Nine years ago today, I drove myself to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe, and my chest was painfully tight. It turned out that I had cancer.
I had many surgeries that took out the tumor and installed appliances in my chest. (For a few years after that, I had a metal object in my chest that protruded like an unripe tomato concealed under skin.) I went through chemotherapy every three weeks for over a year, then I did radiation everyday for a couple of months.
Those were the most physically trying times in my life. I remember banging my head repeatedly against a concrete wall because that pain was giving me respite from the more excruciating pain I was feeling in the rest of my body. I powered through that for more than a year, each chemo cycle more challenging than the one before.
The kindness of the people around me extended my life beyond that episode. Family, friends, coworkers, even strangers put in a lot of time, labor, and resources to help me get through cancer. Even my then boyfriend reoriented his life and his family’s life to accommodate my treatment. I truly received more kindness than I ever deserved in life.
It has been nine years since I survived cancer, and I have lived a good life. I fell in and out of love, lost and rekindled family relationships, made new friends, built two careers simultaneously, travelled here and there, and helped a few people and causes along the way. All things considered, I’ve experienced so much more than I probably should have.
When I was going through treatments for cancer, I certainly did not think that I would live as long and as fully as this. (My doctor even told me then that I’d probably have 7 good years post-chemotherapy before some of my organs would start malfunctioning; it has been 8 years, so let’s hope he continues to be proven wrong!)
Today is also World Cancer Day, and we should know that individuals, families, communities, governments, and people with influence can raise awareness and education about the disease. 8.8 million people die of cancer every year, and half of these deaths are preventable if we just take appropriate and timely action.
To my loved ones who did not make it, we miss you, but you have earned your rest. We remember you fondly!
To my loved ones who have survived, congratulations for a job well done! Let’s hear your stories; they are beautiful and powerful!
To my loved ones who are going through or will go through treatments, the road ahead may be long, but it might be worth the trouble. Whatever happens, remember that it’s your body, so everything is your call! No matter how it feels, you can exercise control over many things; that can be empowering. People will understand and respect whatever you decide, and I hope you do not feel bad about whatever decision you take.