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.