‘Cancer helped me discover myself’

Zuraida Atan, chairman of Relay for Life (in blue) with cancer survivors and sponsors.

KUALA LUMPUR: Singing to the melodious strums of her guitar, 23-year old Aaleyxia Intan Ahmad Termizi woos the crowd with her rendition of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 hit “Isn’t She Lovely”.

But her angelic voice and the smile the perky lass wears, masks the pain she endures from her battle with stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer which affects the lymph nodes.

Diagnosed with the disease at the tender age of 15, she was also robbed of the experience of living a normal life as girls her age were.

“I couldn’t stay in school. I only attended classes once a week and even then only for a couple of hours, just so I could meet my friends and hang out for a while.

Student Aaleyxia Intan Ahmad Termizi, 23, is a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer survivor.

Despite the blow, Alex, as she better known as, has made peace with her cancer, even going so far as to say it helped her discover who she really was as a person.

“In some way, cancer helped me discover myself. It really pushed me to open up and get out of my shell,” Alex said, referring to her decision to become a performer after her diagnosis in 2009.

Alex said she was shy “back then”.

“But I thought since I am dying, why not just do it,” she said, adding that her friends and family motivated her to move forward in life.

She was speaking to FMT at the launch of the Relay for Life fundraiser here on Wednesday, in which proceeds will be used to help young cancer patients cope financially and emotionally with their disease.

The fundraiser – to be held on September 9 and 10 – is organised by the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM).

But Alex is not alone. She is among 5,000 other Malaysians below the age of 39 diagnosed with cancer, according to a report by Globocan, an international cancer research organisation.

The 2012 report sates that 398 children below 14 years were diagnosed with leukaemia, 109 are battling brain and nervous system cancer, 67 are diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and 18 are infected with liver cancer.

Student Julia Benedict, 20, is a Lymphona cancer survivor.

For 20-year old Julia Benedict, a cancer survivor, the disease was tough to deal with when she was younger. She didn’t know how to bring the topic up and even felt embarrassed at first to tell people she had cancer because of the stigma attached to the disease.

Benedict also recalled how her outings with friends would turn awkward when she talked about her cancer as they didn’t know how to react.

“So I thought to myself, might as well not say anything,” said Benedict, who was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer two years ago, right before she was supposed to be admitted into one of the more prestigious universities in the UK.

But now, she is urging people to brush the stigma aside, dump any feelings of embarrassment and just speak up.

“You have to talk about it, not all the time but it is an important topic,” she said while adding that sharing experiences can help cure the solitude some cancer patients struggle with.

Meanwhile, breast cancer survivor Wan Musfirah Aimi Wan Supian or Aimi, said the words “depression” and “self-pity” were not part of her vocabulary, mainly because she did not have the time to dwell on either emotion.

Bank executive, Wan Musfirah Aimi Wan Supian, 33 is a breast cancer survivor.

As a mother, wife and working woman, Aimi says she has a hands full.

“Of course I was shocked and not ready to hear the news. But I have three kids that I have to look after. I just need to move forward,” she said, adding that being depressed did nothing for her in trying to beat the disease.

She however said she was blessed to have a supportive husband to help her get through surgery and chemotherapy.

“When I went bald due to chemotherapy treatments, my husband also shaved his head bald as a show of support.”