Sunday, April 30, 2017

CANCER ETIQUETTE: What NOT to say to a Cancer Patient!

Today, I wanna talk about Emotional Awkwardness, an important topic that has affected my life in the past months given my current personal situation, which I will now explain briefly.

I have Cancer, was diagnosed almost 2 years ago and a couple of months ago was told I was(am) terminally ill. Given this situation, I came to realize many of my friends, family and people around are Emotionally Awkward. Now, I know at the beginning it is normal for people to be shocked or say something "not appropriate", yes, but this is when they first find out about a situation like this; then they have time to process things and react accordingly...or so you would think. But no, at least not in my case. Many people around me, STILL don't know how to act or what to say, or how to behave with me, which bothers me a lot!

Now, to help you a little bit, I will explain what being Emotionally Awkward is. It is the inability to react emotionally in accordance with one's goals and the rules of the environment in different everyday situations, exhibiting deficient, exaggerated or inadequate emotional responses.

AKA, Emotional clumsiness, prevents us from properly recognizing, understanding and managing our emotions and those of others, as we misinterpret their communicative signals and react improperly. This, when it becomes a trend, affects health, relationships and productivity.

In my case, it has affected relationships because people has gone "missing" from my life, they prefer to "disappear" and pretend things are not happening (the cancer in this case) so that they don't have to deal with them...or with me. Which only affects our relationship, many times, up to a level where there's no going back, there's no "fixing" of said relationship; therefore, due to their emotional awkwardness, those long-life friendships/relationships are forever lost. 

Now, in an effort to help my friends and people around me deal (a bit) better with this situation, I made a video with some "tips" and advice regarding the "Cancer Etiquette" you can abide by; however, it didn't seem to work very well since most of my friends continued to be Emotionally Awkward and then I decided to end up those relationships. I am not happy about it, but at the end of the day, it is the best you can do when you're in a situation like mine. I mean, I already have enough dealing with Cancer to, on top of that, deal with people who only makes me feel bad or frustrated.
This post is kind of a "last chance" to help some of those lingering relationships if they want advice from the source on how to behave before this situation and also -hopefully- a brand new opportunity for people who have friends in a similar situation (not necessarily Cancer) and want to do better at communicating with them and expressing themselves better when around them.

Remember this advice comes from someone who knows what they're talking about as they're living the actual situation, so listen carefully and don't be afraid to apply them into your life. Please, feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or anything you wanna share. Also, feel free to share with anyone you think could use the advice.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Life is Now! A Project about life, art & inspiration


"Life is Now!" is a phrase collection from my most recent art project, created with the hope that it will somehow help you and/or inspire you live your life better and more happily. Please, share this with as many people as you can and help spread the word about how important it is to make the most out of life!

These 17 phrases are intended to make you not only reflect a bit about your own life and how you're living it, but also about making you inspired to go out there and try new things, to dare, to work harder, to be happier, bolder and, above all, to live life the way you want to.

Please, feel free to share as much as you can with as many people as you can!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Life is Now!"

"Life is Now!" is an Art Project inspired by the passion to live and enjoy life to the fullest and it's, at the same time, intended to inspire others to find whatever it is they need to spark their lives and start living them to the fullest.

I am a 34-year-old Mexican Photographer who's always had a passion for all things art and visual; I've always had an urge to be able to express myself beyond words as I believe visuals have an even bigger reach, no language needed, no knowledge necessary, no thing, just an image, something that you can simply look at and, perhaps not quite understand, but that makes you feel something. I've always believed that as long as an image is able to evoke a sentiment within you, it's done it's job, regardless of what that sentiment is. Moving you somehow and touching sensitive vibes is the ultimate goal of an image.

In this particular case, I am focusing on "written art" as it is a crucial time for me to make people aware of the message that I want to convey. Long story short, I am living with brain tumors and have been given only a few months left to live; which far from making me sad, makes me wanna be stronger, go out there and live life to the fullest possible. Not that I wasn't living like that before, I've always been the kinda person that does whatever it takes to be comfortable in life, whether that entails making some sacrifices sometimes, working as hard as you can or things like that; but well, now, with an "expiration date" in my life, things do change a little as time becomes less and less and I don't know when I will stop being a normal-functioning human being.

That said, not only do I feel the HUGE need to make the most out of life as possible and try to get done as much as I've always wanted to but to, while at it, spread the word to as many people as I can so that they can do the same with their own (lives).

Now, "but...isn't that obvious?" you may think? That there's only one life, that you should enjoy life, that you should seize every opportunity and all those things; you would think so, yet, the human being insists on obsessing with the least worth it things in life and overlooking the real meaning of life, which, as lame as it may sound, is HAPPINESS.

So, in 17 phrases, I decided to try to encourage people to get out there, to take chances, to be bold, to dare to be happy in spite of what others think, to get out of their comfort zone in order to achieve what they dream of, to be free, to be authentic, to provoke them to actually live!

Due to the limited resources, this is (for now) only an ONLINE project as that's all I can do by myself right now; however, I would like to make a call out to all artists out there to help me turn this project into actual Neon Art that can be exhibited in an actual place, where many people can see it and, perhaps, feel enticed and inspired by it. 

If you're an artist and would like to collaborate with me on this project, please feel free to contact me (there is a link to my email on my profile at the bottom of this page).

For the time being, the Project will be shown online daily on my Instagram Page, where I will be releasing an Image per day starting on January 31st (KST). On the same day, the ENTIRE project will be published on this blog; so please, feel free to share it as much as you can to help spread the word, it will be much, much appreciated.

Please, look forward to the project and support it to help others live life fully.

-  Diana Verdín

Friday, December 16, 2016

Surviving Terminal Cancer

Today, I sit by my desk 17 months after I was not only diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer Stage III aka Terminal Cancer. That's right, last year was told that I had Esophageal Cancer Stage III and that I wasn't even a candidate for surgery anymore, doctor said they could do some Chemotherapy but only to improve my quality of life and that I only had about a year left to live.

I then changed doctors and the new one said it was actually stage II and that surgery was now a possibility; however, when I went in for some pre-surgery tests, it turned out it was really stage III and surgery was a no go. It was then when they gave me a new dr., a woman, and she told me it was indeed stage III and they couldn't do surgery anymore but they could so chemotherapy and perhaps radiation afterwards, the point being, the same as before: to give me a good quality of life. I agreed to it because the least I wanted was to live the rest of my life (however long it was) being fed through a tube, so I did the treatment. Chemo for 5 months, then cancer did improve to the point I was then eligible for surgery, so they did it and it got even better; then, they gave me radiation everyday for about 2 months. When I was done, I was told I was "pretty much" clear, I am quoting because "pretty much" here means "almost" and that is due to the fact that I was doing much better than when the whole treatment began, however, not perfectly fine as there's still one tiny little lymph node (about 180mm) that they -for some odd reason- could not get rid off neither with surgery nor with the radiation, so that little sucker is still there, reminding me everyday that I am not quite off the hook...just yet.

However, this does feel like a big win, you know? When they tell you you have one year left to live and then you're still there a year and a half after that and doing better than you thought and almost living a "normal" life...well, it sure feels like you're winning at life!

I think I am very lucky, to be honest, I know so many people don't even get this chance and I believe that I got it for a reason; because I still have things to do, people to meet, goals to achieve, things to learn and, above all, people to love, and maybe even lessons to teach, not with lectures but by setting an example with my life and how I live it.

So that's what I am doing now and what I wanna keep on doing, sharing my story with people because you never know, there might be someone who's going through the same and may need some courage and/or inspiration from listening to your story, from seeing how you fought and are still fighting to live and to have a life while you're at it, to enjoy more, to love more. I don't necessarily talk about my cancer all the time nor to all the people I meet, but I do do it when I consider it will be helpful to someone's life, when I feel like I will be able to contribute with a little something to someone's life or view of it.

I was definitely not expecting this to happen. My mom was diagnosed with Renal Cell Cancer one day and she passed away only 15 months later, so I most definitely was not expecting to surpass that. Though now even just passing that makes me feel like I'm already doing better, you know? It pains me to think how bad it all was for my Mom and how sad it was knowing how much she loved life, so I definitely think this happened for a reason and that I'm still here for a reason and I need to make that count.

I just had my second post-treatment checkup this week and everything is still the same, not a 100% clear as that little sucker (the lymph node) is still there, but at least it hasn't grown or spread anywhere else. So doctor said all we can continue to do for now is continue to observe carefully and watch out for the symptoms, which -needless to say- are a complete pain in the a*s.

Sometimes, I hate the side effects so much so that I feel like everything I wen through was not worth it and that I shouldn't have done it...but then I think about it again and snap out of my stupidity and realize how actually worth it was regardless the pain and discomfort I go through every single day. And I now feel extremely GRATEFUL and incredibly BLESSED every day that I get to still be here, to share life with my sister whom I love so much and whose help and support I'm here for. I am happy to be here and I am, again, excited about life and what's to come, for as long as that might be, it doesn't matter, I am planning on making count, for me, for my sister and for the people who love me and support me and who have been there for me throughout all of this.

So, even if I am not completely in remission now, I think I can say I have survived cancer and glad to have done it, I will continue to do so for as long as I have courage in my soul, energy in my body, sharpness in my mind, love in my heart and, of course, air in my lungs.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Chemotherapy: A Blessing in Disguise

Chemotherapy refers to -as a quick Google search indicates- the use of medicines or drugs to treat cancer; yes, as plain and simple as that. However, regardless its simplistic definition, Chemotherapy actually means so much more and/or so many other things for many people.

I would say about 99% of the people hate it, and not only people who have actually undergone a chemotherapy treatment, but also people who have just heard or read about it, that much of an importance it has in modern medicine, I guess, that even non-patients seem to have a strong opinion about it.

Today, however, I am here to talk about my own personal experience with chemotherapy. And, just so you know, I am not writing this to try to change your mind, regardless what this one is, I am here simply to tell you about what happened to me, what I think about it and that's it, facts, basically and my opinion based on those facts, of course.  

Even though I was already familiarized with Cancer since my mom passed away from RCC (Renal Cell Cancer) over 4 years ago, I wasn't familiarized with chemo because my mom's cancer was much too advance to even be able to receive it -they skipped straight to an emergency surgery and then radiotherapy, but that was it. After I was diagnosed, my doctor explained the course of treatment to me with an odd tone in her voice, still not sure if it was produced by fear, nervousness or pity for having to say all those terrible things to someone "as young" as me. (I was 32yo at the time and my cancer -Esophagus- isn't a very common one for someone my age, or gender for that matter). After she explained that I would need to get 6 chemo sessions and then probably a few rounds of either radiotherapy or chemo-radiotherapy, I promptly -and in a very calmed way, I must say- asked what was the purpose of the treatment since my cancer was already Stage IIIB and I had already been told surgery was no longer an option for me. "To give you a better quality of life", she said. I had been given 1 to 5 years to live after my prognosis. 

At the very beginning of all this, when I was recently diagnosed, I was installed in the mindset that I would not be taking any treatment; first of all because my sister and I had agreed on that (after what we went though with my mom, neither of us felt like going through something similar ever again) and then, because if I had so little time left to live, I wanted to take advantage of it and do things, you know, live life like a normal person, instead of spending that time in a hospital bed, looking and feeling like crap only to end up in the place: dead. However, I'm not even sure how or when, but things changed and both (my sister's and mine) our minds changed and we decided I should give it a shot and do the treatment. First of all -I guess- because my biggest fear (or one of them, anyway) was to end up connected to tubes and having to eat drink, breathe and basically live out of them; I simply couldn't bare the idea of going though that so, if only to avoid that or put it off for as long as I could, I decided I'd do it and my sister also said that if I had been given the option, then I should do it, so I did.

To be quite honest, that day after talking to Dr. Lee was one of the very few times I cried. I cried because I had just been officially been declared terminally ill and I wasn't ready to die just yet. I was afraid for my sister, for myself and for what was about to come for both of us, given that we live in a foreign country and we're each other's only family.

The very next day they started prepping me for chemo, I would need to take it for 5 days a month, then rest 3 weeks and then back again, like that for 6 months. They gave me 5FU (Fluorouracil) and Cisplatin. They started doing it 24x24, which is when they infuse the medicine for 24 straight hours and then stop for 12hrs and then again another 24hrs of medicine, though you are connected to the IV the whole time and those 12hrs you just get a saline solution, but you are basically "plugged" the whole time. Before connecting you to the IV, they give you a shot that I'm not sure what it was but it has a really particular smell and it was HORRIBLE, I still get a bad sensation even just thinking about it, I felt tiny little electroshocks all over my body and felt like I wanted to escape my own body, so I would just go into fetal position and try to sleep it off asap. Then, I'd be connected for 4-5 days straight. What happened to me during those days wasn't so bad really, especially compared to what happened to me after those days. Usually I'd just get really exhausted, nauseous, appetite loss, a metallic taste in my mouth and constipation. Still, not fun at all but, again, nothing compared to what was in store for afterwards. Most of the time I was at the hospital, I'd try to sleep as much as I could, you know, so that time would go by "fast" so I could feel almost as if I was sleeping it off.

When I went home, I was happy because just being home and out of the hospital makes you feel better already, then, the real side effects would come. For the 1st round, it was not THAT bad, I lost my appetite, got really nauseous and disgusted by a lot of food, especially Korean food -and it's hard to be disgusted by it when you live in Korea and it smells like food everywhere at all times. After the 2nd round I got all swollen, not my feet nor hands like I'd read so much on the internet, but basically my face, one day it got so bad I went to the ER, but just wasted my time coz it was a "normal thing", part of the side effects, but nor the doctor nor anybody else had mentioned it'd happen so I had no idea what was going on. It's important to say side effects are accumulated, I mean, on top of the one I got at the hospital, I got these others ones, it's not like they switched, no, I had them all at the same time.

Dr. Lee said they'd be monitoring the chemo's results by making tests every 2 sessions and so, after the 2nd one and just before beginning the 3rd one, she told me the first 2 session had reduced the cancer 10%. I thought it was good news, I mean, it is a small percentage considering the stage I was in, but still, you have to be happy about winning little battles, you know?

For the 3rd round I got mouth sores, OH-MY-FRIGGING-GOD! Those things are horribly painful, that was another time I cried (only the 1st one after the terminal ill declaration cry). Pain was EXCRUCIATING. I couldn't even open my mouth because it'd hurt like hell to even try to open my jaw, let alone drink and much less eat ANYTHING. Pain was real, I don't think I had EVER felt that kinda pain in my life, I truly did suffer so much with these ones. For the 4th one, I got a lot of vomiting, A LOT! And also lots of headaches, plus the little ones (side effects). And just right after that 4th one -and almost overnight, I must say-, the 2nd worst one happened: the hair loss. For many people it's "just hair", I know, but you cannot say something like that until something like this happens to you, you know? I remember it hurt me a lot seeing my mom lose hers and she'd always had short hair so the difference wasn't THAT shocking, but it hurt and I felt bad for her but tried to comfort her and tell her that I rather having her bald but alive...then I came to find out that helps but not too much. 

Even though it may seem like something really shallow and vain, losing my hair was definitely one of the biggest hits I got from cancer, that is just something I am dealing with even to this day and pretty much everyday, and now I have hair again, short but brand new and healthy. Some days, I couldn't even bare looking at myself to the mirror because all I saw was a monster. I was all sick-looking, swollen and bold. I HATED looking at myself so I'd just avoid the mirror everytime I went to the bathroom. Needless to say I didn't want anyone else see me like that, I didn't even want my sister to see me like that but she had to be there to take care of me, so there wasn't much I could do there. She was very good and told me I didn't look like a monster, but I know very well I did.

When I came in for the 5th session was horrible, they did the tests they did every 2 sessions and they took too long, then there was a mistake with one of my blood tests, my red cells were too low they did a transfusion and even after it the readings were still low, but it turns out it was because they were reading the results from the tests done right before the transfusion, when they read the one from after they were okay; so the transfusion did work -obviously. Anyway, I was there about a week and after so many tests Dr. Lee told me she was being transferred to another department and I'd get another oncologist, Dr. Ro -a very old man, but a good doctor. After knowing the results from all the testing, Dr. Ro said I was now eligible for surgery (Ivor Lewis surgery, that is). I didn't wanna get surgery because the one surgeon that performed that particular surgery was one that had misdiagnosed me earlier so I didn't trust him, but Dr. Ro said he "strongly recommended" me to get the surgery and that that doctor (Dr. Park) was the best surgeon to perform that particular surgery. So we thought about it and agreed to it. 

To make a long story short -since this post is mainly about chemo, not my whole cancer history-; I got the surgery a few days later, then I got 28 sessions of radiotherapy and the CT done during the very last one came out all clean. So, basically, it was all because of chemotherapy, o at least, that's what started getting rid of the cancer, in my case.

So yes, chemo does destroy you in so many ways, it makes you feel the most unhealthy you've ever felt, the ugliest you've ever been, it drops your self-esteem to the floor, it scares you because of the many things going on with your body that you don't know about and therefore are so scared of, it makes you sad, it makes you weak, it makes you feel powerless, useless and so many other things no human being wants to go though, yes, but at the end of the day, it is only because of all of that that you get to feel better, stronger, healthier, more confident and just good. So if you as me, I would say it is 100% worth it. You know when they say "no pain, no gain"? I think they're pretty much referring to chemo. And I know a lot of people are against it because it is bad and it kills a lot of your good cells and it makes you unwell (like, really unwell), yes, is also killing the bad cells (the cancerous ones) and, slowly, little by little the good cells can regenerate and your body can go back to normal and get rid of the bad ones. And like I said at the beginning of this post, this isn't something somebody told me, or I read somewhere or overheard it, no, I lived this experience, I went through all of this myself and I am now alive and way healthier than I was before chemo, thanks to it.

So, I would say, if you're in that position or time where you need to decide whether you do chemo or not because of its "history", I hope this helps you decide and gives you -at least- a little bit of hope and lets you know that, in order to become a stronger person, you first need to put on a fight, a really good one and show that you can go through it and survive it and end up kicking ass. Ultimately, it is that "small" sacrifice that will lead you to a better place.

Also, if you are in that situation, ask your doctor ALL the questions that come to your mind, no matter how stupid you may think they are, you need to get all the weapons that you can get and information is an important one; information is power and this case is no exception, the more you know, the better prepared you'll be for what's to come and the better you can fight it. If you already asked your doctor all the questions they could answer and still feel hesitant and want to know more information first hand, feel free to ask me, I'll be glad to help :)

In conclusion, yes, Chemotherapy is definitely a blessing in disguise.