My Personal Anecdote of being a Cancer Survivor!
Guess who I met in the midst of my radiotherapy sessions?! Our fellow Tengku Razaleigh!! Our former Finance Minister fondly known as Ku Li! Don’t be mistaken, he was not a patient. In fact, he was and is currently in robust health, even healthier than I am! You may only hear news about him via the social media but I have met him real-life in person, shook his hand, and chatted with him. I can tell you that his fluency in English, his nice, friendly, and humble personality, makes him a great guy!!
I was coming towards the end of the treatment with the final yet most challenging stem cell transplant that will require a three weeks hospitalization in a sanitized hepafiltered environment. In terms of treatment, this was undoubtedly the most difficult of all.
So, what is stem cell transplant? Before the introduction of this new medical advancement, it was previously a procedure known as bone marrow transplant. Sounds more familiar to you? Now, in this era, medical procedure has become a tip-top phenomenon, instead of poking few hundred times with the horrifying huge needles to extract 1 litre of sufficient bone marrow out from your hip bone under general anaesthetic, now the stem cell harvesting process would just require a minor surgical procedure with local anaesthetic to insert a central venous catheter (CVC) connecting to a major vein on the neck through a stem cell extractor, which is minimally invasive.
There are two different kinds of transplant, one is the allogeneic transplant (usually for leukemia patients) which requires a matching donor, and another one is the autologous stem cell transplant, which is the extraction of your own peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) prior to the actual transplant. Mine was the latter – autologous transplant.
Basically the stem cell transplant started off with a week-long of ultimately high dose of chemotherapy to completely knock down the entire body system, destroying existing bone marrow cells to make room for the transplanted stem cells.With my white blood cell count hitting nearly zero, my immune system was greatly weakened, and I was very susceptible to any infection under the roof.
This particular Thiotepa drug (especially imported) costed a whopping RM 50k, half the cost of the entire stem cell transplant!!
A day or two after the conditioning chemotherapies, the transplant took place.The stem cells were delivered into my bloodstream through the central venous catheter (CVC), which is similar to blood transfusion. The stem cells traveled through the blood into the bone marrow, regenerated and replaced damaged and destroyed bone marrow with healthy stem cells. The feeling during the infusion was indescribably uncomfortable. I kept coughing, felt drowsy and was fast asleep probably due to the pre-medication. Woke up half an hour later to realize that the process is over!
15th of January 2015 marks the monumental day in my life history, being reborn, revived, and regenerated!!
Suffice to say, due to my indubitably low blood count, blood transfusions, platelet transfusions and booster all came in to increase the counts. A thousand thanks to the macho guys who came for the platelet donations!! My dad did a poster as a sign of appreciation during his free time while accompanying me by my hospital bedside.
I made special thank you notes with my signature crocheted dolls
During the engraftment stage, when the stem cells I received were growing and developing, readily accessible medical attention was a necessity. The side effects kicked in when my blood counts were low – vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, mouth ulcers, fever. They were all unbearable, even swallowing my own saliva was agony and the pain was excruciating. My reaction to the ultimate dose of chemo was what one could definitely describe as the typical aftermath of chemotherapies, unlike my previous six sessions with no side effects.
My appetite plunged tremendously, and vomiting had become a norm. I was so hesitate to call upon the cleaners during wee hours to clean up the mess and nurses to change the bedsheets so often. Been vomiting so frequently almost every day until I had chest pain and could even see blood in my vomit, how devastating! Put aside the vomiting, I also became thermometer-phobia, the outbreak of fever had been a common routine for me. Every time when the designated nurse came, it would be like gambling with a slot machine, praying to hit the jackpot of being beneath 37.5 degree Celsius but it hardly ever came true except on occasions when the panadol effect was in place. Paracetamol and ice packs were my hospital playthings and my best companions to be around with during my entire stay.
The dehabilitation of constantly having fever, consistent vomiting and sore mouth had changed my dietary plan from solid into liquid form. My doctor prescribed nutriplex, a kind of nutrition drips that provides nutritional support with high-protein fluids for quite a number of days. I could survive with that alone, however, I did attempt to take in some solid food, but it ended up with the same vomiting consequences.
On top of the nutriplex drips, I was also being supplemented with morphine patches to relieve my agony. I was given the duragesic patch – a morphine patch in the form of a sticker to paste on a flat surface of the skin. I was so amazed by the medical technology that a sticker can relieve pain for a period of three days!! Can you imagine that?
I became better a week after the gruesome side effects and was off the nutriplex drips, began eating on my own. I became very choosy in food, only consume taste that I feel acceptable, and for any smell my tummy and nose cannot stand, the reflex action would be to throw out.
Due to the transplant, my skin was thinned and became very sensitive. I could easily get cuts and bruises all over. Every time cleaning the wound and changing the dressing were such torture as when they removed the adhesive covering the dressing, my skin got peeled off just like how you peel an apple!
During the 25 days being in the hospital, I was discharged on the 30th of January, lost 6kgs, shed all the pounds I gained during the chemotherapy and back to square one. I was very excited upon hearing the word “discharge” after being confined in an enclosed stale room for almost a month!
My Facebook included these portions:
This weight loss program is indeed very effective, lost 6kgs in less than a month, and I’m going home!
— feeling happy.
After being in an enclosed air conditioned room for so long, now I realise that Malaysia is still in summer with its bright sunny sun light! I miss my bed, I miss my angels too
— feeling amused.
The whole experience was exhilarating, a total break out from the norm. I was expected to rest and recuperate for at least three months up to six months after the transplant before heading back to the society. However, to fully recover, it may take up to six to twelve months.
From my diagnosis through to the completion of my treatment, the numerous battle scars that I had collected over the past one year are the evidence of my fight for survival throughout this life changing experience!
I often think of my battle with cancer as being marked by a sense of luckiness within unluckiness. Within the misfortune of being diagnosed with cancer, things have been smoother than they should otherwise have been and I can finally proudly declare that “I AM A CANCER SURVIVOR!!”
Sifting through my memories feel like reading someone else’s personal history. It seems so absurd, so improbable to ever happen on me and I believe surely it could never be like that again. A relic of a year in which every hurt I endured, my daddy and mummy must have felt a hundredfold, unable to do anything to protect their daughter but doing everything just in being there for me all the time. I would hereby express my sincere gratitude to all your kind blessings, tender care and your companionship throughout these unfortunate turn of events, lifting my fighting spirit and keeping me going! Thousand thanks to all of you guys out there for listening to me and sharing a part of my life story! Do feel free to drop any comments or any recommendations on possibly anything!