Jodie was in her mid-thirties when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 years ago, which then spread to her spine and her brain a year later. She tells us how she is still dealing with the same cancer today, but with a mind stronger than ever with the support from Maggie’s Centre.
Jodie shared with the audience the peaks and valleys of her cancer journey at The Fayre of St. John's 2016.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and like many others, I was put on cycles of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, tried different cancer drugs, but time after time I was let down. It was a difficult time for my family too – they were no less worried than I was, but we had different takes on treatment choices when it came to struggles with financial stress and capacity they have the caregivers of a patient. Then, in March 2015, the doctor suggested a brain surgery to directly remove my tumors. What happens after my skull is cut open?! It was certainly not something you would come across every day. I was devastated, shocked, scared. After hearing the list of possible risks, such as losing the ability to walk and becoming handicapped, I thought, how can I take care of myself in the future and simply survive?
Thank God the surgery went well, but the month afterwards was not easy. I came out in a wheelchair, recognised faces around me but could not figure out who they exactly were; I had to relearn simple vocabs like “flowers” and many other ABCs in daily life. Gradually I came to realise that I’ve lost things which might never come back to me again, like hair on part of my scalp, my career in Human Resources, or my ability to do my favorite things like landscape and night-time photography.
Fortunately my condition became more stable afterwards. But just when I thought the new chemo drug was working and tumors in my chest, bone, liver were clearing up, my mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She had to go to Tuen Mun Hospital regularly, and that’s when I found out about Maggie’s, which is near but separate from the hospital.
I walked through Maggie’s door the first time as a caregiver of a cancer patient even though I was undergoing chemo myself. Overwhelmed by questions and worries about my mum’s cancer, I would never forget the warm welcome I received. The beautiful architecture, the calming pond, the sunlight, and most importantly, the warm greetings from a professional cancer support specialist as soon as I stepped in…All of this was like a safety net at a time I needed it the most.
Maggie’s has helped me in a lot of ways since then, some I would never have imagined: the big dining table, which is one of my favorite spots in the Centre, allows us cancer patients to come together and right away start chatting and sharing stories like old friends. The oncology nurses, clinical psychologists and social workers at Maggie’s are always there to listen and give professional advice as I need them. The variety of support programmes allows me to choose the one that suits my needs at different times… I was particularly touched when the nurse suggested that I go on the one-on-one music therapy course when I lost my mother earlier last year, and when the social worker encouraged me to attend an English group when she knew I wanted to pick up the language again. I felt lucky and I was grateful. I simply cannot imagine how I could have otherwise afforded all these professional services and programmes. All in all, the way Maggie’s works makes me feel so cherished and cared for, and this is why I feel like Maggie’s is my second home.
Not long after my mother passed away, more than 10 new tumors were found in my brain, and I was totally unprepared for this. The brain is obviously the priority, so I had to stop treating my body to give way to the brain’s treatment. It does feel like putting out fires every day; my doctor describes it as cancer cells moving their building sites, where I can only treat one part at a time, while the other part worsens. It honestly felt like a never-ending battle, but now I’ve learnt to let go and focus on the present moment and tackle it one step at a time. I believe the future is in God’s hands, so now I’ve learnt to stop worrying and over-thinking about things that I cannot control, and instead count my blessings every day.
In a funny way, I’ve become more prepared for the end of life, but I remain as confident about whatever’s maybe ahead of me, as I cannot agree more to what Maggie Keswick Jencks once said, “above all, what matters is not to lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.”