Face-to-face with Cancer
My recovery from the craniotomy was exceptionally quick with the blessings from friends, colleagues and especially my family members. My colleagues took the effort to pay me a visit at home , along with bosses and the CEO! On the other hand, my best buddies always dropped by every now and then to keep me occupied, while my family members faithfully walked with me through the peaks and troughs of the journey, giving me sufficient strength to conquer the disease. I hereby would like to sincerely express my endless gratitude to every single one of you out there, also thanks to you folks for following my blog!
On 26th of June 2014 – the “biopsy-report-card-day”, my life changed 360-degree. The brain tumor was malignant and that was the day I was being diagnosed as having “diffused large B-cell lymphoma, consistent with primary CNS (Central Nervous System), a non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Lymphoma is a form of cancer of immune cells called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell cancer. According to the Leukemia Foundation, the average age of diagnosis is 60-65 years, and it’s more common in men than women. This is definitely not the case for me as I am a female, aged 27 upon diagnosis.
In life, when we are faced with an unexpected detour, we often ask, why me? The same question came across my mind. Thoughts of “Am I dying?”, “How long more can I survive?” flow through. I was thinking, since the malignant tumor was gone, what was there still to treat?
The neurosurgeon linked me to a hematologist (a specialist who treat blood disorders) to outline the chemotherapy planning for the upcoming stages. Because my lymphoma was different from a solid tumor (ex. breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, or cancer of any particular organ), whereby if a solid tumor is detected early, a removal surgery would just settle the case, but mine was a hematological tumor, which involves the blood stream. The medical experts would need to mop up any cancerous cells still lurking around to avoid any reoccurrence and to prevent any future growth. To face the brutal facts of the situation, chemotherapy treatments were inescapable, even though the cancer was detected at a primary stage.
Somehow, after being to Prince Court, Gleneagles, UMMC, Sunway Medical for all my previous visits and consultations, we ended up at Ramsay Sime Darby Medical Centre Subang Jaya because of the renown hematologist, Dr Alan Teh, whom resides there as his “second home”. He is among one of the pioneers who introduced and set up the first private bone marrow transplant in Malaysia, a very well respected, highly admirable individual, and most importantly, my life saviour!
This is a pic of the me and my handsome Dr Alan at chemo day care. He is a nice, friendly and humorous hematologist! I can ask him any kind of funny questions under the roof, for instance, “What do i use to clean my bald-head?” By the way, do help me to vote for your answer to this question on the sidebar of the blog on your right side.
My first time visiting Dr Alan at his Subang’s habitat was on the 4th of June 2014. He suggested the “De Angelis” protocol for my chemotherapy regime of total six sessions, each every bi-weekly with an admission of five days, elaborated on the possible side effects of chemotherapy and requested for a PET scan prior to the start of the treatment. For your knowledge, PET scan is to allow radiologists to track the most metabolically active areas in a patient’s body, primarily to determine how alive a tumor is and to see whether there are any secondaries floating about in the entire body. On top of the routine chemotherapy drips, there will be a lumbar puncture procedure to infuse a particular chemo drug into the spinal cord through a needle to enable better penetration into the skull, entering the brain. Everything was high dose to me as it involved the brain. My case was relatively unique in the sense that my lymphoma was diagnosed from the brain, as they are more commonly diagnosed from other organs like stomach, according to the doctor.
Meanwhile, I took a visit back to the office to update my superiors about my latest condition and to apply leave of absence from the workplace for a couple of months to deal with this personal journey. Thanks to the motivations shown by my fellow colleagues and superiors, your words of encouragements gave me the necessary strength to embark on the new journey.
My wound was barely noticeable after letting down my hair post surgery,
The good news were that both my PET Scan and Bone Marrow Biopsy failed to find any hint of metabolic activity in the other parts of the body except for the affected brain area, and there were no secondaries found loitering around in my blood stream!!
My chemotherapy exploration was pretty eye-opening and the treatments were somewhat intense. My cancer journey begins with an admission for the insertion of chemo port on the 9th of June. Chemo port is a metal disc about the size of an old 50-cents coin implanted right under the skin of the chest through a general anesthetic procedure, connecting to a large vein to ease the extraction of blood and the administering of chemo drug instead of looking for tiny veins on your hands each and every time of the six cycles of chemo treatment.
The first round of chemotherapy infusions began instantly the next day. At that point of time, our fragile hearts shattered even further when the second opinion of the diagnosis was revealed. The new finding was even worse off – a Burkitt lymphoma, which is more aggressive in nature. Given the gravity of my new diagnosis, my treatment regime was prolonged by additional 6 weeks to be 18 weeks long with six sessions, scheduled in a three-week block, compared to the previous two weekly, as I would need more time to recuperate from the stronger and larger quantity of chemo drugs. I would be in the hospital for five days of chemo drips each cycle, inclusive of an antidote for side effects reduction. Last but not least, my treatment will end with an autologous stem cell transplant, which will be explained in my later encounter. Stay tuned.