Mercury deputy editor Cydonee Mardon cringes at the thought of being labelled a cancer victim or cancer survivor. She explains why she would prefer to focus on what she can conquer post diagnosis.
The C-word I find absolutely offensive.
But not the one you’re thinking of.
It's the one that makes you shiver to your very core if you're on the receiving end of it.
The one that no one wants to ever hear if it's being directed at them.
I heard it when I was 37. The wretched C word was fired at me by Dr Charlie Teo.
Cancer in my skull bone, he said.
Yep there was a foreign mass smack bang in the middle of my right petrous apex - I didn't know what that was, or that I had one.
It was a very particular part of my skull bone.
And a very rare type of cancer.
I Googled it and there was a ridiculously low survival rate, probably because there were not many people who had it.
And here I was sitting in the office of this world renowned surgeon - referred to by many colleagues at the time as a "cowboy" - telling me I had a serious decision to make.
"I punch away any weakness I feel - I slam my glove into the big leather bag and I crush the fear and weakness a diagnosis like that inevitably brings you."
The biggest one of my life.
He was leaning back in his chair, feet on the desk and dressed in scrubs after a typically long day of saving lives.
As he snacked on his handful of nuts, the engaging, charismatic neurosurgeon didn’t beat around any bushes.
I had a chondrosarcoma growing in my skull bone, he told me.
That’s a type of cancer.
It needed to be removed by cutting my skull in half and then screwing it back together.
The risks were partial blindness and deafness and my face could collapse - something to consider at my young age, he said. Results might not be pretty.
Oh and there was a risk of a stroke and that I could die.
It was Thursday night, I said do it. And he did it four days later, with skull base surgeon Dr Tom Kertesz.
Surgeons before them had told me to sit pretty, the lump in my head was benign they said, nothing to worry about, they said.
They joked I was more likely to die of old age than succumb to the benign lump in my head.
When they realised they were wrong, after many CT scans and MRIs, one neurologist who made me feel like a hypochondriac – and who shall remain nameless – had the hide to say this: ‘’Oh I was wrong, it's gotta come out. It’s not my area. It's 6pm on a Friday you'll have to wait to see a neurosurgeon on Monday, do you need a Valium script to get you through the weekend?".
Read more: A tip to surgeons – show a little grace
And with that I left his surgery and I am glad I will never have to see his face again.
But Dr Kertesz was this guy’s polar opposite.
He was calm and went with his gut and he brought in his esteemed colleague Dr Teo.
Together they were kind and caring and, more importantly, confident in what had to be done.
These two men are heroes to me. I'm in awe of their skill, knowledge and calm under pressure.
When the guys who got it wrong were told I had opted to go with these two surgeons one uttered over the phone on the eve of the surgery "well good luck, your life is in your hands”.
Well I didn't die - and I'm much luckier than so many thousands of other Australians who have been diagnosed with cancer.
I am deaf in one ear and can't cry out one eye but, apart from that, I'm free. I don't need chemo or radiation... this type of cancer doesn't respond anyway.
I have yearly check-ups and MRI scans but that's the only time I have to return to Prince of Wales Hospital each year, unless they spot a change in the size of the hole in my head... or further damage to my skull bone, I’m free.
So unlike those unlucky hundreds of thousands who can't get on with their lives, I can do what ever I want. And I do.
Since the c-word struck, I've travelled to the Philippines stick-fighting, got my black belt in martial arts, competed in body building shows, ran a half-marathon, worked as a personal trainer and I'm deputy editor of the Illawarra Mercury.
I punch away any weakness I feel - I slam my glove into the big leather bag and I crush the fear and weakness a diagnosis like that inevitably brings you.
I take on a challenge because I can.
That's what spurred me to agree to become an ambassador for the Wollongong Relay for Life.
I hate the limelight and have always shied away from any cancer charity events.
I used to think it was letting myself be identified as a victim – I hate that. But this time I decided that being involved is another challenge - like entering a kick boxing fight or joining a surf boat crew and braving the waves.
Putting myself out there, and pledging to walk the entire 24 hours in September, is my way to show the world that people can and do survive the C word.
In fact many come back stronger than ever. They embrace their second chance and do good with it.
So that's my latest crazy quest. Walk around Kerryn McCann athletics track all night long. No relay for me.
All or nothing, round and round for 24 hours. And I'm dragging my best friend with me.
It's one crazy quest of mine that can actually help others. And it reminds me to look on the bright side of life. Cause when you have a life, it's gotta be bright right?
Click here to support Cyd’s quest to walk the entire Relay for Life.