Opinion

Living with stage 4b Ovarian Cancer

By Tammy Nkomo

Wow! so much has changed, I’ve changed, many people around me have changed since my last post 2 years ago. https://uncensoredopinion.co.za/struggle-evil-ovarian-cancer/
I just want to share how lm coping.
Experimental treatment going as well as any drug treating a cancer with 17 % survival rate. A friend of mine who works with statistics begs to differ and as he said “unless you have all the facts and figures how do you know how they relate to you”. He asks many questions: “How old are these figures? What state were the patients in? Are they just U.K. or worldwide? Do they include people who opted not to have treatment, etc?”
From then on I decided that it’s best to ignore the statistics as we are all different. It’s a scary road we are on and so I try not to worry about numbers and concentrate on me and my recovery.

After my diagnosis l couldn’t talk for a while. There is one thing I have always maintained about getting cancer that still holds true today. You will find out who your real friends are, and you will find out who has been faking. Let the fakers go and stick to the people in your life who truly care. Remembering this every day since my diagnosis has helped me to have so many more wonderfully awkward conversations with people I never knew cared so much about me.
After initial “blockout” I’m now one of those people who wants to talk about cancer because I know how it scares people. I can see by the looks in people’s eyes that they are scared for me, but I make them laugh and tell them not to be afraid. Some don’t listen. When you are faced with a disease like cancer, your mind immediately puts in defence mechanisms that are natural to your personality.
After my fear started to subside, I turned to my sense of humour to keep a level head. To this day, that sense of humour has allowed me not to have to take any medication for depression or anxiety stemming from my cancer. Some still want to hold me like a little baby and stroke my skin until they feel better. But it doesn’t work that way. Just talk to me about cancer, and I will talk back. It is the best way for both of us to get through it. People fear cancer because of the unknown. That is why I talk openly about my experience. If I can help just one person take on their cancer fight with an air of defiance instead of fear because I told them in my experience what to expect, then all of that talk was worth it.

I found people manipulate the conversations so that l avoid the topic of cancer altogether. Instead of letting the patient guide the discussions about his/her disease, treatment options, and physicians. My sister in law (Thandi) would say, “How do you feel today?”I usually say something like “I’m doing okay, (she knows that’s code for lm ok but I don’t want to talk about sickness today). At other times, she will ask how lm feeling, l may go into great detail about my treatment options and ask her what she thinks about each of them.
After trying three different chemotherapies in an attempt to shrink the tumour that is pressing on bladder nerves that in-turn affecting the sciatica nerve — and having no success — now they are simply focusing on preventing the tumour from growing. This will hopefully prevent loss of mobility in my leg. I fall all the time but l laugh it off now. I pull muscles in my legs l never knew could be pulled very easily and always in great pain. I recently got back into running to stop me getting stiff but boy! do those runs hurt.
Cancer steals control away from the victim. We often feel helpless and isolated. By allowing me to have power over when l discuss the disease, I feel Thandi is giving me a gift. People with cancer often have triggers that make us feel angry or hypersensitive at certain times, in my case l can’t get angry even if l tried so those days l just cry and cry and cry.
One of the most important things I realised is that showing up isn’t just the best thing to do: it’s the only thing you can do. You can’t cure cancer. You can’t make anyone come to terms with their own mortality. You probably can’t even make anyone feel better. All you can do is be there. Bear witness and be there. That’s all.
In the journey with your loved one who is battling cancer, I wish you all the compassion and sensitivity in the world, for the road is rocky and filled with potholes. When you start feeling like your cancer patient friend or family member doesn’t want you around, remember: it’s not you, it’s cancer. When your loved one becomes irritated, don’t get defensive (it’s not you, it’s cancer). If your loved one happens to fall asleep in the middle of your story, tell yourself that it’s probably not you. (Though you may want to keep your stories shorter and sweeter from now on).
Please don’t patronise. If I had a dime for every time someone told me I looked great after they knew I had cancer, I would be able to drink myself silly. When people think of cancer, they think of bald, frail people attached to IV bottles. The reality is that most cancer patients do not look like they have cancer.
I try to avoid making people feel uncomfortable, but I could not resist when a relation of mine told me I looked great. I said, “For years you never commented on how I looked. Now I look great? Cancer is a beautifier!” she got the joke, but she also got the message. Then come the questions and advice:
“Are you sure you should be drinking that, you know, what with your cancer?
“I know herbal medicines that can cure you.
“Did you know going vegan will increase your life expectancy?
“I hear cancer is a result of being very unhappy and so on….”
Again l try not to be mean to people because some actually mean well but this was my favourite, a cousin sister who attends these spiritual (cult) churches that think if we don’t join them we are all destined for hell, sat me down once and told me my church SDA wasn’t good at all that’s why l needed to attend their church so l could be healed from cancer. To which l replied but how come your husband died of cancer and he attended your church? She’s never spoken to me since.
Then there are those random messages that come from strangers with chronic ailments asking: “How do l manage to keep smiling and cope with all the pain?” Those make my day because they remind me that cancer doesn’t define who l am. The days l can’t walk or get out of bed because of the pain l choose happy thoughts because l refuse to stress.
Please remember pain isn’t normal. Get your smear test done, your breast cancer screening booked, insist on having scans done when you have pains you can’t explain or your body feels different, it’s the only way to perhaps save your life or prolong what’s left of it.
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