24 August 2012

A 12-Year Old Shares Story of Struggle with Cancer

Last month, I was with a friend who honoured me by telling me of the difficult time his family went through as one of his children struggled – and subsequently emerged victorious – with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer. Because my own Mom died of the disease, I was so touched by the child’s story that I asked to write about it.

My friend said that the experience still touched a raw nerve; and told me not just yet. The other day, however, the same friend sent me a message on Facebook saying that an e-mail with the child’s story has been sent to my address. It turns out that the ‘story’ was actually the child’s own speech delivered during a gathering organized by a charitable cancer support organisation.

The speech was so beautifully written that I asked to post it in its entirety. Here it is, with just minor alterations to protect the child’s identity:

I first learned about this cancer support organisation at my school. Our school hosted “Shave Your Lid for a Kid” and the girl who stood up to talk about her cancer experience mentioned all these exciting things about a place called Camp Kindle.

My little brother John (not his real name), who was in Grade 2 then, was one of the twenty-five kids from our school who shaved their heads for the support organisation. He said he did it for me.

He was one of the top three kids who raised the most money. His little friend Sally (not her real name) decided to shave her head to support me, too. You can’t know what it meant to me to see my brother – and the whole school – show their support for me at this event.

Our Vice-Principal asked me to give a short talk that day about my cancer journey; but, at that time, I was not yet ready to tell everybody about my life as a cancer patient. But now, here I am, speaking to all of you, because I feel I am ready now.

In December 2010, I got sick. Mom and Dad thought it was just flu. Mom had to bring me to the hospital three times in one week because I was not getting better. Finally, one doctor requested an x-ray and my x-ray showed a big lump on my neck all the way to my chest.

The doctor was shocked with what she saw and immediately put me and my Mom in a room, in an isolation. They said there were two possible cases: tuberculosis or Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Only one of the two…

Mom was so scared and worried! It was one snowy morning in December; no family around; and a possible cancer diagnosis. In a week’s time, it would be Christmas and our most awaited trip to the Philippines…

Oncologists, an Infectious Diseases Specialist, a surgeon and Paediatricians came to my room and asked me the same questions over and over again. They did a series of tests and made different scans. We spent the whole day in the emergency room and I was transferred to ICU because I was having difficulty breathing.

Two days later, the Oncologist came to the ICU and told us the news. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 3B. I didn’t know what that was. The doctors said it was a type of cancer. All I said was, “Okay.”

Although I didn’t really understand what it was, they assured me that it was curable. Mom was outside the room, trying to call my Dad; while the doctors were talking to me. When Mom came back, I noticed she had just finished crying. I asked her, “Why?” She said, “I’m just worried about you.

Everything changed after that day.

We were supposed to spend Christmas in the Philippines with family. But Mom and Dad had to cancel everything. My little brother was so sad because he hadn’t seen me for a few days and now our trip was cancelled.

He was supposed to celebrate his 7th birthday in the Philippines and he won’t ever have that chance again. My brother couldn’t come into the ICU. So, my Dad videotaped me with his iPhone so John could see me. But seeing it (the video) just made him cry.

I had to do six cycles of chemotherapy and fourteen sessions of radiation. I missed four months of school. I felt like everything in my whole life had changed. I never expected that this would happen to me. But I just had to go with it and believed that I would get better.

I really like school and I felt bad about not being able to go. When I had my very first chemo cycle, my mom was so worried. Would I feel sick after this? Would I be fine? But I was… I was just fine. I was even playing bingo and winning prizes while receiving chemo at the hospital. The hospital became my second home.

As the days passed by, I started to realize that cancer is NOT an ordeal. It is a gift… from God! God gave me this gift to test how strong I was. And the test came...

My hair started falling out in January 2011. It was so hard waking up every morning to find large clumps of hair on my pillow. I had nice long straight hair; and slowly, piece by piece, it was falling out. I was really upset. I even cried.

I was sad about my hair; but eventually I came to accept it as part of my journey. I had met many wonderful people through my cancer experience. They all gave me hope.

Mom said I was always positive. I believe being positive helped me get better and it helped my family, too. I never really got sick or weak while on treatment. Everything went smoothly.

I was lucky. Most kids get really sick. My friends thought I would die from cancer but I told them, “I’ll be okay. I am determined to get well.”

After my chemotherapy, I went back to school wearing a wig. I didn’t feel confident with people seeing me bald.

It’s funny how things turn out. We didn’t know last year that my brother and my school would be raising money to send me to Camp Kindle – that magical place the girl talked about at our school shave.

After that day, Mom registered me and my brother for the camp. I was very excited. Though it was the first time we were away from home, I was looking forward to seeing this Camp Kindle. Off we went for a week. It was great! Camp made me feel more independent. It was an awesome experience!

On the very first day, I made friends. I went on the giant swing with my friend Joan (not her real name). We also tried the zip line! It was scary but really fun zipping down! We had a lot of fun that week.

I’d seen both sides of cancer by then – the scary part at the hospital and now this part where I saw people like me who wanted to help.

What I’ve been through had taught me so much. It opened so many wonderful things not just for myself but for the whole family. I have been blessed to have a second life. I am now in remission and constantly being monitored.

And I am hoping and praying that I will be cancer-free for the rest of my life.

[Postscript: The writer of this inspiring story is now a pretty 12-year old knocking on the doors of womanhood. She was with her Dad when the latter told me about her struggle. I shuddered to think what could have been but also came to the conclusion that God is, indeed, good! If you found this story touching, please share it for others to know that cancer can be beaten.]

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