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[Breathe. Live.] “I just had to face it. I told myself I had to face it.”
09 March 2015

[Breathe. Live.] "I just had to face it. I told myself I had to face it."

Featuring the work of photographer Bob Lee, the four articles in Breathe. Live. showcase the strength and grace of our patients. They let us catch a glimpse of their everyday lives, and share what keeps them going.

Nurhidayah, or ‘Dayah’, began to realise something was wrong while she waited for her scan results in the hospital. Looking around the ward, it dawned upon her that all the other beds were occupied by cancer patients.

35-year-old Dayah had been plagued with crippling headaches for some time, but had always assumed it was in her genes – after all, many of her other family members often experienced frequent headaches.

But when she developed a fever in 2012, her mother grew worried. She sent Dayah to the doctor, who first told her nothing was wrong with her. She went home, but again, soon developed both a fever and headache. This time, the doctor sent her to the hospital, where she stayed for two weeks, going through scans and waiting for the results.

She was alone when the doctor broke the news to her.

“Actually, I should say sorry to everyone,” Dayah told us, laughing sheepishly. “Because I was so angry. When the doctor told me I had stage four cancer, I asked, ‘How do you consider it stage four? I have just been diagnosed! All the while I had been healthy!’

“He said the cancer cells had spread to my brain, and that I was going to die. I told him to shut up! I told him he wasn’t God and that he could not determine my life or death. I didn’t want to know how long I had to live. I told him, you just do your job!”

Overwhelmed by anger, Dayah couldn’t bring herself to talk to anyone about her diagnosis. She couldn’t even bear to think about her diagnosis. Instead, she closeted herself up in her room for half a year, watching comedies to keep herself from thinking about it. She thought she was going to die.

The turning point in Dayah’s story came when a friend introduced her to AIN Society, a voluntary welfare organisation that cares for cancer patients. The organisation provided her with support, and gave her the opportunity to speak with other cancer patients.

Finally, she had a crucial revelation.

“I thought, if they can fight, why couldn’t I fight? If they could make it, why couldn’t I do it too? It’s not like they are Superman. This is when I stepped out,” Dayah recalled. “I realised I had to face the fact. No matter how I try to avoid it, I can’t run away from it. It is already inside me. I just had to face it. I told myself I had to face it.”

Now, Dayah speaks to her cancer every night, telling it, “Stay where you are. Don’t move.”

One of the biggest challenges she faced as her cancer progressed was losing her mobility. “I can’t move about freely. At the start, I would just sit on the floor, crying because I couldn’t get up. I had to call my parents even though I knew they couldn’t manage. I kept thinking, why is life so difficult for me?”

However, as Dayah came to face her sickness, she grew to learn from the cancer. She soon believed that the cancer was trying to tell her to change her life.

“Before this, I was a bit naughty, and I didn’t listen to my parents,” she admitted. “My cancer made me realise how they felt, especially because of my son.’” The older of her two sons is currently struggling with disciplinary problems. Dayah, who is divorced, is bringing up her sons herself, with the help of her parents.

She constantly worries about her sons, wondering who will be able to take care of them. However, she also draws comfort from them. When we asked who she went to when she felt troubled, she surprised us by saying her youngest son’s name. He’s only nine years old.

Puzzled, we asked her what he does to comfort her. “He just sits beside me. And I just continue talking and talking. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t understand. I don’t even think he understands most of the time. But he’s a good listener.”

Dayah’s faith has also played a major part in keeping her going. “Muslims believe that if God gives us sickness, or even a single needle prick, He is trying to get us to think about our sin, because He knows we are good people. This cancer is God’s message, reminding me to change. Now, I pray every night the way I can – sitting down.”

“My mum always says that if you die early, you’re good,” Dayah shared with us, shyly adding, “So this means that I am a good girl la!”

“In AIN Society, I met someone who kept asking, ‘Why me?’

“I asked him, ‘Why not you?’ I am glad that God has chosen me.”

 Look out for more of our patients’ stories in the upcoming issues of HCA Connect! Read about Vivian and Uncle Latip in the same [Breathe. Live.] series, from previous issues of HCA Connect. If you’d like to send in words of encouragement to Dayah, drop us an email at communications@hcahospicecare.org.sg .