Sandee Sez: Enjoy the gift of life, don't live in fear
- Sandi Ahenakew | April 25, 2016
April is cancer month. Do you know someone who has cancer? Sad to say but I know many. Cancer has been in my family so long. I faced my own battle with cancer 15 years ago and happy to say that I am in cancer free. My biggest fear is that the cancer will come back, for that reason; I call myself a breast cancer warrior because I know that cancer is not finished with me or my family. Throughout the years I have tried to make sense of this disease. Cancer has taken so many in my family members including children. It’s so frustrating - I am not a doctor or scientist that can find a cure for cancer, but I am a fighter and I felt the need to do whatever I could to fight this disease, so I began educating myself. The more I learned about cancer the less I feared it. I learned to enjoy my time here and work hard at sharing my love of life with everyone I meet. I learned to treat others with kindness because it feels good and I like feeling good.
I will never know why cancer has touched our family to the extent that it has, and that’s okay. I will not live my life waiting for cancer to knock on my door again. Instead I take every opportunity to talk with Aboriginal people about my battle with cancer and hopefully ease some of their concerns with regards to this disease. People are funny creatures; we often focus on negative things and spend little or no time enjoying life and all the gifts we receive in a day. The best advice I received was from a family member who told me, “You don’t just lie down and die! You get up and fight!”
Cancer is becoming so common in our communities that we aren’t even surprised when we hear that someone we know has cancer. Keep in mind that when you’re the person with cancer it is a devastating diagnosis and that person can feel so alone. What can we do or say to our friends or family members dealing with cancer? To start with just be yourself. I found that when I was diagnosed some of my family and friends were too scared to come and see me; I guess they thought I was going to die right away and didn’t want to watch me suffer. There are those who don’t know what to say so they stay away because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. Reality check! Don’t be so selfish. If you have a friend or family member with cancer go visit with them, ask if there is anything you can do? Clean their house; cook a meal for them or their family. You can offer to drive them to an appointment, take their children to hockey practice or music lessons. The important thing is to be there and help them through this difficult time.
There are so many issues that I never thought about until I was diagnosed. There are so many cancer organizations that provide support and education for people dealing with cancer but nothing specific to Aboriginal people – I found a gap and it was huge. I took it upon myself to try and bring our Aboriginal voice to the table – what about us? I asked them. People need to feel safe to share personal stories and with people who have similar interests. What I found was a group of older Caucasian ladies who had no idea about being an “Indian”, no idea what it was like living in poverty. There was no way I could relate to their stories of taking time off work to travel with their families for a vacation because this may be the last holiday they had with their families. I had never taken my children on a holiday; I had no job to take time off from. I was a single mother in my final semester at the First Nations University of Canada and I needed my student allowance to feed my children. I couldn’t eat 5 to 10 fruits and vegetables a day; I could barely afford to keep food on the table for my children. This was my reality and the reality of many people who live in poverty. I began to think about those people that live in remote areas; what would happen to them if they are diagnosed? Is there screening programs for them, and do they participate if they are available? What happens to all the money that people donate to the ‘cause’? We have the Terry Fox Run, CIBC Run for the Cure, Canadian Cancer Society, and Saskatchewan Breast Cancer Network to name a few. Why aren’t they offering programs for Aboriginal people? If a gap exists then fill it; create your own support groups; talk to your family and friends about cancer, and when the opportunity arises to take part in screening programs take it! People are living longer with cancer – I am living proof, and yes we will still lose people but don’t get lost in that fact. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed; it is the greatest gift given to us, so enjoy.
“Even though there are days I wish I could change some things that happened in the past, there’s a reason the rear view mirror is so small and the windshield is so big; where you’re headed is much more important than what you’ve left behind.”
Thank you for your letters and emails; it is always nice to hear from the readers. You can write to me at Eagle Feather News C/O Sandee Sez PO Box 924 ST Main, Saskatoon Saskatchewan or send me an email.