I was only 9 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (A.L.L). All that follow this are well known by everybody who has lived such an experience: hospitals, examinations, doctors, treatments. I will not speak about my experience in hospital but about what it happened afterwards and the way that my health’s “adventure” changed my life. All this process made me a different person. The most obvious changes were the exterior. I was grown taller and I gained several kilos. Not as obvious as the first but surely much bigger and deeper were my internal changes. It took till my 15 when I began to realise what had happened to me. I begun to observe that I didn’t have the crisis that a child in my age supposed to have. Everything was different for me because I was seeing in a different way. I was more objective and more mature. All these that I saw, I heard, I learned and I lived created a different perception of the way that I see everything around me. For a child, when it happens to grow thus abruptly and to confront so early such situations, there are equal probabilities: cancer to be “to his profit” or to destroy him. Fortunately in my case the first happened. One of the thoughts that I still make is how I would be now if all these had not happened. Of course, I wouldn’t like this to be interpreted as a regret of having cancer. I never made this thought: "Why me?“. I was only wondering “Why only me?” but I now wish to be only me. All aids that I then accepted and that I still accept were and still are a big support for me, and in certain difficult moments it was this hand of help that everybody needs. All these persons that stood by us, in any position, made my stay in hospital seem shorter and more sufferable. In my later life everything turned out well. It didn’t have any relapse or metastasis or any other general hitch. I also I didn’t faced any disapproval or abomination by my friends, relatives and familiar persons. From the first moment when I went back home and started the process of my socialization and integration back in my everyday routine, I had been afraid about how my life would be. “I would be the same person as before?”, “I could do the same things that I was doing before?” and other such questions and wonders. The answer was that I couldn’t do what I was doing before because I simply could do other, better things. I had grown older and my interests had changed and this was what I hadn’t realise. Having a “new” body (height and weight), I was able to do much more and with the maturity that I had acquired I could do all these in a better way. Initially without any personal special effort all around had a harmony and were looked in a balance. Some years later, this began to oscillate and then I understood that I should also do something in order to maintain this balance. I tried, then, a lot of alternatives but in the end one was that offered me the desirable result: All that I had lived and experienced was not something that I could forget thus simply and just continue my life. I should accept my illness and adapt it in my life. I believe that this is the most important that I gained… it is not to your benefit to hide your past and your illness but you should completely accept it. If I have something to say to the children that are ill at the present is never to pretend that cancer is something that they haven’t ever met in their life because cancer for those who have suffered by it is a piece of themselves and by denying it the only thing you achieve is to accomplish your own self. Aggelakopoulos - Greece
I was eight years old when leukemia “knocked on my family’s door”. The tests started because I was feeling tired and weak and the results weren’t good. I didn’t know whether my mind “decided” to forget what happened that period or if my parents and my two sisters intentionally avoided to tell me many things, but the truth is that the things I know and remember of that period are few and sometimes I find myself very confused about what happened then. Many times I tried to ask my parents what happened in details but I always see in their eyes their reluctance to answer to all these questions. When I was younger I was afraid that they don’t talk about it because they hide something from me, maybe it isn’t over yet, and something bad will happen again, but now, at the age of 27, I know that the reason why they didn’t –and still don’t- want to talk about it is because it still hurts. To be honest, I really think –even though I’m not a parent myself- that whatever the treatment was, the pain that my family felt was much bigger. The proof for this is that I hardly remember what happened, while they still can’t forget anything. I try to recollect some moments of my remaining to the hospital. It was annoying to do all these tests and to be able to use only my one hand, and some of the medicine I was receiving made me vomiting or caused me nausea. But there were also some nice moments when my friends and my sisters came to visit me because they were always bringing so many presents and toys and their happy faces were giving me hope and courage and that’s why I wasn’t seeing what was hidden behind those “happy” faces. My mum says that she “gained” her white hair during that period in the hospital. I don’t know what this experience left in me … maybe my strong love to children, and that’s why I work as a teacher. Perhaps this feeling that I must do many things in my life – I’m always so busy with so many jobs! What is more important is that I learned about my illness at the age of 13 and not from my parents. They never told me anything about cancer. One day a kid told me that her mother told her that my mother told her (!!!) that I had leukemia when I was eight. I didn’t ask anything, but when I got home I
opened the encyclopedia and I found the word leukemia. What I read in there was enough to make me understand that those years in the hospital were much more serious than I thought until then. And this conclusion troubled me for along time. As I was getting older I realized that the years, the months, the days that are passing by, are –how can I say it- let’s say a gift. I always believed in God but since I found out some facts of my childhood I can’t say anything else but “thank you God”. I comprehend that I didn’t “achieve” being alive. I didn’t earn it. It’s a great gift and every day I try to remember that I’m responsible for every minute of it. I don’t feel lucky or privileged among people. I just think that we accept God’s will as the best for each one of us and I believe that he gives the necessary strength to face our difficulties. So that’s what I “gained” from all this experience. I also gained many friends. Young people who had the same experience with me and this is a bond strong enough to create a warm friendship. Of course we all hope we were the last children that lived such an illness but unfortunately we see more kids coming to hospital. I wish them the best. Thank you. ELPIDA PLEXIDA GREECE
It is very hard to try to revive in few lines the experiences of suffering for thirteen whole years. A period that you felt that time has stopped. That was what I was feeling. That I had stopped to exist, because I was full of fear, anxiety and questions. Now, I am in position to say that it is worth talking about this disease, which, even only thinking of it, causes fear. It is worthwhile when the fight against it, has been, afterwards, converted into happiness, faith and hope for better future. Fortunately or unfortunately, only when our heart hurts, we become aware of life’s worth. Only then, you can admit for sure that you feel alive because you have survived through so much pain. All these years I am fighting with all my soul to win my life. It is very tough for a child, believe me, to come in front of the biggest enemy, cancer, the death itself, at the time of having dreams about future. When cancer appeared in my life, I was a child like all the other children, just 11 years old, who was trying to have dreams. I was wondering how I would be after years. I was always in a hurry to grow up, you know! I wanted to be independent, to go to the University and full my life with all these that I was really enjoying. I don’t know what was to blame and all this converted into a nightmare. Because going and staying in the hospital was a nightmare for my pure, young heart. For a moment, I believed that doctors had made a mistake when they told my parents the diagnosis. Which was? 99% Hodgkin Lymphoma. I had to undergo an operation in my lymph nodes and have chemotherapy. So simply, that moment, my personal Golgotha had started. It would last for thirteen whole years. The dream of my children’s year disappeared, because I grown up too fast, under circumstances that were much more different than I desired. The other children were playing during the school breaks while I was playing with other children at the hospital. This game wasn’t enjoyable as far as we all were exhausted by chemotherapy medicine, without hair and “yellow”. When I was going home, instead of studying for my lessons, I was looking at my bruising hands and I was wondering why I was going to the hospital, what chemotherapy or, even, cancer is. Cancer, that curious word that my mother answered when she was asked by other mothers in the passage of the hospital. I was feeling unprivileged, that destiny treated me so unfair. Nevertheless, I was forgetting this situation for a while and I was going on. I was going on since another cancer made his appearance. I was old enough and I could understand that I had to confront a sneaky enemy. I was afraid, angry and full of questions. My God, why again and again? It was very difficult for my soul to live the same nightmare four times. I was bleeding when I was asking the doctors why all this is happening to me and they didn’t know what to answer. I could see in their eyes that the love that they gave me for all these years, for a moment, was converting into fear. And in turn, I didn’t want to give them only pain. I desired to be proud of me. In my subconscious there was always a dream of my childhood: never stop to hope. Then, when my life came in danger, I gave a promise to myself: to win and to be, one day, kindergarten teacher. I wanted to offer to children, these pure souls, all that love that I have been deprived of as a child. I fought to make this dream come true. But, unfortunately, at my biggest happiness, my success in University exams, something unpredictable happened, something completely different from the past because it would
dramatically change my life. Something “suspicious” showed up at my right led, this time. The result was to live, for another time, the nightmare of chemotherapy, while I had an operation for Osteosarcoma in England. Unhappily, all this fight was in vain because two years ago I “lost” my foot. Nevertheless, I could never imagine that trough this hard trial, life would offered me the best present: the joy of athletics. I started hesitatingly. I was thinking that it was the best exercise in order not to give up, because I had difficulties with me prosthetic device. At the present, and for the last seven months, I go in for athletics at the Olympic Stadium. My emotions are really strange. I feel as I have been reborn, that I am now starting a new life. A life which can blow out what I have suffered from my wounded heart. Every time of my training I feel that I become another person in the water. It doesn’t matter that me foot is missing because I swim with my soul and, when you honestly believe in it, you can make miracles. I believe it’s a miracle that I came first in the National School Games after only six months training. I dedicate this medal to my dearest doctors who gave a meaning to my life in the hospital through their smile and words. It is a big “THANKS” to them because they believed in my will and my spite and tried with all their means to keep me in life It is a justification of all these years fighting It is a promise that I will never stop fighting for all my dreams It is a hope for all of you that you may, sometime, believed that after pain there is no life It is a commitment/ soul testimony to these parents who have lost the most precious in the world, their children. Because these children are, also, winners since their memory will always exist in my heart. It is a proof against cancer that it can be defeated It is a thankfulness for life itself which can be beautiful when we honestly believe in it. My love and hope for life helped me to become “friend” with cancer. It allowed me to smile at it, to say surely, at the present, that cancer is afraid of the strong people. These people who fight with their soul and not with their body. Because cancer can defeat our body but it can never defeat our soul. PAPADONIKOLAKH NEKTARIA-FOTINI GREECE
It was a typical winter noon. I got off the car and I faced a big browngray building. I had never seen it before. I knew that we had made an appointment and I was extremely nervous because not only I had missed school and I had done blood tests twice –my parents said that somebody had lost the results- but also there was a very strange atmosphere around me, a combination of anxiety, nervousness and fear. Something was happening, something big, but I couldn’t understand what. It was 13 January 1987 and it was the day of my diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L). Since then, almost 20 years have passed. I was treated in the Oncology Department of Children’s Hospital A. Kyriakou in Athens, Greece. After a 3 years’ therapy –including the “usual” examines and tests- my family and I realized and decided that I had been cured of that disease, cancer. I don’t believe that the experiences of those 3 years can be described adequately or in detail. In addition, I don’t believe that I can fully understand the impact that cancer had, is having and will have on my life. I will just make an attempt at sketching out some aspects of “my” childhood cancer and his effects. I was about eight when I was diagnosed. My age didn’t allow me to understand or realize exactly what was happening to me and how this would change radically our family life. What I gradually learned was that I had a “kind of anemia” and I should receive a – (proved to be) painful treatment. All these “pieces of information” were gathered from time to time through what I was told, feeling, seeing and understanding. The recollections of treatment cause some pain for sure. Apart from the medical part of treatment, I remember very vividly that the atmosphere of desperation, which had been created after the diagnosis, converted into a very strong will to fight the “bad enemy”. I don’t know how but I was totally convinced by my parents that the only way to “win this bad enemy” was the one-way of treatment and its’ –painful“ingredients”. When, once, I told, as a joke, that I was tired of all these and wanted to stop the treatment, nobody laughed. This could not be a joke. The passing years are many and they have taught me that the experiences of past “scar” your present and your future. I feel that in the “adventure of childhood cancer” I both earned and lost a lot. First of all, I practically lost half a year of the second class of elementary school. I couldn't attend my school lessons. Moreover, during the following two years, I was going to a nearby school, a fact that caused the loss and change of classmates and friends. Then, my body, my outward appearance, changed. I got too fat, my hair became rarer and,
for a period, I had a great difficulty in walking. And all these changes were more than perceptible to other people. My external “involuntary” change caused also the change of their behavior and manners. Most of them were afraid of me and my change, others were laughing at me and some stood by me. I changed to such an extent that, when, 2 years later, I went back to my old school, my old classmates didn’t recognize me: “Are you Emily we know?”, “You have changed a lot and you don’t look like her”, “Surely, is that you?”. And maybe their questions weren’t so absurd. I was the old Emily and I wasn’t. The leukemia had changed me not only outside but also inside, and these inner changes proved to be bigger. The extent of my inner change revealed to me gradually over time. After the end of therapy, I continued my school studies and at the age of 18 I succeed in the University Exams, without using the Greek benefit of free access to the University. I didn’t want to use such a benefit because I was too young when I was diagnosed and this didn’t interrupt my studies. Furthermore, I didn’t –and I still don’t- like using “favors” which originate from an accidental, involuntary and negative fact of my past. I desire, then and now, to try and do my best based on my own power and strength. In 2002, I took my degree in Philosophy, Pedagogic and Psychology and during the last years I have tried some jobs – secretary, teacher of Greek and English literature, journalist -. For the present, at my 27, I’m working in a multinational company as assistant and I’m teaching English to children and Philosophy and Pedagogic to adults. The leukemia “wind of changes” is still whistling around me. It has created a very strong desire not only to live but also to struggle for my life. When you become aware of the fact that you have survived a lifethreatening disease, your own life gains a different meaning. You “lost” 3 years of your life in defending it. During these 3 years, you lost friends, your looking had been –dramatically- changed, you learned not to count on people who judge you from the outside, your artlessness and spontaneousness have been “faded”, you lost “fellows” – you knew that some of the children of next bed had never gone back to their home or village, as you were told -, you lacked of games, fun, walks and excursions. In a word, you didn’t “live a short life” of your life and this happened without even having a chance of choosing something different. The only – real- option was one: fighting. You ought to leave nothing to fate or to destiny. After aaaaaaaaall these, your life becomes your “precious” and you should take care of it.
Another change was the diversification of my family bonds. I came closer to my parents and they came closer to me. At the leukemia punch, we decided to grasp our hands and fight. This made us and our ties stronger. I also became different in facing the other people. I was –and still ammore cautious to new friends, trying to understand what is “hidden behind” someone’s appearance. I didn’t want to make the mistake that others did, to judge from the outside. In addition, I became more “examining” with others. I wanted to feel sure that they deserve to get involved in my “precious” life. Thinking a lot of reasons and consequences of something, even if this is something completely new, is one more inner difference. Last, but not least, comes a very strange feeling: I don’t belong anywhere! I am not “normal” as far as I had suffered from childhood cancer and I am also not “non-normal” as far as I had successfully been treated from leukemia. Moreover, the term “survivor” makes me feel nervous. What am I? Am I a “semi-normal” person? Where do I belong? Sometimes, I have the sense that I am a very rare, strange and -why not?- exotic being, the “homo leukemious”! I desire to be like the others but, after all, I am not like them and terms such as “survivor” make it harder. I often feel like living among two worlds, the “normal” and the “leukemia” world. Nevertheless, I have become more optimist and I try to think positive. You can see a glass of water half-emptied or half-full. I choose the second one. I also try to keep my smile and I have developed a good sense of humor. In 2000, I faced another severe health problem. I couldn’t hear well from my left ear and this ended to happen due to a tumour in the inner part of my ear. Despite of the successful treatment, I have completely lost my hearing from left side. This fact had socked me. I was adult and I could recognise that this health “inconvenience” was not life-threatening but the reasons of my sock were mainly two. Firstly, this “inconvenience” has a very big and active impact on my everyday life: I can’t hear well. Secondly, and mainly, I was shacked because, after leukaemia, I had developed a “life philosophy” which said that I had “paid my health bills”. As far as my health, nothing worse – worse than cancer? - could happen and if something happen, I will be strong enough to handle it. Leukaemia was “the worst” that could happen and it was more than enough for my whole life… “Mesdames and Messieurs, fasten your seatbelts. The crash landing has already begun…”
The same life that emerged me as the winner at my 10, at my 21, was showing her real face. “Welcome back to reality”. I am not the super-hero or the gladiator that I can face and win everything due to my prior and, early in life, win of childhood cancer. I haven’t “paid my bills” in whole. And this, after a lot of thinking and counting, is logical. If we divide our life into 5 equal parts, each one contains 15 years –assuming that we will live 75 years. Childhood cancer happened at the 1st fifth. We (survivors) have other 4 fifths in front of us to live. The odds are against us. It seems more than possible that we will face another health problem in the future. And we should be prepared for this. Someone has to land us. “OK you super-hero, have a party now but bear in mind that something “bad” may come”. Don’t keep telling us fairy-tales: “Everything bad has ended. From now on you will live only good things”. Just, try to prepare us for the “real” world. Our “real” life now starts. At the moment, life’s lesson is the following: in any case, you give away something and you take back something else. You both lose and gain. Most of the times, your loss and your profit are not countable. You are not in position to say which is more or less. They differentiate in size, in content, in impact, in time, in duration. Sometimes you lose few and you gain a lot and vice versa. There are no rules or “receipts of success” that you can follow. You will both win and lose a lot and you cannot, usually, short them out. I have come to the conclusion that you cannot live in hope of a better past. That’s it –good or bad-. It cannot be different. The only thing you can do is to go ahead. What the future will reveal is unknown and there is no way to find it out in time. You can only “filter” your past and, with the lessons of the granddad Time in your luggage, get prepared for everything. “Life is a raft which vanishes into the boundless ocean of tomorrow”
The future is hidden behind the mountains. -And if these are the Clashing Rocks? There is only one way to discover it, to live it! TSIROU EMILY GREECE
Published on Oct 22, 2011
ELPIDA PLEXIDA GREECE My love and hope for life helped me to become “friend” with cancer. It allowed me to smile at it, to say surely, at th...