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Changing Poison into Medicine

by Carmen Díaz Prensa
Dominican Republic

CarmenCarmen (center) with her daughter Florangel and son Angel

I began practicing Buddhism in 1991. It helped me harmonize my life and see that any problems I faced were mine to resolve. Several years ago, I began experiencing headaches regularly as well as visual impairment. I had recently begun working as a nurse. At first, I thought these symptoms were due to my sinusitis, but I noticed that they became more frequent during my nighttime shifts.

On one occasion, the pain lasted for five days--I tried painkillers to ease the symptoms, but they didn't work. Then, it was as if a bomb exploded. In addition to the pain, I began experiencing acute nausea and dizziness--everything became blurry. I was taken to the emergency room, and a tomography revealed that I had a huge tumor in the front part of my brain. I was told I needed surgery as soon as possible. It would be a complicated operation. The brain tumor was pressing the right-side optical nerve; the doctors really didn't know what to expect. I knew that even if I survived the surgery, I could end up suffering from recurrent seizures. I was scared but managed to remain calm.

The surgery lasted 13 hours, but it ended in success. I was fortunate to have one of the best neurosurgeons in the country. My head and face had swelled up to about twice the normal size. When I was released from the hospital several days later, my immediate concern was for my daughter and son. They were both nervous and sad--I was shocked when my son couldn't recognize me. I worried what effect all this would have on them. My concern for them helped me think less about my own problems.

When the swelling decreased, I realized that I couldn't see with my right eye. Also, my forehead was deformed, and I needed reconstructive surgery.

At this point I realized I had a choice. I could be defeated by my suffering, or I could resolve to "change poison into medicine" and transform this negative and painful situation into something positive. I chose the latter and, with my Buddhist practice, that became my focus.

My family, friends and fellow SGI members were incredibly supportive throughout all of this. Whenever I felt like giving in, they continued to encourage me. Moreover, I realized that I was able to encourage others through my experience of battling cancer.

Two months later, with my doctor's approval, I went back to school to pursue a bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical science. Although I've lost complete vision in my right eye, I am working as a clinical clerk at the same hospital I worked at previously and am also involved in a geriatric medical program where we offer food, medication and assistance to elderly people in need. I find deep satisfaction in exploring humanistic approaches to patient care together with my coworkers.

After everything I have gone through, I have profound appreciation for the fact that I am alive, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that I am able to contribute to the well-being of others through my work. I also feel huge gratitude for the support and encouragement I received throughout my ordeal. Without it, things would have been so much more difficult. My children are well and bring me great joy, which I derive also from my determination to raise them so that they will grow into individuals who can contribute to the development and peace of our country. 

[Courtesy April 2013 SGI Quarterly]


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