The courage and self-determination of Mr. Conner is proudly saluted. There are moments in our life when we feel that the whole concept of happiness does not exist anymore. The fear and agitations subjugate our inner spirit and we feel helpless to the displeasing situation. I have been through such moments in my life when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I still remember the moment when the doctor told me about her cancer. I was a freshman in Penn state Abington then. My dad who was sick and hospitalized for gastro-ulcer problem was not there and I had taken mom for the doctor’s visit. This was one of the most shocking moments in our family, especially because of the situation that prevailed then.
I was born and brought up in India, and moved to US only during my high school senior year. It had been a tough year to adjust with the new school curriculum, taking SATs and applying to colleges. I was very happy by June 2007 since I made my way through the school successfully and got admitted as an honors student in Penn state Abington. Situations became worse when my dad had serious stomach problems and he couldn’t work anymore. We survived with my mother trivial income. Fortunately, I was gratified with my good performance in school and other activities. I was doing two part time jobs to support my family. Things were steady and our life was emerging out of the so called depression. This is when the unthinkable stoke, in December of 2007. This was my first semester and I was getting ready for the finals. My mom was sick for the entire week and I had to take her to the hospital for some check-up and routine mammogram. She cannot drive and therefore I had to take her everywhere given my father’s poor health condition.
I still can picture that day, it was a week before my finals and the entire world was decorated in the clothes of Christmas. In that evening the doctors told us that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to start her chemotherapy in order to survive. This was a major blow to the psychological condition of the entire family. My sister was still in 8th grade and I didn’t want her to realize the severity of the situation. Each moment of that week is still vivid in my mind. The stigma of cancer had engulfed our minds and body. I still recall that the entire weekend we didn’t talk to each other. Actually I did not to know what to think about. Should I worry about my coming finals or should I worry about consulting another physicians opinion or should I go with the chemotherapy. I had heard a lot of nasty things about the chemotherapy but I realized that I did not know much about the cancer itself. The next week due to the advice of my relatives I concentrated in my studies for the upcoming exams. But in the meantime, I felt some power within me. I went to church every day and one night I had a dream. I dreamt that everything is falling apart and the only way stop this havoc was a key and those keys were in my hands. I did not quite understand the dream. But anyway, I found myself filled with great spirits. I realized that if I could come this far in my life struggling through various situation, I can defeat this too. I was not going to let cancer defeat my family.
The following weeks, I had occupied myself with books. But in the meantime, I read a lot about cancer and its consequence. I talked to my professor who was doing research in cancer. I also read a lot of articles about the new cancer treatment techniques, thanks to the university libraries. The lack of money had forbidden us to ask advice from other leading physicians. But this time with the help of my colleagues I made an appointment with one of the leading oncologist of the area. This oncologist gave me a lot of informative advice. But I was not satisfied and saw couple of other doctors too. With all of these inquires I was sure that with chemotherapy, my mom wouldn’t be able to work and that would jeopardize my entire family finance. Also the side effects of chemotherapy was dreadful and I wanted to avoid that any cost. This is when one of the doctors told me about the newly developed hormonal therapy, which targets the estrogen. This new research therapy could pretty well adapt to my mom’s condition since she was lucky that the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. This was a great relief since spreading to lymph nodes would mean a complete body exposure to cancer and an unavoidable confront with the chemotherapy.
My mother had lost all her hopes by this time mainly because she became very sick. The family conditions and rumors from other people had made her mentally weak. I knew that the only way to defeat cancer was to fight back and be bold towards the disease itself. Our pastor helped us a lot in confronting and overcoming the submissive mind. In the meantime I realized that hormonal therapy would be great option but a surgery (mastectomy) was unavoidable. Before the surgery the doctors suggested to start the chemo as soon as surgery was done in order to avoid possible spreading. But we in response to the advice from other oncologist did not agree to this and decided that hormonal therapy would be a better option, since the cancer did not spread to lymph nodes. I knew that by adhering to this decision, I would have to take the entire responsibility and suffer the consequences. I was in a great dilemma but still I had this intuition that everything would be alright.
The day of the surgery had arrived and I still recall that I was more confident than anything else about this decision. The surgery was a success and my mother was released from the hospital. After that came the great dilemma of chemotherapy. Many suggested the traditional chemo but I knew that this would worsen her body conditions. At the end we decided to follow my other oncologist’s suggestion and go with the hormonal therapy which works on the estrogen levels. I knew that by taking this decision I am handing over my mother’s health in the hands of a new research which was not too conclusive. But I believed in science and research and advice from some of my great professors. The therapy was to be continue for the next 5 years.
It’s been almost three years now, and my mother’s health has significantly improved. She has started her job again and could work as regular women. She still has to go the doctor every month and take some tests but overall her health is in good conditions. I still can’t believe how those days went by and how my family was able to withstand those barriers. But at the end I feel that I have accomplished my goal and we were able to defeat the horror of cancer. Now I realize that my dream did have some meaning and there is nothing impossible with good research and informed decision. Now whenever I confront any problems in my life I think of how I surpassed these test and try to make the most informed decision rather than following the traditional unsuccessful paths. These events had a great impact in life and I know I will never forget that one year. I have decided to pursue a career in biochemistry and enter into the cancer research fields so that I could make some prideful contributions that could help the forthcoming generations as it helped my mother.
By: Jose, Jiku M.