[First published on July 16, 2014]
Often, it is our own stories we find hard to write. Not because we lack the words, but because the words are not enough to describe the intensity of living every second in that situation. But in my attempt to chronicle the hell-paved road I have ahead of me, I will try.
It started with a persistent cough.
January 2013, I began seeing a pulmonologist; in the course of six months, I was prescribed a heap of medications to clear the unexplainable white area on the lower lobe of my left lung. The white area also gradually grew in size.
I was thought to have allergies, pneumonia, rhinitis, emphysema, and even TB. But after all the tests and medications, that’s all it ever was for me—a cough. A cough that doesn’t go away, a cough that I even started to ignore. That was until small lumps started to grow on my neck.
I was diagnosed of cancer September 2013. They call it Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a rare type of cancer that attacks the immune system, particularly the lymph nodes. I’ve been told it’s aggressive, but its aggressiveness only truly showed when, fast forward to today, I’m at stage IV, the veins in my heart and lungs are compressed because of the growing lymph nodes making it difficult to breathe, my spleen and liver are affected, and I’ve been hospitalized due to heart attack and pneumonia.
Those are the cold, hard facts. The words of the medical community describing that which afflicts my body. Yet those words, almost devoid of emotions, paint a grim picture that no one would ever want to have the misfortune of looking at—at the age of 26, Death called.
When It Attacks the Mind
They say cancer is a solitary disease.
Yes, there are supportive people around me, but dealing with the manifestations–the chronic pain, the worsening coughs, the depression, the anxiety, and the fear–falls on my shoulders on a daily basis.
While medications can help alleviate the physical agony, no one can ever prepare you for the emotional onslaught that comes with it. You see, cancer does not only attack your body; it attacks your mind too.
I don’t know what others felt when they were diagnosed, but I didn’t go through shock and denial. By the time my biopsy results came out, I was already prepared for the worst. After all, none of the previous diagnoses were right. What could be the next logical answer other than it being worse than what we originally thought?
“Some days are good; some days are bad,” this is a rehearsed line I’ve said more than enough times to believe it myself. What I don’t tell most people, however, is that a lot of days, I wonder why and how I’m still alive when the emotional whiplash took me the night before.
There is that sudden wave of anger triggered by the most little of things; the despair coming down after a really bad coughing fit coupled with pain; the depression that is impossible to describe except for the feeling of giving up completely; and worst of all, questioning my lifelong faith, wondering why God allowed me to go through this.
Then I start pushing people away. Not for any logical reason other than knowing that having someone see me at my lowest of lows will hurt them. And it is not a single punch; these are multiple jabs at someone else’s feelings, someone who has shown nothing but care for me. I can’t inflict that kind of pain to anyone I love. So to risk being called an idiot by my family and friends, there are days that I choose to be alone.
A Lesson on Dependence
I know that going through this would mean the holy grail of life lessons for me. I’m used to doing things on my own, on being independent, on preferring to keep my emotions hidden.
However, at the point of death—and believe me, I’ve had a few brushes with it being a stage IV cancer patient—you don’t think about money or business or how much is in your bank or the problems at work waiting for you tomorrow. No. You think about dying alone. You think about NOT dying alone. You fervently wish that there is someone, anyone, who will hold your hand as you take every breath that feels like your last. What I wouldn’t give to have someone I love hold me during the last minutes of my life.
So if there’s one lesson that I’ve learned so far, it’s this: Value the relationships you have now. If you think you have enough time, think again.
Fighting for My Life
Not very many people are given the chance to fight for their life, a friend once said.
And there I found my silver lining. Death called, but it was not a definitive sentence on my life. I have the chance to fight.
I had my first chemotherapy session last July 4. I was hospitalized for 10 days due to my coughing out fresh blood. I am undergoing what is called the ABVD protocol (just stick to the acronym; the words are not meant to be said by normal human beings). The administration of the medication is okay, but the days that followed, which I will now affectionately call as “the poop days,” really took the fight out of me.
I felt dizzy and weak, I was throwing up, I couldn’t hold food down, and I lost my appetite for a few days. I came to the point where I wanted to give up, to not go through my treatment and just embrace my death. But then, it got better. I got to eat solid food again, I noticed that the palpable lymph nodes shrunk around 25%, and I slowly got to eat solid food again. I am currently regaining my strength, and I get better everyday.
To say that this battle is not easy would be the understatement of the century. That’s why no one dares question the struggle of a cancer patient. While they can draw strength from their faith and/or the people around them, the sheer amount of will they have to decide to live every single day is incomparable.
Brevity has never been my strong point, but to my defense, there is no short version to the story I just shared. It’s almost laughable to attempt to translate my experiences into a story that will eventually be buried under the thousands of stories formed and written everyday.
But I write this for my future self, my daughter, and for everyone who miraculously still care about me. Death comes in many forms and you don’t get to choose that which will take you. If I survive, then I will wear my battle scars proudly for I went into war and came out as the victor.
If this disease will, however, spell the end of my life, mark my words, I will not go down without a fight.
Featured image source from wallpapersonthe.net