December 1, 2023

Young with Cancer but I Refuse to Stop Fighting

At 21 she was diagnosed with cancer and had to put her life on hold. Here's how she comes out of it a stronger person.

  • July 15, 2016
  • 5 min read
Young with Cancer but I Refuse to Stop Fighting

I was 21 and 8 months in 2014 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a lymph nodes cancer, something I would’ve never imagined.
I was devastated when my oncologist broke the news, and giving me no other option but undergoing a regimen of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that is the standard treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Two days before that I had just started an internship program at a media holding, as I have always loved writing and wanted to write other things besides fiction. It was a childhood dream came true. I hadn’t noticed any symptom other than a swollen node on my right neck, which I thought was only hormonal or a symptom of tuberculosis infection. Before that I had also dreamt of obtaining a Master of Business in Perth while working on my other novel.
My head was filled with ideas and plans, whether realistic or even naïve and surreal, but those dreams perished instantly or, at the very least, had to be delayed, as I began a marathon of hospital treatments and as I had to succumb to physical constraints.
But life can be full of surprises. God wants me to fight on the cancer battlefield. I started my first chemotherapy journey in September 2015, one week before my cousin’s wedding. It was to take place in 12 sessions, twice a month. I started to befriend a lot of fellow young cancer fighters from the chemo room and encountered some commenters on my blog. I am not the kind of person who joins a support group, as I don’t want to overwhelm myself with so many probabilities of winning or loosing the cancer battle.

My chemotherapy treatment went smoothly, I suffered nothing more significant than the loss of hair – though I did not go completely bald and I wear hijab anyway – darker nail, and 10 kilogram weight gain caused by water retention and steroid injection. More importantly, I made it to my cousin’s wedding looking not much different, wearing proper kebaya and doing my own make up. I also went to Lombok for New Year’s Eve right after my 9th chemotherapy.

The battle wasn’t finished, however. After the 12th chemotherapy, I had to undergo 20 sessions of radiation to prevent any nodular relapse. Praise be to God, the four weeks of radiation went well and nothing happened other than just a minor burn rashes on the radiation area, though I did have neck and chest pain and some difficulty swelling in the first week. But I succeeded in coping with my illness in my own way.

Some people asked me what kept me going. Others remarked on the fact that I didn’t loose weight, and even look healthy and fresh.

Frankly, nobody wants to be sick. The alcohol scents and the sterile scents of the hospital terrorize me everyday. But I know that I am young, I have so many dreams and plans. Some days make me feel sad and question why I have to be sick while girls my age are busy catching their dreams, preparing their marriages, and having fun. But, I don’t want to be that kind of person.

I have a very supportive family; I don’t have financial difficulties. And, more importantly, I am a believer. I believe that Allah will never leave me. He is there to support me through numerous helping hands, like my kind hematologist, my family, and my friends.

He helps me get through my adversity, and He reminds me that I’m lucky. I know that if I hadn’t had cancer, I wouldn’t have been as tough as I am today, and I wouldn’t have had the humility as I do today. I wouldn’t count my blessings and be grateful because I feel that I deserve more. If I hadn’t been forced to be in a condition where I relied on my parents, I wouldn’t have done everything I could to make them proud.

Now that I’ve realized that this life is not mine, I will try my best to work on my unchecked bucket list. I can still pursue my Master’s Degree, but here instead of overseas, as it would be too risky for my health. I can write more. There is no sin in being a late bloomer, while I’m on a “hiatus” for six months. 

I’ve learned that having a forward-looking mindset is important for a young cancer patient. It’s not an easy life – with all the visits to the hospital and the treatments –but having cancer at a young age is not the end of the world.

@karinaherbowo is an author of one book with bachelor’s degree in commerce. She loves lipstick like a shark loves blood.

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Karina Herbowo