Over the past few days I have been obsessive in researching new courses and career paths. The urgency with which I am delving into this is relatively unnecessary at the moment, considering that I won’t be changing into a new university course until next year at least. I could call what I’m doing procrastination; after all, it is the prerogative of every student to put off assignments and study that they really should be doing with pointless tasks. Somehow, though, I don’t think that’s it.
It is only recently that I have finished ending every future-looking comment with the silent proviso ‘if I’m still here, that is’. A few weeks ago Dad was talking about a family reunion involving my immediate cousins in 2011. “Oh that sounds like awesome fun!” I exclaimed whilst thinking, ‘if I’m still around for it’. Morbid, yes, but I couldn’t help it. It popped into my head without warning, and still does occasionally. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this, that many other cancer patients suffer through the same thing. It is disconcerting nonetheless.
The idea that the leukaemia is going to come back and hence kill me off is far less pervasive than it has been in the past few months. It is still there, to some degree, and I don’t think that it will ever entirely disappear. But I’m now able to think ‘well, if that doesn’t happen then what am I going to do?’ and I think that’s what’s really motivating this frantic research. I believe that my future is now undecided (i.e. I’m not necessarily going to die) and so I’m worrying about it. I’ve hit the stage that most people hit when thinking about uni during year 12 – only 2 years later than normal.
Before I relapsed I had a relatively clear idea of where I was heading. I was going to study Social Policy and International Studies at UNSW, majoring in Development so that I could then go work for an international non-government organisation. I was going to campaign for refugees, organise better policies for social development, and in general fix all the problems of society that I could. How very noble and idealistic of me.
My relapse changed all of that though. Not only did I have to postpone studying at UNSW, I had to seriously rethink what I wanted to do as it wasn’t really feasible for me to live and work in a developing country anymore. I need to live somewhere where I can have regular check-ups, access to modern medicine and a quick reaction time should anything go wrong.
On that note, it has just hit me how supremely lucky I am to have been diagnosed as someone living in Australia. Of course I have thought about it before, but more in a vague off-hand manner. If I was born and living in Africa, I would most likely be dead by now. Quite possibly without having been diagnosed.
Even as an Australian I am extraordinarily lucky. I’m a daughter in an upper-middle class family who live quite close to the city. My mother was able to afford to take the time off work so she could be at hospital with me everyday. I was able to go home to my actual house when I was allowed time out of hospital, because we were close enough to come back quickly if something went wrong. We have private health insurance, so the cost of treatment and the numerous medications didn’t add an extra burden to an already shit situation. Though I may be unlucky to have this disease, I am a hell of a lot luckier than other people.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Relapse shattered my idea about what I was going to do with my life. It left me uncertain and clutching at straws about what was important to me. It also raised a number of other factors that I hadn’t really considered before. Losing the ability to have children has, in a cruel and somewhat ironic twist, made me certain that I want them. And so, I will have to have a job that enables me to pay for either IVF or adoption. Not only that, but in the case of adoption I have to have an acceptable (i.e. stable) job. There is also the issue of health insurance. At the moment I’m still covered under my parents’ private health insurance, yet when I strike out on my own I will have to pay a premium to get coverage for my ‘pre-existing condition’. I expect to have to pay through the nose for this, and therefore again need to have a relatively high-paying job. So uncertainty about what I want to do is compounded by the knowledge that whatever I do, it has to be permanent and it has to be pretty well-paid. These are things that are entirely too practical for a 20-year-old to be thinking about and yet this is my reality.
So what career can I follow? Living and working in a third-world country has been ruled out, and to be honest I have now lost the passion necessary for the aid and development industry. Does this make me a bad person? I hope not.
Immediately after finishing the bone marrow transplant, I had the idea of working with young people who have cancer. This was more of an idle thought than an actual plan, as I was still in the phase of believing that it was only a matter of time before the leukaemia would be back to take me down. But it was a possibility of a career and it fulfilled my self-imposed criteria of ‘helping people’, though my certainty that this was what I wanted to focus on was fading. As time has passed, however, I have discovered that emotionally I would not be able to work in this field. I am not strong enough to build relationships with people only to watch them die. Though this may be an extremely morbid and yes, stereotypical way of looking at it, this has been my experience so far. Every single person that I became close to in hospital has died. I don’t know why I am the one who hasn’t, and I think I will save that discussion for another time. But as it stands I can’t, and I won’t, subject myself to that over and over again.
So this is where I am left. The idea of a full-time career revolving around ‘helping people’ has now been discarded, though I am definitely not opposed to volunteer and pro-bono work. I just think, at the present time at least, that I am not emotionally strong enough to deal with the problems that come with working in such fields. I have new criteria of ‘stable’ and ‘well-paying’, as well as the old criteria of ‘interesting’ and ‘enjoyable’.
I am keeping a list of any career that remotely interests me – print journalism and event management are the two topping the list at the moment. I use most of my time researching courses that lead to these careers, or thinking about how I can arrange a university course to accommodate the possibility of either career at the end. Not to mention wrangling with my parents about the idea of getting into ‘event management’ – apparently they believe that it would not be ‘intellectually stimulating’ enough for me.
But it is getting to the point that I need to either make a decision or take a break from this. I am stressing myself out, believing for some reason that I am not skilled enough to get a job in either profession though I have nothing to base this fear on. I am worrying about money for things that I’m not even going to have to look at for at least another five years. I am putting off assignments and study that I am going to regret not doing when I have to cram it all in the day before it is due. But I can’t help myself.