(First published on my Facebook Notes on 19 July 2017)
I’m not exactly certain why I need to put this on the public sphere, but my hope in throwing this into this space already inundated with thousands of other stuff (hopefully your timeline) is of this sort – a hope at getting back to life. Life – whatever it is going to look like. Life, which for the first time in a long time, looks foggy and unconquerable.
I was told that I had papillary thyroid cancer two weeks into April this year, following a perplexing time of experiencing and interpreting symptoms. Although thyroid cancer patients hate this being told to them, I have to concur with the cliché that papillary thyroid cancer is the best cancer to have, if one could ever choose a cancer (no one would). Why? No chemotherapy, no radiotherapy. Yes surgery, yes lifelong hormone replacement pills which need adjustments every 3 to 6 months, yes steady diet and steady lifestyle, yes having regular blood tests. Still yes, higher chances of other sorts of cancers and still yes, smaller chance of recurrence. But overall, all doctors including those on YouTube have told me these: “prognosis is very good” and it is “highly curable”. Yes, mitigated bad news, but bad news all the same.
Ever since the thought of the possibility of such a diagnosis, the eventual diagnosis, the actual surgery and coming to terms with a missing thyroid and its implications, I’ve been vacillating between a silver lining view and a cloud view. I’m not sure that I’ve stopped vacillating, but cloud views have been a dominating theme recently. I hold together well because, for a strange reason pointed out to me by an older friend, I have a Stoic disposition to life. I would venture to say that I am trying to move out of this subconscious Stoicism. (Why I have a less welcoming view of Stoicism is another story.)
There are a few things I moan about now. Firstly, my world has become mostly about me for the past few months. As if my life hasn’t been self-centred enough, this experience caps it, and there is no escaping it because it is quite a valid thing to be thinking about – my health, my recovery, my weakness, my inability. And most of these thoughts end with a question mark.
Secondly, I’ve become increasingly morbid in my thoughts. In my readings I clutch on to the calamities that protagonists go through – I think of Mother Teresa’s dark thoughts (which I haven’t read, but presume happened because I’ve heard so much about them), I think of Francis Bacon’s loss of estate at the age of 18 and his resilience despite it, I think of John Stuart Mill’s nervous breakdown in his youth, the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment, the Cross of Christ. And then I squirm to realise that unlike them, I am nothing and I might come up to be nothing.
Thirdly, I’ve become allergic to anybody. Not everybody. But Anybody. Especially unscheduled, spontaneous, on the street Anybody. I am afraid of presumptuous advice, pity, unmeditated positivity, mechanical positivity, being misunderstood, being lumped into a category of some-kind-of-people, not being heard or listened; that could stir up a little storm inside me. So I’ve become rather appreciative of silence and apprehensive of connections with Anybody. When such connections happen I wonder what I should say, or be expected to say. In the beginning, my PR training has given me some key points to regurgitate to assure others that there’s little to worry about, but recently, I just wing it. Whatever it is I’m feeling. I just wing it. In those moments even I find myself incomprehensible.
But there are a few things to be (grudgingly) thankful for. And I’m not writing it to be all Stoic about it, there’s really no pretending about the good things that have happened. If anything, this event has been an attack on my ego, exposing it (which is, a good thing). The truth is, I’ve never wanted this cancer (nobody ever does). I’ve never wanted it to improve my diet or my lifestyle. I’ve never wanted it to make my priorities clearer. I’ve never wanted it to help me simplify my life and focus on what matters. I’ve never wanted it to force me to pray through my life and discern what matters. I’ve never wanted it to give me a forced timeout, to consider the matters of the heart that I’ve swept under the carpet.
I’ve never wanted my life to be led by my limitations. I want to operate – i.e. do all the above – from strength, from abundance, from well-intentioned, well-calculated choice, from a place of liberty and freedom – not from lack thereof. I want to be fully capable and cognisant of the good choices I make about my life (and receive credit and acknowledgement I deserve). (Except then, I might never have started on them in the first place.)
For the first time, I beheld the cross and salvation or redemption in a light that now appears blindingly clear. On one hand, we want our means of redemption to be good-enough for our participation – that we have subscribed to a beautifully systematic religion superior in many ways to the philosophies being contested during first century Rome*.
Yet it is said, our redemption is won by the shockingly ridiculous and preposterous notion** that Jesus’ death on a cross (the most humiliating and punishment made for a criminal) paved the way to an exhilarating new life, reconciled to God. An object of scorn and humiliation = conduit for redemption. Preposterous, in the standard of those days. Plain tak masuk akal. “Foolishness”. It is therefore understandable that such a suggestion would be immediately mocked by the many, and breathtaking when many buy in to it.
An object of scorn and humiliation = conduit for redemption.
A setback that results in loss = conduit for a new lease of life.
Not cool trajectory. But it’s pretty Good News for someone in my position, if you ask me.
I’ve not mentioned God until this point. God is Immanuel. The unspoken Present, the quiet Being. I’ve vacillated in His presence more than anyone else I could dare to trust. I’ve moved from questioning myself to questioning God (finally got the guts and the free time to do it). I’ve been jaded and cynical about Him in my prayers to Him (ironically). I’ve also demanded answers from Him too during this time. But I’ve also experienced the comfort and assurance of being heard, of not having to know the answers, of knowing that God is in charge whether I feel like it or not. I guess that’s what God has been doing, sitting with me, caring for what’s left of impetuous, impulsive, free-as-a-bird me.
Where I’m getting at right now is this… I’m taking some time now to get back to life, whatever that’s going to look like. I’ve been stuck in a hermitage of sorts. I’ve been apprehensive, unsure of myself. I’ve been learning and relearning new habits. I’ve been meditating and trying to figure stuff out. I’ve been in and out of down times. I’ve been trying to get into things again and seeing how I do after. It’s been a stretch.
Last time I checked, there’s life in me still, and a life is to be lived, isn’t it? (Although staying in bed watching movies and series is a tempting option). I still very much want to connect, revisit our connection and get back into things again. So, here’s me reaching out to you (and feeling terribly awkward about this terribly awkward way), and saying, “Let’s be in touch again and pick things up where we left off. Soon, real soon.”
*1 Corinthians 1:17-31
**Lesslie Newbigin says this is like making the Gospel accommodate to rational and humanistic assumptions, and projecting it as superior within those assumptions.