Cross-cultural challenges of metastatic cancer | PERSONAL STORY

I nearly made it to being five years cancer free – until December 2016. After having an accidental fall in the bathroom, followed by a trip to the local emergency department, some suspicious lesions on my spine were found.

Two days later it was confirmed by my oncologist that my cancer had returned and this time it had found a new home – in my bones. In an instant I was transported from the early breast cancer to the metastatic cancer world.

I was overwhelmed, with mixed feelings of shock, but also of calm and acceptance, as in 2012 I was told I had about 20 per cent chance of survival over five years due to my aggressive triple positive cancer.

I am now nine months into my treatment. My everyday has been made easier with the support of my very caring husband and my wonderful family and close friends.

Not to be underestimated, unexpected kindnesses from new friends made along the way, health care professionals, my GP and my local community have also helped me immensely.

Other things that have helped me are going for regular walks, eating well, gardening, spending time with positive people, connecting with those who are in similar situations, BCNA’s Hope & Hurdles kit and the newly developed resources for Chinese people.

Holidays are great too – our favourite getaway destination is Lord Howe Island!

Breast cancer has its own challenges, but being an Australian-born Chinese, I also have to deal with cross-cultural differences between my Chinese friends, community, family and friends of a non-Chinese background.

Food is medicine in Chinese culture so my vegan diet is not recommended or supported. Mum is still trying to sneak meat products into my meals to help increase my energy and vitality! On the contrary, many new Western culture studies and texts suggest a diet that is low in animal products and more plant-based increases health and reduces cancer risk.

Rest and exercise is another area of difference I have experienced. On one end of the scale, I am admired by my non-Chinese friends with my regular exercise, joy of running and active lifestyle. However, traditional Chinese family and friends tell me to slow down and rest more to save energy so my body can recuperate (mostly the older Chinese community). They believe running causes damage to my body. This occasionally leads me to have decreased confidence and increased dilemmas with my decisions on my day-to-day activities.

There is also shame attached to illness from the perspective of Chinese people, especially from the older generation. They tend to deal with disease and illness privately. They don’t want to air their ‘sick’ dirty laundry.

Revealing illness is seen to make one weak and vulnerable and to be avoided at all costs. This belief prevents open discussions about cancer. This also makes me more hesitant to share information with them.

In general, Chinese people show support practically like cooking and doing tasks, rather than emotionally – it’s a cultural thing. Due to this, I usually turn to my non-Chinese friends for emotional support.

Personally, I want to say there is nothing shameful about cancer. I do wish that I didn’t have it, but now that I do, I want to be honest and share my experience to help others. I feel this destigmatises the shame and can be empowering for many others in the same ‘cancer boat’. I also believe that being open creates reassurance, comfort, support and, ultimately, hope.

At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone, so I follow my heart and work collaboratively with my health care team, while trying to steer my way through treatments. Right now, I am focused on living a meaningful life filled with quality time with my close ones.

Having a cancer diagnosis should not stop one from living fully, purposefully or passionately. I am thankful for every day that I wake up to. I choose to embrace life and make the most out of it, as every single moment is precious.

Cat, NSW

See caption for details

Cat on Lord Howe Island

 

Issue 81
Summer 2017