Bald 'n Sassy

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

Archive for the month “February, 2011”

Cancer and friends

During my cup of green tea latte with a biscuit on the side yesterday afternoon, I wanted to take the time to pen down my thoughts on how my ordeal over the last few months has possibly changed the dynamics between friends.

One of the key observation I have noticed is how some friendships have strengthened while others has fizzled out. For those friends who know me best, they have stuck with me and joined me on a roller coaster ride. And they happily do so without any prompting from me. They make the effort to spare few minutes from their busy schedules to send a text message or a instant message to see how I am. It is these set of close friends whom I cherish the most. They know I will reciprocate in times of need.

On the other hand, there are friends who offered to help if I needed anything. When I do call upon to redeem that offer, they bail on me. One reason that I heard when I asked if they could drive me to my medical appointment was “Oh I am not a morning person. Sorry I can’t help you”. That response threw me off guard and didn’t know what to say to that. Whatever the reason maybe, perhaps I am too sensitive and expectations are high or maybe even high maintenance.

There are those friends who has slowly distanced themselves after learning the recurrence of my cancer. I am not tracking every single friend who checks up on me. I’m selective with people when it comes to disclosing personal details. I’ll be honest to say that I was saddened that those handful of friends just “disappeared”. I do make attempts to connect with them once in a while but some just don’t bother replying. I am in the over analyzing mood and here are some of the possible excuses I conjured up.

1. Too busy ;
2. Not interested to know anymore ;
3. Don’t wish to “know” or hang around with a cancer patient ;
4. They “fear” me; don’t have anything to say or scared to say that may upset me.

You may think that I am a little crazy on point number three. But in fact I have come across people who don’t like hanging around with sick people because it is depressing to them. Cancer patients’ may look gaunt, no hair or ill from the medications.

The “fear” I am referring to perception of cancer to them. Perhaps they don’t wish to deal with the emotional and physical demands who has cancer. From that point of view, I can completely understand this. For me, I want my friends to inject some laughter, share gossips and distract me from the daily doldrums of being a cancer patient. I might be asking too much from friends. Overall, it takes some guts from my friends to tolerate my ups and downs. It is also about finding the right balance when to be there and giving space.

The last six months has been a great test bed for me to see who are my true friends are. My final thought for the evening is “why does it take a dramatic event to occur to realize who will be there for you?” – something for all of us to ponder on.

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” Dalai Lama

Chronicles of Chemotherapy – Cycle #1

Oh my! I have been neglecting my blog lately. It is not a deliberate act but I have been spending some time researching and planning for my next vacation. But I am back. The chronicles of chemotherapy ended at last week when I completed my sixth treatment. But the chronicles is not complete without sharing cycle number one. So here we go.

After three rounds of consultation with the oncologists, the date for the first chemotherapy treatment is set for 7 October, 2010 at 10am. I have been mentally preparing myself for this day. I attempted to sleep by midnight but I kept looking the clock. It was past 1 am when I last looked. Perhaps feeling anxious and a tad nervous about chemo. I was awake by 7am and started to get ready at a steady pace. I was ready by 8.30am. I sat down on the lounge catching a bit of the news whilst waiting for my sister to return from dropping her kids off at school. I decided to skip breakfast this morning. I just didn’t know what happens prior to start of the session.

We left the house a little by 9.15am just in case we encounter traffic jam on the highway. True enough it was a bumper to bumper traffic along the way but at least it was moving albeit at a snail’s pace. Arrived at the Mount Elizabeth medical centre 10 mins to spare before my scheduled appointment. Checked in at the receptionist and the two nurses greeted me with a smile. First task of the morning was to record my weight. Followed by signing some paperwork for insurance claims. Meantime, a phone call was placed for a nurse to come up to the clinic to draw some blood. A blood test is performed prior before the chemo drugs are administered.

The nurse arrived five minutes later and she showed to what I call the “lounge”. Just like when you imagine business lounge at airports, you sofas, music to rest before boarding. Well this “lounge” has three sofa seats and one single bed. This may not sound very sexy like the business lounge but the sofas are very comfortable and soothing music to relax patients. The nurse took out her toolbox of needles and tubes. I am not a huge fan of needles. I looked away when they poke. The nurse was nice enough to let me know when she is about to insert the needle and to take a deep breath as this happens. Ouch! I still felt the sting when the needle when in. I am just glad that this blood test process took less than 10 minutes to complete. My blood test was sent to the lab and the results are expected to return within 1.5 hour. The nurse cum receptionist suggested that I go for a walk and come back to see the doctor when the results are ready. Since I haven’t had breakfast, we walked across to the shopping mall to grab something to eat.

The results were back and my oncologist sat down to explain the objective of the test. Firstly, the blood test shows the tumor markers present in my blood. The CEA results for a normal person should be in the range of 0 to 4.7 ug/L. In my case, the CEA level recorded 28.4; almost six times higher. Basically, we need to stop this number from going further north. The oncologist shared that the CEA as a tool to see how the chemo progressing but in no way will it show that the tumor has reduced in size. The major goal of the chemo is to kill active cancer cells spreading any further. Ok, it was time to start the chemo.

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The nurses prepared the drips while I get comfortable in one of the sofas. I wasn’t looking forward to be poked again for the second time in the matter of hours but I have no choice at all. For a large body frame, I have small veins and this always poses a challenge for medical teams to find a suitable vein. She taps my left hand first to “wake up” the veins. This tapping continues for a good five minutes. One vein is located and attempt number one is progress. I looked around the room to find something as my focal point to distract me. One of the tricks I use to help me during this prickly moment is to think something funny or happy. She pokes me and I cringed with pain. Unfortunately when she tries to poke further into the vein, it wasn’t good enough and I let out a small cry. Damn! She had to try my right hand now hoping it would be better. The second attempt on the other hand worked. Mind you I still felt the pain… sigh!

A separate syringe filled with some saline solution was injected into the needle to do a test run to make sure I don’t feel any pain when the drugs are flowing through the veins. Test run was successful. Now they can begin the drip. This first session is expected to last at least three hours. I was prepared to keep myself occupied by reading. I was reading “The Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. My sister walked into the “lounge” to see me how I was and she helped to take photos of me all hooked up.

I started feeling a little drowsy an hour into the session. Not sure if it is the drugs or waking early this morning that made feel tired. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I surrendered to a nap. I fell into a deep sleep that I had to be woken up by the nurses to tell me it was over. Still dazed I checked my watch and it was almost 3pm. It took almost 3 hours to complete. I took a good 5 minutes to compose myself before walking out to collect my post chemo medication. When I reached home, I was still feeling the after effects and climbed into bed to nap again.

I was hoping that I would feel a little more rested after sleeping during and post chemo sessions. It was quite the opposite. I was physically drained. My body is trying to adjust itself. For the next seven days, I was house bound resting and having to deal with the side effects.

One cycle completed. Five more to go!

So my chronicles of chemotherapy is complete. Thank you for stopping by to read this. My life adventures continues and I shall share with what I am up. Keep a look out.

Chronicles of Chemotherapy – Cycle #6 (The Final One!)

I woke up with feeling nauseous and suffering a hangover. And the hangover lingers on for at least 4 to 5 days at least. It’s an expensive way to have a hangover.

Anyhow… I made it! Yep, I have crossed the finishing line. I had my sixth and final chemotherapy session on Wednesday, 9th Feb. On the day itself, I woke up at 6 am, a good 1.5 hours earlier than the scheduled alarm clock. I put it down to anxiety together with the movements of my niece and nephews getting ready for school made it more challenging for me to catch extra 40 winks. I decided to wake up and slowly get myself ready for the 10am appointment.

Arrived at the clinic on time and I saw my favourite nurse from the external lab waiting at the receptionist. I couldn’t be more happier to have her draw my blood for the last time – it was fated. I happily made my way to the treatment room and sat in one of the sofa chairs ready for the test. A few minutes later, a different nurse was assigned instead. I tried to keep my disappointed look as subtle as possible. I wanted to ask, “Where did the other nurse go to?? I demand that she comes back and to take my blood!”. I had to accept that it wasn’t to be. I forged on and let the other nurse do her job.

I looked away as usual while the needle is being inserted and adopt my “happy thoughts” at the same time. I felt the poke and it hurt a tiny bit. Glad that this part of the treatment is over in less than ten minutes. Now, I just have to wait for 1.5 hours for the lab to turn around the results. Meanwhile I step outside to feed my tummy some breakfast. I was craving for an egg sandwich. Walked across towards the food basement of Takashimaya shopping centre and grabbed my egg sandwich in a Pomodoro bread roll from the Peck bakery. It really hit the spot. Walked around the atrium investigating the post Chinese New Year sale with my sister. The 1.5 hours flew by and time to head back to the oncologist’s office.

I didn’t have to wait for long before the lab faxed in results. Found out that only half of the report is ready but my doctor proceeded to ask me the usual question if I had any side effects from the last chemo session. She also checked for any physical signs such as swelling in my legs and around my neck for lumps. All good so far but she did notice the my tan lines on my back. She commented that I was burnt but I replied that I diligently apply sunscreen with SPF50 when I swim. She wasn’t overly concerned and mentioned in the past that the chemo drugs can darken the skin a lot faster than a normal person. I was also advised to reapply sunscreen every 15 mins instead of the 2 hour rule as I have come to learn. However, I should return to “normal” a few months later when the drugs are out of my system.

My haemoglobin is low which is expected. Other vitals such as red blood cells are also in the low range. What I am keen to know are the tumor markers/CEA results. It is this number is that will decide if I need more treatments beyond the six cycles originally prescribed. If the number increases or decreases by more than 10%, this indicates there are active cancer cells in the body. The ideal result we are looking for is within the 10% mark. In cycle five, my CEA markers recorded 6.7. The results for cycle 6 is 6.4. A huge sigh of relief for me. My sister shared the same sentiment. My wish for not wanting to endure another two cycles has come true. The oncologist is happy as well. Let the last chemo session begin.

Made my way to the treatment room and sat down ready for the nurse to poke me again (for the last time.. yeehhaaa!). She looked at both my hands and decided to use my left. Once again, the hunt for a good vein commences. Tap, tap, tap the hand to wake the veins and successfully finds one. Sprays a numbing agent before she inserts the needle. In all honesty, the numbing agent doesn’t work for me. I can still feel the pain when she sticks the needle in. First prod – ouch! Waits a few seconds before she pushes the needle a little more and I could feel my vein being enlarged (yes it did hurt). Low and behold, she wasn’t done and poked a little further in to make sure she gets the needle all the way in (ouch again!). Overall, I am delighted that she managed to find a vein within the first try.

Got my book ready to keep me company for the next several hours. Reading a police mystery this time called “The Ritual Bath” by Faye Kellerman. I wasn’t sure if it was the drug or waking up early that made me feel drowsy into an hour of the treatment. I didn’t fight the feeling. Closed my book and closed my eyes. It only felt like a few minutes when I dozed off but when looked at my watch, I woke up just a few minutes just as the last few millilitres of drugs was administered. I developed a hiccup not longer as soon as I woke up. I found it very odd. The nurses gave me some water but the hiccup persisted. The senior nurse did mention that hiccups could occur because of the drugs. This is the first time this has happened. As I have shared in my other posts, there is always something new crops up in each cycle. So, the hiccup was my last surprise.

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What is the next step? Well, I have to do a PET Scan in 4 weeks time to check if the tumor has reduced and any further signs of cancer still visible. In the meantime, I will use the next few weeks to rest and spend sometime researching on my reward – another vacation! I so deserve it!! I was toying an Asian country like Japan but I am more inclined to visit the Middle East & North Africa – Israel, Jordan and Morocco. Egypt would be a great place to see but given the political unrest, I have to strike it off the list.

Despite not feeling one 100 percent well right now, I wish I could show a dancing emoticon here in this post to illustrate how I am happy not to be poked again for a very long time.

I am back from my hiatus

Yes, I am back from my break in Chiang Mai.  The one week break was what I needed. The weather was perfect – warm in the day without low humidity and the evening temp drops to a pleasant 18 to 22 deg. I enjoyed the flexibility to choose what I wanted to do and when.  One day I may decide to walk around to explore to soak in the sights or the following day I am more than happy to sit by the pool reading my book.

One of the things I cherished most during the past week is sleep.  Such a simple thing I know but the ability to have a deep quality sleep for more than 5 hours per night is a luxury for me – no phone calls or someone pottering around the house early hours of the morning.  Even though I may have only 6 to 8 hours of sleep, I feel rejuvenated.  I will share another post on what I did in Chiang Mai – so bear with me.

Tomorrow is another round of chemotherapy and it is my LAST session!  Wooo hooo!! I am so ready to cross the finishing line.  I just hope that this will the last one I have to face for a very long time to come.  I hope my blood test will be also be positive news.  In my last catch up with the oncologist, she did forewarn me of the possibility of two additional sessions.  This is on the premise that my tumor markers/CEA does not stabilize by the last session.  I keep reminding myself that everything will be fine and I don’t need any further chemotherapy.

The clock is fast approaching midnight.  I should be sleeping soon and ready for a long day.

Bonne nuit from moi!

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