Mommy Has A Lump In Her Bum: Anal Cancer

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In April 2018 I found a small lump on my bikini line. In less than a fortnight I went from having a ‘likely hernia’ to a biopsy-confirmed Squamous Cell Carcinoma, up my bum. Which means, I had Anal Cancer, which had spread to my lymph nodes. 

I was 37, married with one kid, in the middle of IVF and about to begin a new job running Client Service at an advertising agency. My cancer was spectacularly ill-timed and unexpected. It also meant most things I was using to hold up the pillars of my personality, crumbled. These days, the cancer story follows a neatly set template. It’s a tale we (think) we all know. So when the 21st century Boogie Monster gatecrashes your party, the next few chapters are written up and ready to go. People hear your news and live the whole tragic trajectory for you. You can see it in their eyes ... and, it only takes about eight seconds for them to get the bit about your funeral. 

We’ve all had experiences with cancer. Dying relatives, sick friends, hell - even mentally scarring viewings of StepMom. Cancer bonds us all, through fear and trauma. So it’s unsurprising that as a subject, it tends to attract the odd combination of po-faced worthiness and grief-porn. As I quickly discovered, it was bad having cancer, but it was even worse being someone’s pity project. It was the main motivation for channeling my efforts into a) not dying, and b) telling people what that felt like. It didn’t take me long to pick Instagram as my channel of choice. It was quick, easy, and felt like the right place to talk about my illness in ‘my’ way. Because, almost immediately after diagnosis, I was dropped into a world that didn’t seem built for ‘my people’. That is, people with cynicism, humour, a proclivity for profanity, and a raging social media addiction. And even though I looked, I couldn’t find the resource that both myself and my ‘Cancer Crew’ needed from Day 1. 

With nearly twenty years working in Australian and UK advertising agencies, I reckon I’ve (almost) honed the art of the ‘quick sell’. This was something that stood me in good stead when I started joking about my cancer malarkey, in 15 second bursts. It may sound glib, but I wasn’t taking the piss. I was terrified and sad and angry. But all of these feelings didn’t stop me from wanting to make people laugh, wanting to educate them, and (mostly) wanting to feel a little less alone. My approach worked. No ambulance-chasers, no pity-eyes. The first school drop-off after I’d outed myself as a Cancer Person was scary, but not nearly as much as it would’ve been if I felt I didn’t own my message. It was the beginning of a newly exposed, honest me. I started as I meant to go on. 

Which is how I got here. Hi! 

Ella Ward is an Aussie mum, wife, advertising boss lady and also (unfortunately) one of Those Cancer People. She’s currently oversharing on Instagram @_msellabella ... come say g’day! 


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