I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2018 when, as I prepared for the year ahead, I underwent my annual medical examination and the doctor saw a lump in my groin. It turned out be lymphoma.
From walking into his office as a healthy person showing no symptoms and motivated to start the new years working schedule, the cancer diagnosis brought my life to a sudden standstill. It felt unreal.
At first, I could not share the news with family and friends, because I could not believe that this was really happening to me. For weeks I could not say the word "cancer"; I refused to read up about the disease on the internet as I was scared to stumble over statistics of survival rates which would show what my chances were.
So many questions came up (and mostly out of anger and disbelief, I must admit): "Why me? What could be the cause of this? Was the healthy lifestyle I was living in reality flawed? Should I consult more doctors in the hope of a different diagnosis?"
It was something I had to work out for myself in private. After a few months, I had to accept that these questions will change nothing. The reality was that I had lymphoma, that medical research could not yet determine a cause for my type, and that there is no such thing as some magic guarantee of eternal health so that even after 58 years of near-perfect health, cancer can also cross my path.
With the encouragement and support of family and friends, I became rocksteady with a positive outlook towards the future; with my mind and heart set on hope and faith of a full recovery so that, God willing, I will become fit enough again for regular exercise and to return to work. That this diagnosis would be not the end of the road, but only a bend in the road. That the unknown treatment and medical procedures laying ahead will not scare me but rather be an "adventure" to take head-on and endure. Little did I know then that it would involve a marathon treatment programme spanning 18 months and comprising 13 sessions of chemotherapy, 20 sessions of radiation therapy and a stem cell transplant.
Hardly could we as a family have foreseen that our lifestyle would change so dramatically: the doctors put me on a strict neutropenic diet as well as effectively confine me to my home (my weakened immune system needed protection from the risk posed by potential infection transmitted via food or people).
Add on top of that a new routine involving things such as endless blood tests, doctor's appointments, days in hospital and in the chemo-room, blood transfusions, hands full of tablets, various biopsies and scans, very painful veins and arteries, weakness and extremely low energy levels, and even the impact of a transplant procedure.
For me these tough times quickly changed into a mere memory on June 20, 2019 when the doctors declared me cancer-free. The gratefulness and relief when you hear the words "the tests show that all signs of cancer disappeared" is hard, if not impossible, to express in words.
It immediately puts the endurance into perspective.
Looking back at the past two years: what a learning curve and what an experience for me!
It made me realise the fragility of our health and the suddenness in which it can be lost; that cancer indiscriminately affects young and old alike; and that there is hope, because cancer can be cured!
Cancer fundamentally changed the way I look at life. It taught me that life is a gift handed to us one day at a time, wrapped in 24-hour packages.
It is up to us to take that gift each morning, open it up and make the best of what it holds for us on that day.
Yesterday's gift is gone forever, and tomorrow might bring something worse than today, or maybe today's gift is the last one in this life. Cancer taught me that it is not about tomorrow, it's all about today - I only have today.
And an inner peace fills me now with the realisation that I had the privilege to receive the prized and valuable gift of life.
"And once the storm is over, you wont remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You wont even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you wont be the same person who walked in. Thats what this storms all about." - Haruki Murakam
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