Bald 'n Sassy

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

Archive for the tag “cervical cancer”

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.

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Sleepless in Singapore

Yes, I am having one of those nights where my body is feeling tired but my mind is still active at this hour. But oh no,  this out of sync mode has operated for the last several nights – tsk tsk. I should be in bed by now especially when I have wake up by 7.30am.  My alarm is all set.

I had plans to continue with my regular swimming exercise but the it didn’t help when it rained for the entire day.  So I took the time to spring clean my notebook to create more space on the hard drive.  One of my tasks that is has been on going for the last many months is sorting out my travel photos.  I have only managed to upload about 4 different cities.  There are over 6,000 pictures taken during my adventure.  As you can imagine, it will take a little time to filter them through.  I shall endeavour to finish this ASAP!

The date 11.1.11 marks the 5th cycle of chemotherapy treatment.  This would be second last treatment as planned by the oncologist. You may scratching your head and wondering what is going on? Let’s speed up the timeline a little.  I was first diagnosed in early Nov 2008.  I had my surgery and radiation.  I was in remission with my cancer since early 2009 till June 2010. Upon my return from my travels,  I discovered my cancer has relapsed.  This time the tumor has grown outside my vaginal walls and started to spread to my gall bladder.

Just like my other posts, I will take the time to share my experience going through my second obstacle.  I hope I have the energy to take some time to pen down my thoughts after chemo.

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What’s next?

What’s next after cancer and treatment?  That is the question that patients such as myself are always asked by family and friends.  Though I can’t speak for all cancer patients but that thought continues to swirl around throughout the time when I was undergoing treatments.  I always remember my gynaecologist said to me is that “life must go on”.  That motto stayed with me till now.

With all the post treatment tests and medical appointments, I was eagerly waiting to hear the good news from the doctors’ to declare that treatment was successful.  The auspicious date is 20 January 2008.  It was such a huge relief for me.  But I couldn’t escape from visiting the doctors’ so easily.  The next 2 years are critical for any cancer patient post diagnosis/treatment.  The cancer could relapse within this period.  Hence, every quarter for the next 12 months was essential to monitor my progress.  I diligently followed the scheduled and performed all the necessary scans.  Each appointment when scans and PAP Smears are done, I was waiting in trepidation for the results.  It was two thumbs up each time.  What a HUGE sigh of relief!

After all the daily visits to radiation and medical appointments, I decided to reward my mum, sister and myself by going for a 5 day vacation to Hanoi.  The getaway is my way to say thank you to my family for the unconditional support and looking after me throughout the treatment. Yep, the three ladies was going to have a good time exploring the sites and streets of city.

I returned to work after the vacation after 2.5 months.  My then employer was very understanding of my situation to grant me the time off. I was ever so grateful to them.  Returning to work was a way a distraction away from what I had to endure over the last few months.  It wasn’t too long before I was travelling around Asia.  It may sound crazy to some people to throw myself back into a hectic schedule but this was my normality.  Well at least I am living to one of my nicknames, Crazy Chris.

I plodded along with work over the next few months.  Along the way, I had several in-depth discussions with close friends about my experience.  Going through a life changing incident, I keep coming back on the question of  “what’s next?”.  Whilst having coffee with a dear friend one afternoon in June 2009, he suggested for me to quit work and take some time off.  Do what I want to do.  One of my passions is travelling. I always love to do is to see what the world has to offer and smell the roses.  Later that evening, I was thinking about the conversation and contemplating the idea of quitting work to fulfill this dream.  By the early afternoon of the following day, I chatted to my boss and shared my plans with him.  He supported me with my idea 100% and accepted my decision to resign from my post.  The plan is stop work by end of 2009 and the first half of 2010 was ME time.

If you are curious, here was my travel itinerary for 2010:

26 January to 13 February 2010 – India with 2 other friends

20 February to  1 June 2010 – I was travelling alone around 10 countries in Eastern Europe, Austria.  Italy was added to the list where my mum joined me for 3 weeks.

Yeah to me!  If you must ask, I had a remarkable, fabulous, fantastic time experiencing the people and cultures.

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Cervical Cancer – My treatment, my story (Part 2)

It’s 11.18pm on Friday night.  I decided to continue my story on my cancer treatment.

So I left off where I had to have my hysterectomy surgery.  I made great recovery post operation that I was discharged 6 days. This was the third week of November 2008 when I left.  Boy, was I eager to get home.  Don’t get me wrong, the nurses at Mount Alvernia Hospital here in Singapore looked really great care of me. And I was also happy that my mum was able to fly from Sydney, Australia to help and look after me post surgery.  I needed my mummy at this stage.

I spent the next several weeks recuperating at home.  My mum being the very traditional chinese mother cooked all the right foods that would aid my recovery. According to my mum and many other chinese mothers’ firmly believe certain foods can help and while others I must avoid.  Take for example, chicken liver cooked with some ginger and sherry replenished the blood loss.  Another good example is specific breed of fish cooked with some chinese herbs could speed up the healing of the scar.  On the other side of the spectrum, consuming prawns and other shellfish would irritate the wound and this would slow down the healing process.  Even consuming soya sauce can darken the scar.  Yes, it is very old wives tales but there is some truth in traditional chinese medicine (TCM).

The 4 weeks healing period was also filled with follow-up medical appointments.  It was also my time to consult the specialist to plan out the radiation treatment. Endured all the pre radiation scans and test. I was blessed to be referred to a great oncologist situated at Mount Elizabeth hospital.  He sat down and walk me through the entire process from how it works and targeted radiated area. I even got to view of the scans of my womb post op. 28 was the magic number assigned to me – this was the number of radiation sessions I had to complete.  I would be radiated daily from Monday to Friday starting 5th December 2008.

When the day arrived for my first radiation session, it took a little longer as the nurses had to use a permanent marker to mark on my pelvic area.  These markers will be used to align the machine to make sure it was precisely targeted.  It took about 10 to 15 mins to be radiated.  While the machine rotates to radiate my front and back of my pelvis, I remembered looking around the room and saw there some posters of fishes and corals on the walls to ease the patient’s tension.  The first session went smoothly and the great thing was that it is pain-free 🙂

One of the side effects, I felt from day one of my radiation was fatigue.  Since my session is scheduled in the morning, I would be very tired just after lunch.  As nurses guided me, I took a nap when this happens.  As I progressed along the radiation treatment other side effects I encountered included pubic hair loss, darkened skin where it is radiated and diarrhoea.  In addition to no shellfish and soya sauce intake, I had to change my diet to a low fibre diet to reduce the tummy side effects.  Oh what fun!

Aside from the western treatment, I decided to complement my radiation with some TCM.  The TCM doctor recommended to take some ginseng and cordyceps to minimize the side effects of radiation.  TCM is a mind-boggling and you have to combine the right herbs is not easy.  So I bought a premium grade ginseng and cordyceps.  I would alternate between 2 herbs where it would be simply brewed with water.  You could say drinking the brew was a necessary “caffeine intake”.  Some chinese medicinal herbs don’t always have a pleasant smell and this is a deterrent for me.  If it taste awful, it would take me a little longer to finish drinking the brew.  I force myself to drink simply because it is meant to be “good for me”.  Luckily the ginseng and cordyceps had a nice after taste that I didn’t mind it all.

Come to 3rd week of January 2009, I successfully completed my 28 sessions of radiation.  I asked my oncologist if I get a certificate of achievement for completing all the sessions.  He laughed at me and said that he will work on that.  To this day, 2 years later, I am still waiting for my certificate.

Another round of CT scans and other tests were conducted not long after radiation to see if there was any signs of cancer cells still lurking around. Results looked great.  I was declared that my cancer is in remission.  Yippee!  Now I can return to living my life.

Next step was to pass the 5 year mark to be declared cancer free.

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Cervical Cancer – my treatment, my story (part 1)

As mentioned in my earlier post, I have promised to share what kind of treatment I had to undergo for cervical cancer.  Before any treatment went ahead, a biopsy was initially carried out to confirm its cancerous.  Once it was confirmed, the next step was to establish what stage my cancer. Based on CT scans results indicated that the cancer was localized and didn’t spread beyond the cervix.  This meant my cancer was Stage 1 and can be treated.  The best course of treatment as per my gynaecologist is to have a radical  hysterectomy where by my entire uterus and the upper part of my vagina is surgically removed.  The medical term for this is Wertheim’s hysterectomy.

The surgery was scheduled 1 week after my diagnosis.  During all the initial tests and scans done, I was alone. I broke the news to my family once the results was confirmed. No surprises that it was an immense shock.  The slew of usual questions cropped up “What happened?”, “How did this happen?”, “What happens now?”.  When I think back,  I should have prepared a FAQ.  I had to repeat countless times.

You may think all this time, what was I thinking?  To be honest, I had stayed cool, calm and collected.  Yes, I had my moment alone where I broke down and cried.  I even posed the questions “What now?”.  This alters my life in more ways than one. I programmed my mind that I had to stay focus and let the doctor’s do what they need to do.  I did not allow this disease get the better of me.

When the surgery day came, I jumped into a cab and took myself to the hospital. A family friend met me at the hospital filling out the necessary paperwork. My sister was coincidentally in Europe on vacation and returning on the day of my surgery.  I didn’t want her to cut short her trip.  I re-assured that everything will be ok.  My boss at the time also showed up at the hospital to lend his support.  Surgery took place in the afternoon.  It is expected to last at least 3.5 hours.  Before I went under the gas, my gynaecologist said to me “No fear, ok”.  I replied “No fear”.

I remembered waking up feeling very groggy from the anaesthesia.  At the same time, I was in so much pain.  I could hear voices but barely make out the faces of people around my bed. I could hear my sister’s voice telling she was there. I kept murmuring that “it’s so painful” over and over.  Morphine has already been administered but I was still in excruciating pain.  It felt like an eternity before I fell asleep.

The next day, the doctor came around for post op check.  He explained that he sent another biopsy sample for further testing and discovered some of the cancer cells has spread into some of the surrounding lymph nodes.  Results showed that it wasn’t Stage 1 anymore.  It has moved up to Stage 2B.  In addition to the surgery, I had to include radiation as part of my treatment.  I will separately blog on the radiation treatment.

As most women would understand, a hysterectomy means the choice to procreate ends right here.  Of course for some, this is a personal choice.  But it my case it was necessary.  For me, I felt saddened when my free will to have babies in the future is no longer available.  I love kids! I am great with kids and always possessed great maternal instincts.  I had to mentally accept that bearing my own children was no longer a choice. Looking back, some parts of me have some regrets for not having kids sooner but I have to move forward in my life.

What did I learn at this stage of the treatment?  I just told myself “This is another hurdle I had to overcome”.  I have to stay positive and strong.

Till the next post, good night from me.

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Cervical Cancer – a wake up call

Cancer.  When the doctor or someone mentions the word cancer, devastation would be the typical reaction on a person’s face.  For me, I recall being numb for a few minutes and it was a good few minutes before I could comprehend the news.  Here is what happened.

Back in October, 2008. I took myself to see my local GP to have an overdue PAP Smear done after having some bleeding in between my menstruation cycles for about 2 months or so.  I self diagnosed that the bleeding was due to my hectic work travels and under work stress – sounds familiar to many I am sure.  The doctor performed a regular PAP Smear.  The results came back within 2 days and I was called back to see the doctor in his office.  At the time of the call, I was on a business trip. I knew the results was not good.  I rushed back as soon as I could. The results came back showing some abnormalities and possible traces of cancer cells being present. The news was broken to me 1 day after my 38th birthday.  What a birthday present eh!

Once the news sunk in, I asked what is the next step.  An appointment to see a gynaecologist was necessary.  I had to undergo CT scan to determine where the cancer tumor was and the stage of the cancer.  From there, the gynaecologist could only then prescribe the course of treatment. I will talk a little more on what kind of treatment in a separate blog.

So what does cervical cancer mean to me?  This was a WAKE UP call for me.  I worked hard to enhance my career and try to play hard.  Sometimes the balance is tipped toward working hard more so than playing hard. I had to put ME first and take care of my health before anything else.

Aside from the doctor’s RX to tackle the cancer,  I firmly believe that your mind-set and attitude accounts for a good part of fighting this disease.  Hey, I know this sounds easier said than done. Your body reacts to how you are thinking.  If you tell yourself that you’re sick, then your body will react to notion.  Hence, if you programmed your mind that the cancer cell to overtake your body, then the cancer cells shall continue to divide.

Tell yourself  “I can beat you, cancer!” Cancer can be over powered!  STAY STRONG!

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