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20 lessons in 2020: What my diagnosis taught me this year

Twenty of the top lessons I learnt from being diagnosed and treated for Cancer in 2020.

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  1. This is your journey and your journey alone. You would have never felt lonelier in life and this statement will see you through many a difficult moment. Loved ones have the best of intentions. They really do. But they can’t walk in your shoes. Don’t take it personally. They really can’t.
  2. The diagnosis can either make you or break you. Or something in between. I think most of us fit in the third category.
  3. How and how much you allow external influences to influence you is completely up to you. Never will you feel so challenged to really set the boundaries, express what it is that YOU really want and how you want it.
  4. Get Insurance. See a financial planner if you have to figure out how you can pay for it. It is an investment for your future and the future of your family. You do not want to be dealing with the additional worry of finances after being handed the diagnosis.
  5. Save. I have savings. I have insurance. My insurance covered my hospital costs. Some charitable foundations covered some other costs. My savings are what are helping me now.
  6. Build a strong network. You need a scaffold at this time. Include only those who you can really count on. You do not want to be dealing with the heartache of ‘why did my best friend go quiet when I told her about my cancer?’
  7. Encourage your primary caregiver to get his or her own scaffold. They too are going to have it tough. They need support to support themselves and you.
  8. Learn to ask. Ask your partner for that space when you are trying to make some sense of this all. Ask your child to bring up that bottle of water to your room when you are too weak to move. Ask the nurse to adjust your pillow so you can try to swallow the infamous hospital food.
  9. Empower yourself. Or, if you cannot do it yourself, get your support person to do it. Knowledge is key. Awareness is an act of self love. Know what to ask your oncologist in those 15 minutes you have with him to avoid making the appointment a disappointment.
  10. Think of the most selfish person you know who makes your blood boil. Be that person. Yes, act like your life depends on this because, guess what, it really does. Stop trying to be the ‘nice person’ as it may just not get you anywhere.
  11. To the nurse in the scan room – do not ask me if I have insurance just before my biopsy is going to start and I am absolutely in shock of where my life is headed. I hope you know that I would give up all my money just hoping that the biopsy comes negative.
  12. To the doctor who is forcibly having to give me this new title, I know how tough it must be. Then again, have you already numbed yourself enough so I am just another statistic in your ever expanding clientele?
  13. To the surgeon who operated on me. I know how proud you must be of a job well done, getting a perfect closure (the suturing sorts) and a near scarless surgery. I just hope you realize that the scars we actually receive will never be visible to you. We don’t really care about it. We only care about wanting to be alive.
  14. To the pathologist who confirms my ‘type of cancer’. Perhaps you could use some human words and describe what exactly you mean, instead of reducing me to a piece of tissue. We actually do want to know more.
  15. To my oncologist. I hope you remember that I am an ENT Surgeon. I was seriously tempted to slit your throat when you said “You are lucky. You have got the best form of cancer. A lot of research and advances have been made for its treatment.” Well, do you want to exchange places? Because I can bet you my last penny, I would do anything in the galaxy to reverse my diagnosis.
  16. To those who decide about my treatment. Do I get a say in it? If yes, when? When I am in shock with the diagnosis just being rolled out? When I am waiting for my turn in the operating theatre and wondering, is there some other surgical option that I should have considered? Or, is it when my treatment is completed and I am politely shown the door and told “we will contact you a few weeks before your next appointment.”
  17. To my other caregivers. My physiotherapist. My counsellor. My massage therapist. My spa lady who helped me wash my hair when I couldn’t lift my arms after surgery and/or was too exhausted. I totally LOVE you all. I was listened to. I felt human. You encouraged me. You loved me. You supported me perfectly.
  18. To my fellow cancer friends. Thank you. You allowed me to be myself. You allowed me to vent. You allowed me to swear. You celebrated with me. You understood me when no one else did. And although I haven’t met most of you (thanks to everything that happened in 2020), it just made my life a bit easier in a relatively new and foreign land for me.
  19. Life has to go on. Celebrate every darn small itsy bitsy victory like you have won the Nobel Prize. Disappointments will still happen. Cancer is not a vaccine for life’s realities. But learn to be happy with it all, in the midst of it all, and just be happy and proud and ecstatic, no matter what.
  20. Faith. I could write an entire book on this. You will have your highs. You will have your lows. Your Creator will become your twin flame – you will hate him one moment, you will love him the next. You will fight with him one second, and the next moment you will want him by your side. You will keep asking those questions, in spite of knowing that he will leave it to you to get those answers. And slowly, but surely, you do get the answers. And the reason for the chaos. And what your Creator has been always trying to tell you, but you were too busy to hear. Cancer was his way of showing his love for you.

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