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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Days of Our Lives

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered...We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.” 
Elizabeth Edwards

I was told that she is a 31-year old Filipina caregiver and is suffering from Stage 4 lung cancer. Her oncologist had informed her in January 2012 that she has only 3 months to live. She requested to have a female counsellor but only if that counsellor is a Filipina. I was then asked to provide counselling to her, pro bono. And even though I was already working as a volunteer for the Filipino community, I said yes to the program coordinator of a non-governmental association helping immigrant women in Calgary.

Her name is Jane, and as I hugged her the first time we met in May 2012, I wondered if she will die soon. If the 3-month diagnosis applies, she would have died a month before. On the day of our meeting, she had walked the 7-minute walking distance from the train station to Safeway where I was waiting for her. I looked at her as we exchanged pleasantries: Her face was full of brown dotted spots, as if measles had mercilessly invaded her; she was strikingly bald, and her skin has turned brown, results of the “tablet” form of chemotherapy, she explained. However, there was something profound I noticed in our first encounter: she was happy and all smiles.

We went to have lunch in a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and I let her do the talking. She said she was supposed to have died the previous month as her cancer has metastasized to her brain. Test results in January 2012 showed brain tumor. The diagnosis looked grim. However, she told me that she can now walk without having to gasp for air and is feeling much better. So I gave her my own analysis. I told her that some cancer patients survive mainly because of their positive attitude, their belief that they can be healed, and their determination to survive against all odds. The rest is up to science.

Jane and I met several times after that and every time we meet, she appears to be improving. Last November 2012, 10 months after her oncologist told her that she has only 3 more months to live, she asked me to meet her for lunch as she has something wonderful to tell me. Between spoonfuls of fruits, she told me she had passed her driver’s test and had bought a brand new Honda Civic (to be paid monthly and on a lease). She said she didn’t want to own the car because she might still die. She is starting to buy new clothes because she sent most of her clothes back to the Philippines, thinking that she will only have 3 months to live. And latest test scans reveal her brain tumor had shrunk. She is breathing so well that she’s walking and jogging every other day. She is working again as a caregiver. And she has applied for permanent residence in Canada. What a transformation in less than a year! After our lunch, she brought me home in her new Honda Civic. I am so proud of her and how she handled her cancer. What a remarkable human being!

Lessons learned: Connecting with friends is important. Nothing is impossible. Cancer is not a death sentence for some people who have tremendous will to survive. Being brave is optional but having faith in God is not. Resilience is arrived at after meeting the prospect of death. There is such a thing as a miracle.