Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My 31st birthday - Hanging off the calendar

I know it does not translate correctly. Where I come from, people say you're hanging off the calendar (sumasabit ka sa calendaryo) when you turn 31. It's the last digit you see on the calendar (and not all months end in 31). When you turn 32, you'll officially be off the calendar. Then you'll be old - or at least - not young. My grandmother would say we sould not complain since she wasn't even in the Bingo digits anymore (which go to 75). She lived to 82. Until then, she still denied being old. No one called her grandma. We all called her Nanay (mother).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chemo Cycle 2 - Summary

It took me longer to recover from this cycle than the first. It felt a little worse as well. But that's expected since chemo stays in my body for a long time so now I've got 2 doses in me.

Wednesday and Thursday were the worst days. The worst of it being fatigue. This time the nausea was there. I was not retching but my tummy felt like it was upside down. Eating was more difficult this time. I was just not interested in food.

Friday, I was more comfortable on my feet. My head felt like it was screwed on properly but it still felt foreign. I really needed a bath this day. So I decided to buzz my hair. Kel was nice enough to do it for me. Burke was there watching (I didn't want to shock her so I wanted her there while it was being done). I didn't want to look in the mirror after. But I couldn't avoid it since we have a big mirror in the bathroom. It looks better than I expected. I look like an asian monk. Burke was laughing her head off - "Mom, you look like Dad. Can I call you Dad?".

By the end of the day, I was used to the buzz cut. I loved walking right after the bath. I could feel the wind in my scalp.

Saturday, I was still woozy. Maybe it's coz I sat on the couch all day. It sort of drains your strength and will to get up and do anything.

Sunday, I was still woozy. But this time, I had resolved to feel better. So we went to church at noon and we had lunch out. We never found a good Vietnamese place around where I lived so we drove about half an hour to one of our old favorite places - Pho Cyclo. Not only do they serve pho and those yummy summer rolls, they also have vermicelli toppings with barbecued meat piled high on it. Needless to say, we had a feast.

Then we went to a park near the house. That was the best part. We walked by the lake and browsed the shops. Then the wind started to blow and the sun hid behind the clouds so it got too chilly. We ducked into a latino market to get some coconut juice. At the counter, the lady was peeling unripe mango (for her and her friends to eat). I have not seen unripe mango eaten here in this country and you would not believe how my mouth watered at the site of the sour mango and the thought of dipping it in bagoong (shrimp paste - it's a pinoy thing). So, I bought the greenest magoes I found in the back. Unfortunately, they were too ripe already to be sour. Oh, well, at least I was feeling much better.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

chemo cycle 2 - day 3

Another bad day... But Mom did find a sandwich I really liked so it wasn't so bad. After eating, I always feel a little better and stronger. I slept most of the day.

Highlights of my day was hearing Mom talk to friends and family calling about me. The concern warms my heart.

I was up in the middle of the night again - no wonder since I was sleeping all day. I got to watch Mr. & Mrs. Smith (simply hillarious!). After which was an emotional upheaval that I could not explain. I was praying one minute - then begging and pleading for my life the next. It needed doing. It helped that Kel was there.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

chemo cycle 2 - day 2

Unfortunately, this was a bad day... The water was yucky tasting. I was forcing my self to just eat anything. Nothing was appealing. The only thing that made me eat was that I was really hungry. So, I forced in some soup... Not fun...

Funny thing that happened: I woke up with the hiccups. Not just ordinary little ones, these were huge hiccups. I woke up everyone. The doc says they've seen that before. They're not sure exactly what's causing it. They only lasted 15-20 mins. I had another spell in the afternoon. The novelty wore off...

I worked a little bit. Took my mind off what what happening to my body. Not too long, though, my mind started to turn to mush in an hour or so. But the mental activity was good.

Burke went to ballet class for the first time and she dazzled us with the new steps she learned. Highlight of my day.

I was up from 2am to 5am. Mom was with me. We prayed a little bit which always helps. I try to open myself up to blessings from the prayers other people are sending my way as well. Thanks, everyone!!!

Monday, March 20, 2006

chemo cycle 2 - day 1

This was a good day. I was very peppy and active. I was at the doc's office for only 5 hours this time. They were able to revv up the chemo since it's now my 2nd cycle.

I prayed some of the time. Worked most of the time. They had wireless internet. Since the side effects were not there yet, I was quite productive. It made time go by so much faster.

One of my classmates have already buzzed her hair off. I'm seriously thinking about it since I'm now afraid to shower coz I don't want to clog the drain. It's really a hassle.

After chemo, I was even able to go out for some time. I went to the pharmacy (Kel was driving), and I even passed by the office to drop off some goodies to a couple of my bosses. And I said hello to everyone else.

By the time I got home, though, I was pooped. But I received an e-mail from Liza - my best friend since I was 2! We've lost touch the last couple of years so the news of my cancer really shocked her. But I was very happy to have reconnected with her. And that reconnection revitalized me. I am reminded of the best times of our lives when we were growing up next door to each other and had no cares in the world. The last couple of years had theirs joys and difficulties, and it made it all the worse not sharing in each others lives. Well, we both knew if one reached out, the other would be there. It's nice to have friends like that...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I'm loosing it....

I'm officially loosing my hair. 19 days after my first chemo cycle... I thought I'd have to wait a little longer. So, last Wed, I had my hair trimmed (I'm sporting a bob cut to the ears) thinking I'd have more time with my thick locks.

I noticed yesterday as I was brushing my hair before taking a bath (my ritual since I don't want to clog my drain), the hair would just keep coming. Not in huge clumps so it's not traumatic. Just everytime I run even just my fingers through my hair, I'd get a few strands. Then, during the day, anyone who would talk to me would just reach out an take some hair off my shirt. (They were all family.) Then when I woke up this morning, I had the most hair in the bed.

Since I was expecting this alopecia (medical term for hair loss), I'm not in the least traumatized or depressed about it. I don't feel bad about it in any way. It's a bit of a hassle coz of the mess. Wearing a hat seems to keep the mess at bay.

I'm trying to imagine myself with no hair to mentally prepare myself. It seems weird when I'm thinking about it but that's actually the point. Hopefully, if I think about it enough, it won't be so weird when I actually see it.

So, I'm planning to cut my hair in the near future. My options are a boy-cut that I'm dreadding since it just will not flatter my round face in any way. So, I'm also considering just taking my hubby's clippers and just buzz it all off (a-la Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta). That's the most economical alternative. I've got hats that will cover that up. Then there's the wig alternative. That's the most expensive route. Although, if my doctor prescribes me a cranial prosthesis, my insurance might pay for part of it.

I'm still taking my time with my options. If the hair loss stays this gradual, I'll just keep my hair.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Grazing on the alternative side of the fence

It's chemo week next week. That means this is a good week. I feel like a normal human being. Except for my medications - an industrial strength cough suppressant that keeps me from sounding like a dog, anti-ulcer medication that protects my tummy (from what - I'm not really sure. I really should ask my doc.), plus a glutathione supplement that should aid the chemo med target the cancer cells while protecting my normal cells.

I feel great. I do my 40-hour work week from home. I go out sometimes - to go to church, the grocery or cafe. The last couple of days the weather's been really nice and I'd take a peek outside and soak in some sun.

This week, I did a lot of research on good nutrition. I find that nutritional healing of cancer is actually considered 'Alternative Healing'. Early on, I asked my doc what I should eat to give my body the extra ooomph I need to battle this disease. She said, "Anything you feel like eating." She says that to all her cancer patients on chemo mostly because one of the side effects is loss of appetite and one of the worst things a cancer patient can do is loose weight. The only limitation she gave me is no raw food. Good-bye, sushi and oysters! I was raised on sushi so this is a big loss. Although given a choice between raw fish and the chance to live longer...

My next door neighbor, LH, hands me books on nutritional healing and alternative healing options for cancer. (Why she has these is her story to tell.) So, I comb through these books and notes she passed on to me. Here's what I've started to do.

Most basic - I need a lot of water. A lot! Sure, I can do 10 glasses of water a day. Even my doc told me that. It'll protect my kidneys from damage of toxins of the chemo.

Most obvious - Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I need the anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. That's easy! Bring out the broccoli! Now, I need to eat a rainbow of colors and one member of each of the 7 vegetable families. (Beets and spinach are in the same family?) I'm eating so much fruit and veggies, I feel I don't have enough time in the day to finish all the veggies I need to eat. Thus, you'll find me grazing at all times of the day.

No refined sugar or flour. That means no baked goods. The processing of the sugar and flour renders them devoid of nutritional value. (Fine - I don't think I have time to fit that in my schedule anyway.) (Okay! I still sneak in a piece of that heavenly chocolate YT sent! - Thanks, YT!)

Now I teeter over the alternative edge...

Go organic. Goodness... I'm not that rich. Organic veggies are 2x the price as conventional. Organic meats are at least 3x more expensive. So, I buy organic when it's on sale. Organic is better for me because there are no pesticides and growth hormones. But let's be reasonable, my family needs to eat too...

6 cups of green tea a day. Either that or pop a pill. I don't need another pill to pop so chug-a-lug. This is on top of my 10 glasses of water so you can imagine I'm running to the potty every so often. Green tea contains catechin, a flavonoid that inhibits tumor growth.

I have to keep my pH balance as alkaline as possible. It's a more harsh environment for the cancer. That means most fruits and veggies. (Curiously, citrus fruits are acidic but they make your body alkaline.) Protien makes you acidic but I still need that to keep my muscle so I minimize.

Fermented soy products like miso, natto and soy sauce have lots of good stuff in them. Best of which, for me, I think, are the isoflavinoids that stop cancer cells from proliferating and even may help in turning them back to normal (sounds incredible, but okay, good thing I'm asian and I'm used to eating that stuff).

Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much other stuff that conflict it's enough to drive you nuts (of which, I can only eat Brazil nuts and almonds which I'm not too fond of).

I'm also looking at other supplements. I haven't started my research yet. I'll clue you in as soon as I do.

If you want recipies, my sources or whatever. Drop me a comment. Leave your e-mail and I'll remove your e-mail before I post your comment.

Happy grazing!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

How I found out I had cancer

Early in December 2005, I just thought that I needed to get a complete physical. I've never had a physical before and since I turned 30 this year, I thought it was time. So, I had no symptoms or even slightest inkling that anything was amiss. I felt great. A little out of shape since I hadn't seen the inside of a gym since I lived in Manila 5 years before (a more affluent time of my life).

My life was pretty hectic. I was trying to establish my career. We have a 3 year old daughter. We were trying to settle a family in a far away land. 2005 was good to us. We just moved into our own apartment - the first home we called truly ours. We just bought a new car. Our old one was so old, it was hemorraging.

So, I went to see Dr. Gus. We did the usual blood draw, urine sample, pap smear, EKG. The results came out beautifully. I looked really healthy except for this weird anomaly in my EKG. Since my father had a massive heart attack at age 38, he wanted me to investigate further. He ordered an ECG (sonogram of the heart) and asked me to see a cardiologist.

I saw the cardiologist, Dr. K, in mid January. She saw the anomaly in my EKG. The ECG results did not explain the anomaly in the EKG. She ordered a stress test and a CT Scan of the heart. Let me just say that they are not kidding with that stress test. They really stress you out. I was running on that treadmill within 5 mins. I was huffing and puffing in 6. They do not lessen the pace for short people. Is that really fair? Anyway, the result of the stress test was normal given the abnormal baseline.

At this point, I was really worried. What is happening? Is something really wrong with my heart? I used to be an athlete. I used to swim competitively. I hardly get sick. People would catch a cold all around me and I would usually be spared. I thought I had a kick-ass immune system. The doctor said, the CT scan will show us exactly what is wrong.

One more development that same month - I developed this weird cough. I went to see Dr. Gus about it and he said it was a sinus infection and ear infection at the same time. So, he gave me antibiotics to cure it.

On Jan 31, I had the CT Scan. I thought that was so cool. I was experiencing state of the art modern medicine first hand. They made me lie down on what looked like a balance beam while this huge ring was moving up and down the length of my chest. This female machine voice would say "Hold your breath." Then the scanner would whir and move for about 40 seconds or so. "Breathe" it would say after taking the pictures. They sprayed this drug under my tongue to dilate the blood vessels. Took more pictures. They injected me with dye. Another photo shoot. After all that, the technician said, "If we find something urgent, our doctor will call your doctor who'll call you."

On Feb 1, Dr. K calls me at the office. Uh-oh. Bad omen. I don't remember the exact words she said but she wanted to see me at her office first thing the next day and I had to bring my husband. Don't get me wrong. Dr. K is one of the nicest doctors I've ever met. But no doctor will tell you that you have cancer over the phone. Although, it was obvious in her voice that something was up.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep that night. I couldn't. My cough was driving me nuts and I was sleeping on our loveseat so I could elevate my head. I really tried not to panic but I broke down by 2am. My husband comforted me saying we don't know anything yet. And whatever it is, they'll treat it. They do a lot of great things for heart disease these days (remember, we still thought it was my heart at this point).

On Feb 2, Dr. K says that my heart is perfectly fine. But they found this large mass in my chest. It looks malignant. Lots of other small masses in both lungs. But the one of concern is the big mass in the upper right lung. Can it be something else? Yes, it's possible. Only a biopsy can tell for certain what it is. But the radiologist thinks it's cancer. Is it the early stage? Not this size. It's about 3.5 cm (golf ball size). At this point, I'm a robot. Dr. K. wanted me to see a pulmonologist (lung doctor) that same day. She knows someone down the hall who is willing to see me at any time. I needed to get my CT scan films as well as a chest x-ray.

I did my chest x-ray at 12 noon and I got my CT scan films (15 mile drive), I was at the pulmonologist's office by 2pm. It turns out, he's not in my insurance network. He was willing to see me but I'd have to foot the bill. I figured that if I needed treatment for cancer, I can't be spending needlessly. So I declined his services and his staff looked for a pulmonologist in my network and made me the first possible appointment - next Tuesday. That's 5 days away. I went to my new pulmonologist's office to beg to be seen earlier. No luck.

My husband has an uncle in New Jersey who was an internist. We're really close to Tito Hec so I called and asked if we could drive over that night. I just needed to be near family. It also helped that he was a doctor. So, I told my boss about the mass in my lung and that I needed a few days to go to Jersey. From the start, she was very supportive.

So we packed up our gear and headed to Jersey ( 4 hour drive that took us 5 hours - we got a little lost ). He was shocked. So was his wife, Tita Bing. They saw us Thanksgiving and Christmas - I looked fine. He looked at my films. Was I loosing weight? No and God knows I've been trying. Any pain. None whatsoever. Just doesn't add up. He said he'll have his friends look at it the next day.

Tito Hec did not work the next day. He assembled a panel to look at my films. They all agreed. It looks like cancer. I needed a biopsy right away. They were all willing to do it gratis. But if they do it, that's already the first step towards treatment. There might be an issue of continuity of care if I had the biopsy done there and treatment in Virginia. Plus, there also might be an issue of cost. The biopsy will have to be done in a hospital. It meant poking a big needle through my chest and into my lung to get to the mass. There was a risk of the lung collapsing. I decided to have all the procedures done in Virginia. I could not afford not to work. I'm the breadwinner of my family. Without my job, I don't have medical insurance. Without my job, I can't support my family.

to be continued...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dana Reeves

Like many people, I was shocked to hear about Dana Reeves death last night. We have the same lung cancer - adenocarcinoma. We're both young, non-smoking, otherwise (other from the cancer) healthy females. I bet she had the latest and greatest medical care. She died 7 months after diagnosis.

I remember that whenever I'd tell somebody I had lung cancer I'd say - "I have the same thing as Mrs. Christopher Reeves has." Fact is, the younger you are, the more aggressive the cancer is. She was 45? I'm 30.

Yes, I'm terrified. How do I deal? I don't. I pray and surrender it all. I know I have no control over this. So, I let it go. Easy way out? Actually, it is. You should try it sometime....

Saturday, March 04, 2006

chemo cycle 1 - day 6

I did not sleep a wink last night. I was coughing all the way. Thank goodness it didn't hurt for me to cough. I just could not sleep. So I spent the night praying that even if I was not sleeping, my body would somehow recouperate and energize my immune system to continue the battle.

I woke up - or rather - I actually got up feeling fine. Burke's godmother was here since last night to keep her occupied while Kel and I just breathed. It was a welcome relief. Thanks, Nana!!!

It was comical yesterday while Nana wasn't here yet... Kel was so pooped, he was sleeping on the loveseat - no small feat for such a big guy. He kept the TV on and Burke was bouncing (if you've ever met Burke, you know that I mean, she was literally bouncing) away. I was resting in the room. When I had to go to the bathroom, I decided to check up on her. Her face was all wet from playing with a glass of water and some tissue. Since I did not have any strength, I just said, "I'm letting it go.... She's not hurt... She'll be fine for a little while longer. " Then I called up Nana and begged her to come over. Tita (Aunt) Jing brought Nana and the whole brood. They brought a heavenly soup. Thanks, Tita Jing!!!

Today, it was just coughing all the way. Still no pain, but irritating cough. I took my industrial strength cough suppressant - seems not to be taking any effect. I was so discouraged by it, I didn't want to take it this morning. Tita Nona (& Tito Nandy) came by and told me to take it. (She really came to visit - not force me to do something I didn't if that's how it sounded. I believe her - she's a nurse. Thanks, Tita Nona!!!)

Like I said, I had some energy today. I didn't like laying about on the covers. I was laughing and talking with Nana and Tito Nandy and Tita Nona. There's something about being around family that makes me feel good. Yesterday, somebody told me to "...just let other people love you. Let them take care of you." That's what I did... I sat back. Relaxed. Enjoyed their company.

I called RT to ask about taxes (He helped me last year, Thanks, RT!!!). He knows about my cancer and the first thing he asked was, "How are you?". And he was really concerned. Here I was saying "Good. Good. Good." like I usually do (well, I did it through a coughing fit which was not usual - but the energy was there). I think that's how I did today... Good. Good. Good.

I know I had to get this entry in because my Mom's arriving in a couple of hours and Tita Jing and her whole family are gonna be here as well. I'm excited!!!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Chemo cycle 1 - day 5

I actually slept on my back last night. I have not done that in a month! I couldn't due to severe coughing (cancer related). The doctor says that the coughs will get better as we start chemo but I did not expect it this soon. I'm already taking this as a really good sign that the cancer is responding.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Chemo cycle 1 - day 4

I made the dumbest mistake today. I didn't eat breakfast. I was up by 8am. I felt real great. Hardly any fatigue. I e-mailed for about an hour and then watched TV with my daughter for another hour. By 11am, I was so drained. So drained, I couldn't even stand. Have you ever played one of those fighting games where you see your energy level? When someone is beating you up, your levels just go down and your reflexes are slower... That's how it felt. I really wanted to move. My fingers would not respond. There were thousands of crickets in my ears - another known side effect of chemo. I felt like I was in the middle of a forest.

My husband had to feed me honey just to get some energy in me. So now, I eat every 3 hours. That seems to be working well.

I was hoping to have recovered some energy today. Doesn't feel like it. I'm still pooped. Even too pooped to pray. But then that makes me even more desperate. I can't let go of my faith now. So I cling with every fiber of my being...

I had friends visit me from work today... Thanks, guys! You're the greatest!!! JC - the juice hit the right spot. It was yummy!!! EG - I haven't tried the banana bread but Kel says it's great!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

chemo cycle 1 - days 2 and 3

Yesterday (Tue) was not too bad. I was expecting to wake up just feeling the absolute worst but I was actually okay. I felt some nausea - I knew it was there but it didn't bother me.

I drove myself to the doctor's office about 20 mins drive. I needed to get shots to make sure my blood counts don't go down. She also administered more fluids to protect my kidneys. They also gave me anti-nausea meds which took care of that.

I didn't drink my anti-nausea pill that morning coz I just wanted to see how severe it was going to be. I thought that if it was not too bad, I'd skip those pills. Well, the nurses all said it just isn't worth the suffering. My body is already going through a lot and nausea will make it so much worse. So, as soon as I got home, I popped my anti-nausea pill.

When I got home, I felt really weak though. That was another side effect - fatigue. It's really draining. I just got into bed and stayed there. In as much as I hated getting up, I felt much better after having moved some. So I'd make it a point to really drink a lot of water so that I'm forced to go to the bathroom and stretch.

The love of my life, Kel, asked me what I wanted for dinner. Only one thing - puchero. It's a simple beef stew with lots of veggies. He had to go to the grocery to get me the veggies. By 6:30 pm I was really hungry, so he panfried all the veggies so they'd all be cooked by the time the beef was ready in the pressure cooker. It hit the spot!!!

At night, I made some phone calls. I like hearing encouraging voices on the other end of the line. I got to talk to KEE, JKZ and Eve. Usually, people would marvel at how well I'm taking this. Well, I'm just not the depressed brooder type. I can't control the fact that I have cancer, but I can control my attitude. Keeping that positive attitude makes it easier for me to cope. I have hope and faith and the love of many people who are constantly storming the heavens with prayer. I continue to cling to this hope for there is just no alternative for me. I'm determined to live through this and see my amazing daughter bloom into the awesome person God made her out to be. I can't think of leaving my beloved Kel either... It's too difficult.

TODAY (day 3)
Just fatigue. I have only enough energy to write my e-mails and put an entry into my blog.

So, if it's just fatigue that I'm facing, I think I can handle this... Lazing in bed while fighting off cancer isn't too bad. Of course, I'm still praying every 3 hours or so and begging for a healing.

Thanks to all those who are praying for me as well. That means a lot to me.

Another difficult situation is that my beloved husband, Kel and my lovely daughter, Burke are both sick with colds. I have to stay in the bedroom isolated from them. Chemotherapy raveges the immune system so a cold could possibly kill me. It's just so hard to tell my 3 year old that I can't play with her. I actually threaten to send her to our uncle's place if she can't stay away from me. In as much as she loves our uncle and the whole family, she would still rather be with us. And it breaks my heart to have to drag her away. She really is our angelic inspiration even if she moves like the tasmanian devil (of Looney Toons fame).

MORE ON DAY 3 (10pm)

Now I can officially say that I do not feel good. I have no pain whatsoever. Neither do I have any energy. I eat every few hours. I drink as much water as I can - which by now has this weird metallic taste in my mouth - an expected side-effect. Expecting a side effect and actually feeling it is very different. I told the doc that I can make myself drink bad tasting water if I have to. Currently, I have no desire whatsoever. So, I'm downing orange juice. Or, I'd have a grape after the water. The tart sweetness is a good ending to the brash metallic liquid the water has turned out to be. Yes, I'm feeling very dramatic tonight. -- That's how I'm ending my rants...

I'm shaking myself out of this vicious complaining. I hate to complain... (Although, I have to admit, it's a guilty pleasure at times). I can't get into that now. I'm only on the 3rd day of my 1st cycle! What kind of wimp am I? I'm no wimp. If fatigue is all it is, I'll get through it. Drinking 5 to 10 glasses of toxic tasting water if I have to!!!

A lifetime ago, I used to be an athlete... I swam competitively and I rode a bike for some time too. During the worst times of a workout, I'd imagine Jesus suffering on the cross. Compared to that, my pain would turn into slight discomfort and I would just trudge on. I did my workouts to train my body to be better. Every sore muscle would be a victory. I'm trying to get back into that attitude. The difficulty being, I'm scared sh*tless at every step I take. I rest all day and I just have no energy. Which is very weird for me. I'm the type who cannot sit still. I'm always bursting with energy, ideas, laughter and sunshine.

Now, the closest I feel to Jesus is during the Agony in the Garden when he asked God the Father to "Take this cup away from me."

I always looked up to my father. When he went through cancer, he was 57. All he said was, "I've had such a great life filled with blessings. God gave this to me so I can share in His agony. I accept it wholeheartedly." He hardly complained for someone who was in so much pain. This is how I intended to go through my cancer. But the chemo is now wearing on my body. This is just the start. I'm not so confident that I'll be as brave but I still hang on to my faith and hope. Somehow, I'll get through this. Not alone. I have my family, friends and God.