(Image above: walking out of my final chemo session with Gino, Bella and Sylbeth. Photo taken by my mum. I got radiation therapy up next then I should be done with treatment!)
As I fight cancer, people tell me to “be brave” or “be courageous”. While I always appreciate the sentiment and the thought, I never really understood the words.
If someone says, “be brave while you fight cancer,” what does that even mean? Because no matter what anyone says, I’m still going to be afraid of needles. I even cried during an injection once while I was in hospital!
More than my fear of needles, what scares me the most about this whole thing is the unknown and not being in control.
I never realised it until now, but almost everything in life, I somewhat have some control over. I remember when I was in my early 20s I went through a “quarter-life crisis”. I had just graduated from a Bachelor of Science and I knew I loved studying science but I didn’t necessarily want to work in science. So I went into the “quarter-life crisis” and stressed over things like where my life was headed.
But even though I didn’t have everything worked out back then, I did have confidence that whatever happened was up to me. The ball was in my court. I just needed to step up, take a risk and just make a decision.
In the end, I pursued primary school teaching and I’m really happy that I did. At the time, that was one of the most stressful things to deal with. Now it feels like a lifetime ago!
This time around with a cancer diagnosis, there are a lot of things I don’t have control over. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy has a long list of possible short-term and long-term side effects. Including the possibility of secondary cancers. I was told that the life-saving benefit of treatment outweighs its risks. It’s something I just have to do to survive. Whatever happens after and whatever the possible side effects I may or may not get is something that’s out of my hands. And that freaks me out.
When I got admitted to hospital
It hit me the most two days before what was meant to be my final chemotherapy session. I’d been coughing for over a week and two days before my final chemo I got a fever. As a cancer patient, if you get a fever you have to go straight to the emergency department. Which I did, and I ended up staying in hospital for a week.
Half of my stay there was dedicated to the doctors trying to work out what was causing the fevers, the other half of my stay was for treating it. Usually when I hear of a cancer patient getting admitted to hospital because of fevers the cause is usually an infection. For me, that wasn’t the whole story. All my initial samples came back as negative for infection. The doctors began suspecting that it wasn’t an infection but that one of my chemo drugs, bleomycin, was causing inflammation in my lungs. They ended up doing a bronchoscopy and the answer was both. A fungal infection that only the immunosuppressed get was found, and damage from the bleomycin.
Throughout this whole process, I knew there was nothing I can do except wait and do all the tests I needed to do. The ball wasn’t in my court like in my quarter-life crisis. My life was in the hands of the doctors who handled my case. What was even more frustrating was that I did what I could to avoid infection. I avoided public places, eating out was kept to a minimum, I made sure not see anyone who was remotely sick, I’d even wear a mask to the shops and on some walks! But even that was out of my control because it turned out that one of the drugs that’s fighting my cancer was hurting me as well.
The night before my bronchoscopy, I reached a point where I knew I just had to let go of my need to be in control. I had no idea what the outcome would be and I had no control in changing it either. All I had to do was just hold onto faith and prayer. To just trust in God to work through the doctors and nurses.
What I learnt about courage
Strangely enough, I realised that I actually do have control. Either I can take control of my life, or I can let my fears control me. What fighting cancer taught me is that it’s okay to be afraid but I shouldn’t let this fear dictate my life.
Like I said previously, I’m fighting cancer so I can have a future with the ones I love. But the one thing that could get in the way of this is fear. The one thing that could actually stop me from living is fear. The ball is in my court, I just need to step up, take a risk and just trust in God.
I’m still afraid of needles. I’m still afraid of the possible side effects. And I’m still afraid of the possibility of relapse. But I’m not going to let this fear stop me being who I want to be and living the best life I can. I’m just going to put my faith in God and just live. It was when I realised all of this, that’s when I realised what courage really is.
“To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.”
St Teresa of Avila