Elephants And Tea - June 2020 - 15

Because
I Can

I

BY H A N NA M A DSE N

was in Paris when my dad called to confirm that I had
cancer. I had just accepted a position in Afghanistan
with a French NGO and was in training. I thought
about flying to Afghanistan anyway. The position
was only for six months. I could treat it after. No one
knew I had cancer. There were no symptoms. If it got really
bad, I could always visit the doctor over the three-month
break. Instead, I flew home. I still don't know why, exactly.
By the time I landed in the US, MRI scans and a visit to an
oncologist were booked.
I couldn't taste it or feel it, but half of my tongue was
a cancerous tumor. It had been there for a year or two.
Normally, surgeons remove cancerous tumors. However,
if the surgeons removed this tumor, then the surgeons
would also have to remove my entire tongue. And the floor
of my mouth. And my voice box. The "Tumor Board" (a
group of oncologists) voted to try two 21-day cycles of
chemotherapy instead. After that, six weeks of radiation.
In short, I was definitely not going to Afghanistan anytime
soon and I was really pissed about it.
I moved into a tent in my parents' backyard. It made
everything feel less permanent. I WhatsAapped photos
of the turkeys in the backyard to friends in Afghanistan,
Lebanon, Mexico, Serbia, and Syria. And for five days, I
voluntarily injected myself with poison. My ears felt like
they were on fire. I threw up. I spent entire days on the

couch watching TV. I grew so weak that taking a shower
was a Herculean effort. And then the impact of the chemo
would fade. I would begin yoga again. And then biking
again. And then running again. And eating bread and
butter. And then again, I would inject myself with poison
for five days. The second round of chemo, I ended up in
the ER. All for a tumor that I couldn't feel. The chemo
had to work. I had to get to Afghanistan.
The chemo didn't work and no, I couldn't just leave the
tumor where it was. It was cancer. It could be spreading
into my throat and lungs. It could be there now. I had to
cut my tongue off and maybe my voice box. I flew to Mexico City. I drank mezcal and fresh fruit juice. I practiced
yoga. I ran. I returned the night before my surgery. My
last meal was at midnight. I think it was a buttered bagel.
In the pre-op, the anesthesiologist was really cute. He
was from the Midwest, like my ex. He thought my work
was really cool. He thought the surgery would save me.
My parents found an article about another woman whose
tongue was cut off for cancer. It was really hard, but she
learned to speak and swallow after a few years. Maybe I
would be that lucky, all for a tumor that I couldn't feel.
I woke up terrified and very high in the ICU. I couldn't
breathe. My shoulders and neck HURT. I was too afraid to
sleep. If I slept, maybe I wouldn't wake up. But if I didn't
sleep, then I would have to be awake. Every hour, regardELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
JUNE 2020

15


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Elephants And Tea - June 2020

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Contents
Elephants And Tea - June 2020 - Cover1
Elephants And Tea - June 2020 - Cover2
Elephants And Tea - June 2020 - 1
Elephants And Tea - June 2020 - Contents
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