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Mon, Jul 19, 2010
The Star/ANN
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Cancer was the last thing on her mind

HAVING suffered from lower back pain for the past two years, Arby Tajuddin had almost embraced it as part of her life. It’s not a big deal, she thought, chalking it up to stress at work and inadequate rest.

But when the pain became so bad that it started interfering with her daily life, the 34-year-old real estate negotiator knew it was time to see a doctor.

Physiotherapy and painkillers only helped so much and nothing else seemed to work. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect and ended up having to do a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. The eventual diagnosis in June 2009 was a total shock to her.

“Cancer was the last thing on my mind, particularly as there is no history of breast cancer in my family. When my doctor told me that the lump they found in my right breast was cancerous, my initial reaction was denial,” says the mother of two during a chat at her home in Ampang, Selangor, last week.

When the news was delivered to her, she froze in her seat while her sister, who had accompanied her to the doctor’s (along with Arby’s then-husband and a good friend), promptly burst into tears.

“I felt numb and my mind went blank. I was at a point in my life when the sky was the limit, so it (cancer) didn’t fit into the picture. I’m a very chatty person by nature, but I couldn’t say a single word when I was told the news. It was my sister who cried and cried and said that she couldn’t believe this is happening,” Arby recalls, sounding rather amused at her sister now.

Under the care of an oncologist, Arby was scheduled for chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It was only when she started undergoing treatment that the grim reality sank in.

“It hit me hard. I shut myself up in my room and refused to go out of the house. I didn’t want to see anyone or play with my children. I threw things around the room and felt really annoyed knowing that family members and friends were talking about me.

“It didn’t make things better that deep down I had this fear that I would be leaving really early,” she says, explaining that she moped around for about a week.

During this time, each day came and went as a copy of the one before, until her eldest son, who was then a four-year-old toddler, came to knock on her door.

“He told me that he missed me and asked when I would come out of the room,” Arby says.

Where other people failed to pull her out of the rut she was in, these simple, heartfelt words from a child managed to reach her during this dark period.

“It made me realise that I had to pull myself together. I could hear my children playing in the living room downstairs and I knew I had to get on with life. I did not do this just for myself; it was also for them. I have two little men to take care of, so why should I let cancer take over my life when I should be the one controlling it?” she says.

But picking herself up and moving on was something easier said than done. Even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak – especially when ravaged by the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Bloating, swollen feet, severe diarrhoea and a weight loss of 12kg were just some of the side effects Arby battled. But battle she did, waiting patiently for everything to be over.

Arby expresses gratitude for those who offered friendship and support during this difficult time, but relates that her battle with cancer was an uphill task which was at times made even more trying with the reaction of people around her.

“There are many people who will bring you down with the things they say, such as, ‘Oh, you poor thing, you have cancer’. But you don’t need pity at this stage. What you need is for someone to tell you that there is nothing you can’t overcome,” she says.

Deciding that the best thing to do was to take matters into her own hands, Arby learned how to deal better with the unpleasant things life threw her way.

“I used to harbour grudges from work and bring them home. I would let petty things get to me. Now, I’ve learned how to just walk away, regardless of what people do or say. I’ve learned to let go. With this more positive approach, I find that life has become something totally different from what I was used to.”

No one can predict the future, but she advises breast self-examination and regular check-ups for early detection of cancer, as well as insurance coverage, which would help enormously should the unexpected happen.

“You can look at it as savings for difficult times like these, when money comes in very useful,” Arby says, adding that medical expenses aside, she currently spends approximately RM1,500 on supplements each month.

But perhaps the cause she champions the most is living with an open mind and a healthy dose of optimism. These things have played a big part in helping her get this far.

“I was told by my doctors when I was first diagnosed with cancer that I wouldn’t have more than a year to live if I don’t change my (gloomy) outlook on life. But it has been over a year now and I’m still going strong.

“I believe that a positive mind set can do you wonders. You are responsible for your own well-being and happiness. You have to learn how to love yourself and take control of your life. And you should also believe in miracles – as I do every day now,” she says.

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