As a first generation Australian-born Chinese, I have felt out of place — a fish out of water, so to speak — for as long as I could remember.

This sense of not belonging was the foundation of an anxiety-ridden upbringing. However, this crisis of identity was not simply skin deep. Aside from my obvious aesthetic and cultural differences, I didn't resonate with much of the societal standards, ideas, and convention that I was surrounded with.

My adolescent years into my late twenties were particular tumultuous for me as there was a constant internal struggle taking place between conformity and expressing myself authentically.

My anxiety was overwhelming, and my felt-inability to speak about what was happening inside eventually drove me into a long spell of depression.

I tried many avenues to suppress the turmoil within — drugs, alcohol, anti-depressants, video games, pornography, psychiatric support — anything that would take my attention away from what I was feeling. In 2013, I was diagnosed with cancer.

This came out of the blue and truly pulled the rug from beneath my feet. Looking back, however, this diagnosis became — and remains — the greatest blessing of my life. Of course, it was one of the toughest periods of my life.

More than a decade later, I am still dealing with the after-affects of my battle with cancer and the extreme invasiveness of the treatment protocol. But the this period of my life gave me, more than anything else, was courage.

It gave me the courage to turn and meet face-to-face all that was haunting me for so long. It has not been an easy journey and it has been a long journey. In fact, I feel I have only began to scratch the surface. But I would not be the person I am today if I had not embarked upon this journey, and I know I would not have had the courage to take the first step if not for this diagnosis.

I can truly say that I wake up each day feeling that it is the best one yet.

Chemotherapy delivered intravenously

Chemotherapy machine

Breathing aid

 

Burnt skin from radiotherapy

Direct-to-stomach feeding tube

Post-treatment surgery

Eye surgery due to treatment side effects

Writing and publishing my story a decade later

 

@leslieklau

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