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“The Best Medicine Is the Hope in My Heart”

Posted May. 23, 2004 22:49,   


Cancer Ward 56, Yonsei University’s Shinchon Severance Hospital, May 17. The ward is crowded with patients awaiting operations and undergoing cancer medicine and radiation treatments. This particular ward has 60 cancer patients fighting against the disease together.

Kim Boon-ja, a 58-year-old woman from Pohang, Gyeongbuk, is facing an operation for her early-stage stomach cancer.

Kim discovered the disease due to a common cold. A month ago, she was coughing a lot. She feared that the cold might spread to her grandchildren with whom she was living, so she went to a neighborhood clinic for treatment. There, the doctor suggested she do a stomach endoscope. It was hard for Kim to believe that she had stomach cancer when she had never had stomach problems before.

“It is so scary and troubling that I have this cancer in my body. I stayed awake almost every night for half a month.”

When she was hospitalized, she realized just how many stomach cancer patients there were. Grief is best shared in grief`s company. She even heard one of the later diagnosed stomach cancer patients saying that she envied her operation, because that patient was diagnosed too late to get an operation.

“Stress is a really bad thing, I heard. I want to stand tall, face my doubts, and fight with my cancer in a dignified manner,” said Lee Byung-soo, a 62-year-old businessman from Daegu, who is suffering from cancer in the esophagus. He has more developed cancer than Kim, so he is under radiation and medication therapy, rather than an operation.

“I have had problems with my intestines and had endoscopes in my stomach and intestines twice a year,” said Lee. “And I was able to find the cancer thanks to that.”

“I was never afraid or scared of the cancer. I live every day in the hope that I can heal the cancer. I completely stopped smoking cigarettes which I used to smoke a pack a day.”

Lee’s wife, who is now taking care of him in the hospital, agrees, “This guy is really now refreshed here. I saw him drinking and smoking and all.” Lee is grateful for his wife. She is a great confidante as he walks in the ward, as well as a great supporter when he is weary from radiation treatments.

“The radiation treatment makes the inside of my mouth sore, and I can’t even swallow a sip of water for days afterward. I still have to endure it since it kills cancer.”

The latest breast cancer victim, Cho Hye-sook, a 57-year-old woman from Seoul, Cho cannot even stand up on her own. Her daughter, Kwon Sun-bok, 24, takes care of her mother all day after quitting her job.

Cho is an elder in her neighborhood church and was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer in February. A ping pong ball-sized tumor, which started in her right breast, has moved all over her body, including her neck and liver. When she finally entered the hospital, she was only 154 meters and 30 kilograms. Kwon, her daughter, was torn apart because she heard from people around her that her mother would soon die, but Cho is very serene with the idea of death.

Cho prays hundreds of times every day, “Do as thou will.” After praying, she says she feels comforted. Recently, she has said that she feels the will to live. She eats regularly, has gained weight, and now weighs 43 kilograms. Her back and knees hurt because she is lying down all the time, buts he has gained much of her strength back. When she feels pain, Kwon massages her, gives pain killers, and places medicated bandages. Cho admires her daughter as she holds tightly onto Kwon’s hand thinking that she has to get better for her daughter.

Jin-Han Lee likeday@donga.com