"I heard that you are ill but you look so well," she said.
My old friend could not hide her surprise as she smiled and said how happy she was to see me in such good shape.
Her reaction did not surprise me at all. A cancer survivor, I am used to such comments.
For many people, cancer is a creepy word that can make their hair stand on end. They have the idea that cancer is incurable, and that those with cancer have one foot in the grave. Therefore, they are often astonished to find that survivors look as normal as other people.
"Do you still work?" another friend asked on the phone.
When I said yes, she continued: "How do you go to work?"
Come on. She must think that I can't drive anymore and have to take a taxi. Unfortunately, I cannot afford the expensive taxi fares, so I rely on my old but reliable car that has never given me any trouble, even though the AC is not perfect and the old shock breaker makes me nervous when negotiating the city's potholed roads.
In a way, cancer boosted my adrenaline. I recently gave in to a friend's persuasive requests and became a member of a fitness center.
I remembered what my doctor had told me: "Taking a brisk walk for 40 minutes, at least three times a week is good for you," she said.
To tell you the truth, I used to be very lazy when it came to sports and exercises. I still struggle to exercise regularly, but today I am certainly involved in more physical activities.
I also work harder at making more money. Not because I want to accumulate wealth so that I can be rich like tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, who is reportedly worth Rp 50 trillion (US$5.4 million).
I need money to buy a lot of carrots, apples, tomatoes, oranges and other fruits and vegetables that are good for all of us, especially cancer survivors. And of course, I need to work harder so I can cover my medical expenses.
Cancer has also inspired me -- not the most computer savy person, I have to admit -- to become a blogger. In fact, writing for my blog (http://ayomari.blogspot.com) has become part of my personal therapy.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer late in 2004. After having a mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy, no cancer cells were detected in my body.
Last year, however, it came back, attacking my bones. Initially, I only felt a bit pain, but it did not affect my daily activities at all. My doctor told me that I had an advanced stage of breast cancer, because it had spread to my bones.
Like my friends, who were surprised to know that I looked well, I was also quite surprised to hear what my doctor said. I have to admit that I also used to think that people with cancer in the advanced stages must be close to vegetables.
Cancer is indeed an unwanted disease that has a negative connotation, so much so that people use the word to describe horrible, disgusting or vicious things: When Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington DC last month, he met victims of sexual abuse and prayed for them. One victim compared the Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal with cancer.
"I told him that he has a cancer growing in his ministry and needs to do something about it," he told reporters.
I wonder how the Pope would react if a cancer survivor said: "Cancer needs serious attention like sexual abuse against children in the Church."
Some politicians and observers in the country compare corruption, which is in the blood of many, with the advanced stages of cancer. Well, you can say that corruption is like cancer in the sense that they can both make us broke!
Like corruption, the issue of cancer should also be addressed more seriously.
The government has established the Corruption Eradication Commission. It would be a good idea for the government to set up a national cancer commission, just like the National Commission on AIDS.
In my opinion, cancer is better than corruption. People who are infected by the corruption virus are evil and have no dignity. Cancer may steal your money, and at a certain point, your health, but not your dignity.
The Jakarta Post, Wed, 05/14/2008 By T. Sima Gunawan , Contributor , Jakarta