The Damn Diagnosis

Beyond those pretty little pink ribbons, monthly awareness campaigns and baffling cancer statistics, are stories like mine. Stories of actual people who try hard to articulate and best describe the battles of day to day living after a shocking diagnosis. Honestly, there are only very few words that I can use to accurately capture these emotions. Sometimes, I want to keep it raw enough for people to really know what it’s like. But then again, I also want to keep it sugarcoated enough for people who I know worry about me.

Learning about a cancer diagnosis makes an otherwise productive person like myself wonder how exactly I have failed my own body. “I thought I’ve given you enough fresh food, green juice, shiraz and squats,” I would recall from time to time.

Well, here you go… Another life lesson that some things are simply out of our control.

It occurred to me that Lymphoma was my next life challenge at the stubborn, oblivious age of 25. There was really no time to grieve this diagnosis, which in my opinion worked out well for a chronic over-thinker like myself. Within days of a suspicious X-ray report, I found myself lying down suffocating in both my own anxiety and the sterile stench of a busy operating theatre. As soon as I recovered from surgery, I kickstart Chemotherapy. Waking up and looking at the mirror everyday became yet another long process of losing and finding myself.

If it weren’t for the amazing support of my family and friends, I would probably have left a goodbye note and travelled around South America. That would have been my version of “f#&$ this, I’m out!” Long story short, sanity crawled back to me and I completed the entire treatment without butchering anyone.

Beyond the physical and internal effects, this medical journey has cut way deeper than just my own self. The pain I see in my parents’ eyes for their only child to go through something so invasive at the peak of her life is simply gut-wrenching.

I wasn’t sure what it was going to take for me to accept and embrace this but with faith, I eventually pulled through!

To My Mom

For anyone who knows me, I love my independence. I would never be afraid to eat alone, decide on my own and just be my own. I cherished the whole, “strong, empowered woman” mantra.

It was the ultimate quarter life crisis when  I was faced with cancer at 25. And at this point of time, I had to turn to the “strong, empowered woman” that I was first introduced to. My mom.

No one could take care of me the way she did. My mom was the support system that I needed.

To me, she’s powerful. So calm, so reserved, so giggly but powerful. Being with her everyday throughout my entire treatment has given me strength and happiness like no other. This made me forget about my uncomfortable, 100 hour long infusions.

She made it clear that faith, love and giggles were going to get us through this tough time. And it did.

In retrospect, she knew how to turn dullness into some fun. Pain into a relaxing prayer. Boredom into the best scrabble game. Crappy hospital food into a big dinner party.

It’s the most understated role in the world, being a Mother. And I see that now, more than ever.

One of the greatest gifts of this medical experience has been the time spent with my beautiful mom. And for that, I am truly thankful! I love you Mommy/Mummy/Mami. (Had to cover all spelling variations for extra sureness!)

Why Self-love?

I grew up with a lot of love around me and because of that, I knew what I brought to the table. Feeling contented in life and comfortable in my own skin was second nature.

Well, all of that got thrown out the window didn’t it?

When it was time to deal with the annoying limitations of my treatment, all that made me the person I was had disappeared. I felt completely wiped off! Non-existent and unworthy of anything. Except for the narcotics I guess…:-p My treatment did come with some interesting “highs” and lows. But the point is, no one really sees what their worth is until they’ve lost themselves completely.

And there I was, as good as a dead plankton on the ocean floor.

There is nothing like falling in love with ourselves over and over again because honestly, that was the only way I was going to be happy again. It took a lot of energy, patience and conscious effort to pick up the pieces again.

I feel like “self-love” has become such a buzzword in recent times. It’s been promoted by many people and celebrated by mainstream media so much. But honestly, it’s one of the most oversimplified concepts ever. Always easier said than done. Loving ourselves and embracing all that we are is an everyday process that takes a great deal of awareness from within and without.

 

 

Somebody Save My Eggs

At 25, I didn’t think of having kids at all. At least not just yet! But with the whole cancer fiasco, it wasn’t long before the issue of infertility came to mind. It was a potential side effect of my life-preserving treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I loved kids. But I’ll take travelling over changing diapers for now.

The thing with such treatments is that it comes with a fear-based approach unfortunately. And yes, even if kids weren’t on my top list of things to achieve by 30, I was also scared of completely losing out on my shot at motherhood.

Hence, the decision to freeze my eggs.

So there I was, injecting myself everyday for weeks with hormones. And then, it was harvest season. An uncomfortable, vagina-probing procedure to extract my precious little eggs. All in all, it was a straightforward procedure. Egg freezing, at least that was one big thing off my mind before starting chemotherapy.

This whole process however, positioned me right smack in the middle of some of our society’s most questionable policies when it comes to comprehensive health and IVF or assisted reproductive health. In the little island of Singapore, married couples are heavily subsidised for IVF treatments. Pretty much as how it would be in most first world countries.

Well, guess who did not fall under this coverage? Yours truly.

Much to my dismay, there is absolutely no subsidy for people like myself because I’m not married. I find it hard to understand that a rich country (with an almost non-existent fertility rate) could not extend the slightest form of assistance to support young cancer patients! I was not doing this for some self-indulgent purpose, I did it due to a malignancy which I did not ask for.

My idea of comprehensive health coverage was to really cover all your bases (while you can) so I’m not sure what the explanation is for such a policy that displays a glaring lack of support for adults who are caught in the middle of crucial treatments.

The Millennial with Cancer

Life for me has included backpacking in Moscow and eating live (jumping) shrimps in Saigon but nothing seems more insane to me than getting cancer. So much so, that I am compelled to share this story with the world.

Connecting with people has been made easy in my generation but even then, there are many things I wish I knew while going through this journey…

I wish I was a bit wiser and that I had been through much more in life to be able to have the strength and resilience to say, “Ok I have cancer. Now where do we go from here?” But nah.. I was a frisky, young adult who was not ready to sport a bald hairstyle. Let alone be confined to an oncology ward during the most festive times of the year.

I wish I knew what to say and what not to say to my loved ones. They too, carried the emotional and mental strains of seeing me sick. They were a reflection of what was going on inside of me and especially on those not so pretty days, it hurt to see them in pain too.

I wish that the timing of things could have been better. Not that there’s any acceptable timing for cancer to happen! But at merely 25, I haven’t peaked in my career of choice, I haven’t fully understood the nitty-gritty of insurance policies, I haven’t even crossed out enough on my bucket list and of course, I haven’t thought about whether I wanted to have kids or not. The silly assumption was that cancer generally occurred among the older demographics. So my timing for cancer was absurd to say the least.

As a millennial, we think we can plan so far ahead of ourselves. We think we’re invincible. But we’re not. Not really.

For me, life is never going to be the same. And it shouldn’t be because I’ve been given a second chance. A new outlook, a new normal and a new life all together.

Reconnecting is the most precious thing I’ve earned from this diagnosis. For a young adult who’s still exploring her self, it’s a true gift to be given a second shot at living life. And for that, I’m extremely grateful!