(Image above: Revisiting Blacktown Hospital, where I did chemotherapy and radiation therapy. They folded 1,000 paper cranes for World Cancer Day.)
On Tuesday the 29th of May, 2018, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
I went through 4 rounds/8 sessions of ABVD chemotherapy.
I stayed in the hospital for 8 days in September and October because one of the chemo drugs inflamed my lungs.
I went through 15 sessions of radiation therapy.
…and on Tuesday the 26th of February, 2019, I found out that I was cancer free!
Between the day I was diagnosed and now is about 10 months, and it’s shocking to think about how much has happened in less than a year. Words aren’t enough to express my emotions, feelings, and reflections. But I’ll try.
It’s strange to think about the type of person I was before I had cancer. I knew I was studying a Master of Teaching (Primary) at ACU. I knew I was a relief (substitute) teacher. I knew I loved to sew, I loved to hike, I loved to travel, and I loved green tea.
Then I got diagnosed with cancer. And throughout my treatment, I’d come across photos of myself pre-treatment. I went through different phases of thought processes when I’d see a pre-cancer photo of myself.
At the beginning of my cancer treatment, when I’d look at a photo of myself with long hair and compare it to my bald self in the mirror, I’d think to myself that the long-haired version of me is the real me. I’d believe that I would go back to my “normal self” once this is all over. Once I beat cancer, I can grow out my hair again and go back to who I was before.
But, towards the end of my treatment, I could barely recognise who that person was. I barely even knew who I was anymore. Who was that Stephanie Altobano before treatment? Who is this Stephanie Altobano now?
At first, I was lost and confused. I felt broken and that I needed to rebuild myself. Not to sound vain, but before I had cancer, I was happy with who I was. I knew there were areas of my life that definitely needed improving, but I was happy. I liked that I could work hard at my passions like teaching and sewing, but could also be described as “free spirited” and “carefree” by people I knew. But I started to feel like that person was gone. There were times I wished I never went through this because it felt like that Stephanie Altobano from before was lost and broken.
Over time, I realised that I didn’t lose the person I was before. I actually found myself even more. I found the parts of myself that would make sacrifices for the people I love. I found the side of myself that was courageous. I found out that I was the type of person to find my own happiness rather than wait for happiness to come knocking on the door. Before, I wasn’t the type to open up to people. I liked to hide what I was going through. But cancer helped me find my voice. I had strength in me all along and cancer helped me find it.
I thought cancer made me lose the person I was. But in reality, through all the trials it put me through, it helped me find who I was and it makes me strive to become a better person each day.
To everyone reading this, I know that each one of you has strength within you as well. You don’t need to go through cancer to find it. But now I see that the trials we go through are ways we can unlock this potential and find ourselves in the process.
“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
– Pope Benedict XVI