Archive | October, 2011

Livestrong

31 Oct

I have wrote before how Lance Armstrong has been an inspiration, first to my partner who is a cycle freak and now me Рa cancer survivor.  Admist my quest to find out more about my post-cancer blues, my partner suggested that I look up livestrong.org for more positive material.

Here’s a good source of interviews with survivors, categorised according to gender and a very important group – age. If you’re in your 30s when you’re hit with cancer, what a 60 year-old survivor can tell you may not be that relevant with the stages in your life right now. So I was really thrilled to be reading the interviews.

[link]

How to cope with depression after Breast Cancer

27 Oct

It is official – I may be slightly depressed now that my cancer treatment is over. “What?” Some of you might say – didn’t you just survive an illness and now you should be living your life to the fullest, i.e. Carpe Diem? It turns out that survivorship is almost as hard as going through the treatment. After the long ordeal of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I am hit with bouts of feeling empty, sad, confused – and the chemobrain and lack of focus does not help at all. I had thought that after treatment I would bounce back immediately to my old self again. Now, I hardly know if my old self is gone forever, or if this new self is going to stay for good.

One thing’s for sure, my slightly depressed self stems from a lack of estrogen due to an induced menopause from the chemotherapy. Boy, is that estrogen powerful! Besides having really dry skin (on my heels mostly), I am also experiencing hot flashes, moodiness and generally a sense of emptiness.

Here’s a good article which talks about depression after breast cancer, and in the comments section there are lots of women who have came forward and wrote about their experience. Also, here’s a good video which you can learn much about depression after BC.

Gallery

Survival swimming

26 Oct

Lately I have been experiencing tightness at my right armpit which is the location where two lymph nodes have been removed during the sentinel node biopsy. The sentinel node biopsy is a procedure which determines if cancer has spread from the source through the lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

I was very fortunate to be diagnosed as negative for the sentinel node biopsy. In fact, my breast surgeon, Dr. Wong CY only removed 2 lymph nodes for this procedure. For women who are less fortunate, all their lymph nodes would be removed if cancer cells have spread from these nodes.

A scar at the armpit does not really bother me that much, however I have gotten complacent over the last few months that I forgot to do my daily physiotherapy exercises. So I quite deserved it when the tightness came back; I was not able to lift up my right arm without feeling a really tight and strained nerve on the inner arm.

While looking online for lymphatic help (the sentinel node biopsy has an inherent risk of causing a swelling of the arm due to the insufficient lymph nodes), I came across a webpage which explained how a breast cancer survivor swam to alleviate her lymphedema. Not only does the swimming strokes help in stretching the arms, the gentle waves in the water also help to massage the lymphatic passages and thus enabling better lymphatic drainage.

I have since gone swimming three times last week and it has done wonders for my arm, not to mention the jolt of energy I need for combat of fatigue. It’s a great workout with many health benefits!

“Excuse me, my thermostat’s not working”

25 Oct

While having breakfast with my good friend Yunyi today, I shared with her about my current situation as a cancer survivor. One year on, after the gruelling regime of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I am now at a point in life where I need to make certain important decisions which will have a huge impact on my life in the next few year, or possibly the rest of my life. Instead of feeling the “Carpe Diem” which I read quite a lot in cancer survivors’ stories, I am overwhelmed by fear and consumed with worry.

A counsellor whom I spoke with two weeks ago turned the light on my current medical condition. A combination of chemotherapy and Goserelin injections has pushed my body into a state of induced menopause. Besides the physical symptoms of hot flashes, fatigue, dry skin etc., one of the side effects which I did not expect to hit me full on the face, was the emotional upheaval with the lack of estrogen.

This lack of estrogen is such a pain in the ass. The crying, the despair, the negativity, the fear, the fuzzy brain… all these just because of a hormonal inbalance in my body? Knowing that makes me feel like honouring all women who have to go through menopause. Compounded with having to make a decision about relocation to a non-English speaking country where I have to start all over again, I am suffering from a paralysis.

The paralysis stems from a number of things; mostly from a changed self. Nobody from my healthcare told me about the emotional recovery I will need after cancer treatment. Small things now upset me, making me sob uncontrollably. Instead of feeling confident and a “I can do anything because I survived cancer” attitude, I feel more blue than usual, more pessimistic … hardly like myself at all. My counsellor told me that it is as if I have a pair of shades on all the time, that through my menopause shades, the world is three tones darker than it really is. It is as if the thermostat to my air-conditioning is faulty and does not respond correctly to the external temperature.

With that, how can I make any decisions about my life, or regarding my partner? I don’t trust the new me, I find it hard to understand what goes through my mind, my decisions. They are all tangled up in a ball with overwhelming emotions.

Yunyi suggested that I learn how to do a centering exercise where I learn how to breathe deeply and return my self to a “centering” position without being overwhelmed by emotions. Another thing she suggested is for me to write down reasons for my fears and courage pertaining to relocation. I have learnt that this estrogen deficiency tends to amplify whatever emotions I feel, so if I feel fear – it is probably three times more than what a normal person, or the normal me would feel. Yunyi’s suggestion is that maybe I should visit the reason of fear, so instead of being caught up in the intensity of fear, get to know and understand the seed of the fear.

I think that’s a good suggestion, at least before I see my next medical counsellor.

The beginning of this journey

22 Oct

<Flashback>

I felt a lump in my breast while I was in the shower. It was November 2009. Itay and I were in Pisco, Peru volunteering at a non-profit organisation for post-earthquake construction.

After a few days of suspicion, I decided to tell Itay about the lump. We were in a foreign land and there was no English speaking hospital where we were volunteering. I did not think there was something we could do and furthermore we were planned on returning home (him to Israel and me to Singapore) in January. Surely this little lump could wait?

To my surprise, Itay insisted that I got it checked. So we took an hour bus journey to Ica, the nearest town next to Pisco and went to a gynaecologist who only spoke Spanish. I had done translation preparations beforehand, so I was able to ask him questions such as “Is it malignant?” He took an ultrasound and said to us in the best English that he could, that “it is ok”, i.e. the lump was benign.

We were so relieved. What could we have done if he said otherwise? I don’t know. Now that the doubts are cleared, we got ready for the next leg of our Peruvian trip: Macchu Picchu and next stop, NYC.