A new chap­ter be­gins

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR -

THERE is a mix­ture of joy and sad­ness when we look back on the dif­fer­ent stages of our life – school fol­lowed per­haps by ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, get­ting a new job, set­tling down, hav­ing a fam­ily, be­com­ing a grand­par­ent, los­ing loved ones, and so on.

As I was en­joy­ing grand­par­ent­hood, an­other chap­ter in my life be­gan when I was di­ag­nosed with non-Hodgkins lym­phoma (can­cer of the lymph nodes) last De­cem­ber.

It was some­what con­sol­ing to be told it is a cur­able form of can­cer, and that I would need to go through eight chemo cy­cles. I knew noth­ing about lym­phoma then and it has been an ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney since.

I was for­tu­nate that, with a fairly healthy body, I only had mild side ef­fects from the chemo­ther­apy, mostly as a day­care pa­tient. My ear­li­est “new ex­pe­ri­ences” in­cluded hav­ing a dry mouth, some loss of taste, bald­ing, and pig­men­ta­tion in my fin­ger­nails. Later, there was some numb­ness in my fin­gers and, even­tu­ally, my legs and toes. Anti-nau­sea med­i­ca­tion and a gar­gle for mouth ul­cers proved very help­ful.

I was able to carry on with a bit of cook­ing and other house­hold chores, and was ad­vised to con­sume thor­oughly cooked meals – so no salads, or spicy food. I ad­justed to the new diet, which in­volved lots of steam­ing and boil­ing a lim­ited range of food­stuff.

My mo­bil­ity out­side the home also be­came lim­ited as each time the blood tests showed that my white cell count was low (it usu­ally dipped be­low the nor­mal level af­ter a chemo cy­cle), I had to stay in­doors to avoid in­fec­tion. And for the same rea­son, I dis­cour­aged vis­its from those who wanted to drop by.

Well, I didn’t feel lonely or ne­glected as my spouse ran around to shop for me, and en­cour­aged me to keep snack­ing so as to main­tain my weight, de­spite the oc­ca­sional loss of ap­petite.

An old friend, a can­cer sur­vivor, con­tacted me soon af­ter I started treat­ment and asked if I felt low. I said not at all – I was too busy with the steam­ing and boil­ing, and while house-bound, I had more time to read and write. And oh, the heart­en­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion that I was priv­i­leged to en­joy from phone calls, SMS-es, emails and get-well cards!

It seems al­most ironic that one has to fall sick or meet with some mis­for­tune be­fore one re­alises how deep the bonds of fam­ily and friend­ship can be. I was over­whelmed by the quick re­sponse and warmth of those who re­ceived the news of my con­di­tion. Some­one brought me a can of pro­tein drink mix (I had never heard of this be­fore) as a sup­ple­ment. An­other sent an SMS to say that she first felt “sad”, then “an­gry” that this had hap­pened to me.

Some friends and rel­a­tives of dif­fer­ent faiths told me they had con­ducted spe­cial prayers for me. My pen­friend (we’ve been cor­re­spond­ing since our school­days) in Eng­land sent me a “badge” she had brought home from Lour­des. A sis­ter liv­ing in Aus­tralia shopped for two “tur­bans” and mailed them to me. A sis­ter-in-law bought me a wig and sug­gested that I get my hair­dresser to trim it to my lik­ing.

Be­cause I had to be cau­tious about my im­mu­nity most of the time, I could only meet up briefly with some peo­ple, and never with any­one nurs­ing a cough or cold. So there were times when even the grand­chil­dren had to keep away on my “safe days”. How­ever, I did en­joy a few out­ings to places where I could have steam­ing hot dim-sum or freshly cooked food. Each out­ing be­came a treat when pre­vi­ously it was just a rou­tine jaunt.

At times when I was stuck with a tube for in­tra­venous pro­ce­dures, I felt sorry for those around me who had been “reg­u­lars” at the hos­pi­tal for years. I sym­pa­thised with the young ones who were miss­ing care­free ac­tiv­i­ties, and the much older ones for miss­ing their homely rou­tines. My heart went out to the very ath­letic ones who used to jog or use the gym but are now in wheel­chairs.

My treat­ment started in Jan­uary and ended

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