Overhaul

Perhaps it is because I have just returned from the scary pulmonary embolic experience and want to refresh my take on things.  Perhaps it is because it is that time of year when you want to clear out old stuff and bring in new.  Perhaps it is because I feel as if I am moving into a new kind of phase, and need to clarify my mind and direction.   Perhaps it is a bit of all of these.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear.  I very much feel the need for an overhaul.  And more than the physical overhaul I have just been through.

As a start, I have been playing with the “look” of the blog.  I have had a hankering to do this for a while but was afraid (being a very non techy soul) of ruining my widgets.  There is nothing worse than ruined widgets in this day and age!  I was particularly afraid of losing my world visitor widget which continues to give me inordinate levels of pleasure when I see a new flag or a new dot on the globe.  That would effectively wipe the gecko’s passport clean, which would be devastating.  The blog has reached more countries even than Hillary Clinton’ in her record breaking period in office. ” Since becoming secretary of state in 2009, Ms. Clinton has ….. travelled to 102 countries ………. according to the State Department.”  And  in a shorter time span, given that the blog has been visited in a mind-boggling 148 countries since it was installed in April 2010!  So losing my widgets would be nothing short of disastrous when choosing a new “look” for the blog.  The tinkering may continue a bit as connectivity is slow which means that it is time consuming making visual changes.

In parallel with the visual side of the blog, a great deal of thinking has also been going on.  As well as a fair amount of reading of fellow blogs and reflection.  The thinking has yet to be transformed properly into cohesive thoughts and then words on the page.  But it is in process and will appear here very shortly, as long as my non expert finnicking does not result in a disappearance of all things gecko into the cyberspace without trace!

It seems I am not alone in overhauling thoughts on the meaning of life and blogging…..

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The Great Escape Part 2

When I left Yangon with suspected pulmonary embolism, we all expected I would be back in a few days time.  My packing reflected that short timescale, as well as the expectation that I would be in hospital most of the time.  By the time I was eventually discharged from hospital (after a whole week) I had already worked my way through most of my clothes.  Most of my clothes comprising night clothes, a few tee shirts and 2 pairs of trousers.  And a swimsuit, just in case……..  that is a necessity.

The pain was mostly gone when I was discharged, but my blood levels had not reached the “therapeutic level” yet so I knew there would be a few more days in Bangkok before I could return.  I was told that it could take another 1 – 2 weeks for my bloods to not only reach the right levels, but they also had to remain stable within the” therapeutic range”.  As my strength slowly returned I was able to do some emergency shopping and get a few essentials to tide me over.

My first blood check was the day after my discharge from hospital.  I had already been back the previous evening for the dreaded injection into the stomach and as my appointment was not until 11 am I decided to nip over to the hospital early for my 8 am jab, get the blood draw and then return to the hotel for a relaxing breakfast.  My plan was sabotaged almost immediately as I learned that Dr W would actually be earlier and would see me as soon as the blood results were available in around one hour’s time.  With the blood draw done, I headed to the ward and had the second needle of the day, knowing I would miss the hotel breakfast unless my appointment with Dr W was extremely quick!

Of course I missed the breakfast!  It was not long after 9 when I was called in, but with the need to settle with the cashier afterwards, the hotel breakfast was clearly missed!  Happily though I did bump into a friend from Yangon and we had the chance to catch up.

Even more happily, and to my surprise, my bloods had just tipped over into the therapeutic range.  Dr W had looked subdued when I entered his consulting room, and with a kind of hang dog face, started with “I’m really sorry….”  My heart flipped over, expecting some kind of sinister news, and then he said “you will not be needing any more stomach injections after this evening!”  I was not sure whether to laugh, cry or squeal and probably did all three, as he leapt up from behind his desk and gave me a big hug!

I left the room with an appointment for the Tuesday, an adjustment in the Warfarin dosage, my blood results and a broad grin.  One more needle that day and then NO MORE NEEDLES for two whole days.  Two whole days without needles – just unimaginable bliss!

The following needle free days enabled me to begin that recuperating and rebuilding process as well as venturing slowly back into the scary outside world.  Those days passed incredibly quickly though, and I found myself again proferring my arm to the needle counter for the next blood draw.Another wait for results, with my eyes scanning over my book, reading and re-reading the same paragraphs and still retaining none of the words let alone any meaning.  Eventually, Dr W appeared and again I was summoned into his room.  No games this time, a big broad grin and he flamboyantly circled that day’s blood results.  A further nudge more comfortably into the therapeutic range.  He then prepared my report so that I could return home, pronouncing me fit to fly, providing me with 3 month’s supply of Warfarin, an instruction to adjust the dose again and to have regular draws in Yangon, and a return appointment for 3 month’s hence.  Which is also the time of my next oncology check, and the annual Big Check in October.

Finally I was able to  arrange my return travel and plan to get home to my non tilty bed, hubby, lush garden and super-cute puppy.  I had been away for two very long and scary weeks, longer than we all expected.  And that return home to Yangon was the long awaited Great Escape Part 2.

It does appear that this has been a “rare but dangerous” side effect of Tamoxifen and I have now been switched to Femara.  There were apparently several lobes of the lungs affected by embolism and it is no wonder that I was in such pain.  It was incredibly frightening.  I am very fortunate that cardio scans show no lasting effects or damage to the heart.  My confidence has been seriously knocked though and I think it will take a bit of time to rebuild emotionally as well as physically.  My 2012 pledge of resilience is incredibly pertinent and I am focusing intently on that.

Norway and the wish bucket

I have long had a yen to sail along the Norwegian fjords, taking in the spectacular gorges and the vibrant colours.  I have never in fact visited Norway at all.  This fjordic longing featured some time back when I was thinking of things I dreamed of doing back in the chemo days when it felt as if things would never be the same again.

Now that I am in a different space, I have gathered a few strange desires and keep them in what I now call my “wish bucket” which is neither a wish list or a bucket list.  Or perhaps it is both!  I love the thought of a seaside-type pail rather like the one which I would collect treasures such as shells, pebbles and the occasional critter when I was little.  A bucket in which I can collect my wishes really appeals to me.  And the purpose of having a selection of things in my wish bucket is to realise them.

I aim for my wish bucket to have a selection of things which are not difficult to realise, and some which are even very easy to make happen. For example, getting funky nail art on my toenails!  This was very easy to achieve and in a “seize the day” moment I decided to enter the world of toenail art!  Despite a small challenge in that my toenails were apparently too small for many of the fantastic designs, I was finally able to settle on a Japanese-esque pastiche somewhat reminiscent of cherry blossom.  And I was delighted with the result!

And the great thing about the wish bucket is that there is nothing stopping you repeating the wishes! No law stopping you, that is, of course there may be other barriers such as cost and time!

So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I was asked if I would participate in a training which was planned to be held in Norway in June.  Norway!  A chance to do a training that I really wanted to, and in a place which I had always wanted to visit.  And the chance to pluck out one of my wish bucket dreams.  Perfect.

However, I have to say that this enthusiasm was tempered with a strange sensation.  There is a bit of a history to this particular training.  The very first one was held in Geneva in October 2009.  I had been extremely proud and excited to have been selected for that training, on a topic I am passionate about (Education in Emergency settings), with colleagues I had worked with in various settings previously, and a chance to be a member of a global team in a critical humanitarian area.

I had been looking forward to that training, when a few days beforehand the story changed.  I found the lump 12 days before the course was due to start.  It was soon clear that I would not be joining my colleagues in Geneva.  In fact as the course started in the Swiss morning of Monday 5 October, I was being wheeled into the operating theatre half a world away in Bangkok, clutching a tiny glimmer of hope that the strange shapes on the scans were not in fact sinister, despite knowing that they were “highly suspicious”.  As my colleagues in Geneva were resuming their afternoon sessions on that day, I was being revived and told that the masses had indeed been cancerous, and the whole breast had been removed along with sinister lymph nodes.

So there was indeed some trepidation at the prospect of finally participating in this course, along with the enthusiasm.  Is there such a feeling as poignant enthusiasm?  I think that is what I felt.

Trepidation in hand, I booked my travel to Oslo once I was in the UK, and had an idea of how my days were working out with the cross country dashes between Inverness, West Lothian, Glasgow and London.  As a way of taking some brief respite as well as attempting to lift my Norwegian fjord wish from the wish bucket, I booked my travel to arrive in Oslo a day before the training started.  With the very explicit wish of some fjordic exploring.

With the security of the travel and hotel booked, I then researched fjord options for a day of escapade

It soon became apparent, that the fjords in my mind were actually on the Western part of the country, and the Oslofjord, while a major system of waterways, was somewhat flatter than the fjords I had been expecting.  Still, there was a great deal to explore and that did not reduce my enthusiasm for my Norwegian trip.

My UK days flew past and before I knew it I was checking in for the Oslo flight. I landed in the afternoon which enabled a good chunk of time for exploring, particularly given the very long light days, and hardly dark nights during those midsummer days.  I was soon out and about, wandering through the city towards the harbour, and booking myself onto the last Oslofjord cruise of the day.

Oslo was wonderful and in fact, just what the doctor ordered!  In addition to my short pre-training escapade, the training itself was wonderful – on a topic which I am passionate about and have some experience in, with colleagues from around the world who brought a wealth of experience and expertise, and with trainers who had mostly been trained at that very first Geneva training.  Poignant enthusiasm indeed.  Even the setting, in the restful green Norwegian countryside, and the fresh, healthy foods were perfect. Just perfect.

This gallery below has the highlights, but even more images will be on my photo blog.

I still have a hankering to cruise the Norwegian fjords, over more days and more remotely.  That wish is in the increasingly crowded wish bucket, along with the “Aurora Borealis” dream which could be a nice wish twin.  But for now I am very happy and thankful to have been able to have this beautiful Norwegian interlude.

From bed baths to bubble baths

Progress indeed!  Just over a week ago, I was still having bed baths and was accompanied even to the bathroom in case I had a bit of a turn.  Now I am in the Big Outside World and regaining strength, health and confidence. And a mark of that progress is seen in the transition from bed baths to bubble baths!  (Not quite as extravagent as this pic, but wonderfully healing and relaxing).

And today also saw my return to the hospital for another blood draw.  The good news is that my blood levels have remained within the therapeutic range for the second test in a row. I m very much hoping that this can see Part 2 of the Great Escape swing into action.

While I am waiting, the Norway post is finally about to be shared, after rather a long time in the brewing!

The Great Escape. Part 1

We have progress.  Today was the first step forwards, quite literally.  I was finally able to venture over the hospital threshold, into the Big Outdoor World this morning.  I was discharged after my morning shot (injection, not Schnapps or any other kind of shot 😉 ) and gingerly tiptoed out of the hospital, clutching a bag of meds, a “what not to eat” list for the Warfarin, 3 pre-filled syringes, appointment slips and instructions to come back twice a day for the shots, the next blood draw and a review of my bloods with Dr W.

There was one missing item however.  The wonderful tilty bed.  You know those marvellous hospital beds which tilt whichever way you want them to, to make you comfortable now matter where your aches and pains are?  One button raises the back so you can sit up on the now tilted mattress.  Another lowers it again.  Another button draws your knees up and lowers your feet. And another button keeps your back flat and raises your legs.  Quite amazing.

When the lung pain was at its most intense, I was completely unable to lie down flat, in any position so the tilty bed and its ability to let me rest while at a 30° angle (I know it was 30° because the control panel told me so) enabled me to sleep and eased the pain considerably. The miraculous tilty bed.

Before leaving the hospital I would eye my tilty bed and just wonder if there was a button on the control pad which would fold the bed up neatly into handbag size and let me sneak out with it.   My other tactic was to request one on prescription.  Sadly both approaches failed and when I left the ward, I also had to bid farewell to my tilty bed.  On being discharged from hospital, I have moved to a hotel nearby.  It is very comfortable, has everything I need and it will be great to get back into a swimming pool and get my strength back.  But being a hotel it does not have a tilty bed.  It has a very comfortable, spacious bed, but it is totally flat! Let’s just see how I manage to sleep tonight and whether I might have to draw on hitherto undiscovered engineering skills to tilt this bed.

I now have to wait for the bloods to regularise and reach the therapeutic level.  Whatever all that means.  I am learning yet another new kind of vocabulary to add to the cancery glossary.  INR levels are nothing to do with Indian Rupees, as I have been accustomed to for some time, but rather something to do with blood and clotting levels.  I have to find out what foods contain high amounts of vitamin K and minimise these.  Interesting it seems to be the most healthy super-foods including leafy greens, broccoli, soy and green tea!  How ironic.  In the meantime the needle count increases with a stonking 19 needle sticks under my belt, quite literally on my stomach, 4 blood draws, 1 IV line and 1 painkilling shot in the rear!  Rather a lot of looking the other way with my eyes shut!

Once the levels stabilise, then we will be looking at the Great Escape Part 2, which will be my return home to Yangon. And I hope that does not take too long because I have a lonesome husband, lovely garden, heaving desk and cute little doglet all waiting back in Yangon!

Not about Norway

This blog post was meant to be about Norway. But the promised post about Norway has not yet materialised and all has been rather quiet on the gecko front.

Usually there are three likely reasons for blog silence.  Firstly, either poor connectivity, or I am travelling, or an an escapade where there is no internet then inevitably there is no blog activity.  My Christmas adventure to Mrauk U was such an example.  Secondly, if I have something really worrying me, like the time of the wirple and I retreat into my shell and introspect and worry.  Then I tend to say nothing, until I have something to say.  Especially if it is something worrying me.  Sharing worries is not something I am good at.  And the third reason for blog silence, is because something is wrong, or something unwanted going on.  And that is the case right now.

I am still in the midst of processing this, and in fact we are still trying to stabilise and resolve this.  A great deal is still unclear but I can share some basic details.  Early last week I had a sudden onset of nasty chest pain.  I was unable to lie down, and found breathing very painful.  Cutting a long story short, I had a few diagnostic tests in Yangon which showed a possible pulmonary embolism (clot on the lung).  I was hurriedly shooed off to Bangkok for further tests and am still in hospital here.  While we are not clear about how this has arisen (a possible side effect of Tamoxifen, possibly linked to the extensive recent travel, lack of rest and many other possibilities), it does appear that this is what I have. To my already significant daily cocktail of drugs , Warfarin has now been added.  And I am currently having shots of anticoagulant into my stomach twice a day which is making me resemble some kind of watering can. A psychedelic watering can in fact, with the glorious colour scheme which is emerging!  How Sixties is that?

I have to say though, this really has knocked me for six both physically and emotionally.  I feel vulnerable and frightened.  The cancer diagnosis confronts us brutally with our mortality and we all know how that changes our perspective on life.  But this kind of episode is a different kind of scary.  With cancer I knew that I was not likely to die in the coming hours or days.  This kind of diagnosis, however, was more immediately life threatening and brought a different kind of fear with it.

In that though, there is a ray of sunshine.  A bright, dazzling ray of sunshine. The diagnostic tests included a CT scan and Dr W tells me that there is no sign that any cancery stuff is behind this. And let’s be honest, this was something obviously weighing heavily on my mind.

In the meantime, I continue the twice daily shots into my stomach, with the suggestion that I should self administer these.  To say that this thought gives me the heebie jeebies is the understatement of several millennia rolled into one.  That is the extent of my cowardice faced with needles.  However, I think it is something I slowly need to get my head round if I want to get a grip on this whole thing.  The main challenge to self administration is how to get beyond the need to either look the other way, or close my eyes firmly when a needle approaches me.  In fact, I usually do both – just to be sure.

I hope to venture over the threshold back into the outside world tomorrow, and return to the hospital for blood draws and the jabs while waiting for the levels to regularise.  And then I might be able to get the promised Norway post up here.