• Jenna Allen

WHAT HAVING CANCER IN MY 20S TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS


Image: Grace Easten


“I spent my whole life as a flower who shone through the weeds of the wild.But now I must go.But if I must go,I will go as the wish of a child.”


I use this quote not as a way to start saying goodbye, because really, I’m more likely to get hit by a bus than die from cancer right now. Mostly, I just like how it can be applied to my outlook on life. For most of my life, I’ve been quite serious about almost everything. Even now, I sometimes struggle to find the humour or the lighter side of everyday life. I often catch myself frowning as I try to concentrate, remember something or figure something out. It’s a product of lifelong independence, stubbornness and impatience.


So when I was diagnosed, I reacted out of character. I laughed. Mostly, out of disbelief and shock, but also, because you can’t help but think about how precious time has suddenly become, and how much of it you’ve probably been wasting.


This post is a bit surreal to write. For the past few weeks, my body has been trying to tell me something. A constant dull throb that quickly turns into sharp, frightening bursts of pain each night. Nose and gum bleeds that come out of nowhere, and cause more shock than anything else. The ongoing quest to find food that doesn’t taste terrible or have me up in the middle of the night when I can’t keep it down.  A pattern of bruises all across some of the more noticeable parts of my body. Black rings under my eyes that seem to have grown each time I look in the mirror. These are all very visible reminders of the cancer, and give people reason to stare at me, concerned and at a loss. Well, duh, I do have the big C.


At the start of the week, I got the results of a scan I’d had last week. I discovered that the leukaemia cells have grown and spread, from my bone marrow into my blood, bones, lymphatic system and spleen. For the most part, I don’t really understand how this could have happened. Not only did I feel better for the longest period of time since being diagnosed, but the people around me were also commenting on how much better I looked. Colour in my cheeks, more energy and a real appetite (victory!). This time, with what felt like another diagnosis, I was torn between my default seriousness and finding reason to smile.


Of course, I have a lot of reasons to be happy and every single one of them is what you’d call a “little thing”. It’s being able to write in the peace and quiet of the mountains, coming home to wonderful people everyday, catching up with an old friend and spending a lot of time with people who, like me, simply want to change the world for the better. So, this past week especially, I’ve been trying to find magic in the little things. Drink more, eat more, talk more, express your views and stand by the things you believe in, is what I’ve been doing. Cherish every conversation with friends and family, and always tell them that you love and appreciate them. Don’t procrastinate and wait for the “right moment” to confront someone. When is the right moment, even? Make plans for the future even if you don’t know what it holds.


When I first started writing this post, I was entirely focused on whether or not I’d had the chance to do great things. I was amidst deep political discussions (which have been on all of our minds this past week) and considerations for the future. Every time someone spoke about 2016 or referred to even one day in the future, I panicked. “What if I don’t get that far?” I kept thinking.


I’ve spent the past five years or so being obsessed with greatness, because well, quite frankly, mediocrity is shit. It’s about submission or an acceptance of something that’s less than average, and when it comes to what matters most, that’s unfathomable. But, I’ve had a few days, a few drinks and an endless supply of love and support to help process it all. Whether or not I get to do great things, I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of being happy, so for now, I’ll just have to try. And in trying, I plan on injecting a lot more silliness, laughter and a child-like view on the world, because really, frown lines are just so unattractive.