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When the body protests, the soul hardens; My cancer journey (Part 10)

It has been six months since my last chemotherapy session and three months since the cancer was confirmed to be in remission. These six months have been quite an experience for me. My body has gone through so many changes and my mind equally stretched to limits that I never thought possible. The covid 19 pandemic has not made things easier.

In these past few months, I have met a number of people who have been diagnosed with different types of cancer. Fear and uncertainty have been the order of the day. I met a lady who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer and all she talked about was how her children were going to grow up without a mother. It took some time to persuade her to focus on getting well instead of condemning herself to death. I am happy to say that she is now on a recovery path, with a positive attitude to go with it.

On the other hand I have been going through survivor guilt of late. “Survivor’s guilt is when a person has feelings of guilt because they survived a life-threatening situation when others did not…”

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, I met a doctor through a friend of mine. This doctor assisted me in understanding the medical jargon associated with cancer. He walked me through the process with a lot of patience. A month after my diagnosis, he was also diagnosed with cancer. We were both in pain and discomfort and understood each other. On the 23rd of December I woke up to the news that he had passed on.

On the 28th of December one of our neighbours and church mate also passed on. He had lung cancer. In January, a friend of mine who had lung cancer was flown to India for treatment. He had checked to see if I would consider treatment in India as well, but it was not possible for me. Two weeks later he passed on. In a space of three months we had buried four more people who had succumbed to cancer. I kept asking myself why I was still alive.

The guilt became heavier when people came to me and told me I was strong to have survived the battle. I am no better than those who lost their battles. It was their time to go – God always has the final say.

I have had to continue dealing with side effects of treatment, notably hot flashes. Much as they are annoying, they are a painful reminder that my ovaries were damaged through radiation and the implications thereof. I hoped that the winter would be a ‘safe’ period to experience them as I needed insulation from the cold weather. However, I went from feeling very hot to shivering cold within seconds. The sudden sweating would see me throwing my blankets off the bed and then reaching out for them once the flash had subsided. I have sleepless nights because I experience hot flashes every hour for a period of five to twenty minutes at each time. Now that it is getting warmer, I foresee a very long summer. There is medication to control hot flashes, but I have been advised that my immune system has to start working for itself without much external assistance.

I still remain lactose intolerant and there are foods that I am unable to take. At one point I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw, I lost so much weight and I desperately wanted to gain it back. I tried to eat a lot to quickly gain weight. It was not something that my body could take, so I have had to be patient with myself. I have been through phases of depression in the last three months and the mental journey to recovery has been very slow, with pressure to getting back to normal being quite high.

When I turned 34 on the 6th of August, a birthday themed thirty-fought, I was overwhelmed by the number of people that joined in this celebration. A birthday that almost never was. I thank God for this gift called life and for the grace to face new days.

As the month of September commences, I would like to go on a 30 day challenge of talking about cancer. I wish to be a candle that lights up other candles in the fight against this terrible disease.

One would ask, “Why talk about cancer in September and yet October is the month we know and it is commemorated on 4 February?” Because cancer is neither Easter nor Christmas, it is an everyday phenomenon. It is a disease that has become so much a part of our lives that there is need to demystify it. I hope we can have meaningful conversations through the month of September.


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