By Udie Soko
Cover Art: ArtByAleighsha
I recently attended a 50th birthday party for a sister-in-law of mine. Having clocked half a decade in 2015, I found myself musing over my jubilee year. The most important thing about that year was the fact that I was still alive. Twenty-six years prior, aged twenty-three, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease - a type of cancer that affects the lymph nodes.
At that time, Zambia did not have a cancer hospital, no cancer specialists, and limited local treatment. My chances of long-term survival beyond five years without treatment were almost certainly zero. Despite this bleak outlook, I was one of the lucky ones. Through my former employer – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was sent to Germany (then West Germany) where I completed my treatment in 1990.
Fast forward to 2015. Like many of my peers, I was excited to turn the big 50 in November. I was certain that nothing or no one could stop this “high-speed birthday train” I was on. Little did I know that it would come to a screeching halt barely two months into the new year. The reason? Two words. Breast. Cancer. Yes, my doctor dropped a bombshell that I had early-stage cancer of the breast. It came back! Not cancer again I thought as anger, despair, and despondency engulfed me within seconds. I tried to make sense of this news and the fact that I would be on various treatments for at least five years.
The first year comprising surgery and anti-cancer drugs was the hardest. By the time my birthday came along on the 11th of November, I was depressed. Despite making progress combating the disease I felt dead inside. The day was anti-climatic, with no party, no dancing until dawn. It was a struggle commemorating my friends’ golden birthdays while fighting for my life for the second time.
That was eight years ago. I thank God that I am still alive and well. I am no longer overwhelmed by melancholy. Much of my life has been intertwined with cancer in one way or another, either as a patient, survivor, or advocate. Since I was first diagnosed with cancer at a fairly young age, I cannot say how my life would have panned out without the disease, but what I do know is that I have learned some lessons. One major one is: Don’t sweat the small stuff. I used to worry a lot. Now, I make a conscious effort to live in the moment and not “Worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow has worries enough of its own." I lean heavily on God because I know I would not be alive today if it weren’t for his grace.
I believe we are all here on Earth for a reason. Through my cancer advocacy work, I have found my purpose: to help others afflicted and affected by the disease. A calling that I am doing my best to fulfill with the support of many to whom I am truly grateful.
Udie is a big dreamer and risk-taker who uses her creativity to support cancer patients and their caregivers through the Zambian Cancer Society.
Connect with her on Facebook: Udie Soko
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Edited by Bwalya Mphuka
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