When Cancer Is Kept a Secret
ONE day in May 1987, I picked up the June 8 issue of Awake! and started reading the “From Our Readers” column. Immediately, I noticed an item from Japan that read:
“We want to thank you for the articles on cancer that you published. (October 8 and October 22, 1986) Last year our daughter, who had never had a day’s illness in 16 years, was suddenly diagnosed as having tuberculosis and was hospitalized for six months. Then, as no tubercle bacilli were present, she was discharged from the hospital.”
‘Amazing!’ I thought. ‘There’s a girl who’s had the same experience I had.’ I continued reading:
“But the following month we learned that she had cancer of the thyroid and that the cancer had metastasized to her lungs. She immediately underwent surgery to remove her thyroid and surrounding lymph glands, and she had part of her lungs removed. She is now taking cobalt treatments.”
I had undergone the same surgery. I became suspicious. ‘Could this be talking about me?’ I wondered. ‘But I don’t have cancer, do I?’ My heart was pounding as my eyes raced over the rest of the item:
“Her operation was successful, and she is living a normal life. But as parents, we were constantly anxious and worrying as to what to do to help our daughter. Through your articles we felt reassured and regained peace of mind. The articles provided good direction as to how we can encourage our daughter in the future.—H. K., Japan.”
Why, these are Dad’s initials! So am I this girl? I rushed to my mother. “You did realize it was about you, didn’t you?” she said and smiled. She was trying hard to read my face. That was how I first learned that I had cancer.
Why Not Informed Earlier
In Japan it is not the custom to tell a patient when cancer is diagnosed. My doctors directed my parents to cooperate with that policy. Actually, Mother had leaned toward informing me, but Father did not agree. He worried about my possible despair and hesitated. So they were torn between whether to inform me of the disease or not.
Then a series of articles on the subject of cancer appeared in the October 8 and 22, 1986, issues of Awake! After reading them, my parents decided that at an appropriate time, they should tell me about my cancer. First, though, my father wrote a letter of appreciation for the articles to the Watch Tower Society in Japan. When his letter was published in Awake!, my parents felt the hand of Jehovah, the God of the Bible, was behind this development. It was a kind way of letting me know of my cancer, since the surprise of seeing my father’s letter at that moment overrode all other emotions.
My feelings were not those of fear, for I sincerely believe the Bible’s teaching about the condition of the dead. It says that they are “conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) I also trust the Bible’s promise that “all those in the memorial tombs” will come back in a resurrection.—John 5:28, 29.
On the other hand, what depressed me was the thought: ‘If I die, how lonely my parents will be while waiting for my resurrection.’ You see, I am their only child. ‘Jehovah will definitely sustain my parents through their years of loneliness,’ I reasoned and dismissed this depressing thought.
Confined in a Hospital
In April 1985, just two years before picking up the Awake! with my father’s letter, I was enrolled in high school. I was just 15. After being given a physical checkup, I received a notice in May advising me: “Bronchiectasis—Needs thorough examination.”
Even though I felt nothing was wrong with me, the big word had a sobering effect. I had never had a major illness, and everybody thought of me as a healthy girl. Nevertheless, I went to a local hospital for a thorough examination. There I was diagnosed as having tuberculosis and was immediately hospitalized.
Life in the tuberculosis ward was anything but pleasant. For six months no one from outside the hospital was permitted to visit me except my parents. Letters from Christian friends and tape recordings of Christian meetings strengthened me and helped me fight my gloom. In addition to that, reading publications of the Watch Tower Society also prevented me from becoming self-centered in my thinking. But most of all, a personal relationship with God helped me maintain a positive outlook.
My Resolve to Serve God
You see, my parents started to study the Bible when I was four months old, and they brought me up to accept Bible teachings as truth. When I grew older, thanks to my parents’ training, I came to cherish my relationship with Jehovah and cultivated faith in him on my own initiative. I dedicated myself to Jehovah and symbolized my dedication by water baptism on December 4, 1982, when I was 13 years old.
Well, after almost six months in the hospital, I was released in October 1985. For the first time in my life, I realized how sweet the air is when one can move around freely. To show my appreciation, I decided to serve as a temporary full-time minister, or auxiliary pioneer. So in both November and December, I spent 60 hours in Christian volunteer service. In December, however, I learned that I had to be hospitalized again to undergo surgery of the thyroid. Just thinking of the confinement made me cry.
The Blood Issue
God’s Word instructs Christians “to keep abstaining . . . from blood,” and as a dedicated servant of Jehovah, I wanted to do everything to please him. (Acts 15:29) Since surgery was to be performed, I talked to my doctor and explained why I could not accept blood transfusions. He respected my stand and told me not to worry about it.
However, the day before the surgery, I was ushered into a hospital room where more than a dozen doctors were waiting for me. These surgeons, whom I had never met before, were to be present at my operation. My heart beat faster at being confronted by so many professionals.
“We would like to discuss tomorrow’s surgery with you,” began the doctor in charge. “We are going to open up your lungs as well as the thyroid. Now, regarding what you said about blood transfusions, are you sure that you want us to do just as you said even if some unforeseen emergency arises?”
“Yes, I am quite sure,” I replied as the doctors listened with rapt attention. “Please do as I have requested.”
Then some began asking questions, such as: “Why won’t you accept blood transfusions?” “Is that really how you feel?” They all listened respectfully as I replied to their questions. My initial tension gradually disappeared, and I explained how I came to accept God’s view of blood. I also clarified that it was my own appreciation of God’s law, not any pressure from my parents, that moved me to ask for bloodless surgery. The doctors kindly respected my attitude and encouraged me not to worry, as they would prepare very well for the operation.
The Surgery and Cobalt Treatment
The surgery involved opening my neck and taking out the thyroid, the lymph glands, and a portion of the lungs. The doctors discovered that what they had initially diagnosed as tuberculosis were actually cancerous growths that had metastasized from the thyroid. However, I was never told that the operation established that I had cancer.
Since, in the course of the surgery, the doctors had touched my vocal cords, they warned my parents that I might have to go through another operation to be able to speak. So the doctors as well as my parents were overjoyed when I regained consciousness and asked: “You didn’t use blood, did you?”
Thanks to the sincere efforts of the doctors, the operation was a success, and I maintained a clean Christian conscience. The doctors, however, told my parents: ‘Perhaps she can only live for four years. She may even die within the year. Eventually she will have difficulty breathing, and she will die in agony. From now on she will lose weight no matter how much she eats. Please be prepared to face such consequences.’ Of course, I knew nothing about this dire prognosis. But my parents were shocked, and their sadness was enormous.
After the surgery in January 1986, I was hospitalized for cobalt treatments in February and again in November of the same year. The doctor who came into the treatment room was protected with a special apron and gloves. He took out two capsules from a small circular metal container and gave them to me to swallow. I ingested radioactive material, which was to work internally. Thus, I emitted radiation and so had to be confined to a private room for a week at a time. Except for the nurses who came in to feed me, I was cut off from all outside contacts.
I must say, I was surprised to see all the elaborate preparations and was struck by the seriousness of the treatment. Yet, as is the custom in Japan, the fact that I had cancer was kept a closely guarded secret from me.
Since the room was half underground and a barrier was built to prevent the escape of radiation, there was not much I could see through the windows. How heartwarming it was when Christian friends visited and waved to me! I felt their love, which sustained me during my solitary confinement.
Realizing My Life Goal
While I was on cobalt treatment, a nurse asked what kept me so cheerful. I told her that studying the Bible had given me peace of mind. (Psalm 41:3) This conversation sparked her interest, and she started to study the Bible.
Talking to others about my God has always made me happy. So ever since my tender years, it has been my goal to become a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To attain that goal, I had to balance my schoolwork and ministry with my fight against cancer. How happy I was to be appointed to the full-time ministry as a regular pioneer as soon as I finished school in March 1988!
Of course, my illness has not been completely cured. Although I do not now feel especially weak, I have to be hospitalized from time to time for checkups. But even in the hospital, I am able to talk to doctors, nurses, and fellow patients about the hope God offers of everlasting life in a new world.—Revelation 21:3, 4.
Once a hospital worker told my parents: “With her lungs affected that much, she should be gasping and panting, agonizing as she breathes and just sitting around doing nothing. But Rie is running around. I can’t understand it. Is it your religion that makes her so active and cheerful?”
Indeed, I do have a secret that sustains me so that I do not become disheartened. It is my relationship with Jehovah God. He imparts power to me so that I will not yield to my sickness. (Philippians 4:13) That is why, although afflicted with cancer, I maintain peace of mind and do not lose hope. Of course, I would like to live right into the new world of Jehovah’s making where “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) But whatever happens, even if death takes me away, I have confidence that Jehovah will not forget me if I keep pleasing him.—As told by Rie Kinoshita.
[Picture on page 23]
I have served as a full-time minister since March 1988