31 March 2010

To Be or Not to Be

This is nothing new. For most, something snaps when they're at "death's door," as it were. Suddenly, there's a sense of urgency to everything and bucket lists are made. My bucket list was short and simple. No, there was no jumping out of planes or swimming with dolphins. All I wanted was to do was to go forward the trip to Miami Beach that had been planned and confirmed long before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Was this wise? Foolish? Risky? Irresponsible? Did a cancer patient have any business being in Miami Beach, revelling in the sun?

What was I thinking, going at the onset of my chemotherapy treatment? I wasn't. I didn't want to think. I wanted to forget! For one week, I wanted to pretend I wasn't sick. I wanted to be vibrant, fabulous, and alive in Miami Beach, Florida! So, armed with my meds, suntan lotion, and flip flops, my boyfriend and I threw caution to the wind and headed for Miami Beach, two weeks after my first chemo session.

. . . Oh, but sometimes desire and intention overtakes ability and capacity . . .

Soon after landing Miami Beach, things went awry. That familiar pain on my left side and the swelling of the leg visited once more (Oh no! Blood clots!), accompanied by a blinding headache and profuse bleeding. Immediately, I regretted my being on vacation and being thousands of miles away from home and my doctors. So much for forgetting I was sick. And talk about feeling foolish, vulnerable and scared! So, instead of going out on that perfect balmy Florida night to start my carefree vacation, I hid under the sheets with fear and loathing that I had made the wrong decision after all.

. . . Although, ability and capacity CAN match up with desires and intentions . . .

During my phone consult with my oncologist the next day, the swelling on my left leg and the pain on my left side had subsided. Apparently, that long plane ride aggravated the swelling. But after being stretched in bed overnight, things got better. So, my doctor told me to not overdo anything and keep to my Coumadin and Lovenox therapy everyday. Okay. So, I wasn't going to die. That was that. Time to start forgetting and start partying like it's 1999 (well, actually, it was 2009)! No more fretting. When life deals you lemonade, sip mojitos!

. . . I denied cancer to dance and revel like I wasn't sick. . .

But, the irony of this all, of course, is that the very thing I was trying to get away from was with me throughout our vacation. I really couldn't get away from it, could I? Especially because, right on schedule, my hair started to fall out in big chunks! There was hair everywhere but my head. And really, there probably was no worse place for this to happen than in Miami Beach, where every woman (it seemed to me) was perfect and beautiful. I was warned about it and knew it was coming. But, nothing really prepared me for the reality of hair loss. Nothing! It was horrific. I felt like a deformed monster. Oh! And there was nothing like hair loss to snap me back from forgetting. There were times when I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed and face all the fabulous beautiful people of Miami Beach. Thankfully, I came prepared -- thanks to my boyfriend who bought me a chic short haircut before the trip, a fabulous cowboy hat plus a few scarves just for the occasion (He's got me!). So, with a little courage and disguise, I still managed to go and enjoy myself even though every morning, I hated what I saw in the mirror.

. . .Even though cancer insisted its presence, I kept covering it up to forget about it. . .

Though, on our last morning in Miami Beach, I woke my boyfriend up and told him it was time -- time to face cancer head on. No more forgetting. No more pretending it wasn't there. So, we walked hand-in-hand into a Supercuts right in the middle of Washington Avenue to have my head shaved.

23 March 2010

My Hero . . .

. . . is actually a "she." No. She's not faster than a speeding bullet, but when I flash the Ms. B signal, she's there quicker than the speed of sound. I don't think she has x-ray vision although I'm certain she's psychic. No. I have not seen her leap across tall buildings. But, she's whip smart, beautiful, diligent, wise, strong, big-hearted, gentle, immensely creative, absolutely emphatic, wickedly funny, loyal, kind, intuitive, and incredibly strong -- -- all packed in a petite sprite of a person that is Ms. B. Yep! She's all that and a bag of chips (well, maybe a bag of baby carrots instead, since we're trying to be healthy here).

She sounds too good to be true, doesn't she? If I didn't have the fortune of working next to her each and every day, I would say so too. But, I did, and I still do. Her presence in my life has had such a grounding effect on me. She alone truly understood what it was like to battle cancer. She was attuned to its very obvious side-effects to the very stealth effects of chemotherapy. Though cancer manifested itself very obviously, there are so many other subtle (yet very deep and significant ) side effects of cancer that escape the naked eye. And how absolutely invaluable it was for me to have Ms. B by my side to validate that what I was going through was legitimate, no matter how seemingly trivial. She perceived what no one else saw and heard what no one else heard.

This is not only because of her incredible capacity for empathy but also unfortunately because she had also had her own bout with Lymphoma about a year or so before I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. I didn't know her as well then. But, I remember watching her navigate her illness with so much resolve, strength and dignity. One could not help but admire her resilient courage and determined cadence. And while I had my boyfriend with whom to partner during my illness, Ms. B did not have her fiance by her side when she was sick (he's in another state because that's where his work has taken him). I often wondered how scary and lonely it must have been during those times when the " cancer goonies" visited you in the middle of the night (for example) and Ms. B didn't have him there to tell her that she was going to be okay. But, without fail, she was always there, at work, soldiering on, as if she weren't sick at all. She never wanted extra special dispensation, but was always gracious to accept help from us, her colleagues, her friends and her loved ones.

Ms. B "set the tone" for me. By example, she showed me how to fight, and fight well. It's as if she passed her "boxing gloves" on to me and then continued to cheer me on. My only regret now is that I wasn't able to be for her (during her illness) what she had been for me when I was sick. I wish I could have given to her even a fraction of all that she had given to to me. Absent that, it is my hope to "pay it forward" some day and be able to be for someone else what she was for me.

This post is but a minor tribute to my sister-in-arms and my amiga sympatico! The heavens had sent so many gifts when I was sick and certainly one of the most endearingly wonderful ones was (and still is) Ms. B -- my hero!

22 March 2010

Oh happy day!

It's not perfect. But it's a good start.

17 March 2010

What a Difference A Year Makes....

Following is my journal entry for March 17, 2009, a year ago today:

Happy damned birthday! Now whose bright idea was it to put cancer in a box and hand it to me as a birthday present, huh? Not funny!!!!!

Suffice it so say, I am not looking forward to what will be a very emotional day. Waking up bitter, cold and lonely does not help. But I have to put on a brave face for all my well-wishers. I wouldn't wish this heavy feeling on them. [WHY ME?!?]

Thank goodness I was greeted by C [my daughter] first thing this morning, bearing presents: lovely earrings and and beautiful silk flowers barrettes for the bandanas and hats. She's so thoughtful! And her birthday card....wow! I don't know if she's just saying that, or if she really meant it. She said that all she is, is because of me. And I don't know whether that's good or bad. She's a wonderful girl -- crazy sometimes, but absolutely awesome! And she hasn't had the easiest of lives, but she's managed to survive and be a great human being despite it all. She's a very strong-willed girl. Thank goodness!

Tonight, I'm having dinner with the kids. Hopefully that will go well. How can it not? It's dinner with C and J [my son]! Hopefully, J will be less angry at me this time. Poor thing.

God! I wish it were another birthday -- like my 30th or something. Well, that was a harsh birthday too, but at least I know what happened. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. And I"m scared today.

I'm scared I won't get well. I'm scared of the pain and the eventual strain this illness will put on my family, friends, and co-workers. I'm scared of the tension it will put on my relationship -- that it may buckle under this pressure. I'm scared I won't live to see my birthday next year. I'm just plain terrified! Ms. B was right. There's a certain feeling of loneliness and solitude about this cancer thing. And no matter how surrounded you are, you can't help but still feel alone and and exposed. I keep clicking my heels and saying "there's no place like home" and nothing happens. Boo!

Happy f*cken birthday, girl! Don't waste a wish today. Make it good.

What a difference a year makes! Last year, I was facing a terrifying prospect of dying. Today, it's as if it didn't happen. Well...yes. It did. But I'm thankful I can refer to it in the past tense. And I'm grateful that I can be here today, sharing the learnings of an extra-ordinary year.

It's a happy birthday indeed!

15 March 2010

The Office

No. This doesn't star Steve Carrell. This stars three amazing people, with whom I have the privilege of working and knowing. This is not only because they're all consummate professionals. But it's mostly because they are the most wonderful human beings: compassionate, unassuming, intelligent, helpful, kind, and considerate, generous, all with amazingly wicked sense of humor. They make it so that going to work was (and is) something I look forward to doing.

Structure and routine played a very important and positive role during my bout with cancer. And one of the important routines for me was going to work as much as possible at the time I was undergoing chemotherapy. It gave me something worthwhile to focus on during my waking hours; a sense of usefulness because it felt good to wake up every morning knowing I was contributing to a common good; and less of an opportunity to sit and wallow in cancer. And somehow, it empowered me to go on with the bout, each round.

It was also important that, at work, it would be "business as usual." I didn't want anyone to know that I was sick and wanted to go on as if nothing extra-ordinary was going on. Certainly, the notion of people asking and fussing at work was nothing I wanted I wanted to face. Fortunately for me, this was made possible by those three folks I mentioned above: My boss, N; his second in command, H, and my colleague and hallway neighbor, the wonderful Ms. B. We're a small team serving a huge purpose in national non-profit organization. We get along very well and work well together. Suffice it to say, this is the best place and the best group people I've ever worked with -- and I've been working for a long, long time!

When I was sick, they made sure that I never worried about work when I was out due to chemo. But, while I was at work, I was never made to feel somehow lacking because I was sick. They showed utmost care and concern without patronizing or smothering. They absolutely honored my request that we do not skip a beat because I was sick; that we do business as usual, as if cancer wasn't an issue. I was treated as normally as possible, and I couldn't thank them enough for this. And, because I didn't want my illness to be public, they were staunch protectors of that "secret." I most thankful for their effort in creating that space for me where I could just feel normal and not be sick. What an invaluable gift that was!

... and they cared (in so many little ways) like...

N would go to this tiny candy place every other weekend so that he could buy for me these organic ginger hard candies which were of tremendous help to my nausea. This was the only place they were available and he was always glad to go fetch them for me. H would faithfully come to my office every morning to see how I was and "mothered" (in a very good way) me by watching out for my fatigue level and being sure to remind me to rest or go home, if I didn't look well. And Ms. B, what can I say about her? She did everything from bring me scarves and hats for my head, to listen to me vent, to .... really everything else...seriously. She understood, when no one else could.

Everyone should be so fortunate to have such wonderful people to work with. I don't know how well I would have fared without the unwavering support and care that N, H, and Ms. B have generously given me all this time. I can say, without a doubt, that how well I fared during chemo has a direct correlation to how well these folks have cared for me and treated me during that time.

.....and for that, I will always be grateful.

10 March 2010

The Chemo R[egimen]hythm

Routine helps when you're faced with something as daunting as cancer. A sense of order and structure is immensely useful at this time. Leading a somewhat regimented life during my cancer treatment helped give a sense of order and control to the situation. To know what to expect when is empowering. It certainly helps in gaining control of the wheel, as it were. Who knew I would become a huge fan of the regimented life?

A year ago today, on March 11, 2009 Dr. T started my chemotherapy regimen of Carboplatin and Taxol, once every 3 weeks, for a duration of 8 sessions. He was hopeful that cancer would be treated in that time. If not, then all would be evaluated after 8 sessions.

That as a wee while -- 8 sessions -- 24 weeks. Having a set routine of things during this time helped trek unchartered territories. Who knew what was to happen, except that there was going to be chemo once in 3 weeks for 24 months? But, the structure and routine streamlined expectations and help prepare for the next steps. I'm not normally a "routines" type person. But I learned to appreciate it greatly during those times. It helped put a sense of order (and therefore, control) to things.

Chemo was consistently scheduled on a particular day of the week. Since I'd been told that all meds from chemo (including anti-nausea and Benadryl) would stay in my system 48 hours after chemo, I chose to have chemo scheduled either on Wednesdays or Thursdays. That way, I would only miss one day of work (chemo day) and could be functional for the rest of the week. That would leave the weekend to contend with the adverse side effects setting in after the meds wore off. This worked, I'm pleased to say. So, I highly recommend mid-week chemo sessions, if you don't want your work life too disrupted. In my case, I'm happy to say that I didn't miss a day of work due to post-chemo side-effects during my treatment. It was business as usual, just the way I wanted it.

The evening before chemo, my boyfriend would come and get me from my place and I'd spend the night at his so he could drive me to chemo in the morning. We would usually eat something decadent or nice (mostly to indulge me) that evening. Nothing fancy. Hydrate!

Chemo day, my boyfriend would drive me to Dr. T's office where I would first make a stop to see the phlebotomist for blood work, then a 15 minute check-in with the good doctor to see how I was doing. And then off I would go for chemo treatment for the next 5-hours. After the drip was done, I was always given a Nulasta shot. Then, I would call my boyfriend to come pick me up and take me back to my place where my daughter would be waiting for me. I would spend the rest of the week with at my place with my daughter and also go to work.

Weekend right after chemo, I would pack up and go to my boyfriend's to spend the weekend and be "miserable" after the meds wore off and the chemo side effects were in full force.

Week after chemo, I would feel a bit flu'ish and fatigued, but I still managed at work, although by the end of the week, I would like someone just beat me to a pulp. Thank goodness for weekends! Weekdays would be spent at my place with my daughter and weekends at my boyfriend's.

Second week after chemo, I would feel good -- as if nothing had happened. Outside of the long-standing chemo side effects like neuropathy, I would feel normal. Ring the bell! Next round!

This would be my structured life for the months ensuing. And I did not mind it. As a matter of fact, in concert with my oncologist, I created it. Who knew that at this juncture of my life, I would finally succumb to a regimented one? Having been brought up in in a strict and disciplined life, my knee jerk reaction to the notion of structure and routine, was to stay as far away from it as much as possible. It's ironic that regiment would help give my life back to me. To make it palatable though, I referred to it as rhythm. It's the same thing, but at least I could dance to rhythm.

Believe it or not, I actually looked forward to dancing to this 3-week rhythm. And, as unpleasant as the side effects were, it was a rhythm that I'd grown to anticipate and, dare I say, like. Because although chemo was poison and for me, it was ironicaly "good" because it was getting rid of my cancer. And I would go through any routine, structure, discipline, pattern, or regiment to effect that.

So, to those of you who are still in a chemo regimen, I encourage you to dance to the rhythm of your soon-to-be wellness. Kick up your heels and show cancer some moves!

09 March 2010


Please allow this brief detour from the narrative to recognize that March is Ovarian Cancer Action Month across the pond. I know it's in September over here in the U.S. But, it's never too early to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. Here's some useful information about detection. It's one of those "creepers" so just pay attention to your body. Even though mine was discovered at Stage IV, I'm still so fortunate that it got caught early enough so that I am now in remission. It's too late for regrets, but it's never too late for awareness.

Spread the word....

08 March 2010

He's Got Me

Titles are insufficient sometimes. And certainly, "boyfriend" does not do justice to mine. I mean, yes, he's a friend (the best!). But he's no boy. He's a man. Manfriend? (Uhm...no. Let's shelf that one.). Actually, "partner" is a better term, but it's so blah and cowboy'ish. I just keep hearing John Wayne in my head saying "Howdy, pardner!" Though we're not in business together, we are in the truest sense, partners. Still, the word just doesn't ring my bell. But, let's not get trapped in a cycle of semantics here. It doesn't do him justice, but "what's in a name?" as the Bard wrote. All told, he is my friend, cohort, consort, comfort, partner, playmate, my "blanket" counselor, cuddler, schlepper, comic relief, intellectual challenge, all around safe place, my very own Wesley (but not the "dreaded Pirate Roberts), my protector, and lots more I couldn't even think of at the moment. And there's no no one word for that. Is there? So please indulge me as I revert to "boyfriend," insufficient though it might be.

I thought this would be the easiest of posts to write. How difficult can it be to talk about one's relationship and one's boyfriend? The thing is, this post does not attest to who he is in totality, or to our relationship as a whole (that would require a whole other blog). What I want to show here is how absolutely key his role was during my bout with cancer. That although Dr. T and his team were responsible for the medical aspect of my healing, my boyfriend was there to help me sort out everything else. Afterall, I only saw my medical team once every three weeks. Then, there was the everyday life to contend with -- the aftermath of chemo, as it were. And during those times, my boyfriend was the partner with whom to walk that road. He took to the task no questions asked, only with lots of willingness and love.

He took a huge weight off me. One of the things I was really concerned about was the burden cancer would put on my daughter. I did not want her saddled with looking after me, while she was working full time and going to college full time. I know she would have nursed me, without question. But, it was the last thing I wanted for her. It was bad enough for her to contend with the fact that her mother's really ill, let alone be charged with my care as well. My boyfriend did not even need to hear this concern articulated. Immediately, he just took on the role of my caretaker, lifting the responsibility off my daughter. My "awful" post-chemo days were usually spent under his care. What a burden lifted off my daugther and off me! I'd like to say too that it is a testament to who he is that my daughter felt absolutely confident and secure that I was being properly looked after.

He respected and understood my personal boundaries. There's a thin line between being always there for someone and smothering them with your presence. My boyfriend walks that line beautifully. He has great respect for my personal space and boundaries and trusts my judgement about that. But he's also sensitive to those times when I couldn't articulate a need. He just knew when and where to be there for me. Truly, he understands boundaries and allowed (and provided for) me the space to be whatever and whomever I want to be. He never imposed on me his deep desire to help, more than I allowed him. And certainly, he was quick to accept his role in the whole scheme of my healing, no questions asked--just a readiness to be where I needed him to be.

He created a safe place where I could exhale. When I was sick, I had this self-imposed need to maintain my composure, thereby setting the tone on how my illness would be deemed by others. I wanted to demonstrate control by maintaining a positive, energetic and "can-do" attitude for my family and loved ones. That way, they would all stop worrying and not be pained with the burden of cancer. As Nurse J said, "set the tone." And that, I certainly did. But, there were times when I didn't feel like being a "teal warrior" or I felt too scared to be positive. Yes, there were times when I would succumb and cry that I couldn't do it. During those times, I knew that I could go to my boyfriend and fall apart. He created a safe place for me in which to collapse. He listened and did not judge, because he knew that I just needed to do that. It didn't mean that I had given up. It just meant that I needed to exhale from time to time -- take a load off. And that was just fine. My boyfriend made a space for me to "just be" -- whatever that was: silly, angry, childish, preachy, quiet, restless....anything. Having that space when I was sick was key to recharging so that I would be ready for the next rounds. It was invaluable!

He took "romance" to the next level. What woman hasn't gone crazy over the prospect of losing her hair? Or having dry, ashen skin? Or looking generally sick? Or not having eyebrows or eyelashes? It's maddening! And it doesn't get any better when reality strikes. I certainly couldn't look at myself in the mirror and reflect back a beautiful, desirable woman. But my boyfriend, never looked at me like that. He always made me feel like the most beautiful, desirable and loved woman. In his presence, I never felt bald or not feminine, though my reflection in the mirror betrayed that. A bouquet of flowers, a surpise picnic on a Sunday, something sparkly to wear, breakfast in bed...these are all well-accepted gestures of romance (some of which I have been privileged to receive) But, I think that all gets trumped by my boyfriend's shaving my head every weekend and looking at me as if I were the most beautiful woman there is. Now, that's romantic!

Above and beyond. I know that the words "to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer..." are exclusive to the marriage vow. But I would like to borrow them for purposes of this post. Yes. He and I have had our fun, health, and "richness." But, last year was a scary time of sickness and poorness for me. And my boyfriend was there to "have and to hold" me through it all with unfaltered reliability and love. Indeed, I count myself fortunate to have him as a "partner" with whom to travel the road behind and the road ahead. That road would have been steeper, colder, darker and lonelier without him.

Thank you, babe!

05 March 2010

Telling Hurt More Than Hearing

It was bad enough to hear that I had cancer. But it's worse to have to tell others about it. The prospect of "sharing" my cancer was the last thing I wanted to do. I was arrested by a slew of emotions that almost muted me.

First, I felt immense guilt -- guilt that I had let my nearest and dearest down, particularly my children, parents and siblings. Had I made better choices in my life, I wouldn't have to be telling them about this bad news and therefore causing them pain and worry. Cancer was my fault and the burden was on me to sort it out, not theirs.

There was also a lot of anger at myself because I thought I had failed my children. How dare I put them in this position! They're young adults just on the verge of starting their own lives. But, with my cancer, they were going to be noosed with caring for a very sick mother. What a burden to give them! Parents are supposed to set their children free, not hold them back. Never mind living with the threat of losing one's mother. No child deserves that. Shame on me! I would have done anything to spare them all that pain of that fear. Anything!

No parent wants to survive their children. Neither does a parent ever want to see their children suffering. This was nothing that my 77-year-old mother, living thousands of miles away from me, should have endured. Certainly, once she heard about my illness, I knew that the only thing she would have wanted to do was run to my side and care for me, without regard to her own health limitations. But, alas! She was incapable of doing that. What torture for her!

Then, there was the feeling of being damaged and somehow inadequate causing me to feel sorry for myself. And because I already did, I wanted no one else to feel sorry for me, especially not my healthy, vibrant and very lively friends and family. One drop of "I'm sorry," and I would have lost all form composure and a never-ending pity party would have ensued (no cover charge at the door!). No thanks. What I wanted was to still be seen as "normal" and not someone sick with cancer. But if I told, then...

Last, there's also the "sensationalism" of cancer. It's not as if I just had this hang nail or my appendix removed. It was that I had cancer, the "killer!" And for an introverted person like me, the prospect of being attached to such a sensational disease as cancer was unsavory. "So and so has cancer!!" And then one becomes a spectacle (sort of like the bottle neck at the highway when there's an accident). I just couldn't stand the thought of the all the fussing and the gawking.

This was true particularly at work. I thought that if my workplace knew I had cancer, it would be disruptive. I didn't want anyone asking or checking on me. You know those folks who wouldn't even give you the time of day and then suddenly they're all over you because you have cancer? I didn't want that. Business as usual, folks. Please move on, nothing to see here. Go back to your desks.

If I had my way, I would've just "disappeared" for the 6 months of planned chemo treatment and not told anyone; then re-appeared later, as if nothing had happened. [Sure, why not? Pigs have wings, right?] But of course, the reality was that I was going nowhere for no time. And I had to face up to the fact that I couldn't keep my illness to myself. In the end, the chips fell where they did and most of my fears were not unfounded.

But even now, a year hence, I still feel the same as I did then. I still want to have spared my family (especially my children) and loved ones the pain of cancer. I still resent the spectacle that is cancer. And even though I fought the good fight and am in now remission, I still can't help but feel damaged and inadequate sometimes.

But, no matter. Here I am today -- still telling. Because the hope is that in the telling, someone else's pain might be alleviated.

03 March 2010

Trust the Process

Art by Claudia Packer

From Kaylin Marie's blog following is a beautifully brilliant quote by Rainer Maria Rilke (from Letters to a Young Poet):

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

01 March 2010

The Line in the Sand

One of the most important lessons I learned when I was sick last year was that of setting personal boundaries.

I was born and raised in very old-fashioned patrician home in the Philippines. My nouveau-Victorian upbringing meant a "proper and gracious lady" was only to "be seen, but not heard." Respecting other people's boundaries was definitely ingrained in me; but I never was taught that the same was due me. To assert oneself was not feminine and was certainly vulgar. A proper Filipina lady was always soft and demure.

Although I was a very immature 19-year-old (I may as well have been 12) when my father brought us here to the U.S. to get a proper American education, my education went far beyond the walls of academia. Quickly, I assimilated and embraced the American/Western/modern way (much to my father's dismay). One of the most stunning and attractive learnings for me was that of personal freedom. And from that I found out about personal space and boundaries. I was floored by the discovery that I was equally entitled to my own freedoms and boundaries as others were. Sadly, although I quickly embraced all of this intellectually, I struggled with it for years in practice. Like my mother (and her mother before her), I was raised to be a "pleaser" and would rather avoid conflict at the cost of personal freedoms.

That struggle came to an end during my bout with cancer. Not surprisingly, after I got word to my family and friends that I was sick, they all wanted immediately to rush to my side to help -- drive me to and from chemo, keep me company during chemo, go with me to doctor's appointments, stay with me after chemo, cook for me, shop for me, clean the house, keep me company, care for me, or whatever else needed to be done. What an amazing and wonderful, people I have in my life! And though I was grateful for their help, I did the unconventional thing and gently said "thank you, no" to most of them. I was grateful. But, cancer was an deeply personal and private experience for me. And I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted only a small number of people to know about my illness and an even smaller group to be intimately involved in my battle with it. To maintain a sense of control of the situation, I needed to surrender control to only a handful of others. I had to do it. It was my cancer. And as such, I felt very strongly that I should have been able to regulate how and when assistance would be needed.

Though I had read many testimonies of how good it is to surround oneself with a community during times like these and to let people help lift your burden and carry you through it, I was overwhelmed by the notion. I wanted to focus on healing. The help and the community would have distracted me. To be frank, I also didn't want to deal with the politics of who's helping when and how. Those were all too complicated of issues for me to handle then.

It was my natural instinct to just succumb to my loved ones' supplications to help. I wanted to make them okay with the situation. And I knew that all of them would have felt better if I let them help and and participate in my healing. But that would have been to my detriment, no matter how well-meaning they all were. Because even though I would have made them feel better, I would not have felt right. What I wanted was entirely different. And the lesson was, no matter how unconventional or even perhaps gauche, ultimately, it was my cancer. And I needed to fight it the way I wanted to -- with as much personal space as I possibly could have gotten.

So, I drew a line in the sand and asserted my my personal space with the help of a very few people, who watched over it diligently. No, everyone else was not the enemy. It wasn't like that. It was more about preserving a space which I could breath, focus and get to the task at hand --getting well. They understood where I was coming from and they respected that. The sense of control that they gave me was an immense boost to me in beating the cancer. But most importantly, my own assertion of personal boundaries and space, ultimately fueled my resolve.