If anyone told me I would be living, working, and enjoying a full, healthy life abroad 15 years ago, I would have said the person was crazy. I never imagined I would be living in a foreign country, let alone with a disease like cancer.
“Can I still work?”
That was the very first question I asked my doctor after she gave me my lung cancer diagnosis. I was in disbelief, because I didn’t have any symptoms or feel sickly. After drying my eyes, the doctor told me that although my condition was not curable, remission was highly possible and that I could live an active life while receiving treatment.
If it were not for the generosity of my school, I would not be alive today. BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour offered all of its employees a complete physical in the spring of 2019. During that physical, the doctor detected a suspicious shadow on my chest x-ray. We received the news as we were on our way to fly out for summer vacation in June. The next several weeks of vacation in the U.S. involved getting more scans and a biopsy, and I was utterly shocked to learn I had cancer.
While I hoped to get my diagnosis in America and start treatment in China, my U.S. doctor said I needed to start right away and complete a certain number of treatments to ensure that things were working. I was eager to return to my normal life and sorry to hear that it would be November before I could fly back to China. I reluctantly called my bosses and let them know I would not be back in time for the start of the school year. They were very supportive and said there would be plenty of teaching to do when I did return.
I decided to take action in advance and find an English-speaking oncologist to work with in Shenzhen. Why Shenzhen? Not only is it near our school (approximately an hour and a half drive), but it’s a world technology hub, with the medical and educational infrastructure to support cutting-edge treatments. With its many hospitals and international businesses, I was confident Shenzhen would enable me to access the care I needed while continuing to work and live a normal life.
I was pleased to discover that both of the life-saving therapies highly recommended by my American oncologist are available in China. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that I can receive my treatments on Saturdays so as not to miss any time from work. My school has been very supportive in assisting me with transportation to and from Shenzhen for my immunotherapy treatments and I recently received high-tech SBRT radiation therapy at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Shenzhen Cancer Hospital.
My November scan showed my treatments were working. I celebrated the American Thanksgiving holiday by flying back to China to report back to work as a full-time teacher.
My care in China has been outstanding. American doctors are often pressed for time, but in China they are able to give patients more individual attention. All of the Shenzhen doctors I have worked with are very knowledgeable and up-to-date on the latest developments in cancer treatment. But more than that, they are all kind people who really care about me. I am grateful, because their work has enabled me to wake each day healthy and strong, focused on helping my students and living my life.
I am determined to live a full, healthy life. I will not let a cancer diagnosis get in my way of living and working full-time as a teacher. I still do the things I enjoy doing every day, and have even become more active than I was before, and have taken up cycling, running, and hiking since I started treatment.
I plan on doing them for a very long time to come in the future.
Danielle Arvesen teaches Grades 5 and 7 English at BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour. Read more about her journey to teach abroad with her husband in this post.