Note: I decided to approach today’s blog topic in reverse, by starting with the DOC’s influence on how I treat people with other chronic conditions and then moving on to a Freaky Friday switch (we have been asked to select another chronic condition that we would have in exchange for our diabetes).
Being part of the DOC has been a huge benefit to me. I did not know anyone with diabetes, except for my father and we live in different countries. Until lately, I had no personal interaction with anyone with diabetes. I learned by lurking in various diabetes fora and reading the T2D blogs that I could find. Really, I got more from the DOC than it ever got from me.
Although the DOC and being diabetic have their contributions, how I treat people with chronic conditions (including myself) was and is principally molded by personal experiences with family and friends who have different forms of cancer. Thus, instead of a Freaky Friday switch with another chronic condition, I want to introduce you to three individuals with whom I would have no problem trading places with. They are at the top of my list of heroes, and I want you to know what they have taught me as they face their cancer.
Who are they?
First, my mother, Rosita (or Rosie to her friends). This would be a very tricky switch as she passed away in 1997 after a ten-year battle with breast cancer. When she was diagnosed in the 80s, the internet as we know it today did not exist and everyone, including women, considered breast cancer shameful. Breast cancer was a hush-hush topic no one talked about. My mother bucked this shame nonsense, and told everyone who listened that she had breast cancer so that she can get information that could help her live longer for her children. She was also not stingy on sharing knowledge. She taught me not to live in fear of breast cancer, although every research emphasized my own risk simply for being the daughter of a breast cancer patient. She very early on chased away my “breast cancer hypochondria” as I imagined every lump in my body to be cancer. She never forgot to smile and laugh, to remain curious and interested in life, and to be kind to others. Breast cancer was there, but she owned it.
Second, a neighbor and friend, Yumie. She is a woman in her early 30s who owns an izakaya (Japanese pub) in our neighborhood. Before she even hit 30, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She is still receiving regular bouts of chemo, which sometimes saps her energy and leaves her feeling ill. But I have not heard her complain. I have not seen her wallow in self-pity. I’ve not seen her angry at the cruel joke life played on her – she never smoked. She always greets everyone with a beaming smile and enthusiasm, even when she is exhausted from her chemo session the day before. She actively blogs (in Japanese) to share her experiences and encourage others. Lung cancer is hanging on tenaciously but she is stubbornly fighting back.
Third, my husband’s friend, Peter, who is in his 60s. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent chemo which zapped the cancerous cells in his blood. But after a couple of years, his kidneys failed (a risk of the chemo, something which he was aware of). He needs regular dialysis now. But he is as buoyant, optimistic and playful as ever. He jokes a lot about his circumstances. When his dialysis was reduced to a manageable two or three times a week, he and his wife continued to travel. They even managed to find clinics in various parts of Thailand so he can continue his dialysis as they visited the country. He is now back at the hospital for more treatments, but you would not know it if you spoke to him. His voice may sound tired, but his friendly and jolly mischievousness remains. He may have leukemia but leukemia does not have him.
I will be very proud to step into their shoes and be them for a Freaky Friday. My worry is not for me but for them – I wonder what they will learn from me.