August 17, 2011

"And in between the moon and you, angels get a better view, of the crumbling difference between wrong and right." - Counting Crows

this is the story of my detour. my pitstop. my “facing-cancer-and-hitting-it-in-the-face” experience. this is the story of me.

       It was a usual day at work, juggling through patients’ progress notes, nurses’ questions and senior resident’s requests. I was nonchalantly scratching my neck that morning when I noticed a lump sitting on top of my left clavicle (collar bone). It wasn’t huge, but it was unusually there. “This wasn’t here this morning” or so I thought. Being a new doctor, whose concern for her patients weighed more than her own “suddenly-there” lump, I brushed it aside and self-diagnosed it as “NOTHING serious”. But as per other doctors’ advice, I had blood work and radiographs done at the end of the day, still with “nothing serious” rolling through my mind over and over again. But it was nothing close to nothing serious, I tell you. Because after all the tests and the scans, and a short tour to the operating room for a small biopsy, my lump turned out to be cancer. Hodgkins lymphoma to be exact. It is cancer of the lymph nodes. And it was in me. The date was February 15. And it marked the day that my life started anew.

       From then on I had to temporarily stop working, something I found very hard to acclimatize. I’ve gotten so used to waking up at 5 in the morning, doing early morning rounds to check on patients, ending the day all worn-out and beat, that I didn’t know how I should act when I have the entire day spent at home. I was a mess. A bored mess so to say. But that was the least of the adaptational struggles I went through. I had to accept the tiny fact that for the time being, I was the patient, not the doctor.

      Routinely, I went through immunization updates, bone marrow biopsies (I wish no one ever has to go through that), and other pre-treatment what nots. I had been sporting a really long do then simply because I never had time to visit the beauty parlor. I was unrealistically confident I’d never have to lose my hair in chemo. But I was wrong. After 3 sessions, running my fingers through my head was like harvesting rice in the field. They just started falling off, not one by one, but in clumps. I rarely towel dried my hair with fear of seeing them all fall off at once. It was horribly depressing seeing long strands of hair on the wooden floor of my bedroom, on the tiled floors of the kitchen and dining room, and on the wet, slippery bathroom floors. It was all too depressing. So I shaved them all. And I never once saw another hair strand on the floor again, except that of my dogs’. 

       I cannot even fathom to describe how cruelly toxic chemotherapy can be. I try to eat plenty during breakfast, I puke it all out during lunch, and I have ice chips for dinner. Whats worse, I already have my horrible puking sessions even before the real treatment starts. This thing we call “anticipatory emesis”. A term I will forever hate for the rest of my life. I struggled with it throughout my entire 12 sessions of chemotherapy. I want to personally meet it and kick it in the groin. If that’s even possible. In between chemotherapy sessions, life seemed pretty normal. Or one could say, relatively normal.

      I get blood work done every few days or so, and usually have low counts. This prompts me to have doses of a blood cell stimulating drug, which I’d have to inject every few days or so, depending on my count. Its not a simple drug. It hurts like hell. Its only 1mL in volume but it’s the most painful 1mL there is. I hate that drug but  its helping replace the cells i lose in therapy. 

     Moving on, its now been 6 months since my diagnosis. I’ve had 12 sessions of chemotherapy, shaved my head 3 times, read a few chapters in my medical book, been to countless blood tests with my spotted, scarred arm being proof of them. I’ve managed to still go to social gatherings, so long as im strong enough to wear heels. I’ve also watched several films on movie houses and have worn disposable masks in most of them. I’ve been put to a scare of developing a serious infection, but was lucky enough to hamper it. I’ve owned 6 wigs, worn only 2 of them. I’ve perfected the art of making delicious and creamy mashed potatoes, or I assume I have. And I’ve started blogging, evidently so. 

I still have a few more chemotherapy sessions to hurdle. And i cant wait to get to the checkered flag. I know i'll come out of this a different person, possibly not entirely better, but definitely a lot more grateful for my second lease on life. 

August 4, 2011

"is there really no escape? no escape from time of any kind"..... ..... - Duncan Sheik

A few days ago I was trying to make myself useful by doing simple household chores. It was initially uneventful until I noticed that I was literally trying to catch my breath. I had to pause, look for a place to sit, and breathe. It was unnerving because I’ve never felt anything like it. I've never had to catch my breath in my life. I have never noticed my minute-by-minute respiration except maybe in the past when I used to join in 10-km fun runs. But this was different. It was like I couldn't get enough air, couldn’t expand my lungs enough to satisfy my craving. 
“What’s happening to me?” I asked myself, with a hint of panic in my head. 
So I just sat there and I just tried to breathe.

That may have been a very scary event for me, or anyone, for that matter.
 But figuratively, we’ve all had moments in our lives when we can hardly breathe. Moments when we feel like we’re running in a marathon, with our hearts pacing and our lungs can only do so much. We live each day in supersonic-speed we forget to take time to smell the roses. Consumed by the demands of work, the expectations of loved ones, and the standards we set for ourselves, we often suffocate in disappointments, regrets and frustrations. And we find ourselves crawling, reaching, just gasping for air. Oftentimes, we dive deep and wait ‘til the air tanks in our lives have hit the red mark for LOW despite having been warned lots of times to slowly start the ascent. We try to go the surface, we try to relax, give ourselves a breather. But then, most often than not, it’s all too late. We’ve drowned; drowned in overwhelming stresses, in unrelenting fears, and in underestimated self-worth.

I took my time, and taught myself to breathe in- breathe out, like chanting for someone about to give birth. It annoyingly took quite some time but I cringe at the thought of giving up. So I kept going, and going, until breathing became more natural and panic has left my system. It was exhilarating, the feeling that you’ve survived a potential life-ender. Exaggerated as it may sound, the possibility of death did come into mind. I was alone at home; still battling with a little thing called cancer; any sudden-onset dyspnea while doing minimal work could smell like disaster.

So take time to breathe, in all ways that the word connotes. Merriam-Webster defines “to breathe” as to enjoy relief. Therefore, we should not be in haste. Life isn’t a race; it’s more like a privileged journey. When and how the journey ends we don’t really know, so while you still have the free ride to life, inhale and exhale, every once in a while. ;-)

that's me and my friend Princess studying in a pastry shop in Cebu., all photos taken using her phone camera. 
 Somewhat unrelated to the post but hey, we both took a break and took some time to breathe  :) 

August 1, 2011

"even as the eyes are closin' , do it with a heart wide open" .... .... -John Mayer

felt the warm hug of the sun today for the first time in days. it was even better than i’d expected, as it had just rained and there was a hint of cool breeze as its rays reached my skin. i’m enjoying every bit of sun i can get since the forecast has been warning us of more rain in the coming days. don’t get me wrong, i love the rain. but lately it’s been so dark and gloomy outside and all i see on the news are flooded areas here and there. the rain hasn’t been very nice to a lot of people and
 everyone’s craving for a little sunshine. :-) 

like the weather, life can sometimes be all too bleak and gloomy, making you doubt the existence of a silver lining. like walking in an unlighted alley, or diving deep into dark waters. It can sometimes get so dark you’re like crawling inside a cave wishing the earth would crack just so you'll get a glimpse of the light. Its frustrating sometimes.  u try so hard to live it right, yet circumstances choose to deviate from a straight path. 
u look back to examine, asking yourself, “Where did I go wrong?” but instead of answers, you only get more and more questions.
i say, what’s the point of asking? channel your energy somewhere else.
 in the blinding darkness of life, start looking for holes where light can enter, or better yet, create your own fire. never let it scare you, never let it defeat you. but allow the experience to teach you. after all, we all need a lesson or two about humility, about courage, about faith.
do what you can to get your taste of sunshine. Pray. believe. ask for help.
and while you’re at it, be mindful that others may be in that situation too.

I recently hurdled past my 12th chemotherapy session. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6 months already. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter everyday. Im getting closer to finishing this detour in my life.
 I can’t completely say that the experience has been radically life-changing. It’s more like waking up from a dream you never realized was a nightmare. 

tell me ur story and i'll tell u mine :)

Non-registered users can now post comments, thanks for the concern!For other suggestions,
tel me or ask me at