What I Wish I Had Known Before I Got Cancer

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Photo: Courtesy of Jakob Owens

I was living and working in Manhattan when, eight weeks into my pregnancy, I received an abnormal smear-test result. I went to see an oncologist who immediately reassured me that there was nothing to worry about. “Come back after you’ve had the baby,” she told me. I was young and “healthy” at the time. Why wouldn’t I believe her?

I had a terrible nine months. I was constantly sick, vomiting, passing out, and in and out of hospital. The doctors just put it down to the pregnancy. What they failed to realize, however, was that there was a tumor growing inside of me.

Because I delivered my son by C-section, they missed the tumor again. It was only when he was four months old and I was in serious pain that they finally ordered some scans. The results showed that the cancer had been growing in me whilst I was pregnant and, because it went undiagnosed for so long, had spread. It was 2014 and I had officially been diagnosed with cancer.

The tumor was too big to operate on, so the doctors immediately put me on a course of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy. I couldn’t eat and became very weak. I was either in a wheelchair, in bed, or in hospital. My husband had to wash me and brush my teeth. Every single day, he came to the hospital, looked after our four-month-old baby, ran a business, and kept going – even after being told that his wife was likely to die.

The treatment was concluded in 2015, but that wasn’t the end of it for me. The radiation severely damaged my insides. Since then, I’ve been in and out of hospitals. I lost so much blood through my bladder that, at some point, my doctor thought he might have to remove it. Now, the problem is my small intestine. I can no longer eat or drink anything without the risk of it getting stuck and without excruciating pain.

As I lie here in hospital, thinking about what I wish I hadn’t taken for granted, a few things come to mind.


I wish it hadn’t taken me losing the use of my body entirely to realize how much I love using it.


I wish it didn’t take me having to use a wheelchair to realize how much I love and value the ability to walk.


I wish it hadn’t taken me being totally unable to eat to realize how eating fuels you and what a gift it is to be able to eat well. 


I wish I had understood how living in a body that is pain free is truly living your best life.


I wish it hadn’t taken true fatigue and exhaustion to understand the difference between that and just not being bothered on certain days.


I wish I had realized how important independence and the ability to look after yourself are before I was no longer able to.


I wish I hadn’t lost a load of my hair to realize how much confidence it had given me.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t take anything for granted ever again – and I haven’t.

You don’t have to wait for something to go drastically wrong in your life in order for you to realize just how good you have it and how incredible your body is. This is what people often miss; you don’t actually need something to happen to you in order to learn the lesson and realize the fact that you are in control of your choices and of your mindset.

I haven’t been able to get out of my hospital bed and walk lately, but people around the world have been donating their workouts and #gratitudewalks to me. So, wherever you are, if you have the power to use your body, get up and take a walk just because you are grateful that you can.

Follow Petrina’s journey on her Instagram account, here

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