Cancer is deadly but a young doctor who underwent five operations on different parts of her body, six rounds of chemotherapy and 70 rounds of radiotheraphy, has proved through the journey of her life that the disease can be beaten.
Meet Alvita Dewi Siswoyo, also known as Vita, who will turn 27 next month. She defeated cancer when she got the disease not only once, but twice – as a baby and a teenager.
It all began when her parents were celebrating her first birthday in the family house in Semarang, Central Java. When an electricity black out occurred, prompting her family to use the light from a Petromax pressurized kerosene lamp, one of her eyes glittered, just like a cat’s eye. Her father, a general practitioner, sensed something was wrong. He took her to an eye doctor and found out his daughter suffered from retinoblastoma.
She underwent surgery in Jakarta in due time, allowing her to escape death despite losing her left eye.
Vita grew up just like any other child. She never felt inferior, thanks to her parents, who always encouraged her to keep her chin up.
“There were times, however, when I broke into tears as my friends mocked me,” said Vita, a member of the Cancer Buster Community, a support group for children who survived cancer.
Having only one eye motivated Vita to study harder. She wanted to show the others that she could do things as well as they did, and even better – she became an outstanding student.
“Mama once told me, ‘If people are successful because they are rich, physically perfect and intelligent, that is common. But if one who is modest, has a physical handicap, and is born with average intelligence can be successful, that is what you call extraordinary. Make your limitation a challenge, not an obstacle’,” Vita said.
Vita, however, faced another blow. When she was 16, her legs caused her so much pain she could not walk. Her condition worsened after a month. As local doctors gave up, her parents took her to Singapore to seek advice from other doctors, who told her she was in stage-3B of a rare bone soft tissue cancer.
As well as undergoing several operations, she was subject to six rounds of chemotherapy in Singapore, a horrible experience she would never forget throughout her life. Not only did it make her hair fall out, the drugs “burnt” her whole body, causing her to cry and scream, rolling back and forth on the floor with pain.
Following the treatment, she did radio therapy – 30 sessions in Jakarta and 40 others in her hometown of Semarang, Central Java.
Her ordeal inspired her to dedicate her life to helping cancer patients, so she went to the medical school of Tarumanegara University in Jakarta and graduated at the age of 25. Vita is also specializing in nuclear medicine at the School of Medicine in Padjajaran University – Dr. Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung, West Java, the only hospital in Indonesia with a Department of Nuclear Medicine.
“When people hear the word ‘nuclear’, they tend to think about bombs. But nuclear does not necessarily entail something bad,” Vita said, smiling.
Nuclear medicine can be used to treat cancer and heart disease patients. Vita said that once she finished her specialist study, she wanted to learn about Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan technology. Unfortunately, it is not possible to study this kind of technology in Indonesia.
“Maybe I should go to the Philippines or Germany,” said the slender, bespectacled young woman.
PET scanning, the most advanced medical diagnostic imaging technology available today for the early detection of cancer and its recurrence, is more sensitive that the widely known Computerized Tomography (CT) scan.
Cancer, once it has been detected, is still hard to fight off. Unhealthy lifestyle and a family history of the disease are believed to be trigger factors, but the real cause of cancer remains a mystery.
“Anyone can get cancer,” she said.
“My father is one of 10 children and my mother one of 13. None of them or their children has cancer, except me. How can you explain this?” said Vita.
While cancer is said to be incurable, patients can live with it and lead a productive life for many years. Some even live longer than others who do not have cancer.
“I have been free from cancer for more than 10 years. Even though I had to go through various painful experiences, I don’t want to be a cancer victim. I am a cancer warrior,” Vita said.
In addition to medical treatment, she ate many fruits and vegetables to fight the disease.
“I made juice each day using one kilogram of apples, one kilogram of carrots and one kilogram of tomatoes,” she said.
“God has provided us with natural medicines available in the nature in the form of plants, including fruits and vegetables,” she added.
Vita actively supported the Indonesian Cancer Foundation (YKI) in Jakarta from when she was an undergraduate student, and worked there soon after she finished her study. But her parents, who missed her dearly, asked her to return to Semarang, so she resigned and made her way home.
“It must be God’s will because upon my return, I met my future husband,” she said.
One day, Vita’s empathy towards cancer patients somehow gave a woman the idea to cheat her. The woman pretended to be a poor cancer patient who lived out of town and had to undergo chemotherapy in Bandung.
Vita allowed her to stay in her room at the boarding house and gave her some money. The woman took off with Vita’s valuables and jewelries. But Vita didn’t flinch.