By Suzanne Asselin

I am a cancer survivor! Merely a few decades ago, the word “cancer”, barely whispered, was considered a death sentence. Surviving cancer was like winning the lottery.

Over the years, thanks to huge strides made in science and medicine, more people survive cancer than ever before.   But cancer brings with it many struggles not just physically, but also mentally and spiritually.  Here is my story.

In 1993, I learned that I had advanced colon cancer. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. Why me? There was no answer to that question. I underwent surgery followed by 42 sessions of chemotherapy accompanied by a parallel treatment called 714-X, which no one speaks about anymore.    I did everything in my power to destroy this parasite.

At the hospital, I discovered Hope & Cope, a support centre right next to the room where I was receiving my treatments. Volunteers helped me choose a wig, which made me smile. I attended a Look Good, Feel Better workshop where I learned about skin care and makeup application during cancer treatment. I borrowed books and CDs, took pamphlets and other pertinent information, and discovered a warm welcoming environment.  What a find!

Looking for answers, I consulted a psychologist specializing in oncology, attended conferences and embraced meditation. I survived thanks to my surgeon, the treatments, the unwavering support of my husband, my family and friends, and my own actions (although, at the time, I did not know that exercise would be so beneficial). I also owe a debt of gratitude to the many friendly Hope & Cope volunteers who welcomed me, nourished me with sandwiches at lunchtime and provided a listening ear in person and over the phone. All this support contributed to my survival and gave my life new meaning.

Gradually, life took on a new normal. Three years later, I had the sense that something was not right in my belly. Anxiety and fear gnawed at me. My surgeon took me seriously. The tests revealed secondary liver cancer. This time, my fist repeatedly struck the table – who, where, when, how? According to what I read on line, I didn’t have much of a chance of survival.

Several weeks before the operation in a specialized cancer centre, I discovered Qi Gong in Chinatown. I started to feel as if I was taking matters into my own hands. In the meantime, a friend gave me a talisman from the natives in Arizona, consisting of a small pouch (its contents remained a mystery to me) that would rest on my shoulder during the operation.   I had confidence in both my surgeons, who removed two-thirds of my liver. Knowing that the liver regenerates itself, I told myself that everything would go back to normal.

Five years later, I found out that they had given me barely a year to survive.  I defied the statistics! Was it a miracle? I will never know. I try to live as healthy a life as possible by engaging in regular exercise, good nutrition, stress management and a positive attitude. It is more than 25 years since I decided to give back by becoming a volunteer.