It started off as a beautiful day. I normally don’t wake up at 6:30 am, so the morning had an extra zing thanks to my little accomplishment. To celebrate that, I took my hot cup of coffee to the balcony, where I sat sipping on my swing. The early summer heat hadn’t mitigated the coolness of the morning breeze, which felt soothing against my face.
I was enjoying the view of lush greenery and the sound of chirping birds when CRASH, I hit the floor with the worst pain in my back! My swing had broken from its hinges and come slamming down with me in tow. The jubilant experience was extended with a pampering of three days in bed and a list of meds added to my already long prescription… along with a good reason not to be a morning person.
In my pre cancer days, I would have laughed this off. My friends would make rude jokes on how heavy I am for breaking a swing and the incident would conclude. However, as a cancer warrior, I can’t afford the luxury of trivial accidents. Not only is my recovery time for most ailments longer than others, but also small setbacks can be quite demoralising. Especially when lethargy, fragile stomach, skin allergies and mood swings decide to join the party uninvited.
However, it is my agreement with the thoughts of Jim Valvano that get me through tough days.
“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”
So when my doctor questioned what side effects of chemotherapy I was experiencing as she examined my back, I was humbled to note that I have encountered positive effects along with the negative too; and given that I have had quite a painful and troublesome week, I consider this a fitting opportunity to reflect upon my experiences through the year to renew my strength.
So here’s presentingggggggg… The Good Side Effects of Cancer!
1. Group Hug!
The most beautiful turn of events took place post my diagnosis and is the prime reason I can’t hate cancer- It brought two important people back into my life.
I hadn’t spoken to my father for five years until he walked into the hospital room to become one of my strongest pillars of strength. The relation we share today is of pure love and every moment with him is precious.
The second entrant was my best friend whom I had barely interacted with for two years due to soured relations. He quit his job in UK to take care of me and though he has gone back, his commitment to being involved with my treatment is unwavered.
Adding my dad and best friend back to my existing family and loved ones gave me the strongest arsenal of a support I could ever need. I also got to observe who really stood by me during tough times and it is my pleasure to divulge that the list is long.
2. Sharing the Care
Having been diagnosed at a young age and still living with my mum resulted in me being gifted a Get- Out- of- Jail- Card which comes with a host of benefits. I’m treated like it’s my birthday everyday, I never get into trouble no matter how moody I am. I can point at anything materialistic and my family will buy it for me. I need to make a wish and my loved ones want to make it come true. I can be a lazy bunny and shun all responsibilities and nobody will say anything to me.
But apart from this immediate gratification, the care that people have shared with me has been through gifts of morale boosting books, recommending oncologists from across the world, connecting me to other cancer warriors and sending me stock of ayurvedic medicines among much more. Infact after I quit work, my organisation along with the clients I interacted with conducted a fundraiser to contribute to the cost of my treatment. Cancer has truly allowed me to see the best side of people.
3. Cleaning the Cupboard
The day I was diagnosed with cancer began beautifully too. I had received a salary hike at my job and the work profile was shifting to suit my strengths. Therefore my confidence and cheer knew no bounds until my doctor called with the reports later that evening and asked to meet her immediately.
That meeting changed my life and it hasn’t been the same since. But the result was that my priorities altered immediately and none of the money, success or ambitions mattered. Life became about enjoying the little things. I’ve spent a good part of the past year and a half travelling, reading, painting, cooking [a little], meeting people, meditating, discovering myself and experimenting with everything that captured my interest.
My quality of life went up drastically with healthy eating, happy living and peaceful thinking. For reasons considered good or bad, I was given an opportunity to step out of the rat race and stop myself from burning out; and I think I am making the most of it.
4. Band-aid old Boo Boos
I wasn’t allowed to step out of the house for the first few months due to low immunity so my home was a host to daily lunch and dinner get-togethers, movie nights with taboo, monopoly, card games and lots of fun. This helped me cope with the initial shock and denial phase of diagnosis. But the hard task of decluttering my emotional cupboard and throwing out the garbage was important and the process took its toll.
Added to that was the frustration of not being allowed to eat sweets, non-vegetarian food, drink alcohol and a host of other restrictions. Let me tell you one thing- DO NOT tell a foodie what they can or can’t eat. I think I cried over not being able to eat the food of my choice more than I cried over being diagnosed. My anger was directed to what cancer was taking away from me in practice versus the probability that it may or may not take my life in the very distant future.
However, as synonymous as cancer is to ill health, it brings healing in other aspects of life. Introspection compels one to resolve their past issues. My healing included letting go of past breakups, resentment, stubborn thought patterns, negative attitude, forgiving others but mostly myself along the way. My thinking has filtered to a more peaceful and calming frequency and the regular unloading of emotional baggage gives me the strength to focus on my one single battle.
The process is ongoing and hasn’t been easy, I have been on anti depressant pills and had anxiety attacks. Medicines have helped me cope but they weren’t the solution, only resolving issues and acceptance helped me get over that phase.
5. Divine Intervention
It’s during turbulent times that we discover or divorce God.
I discovered God very recently when I was informed of brain metastasis in a report that I was expecting to come clear. The hopelessness and anger was most intense as it defined my weakest moment of feeling defeated.
I was recommended to go back on anti depressants again, but I decided against it.That’s when the urge for divine intervention came to me.
Reading books like The Secret and You Can Heal Your Life became my scrolls of strength. Listening to Hindu Shlokas and Gurudwara shabads give me peace on days I can’t sleep or feel emotionally vulnerable and I practice yoga and meditation for its energising tranquility.
I look at this incident as a benediction to indulge my thoughts on God and the Universe independently, to find an infusion of guiding thoughts and beliefs that work best for me.
6. Hulk Strength
Cancer has its way of branding its image through our baldness and there is no hiding the identity of the disease in public.
Do you think the only problem Hulk had to deal with once he mutated was keeping his temper in control? No, if he had any vanity he had to deal with his looks when it changed to a giant green body against his will too. And let me tell you that it is not so easy to come to terms with the change in ones appearance when it is against their wishes. Ask The Thing or The Beast if you don’t believe me.
I agree that being bald isn’t all bad, but it takes us the emotional equivalent of Hulk strength to face the mirror every single day and choose to believe we are beautiful while we look nothing like our old selves. But we choose to wear our scars with pride because hiding ourselves is not an option and it is our daily confidence that gets us through this.
7. Life 360 Degrees
My life doesn’t seem short of the drama serials I mocked. However, as adventurous and melodramatic as this journey has been, I realise that I have come a full circle back to reality.
From enjoying the little things in life and focusing on quality centric experiences within my protected bubble, to growing braver and wanting to participate in the babble the world has to offer, I noticed that ambitions have come back and being a part of the rat race has become important again.
I have resumed work and the universe has connected me to wonderful colleagues who understand my health yet don’t treat me as weak. I am playing on my strengths again and the confidence boost of financial independence is priceless. Blogging has also been a result of this empowerment and a fantastic emotional release. I have also decided to keep a pet again though the thoughts of outliving it does come to mind. However, I feel I have taken life back on my own terms and am done walking on eggshells.
So as the doctor left and I started writing this blog, I realised that cancer has tried to take a lot away from me, but I think I have bargained more in return; and as the battle continues, I’m sure I’ll keep finding more good side effects to add to this list.
I’m not always positive and strong but the important thing is to get up after every fall. It’s very tough but then again whose life is easy? I can either play the sympathy card or accept the cards that have been dealt, to take life back in full swing!