"Come on friends, don't be sad. Face cancer with courage. Crying is useless, we'd better have fun."
This cheerful song filled the hall at the Dharmais Cancer Hospital in West Jakarta. "Don't worry, be happy" was the theme of the cancer survivors gathering organized by the Cancer Information and Support Club (CISC), celebrating its sixth anniversary that day.
Many may frown in disbelief, and question how people can be happy if they have cancer. On hearing the word "cancer", often people shy away, with images of skinny, pale and depressed patients living in agony.
"I heard you have cancer," a new friend said to me after morning exercise the other day.
As I nodded, she said, "But you have red cheeks. You look healthy."
Like this woman, a lot of people do not know that many cancer survivors can be happy and productive as they are. They can lead quality lives for years and even decades after their diagnosis.
High spirits make you live longer. This is true not only for cancer survivors, but for everyone. On the other hand, anxiety and stress will bring you closer to your deathbed.
Unfortunately, it is easy for cancer survivors to be distressed, financially and emotionally. The drugs are quite expensive and there is no guarantee patients will be cured. Billions of dollars have been spent on cancer research, and much more is still needed. Many factors that trigger the spread of cancer cells are known, but what really causes the disease remains a mystery.
If you have a history of cancer in the family - as in my case - you are more likely to get it. An unhealthy lifestyle, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not doing enough exercise, and stress are all aggravating factors.
After surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, patients are sometimes declared cancer free, because no cancer cells can be detected in their bodies. This is called NED (no existing disease). However, cancer cells may remain in the body and spread if the immune system is in a weak state.
There are many factors that can adversely affect cancer survivors. The higher one's stress levels, the bigger the possibility for cancer to recur because stress may impair the immune system.
Stress reduction is believed to play an important role in preventing cancer metastases or the condition in which cancer takes root.
One of the best medicines to cope with stress is support from family and friends. They need someone to talk to, someone who understands their condition and someone that they can trust.
Instead of locking themselves in a room, denying their disease, crying and feeling sorry about their condition, blaming God, themselves or others, cancer survivors should explore as many avenues as they can to help themselves improve their quality of life.
Cancer survivors should have fun.
"Let's cheer up. We should live our life in high spirits. This is really important for us," says Yuniko Deviana, a cancer survivor and one of CISC's founders.
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, Yuniko had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Now the author of the book I Have Cancer, It Doesn't Have Me lives happily with cancer.
According to WHO figures, cancer kills more than 20,000 people around the globe every day, and is expected to become the world's top killer in 2010, overtaking heart disease.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Every year, more than 1 million cases are diagnosed around the world.
The sooner cancer is detected, the better, because it is easier to fight in its early stages. Breast cancer can be detected early through regular self-examinations or mammography.
If it is detected at a late stage, treatment is more difficult and costly. In some cases, doctors will say patients will survive for only a few months - although in many cases these few months will become a few years.
This must be shocking, saddening news. But sooner or later, all of us will die, no matter how young or how old we are, and no matter what the cause is, be it dengue fever, heart attack or H1N1 flu.
It is important for us to be realistic and maintain a positive attitude. Find what brings joy to your life and bring joy to others, like the cancer survivors group at CISC do.
During the recent CISC gathering, about 300 participants, including the survivors' friends and families, were invited to stand up, sing and dance together. And they were showered with many gifts and door prizes.
CISC also inaugurated Rumah Singgah, a shelter opposite the Dharmais hospital. The shelter, which has room for eight patients, is a low-cost facility for people who need a place to stay during their treatments at the hospital. It is not free, but patients are only required to pay Rp 10,000 (less than US$1) per day.
These cancer survivors empower themselves by sharing information and their feelings - tears and laughter - and support each other. Their positive attitude and strong commitment to helping others has apparently worked well, not only for the people they help, but also for themselves.
No wonder they look healthy and happy.