I’ve never had an orgasm, and I’m going to die.
I’ve never been in love.
I’ve never been in a real relationship.
How is this even possible?
This day started like any other. I got to the office, turned on my computer, and saw there was an unread message from my brother. We had this ritual of sending each other funny memes every morning before we started work. But this time, it wasn’t anything funny.
“Don’t worry, it will be ok” he wrote.
Don’t worry? WHY should I worry? What’s happening?!?!
I’m sure his intentions were good. He wanted to calm me down.
But it DID NOT work.
I was not calm. I was freaking out.
I was living in Milan. I was fresh out of university, working for a fashion company in one of the top Italian companies. Like any other twenty-five-year-old, I was excited about building my career while fully enjoying my weekends in this thriving city full of posh clubs. As they used to say: “Work hard, play harder.” And that’s exactly what I did.
But unlike my other twenty-five-year-old colleagues, I was away from home, away from the support of my family. I was on my own.
I come from Poland. Living in Milan was a dream come true for me, but my family was struggling. My father had gone bankrupt when I was a teenager. We didn’t have money; I was only able to go to Milan because of the scholarship I’d earned from my university for good grades. I had gone to Italy for an exchange program, and then I found a job and was able to stay. But the money I was making wasn’t that much. It was just enough to cover my rent, food, and the occasional bit of shopping. And with little left, I tried to support my family, too.
Once a year, I traveled to Poland to see my family. I missed them and wanted to make sure they were doing ok, and it was also my time to stock up on a few products I couldn’t buy in Italy as well as get all my medical tests done. You know, the typical “life admin” stuff. I never thought much of it. It was just a routine I did every year.
Only this time, when the medical tests came back, it wasn’t good. My PAP test showed some changes. The kind of changes you find in the early stages of cervical cancer.
They came in the mail to my parents’ house, and it was my mom who read them first.
And she panicked.
Less than five years earlier, she herself had received a diagnosis. They had found breast cancer, and it was bad. She had needed a mastectomy and very strong chemo. I saw her go through it all. She became a shadow of a human: skinny, bald, and pale. I will never forget seeing her like that.
And now she was holding a paper in her hands with the words no mother ever wants to read:
Pathological changes in tissue.
It was a lot for her. Her own pain and fears came rushing back, only this time, it wasn’t her facing this. It was me—her daughter.
That was why my brother messaged me. He knew how scared my Mom was, and he wanted to calm me down.
Only I didn’t know anything about the test results. No one had told me anything. My mom was panicking, and she didn’t know how to tell me.
So, unintentionally, my brother did.
- “Why should I not worry?”
- “The test results. It’s gonna be ok.”
That was how I found out.
That was how I learned that I may have had cancer. A type of cancer that kills 50 percent of its victims.
I was only twenty-five. And I was not ready to hear it.
I had only just begun thinking about my future. I was fresh out of college with my first real job. I was only just learning about life and what I wanted to do with mine. I had big dreams and ambitions—I always have—and I was taking my first steps to realize them.
And here I was faced with the possibility of having no future at all.
I hadn’t yet experienced real love. In fact, I had never been in love, had never been in a real relationship, and had never had an orgasm.
I hadn’t experienced true fun, true intimacy, or real ecstasy. I thought it was something you had to work for, that it was a reward for years of working hard. So how could I possibly have experienced it when I’d only just started? I had been promised all those amazing things, like love and happiness, and now it would all be taken away? Just like this?
How can this be? I haven’t lived enough. There was so much more I wanted to do and feel.
They say there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I went through them all.
At first, I felt numb. It didn’t make sense. How could I have cancer? I’m too young. I sat there, frozen, unable to comprehend everything that was happening.
Then, the anger came.
Why me? Why now? It’s NOT fair!
I felt angry at the results, at my doctor, at my family. I got angry at God.
Then I started pleading: God, please don’t let me die. Please give me another chance.
And when God didn’t respond, I started crying, day after day. I was slowly accepting my fate.
And the more I did, the more I could look at it all with peace. I regained my ability to think logically. I stopped resisting or magically trying to change what was happening to me. Instead, I started preparing myself.
I read about various treatments, but the statistics did not look good. The gravity of my situation was sinking in deeper and deeper. I was scared.
But I had no choice. It wasn’t going to magically go away just because I didn’t want to deal with it. I wasn’t going to wake up one day and have different test results.
I thought to myself: “My mom went through chemo. I can do it, too. I can take a break from work, go back to Poland, and if I have to, I’ll take a year off to heal myself.”
My doctor recommended I get a histopathology report to know for sure how serious it was. I found a clinic and made an appointment. I sat on a gynecological chair with my legs open and tears in my eyes. It did not feel pleasant.
While I was waiting for my results, I scheduled a meeting with HR to tell them everything. I didn't know how it worked in Italy, but I expected there to be some sort of medical financial support. Truth was, I needed it. Without it, I would not have had money for the treatment.
So, I met with HR to ask about my options. The woman I spoke to was just a few years older than me. I told her about my test results. She was the first person outside of my family that I told. It felt so raw and vulnerable, telling a stranger that I may have cancer. In some way, I felt embarrassed, as if I had done something wrong.
And here is how she responded:
- “If you need to go back to Poland to get treatment, we’ll need to fire you.”