Sunday, March 29, 2009

How I Missed School!

When I had the full responsibility of being a teacher on my head, with 27 teaching periods per week, clubs and societies to handle, sports, ad hoc committees etc, I longed for a break. The weekends were life saviors, and I detested working Saturdays, which at times, we had 3 in a month.

After 5 weeks of rest for the mastectomy, I wanted to return to work. It wouldn't be bad as I'm still in the 'pool' for teachers with chronic illnesses, which means I don't have to do anything but turn up for school and be the envy of every other stressed out, sweaty, on-the-verge-of-a nervous-breakdown teachers. But being the considerable person that I am I always asked for classes to teach, although I gladly refused any co-curricular activities that would require me to come early or stay back later.

In 2006, when I was first dumped in the pool, I taught 15 hours a week. Then in 2007, I taught 15 hours of English and 3 hours of something else I couldn't remember. In 2008 I had 15 hours of English and 10 hours of ICTL. Once I was diagnosed again, all the hours were taken away, but the administration has been so wonderful that they let me take back 2 of my English classes if I ever decided to come and teach.

For the first 3 days, I went home vomiting...everything. I was breathless and tired that even lying down didn't help. But still I pushed myself to do this because I needed the mental stimulation. By the fourth day I was feeling better, especially once my brain had started focusing on the work at hand rather than the deteriorating condition of my physical body. But I'm still breathless. Often times I have to consciously control my breathing the Qi-Cong way and visualize the O2 passing through every fiber of my being and straight to my unborn baby. 10 years ago, breathing was something I took for granted.

Anyway, I'm enjoying school now, as much as I can. Although the students piss me off at times, they are also a source of pleasure and for now, one of the keys to my survival...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Funny, funny stuff....

A day before school reopened, my daughter lost me my breast!!! The fake breast that was a legacy from the previous cancer experience!! I took off my bra and as always she would grab the 'thing' with fascination. It was actually a breast-shaped pocket filled with fiber and it was given free of charge by the Breast Cancer Welfare Association. After many years, the fiber had gone flat so I refilled it with (don't laugh!!) shoulder pads and handkerchiefs. I had thrown away the bag of fiber I bought for refilling purposes in 2007, in celebration of a successful breast reconstruction - the DIEP flap.

Anyway, I frantically searched for the thing but it was nowhere to be seen. I ransacked my entire room but it seemed to have vanished into thin air. The shoulder pads and kerchiefs were strewn all over the dressing table, but the pocket itself was gone, kidnapped by aliens. I screamed that I had to go to school tomorrow and I couldn't possibly do so with reconstructed breast on the right and a flat chest on the left. None of the students could take me seriously if I did!!

Then my eyes landed on my Mom's inner head scarf and decided to stuff that into my bra instead. But experience have taught me that its lack of weight would make it move up and up and eventually out of the bra cup. I tried weighing it down with shillings...but the noise they make...and the students may wonder why my breast is producing the sounds of a piggy bank being shaken every time I move. At the last minute I thought of the marbles we use to play Congkak. So I stole a few from downstairs and tied them to the scarf using a rubber band, making sure they didn't produce any attention grabbing sounds. They didn't...well, not much. And it looked good long as the head scarf didn't peek out because the fluorescent yellow could be seen from Antartica...

Well, I'm thinking of going out to buy some proper bras for breast cancer patients tomorrow...
If I knew I was going to get breast cancer again, I would've saved myself the trouble of going through the 12-hour reconstruction!!! Then I wouldn't have any need to stuff my bra everyday...or buy any bra whatsoever...

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This happened a few months ago, while I was happily gulping down my second glass of iced-cold orange juice. I was at the school canteen and the time was about 12 p.m, when the afternoon teachers started coming in and the morning teachers still have a couple of classes to endure before the day's work is over.

Then walked in this teacher, whom nobody talks to much because she builds this invisible wall around her that warns others of her reluctance to socialize. She only talks to a previlege few, and that day I was apparently the VIP. She landed on the chair opposite mine eating a bit of this and that, making faces at everything that touched her palate. I ignored her, because I have learned that you only speak to her when spoken to.

Other teachers came in and we chatted and then they left, leaving us alone again. Suddenly she granted me with an exchange. She stood up, walked over to my side, grabbed my upper arm and said "Why do you suddenly got fat, ah?"
I was speechless, uncertain how to respond. Then she she grabbed the other arm "See, fat here too".
"Errm..., I'm pregnant? I always bloat like a hippo during pregnancy".
She looked surprise to know that I was expecting, "Maybe, but you have fat all over you".

I rest my case.

Another 'friend' came to visit me at home after my mastectomy. She was surprised to see that I had my hair cut short. The last time I was hospitalised I had a head full of wavy hair down beyond my shoulders and after the surgery I woke up with dried up blood matting my hair down to the scalp. So I learned my lesson this time, what with chemo coming up there's really no need to worship a few hair strands. Laughing aloud, probably thinking it was funny, she recalled my intentions of having my hair highlighted and permed but only ended up with a boy cut.

I could ignore a remark like that to a mere oversight, a short lapse in sensitivity, if she stopped there. but she kept on giggling and pointing fingers at my head that it began to irritate me.
"XXXXX, I did get the highlight and the perm, remember? You have the picture in your mobile!!"
"Yeah, yeah, but funny lah after all that you end up with this", she insisted.
"I'm going bald soon".
"Still..."...(laugh, laugh, laugh)
And this came from a woman who was not few months ago came complaining to me that during a pot luck, while she was filling up her two plates with food, someone commented on its amount that started to build up like the Himalayas. And this came from friend who constantly complains that people always make fun of her big tummy, as she always look pregnant when she isn't, and look even terrifying when she does. I mean, I would expect her to have some sensitivity towards others as she is obviously so in tuned with her own predicament.

But life would be colourless without such irritations to irk you. It makes me realise what a nice person I am...and I'm thankful...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

After Surgery...

Two weeks after surgery, the fluid and blood accumulated under my arms and they caused my already flabby arm to look like...even flabbier arm. So Ms Aina had an MO aspirated the fluid out using a syringe. I healed speedily after that.

Then on the 11th of March I went to see my Onco, who was never around the first time I battled cancer in 2004. I brought her an update from Ms Aina because surprise, surprise... no Onco turned up for the combine meeting held a week prior. It was decided during the meeting that I was to have a C-sec at 30 weeks, and chemo about 2 weeks after that. After I voiced my concerned about the baby being borned at 3o weeks gestation to the onco...with the risks of lungs failure, infection, brain haemorrhage, apnea...she agreed to let the delivery be delayed to 32 weeks. "At patient preference" she told her MO to write in my file, in case I brought it against her in the future. And chemo was to start 4 weeks after that.

I was also told that this is not a recurrence, but a second primary, meaning a new cancer unrelated to the first one although they appear to share most characteristics: grade 3 tumor, triple negative...

I would have preferred to have chemo start earlier, probably 3 weeks after c-sec, because as always I'll recover fast. but the Onco couldn't know that could she? Because she wasn't always around...

A week may not seem much of a wait to anybody else but to a cancer patient...they are days worth counting.

I remembered when I went to Kinokuniya in KLCC with Aishah (HI CHAH!!) to look for Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivors' Soul, I came across an interesting book I so wanted to read but dare not buy. The title runs something like What Your Doctors Do Not Tell You. I flipped to the pages that concern me and it asks a very thought- provoking question...
"Why is it that a cancer patient survival is always evaluated at a five year time frame, not ten or twenty?"
The common believe is that if you pass the 5-year mark, you are considered "cured", which is stupid as cancer cannot be cured, unlike chicken pox!! I don't believe in that shit much because I've met people who relapsed after 7 and 10 years.
The book insists that chemo or whatever drug is available out there is only able to put you in remission for 5 years, if you are lucky. Most cancer patients die of cancer, sooner or later, depending on which is faster... the car speeding down the road or the cancer cells.

I personally do not care which comes first, as long as it doesn't come anytime soon. I don't mind dying, but I worry about my children. It's damn difficult not to believe in statistics with 11 lymph node positive for regional mets... and I keep hoping for a miracle...for me...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Recovery

The recovery process was okay. I didn't believe in not eating certain things because they supposedly delay recovery, or eating a lot of certain other things because they speed it up. I just ate what I bloody well felt like eating. On the second day after surgery, I had a craving for 'kuey teow kerang' which my hubby not so regretfully substituted with 'kuey teow udang'. I ate that heartily. I also took eggs, even gladly accepted my next bed neighbour offer of her half-boil.

I remember when I was recuperating from my DIEP-flap at the plastic surgery ward in 2007, the help who delivered our breakfast whispered to me, good intentionally mind you..."I put these eggs here because they tell me too. Don't eat them if you want to heal quickly. They are not good if you just had an operation. They will leave puss and blood that'll look worse than a diabetic foot". Her eyes pitily wandered over the two tubes than came out of my right breast and the other two from my tummy. I bet she gave that advice to everyone in the ward because I sure could see two uneaten eggs on every tray, except mine.

The DIEP-flap surgery took approximately 12 hours and I was only woken up the next day. After I had the morphine taken off two days later, I noticed a man opposite my bed, his left foot wrapped and dangled from rods screwed to the bed. His wife came every day, feeding him, changing him. I learned that he was a policeman whose foot got run over by a lorry, wrecking the bones and nerves. He was there to try and get the foot fix , but by the look of him you would have thought he was the one with cancer, not me. He was so down and depressed he didn't talk to anyone, or make eye contact with anyone. The rest of us were happily calling McDonald's and Pizza Hut for delivery.

Unbeknown to me, the wife and the mother who came to visit him were watching me eat. So one day the wife approached me and asked why did I eat everything with little consideration for its effects on the wounds. So I said I did care...that's why I ate everything. I just had to recover quickly to go back to my daughter.

Then of course I had to explain about food pyramid, vitamins and minerals, like I was teaching Form 1 Physical Ed. I guess she told the hubby because the next day he sat up and began smiling to me, and ate everything. The patient before me who had free DIEP-flap was warded for 52 days. I was discharged after 10 days. That's the power of food...

But I digress...

This time round recovery was slower than 2004, but the scar that was left behind was less horrendous than the previous one. My left shoulder was tense for a couple of weeks but massages took care of that. There was more fluid to be drained this time and the drainage tubes were real pain in the ass. Being pregnant made it worse. I couldn't lie on my back because I got breathless and I couldn't lie on my left because of the darn tubes. So I had to be content with facing the sink on my right day in day out, and that resulted in even worse sore than the surgery itself.

Having cancer alone is hard enough on anybody, but to be pregnant at the same time...that requires super power to confront. But seriously, my daughter helps a lot. Although most of my energy is spent on her, she loves to hug me and give me kisses and would always want some parts of her body to be touching mine. That alone is enough to cure me of all the illnesses in the world.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Inevitable....

When the news leaked to my friends, most looked at me with pity, which irritated me to the moon. God, how I hate that insincere sad look as they tried to look like they care when they really didn't. Some were really sympathetic, but for the wrong reasons. They might as well have balloons on top of their heads that say "Pity her not having any breast after this" or "The hubby will sure wander off soon". What they don't understand is, I didn't have any weird attachment to my breasts as they were never a source of self-esteem. I wasn't one to flaunt my cleavage, or wear tight fitting mini t-shirts to show off the C cups. In fact, when I first got them, they were an embarrassment, a nuisance I'd rather do without. For the first two years, I wore sweathers at midday, despite the 32 degrees Celcius.

Anyway, living with cancer inside you is like having a time bomb waiting to explode. Each day, a little of its toxicity leaks into your blood stream and when enough has circulated, either through the lympathic system or the vascular system, you turn into a mutant. Not nice ones like in Mutant X, but gory ones that everybody is eager to terminate.

So I quickly asked Ms Aina when could I get rid of this damnation and she looked relieved that I was so eger to do this. I imagined she came across enough patients who wanted delay so they could visit some shamans in some remote area of Kelantan who could miraculously transfer the cancerous cells to chickens or white breads. Or maybe that herbal tonic so widely advertised in tabloids would help, because they have pictures to prove.

Not yours truly though. So the surgery was scheduled a week after the 10th March, because I had to see the Gynae first to ensure that Qays, that's the baby I'm carrying now, was just as ready for the surgery, which he was. Then I had to go and see the Lung Specialist, to get a lung function test done because my asthma got pretty bad. She gladly diagnosed me with bronchial asthma and put me on the preventer and reliever. Next I had to see the Anesthetist who assessed the reports done by the lung specialist and gynea and decided on the proper GA.

I had never been so divided in my entire life. I was told that the GA could trigger an abortion. The Anesthetist couldn't make that clearer, and they made me sign forms for that. But the Gynea was confident that everything would go well, telling me that they see this all the time. I remembered thinking, as I was laid down on the operating table and all sorts of lines were connected to my hands and back, whether I should just bail out. As the Anesthetist injected the drugs that would put me to sleep into one of the lines, I screamed inside for everything to stop because the risk of losing the baby was suddenly too much to handle. The moment I was awakened from the GA, the first thing that I did was to grab my tummy to see if Qays was still there, and he was. Thank God!!

Unlike the first mastectomy in 2004, I didn't wake up puking green, bitter liquid. It was just like waking up from a deep sleep, and I could drink and eat soon after. But the recovery was worse, with soreness enveloping my entire left torso. But the thought of my daughter Qistina brought the best in me, and by the time dinner was served I could hold my left hand high above my head. Dr. Wilson chose just that momemnt to check on me and he was impressed, but probably concerned a bit because he quickly offered me painkillers, which I galantly refused. See, for this surgery, I didn't take painkillers at all. NOT ONE!

Later a nurse came and handed me a piece of paper and a pencil, for me to jot down the time each contraction occurs.
"What contractions?" I asked.
"Well, you baby of course", she calmly replied.
"Why? I don't feel any".
"Really? Because there were contractions during the op", she explained.
My heart almost stopped. I almost lost my baby. The next 48 hours was hell on earth. The pain was forgotten. I kept obsessing about the other life inside of me, about this piece of heaven that I carry inside my uterus. He was as strong as I was. We both survived the surgery.

Thank God.

These are pictures of the bath foam that they told me to rub my body with prio
r to surgery, the shaver to shave unwanted hair in the area concerned and the ceiling that I stared at on long lonely nights....

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why The Long Silence...

No, I wasn't busy. In December laziness just took over. Not common laziness. I just grew tired for no absolute reason, breathless after climbing up one flight of stairs, enjoying the sight of ceilings than horizons. So there I was, like a zombie until the mid of January...
Then the inevitable happened. I noticed two painful lumps at the lower outer quadrant of my left breast. After the failure with my daughter I was really looking foward to breastfeeding this time round, and I seriously thought the lumps were my breast getting ready for that because you know how your breasts go through confusing changes by the fourth/fifth month of pregnancy.
But by the end of the third week of January, the pain increased and so did the lumps, only they weren't round but sort of oblong. Well, not really. They just felt like swollen veins. The thought of cancer did cross my mind but the last time the lump was round and it wasn't painful, and the thought of having cancer while pregnant was just too horrific to consider...and there was this thing called hope...
Hope though gave me sleepless nights. And on the night of 29th January, I heard a voice in a dream insisting that I go for an ultrasound. Don't you think that is so Malaysian? That I only make a move after a dream? But really, that was my subconscious yanking me off my fat-laden butt and it worked. On the 3oth, I forced my way through an irritated clerk to get to the doctor, whom because of the long list of desperate patients, had to forego his Friday prayer.
Dr. Sulaiman told me the lumps looked suspicious, but they could be abcess. He scanned the axillar but that part was clear. I asked whether I need to hurry for a biopsy because my appointment was on 17th March, or should I just wait for the appointment date. He told me it's up to me. What kind of advice was that? I might as well ask my monkey. He was probably trying not to scare me off...and I hated doctors who gave hope when there was none...
What pushed me anyway was the fact that after many visits to the establishment for everything from mammogram to Pap Smear, this time he refused payment. The ultrasound and counsultation which cost RM120, were given free of charge.
Once home I called the hospital insisting on meeting my surgeon on 3rd March, which was granted once I explained what the ultrasound revealed. Ms. Aina was appalled that this happened because when I saw her in November, I was great. I went for an ultrasound guided biopsy and by this time, there were 3 lumps, one in the axillar. And a week later, they all turned up positive for Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma...or in layman's term, breast cancer.
And I thought NOT AGAIN!!! NOT NOW!!!!