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A Lonely Journey Ahead

by Cecily LiuPatient, OligodendrogliomaMarch 14, 2024View more posts from Cecily Liu

I’ve been surrounded by loved ones from the first moment I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and never been left alone since. They brought me gifts, prepared my favorite food, and took really good care of me day and night. “Are you cold? Do you want food? Are you tired?” These are the questions they asked of me, and whatever request I had, it was fulfilled immediately.

I suppose I never realized that I was lonely until I had a call with a friend who also had cancer. She said, “You do not need more sympathy, so I’m only going to tell you some information that you will actually find useful.” She went on to share with me tips for combatting various side effects of chemotherapy—seeking medicines to protect my liver, where to get wigs while I don’t have my hair, what to ask of the insurance company, how to communicate the news with colleagues, and more. For the first time, I felt that someone understood what I’ve been going through, and the feeling reminded me of how lonely I was for months whilst being surrounded by people who did their best to protect me. For the first time, I felt like a normal person with the ability to think, and not like just a little baby needing constant attention. 

Independence has always been a part of my identity since moving out at the age of 18. It has been a gift to take care of myself, to pursue my career dreams, to make new friends, explore new territories, and take care of others. All the years of living independently have shaped me as a person and given me confidence. But I’ve lost it all ever since I was diagnosed with cancer. 

At first, it was sweet to be taken care of by my family. During the weeks I stayed in the hospital for my surgery, I was taken very good care of by my whole family—my mom, dad, uncle, auntie, and my boyfriend. They cooked my favorite meals to bring to the hospital every day, and sat next to my bed to keep me accompanied even during the days that I didn’t open my eyes once. After returning home, they continued to treat me with utmost care and attention, which I could not be more thankful for.

But after a while, the loneliness started to creep in. I wasn’t alone at all, but being on sick leave meant that I didn’t have my daily office routine and had nothing to occupy my mind with. I also didn’t really socialize, as I felt tired of retelling the story of my illness many times. When I saw WhatsApp messages from friends of “How are you?” I hesitated as to what to say. Explanations of my illness normally attract words of sympathy, of which I’ll have to respond with “it’s okay” assurances, which is a rather draining process. 

For a long time, I dreaded the dark nights when I lay in bed alone praying that the night would pass quickly. And when daytime came, I felt so drained that I felt that I had no motivation to get up, as there was nothing to do all day but a 15-minute radiation therapy. As I get out of bed to dress myself, locks and locks of hair fall out and drop hopelessly to the floor. I’ve never been so sad when looking at myself in the mirror. 

People say that I’m brave for not being afraid of the surgery. It’s true that I never cried or complained. In fact, I was telling jokes while waiting for my surgery and was really cheerful throughout the whole process. 

The truth is, I wasn’t unafraid, I just wanted to get it over. But then, I learned that every time I thought it was over, it wasn’t. 

I thought the surgery to remove my tumor was the end of it, but then I learned that radiation therapy was needed. It took me a while to accept that I needed to take a few months out from work for radiation therapy, but then news came that radiation therapy was to be followed by 12 months of chemotherapy. However, the most shocking news for me was to be told that I needed to delay childbearing plans for two years. I was in tears when I heard about it, as it ruined my plans of becoming a mother soon, and that interrupted all other plans for the years to come. And worse still, there is the possibility that the chemotherapy could potentially damage my ovaries. Suddenly, I felt that all the dreams of seeing my tummy rising up gradually with a new life may end up in shreds. 

They say that you make compromises to stay alive, which is true, but sometimes I could not stop wondering, “What do I have to look forward to by staying alive?” Perhaps the worst form of loneliness is life ahead without hope and anticipation, with nothing to strive towards. Worse still, no one understands. A life surrounded by family and friends, giving their “best wishes,” and constantly stressing “what a brave girl” and “you’ll recover soon,” but no one understands why you care so much about the shattered dreams from the days before the cancer news arrived.

To accept such a life is a lonely journey. A journey requiring determination and unimaginable confidence and inner peace. Walking on this lonely road, I feel the presence of loved ones around me, cheering me on, and reassuring me that “we are one team,” but no one really can understand the darkness and the pain I am feeling inside. This is the loneliness that will weigh on my shoulders as I walk forward to search for a new dawn. 

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