By Glendy Ardon
I remember pain.
I thought I was hurt or sore from physical exercise, or from being a tired mom always on the go with two children on the autism spectrum filled with way too much energy and too many needs for me to handle.
Perhaps it was just the stress I felt at work helping run a K-8 school. Maybe it was the lack of sleep I had because I always wanted to be prepared for the next day, or maybe I was just being a big baby and I was just coming down with the flu, or something like that. However, none of these potential explanations were the reason for my pain.
I was in pain because I had cancer. In June of 2015 I was diagnosed with stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The day I saw the doctor who initially told me I had cancer, I was alone in a cold office. I was tired of crying about the pain I felt, and I was tired of my pain being dismissed as stress.
I couldn’t breathe.
My chest hurt, my lungs felt like not enough oxygen was being supplied. I couldn’t eat because I felt excruciating pain in my abdomen.
I couldn’t sleep or have anyone touch me, because the pain was amplified with another’s hands.
As a mom, I wasn’t allowed to be sick.
I know many parents can relate to that. When you are sick, you have to ride it out and get over it as soon as possible because there’s so much to do.
The responsibilities of running a household and tending to little ones is far more important than recognizing you may be under the weather and taking a day or two to tend to yourself.
But I could no longer ignore the pain.
“I am so sorry,” this young new doctor said as she began to cry. “It’s cancer, and it’s so unfair. You are so young, and I have read through your family history. I am referring you to oncology immediately.”
I was touched that this stranger cared enough to cry for me.
I held my breath in an attempt not to cry.
Have you ever done that?
And in the end, it’s just pointless because your eyes swell up with tears and you suddenly explode into an ugly cry filled with sinus excretions, and your breaths turn into tiny hyperventilating gasps.
Well, that’s exactly what happened when I learned the news about my health.
I had to compose myself.
My little sister Dani was outside waiting for me to come out, and I didn’t want to break her.
I didn’t want to break my family.
I didn’t want to think of what could be. My biggest fear was dying and leaving my children, who were only 5 and 6 years old, motherless.
I immediately thought of my mother.
My mother died of leukemia two weeks after my 18th birthday. Is this how she felt when she was given the news?
I’ll never know, because she too was alone.
I thought of my three sisters. We lost our dad at an early age to Valley Fever complications, and after the death of my mother, we were left orphaned and alone.
Why was this happening again? It seemed to me that death was a recurrent theme in our lives.
It was an unfair, bitter reality that persisted in our lives.
I thought of my husband, who is the most supportive person in my life.
What if I died?
What would become of him?
I remember how my father’s death affected my mother.
My mother lost her companion, her lover and her best friend.
This made me aware that I also might be leaving my companion, my lover and my best friend.
My first visit to the oncologist was devastating.
My oncologist, Dr. Abhay Risbud, told me that my cancer had metastasized so severely that it spread throughout my body. I had it in my chest, my lungs, my pancreas, my liver, my left kidney and my bones. Dr. Risbud told me he wanted to be frank with me, and he did not want to give me any false hopes.
“I don’t know if chemotherapy will work,” I remember him saying, “but we’ll give three rounds of it a try. If it doesn’t work after three rounds, we must stop and talk about options.”
One of them was hospice.
My sister was present during this visit, and she broke into tears before me.
I knew I had to be strong, and I told Dr. Risbud to allow me the chance to fight and prove that I’d be OK.
He looked at me with confusion. I felt that he was unsure about my optimism.
I remember he told me again that he needed me to understand the severity of the situation, but I responded with a quivering assertion that I would fight for my life, and that I would be OK.
I tried to get him to overcome his clinical tone with me, and to have him see me as a person with a family and little children.
I wanted him to give me hope.
I wanted desperately to find reassurance that everything would be OK.
My faith was what got me through it all.
I found comfort in God, and I accepted my fate, whatever it might be.
I prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
I acted strong so that I felt the act would transcend into actual strength in my body.
I remember coming home and looking at my closet filled with clothes and belongings. I thought about the pain my loved ones would feel once I died and they had to sort and clean out my possessions.
I wanted to avoid their potential pain.
So I cleaned out my things and donated most of my belongings to avoid more pain.
My body was on fire.
My insides burned, and there was nothing I could do to alleviate the pain.
Chemotherapy did this to me.
Sleep was the only escape from the tireless pain I felt.
I remember having my eyes shut, and feeling parched, and knowing that my body needed water and food, yet I had no energy to awaken.
I wouldn’t move.
My family would wake me up to force me into drinking water and eating.
Their efforts kept me alive.
The three rounds of chemotherapy proved to be working.
I was feeling better.
Treatment continued, and I completed seven rounds in total. I felt that this was a new beginning for me.
Now my health is constantly being monitored, so if recurrence of disease appears, I can receive a bone marrow transplant.
Every day I pray.
I pray that I will never need this, but if I do, I trust fully that no matter the outcome, I will be OK.
As I look back to these turbulent times in my life, I can’t help but to be grateful.
I am grateful because I am alive.
I survived this!
I feel that I appreciate life much more.
You see, when you are healthy and happy, you don’t think much about it. It’s your status quo. It’s what you are used to.
So it’s easy to complain and feel like small and miniscule problems are tremendously huge.
But, when your life is threatened and you recognize that tomorrow isn’t promised, then you begin to cherish all the little things.
You think about how lucky people are when they can wake up and not feel pain.
You see life differently, and you appreciate every ray of sunshine that kisses your skin, and every deep breath you can take without pain.
This life is beautiful because this life ends. One day we will cease to exist. One day we will expire. One day we will die.
Our physical existence isn’t eternal, and there is beauty in that, because it means that these moments, the present, they matter.
I am better now.
I intend to not waste a single opportunity presented before me.
Completing higher education has always been a goal of mine, but because I was preoccupied with providing for my three younger sisters and then my children, it was something that seemed unattainable for someone like myself.
But, now is the time.
I want to be an example for my family and begin a new cycle. One that involves success. One that no longer includes poverty and living paycheck to paycheck.
My education will ensure that I am equipped with the tools necessary to do something I love while providing for my family.
My cancer diagnosis was the catalyst which propelled me to return to school in hopes of completing this desired goal.
So now I am here.
I am present. I am absorbing this new opportunity I have in life.
I have learned that, in order to get through difficult times, we must believe that our life has purpose.
And, yes, all of our lives have purpose.
All of our lives are precious and matter.
Ugly, unfortunate, heart-breaking things occur in life and these tragedies are sometimes inevitable.
But we must be strong and face these challenges with hope, and with a will to persevere and overcome them.
Fight or die fighting for your cause–for your purpose–and give it all you’ve got!
I believed that I would survive. I told myself I would be okay and that my circumstances were God’s will.
I believed that I was meant to live this life, and that there is a reason for the pain.
I might not have understood the reason at the time, but I trusted that it was my fate.
These affirmations got me through it all.
I was able to educate myself about cancer, and I tried everything in my power to get better. I decided to take an active role in the healing of my body. I did everything in my power to feel better and beat the disease.
I learned about holistic healing, and I supplemented my conventional treatments with it.
People told me eat certain things, to drink certain teas, to do certain things. I did it all hoping that something, anything, would work.
Something did work. I really believe it’s a combination of it all.
I feel revived, and I am motivated to be the best “me” possible.
My life experiences are a testament of faith. My journey has had divine intervention, and I am lucky enough to recognize this.
At one point or another, we will all face obstacles and challenges. Life isn’t stagnant. Ever.
Change is certain, but what we must remember is that we have the power to help dictate our outcome.
We can try to fight the pain.
Don’t be complacent with your situation.
Instead, take an active role and do something, because the alternative means you accept defeat, and that should never be an option.
When I look back at my experience, I remember pain.
I remember pain, but I don’t remember it with resentment or anger.
I remember pain with gratitude.