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Denise Tam Headshot

Slowing Down in a Fast Forward City

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In a city where 62% of the people work overtime, many stores stay open past 10 p.m. and 6.5 hours is the average amount of time people sleep a night, recovering and living with cancer in Hong Kong is like trying to swim upstream.

We can't explain the reason or reasons for cancer but there certainly have been correlations made to it -- one of them being stress. There have been studies that show stress can affect a tumors ability to grow and spread as well as the association of mental and emotional health with longer survival periods in cancer patients.



But somehow reading these articles and being diagnosed twice with Stage 4 follicular lymphoma, first in 2009 and most recently in 2012, just isn't enough to keep me at home or have me move to a quieter and more laid back city.



There are some that have packed schedules and there are people like me who like to keep packed schedules. Having my nights filled seven days out of seven never stopped me. I gave my time to whatever or whomever, not only slotting in lunches and dinners but also afternoon tea, happy hour and post-dinner drinks. Before cancer came along, having appointments to attend, people to see and to-dos to check off was what kept me going. On some days, that lifestyle even seemed to give me more energy. Of course there were times that even I got tired and needed to slow down, but it was never for very long. You would think a diagnosis like cancer would not only give you the perfect reason to slow down but force you to do so. It could very well be seen as a vacation for my physical body -- time off work, afternoon naps, catching up on reading but mentally it's been a battle within.



At age 29, my peers around me can operate perfectly, or near perfectly on 4-5 hour of sleep, their liver can still handle several drinks a night and their stomachs could still bounce back after a greasy late night snack at McDonalds. As cancer slowly took over I found myself missing out on birthdays, embarrassing moments with a friend due to one too many drinks, and adventures around the world that are now making my 'top places to see' list even longer. My friends have been great in bringing the party to me or making a stop in Hong Kong on route to an exotic destination, but I would be lying if I told you I didn't miss out.



Even if my physical body allows for a busy life I've been having great difficulty being around the bustling energy that comes with being in a city like Hong Kong and denying my 'busy bee' nature when I've realized I've capped my two nights out a week rule and have to say no to a friend.



Cancer makes you wake up and smell the roses. For some this will mean relishing in each day to day activity and truly appreciating each sip of coffee. But for the others like me it means new projects that bring inspiration and meaning to my life and those around me, it means spending more time with the people that matter most in my life, it means taking the opportunity to visit different places and learn about different cultures before civilization takes over -- it means a lot of things on my to-do list. And with life being so unpredictable, you don't want to wait until your better to do these things.



After 2.5 years of fighting cancer I've barely managed to master the art of resting. From the outside it seems that I have slowed down to normal speed and perhaps that's half the battle. Within I'm still struggling to avoid life in fast forward mode but would still rather have a long list of things that inspire me to live.

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