Dear cancer warriors, survivors, family and friends,
Exactly a year ago, I was a new mother to three-month-old daughter Aleya Carina and was suddenly diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer. I’ve been blessed in life where everything turned out the way I imagined, but funnily enough I didn’t think much of what would happen after 30, and certainly never imagined I would end up fighting for my life.
I was busy with my career, lived a relatively healthy life and was even blessed with a wonderful pregnancy – but for the last decade, I couldn’t shake that niggling feeling that something could be wrong with me. Both my grandmother’s and mother’s generations had one female that was diagnosed with a form of cancer. And I was always afraid that there was a chance it would befall me.
No matter how healthy a life I “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” lived, being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma was just pure dumb luck. But I believe that God won’t put you through a challenge that you can’t overcome.
How did I find out?
I noticed a massive lump had grown on the right side of my neck. It didn’t hurt but it sure was obvious. After six weeks, nothing changed. I was advised to see a hematologist. And the rest was history.
I started my 12 rounds of chemotherapy (once every two weeks) on 3 May 2017. For the next six months of chemo ahead of me, at most, I can only say that it was manageable. I made an effort, together with family and friends, to live life as normal as possible when I was able to. I went out for lunches and playdates, did food shopping, tended to my start-up, changed diapers and spent time with Aleya. But in between were some remarkably tough moments.
The day after recovering from surgery and my first chemo session, my husband and I, as new parents, went through days of panic and fear as Aleya got really sick for the first time. A month later, my hair started to fall out in clumps, and subsequently all over my bathroom floor after trying to blow my remaining hair. I was sobbing while trying to pick it up – it was unreal. Halfway through my chemo journey, I was suddenly admitted into the emergency ward to be on drips because my fever had spiked. I felt so disappointed with myself as I tried to recall whether I had missed a moment in being careful with my hygiene practices during chemo (as you must try to avoid picking up any illnesses).
“A month later, my hair started to fall out in clumps, and subsequently all over my bathroom floor after trying to blow my remaining hair. I was sobbing while trying to pick it up – it was unreal.”
A lot of people asked how I dealt with the emotions. It wasn’t easy. I’ve felt everything from shock to sadness, guilt, self-pity, anger, fear – and I cried several times, more times than I cried in the past seven years combined. But I reminded myself that this was not of my own undoing and that this was bigger than me – I have my own family now. I had to think of them and our future. I knew I had to dig and dig deep, to find the strength to pull through mentally, emotionally and physically. I never really knew how strong I was, until strength was the only option I had left.
Although my life took a turn for the worst, it only slowed me down but didn’t stop me from living.
Even though I’m in recovery, I admit I still carry the fear of relapse. My fear isn’t of death; it’s the fear of not being there for my family. But if I want to conquer fear, I shouldn’t sit at home and think about it. I’ve got to go out, be the best version of myself and live proud.
Family and friends of cancer warriors, please, do reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask our warriors if they need help in receiving a healthy lunch, offer some company during chemo, or even send a personal message checking how they’re doing. Not connecting may sometimes make them feel like you don’t care.
” I implore you to be a little inquisitive; understand what kind of cancer that person has and the course of treatment they have been undergoing before assuming and coming across as if you “know” what you think works, when you don’t.”
Let’s be honest; most of us pigeon-hole cancer when we hear of someone going through cancer. We assume that each person is going through the same type of treatment and will experience the same side effects. There are so many types of cancers at different stages, happening to people with different physiologies based on age, gender, status of physical health, and the like. And there are also so many different forms of treatment. I implore you to be a little inquisitive; understand what kind of cancer that person has and the course of treatment they have been undergoing before assuming and coming across as if you “know” what you think works, when you don’t.
To the warriors, if you’re able to, talk about your journey. In my experience, it was a great coping mechanism; it helped those who couldn’t relate stay connected to me and I had other fighters also reach out to me to show some love or ask for advice. It was great connecting with this global community to inspire and be inspired. The more people in our circles know, the more they will be educated.
And to everyone, let’s support the fighters, admire the survivors, honour the taken and never, ever give up hope.