Answering Tough Questions
BY Sonia Su
PUBLISHED May 27, 2020
As 27-year-old three-time cancer alumni (preferred over "survivor"), I reflect on my relationships with my caregivers and loved ones.
Caregivers were absolutely essential during my treatments. Whether it was the first time getting chemotherapy or the last, I felt way too sick to complete daily tasks, let alone drive myself to and from treatments. I relied on my caregivers to cook my meals and make sure I stayed hydrated. When I was hospitalized for almost two weeks for CAR-T immunotherapy, having my parents take rounds to stay with me provided both physical and psychological support. It's almost humorous to say this, but I honestly would have lost much more weight than I did had it not been for my mom's home-cooked meals and groceries from organic markets.
Although nurses do their job, nothing compares to having your mother being by your side while you vomit for the third time on your birthday in the hospital.
Thinking about the impact of cancer on my caregivers is quite difficult. During treatment, I think my caregivers and I knew that the main goal was to keep me alive, so there was little room left to consider how we were mentally handling everything. My parents are small business owners, so they were able to be a little more flexible with their schedules, making sure to accompany me to every single appointment. I am sure there were sleepless, tearful nights for my parents, who have always been very good at hiding their emotions and any hardships from me. I also remain ignorant of how much they shared with their closest friends or even my sister, who lives in Los Angeles.
Sometimes, all others needed to know was that I was working on getting better. After treatment, however, it does occasionally strike me that they hid such hardship so well. I think that no matter how bad it got, just seeing me continue to endure was enough to keep them going. I don't like to think it was bravery, as it implies that others who have lost "the fight" means they weren't strong or brave enough. Cancer patients often don't have a choice in this fight, and neither do caregivers.
Cancer and two relapses within two years have made me reevaluate my life goals. As a Master's candidate in Asian Studies and someone with serious wanderlust, I had always dreamed of living and working abroad. After my first remission, I didn't allow cancer to hold me back from working to achieve this dream, accepting a year-long fellowship to study in Taiwan. As fate would have it, I ended up relapsing within months of arriving, cutting the fellowship short and forcing me to flee back home for treatment. (To say I was on the verge of death is not an understatement). In hindsight, I actually don't regret this decision, as it was my last opportunity to experience life abroad for the near future.
Considering everything my caregivers have done for me, as well as the fact that we are now at the tail end of time spent with our parents, I have decided to settle down close to my parents, with my husband in the process of immigrating here to be with me (yes, he's a keeper).
One day, I do hope to travel again, but until then, I'm more than happy to spend time with my parents and husband here in the United States. I owe them my life.
Because of how much support I received from my parents during treatments, I had not considered seeking help in support groups. Of course, once I relapsed for the second time, I did end up attending one individual therapy session. Ultimately, however, there was not enough time before being admitted for CAR-T to attend a group session. I started participating in cancer support groups only this semester, as I started to develop my nonprofit idea to send cancer care kits [http://kitstoheart.org/] to patients across the country. I realized I wanted to be more actively involved in the cancer community, and I do think such support groups are very valuable, even if held virtually. Caregivers also have their own groups, so I would highly recommend finding those communities and sharing experiences with others. The resources are out there, and I hope that more patients take advantage of them. As I am lucky to have experienced, adequate psychosocial and financial supports do indeed have a huge impact on overall well-being.