“I got cancer at a young age and was able to bear the pain of chemotherapy. Nothing can beat me now.”
Audrey is a 21-year old university student who embodies the girl-next-door type, keen on wearing long hair and keeping up with fashion trends. She is also a fan of overseas holidays where she would hike alone in Sydney’s Blue Mountains National Park, bungee jump in Macau and parachute in England. She loves sports activities in her leisure time and Latin dancing is one of her favourites. She also planned to further her study in hospitality management in England after graduation.
A plain-sailing life, isn’t it? Well, she was diagnosed with 2nd -stage lymphoma last year. But if you think the physical pain of chemotherapy and targeted therapy would have dragged her down, you’re wrong. Her willpower and positive attitude derived from years of sports playing had willed her way through it. Today, she has gotten out of rock bottom and moves on in full confidence. How does her story inspire us and boost our positivity? Here’s the answer.
Love for beauty gives hope
Loving beauty is a woman’s nature, some say. It’s particularly true to Audrey who admits she loves beautiful things, from the clothes she wears to the places she checks in and the food she shares on social media. So it’s not surprising that she practises Latin dance, considering those glittering dancing dresses and graceful movements.
But what she may not have realised was her love for beauty has long been the origin of her strong willpower and self-confidence. For example, when she was teased about her love handles, she began long-distance running and eventually she could finish 10 km in 43:34 minutes, equivalent to national athlete standards in some countries! Believing in herself not only helped her achieve a stunning personal record in long-distance running, but also transformed her into an athletic maiden.
Taking 600 tablets of steroids: a joke gone too far?
It seemed like God wanted to put her toughness to test. In May last year, an acne below her neck had grown into a tennis ball-sized tumour in half a month. What followed was a diagnosis of 2nd-stage lymphoma which had spread to her chest, causing her to put her study and running races on hold to receive treatments. Even until now, she is still puzzled about her misfortune, “I don't have a family history of the disease and the cause is still unknown. Sometimes I would think, what a joke God had played on me!”
If it’s a joke, it had just gone too far. She was told there’s 90% that she could be cured by the latest targeted therapy, but it required a truly strong willpower to sustain the physical pain. From being diagnosed in a private hospital to receiving treatments in a public hospital, she underwent 6 chemotherapies and targeted therapies, took 600 tablets of steroids and countless painkillers and antiemetics, and experienced frequent side effects such as vertigo, vomiting and malaise. Admittedly, targeted therapy worked fast and effectively as the tumour shrank a lot after each treatment. But, the physical and mental suffering could sometimes be unbearable even for the toughest of guys.
Zero immunity level - where an acne could be fatal
The severeness of side effects was totally beyond Audrey’s imagination, “My immune system was almost not functioning at all, and I could die from an acne’s bacteria infection!” To avoid infection, she had to refrain from sashimi and everything had to be cooked thoroughly, including steaks. That led to the loss of her appetite and body weight. Her collarbone and breastbone were tragically obvious when her weight dropped to about 40kg.
What's more, she had to say no to cold drinks in summer time simply because ice may get her infected. The only cheat food, as told by her doctor, was potato chips. But there’s one time when she ate too much and developed canker sores which caused bacteria infection and fever, and had to be sent to the hospital. Coincidentally, the third wave of COVID-19 began and Audrey and her family were horrified by the similarity in symptoms.
Love for beauty can crush self-confidence
When she started her treatments, her positive attitude helped her a lot in dealing with physical suffering. She even joked about the right timing of her misfortune as everyone was like her during the pandemic - not travelling and showing off on Instagram, just hanging in there. With her mother’s guidance since childhood, she had learned to think positive and focus on happiness, and thus developed a personality that won her the battle against the biggest challenge in life.
But ironically, her love for beauty was also the culprit in undermining her self-confidence. Her favourite long hairstyles and trendy looks were replaced by serious hair loss as the treatments continued. Her mother had to cover all the mirrors in the house, preventing Audrey from seeing herself whom she could hardly recognise. After the 3rd round of therapy, the accumulated side effects were so strong that she, for a moment, thought about giving up.
Family, friends and attitude
Fortunately, that was just a brief thought. When she considered the meticulous care her mother gave her, the heart-warming gifts her friends sent her and the soothing smiles her schoolmates showed her, she defeated her inner demon quickly. Of course, her self-confidence built after years of athletic training played an important role as well. She even started to think about what beauty is, why bald is not beautiful and how she could overcome it. In addition, she realised that being happy or not was actually a question of choices - whether you want to amplify happiness or sadness. Likewise, it’s our attitude that determines if we are self-confident or not. Once we learn to accept and face the reality, we can uphold our self-confidence to navigate through difficult times.
With this epiphany, she believed ‘Beauty should be from inside’ - she asked a friend to create a photo album of her being bald. She even shared it on social platforms and gained wide supports that boosted her confidence further. One of the photographs that shows her wearing a floral oxygen mask had become the most beautiful and her favourite portrait during her treatment.
After more than a year, she has now fully recovered and resumed her career as an athlete. Moreover, all those physical and mental tortures she had gone through changed her outlook on life. She has become more optimistic and self-confident than before, and sees hopes ahead. She also prefers planning out her future trips when the pandemic is over to worrying too much about the return of the disease as no one can guarantee it won’t.
What is needed besides confidence
Life is a marathon and Audrey believes doing exercises is one of the ways to maintain a healthy body for this lifelong race. In fact, long-distance running helps her maintain a perfect physique and get back on track with her daily life. Once a long-haired beauty, she is now a short-haired athlete who looks cool and stylish without any trace of sickness. Besides, she pays more attention to choosing what to eat and avoids food that may induce lesions, such as chicken meat and pork with hormones, to minimise the risk of cancer relapse.
Lessons learned from Audrey’s story - we should plan ahead for the uncertainties in life as we do for our health. Audrey spent over HKD$1 million on 6 rounds of chemotherapy and targeted therapy and various check-ups. Targeted therapy, the most effective treatment for now, cost her over HKD$70,000 each. She was able to pay all the expenses with the money she put aside for overseas study. But to many, it is a huge financial burden and mental stress. Therefore, it is important to always plan ahead, alongside being self-confident, so as to lighten the impacts any unexpected rough times may bring to our life.
The above content is reviewed by Ms. Andrea Wong, Chief Marketing & Customer Officer of AXA Hong Kong and Macau
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