Love Bites: An Unexpected Stranger

This month's columnist reflects on navigating an illness in teenagehood as a relationship

Article by Cammy Gallagher | 07 Dec 2023
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When I was 15, I met a stranger that changed my life forever. I can still recall the wailing chorus of my parents shudder through my spine, as the walls separating my bed-bound self from the Relatives’ Room shook in the wake of my fate. An X-ray revealed I was operating on half a lung, as a large tumour located in my chest had begun to drown me in my sleep. I was diagnosed with cancer. 

Though, in living with the illness, I saw it not as a fight, but more of a relationship. You’re forced into this bond with an abusive, controlling partner – who dictates your mental and physical state, leaving you sick, scarred, and confused. As with any companion, I was apprehensive about bringing them into my life. The effect of its presence was polarising: whilst floods of messages from the unknown came in, some of my previously closest didn’t know what to say or do. But this is only natural because there’s nothing anyone can really say or do, except acknowledge this.

I’d be lying if I said it came without benefits. The morphine was great, and I enjoyed the few advantages of being legally disabled for a handful of years, alongside possessing the ultimate pity card. But I tried not to bask in it because you don’t just want to be known as the kid who has cancer. 

When the time came to split, it was a messy break-up that left my place in a bit of a state. And, despite switching locks, with every healthy hiccup, I’m still reminded of the intruder that needs no key. Still, not everyone is fortunate enough to move past derailing relationships, and I consider every day since a blessing. Sometimes it takes the possibility of losing it all, in realising how important it all really is. Now I’m left with the memories and lessons from time spent with a stranger I never expected to meet.