September 11, 2014
I have not been able to escape those three little words.
I have cancer.
I have cancer.
I have cancer.
Ever since the diagnosis was confirmed two months ago, those words have been floating around in my mind. In the beginning, whenever I woke up, a new wave of emotion would hit me. I would lie still, with my head against the pillow with a raw, sore feeling building in my chest. The pain would intensify until I needed to verbalize my pain. I would then whisper to myself, as if I was telling myself a secret, I have cancer.
I needed to repeat those words to myself. I needed to be the one saying them.
On July 3, 2014, my doctor confirmed that I have cancer.
I have deliberated whether this particular journey is something that I want to share. This is a personal decision and I needed to figure out whether sharing my experiences might help or hurt me. In the first days after my diagnosis, I found a good ally in a website blog called Just Cancer. I sought out sources of information because I wanted the knowledge. I wanted to feel prepared and in control. I wanted to know what to expect. Especially at a time when it felt like nothing was my choice. The blogger spoke about her reaction and emotions. I realized that I wanted a human perspective, and that all the stats and facts the doctors were throwing at me weren’t enough. If sharing my journey can help someone not feel alone, then it I think it’s probably worth it.
Writing is how I process my thoughts. I could always just write without sharing, but somehow that feels like a cop out, at least for me. When I received the diagnosis, my family was concerned about whether to tell people or not. This came from a genuinely concerned place. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but trust me when I say it’s complicated. And then I thought, hey, another interesting lens to explore health issues, cultural values and stigma. Cancer doesn’t have nearly the bad reputation as HIV/AIDS does, mainly because it’s non-communicable. And yet, I’ve realized there’s still some hush hush around it, at least in certain circles.
People tend not to talk about the bad and difficult things. But you know what, life is not all Facebook happy. I have realized that I don’t want to present some edited version of myself. I have good days and I have bad days. Bad stuff happens. I don’t think it is helpful to turn away from the difficult topics. I am not talking doomsday pessimism, but a healthy dose of realism can go a long way.
I told my mum that, in a way, I was very well-prepared to receive a cancer diagnosis. It helped that I had worked with children and families living with cancer. It helped that I received training around language sensitivity, people’s reactions to the diagnosis and so on. I don’t think that’s something a mother should ever have to hear, but I was trying to look on the bright side.
When I wrote my book, Dancing in the Rain, little did I realize that it would so soon serve as a source of comfort once again in my life. I think of it as a time capsule of my 17-year old self and I think I need to give her a little more credit. Once again, she’s given me some perspective. The book is now by my desk again as a reminder to live through life’s challenges.
I can’t promise thoroughly proofread pieces with complex thematic analyses. Nor can I promise consistent updates. But I will say this – what I write will be honest. If I feel like sharing, I will. I don’t want to go into a place where I shut out the world, although I need to accept that it is a possibility and that if it happens, it’s okay. I know I need some sort of plan as I go through this process and through recovery. I also know I need to be flexible.
Hopefully, together, these posts will start to make sense and come together like the pieces of a puzzle. At least, that’s the plan.