It’s incredible how, in the blink of an eye, your life can be turned upside down.
I remember the call like it was yesterday. An over-eager volunteer on the other end of the phone, calling me to book my emergency colonoscopy and gastroscopy. I was in a meeting in my office when the phone rang. The call display read “private caller”, which usually meant it was my mother. So, I broke the meeting for a moment to answer the call. Instead, it was a volunteer from the hospital where I had had a biopsy the week before for what was supposed to be a harmless cyst growing in my underarm. He thought I knew. I didn’t. I was only supposed to get the biopsy results the next week.
I quickly learned that the supposed cyst had tested positive for gastro-intestinal cancer of unknown origin. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was drowning. My life as I knew it would never be the same. Within days of the call, I had a colonoscopy, gastroscopy, several more biopsies, PET scan and meetings with a gynecological oncologist, head and neck oncologist, pulmonary oncologist and medical oncologist.
It was the medical oncologist who delivered the full severity of the news: « Mrs. Yee, you have it everywhere. Lungs, spleen, biliary tract, bones…it’s like you were in a radioactive accident. Get your affairs in order. Now.”
That one phone call brought my world to a screeching halt. I went from being a relatively young, vibrant, energetic woman with a great career plan and a happy family to a woman with less than two years to live.
Because of the cancer’s extensive spread throughout my body, a chemotherapy cocktail was prescribed that would work on several organs at once, if it worked at all. Eventually, over a span of five years, I would go through 5 different types of chemotherapy, with each slowing down the cancer’s growth but never actually getting rid of the cancer. In all, 174 intravenous chemo treatments. I also had radiation therapy, not aimed at curing me, but aimed at controlling the pain that the tumors caused as they grew within my body. A portocath installation, a punctured lung and two cataract surgeries were part and parcel of what cancer and its treatment brought.
And yet, eight years later, I am still here. Inexplicably, I managed to endure the treatments used to prolong my life to the point where the cancer cells slowly weakened and died. I am considered an outlier, not a statistic and I am fortunate enough to be considered in remission. I currently, miraculously, live without any form of treatment.
For my family, the news of my remission has brought joy beyond words. My children have settled back into “normal” life, if there is such a thing. François and Gabriel are able to focus on their studies, their careers and their own lives. My little Li-Mei, who was in kindergarten when I got my diagnosis, is now in high school. Slowly but surely, her confidence is growing as the fear of losing Mommy slips into the shadows of her mind. My loving husband, Robert, who was my rock throughout it all, now dreams of a life where we grow old together.
I live. Yes, I live. I live each moment knowing how blessed I am to be here. I do what I can to support others as they go through their own cancer journey. I share my story with anyone who will listen as I try to give hope and, when there is no hope to find, I try to show understanding and compassion. After all, I cannot feel that I have gone through this for nothing. I work tirelessly for charity organizations that support cancer and its research. Much of the volunteer work I do is with the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, Hope and Cope and the Canadian Cancer Society. Through social media, I have managed to build a world-wide network with others who are either going through a cancer diagnosis, have had a diagnosis or work with people living with cancer. Fighting this dreadful disease has become my mission.
Through it all, and with everything that my family and I have gone through, my cancer experience has helped me to fully understand that we have only one life to live and it should not be wasted on petty things that in the larger scheme of things mean absolutely nothing. Life is now measured by the smell of the spring air, my children’s hugs and my husband’s whispers of “You’re beautiful”.
My plan is to hear those words for many years to come.
Si vous avez envie d’appuyer les nombreux efforts de Mei-Lin vers un futur sans cancer, je vous invite à faire un don à la Société canadienne du cancer, qui en a besoin plus que jamais. En discutant avec Mei-Lin, j’ai appris qu’alors que les cas de cancer n’ont jamais été aussi répandus, on donnait moins aux organismes combattant cette maladie, surtout dans le groupe d’âge des 35 ans et moins. L’explication réside peut-être dans le fait que les jeunes sont plus préoccupés par des enjeux qui les touchent davantage, comme l’environnement, et qu’ils considèrent que le cancer est une maladie de vieux… mais c’est malheureusement faux, le cancer touche de plus en plus les jeunes adultes. Je vous rappelle que j’ai eu mon cancer à 29 ans, et que je suis loin d’être la personne la plus jeune de mon entourage à avoir été atteinte.
Mei-Lin participe également au Grand Spin Don de l’Ouest de l’Ile le 5 février prochain, vous pouvez donc aussi l’aider à atteindre son objectif de 2500$ en donnant ICI. Tous les montants sont importants et vous recevrez un reçu d’impôt pour tout don de 10$ et plus.