By Andie Petrides 

I was awakened after a three-hour major operation by taps on my face and the voice of my doctor saying, “Wake up; you have cancer! Wake up; you have cancer!” Wow, the big C.

“Thank you very much doctor,” I mumbled and sank mercifully back into my anaesthetic coma, not sure I ever wanted to wake up again.

I stayed in the hospital for 18 days, feeling mostly very happy to be alive, greeting all who entered my room with smiles and jokes. You should have seen those who entered the room, awkward and ill at ease. One look at the clown in the bed and they would reset their expression, mostly to one of intense relief, feeding off the joy I radiated. Many said, “We weren’t quite sure what to say or do to make you feel better and there you are, making us feel better instead!”

Isn’t it said, “We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails?”

Being the umpteenth woman entering Cancer World was still a shock. Cancer, like all other scary-sounding diseases, has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ ring to it. I imagined a movie with people materialising out of the shadows, the ‘cancer survivors’. Well, at least that was better than people fading out of the picture because of cancer!

It was not easy being suddenly whisked into this exclusive community, a whirlwind world of surgery, tests and very imaginative treatments. I could hear huge invisible clocks ticking into the ominous distance. Would I survive?

One day, I was injected with radioactive material for a bone scan to make sure no unwelcome cells were lurking there. I immediately imagined becoming a glow-in-the-day/glow-in-the-dark being, just like the worm.

I also remember my tattoos. Some were the legacy of unsuccessful attempts at finding veins in my arm for injections. These too would fade with time. They were like footsteps in the sand.

And so it went on, step by painful step, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, side effects; you name it, I went through it. But at no time did I give in or give myself the choice of giving up. I became pure positivity, the best student in the class, the model patient. I discovered humour and faith. I chose appreciation and love over self-pity. I comforted everyone around me and that gave me strength when they all responded with the support I needed to heal.

A human being is as strong as her or his acceptance. I accepted the transition from a pretty, slim woman to a plump, bald one with no eyebrows and no eyelashes. Zombie beauty? Believe me; I was very relieved to transition back from that period of no hairdresser and no mascara. I went through every hair length and style, from zero hair to a length that the wind could play in and fly with!

When we are faced with a traumatic experience in life, we stand at a cross-road, with the freedom and choice to move in any direction from positive to negative. There is no power in the universe stronger than what is in our own souls. One of the side effects I experienced is some damage to my memory. But I embrace this as a small price to pay for my life.

I hesitated for a long time before deciding to share my story. But  I figured that if my message helps save one life, helps one hesitant person make an important decision, encourages one person to step up and help someone in need, it is totally worth it. Our soul is the platform from which we are meant to fly.