A new chapter begins
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