Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Imagination and Cynicism

One night, shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, I was rocking Toby back to sleep. He was just five months old then. As I walked back and forth in the dark, holding him in my arms, I tried to imagine how I'd feel if it were Toby who had cancer instead of me.

I forced myself to imagine holding his tiny arm out so the nurse could put the cannula in for the chemo. I forced myself to picture him lying in a little hospital crib with an IV drip attached to his arm. I forced myself to imagine every detail of the cancer experience happening to my five-month-old baby instead of me. I did this until I was crying in the dark, clutching Toby tightly against my chest.

Then I said in my mind, "Please, please let me have cancer instead of Toby. I can handle all the scans, the needles and chemo. I can handle the pain and nausea, the surgery, the radiation. I'll do all of it. Just please let me have cancer instead of Toby." And then I snapped myself out of it and my wish had come true. I had cancer and Toby was fine. I cried happy tears then and thanked whatever spirit was listening for sparing my baby and letting me have cancer instead. I was so relieved and happy.

I know this sounds like a sick game to play, but I've done this throughout my life. I've gone through tragedies in my mind in minute, graphic detail to make myself feel the agony and heartache. Then I could bring myself out of it, like coming out of a hypnotic trance, and be grateful that whatever horrific scenario I'd made myself imagine wasn't really happening to me. This would make me appreciate my life, as well as give me some insight into how somebody who was actually suffering the awful experience was feeling. It taught me gratitude and sympathy.

I ran into a friend yesterday whom I hadn't seen for a while. Her two daughters used to play with Josie and Toby often. I was so happy to see her, but she didn't have her girls with her. Then she told me her younger daughter, who's turning three soon, had just been diagnosed with leukemia. She started chemo last week. She'll have chemo twice a week for eight months.

My friend told me a social worker from the Children's Cancer Foundation visited them in the hospital and provided them with information and a support network. She said the CCF was very helpful to her and her family.

This is the same Children's Cancer Foundation that my friend, Sabrina, is shaving her hair off to raise money for this Saturday; the same organization that I raised money for a few years ago. Before, my support for the CCF and for Sabrina was for some faceless, nameless children out there with cancer. But now it's for a little girl I know and adore, a little girl who used to chase Toby around my house, a little girl who used to give me hugs and kisses and make me laugh with her cheeky smiles.

I'd like you to try something. Picture your own child with a chemo IV drip in her arm; picture her hair falling out in clumps; see her lying in a hospital bed, pale and listless. Then imagine yourself taking out a second mortgage on the house, pulling your other kids out of their private schools, selling the family car, so you can pay for chemo. Picture yourself saying to the doctor, "We can't pay for this. Is there another, cheaper drug that can help our daughter?" Visit somebody else's nightmare for just a few minutes and pray that it never becomes real for you.

If we could all do this, maybe we could get around the cynicism that gets in the way of our natural human instinct to help other people. I'm the biggest cynic I know, but I'll keep insisting that we human beings ARE inherently good and we can do good things if given the chance. Unfortunately, that chance sometimes comes in the form of a tragedy like cancer. But you don't have to wait for that tragedy to happen to you.

[P.S. I'm too upset about my friend's daughter to write about her. The only way I can write about this now is to think about the coincidence that I'm trying to help raise money for the CCF and now my friend's family is going to benefit from the help the CCF provides. Luckily, my friend doesn't need financial help, but the CCF provides much more than that. This might seem a bit cold-hearted, but I can't write about what this little girl and her family are facing right now. Maybe I can write about it later.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Shin

Thanks for taking the time to write about this. CCF are a very important organisation here in Singapore and they need all the help they can get. People here can read this www.jazzywren.com and that will show them exactly what its like to hold a dieing child in your arms.

I am so glad you are feeling so well. See you on Saturday night

Best Regards


Leighbee said...

This ones a bit too big and tough for me........ I am way to weak to deal with this..... my love, thoughts, hope and prayers go out without boundry.............

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin,
Thanks for putting the work that the Children's Cancer Foundation does into a little more perspective. I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like to have a child who has cancer, and to think that there are so many parents out there who do have children who suffer daily from cancer and who also have no access to funds to treat it. The CCF makes such a valuable contribution.
Even though I've donated some money in the past to the CCF and to little Max, I feel that it's only right to donate a little more - if I can help alleviate some of the worry that Max's Mum is going through, then I'll have done my good deed for the day! It will make me feel better about myself and imagine how much better Max's family is going to feel if the stress about the money is taken away and they "only" have to concentrate on Max's treatment and recovery.

If everyone donates just a little, the funds will be raised in no time.

It's brilliant that you are feeling so much better and hope to see you soon,
Eira xx