainly revolved around my chosen career path.

I am a trained classical singer. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I first joined a choir, aged 10. I felt that the steps backwards I had taken in my singing progression during my illness were too much to overcome. I was now in a position of unproductive practice sessions; too sore, weak and afraid to use my body in the way it is supposed to be used in classical singing. Being a singer defined me as a human, it was all that I knew, and all that I thought I needed and wanted. But here I was, too sick to do any of it.

I grew up with a rigorous self-discipline instilled in me. This work ethic has been both the biggest blessing and the biggest burden. In college I was constantly on the lookout for performance opportunities, competitions to enter, and shows to audition for. However, it also led to developing unrealistically high expectations of myself.

The frustration of this transformed into quite debilitating performance anxiety. I wasn’t just afraid of forgetting the words in performance, or upsetting my neighbours. It had become a fear of making a sound in my own company, just in case it didn't live up to my expectations.

I still loved singing lessons. I would lap up the expertise of my teacher, safe in the knowledge that I would have more confidence after each lesson. But it was back to square one during practice sessions and all I could do was plod on, effectively sticking my head in the sand. Until something else took over my life completely…

Unknown Illness
I had spent the morning at work crouching down behind my stand at intervals, attempting to ease the stomach cramps. When I thought the pain was bearable enough to stand, I would, whilst begrudgingly smiling at the rest of the world. As the day progressed the pain became excruciating. I could barely catch my breath between cramps. I was taken to hospital where I was later erroneously discharged with dysmenorrhea - translated - period pains.

I awoke mere hours later, only this time, the crippling pain was accompanied by blood. I spent the next three days under observation in an unfriendly ward, still sporting the same blood-stained pyjamas I had been admitted in. This moment was the poisoned cherry on top of the horror story that my life had suddenly become.

The mysterious illness worsened over time. And yet I was discharged with either period pains or constipation; the doctors having ruled out other conditions. Cancer wasn’t even on the radar.

17 ambulance-fueled admissions to hospital later and eventually the cause was revealed; a 3.5cm tumour. I was told that if it wasn't already cancerous, then it soon would be. Following the surgery, the histology report confirmed that it was indeed cancer.

The Aftermath
Minus 20% of my large intestine, I found myself unable to eat, in a constant cloud of analgesics... and unable to stop crying. Looking at my wound made me feel sick. My surgeon had done a fabulous job of keeping the incision neat, but I still felt like Frankenstein's monster. I struggled to absorb the news that I’d actually had Stage 2 Bowel Cancer... that I hadn’t been the constipated hypochondriac I’d been made to feel for the past four months!

I felt I’d been cheated out of the time to absorb the situation - now the tumour was gone, I was expected to be fine. But I felt like a completely different person, and not in a good way. As I healed, the tears seemed to flow all the more. Post-operative depression it seemed was a real and scary thing.

Months of confronting my own mortality led me to realise it had been a huge turning point in my life. A warning. The day I received confirmation that I didn’t need to undergo chemotherapy was the first day I felt able to live again. I sought out one thing each day to be thankful for. Some days it was almost impossible, but I didn’t give up.

Who am I?
The void left by the lack of singing prompted me to refocus my outlook. I learnt to live as a human being, rather than just a singing machine. I raised money for Bowel Cancer UK’s ‘Never too Young’ campaign by undertaking a physically demanding '100 Active Days Challenge' and focused a lot of creative energy into sewing.

Through time, I came to a very difficult decision: to sing or not to sing? I vowed to continue my learning, performing, and teaching but decided other things would now take precedence in my life. This actually helped me enjoy performing again!

I secured a full-time position at a youth orchestra, though I shed many tears in my decision to take the job; it meant accepting that my lifelong dream of being a singer wasn’t going to materialise in the way I’d dreamed it would.

Part of me felt that I was just giving up on life. However, now I recognise that was the very same part of me that believed that singing defined me, and that without it, I was nothing.

Since cancer, I have found a lot of inspiration through yoga and a renewed love for jogging. The energy for these activities was hard to find in my 'previous life'. I have also met a very nice man who has been a supporting and calming influence and introduced me to the joys of cycling. I’m aware that my cancer was likely caused by an unknown genetic fault, which has led me to be enrolled into a research project.

My mother always told me that I could handle anything that life threw at me. She was right. I no longer feel angry at the situation. Naturally, I feel overwhelmed when I have flashbacks of the pain, but I almost thank my tumour for its persistence in letting me know it was there. In some twisted turn of events, my tumour saved my life and helped me start to create a life I wanted to live.

By Marianne Wright.

Marianne is a classically trained singer living in London, UK. She graduated with a first class degree in vocal performance and has a varied career as a freelance singer and teacher, who also works for the renowned European Union Youth Orchestra in fundraising. Marianne is also a seamstress who loves to design and create clothing and accessories in her spare time. She continues to practice her new love of yoga, jogging and cycling.

Twitter - @WrightMarianne

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