Sun, 10 Oct 1999

Cancer victim takes her recovery one day at a time

By Grace Segran

JAKARTA (JP): A year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer had infiltrated my lymphatic system. Chemotherapy commenced immediately after surgery.

I went through eight grueling cycles of chemotherapy, fraught with complications and more hospital admissions than I cared for. Losing my hair didn't bother me much. When it started to fall out in bunches, I took control and shaved it all off. I wore my hair au naturel at home and donned a hat whenever I went out -- in case people were shocked by my baldness. Whoever came to visit me at the hospital or at home had to bear with it.

The common belief is that people lose weight when they're on chemotherapy. Well, I didn't. I ate well -- too well in fact. There was a dire need to override the awful metallic taste in my mouth caused by the drugs. So I continuously chewed on very strong, sharp-tasting snacks -- like the pickled stuff you find in shopping malls here. You could say I single-handedly kept the snack industry buoyant during that period of time. There was also a loss of taste and 10 minutes after a full meal, I'd ask for something to eat. That was because although my stomach said "Full", my brain said "Empty" as I had not tasted anything and was therefore not satiated. It was an awful situation to be in: full to bursting and yet keeling over with hunger.

It didn't help that chemotherapy slows down the metabolic rate. Here I was stuffing myself and my body couldn't burn it off fast enough. So whenever I felt well enough, I would walk 8 kilometers a day to burn off the calories.

My mood varied from day to day, tampered by hormonal swings (due to the menopause brought about by chemotherapy) and the trauma of the diagnosis. One day I would wake up and look at myself in the mirror and wonder where all my hair had gone -- I'd forgotten I had cancer. Another day, I would look at myself in the mirror and say to my husband, "Fat and bald -- how much worse can it get, dear?"

Well, to answer the question - it got much worse.

After chemotherapy, I started radiation. Everyone I knew who had been through radiotherapy told me it would be a breeze. As it turned out, I was to be the exception to the rule: I suffered from severe fatigue from day one. It got progressively worse as the daily doses of radiation accumulated in my body. Even now three months after my last dose of radiation, I still suffer from fatigue and am not able to go full steam ahead.

And so I take the day as it comes: doing what I can and pacing myself so that I don't have to suffer the following day. It does get frustrating at times because there is so much to do and I'm not out there doing it. But I really shouldn't complain because what's important is that I am still living, and that is what matters most of all.

I would not have made it through the last 12 months without the love and support of God, my family and my friends.

It was God who carried me through the dark days as I endured the onslaught of the treatment. Indeed I could do nothing about my situation except to put my hand in His and walk in faith.

I did not bargain with God -- "If You see me through this, I'll do this" I wouldn't dare as my God is an awesome God. But He is also a loving and compassionate God and I soon learned to trust His heart when I couldn't see His hand.

Cancer is a family thing. My husband and our then 15-year-old daughter were devastated by the news. It's easier for the one who's going to die to face death, than for those that are going to be left behind.

When they came to terms with my mortality, they were my greatest supporters when I was down, when I was hurting physically and when I wanted to give up. They provided the impetus I needed to get through yet another infection or another cycle of chemotherapy.

When friends heard that I had cancer, they rallied round. They cried with us and prayed with us, and sent messages of love and encouragement. Their expressions of love - just by being there for us right through the diagnosis and treatment - spoke volumes.

A year on, and so many things have happened. For some reason, I seem to remember the blessings more than the pain.

A year on and I rejoice every morning for God's gift of life and the love of family and friends. Ah! To be alive -- what joy!