Bald 'n Sassy

Life is for the living. Live simply. Expect less.

I am fit enough to work

I have been job hunting for past 6 months.  It has been a hit and miss for me so far.  I have applied countless positions, contacted head hunters and networked with friends offering my skill sets.  From middle management to executive levels.  In some cases I could be over qualified for a position and with other applications, I have the wealth experience to offer but somehow getting my foot into the human resources door is still work in progress.

When you take a look at my CV, there is 2.5 year gap where I wasn’t working.  It would be difficult for me to hide why I have not been working.  Each time a head hunter or any potential employers’ call, I am upfront with them telling them that I was undergoing chemotherapy .  There are those react with with positivity and words of encouragement or sharing a story of someone who were in similar situation.  And there are those who say very little.  Perhaps they can’t find the right words to express or chose not to discuss about it.  Whatever the reactions maybe, I just move to discuss about my work experience.

I have wondered how they view candidates who had/have cancer. Had a conversation with my oncologist sharing with her that my job hunt is still work in progress and that I share of my health situation.  Her opinion from medical perspective is there are many employers’  are not as open to having cancer patients in their employment.  Cancer could be seen as a “disability”.  Let me clarify that disability in this case would be where the candidate may have to take extra time off in the event one falls ill which could hinder on productivity.  I am saddened to hear that there are potentially people who view cancer patient such as myself as someone who may not be able to contribute to the workforce.  With advanced medicine, the disease is curable and controllable.  If I am healthy enough to work and have the qualifications, then why not hire me?  I would like to think that the time spent enduring all the side effects of chemo and still smile at the end day is a sign of strength and focus on beating the disease.  My positive attitude was the key foundation of who I am today.  I can accept any challenges put in front of me.

Ok, I can hear some of you arguing that not every cancer patient or survivor may not be able to cope with the stress of the work environment. And stress is not good for people of cancer.  What if one knows how to deal with the stress?  Would you as the hiring manager be apprehensive in having the person as part of the team?  I am not looking for sympathy nor do I dare not start wondering what employer’s thought process when they come to learn of anyone who has cancer.  If a candidate applies for work, it means that they are healthy and of sound mind to work again.

My job hunting adventure continues.

Missing in action – NOT!

I have just taken out my ruler and slapped myself on the wrist!  Ouch! I deserve that.  I just looked at my blog dashboard and it has been almost 3 months since I posted with what has happened. Of course there are excuses but I am sure you don’t want to hear about them.   

Well, I am still here.  It’s time to share on health progress.  Overall, physically I am feeling very good.  Since I have switched my diet to a gluten-free and dairy menu, my body is good shape.  I am still going back to my oncologist every 6 weeks for check up.  I have had 3 blood test since the start of the 2012.  My CEA and CA.A 19.9 markers are on the upward trend.  From double digits, it is growing to 3 digits.  Here is a snapshot:

Feb 2012: CEA – 63;  CA.A 19.9 – 61.2

March 2012: CEA – 121.2; CA.A 19.9 – 135.6

April 2012: CEA – 192.9; CA.A 19.9 – 384.8

No cancer patient wants to see such numbers.  I always remember that my oncologist telling me in the past that it is the trend of the markers versus the absolute numbers.  It is an indication on the “active” cancer cells in my body.  Despite the exponential growth, I am feeling well.  There was a slight scare for me when I started losing weight in between check up.  I lost 2 kg.  Ordinarily I would be happy to lose that weight but given my situation, losing weight is another element taken into consideration in my progress.  I haven’t not made any further changes to my diet and I exercised less.  I was perplexed.  I asked my oncologist  and she wasn’t too concerned about it.  Her feedback is because I exercised less and losing my muscles.  Good consolation.  I am still monitoring my weight and now I have resumed my swimming, it will interesting to see if my weight continues to fluctuate.

So what does it mean with all the numbers going up?  Theoretically, I should be resuming chemo.  My oncologist did hint if I want to do chemo.  I jokingly replied “who would be anxious to do chemo?”.  She didn’t force on me that I should do it.  The wait and see approach still stands.  With all my other vitals looking good and no major symptoms, I choose to defer treatment. The oral chemo option is still on table.  I am still looking into alternative treatments which I will share in another post.

The fight continues!

Getting use to Gluten-Free living

I have a weakness for food.  I love food.  Ever since I started my chemo back late 2010, I have always closely monitored my diet intake.  I was adamant to fight the cancer through food.  I adjusted my food according to what I felt I wanted to eat.  During the chemo treatments, my taste buds went haywire and craved for more savory food.  I ate as normal as I can enjoying my breads, pasta and the occasional cake as a treat.  Although I may not have eaten a large portion, my tummy does feel a little heavy and at times uncomfortable when I eat anything that has wheat.  4.5 months ago, I decided to cut out wheat products from my diet.

It is tough to not to eat gluten because 99% of the foods contain some form of wheat.  Even soya sauce,  a staple condiment in chinese cooking has gluten.  When I share this fact with many of my friends’ they were taken aback.  Their immediate reaction is that “Isn’t soya sauce made of soy beans only?”. Gluten or wheat based products is an inexpensive stabilizer used by food manufacturers.  I haven’t not done a medical test to see if I am allergic to wheat/gluten and diagnosed to have celiac disease.  Since I am much more prone to having stomach cramps, it only makes sense for me to cut what could cause the pain.  Many who have symptoms such as bad stomach cramps or skin rashes may not realize it could be the wheat that is causing the discomfort.

So how do I manage with all the temptations?  For me I have to visit health shops to buy some of my grocery items such as pasta, baking flour and even chocolate.  Like most specialty shops, the items are much more expensive that non-gluten based products.  Even shopping at supermarket chains here in Singapore, they are slowly introducing some gluten-free products.  This is great news! Of course there are natural foods that are naturally gluten-free like fruits and vegetables, tofu.  Being a foodie, I am always searching of new recipes or find creative ways to tantalize my taste buds.  I don’t want to miss out on breads, pasta, pizza. The challenge for me is when I dine out. I have to scrutinize the menu and see which dishes I can eat.  I even have to ask the waitress to check with the chef to make sure no gluten is being included.  Restaurants in Singapore are not as always up to speed to have alternative dishes for those gluten intolerant.

While I am writing this post, I am already thinking of what to have for breakfast.  I am craving a good slice of pizza with all of  my favorite toppings.  Mind you I am still looking for the perfect substitute for mozzarella cheese – I can’t have dairy products either.

Possible new form of cancer treatment

  I was surfing through TED website last evening.  There was one talk that grabbed my attention and the headline read “Bill Doyle: Treating with cancer electric fields”. Doyle’s company, Novocure has found a fourth type of cancer treatment using electric fields.   He touted that this could be the fourth form of cancer treatment   This electric fields treatment could possibly be used by oncologists’ in addition to the traditional modern medicine to treat cancer we know today – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

During the presentation,  there was a video clip where one see how cancer cells regenerate at a rapid rate.  This is the first time I have ever seen.  From my understanding and in layman’s terms, the electric fields has the same result to that of chemotherapy whereby the electric fields prevents the cells from doubling.  The first set of clinic trial using this method was with brain tumor.  The end results after 12 months was positive.  In some patients, the tumor was gone.  A great sign.

The way the electric fields kill off the cells is using “patches” with wires attached to a battery pack.  The patches and battery pack is with the patient 24/7.  Although it is may seem cumbersome to carry the pack, it does allow the patient to gon with their daily lives with minimal problems.  The positive side of electric fields is  no side effects such as fatigue, nausea, diarrohea found in chemo.  To me, that is music to my ears.

The US FDA has approved this treatment but at this stage it is still in its infancy.  Novocure is looking to test the treatment on lung cancer patients and slowly rolling out to other forms of cancer like breast and ovarian.  I am going to track the development of this treatment.  I find it always good to know what treatments are available for me.

Here is the link to the presentation Bill Doyle: Treating cancer with electric fields.

The question is to Oral Chemo or not Oral Chemo

I know, I know.  It has been a long, long while since I updated my blog.  I am not going to give any excuses either. Since my last chemo in October 2011, I have kept myself busy looking for work.  Plus I took another short break to visit my homeland of Australia.

Anyway, coming back on to chemo or not chemo.  I have gone for a regular check up – 6 weeks to be exact.  In the last blood test just before Christmas, my liver was good.  I always look out for the red numbers in the report.  They show if I am below or above the normal range for various elements.  The December blood test was a little more colorful this time.  There were at least half-dozen indicators glowing in red.  But my oncologist reviewed that the key elements are my liver, my haemoglobin, white and red blood count cells.  Not forgetting the cancer (CEA) markers.  Liver was good but the haemoglobin, white and red blood count cells are still below the normal range.  The doctor mentioned that my white blood cells may not recover to the normal range for the pure simple reason of past radiation treatment coupled with chemo.  Basically my body has taken a good beating.

My CEA marker for Dec crept up to 30.  I was a little alarmed but I stayed calm. The doctor did ask if I was feeling under the weather in the week leading up to the appointment.  I didn’t have any major symptoms like cramps or flu. I did have diarrhoea but nothing serious.  Believe it or not having the tummy runs does spike up the CEA markers.  l learnt something new. Even though my markers increased again, it was still too soon for any next steps in terms of treatment.

Last Friday, 3 February it was my second follow-up post chemo. This follow-up was a little unconventional.  The nurse from the pathology lab took an extra vial of blood.  My oncologist rushed into the treatment room explaining that the extra vial will be tested on a separate machine.  The lab introduced a new machine and the readings for CEA Markers plus Cancer Antigens 19.9 is vastly different.  This is a major concern for my oncologist because she is not able to decide if her patients need further or not.  The “discrepancy” was discovered through another patient. I am so happy that she found out about this soon enough.  I hate to think that patient’s having to continue chemo unnecessarily.

The blood tests took longer this time round. I zoomed in on how my cancer markers were performing.  I got a real shock when the CEA doubled from 6 weeks ago.  The doctor asked the same question if I had any symptoms.  She reminded me again not to focus on the number.  If the trend is going up, then it  just indicates that the embryonic cancer cells are active once again.  Since that I pose no symptoms, she would not recommend any treatment.  I did ask about oral chemo.  I recall from earlier consultation that there was an oral chemotherapy yet to be introduced in Singapore.  She shared the oral chemo drug is now available. From the trial, the drug has 40% to 50% success of keeping the cancer cells from producing.  That is not too bad of success rate.  Of course with oral chemo, you would need to take several tablets per day everyday for up to 4 weeks.  Then a 2 week break and then you resume.  The beauty of the oral chemo is side effects are much less severe in comparison to traditional intravenous chemo.  diarrhoea and low white cell blood counts are the reported side effects.

So the question now is to whether switch to oral chemo. I am trying alternative treatment via diet and exercise to bring down the markers.  At this stage it is good to know that I have the oral chemo available.  Furthermore, at least I don’t have to spend hours at the clinic and not be sick for 1 week.  I am going to do my own research on this oral chemo.

Time to wrap up this post.  Till next post.

Is image everything when you are looking for work?

Bald Barbie

So this begs the question, “would potential employers recruit a female candidate who don a bald look?”.  Here in Singapore, it is common practice that a picture is included in your CV when you submit an application.    Therefore, employers has a preview of what you look like even before you are shortlisted, let alone score an interview. There are two schools of thought from hiring managers perspective.  One is looks has a higher priority and experience is second.  On the side of the argument, some would say they look at qualifications and looks are not part of the criteria. I follow the latter where I don’t judge the looks before looking at experience and qualifications. Unless you are a supermodel, then your portfolio of pictures is your CV.

Let’s be honest, we live in a narcissistic world and it is in human nature that we look at someone or something that pleases our eyes.  However, if the reason for having a bald look is to make fashion statement or to raise money for charity, would that change the employers perspective? Perhaps the image when someone has a bald look equates to someone being sick like a cancer patient.  Where do we draw the line of acceptance? Do  people discriminate bald women because we don’t follow the norm?  Or is it one’s preconceived perception that women look better with hair.

Whatever the reason maybe, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Just a footnote, it was a family member asking “why don’t you grow your hair back?” and insistent that I grow my hair back. If I am comfortable and confident in carrying the bald look, why should it bother everyone else.

No more chemotherapy

All of this week, I was feeling a little anxious leading up to my next round of check up with my oncologist.  It is the routine 3 week visit.  The appointment is scheduled for 11.11.11.  Whether it was deliberately scheduled or sheer coincidence, this date would be forever remembered.

On the way to the clinic, I kept repeating the mantra in mind that “I don’t want to do any more chemo.  My blood test results will be good.”  From my last post, I made the decision to stop chemo on the basis the cancer markers are stabilized.  My oncologist did not object to that idea but she did say that I could stop only if the levels were within plus or minus 10% from the previous level.  Once the nurse from the pathology lab drew my blood, the next 2 hours was going to be the longest 2 hours I had to endure.  I distracted myself with some breakfast followed by sipping a large mug of tea to kill time.  I kept looking at my phone to make sure that I had a strong signal to receive calls and that my phone wasn’t set to silent.

11.55am, my phone rang and it was my oncologist’s office.  The nurse told me the results are back.  Luckily I was at the shopping mall across the road from my doctor’s office.  Walked back with a brisk pace and constantly thinking about results.  As soon as I walked through the clinic doors, I was ushered into the doctor’s office.  I sat down and my eyes were scrambling to see what the results were.  I zoomed in and saw that the cancer markers level decreased to 19.9 from 26.  I let out a huge sigh of relief and couldn’t stopped smiling.  I was ecstatic!  My doctor was also very pleased.  We ran through the blood test results and other components were looking great as well.

My oncologist did the usual physical examination to make sure there were no other symptoms on the body.  I was given the all clear.  Mind you, my oncologist’s slip in the question “Are you sure you don’t want to do another round just to make sure?”.  I instantaneously replied, “no, thank you”.  There is no guarantee that undergoing another round of chemo would “foolproof” from the cancer cells coming back.  Completing  8 rounds of chemotherapy is more than enough for me. It doesn’t mean that I cancer free or in remission.  For now, the CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen) levels are low.  “When CEA levels decrease after therapy, it means that most or all of the CEA-producing tumor has been removed.” (extracted from Lab tests online)

Now, it is up to me to focus on what I eat and keep up a healthy lifestyle incorporating exercise.

I will post more on the alternative treatment I am trying.

Ciao for now!

Ding ding, round 8 of chemotherapy

Oh boy, it has been a while since my last post.  Oct was a very busy month for me. It was mostly spending time with my family.  For the first time in over 10 years, all my siblings and their kids plus my mum were in the same city.  I must say it was great to have everyone together once again albeit for a few weeks.  As you can imagine, my sister’s apartment was rather crowded.  Anyway, I am digressing from the main subject about my last chemo.

Round 8 of my chemo was on 21 October.  I decided this round to be the last chemo I would want to do.  I am looking to alternative medicine as my choice of treatment.  My reason for stopping chemo is to give my body a chance to be back to normal.  The chemo drugs literally “kills” all the good cells in the body.  While I am under treatment, my white cells are low and producing minimal red blood cells.  The former is expected but having low white blood cells can be dangerous.  It means that I am more susceptible to catching any sickness and have a harder time to recover from the ailment.  I am learning that now with the ongoing cough that has prolonged for almost 2 weeks. With low red blood cells, my haemoglobin levels are low and classified as anaemic.

On the Friday morning of treatment, the usual routine of drawing blood but it was done by my favourite nurse.  I was rather anxious about the results this time. After seeing a decrease in the previous round, I was hoping the downward trend will continue.  When the results were back, there were 2 other patients ahead of me.  When it was my turn, I sat down and my oncologist smiled.  She showed me the results and the cancer markers dropped by 50%.  I was so deliriously happy. I shared with my oncologist that I wanted to stop treatment after this round and try alternative treatment.  She had no violent objections to that idea.  I need not do any more chemo on the premise that my cancer markers are around the same levels.  My oncologist and I are crossing our fingers and toes that it stays the same.  With the usual physical check up over, it was time to start the chemo session.

The nurse placed the hot pack on my right hand to help my veins come alive so the hunt and inserting the needle is much easier.  I took a good look at my hand and the needle marks from previous sessions are still there.  You could literally join the dots and form some sort of shape.  My poor veins has used and abused. I soldiered on for the next 4.5 hours.

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Time to hide under the covers.  Wish me luck for the next blood test! I will post another blog about the results.

Lucky number 7

Well not sure it is lucky or not but it was round 7 of chemo a fortnight ago.  Oh boy, the side effects post chemo was tough at times.  The worst side effects was the body aches and the bad headaches. The body aches I felt was right through the bones.  It made it difficult for me to fall asleep and sit up right for too long.  I laid in bed for most of the day trying to get some rest.  Even falling asleep at night was a challenge.  The aches prolonged that falling asleep was hard.  Once I do, I would be tossing and turning throughout the night and wake up feeling more tired in the morning.  Cat naps was indeed in my recovery plan.  Having headaches didn’t help either.  I felt that I was supporting a bowling ball with my neck coupled with the slight nausea was not a great mix. Taking strong Panadol didn’t make it go away.

Coming back to my treatment day.  When I walked into the clinic, my favourite nurse from the pathology lab was sitting in the waiting area.  Whether it was coincidence that she was there or she just finished taking blood from another patient.  I like to think she was there for me.  Like previous experience, it was a painless experience when she poked the needle for the blood test.  A good start to that day.

Time for the review the blood test.  It was a rather a busy Friday at the clinic.  I had to wait for my turn to see the oncologist.  The doctor had a smile on her face when she opened her door greeting me to enter her office.  As soon as I sat down, the first news she shared was the cancer markers has decreased to 56.5 from 66.3 – FINALLY!  What a relief!  I could say it is definitely lucky number 7. The other components in the blood test indicated that I am still slightly anemic and white blood cells to be low.  Even though it is low, it was acceptable to go ahead with the next round of chemo.

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It has been a while since I had the company of other patients in the treatment rooms. Sharon, a young nurse working at the clinic shared that one woman was rejected treatment by another oncologist for the simple reason that her cancer has advanced cancer that chemo would be futile.  However, she didn’t give up hope and sought a second opinion my oncologist.  Our oncologist took her case and prescribed a treatment schedule buying her more time.  There are two school of thoughts here.  One doctors’ are taught to save lives and convince patient’s to consider all possible medical solutions.  This would mean more financial impact for the patient. On the side of the spectrum some doctor’s may tell you the prognosis and enjoy whatever time that you have left.  Of course some person would not accept the news and look towards alternative medicines to prolong their life. What would you do if you are placed in this situation?

Round 6 chemotherapy

Oh my!  Where did the time go?  I have neglected to update on my latest chemo.  Bad girl I am.  It is almost 2.5 weeks ago that I completed my 6th round of chemo or the 2nd session with the carboplatin/taxol drugs.  Three days before chemo, I had the case of déjà vu.  Late Sunday evening, my tummy was experiencing cramps.  The pain was mild and tolerable.  Nonetheless I took some Buscopan to relieve the discomfort and hoped the cramps to disappear by the following morning. When I woke up the next morning, the cramps were gone and happily had my breakfast.  The cramps returned an hour later after having the morning meal.  From the past experience, I knew that I had to let my stomach rest by not having any solid foods and just let hydrate myself throughout the day and continued to medicate myself with Buscopan.  I did just that.

By the second day, my tummy was slightly bloated.  I continued to fast and hydrate my body.  I was a little sad because on Tuesday, 30 August was my nephews 13th birthday.  My sister and the family went out for lunch at local hamburger joint, The Fat Boys.  I sat there drinking cranberry juice while the rest of the family members was tucking into juicy burgers.  It is not the first time where I had to watch others eat.  Last year when I was hospital, I could not consume any solid food or drink any water for 1 month because of the same reason of cramps.  The surgeon prescribed liquid food delivered intravenously.

On the day of chemo, I continued to fast in the morning even though I didn’t feel any cramps.  I shared with the oncologist of the cramps.  She shared the cramps could be a due to the combination of radiation and surgery plus possibility of cancer cells working into my guts.  She reviewed the blood test results with me.  My cancer markers indicated an increase by 10% to 66.2 from 62.1 from the previous round.  I was taken aback.  She did explain that the “new” set of drugs theoretically takes 3 rounds to become effective.  I am crossing my fingers that the downward trend holds true.  The next round which takes place this coming Friday will be the 3rd round.

When it was time to start the chemo, I told the nurse that I wanted to use my left hand for a change and let my right hand rest.  The nurse placed the hot pack on my hand to help to wake up and easier for her to poke me.  My hand was red from the hot pack.  The good thing was that she was able to find a good vein to use.  After almost a year of undergoing chemo I am still scared each time the nurse inserts the needle.  The first poke was bearable but as she continues to push the needle a little further into the vein I let out a little yelp.  It didn’t stop there, the needle was only 70% in. One more push and the needle was in.  Yes, I did cringe one more time. Then it was time to hook up the tube to the chemo drugs and test to make sure the flow is smooth. It was good to go ahead.

It wasn’t too long after the chemo started that I felt uneasy in my chest area.  I felt really warm and some tightness.  I had to raise the alarm with the nurse.  My oncologist also stepped in to check on me.  The doctor ordered to slow the flow of the drug to minimise the discomfort.  It made such a big difference immediately.  The doctor did say that because the drugs are derived from plants that it is not uncommon for patients to feel uneasy.  With having to slow down the flow, it took over 5 hours to complete the treatment.

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Over the next few days, the fatigue was the main side effect.  By the 2nd day post chemo my entire body aching.  The ache even spread to my bones.  I took some strong Panadol to help.  It was a temporary relieve. I was so lethargic that I slept for most of the day.

Only 4 days before the next round of chemo.

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