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Overcoming Death with Life’s Blessings

Posted May. 19, 2007 04:06,   


Song Yeong-hye, a 58-year-old housewife living in Ichon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, smiles from time to time. She is always sympathetic and listens to others. Her overwhelmingly considerate personality makes people wonder whether she truly is a cancer patient. Patients hospitalized in the cancer clinic at Shinchon Severance Hospital feel the same way.

Though cancer is neither an incurable nor an obstinate disease, it still ultimately leads to many people dying. Song is a terminal patient, with cancer cells spreading to both the spinal cord and the brain. I first met her on April 24 and visited her four times after that with the cooperation of the hospital. Even though she was suffering from frequent vomiting, she never lost her smile.

She received an operation to treat breast cancer three years ago, only to suffer a recurrence. After giving up on chemotherapy that was not efficacious in her case, she visited to the U.S. where her brother was living. She returned home and was hospitalized as her condition abruptly worsened.

However, she looked so undaunted that nobody could believe she was facing death. Nonetheless, she was first shocked at the news that she had a cancer. She was once anxious, angry, and in despair like many other cancer patients. “I was very worried at first. I think it is the case when people go skiing. They feel anxious until they fall down, but once they do, they feel rather confident. I became comfortable once I accepted the fact that I had a cancer.”

Song stated that she could not help but feel miserable as if she were in Hell several times a day. She would feel like giving up her life while suffering so much pain and continuous vomiting. Amid these sufferings today, however, she worries about her son’s wedding and how to prepare kimchi for winter as if she were going home tomorrow. “I go to bed, wondering if I could still be alive tomorrow.” “Death” is an abstract notion for ordinary people, but for her, it is reality.

Song explains that she received a new life thanks to a Death called “cancer.” “Awhile ago, I took a taxi. The taxi driver said he divorced his wife due to gambling and was leading a difficult life. After listening to him, I said I was a terminally ill patient and told him if he thought positively and tried harder, he would be happy and successful.” Instantly, the young driver’s face turned bright with hope. Song states she will not forget him who was so inspired by her advice. After that episode, she realized she could give others hope and courage.

Since last year, she has been visiting reformatories with food prepared on her own. She has felt contentment whenever teenagers who had shut themselves from others heartily welcomed her.

“I feel I am blessed since I can give help and hope to healthy people. After losing my health, I realized that there are many healthy people who are not healthy in their minds.” When she entered the hospital this time, she disposed of or gave away all of her belongings, including books, kitchenware and even precious metals that she has collected throughout her time in the jewelry business. “Thinking I was parting with them, I wanted to hold on to them, but soon I felt that they were useless. I reflected on myself and thought about how I have wanted many things.”

The one thing she cannot abandon is her only son. She has raised him alone after her husband’s death 15 years ago, and she has been strict with him because she does not want to hear that his son was ill-bred. That has led her son to close his mind to his mother. He is now 32 years old. They were like strangers even though they lived together.

Even when she was healthy, he would hurt her like a piercing nail in her mind. One day, Song called him into the hospital in order to reconcile their relationship, but she couldn’t say a word. It was him who broke the ice. “Your sayings meant to help me have hurt me, but if you manage to live another year, I will be a good son…….” They hugged each other and wept. She reports that with tears in her eyes, “I also said sorry to my son for the first time in my life. I thank cancer. Without it, I would have estranged myself from my son. That was like hell. I am talking to him on the phone as a loved one these days.”

Her only wish, as she has become humble and open-minded before her death, is a happy life for her son.

“People say I am miserable as I am counting the remaining days, though I am still young and have many things to do. I once lost my heart, but I have felt peace after having it all come together. Day after day, I try and will try to cherish all things in my life.”