The very first sign
The very first symptom that something is wrong was my memory. I used to have an amazing memory. And then all of a sudden, I just started forgetting things. I couldn’t do my work properly. I was working in the client services and financial services market research company, which involves a lot of memory work, and a lot of multitasking, and I was doing well at my job. And then all of a sudden, I started forgetting to do things, and my manager got really angry at me.
I even had hallucinations. For instance, I’d be walking along the street by myself thinking I’m talking to someone, and when I turned around to find the streets empty. So I went to my GP and I told her my symptoms. She straightaway sent me to get an MRI. When the MRI came back showing a tumour in my brain which was sized as big as a golf ball. The part of the brain affected was the hypothalamus. Tumour was growing on the part of the brain responsible for working memory. And that’s why I was experiencing memory issues.
But the doctor told me the good news that the German reacts very well to treatment. So it’s highly treatable. So I started my treatment, which was chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I did three rounds of chemotherapy and a month of radiation therapy. And thankfully, the treatment was successful.
Side effects and challenges
I’ve been cancer-free since 2017. However, I feel that my cancer journey really started after my treatment, because then it was about trying to get back fit back into life. Although I was cancer-free and no longer had a tumour in my brain, it had done permanent damage to my working memory. So even now, my memory is not perfect, and I’m not able to work. I’m not able to do the same kind of work I used to do.
I tried to get back into the workforce. And I tried roles that were a few levels down easier than what I used to do. And I still couldn’t handle it. I went through eight jobs in the space of 18 months. The shortest tenure was a couple of hours. And the longest tenure was three months. And the reason why I kept getting fired from all of these roles, is my memory. So after going through all of that for two years, trying and then getting fired. I finally decided that this just wasn’t working. So I tried something different. I saw an ad for volunteering. So I started volunteering, and it worked out. I’m very happy about that.
My support system was definitely my family. My mother, my father, and my older brother. They were in and out of the hospital visiting me and helping me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. I was at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. And I feel that the SIRT, the neurosurgeon, and the oncology doctors, were all very good, very knowledgeable, and I felt like I was in good hands.
Source of motivation and joy
Things that made me happy and healthy, are definitely having family there. Just such as having them, not just for getting help but just for having their presence. So when I was in the hospital during my treatment, when you wake up until you go to sleep, it’s a really long day if you don’t have any visitors. I was lucky enough to always have someone there with me, which was really helpful. Yes, so you know, there are times when you feel that it’s too much to bear, but you still don’t give up. You keep on working on those days. So what was the thing that motivated you and kept you going on such days?
So on a really bad day, what motivated me to keep going and not give up was just the belief that it was going to be better. Life can’t just be like this. It’s got to get better. And so that motivated me to keep going forwards.
Lessons that I learned
I think that cancer has positively changed me. My journey went from hating life to valuing life. It has brought me closer to my family and I shouldn’t take them for granted. I got some very important life lessons. Number one is to enjoy life because it’s short. So don’t say for a rainy day, just if you want to do something, or you want to. Just do it. Don’t wait, because you don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then. That’s one of the main things. Another lesson is that family is very important. Keep them close and keep them happy. Yeah, that’s true. Family is the biggest supporter we find during those times.
Life after cancer
I think I just made a conscious effort to eat more healthily because it couldn’t hurt. More healthy eating and a more healthy lifestyle. So healthy eating and exercise are what I adopted. I even started volunteering. So I apparently have two volunteer roles. One helping the children selling secondhand clothes, and another one at Community Services as a refugee youth mentor. I’ve been volunteering for about a year or so now.
Message for other cancer patients and caregivers
I want to tell other cancer patients to be strong and to seek out others who are on a similar journey. Because it’s just so important to have people to talk to. And it’s even better if those people can actually empathise with what you’re going through.
And to the caregivers, I would say, just be patient. I know it’s hard, but don’t judge and don’t get frustrated at people for things they can’t help because then it just makes it worse. For me, for example, my memory was horrible. So when my caregivers would be like I’ve already told you that. Caregivers shouldn’t be saying things like that, because I used to fall into a period of depression for days. So, I ask the caregivers to be patient.