The C in Caterpillar : the call that changed my life

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

As I walked out of the library, phone in my hand, I felt my heart pounding and I got a cold sick feeling inside. Thoughts started rushing into my mind during those few seconds separating me from answering that call. “ No Caller ID “ that’s it, the call I was dreading, the doctor about to announce the results. December 10th 2014, a date I will never forget.


The Background


I was a 23 year old student living alone in Quebec city, Canada, completing my degree in pharmacy. After spending an amazing summer in Lebanon, I said goodbye to my parents in Montreal, 3 hours away and left to continue my degree. As I was sitting in class, it was hard for me to focus: strong abdominal cramps hitting me hard and at random times, so painful, like when you get bloated and can’t pass gas. I ignored it at first until I started seeing a pattern. Days went by and I went from sitting in class to attending via skype because the pain was unbearable: I used to find myself bent on the floor crying till it passed. Something just didn’t feel right deep inside. I went to church (which I don’t always do to be honest) and asked God to give me a sign, something to help me understand what was happening and a chance to make it right. 3 months passed, 3 doctor appointments, 2 missed diagnosis and then, blood. “It’s cancer I am sure! That’s how it started with grampa!” I told my parents crying my heart out and went to the emergency. “Why do you always think of the worst? You’re too young for cancer!” were the words I kept hearing from everyone around me, including the doctor.


The Diagnosis


The medical system in Quebec forces doctors in a way to take their time before using all tools available to be able to make a diagnosis, so invasive procedures like colonoscopy do not get done at the slightest suspicion. Even though, I was bleeding lightly, the doctor was convinced it was internal hemorrhoids and nothing serious and was about to discharge me for a follow up later on at an external clinic.

“Please, I have a feeling it’s cancer even though I am young. I am begging you not to let me go before having a colonoscopy” and God did I love being stubborn that day ! “Fine, just to prove you wrong but you’re 23, it’s almost impossible at your age”. And you guessed right, there it was, the tumor. “It’s 99% benign you’ll see” he told my mother on our way out while I nodded: no.

12 endless days separated me from the results. Meanwhile, we all tried to go on with our lives, hoping I am wrong. Ironically, I was studying for my oncology exam when I received the call. “It’s an adenocarcinoma” he said bluntly. “So it’s colon cancer right?” I said, standing alone in the halls of the university, with nothing but the walls to hold me. The moment I was fearing is happening and there’s no running away. Just like that, with one word, time froze. Why me? Why now? Oh my poor parents, I cannot imagine what will they go through. As if the news wasn’t painful enough, I had to call my parents myself and share with them what parents fear the most: their daughter is sick.



 

“Right now I want a word that describes the feeling that you get--a cold sick feeling, deep down inside--when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were.” ― Jennifer Donnelly, A Northern Light


 

The F’s of cancer: Fear, Frustration, Faith, Fight, Family and Friends

It is true, one can never be again the same person. First comes all the negativity, with the fears, the tears, the uncertainty, the denial, the surrender. You take a look at your life, remember all the small things you wasted your time on and that made you anxious. You think about the future but you see emptiness. Will you still be there to accomplish everything you postponed? Will you have the chance to work on your dreams? Everything seems dark and unfair in that moment.


You’re surrounded by people you love, who put their capes on ready to be your personal super heroes and save you but you feel the pain in their eyes and the weight on their shoulders and their heart pinching whenever they look at you. They hold you strong because you need it. They hold you strong because they’re as scared as you no matter how much they deny it.


They will hold your hand and pray with you. When you’re angry at God for going through this huge amount of pain, they will remind you to be faithful and to rely on him to save you. They will tell you how strong and special you are and talk about the beautiful future that awaits you. They will smile and make you laugh. The days will seem pleasant and short before the nights come and the silence awakens all those demons again.


However, it helped me learn that a diagnosis is NOT the end!

 

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”

 

The diagnosis was only the beginning of a long fight both physically and emotionally. I had now a new label “colon cancer patient” but I was determined not to let it define me. I wanted to be ready for that fight and here came the 3 Fs in fight: Faith, Family and Friends. I wouldn’t have been able to fight this stranger without them. I decided that I am not going to let anything stop me from dreaming and I realized that I was killing myself way before cancer ever tried to. It was a wake up call to get another chance of life: focus on what’s essential, do not postpone little pleasures, don’t let anyone or anything take control of your hopes and dreams.

Not only was my life saved on January 16th 2015, the day of my surgery, but exactly a year later, a guardian angel came into my life to fill it with endless love and happiness, and remind me that a beautiful future awaits me with him by my side.


Today, I can gladly say that I am writing this 6 years later, as a recovered patient, happy wife to that amazing man and a proud mother of a pecious boy and another due anytime now.


The caterpillar goes through a lot of darkness, yet turns into something so beautiful. And this is each and everyone of us, turning into who we are today no matter life’s hardships. I cannot lie and say there aren’t days where it doesn’t hit me again. Every follow up, there’s a small fear the nightmare might start again, but no matter what, I know I’ll be there standing strong with my army ready to fight again.


A thought goes to every cancer patient fighting for his life, every survivor living in fear of relapse, every loved one giving his all to make things better. Every family knows this pain one way or another. Cancer does not discriminate. Unfortunately, it doesn't respect age, gender, race, ethnicity nor socio-economic status. However, no matter the differences, we can all be willing to be mentally prepared equally.


- The Caterpillar Mom







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