• Baljit Khamba, ND, M.PH

Biking to My Own Cancer-Path


One of my favourite pastime activities while growing up was completing massive jigsaw puzzles with a copious multitude of pieces. It started when I was around 4-5 years old and I would watch my then teenager Booji (aunt) complete a puzzle of her hero, Wonder Woman. She pasted the completed puzzle onto a board and put it up in our shared bedroom. I remember staring up at that finished result just utterly fascinated, not only by Wonder Woman's golden lasso, but also something about the process of how all these individual pieces came together to form a picture of this person who, with hands on her hips, confidently beamed back at me.

Over the years, I would buy puzzle after puzzle, dump all the pieces onto our dining table, then carefully organize all the pieces into sections that shared similar characteristics, like edges, or similar colours, particular sections, etc. Eventually, the whole family would be huddled around the dining table, heads bent and intently working away on the activity together. It definitely made for many memorable family moments filled with both delight and even a bit of agitation. However, the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with having completed the activity was worth any squabbles we endured during its construction.

This passion for puzzles recently got me thinking of how it relates to people. I feel we are jigsaw puzzles in some way. More specifically, as we go through life, there are particular moments that seem to define us, those moments become a fixed part of us, much like a piece of a puzzle. Eventually, all those important life stories, carefully piece together to form a complex person with depth and a multitude of stories. We often don't know where these pieces are coming from, or how they come to be. Scattered throughout our life and unbeknownst to anyone, they present themselves, we work through that challenge and then add it to help form a completed picture.

I feel that there have been many such stories in my past with various themes, but there's one story in particular that I want to share. This is one of my first stories, as such most memorable and impactful. This story would come from either my mom or Booji whenever I would be going through a rough period and seem to be in need of motivation. It would be a reminder of the determination, focus and strength I can create once I summon the will. Further it validated that I always have the support of my family.

The first house our family lived in was in this little subdivision within Mississauga, which was surrounded by fields and farmland. Within the neighbourhood was many new immigrant families and their young children. We were the generation who spent many hours playing outside, racing between the homes of our friends, having street-wide games of tag, lemonade stands, and picking flowers in the fields. Our neighbours were akin to family and we all watched out for each other. It was here, living in our cul-de-sac that a 4 year old me met with one of my first memorable challenges. Now, this story has two main features, my classic little purple Raleigh Chopper bicycle, complete with a white banana seat and training wheels. The second feature is, Jason, my arch enemy. The family who lived next door was a Chinese immigrant family, their son, Jason, was 2 years older, and as such was smarter, taller, and meeting physical milestones before I. So he found every opportunity to show off his skills and pester me for not being able to meet the same tasks.

On one particular summer day, my 6 year old nemesis was riding around our cul-de-sac on his bicycle without training wheels. We had watched his father spend a few days teaching him, by holding onto his back seat, until eventually he was zipping around without any assistance. I had just come out on my bike that morning, and was mocked by Jason for still needing training wheels. I had been wanting to take my training wheels off but was slightly fearful. However, angered and frustrated by Jason's torment, I immediately turned around, ran back into the house and told my mom that if Jason can ride a two wheeled bike, then so could I. I ordered the training wheels off my bike so that I could practice. My mother, complied by changing me out of my shorts and putting me in heavy corduroy overalls in efforts to protect my knees, should I fall off my bike. I ran out of the house to find that my father had removed the training wheels off my bike. My grandfather, who lived with us in the summers, hopped onto his bike, and told me to follow behind him. So, I spent the rest of the day riding around the cul-de-sac, with my grandfather in front of me trying to learn to remain steady on my now two-wheeled bike. I fell off my bike numerous times, but would get right back up again and keep trying. I ended up tearing my overalls and was bleeding from my knees and elbows. I then ran into the house crying from having fallen, and my mom bandaged me up, changed my clothes and I had gone out again. Over and over this would happen, however I was determined and didn't want to give up. Until eventually, and I remember this vividly, I was watching the sun set and riding my 2 wheeled bike. Bleeding from my knees and elbows but thrilled that I finally did it. I don't remember feeling any pain, just joy of the accomplishment. I triumphed over something just out of sheer will, focus, a deep desire to succeed. In addition, a slight yearning to have one less thing that Jason can make fun of me for. Interestingly enough, I still have some faint scars on my knees from that day. Should I ever loose sight of the power of dedication, the two women who have always cheered me on would relay this story to me. This story is the creation of one of my most memorable puzzle pieces, it has replayed in my life in various ways from academics to key life events. I may feel beaten, raw and emotional, but through it all, keep getting back up and working towards my goal.

This story or puzzle piece means a great deal to me, especially now, as I'm currently going through my newest challenge, breast cancer. Not just coping with breast cancer, but all that comes with it, from fertility issues, housing, and finances to coping with the physical pain from chemotherapy, hot-flashes, insomnia, changes to my body, anxiety and sadness. Understanding it all can become incredibly overwhelming at times. When I feel that this piece of my puzzle or story gets too much, I'm reminded of my bike story and realize that I can work through this challenge and thrive. This cancer piece easily fits into the overall Baljit puzzle and I'll conquer this with my hands on my fists and thrashing my golden lasso.

What's are some of your puzzle pieces?

Thanks for reading.

#determination #cancer #breastcancer #triplenegative #strength

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