Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Living with Cancer

This article, "Living with cancer", was published in the February issue of SJECHO. SJECHO is a community newspaper is Subang Jaya.

This year's Chinese New Year falls on January 26th 2009. Traditionally, I celebrate Chinese New Year in Taiping. After both my parents passed away in 1994, I celebrate the festive occasion in Ipoh, my wife's home town. For this year, I had decided to celebrate Chinese New Year in Subang Jaya. So officially, 2009 marks the beginning Subang Jaya as the “Balik Kampung” home town. So, in future, no matter where my children are, every festive season, they will have to come back to celebrate Chinese New Year in Subang Jaya.

The main reason for deciding to celebrate Chinese New Year in Subang Jaya is because, I am diagnosed with Cancer in 2008 and is still under chemotherapy treatment. In order not to stress myself out with all those travelings and getting caught in the Balik Kampung's traffic jams, the most practical and healthy thing to do is to stay put in where I am now. I do hope, other than the change in geographic location, the spirits of the Chinese New Year will remain the same for me and my family members.

Now, talking about cancer, I had never thought of the possibility of being inflicted with this unwelcome sickness. But the sad fact is, cancer does not discriminate, it hit me in 2008, and it hit me hard. The question now is, how am I going to deal with it ?

The word, CANCER, is such a Negative and Scary word. Through out the previous few months, friends and relatives who visited me, are always trying to be socially correct by not directly referencing my health condition as CANCER. For example, they will always be very careful with the choice of words such as “How are feeling today with your health condition?” “How is your fight with the disease?” etc. etc. In a way, I am sort of getting used to all the socially acceptable terminologies. Honestly speaking, I know I have Cancer, and I accept the fact that it is a terminal disease. By not referencing the word Cancer is not going to change the outcome. As far as I am concerned, I am no longer obsessed with the longevity of life. For better or for worst, to live the remaining part of my life meaningfully, it is my obligation to ensure I live a Quality life. In this regard, I seek not sympathy for my unintended situation, but, I sincerely appreciate my friends and relatives can convert their sympathies into moral support. I do sincerely need all the moral support to fight and move on with life.

I am about to complete my scheduled rounds of chemotherapies. So far, I did not encountered major problems during and after the chemotherapy sessions. Since chemotherapy is basically a process of pumping a cocktail of poison into the body to kill all the bad and good cells, naturally, there are some side effects such as sore throat, mouth ulcers, tingling sensations and numbness in arm, loss of appetite, chest pains, hair loss, etc. But what choice do I have, chemotherapy is part of the necessary medical evils for the recovery of my health. I just need to be more discipline, careful, and determined in managing these side effects to ensure the quality of my existence is not eroded.

Honestly, I do hope the whole chemotherapy regime worked, where the tumor can be substantially reduced in sized, and the reading for cancer marker dropped to normal range. I do want to remove the fear factor from my daily life, and I do want my life to be back to normal. I do want to have the privilege of going back to work, enjoy quality times with my family members, and not be a burden to my wife and children. I really do not want to see my wife and children suffered from my occasional mood swings and their tiring efforts of providing care to me.

There are nights where I was troubled by pains and where sleep won't come. No matter how positive and forward looking, I do occasionally stayed awake thinking and fearing about death, about my unfulfilled responsibilities to my wife and children, and how am I going to say goodbyes to my loved one. I do find myself in a difficult position, where the fear of unknown consumed my reasonable judgment. I think, only God understand my predicament. I really do not want to die young and I do not want to lapse into sufferings of pains. I want to try everything to overcome and recover my health. I do not want to live in false hope. I want to beat those nasty mutant cells in my body, and I want to be a survivor.

I did mentioned in my blog ( that, cancer has changed my life, and it will never be the same again. Indeed, the previous few months has been a very difficult but enlightening experience.

Every morning, I wake up to the realization that, I have to live with that extra lump of protoplasm in my body. That protoplasm is not just any amoeba splitting and dividing at an exponential rate, but potentially a biological time bomb that will eventually consume me if my treatment regime failed. The more I tried to forget about my current negative health, the more I am being reminded of the fragility of life. Every morning, I wake up with abdominal pain and congested chest. Those nasty mutants do have a persistent way of trying to demoralize me with their nasty actions of inflicting consistent pains to my body, and fears into my mind. But I am still a logical sane man, to recover my health, I need to have stronger determination and faith of not allowing fears and physical pains to poison my mental well-being. I know where I stand in the great scheme that the Almighty designed for me, the mighty God will eventually make a way for me in the right direction to attain spiritual enlightenment to overcome my emotional fears and physical pains.

I know, ultimately, the game of life is such, at the end of the game, nobody emerged alive. But I am not in this journey to avoid death, I am now being drafted in this long road ahead for me to win this battle against Cancer. The Almighty always has its sense of humor in illustrating the fragility of life.

Well, I could run away from the physical beings such as a robber or murderers. I could also run away from fatal mishaps or accidents by being more careful. But if the enemy is within you, something that grows from within you, something that instigate your cells to mutate to slowly steal the sands from your hourglass, how do you fight the odds ? Will I be lucky again this time around ? I don't know. I leave it to fate and the Almighty to decide my expiry date. If I overstayed my welcome in this humanistic journey, by all means, let the phrase ring out loud and clear - "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.". I have lived a meaningful life, and I shall have no regret to return to the garden of the Almighty.

Come to think of it, if death is not part of human journey, would we still treat life as precious and valuable ? Would we become the lower species in the animal kingdom where our daily existence is to kill and be kill in our continue saga of survival ? But we are human being. We are, as usual, naively optimistic in our quest to understand the physic of immortality and the geometry of eternity to justify our stupidity in our never ending quest to glorify our existence. Maybe we should go back to basic to live a simpler life and have more faith in the Almighty. Perhaps then, our life will be happier and more meaningful.

While we accept the fact that life is journey where death is a certainty. But, it is the uncertainty of the hour and day of death that frighten and torment us. The mind is a dangerous playground ! Sometimes, I do wonder and do my wanderings in this playground juggling my hopes, despairs, and fears to make sense of my being. Well, what else can I say ? I am, after all, a deluded soul still indulging in mental masturbation to seek enlightenment and a purpose in life.

Now, back to reality again, the other day, I was asked by a visitor with questions like “Are you dying of cancer ?”, “How much time are you left with ? “, “How is your preparation to meet with your maker “”, etc., etc., etc..... I am so used to people saying inappropriate things to cancer patients like me because they want to look and sound normal when dealing with such taboo illness such as cancer. Honestly, I do not felt uncomfortable at all with these type of questions, because I am more than normal compared to all those normal person out there.

For a start, why do we always associate cancer with death and sufferings ? Without wanting to disappoint all those pessimists, I am not dying of cancer, but living with cancer. I am not really worry about how much time I am left with, but rather, I am working on how to begin my life with new approach, and enjoy whatever time I am given with. Am I ready to meet my maker ? I know, death does not go away by denying the eventuality, but why do I have to worry about it now ? I will live life one day at a time, and sing praise of the Almighty's love every morning. When it comes to death, nothing really make sense, so why bother with the timing of death now ?

The funny thing about being inflicted with cancer is, because the word, CANCER, is such a scary word. It automatically put you into psychological gear of changes in life. Your life will never be the same again, and you are automatically geared into defensive to attempt to drive your life back into normal again. You began to realize the beauty of an ordinary day you used to grumbled about, and like it or not, you tend to miss everything that you considered normal in the past.

They said, when you are stricken with chronic disease, your life changed. Period. Well, is it an overstatement, or is it an understatement ? You can take it standing up, or sitting down. But look at the humanistic side, how many people can actually accept the news that they are inflicted with terminal illness with positivity ? I do not know about others, but my life did indeed changed ! Whether it changed for the better or worst, the only thing I can say now is, “stay tune....”.

I realized, the physical tumor is real and it is still there, but it doesn't really bother me anymore. I leave this medical problem to the good doctor to worry, I will move on with life, live life as it should be. I don't really know, whether I am now a survivor of cancer, or a cancer patient on the road to recovery. But one thing I do know, the Almighty has given me unparalleled inner strength to deal and cope with the challenges ahead. What ever it is, by faith, the Almighty is my healer, I leave it to the Almighty to decide my fate.

The thing about chronic disease such as cancer is, I had learned, it does not matter how you got it or why you got it. Since you are inflicted with it, you need to accept the fact that you are now one of the statistical figure in the shrine of cancer, you just need to summon whatever strength you have to manage it to ensure that you live a quality life and you are not a burden to others. You know, sometimes, watching my wife provide care to me is by itself a heart wrenching exercise. As a man, you are there to provide selfless comforts to the family, but now end up at the receiving end. There are also nights where pains and fears kept you awake and put you through agonizing hours of trying to sleep, but I also learned, there is this wonderful drug called Arcotia to put you back to your attempt to achieve nirvana of sleep. So, when dealing with cancer, it is all about the management aspects of it, and it is really a subject of mind over matter, if you don't mind, it doesn't really matter. With or without cancer, life does go on...... Honestly, I do realize now, life is really worth living, the future is worth facing, and as a cancer warrior, I shall fight till my last breath........

I know, it is a lonely and challenging road ahead, and there are no foot prints to guide me in my attempt to recover my health. But I am born with a will to survive, I shall fight my fight in that invincible war zone. It is between me and those parasitic mutant cells. My mask is now on, I am now the invincible cancer warrior hunting for those cancerous cells, to search and destroy, and to emerge victorious. .

I have learned to look at fear in the face, and along the road to recovery, I have gained courages and experiences to deal with the uncertainty of life. The whole process of living with cancer is itself a journey of enlightenment! As a cancer patient, I have an obligation to live my life to the fullest, and to fight the menace with all my spiritual and medical arsenal. I also have an obligation to be truthful to myself, live life as it is, and be an inspiration to others to overcome their predicaments. Well, whatever you are doing out there, let take a pause, and smell the roses.... It is a wonderful world out there !

Happy Chinese New Year & Gong Hei Fatt Choy. C'est LaVie !!!!

PS :
I have recently written a book, titled “Conversations With CK – A Man, his Life, and Cancer”. The book is priced at RM 40. You can order the book by sending an email to

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