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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: Off my chest

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Actually, I can see the lights at the ends of many tunnels as it seems like a myriad of things are about to come to a close: the quarter, my tenure as a columnist, the year, the world.

I’m not going to bemoan any of these circumstances as they’re rather inconsequential to me. I, instead, would like to talk about something that lies near and dear to my heart.

Back in February of this year, I started noticing an odd little bump on my chest, below my sternum, above my solar plexus and between my right and left nipple. I thought it a little odd, but I shrugged it off and watched in fascination as it grew alarmingly in size over the next few months.

It wasn’t until August that I finally went home and got the bump checked out. By now it had grown to somewhere around two millimeters in height and width and was a fairly grotesque-looking nodule. I simply incanted to myself that it was a wart and that I had nothing to worry about as long as it was removed.

And so it was lopped off with relative ease, stored in a vial and carted off to the lab for some testing. It slipped out of my mind quite easily and I never gave it a second thought. Weeks flit by in that languid manner that can only be induced by summer’s warm caress.

Exactly one week after my 21st birthday, on Aug. 21, 2012, I receive a cryptic email from my dad.

“Hi Andrew, call Dr. Shen. Stay calm. Everything will be ok.”

Upon reading the text in the email, the world seemed to melt away around me. Much like in movie scenes, exterior sounds became muffled, the beating of my heart grew thunderous and everything around me felt like it was in slow motion.

I mumbled to my friends about needing to figure something out and I drove straight home. I remember how painfully yet beautifully vivid and sharp the sky and the trees seemed as soon as I stepped outside to get to my car.

Once I got home I sat quietly in my room and listened to Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me” on repeat. It was about three in the afternoon, the doctor’s office was closed, my mom wouldn’t come home from work until eight and my dad was away on a business trip. I didn’t need to call the doctor to know what it was.

It was cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma, to be exact.

They took the growth to the lab and it checked out as cancerous. My doctor was as surprised as I was. It wasn’t something normally seen in someone as young as me.

An operation was arranged in which an incision would be made to remove any tissue around the growth. Squamous cell carcinoma has a three to seven percent chance of spreading to other parts of the body. It isn’t as malignant as melanoma, but it isn’t as benign as basal cell carcinoma.

The two weeks of limbo before and after the operation were excruciating. Sure, the chance of it spreading wasn’t particularly high, but the state of not knowing was absolute torture.

I was okay with dying at the time. I figured if there were any time to take me, it’d be now. I had no ambition, no family, no real ties to anything, really. My life was just beginning. May as well cut me down now rather than later when I’d leave behind a career, a family, responsibilities, etc.

Fortunately, I pulled through — what a surprise, huh? The tissue around my growth was removed and all traces of cancer were absolved from that region. In its stead, I bear a zipper-like scar.

It goes without saying that this entire ordeal gave me a new lease on life. It’s a part of the reason why I tried out to be a columnist in the first place. In the last few months alone, I’ve made tremendous leaps forward and I’m feeling all the better for it.

I am no longer OK with dying.

It took a jarring event like that for me to realize that life is worth living.

Take what you want from my story, if anything at all.

On that note, I’d like to extend a sincere and warm thank you to all of you reading this. It’s been a pleasure.
ANDREW POH is out of space and out of time for this column, so if you’d still like to talk to him about this or about anything in general, don’t hesitate to contact him at apoh@ucdavis.edu. He’ll definitely reply.

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