One Year Later

​Today marks one year since this cancer journey of mom’s began. I say journey, but in reality it was actually a nightmare. It was last year this time that mom had her routine mammogram and whilst every woman is filled with dread during those God awful moments of waiting for their results, no one actually expects to hear that there’s an abnormality which might be cancerous. 

I mean it started off like any other day… mom telling me she was going for her mammogram later that day was just “one of those things”.. but I still remember her calling me afterwards, crying on the phone telling me they found something called microcalcifications and a biopsy would be needed…it all went down hill from there.
I don’t know how this last year has passed, I guess you keep your head down and keep moving. I look back though and can’t help feel a sense of pride at how much we’ve overcome as a family…

Dear Mom, thank you for fighting to be with us. Without even realising it, you chose us over this dread disease. I know there were days where you felt like you were going to die, days where you curled yourself up and just cried…but look at you now, look at how far you’ve come.
I’m thankful for you having been diagnosed when you were, discovering this any later could have meant you not being able to fight off this disease the way you did.
I’m thankful for the people who supported you and encouraged you on your down days, for the people who prayed for you. Saying thank you to them a million times over would never be enough. I truly believe praying for another individual is probably the purest act of love. I’m thankful to the few people close to dad, Kreolin and I, who took time out of their day to check how you were and to remind us that they were there for us.

It is said that in your darkest times you discover the true nature of those around you…for those select few individuals who lacked empathy and could not offer just a few positive words to you – I’m thankful to them, because they have taught you the most important life lesson – “Sagrie First”.
The 3 of us have seen you go through some pretty dark days because those were our dark days too… your new lease on life and second chance is our new lease and second chance too. I truly believe you being diagnosed and having gone through all that you did is for a greater purpose.

Thank you for fighting! We love you so very much.

So much of excitement for her first day back..

She’s back at work as off the 02/05/2017 after 10 months and the excitement couldn’t be contained. To Ian and Judy & the staff of Compass, who so lovingly supported her through this ordeal – thank you. Your consideration towards her health, encouragement on her down days and the overwhelming love you’ve shown her restores my faith in humanity.

​Post Radiation & A Brave Little Girl

Post Radiation

It’s been a minute and a half since my last blog post and so much as happened since then.

As you’ve already figured out given the title of this post, mom has successfully completed her radiation treatment. However like with all things she’s had to face, nothing is ever smooth sailing. 

I think I’ve mentioned this before, radiation is definitely the less talked about sibling of chemotherapy… to most people it’s the less troublesome one and that is usually because treatment lasts no longer than 10 to 15 minutes everyday and the side effects don’t seem quite as drastic to those around you. To a cancer patient, their take is most likely to be the complete opposite on this. Going through one of the worst summers Durban has experienced and not being able to wash the area exposed to radiation, having to be wardrobe conscious to prevent chaffing of the skin, watching your skin discolour significantly or being so exhausted that you are forced to stay in bed… Watching mom go through radiation definitely dispelled any of the preconceived notions I believed to be true. 

Giving credit where due, mom definitely handled radiation well, especially the first few weeks… Dr Heslop was happy with her progress, checking her every week to make sure she was coping. Though nearing the end of her treatment she developed cellulitis and unfortunately didn’t respond well to oral antibiotics. Cellulitis is a complication which can arise following breast conserving surgery or occur during radiation therapy for breast cancer. It’s an infection that can happen for no reason and at any point from here on out. Cellulitis is an acute, spreading ‘pyogenic’ (producing pus) inflammation, usually of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Essentially, it is an inflammatory reaction to an infection, which can cause these symptoms, build-up of fluid, warmth, tenderness and pain, swelling, rash, and redness to the breast. Breast cellulitis is similar to a breast abscess, but has a greater tendency to spread around under the skin and not pool into one pocket like an abscess does. It is often associated with fever and toxicity due to the involvement of the lymphatic system. Some women may also experience relentless chills, and leukocytosis (raised white blood cell count).

Having not responded well to the antibiotics she was put on, the next step was hospitalization for an IV antibiotic. We all know my mother’s aversion to hospital and hearing Dr Heslop tell her she needs to be admitted, left her in tears… like a kid not wanting to go to school… (She’s my mother, I’m allowed to pick on her, don’t judge this relationship).

Radiation was stopped at treatment no 23. However after being discharged from hospital, mom made the brave decision to go back and continue her last 5 booster treatments. Booster treatments are heavier dosages than one normally receives to prevent the recurrence of cancer to that area.

Post radiation hasn’t been the best for mom… having developed oral thrush because of all the medication – the nausea and vomiting were back again… she even lost a bit of weight. These side effects of radiation only wear off after 6 weeks. 

In the meantime, she has no choice but to take it easy.
A Brave Little Girl

The CANSA Shavathon is one of South Africa’s best-loved events in support of a very worthy cause, namely showing solidarity with those affected by cancer. Losing one’s hair is a common side-effect of cancer therapy – so shaving your head, colouring your hair, donating a ponytail (25cm or longer) or paying a bail out fee, has become a symbolic gesture of support for cancer survivors.

Seanique, only 12 year’s old but wise beyond her years did her bit this past weekend. This little girl has such a kind spirit and to see her act of support only reinforced that. She chopped off her beautifully long and thick hair to show her support for cancer survivors. 

We are so very proud of you Seanique!

SUPPORTING THE FIGHTERS, ADMIRING THE SURVIVORS, HONOURING THE TAKEN, AND NEVER, EVER GIVING UP HOPE.

The Start Of Radiotherapy

It is safe to assume that radiotherapy/ radiation is often not talked about as much as its sibling chemotherapy. It is not considered as harsh nor has the notorious reputation that chemotherapy does. However, radiation, despite its lack of fame still forms a key part of the cancer healing process. Whilst the effects of the treatment may not be a drastic as its predecessors, it can still take its toll on a cancer patient. The treatment may last no longer than 15 minutes, however going for treatment 5 days a week, for 6 weeks (in mom’s instance) does not seem appealing at all.

Radiation was not in the original plan for mom. The addition for this new treatment meant that this chapter of her life, which she wished to put behind her – is still open… and most disappointingly, prevents her from returning to work just yet. Needless to say she was more than apprehensive about this and questioned the importance of it. However the reason behind this new addition of treatment was due to the change in surgery. Originally, mom was supposed to have a mastectomy performed. Removing the entire breast means there is nothing to clean up afterwards… however due to the complete response mom had of her 9 weeks of chemotherapy, a mastectomy was not needed. Instead a lumpectomy was performed. It is because of this that radiation serves as a “mopping up” process to ensure that we dot our I’s and cross our t’s.

Radiation began at on the 3rd of January 2017, which means today mom completed her 6th treatment. However prior to her very first radiation session, mom was required to go for a CT and Planning scan. The team takes measurements, scans and eventually marks the body to ensure that mom will be receiving radiotherapy in the exact same area every day for the next 6 weeks. A painful procedure known as “tattooing” is required, where tiny markings are placed under the skin to ensure the correct line up every day, and if you are familiar with my mom you will understand her aversion to needles all too well.

Thus far, mom has completed a week already and seems to be doing well. She is required to do a number of stretching exercises as radiation causes your tissue and muscles to become tight. A lack of stretching can limit movement & change your posture altogether. Unfortunately the side effects of the chemotherapy still continue as it side effects can last up to 18 months to 2 years. Due to the taxol (paclitaxel) a type of chemotherapy drug mom received, one of the side effects is bone degeneration…. The drug has negatively affected mom’s leg making her experience a constant agonizing pain. Her posture has altered and walking a short distance has become a difficulty. However this early stage of osteopenia can be reversed with the correct calcium supplement (which she is currently taking) and physiotherapy (which she will start shortly).

The way I see it, radiation is the last hurdle before the finish line… the last push in a brutal series of events. 6 down, 24 to go… You’ve got this mom!!!

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!

I came across this quote on pinterest some time back, something I believe my mother to be the very embodiment of … “She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible. She walked with the universe on her shoulders and made it look like a pair of wings” – Ariana Dancu. For all that life has thrown at her; she has never failed to rise above it. In moments that require me to be strong, I am fortunate enough to need not look further than my mother for courage. This year has challenged her in so many ways but despite it all, she’s still standing and celebrates another year.

Of the many traditions our family has, birthdays are the most significant. For the last 24 years, every year on our birthday mom throws us a mini party, and by mini I mean it’s in our kitchen amongst the four of us… and as of recent years, the 5 of us. We take birthdays seriously in this house… even Zak celebrates his birthday with a dog friendly cake, his favourite treats and presents.  I guess I’ve always been accustomed to this that I’ve never really considered how fortunate we are.  I am that person who doesn’t care for all the fuss… however this year I have come to appreciate the need for the fuss, especially when it comes to our loved ones.

Happy Birthday Mom… I have the utmost love and respect for you. You will always and forever be my very own superhero. For all that you been through, I pray that this coming year will be a blessed and happy one. Thank you for fighting! And thank you for making me believe even more in our faith in moments when I have struggled.

She’s probably going to kill me for posting these pictures (despite the fact that we all still think she is gorgeous)… here is our mini birthday party celebration…..

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But first…a Selfie

 

 

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I’ll just keep an eye on things until mom gets here…

 

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…the moment after he licked the icing of the side of the cake 

Because every picture tells a story …

 

What Cancer Patients Don’t Wish To Hear…

This blog post actually started out as a joke between mom and I about a week or two back… She walked into my room rather annoyed by what someone had said to her. To be honest I cannot remember the exact conversation that transpired, but it irritated mom at the callous manner in which this woman spoke. I took it as a joke and laughed it off reminding mom that most people don’t have a filter today and we cannot take for granted that people know how to speak when it comes to a cancer patient. In a huff, she suggested that perhaps I should to a post on the common things that cancer patients do not wish to hear…

I personally would have never thought about this, but just try searching ‘things you should never say to a cancer patient’ on Google or YouTube and you will be amazed at how much comes up. My first thought when I actually saw the search results, ‘are things so bad that we as humanity need a guide line about what’s appropriate and what is not’… But after actually reading and watching some of the video’s – it becomes pretty evident that most cancer patients share a lot of common concerns.

That being said, this post is not there to offend anyone or make anyone feel bad, it’s just here to provide some…insight, insight into the mind of a cancer patient. In a way, I suppose we have all done or said something along these lines. However, I think it is important to know that a lot of emphasis is placed on the intention behind what you’re saying, that counts the most… no two cancer patients are the same and not everyone will interpret what you say in the same manner… what you say to one cancer patient could make them feel so good, however you could say the exact same thing to another cancer patient and completely piss them off.

So here is our list…

  1. When someone you know chooses to share with you that they or their loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, do not ask if she has had her breast removed. Firstly, it’s intrusive and secondly highly inappropriate. Should the person want to tell you they have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy – believe me, they will tell you. I’ve personally been asked this about mom, and it blew my mind at how nonchalantly this was asked…and that too by a fellow woman, where was the compassion?!
  1. In an effort to relate to a cancer patient do not share stories where you speak of your uncle’s cousin’s sister having had breast cancer and died from it… No, that is not helpful. I realise that this is done with the intention of implying that we understand what the patient is going through, but the truth is we actually don’t. Stories of death are not encouragement. I would not readily share with a cancer patient that I lost my grandmother to cancer, but if I do, I remember my grandmothers words which she often asked me to relay to my mother …”do not compare yourself to me.” This just attributes to the fact that no two cancer patients are the same…therefore do not compare.
  1. “It’s Just Hair”- Now this is a bit of a weird one given that I constantly tell my mother that “it’s just hair” followed by “it will grow back.” However the differentiating factor… it is one thing hearing this from a loved one/close friend – it is completely different to hear it from someone you don’t even know from a bar of soap. The thing is, we don’t care if my mother is bald as an eagle; she is still beautiful to us.  Seeing her without her wig or beanie is normal for us… in fact my brother never misses an opportunity to tell my mother not to wear her wig & that she looks better without it. But then again this is not our physical appearance in question, it is hers. Some women embrace the bald look and don’t really care who notices…some woman, like my mother, wish to keep the normalcy in their life. Both types of woman are perfectly accurate in their approaches. So it’s never ‘just hair’, because if it was, the rest of us would not think twice about shaving it off.
  1. It is unfortunate that we live in a time where cancer is no stranger in most homes, therefore showing empathy when we speak should not be rocket science to us. Acknowledge the struggle that the person is going through, offer support or a simple message of encouragement. The last thing they want is pity. Do not hold their hand and cry as if they are dying – cancer is not a death sentence. Also, tough love may work in certain instances but understand that a cancer patient cannot be 100% positive and optimistic all of the time. They are going to have bad days, days which are filled with frustration and tears – and they are most certainly allowed that. Being told “don’t feel sorry for yourself” or “gosh, you aren’t strong hey” is not appropriate to say the least. 
  1. Just A Bump In The Road” – I think my mother has heard this line more than she cares to admit. Chances are it is said in a manner which implies that she will be back to her normal life in no time… but imagine hearing this on an on-going basis. It is not just a bump in the road… the ‘bump’ is life altering. This disease in most instances strips a person of all normalcy… from the simple pleasures of seeing friends and relatives (in order to prevent the contraction of viruses, due to their now weak immune system), or having the independence to do your own shopping… to even being put off work and having to depend on others. Whilst pity is most certainly not needed, we should still acknowledge the struggle a cancer patient has to endure before they hear those glorious words “remission/ cancer free.”

So that’s our list… I’m pretty sure there are more but I’ll stop here, with the ones mom has personally encountered.

I came across this video on YouTube, and it is definitely worth a watch. What It’s Really Like To Have Cancer

 

Surgery Day Had Come 

At our very first consultation with Dr Heslop, we knew that in sometime during the near future surgery was going to be a must. What I’ve failed to share with you thus far is that mom was given the heart breaking news that she would need a mastectomy. A mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast.

It does not take much to realise that a woman’s breasts are part and parcel of her definition of femininity. It doesn’t matter if it’s awkward looking, big or small – it’s part of who we are. It took a lot of getting used to and as a female it wasn’t easy for me to tell my mother “what’s boobs and hair if it means you get to be with me”, but it was the truth.. I’d rather have her alive and well, without boobs and bald than lose her to this dread disease.

It is only with the grace of God that on mom’s 7th treatment, a routine exam reveled to Dr Heslop that my mother had a complete response to the chemotherapy and that a mastectomy was too much… she would be able to get away with a lumpectomy. Cue the violins because this was music to our ears. If hearing the news of this could make us so overjoyed – I anxiously await the day she’s told she’s cancer free!

After her 9th treatment, chemo was stopped…the drastic side effects can only be attributed to the notion that perhaps there’s no longer rapid growing cancer. And after 2 weeks, a PET/CT scan revealed just that.

Now what was the need for the surgery then… Here’s the thing which I learnt only when mom was diagnosed, chemotherapy kills rapidly growing cancer cells.. it does not kill pre cancer. Nor will a PET scan reveal the location of pre cancer.
Therefore a mammogram was done and we met with the surgeon.. Dr Bisetty, a specialist surgeon at the Westville hospital.

One would think having a complete response to treatment would mean surgery would be easier, with not that much to “clean” up so to speak. However, given that mom’s diagnosis was at such an early stage and coupled with her complete response to treatment – his job just got ridiculously difficult.. to quote him, “I’m going in blind”.
To guide the surgeon, a wide localization was needed. In simple terms, a radiologist going by what the the mammogram, ultra sound and MRI of the breasts revealed, uses a hookwire as a guiding tool to the abnormality which cannot be felt by a doctor. This acts as a marker during surgery and enables the surgeon to remove the correct area of breast tissue. The hookwire is inserted to guide the removal of both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) abnormalities.  The wire is called a hookwire because there is a tiny hook at the end, which keeps it in position. Breast hookwire localisation is done using local anaesthetic to numb the breast in the area where the hookwire is to be inserted.
Straight after this procedure at Lake, Smith and partners on Tuesday morning, mom was taken back to Westville hospital where she was taken in for surgery.  In surgery Dr Bisetty  had a pathologist that would tell him if the cells that he had taken out were cancerous and if he had clear margins. Margins refer to the edge or border of the tissue removed in cancer surgery. The margin is described as negative or clean when the pathologist finds no cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has been removed. The margin is described as positive or involved when the pathologist finds cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has not been removed. To be told margins aren’t clear was the worst case scenario and the idea of a mastectomy would need to be revisited. As he as a surgeon cannot remove chucks of the breast from different areas. However, mom was in the clear and there was nothing to worry about. We are so thrilled about this!


Post surgery

It’s the 2nd day since her surgery… She has been discharged from hospital and is back home today. Unfortunately she is in pain and discomfort, which is to be expected, but since then she’s been handling it.

P.s. I’m proud of you mom!!!

A Letter Worth Sharing – Dear Cancer

A Letter to My Cancer: by Author Ginger Johnson

It may seem like you have control in my life right now,
but you really don’t.

Your presence only makes me stronger, braver,
kinder, wiser.

I choose how I think, what I speak and how I love.

You will never be able to touch those things.
Never.

The fear of your name no longer haunts my soul
because I know that my soul belongs to me and to God.

You may take your claim on this frail outer shell
but never on my divine spirit that cried out
“I am not my body”.

My soul will run, leap and tower over your attempts to pull me down into despair.

Those who surround me will fight with me
to let it be known that we will not surrender.

Our hearts and souls are tied together in a lasting bond that no amount of your impeding growth can break.

You see cancer, you do NOT own me.

I own myself.

And I will survive.

Keep Calm & Check The Girls – Breast Cancer Awareness Month

On Thursday mom had a routine mammogram appointment… Even though she is currently on a chemotherapy break, tests must continue. This was the first time I stepped into the Lake Smith and Partners “Just for Women” Digital Mammography Centre… and they are such friendly souls. One would think I would have come to this realisation earlier… but it was only whilst I sat in the waiting room, that it hit me, I had come to the full blown realisation that a routine mammogram has basically saved my mother’s life. It is only because of this less than 30 minute procedure that my mom is now in the position to actively fight her cancer.

Over the last few months, whenever my mom would open up about her diagnosis to friends and family alike – she would make it a point to highlight that her tumour was discovered during a routine mammogram. She does this simply to encourage her friends and family to go get tested… she sometimes even goes as far as checking when your last mammogram was.

We so often get caught up with the hassles of everyday life that we so easily push the important things to the side…such as getting screened and tested. Cancer can be cured; the key is in early detection. It’s also important to know that men to can be diagnosed with breast cancer too. Male breast cancer is rare though, accounting for 1% of all breast cancers.

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On a side note… after nearly four months, I got to eat a meal prepared by mom. Gosh how I have missed her cooking. It is very aptly said that no one cooks like your mom does.

 

The greatest gift you can give to somebody is your own personal development.

I used to say, ‘if you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’
Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me. – Jim Rohn

A Tribute To A Cancer Soilder – Rest In Peace Aiya 

My tribute to my beautiful grandmother 

2016… Her 77th birthday which she unfortunately had to spend in hospital. That didn’t stop dad and I from throwing her a mini party. Look at that smile!!!

Please note: 

  • Aiya is the colloquial tamil word for grandmother. 
  • Thatha is the tamil word for grandfather.

Let me start by saying this is undeniably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. This isn’t a perfectly written tribute with on point punctuation and top notch vernacular- it is a story of pain and the loss of one of the greatest woman I’ve ever known… and is one of the greatest pain my family has felt.

On behalf of my parents, uncles and aunts and all of aiya’s grandkids and great grandkids, I would like to thank you all for coming today to share in our sorrow, but also to celebrate aiya’s wonderful life. To see so many pay their respects is a testament to how many lives aiya touched. My grandmother was a pretty special woman who lived a rich, long life filled with challenges, love and adventure.

What do I say about my aiya? Where do I begin? My aiya, Logie Singh as you all knew her, was born on July 1st 1939. She came from simple beginnings, she worked tirelessly throughout her life often doing what most would deem a man’s job. A woman of her generation to be as independent as she was.. let’s face it, it was something unheard of. When we lost thatha 11 years ago, I lived with aiya for a while before she moved in with aunty Ranjeni and uncle Babs. It was during this time that I got to know my grandmother all over again. Today when I look back at those simple memories of her fetching me from school and having that after school snack waiting in the car, or hearing stories of all the match making thatha and her had orchestrated…or simply hearing her call me “yoneets” the way only she would… today I realise those memories weren’t so simple after all.

It was 8 years ago that her cancer journey began, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Most people would want to crawl into a corner and not face the harsh reality of what lied ahead of them, in fact most would look at it as a death sentence… but not my grandmother!!! She looked it dead on and fought with all her might.  She accepted this lifestyle change, and She had all the determination to win this battle. And she did… after 5 years she was cancer free. Unfortunately, that victory was short lived, not long thereafter she was diagnosed with spine cancer…but that didn’t stop her determination to recover. When doctors told her she had 6 months to live, aiya once again proved her strength and saw another 2 years. Such was the will power and strength my grandmother possessed. 

So I ask everyone to please remember my grandmother as that strong, independent, beautiful woman with that heartwarming smile she always had on her face. Because to me, my grandmother never lost her battle against cancer… I know it wore down her body and exhausted her strength but it could never dim her smile. Cancer could not beat aiya..it never stood a chance. 

Aiya if you are listening… thank you for loving us so unconditionally, Thank you for giving your family 77 glorious years with you, but most importantly thank you for fighting so fiercely to be with us. You were this family’s strength and you will live on in each and every one of us. In the days leading up to your passing, you often told me how tired you were… so today as much as my heart is broken, I’m comforted knowing you are safe in God’s arms… and most especially you have been reunited with thatha. Go well aiya, I love you.

First Graduation – 2013

Just When You Begin To Think It Has Rained Enough – It Starts To Pour

It’s been 2 and a half weeks since my last post… alot has happened. 

At the beginning of any cancer journey, you are often theoretically equipped with the knowledge of what awaits both you and the cancer patient.  As much reading I have done and as much interaction both mom and I have had with other cancer patients/survivors, nothing could have mentally or physically prepared us for the last 2 weeks… It’s been the worst weeks thus far.

2 weeks ago, mom completed her 9th chemo treatment. It was such a milestone especially when we realised that she had only 3 weeks left. However, we didn’t realise how bad things could get. Her usual side effects were amplified.. coupled with this she was having black outs. Thankfully whenever that would happen, someone was always around her. It had been her worst week thus far. That feeling of helplessness and frustration which I used to experience at the beginning were now coming back… my already tiny mom had lost even more weight, could barely manage to finish a slice of bread and had turned about 5 shades darker …it even got to the point where drinking water was making her naueasous. 

Noticing that the side effects were only getting worst, dad had notified her oncologist.. where the decision was taken to hospitalise her. Mom spent 5 days in hospital… she had to have a blood transfusion and was given a ton of steroids amongst other things.

Both mom and I weren’t happy about this new separation (given the strict hospital visiting hours) but it was good to see her get stronger day by day. There were noticeable changes… for once she was eating 3 solid meals a day and more importantly I saw her face become brighter and get back her complexion.

However in the midst of one’s recovery, another was silently closing the door on life. On September 12th, my grandmother passed away after a long and exhausting battle with cancer. She truly is a soilder and will always remain so in my eyes… I’ve decided that that my next post will be a tribute to her. It is only fitting that her story of bravery be told.
It is unfortunate that my mom was in hospital at the time of her passing… however if there was anyone who understood the battles one faces because of cancer, it was my grandmother. As hurt as my mom was, she takes comfort in the time they spent together a few weeks ago.

Since then, mom has been discharged and is home. She is recovering and getting stronger by the day.