LIFE – No Medicine Cures What Happiness Cannot

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in case anyone’s not aware. Hwee Hwee Laurence just went for her annual gynae check last week because she’s been on tamoxifen for 5 years after chemo.

Gleefully, she writes, ‘Found uterus not normal, so now have been scheduled to go for D&C and hysterocopy – hah hah whoopie!  I feel like just taking the whole bloody thing out and get it over with.’

Atta girl ! That’s the spirit ! Cancer is not something to trivialise but it does force us to pull up and look at our life as Hwee Hwee did. I feel very blessed having friends like her, and I wish my friend mentioned in my earlier post could meet her but with the latter in Singapore and Hwee Hwee in France, we’ll have to wait for the twain to meet.

Hwee Hwee recalls :

What did I do when I discovered that I had breast cancer?  I cried.  Then I cried some more.  People will tell you – Don’t cry; it’ll do you no good.  But it will do you good.  It is only after a long crying that you will be able to blow your nose, look around you appraisingly, then ask – Now what?!  And that’s when you’ll get up and go deal with cancer in whatever way it has to be dealt with.

In a way, if cancer was to happen to anyone, I was glad it was me and not others in my family.  I help my husband in our own business and therefore have a flexible work schedule; the social security that my husband contributes to (something like the Singapore CPF except that it goes into a common pool) covers me even though I am not a French citizen.  It makes a world of a difference to be able to concentrate on getting treatment without worrying about bankrupting my family.  Each time I went for my chemotherapy session, I reminded myself that it cost a lot of money and I psyched myself up positively so that it would be half the battle won.  I am thankful for this adopted country of mine and I pray that the French people will be united and not abuse such medical privileges that they are lucky enough to have.  And I hope that, in any small way, I may be able to bring a little kindness and happiness to the people I am now living amongst.

One thing I learnt early during this period was that cancer does not exempt you from other problems of life.  After the initial diagnosis and shock, I was determined to concentrate on going through chemotherapy and getting well.  But it is naïve to think that the world waits for you while you get well.  Around you, life goes on – your husband, children or even yourself might get ill, have problems at work, school or in relationships;  there will be family members or things around the home that need your attention.  Once, in the midst of such ‘additional’ problems, I complained – this is so unfair, isn’t it enough that I have cancer? – before understanding that all this is simply life carrying on its normal way.  The opposite is true, too, that having cancer and undergoing treatment do not mean you should exempt yourself from enjoying life’s little pleasures – my children and I read and laughed together, I seduced my husband whenever I felt well enough, I went out with friends or invited them over.  Life, in its normal way, was a great reassurance during this time, not just to me, but also those close to me.

If you were to ask me what is one thing that has made this illness all worth it, I would answer without hesitation – my mother.  My mother used to worry a lot.  She had an unhappy marriage, and in a way, it made her always worry about her children’s marriages. Any small (or big) quarrel she got to know about was enough to make her worry.  She used to lament that life was better when we were kids, that even though her friends consider her lucky that her children are all grown up, married and settled down, she now has to worry for us, our husbands and our children.  It used to drive me crazy to hear such lamentations, and to wonder when she would ever learn to live life as it is and be joyful about it.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the biggest stresses I had was how to tell my mother without facing another flood of lamentations which I neither have the energy nor patience to listen to.  In the end, it was my younger sister who told her and to our surprise, she took the news in good stride.  Throughout this time, my mother slowly learnt to give up her burdens and worries.  She learnt not to worry when there is nothing she can do, and what she can do, she does dedicatedly and cheerfully.  During her visit here when I was undergoing chemotherapy, she cooked up a storm, enjoyed being with the grandsons and we all had a great reunion.  There was not a single lamentation of Why so unlucky? or Why did this happen?  The only thing she said to me concerning my illness was, “Mummy is praying for you and a mother’s prayer is very powerful.”  I keep that always in my heart and it is a lesson for me to do the same for my own children.

Some months after I finished chemo and radiation therapies and having started on long-term medication, I suffered from depression, something that I had never experienced (or had much patience for, in others) before.  I saw everything in a negative light, I thought the worst of everyone and almost everything that my husband said or did irritated me.  During one brief ‘good’ moment, I thought how ironical it was that I went through so much trouble to get well only to arrive at this point where I did not care whether I live or die.  But even in the terrible depths of such feelings, I was blessed with two things.  First, my husband, despite being at the receiving end of my misplaced anger, never once retaliated but instead continued to show me kindness.  And it was this kindness that finally broke through and brought me back to normality.  And second, having been there and experienced it, I now understand better and have compassion for others who suffer from depression.

I do not know whether I will live past the next 5 or 10 years, but I do know that these last few years, strange as it might sound, have been one of the happiest periods of my life.

Dear readers, in a book by Nobel Prize Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there is a phrase that says, “No medicine cures what happiness cannot.”  I have that, and that is what I wish for you, too – happiness, and an abundance of it.

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