When the call came in, I held on to the receiver and tried to absorb the magnitude of the news. “I am so sorry,” my doctor said. “Your biopsy results just came back. They found a combination of two malignancies.” She sounded so devastated that I wished I could offer her words of comfort. Then I remembered this was about me.
Denial helped a little. Somehow this did not sound real. Labs made mistakes all the time. All I could think about was the statistics, numbers that sounded untrue, or at least exaggerated.
I am one out of five? How could such data be accurate when out of hundreds of women I knew, less than ten had cancer? With absolutely no family history of it, breast cancer to me was a problem somewhere out there. When a close friend’s cancer returned, I even considered doing the three–day walk in her honor. Little did I know that before I had a chance to march in support of others, I’d be the homecoming queen of the parade!
The doctor’s reassuring voice brought me back to the moment. “I have already spoken to the best surgeon in the house and an appointment has been arranged for your initial consultation.” Everything was in order and they’d take good care of me. Then why did the sun coming through the window feel so cold?
I crouched on the family room couch and thought about my children. My husband being a doctor would probably not be shocked, but how was I going to share this with three young people whose professions had nothing to do with medicine? What would this do to them?
I took a day away from everyone, coiled inside, and reflected on my unexpected dilemma. I did not pick up the phone to tell anyone for fear it would make the news more of a reality. I was reminded of journeys to new places where the only way to see hidden corners seemed to be through tours. I realized that while life may indeed be a journey, there are smaller excursions along the way, without which we may not fully appreciate some aspects of our existence.
I’ve traveled the unpaved road of life with a child-like curiosity and am fortunate to have found a lesson in most incidents. Problems seem to have three dimensions, of which human eye can see only two. Spiritualism leads me to believe that there is a good reason behind the unfairness of destiny. This conviction has helped me through deprivations, detachments, and my ultimate relocation across the globe. Though I often fail to find a reason for tragedies, on those occasions when I succeed, it offers indescribable peace. I was determined to find the darn silver lining in this!
Maybe this was my ticket to a special excursion, a closer look at a hidden nook of life, be the guest of honor at a party of five! I told myself that fire can’t burn through words. I had to touch it to know how it felt. Maybe this was my chance to understand millions of women who had so far only been a number to me.
There was more. Not only was I fortunate enough to be diagnosed at an early stage, but I’m also blessed with three of the most affectionate children. I delivered the news to each one in the calmest manner I could. Their collective reaction was an outpour of affection and support. But I guess a mother never stops teaching her children. This was my chance to set a good example. I had to do everything in the right way and self pity had no part in that plan. So I thought and thought and in the end invented a new set of rules for myself.
Rule I: Never underestimate the power of a smile! Regardless of how you feel or what you say, people perceive your mood from facial expressions. A smile reassures them that things can’t be too bad. So I smiled through my surgery, recovery, and radiation. I even laughed when I could. In the end, the smiles became genuine and the laughter helped me to endure the pain. Happiness was indeed a choice.
Rule II: Fill every moment with positive energy. Each day, as I dreaded yet another hour of scanning and direct radiation, I tried to look forward to seeing the daughter who’d drive me that day. When the wound felt too sore, I pictured the day I would no longer depend on pain medication. And when the device they had placed inside me hurt too much during radiation, I counted the seconds, listened to the soft music in the room, and looked forward to the end of that session.
Rule III: You don’t know the outcome, so why worry? Someone once said, “Worry is misuse of imagination.” The words have stayed with me ever since. As long as we are unaware of what is yet to come, why not imagine the best? We wake up each morning and hope for a wonderful day, but some of those days may end in disaster. Would it be wise to begin the day by imagining an accident, a death in the family, or bankruptcy? Could we have enjoyed youth if we had worried about old age, arthritis, and cholesterol? So instead of agonizing over the million possible complications listed in the hospital forms, signed the consent forms and pictured the day when they would declare me cured.
Rule IV: Find the positive dimension to what looks like misfortune. I could elaborate on this rule forever. When I returned from the hospital, our empty nest was so full that any time a door opened, a sleepy head peeked out. My children- and son in law packed their bags, movies, and board games and they all moved in. We saw more films and ate more takeout dinners than ever before. A few days later, my sister called from overseas and asked how I was doing. “It has been such fun,” I said and meant it, too!
Life is a canvas where destiny creates its unique art. There need to be dark shades to enhance the beauty of light and color. It is a river that needs rocks on its path to find a magnificent sound. The metaphors are many. For the past few years, I had been so wrapped up in work that it had to be something drastic to remind me how fragile we are. I remembered how I had criticized the funds that were wasted on designing pink ribbons and the related logos. Now I know better. The pink logo that had seemed so useless is now a sign of camaraderie, a family crest, proof of sisterhood.
What is in the future is out there for another day. Today I happen to be a lucky survivor and as for tomorrow, I am determined to use my imagination in the best possible way. Dreadful as it had sounded at first, cancer was not a curse for me. The experience helped my family to cherish life more than ever. For an entire week after my surgery, we all lived the words of this old camp song;
“Today is my moment and now is my story, so I’ll laugh, and I’ll cry, and I’ll sing!”