Tomorrow

When I arrived back in Yangon in November 2010, following my diagnosis, surgery and the first two rounds of chemo, I remember sinking into the chair in our living room with a sense of exhaustion and relief. We had spent hardly any time in our new home before our sudden departure and did not know if we would be able to return. But return we did, almost 2 months later and to a very different Yangon. We had left while monsoon was drenching the earth and when we returned, the rains had evaporated, the earth was already dry and the sky clear blue. And our garden was glorious. The rains had nurtured the mature trees, the bamboo, the hibiscus and frangipani and we were surrounded by lush greens of every shade, punctuated by flashes of tropical colour. Our little home has large windows and the greenery outside brought a sense of calm and healing. I had not consciously craved such tranquillity until I found myself overwhelmed by the comfort it brought.

home sweet home 3For some reason, I was taken by a compulsion to plant a banana tree in our garden. I had long wanted to have a banana tree in my garden since living in Asia. That is something you don’t see in many Scottish gardens. I remember friends in Nepal planting a banana tree in their home in the southern plains and I was astounded at how quickly it grew, blossomed and then produced fruit. Now, returning to Yangon I felt an urgency in planting my own banana trees.

Happily, such things are easily done here and in no time there were a number of young banana trees in the garden, keeping the mango tree, the lime tree and the papaya tree company. They grew easily and I kept an eye on their progress as we moved through the gruelling triathlon of treatment, travelling back and forth between Yangon and Bangkok.

home sweet home 1

home sweet home 2

A few weeks ago, I saw a quote on social media which transported me instantly to the time and emotion of that need to plant the banana tree. I realised that there was something subtle and primal within that compulsion. While I was facing my mortality and the demons which accompany these thoughts, something within me was rising above that place. I was investing time and emotion in my own future, in the shape of a banana tree.

tomorrow More than ever I needed to believe in tomorrow.

And I still do. The cycle of growth, the seasons, the rising and the setting of the sun and the moon are things we take for granted but which are at the very essence of our existence. When I wanted to plant those banana trees, this was in the belief and desire of seeing them grow and flourish. That belief in tomorrow.

We still have our banana trees. They produced healthy red bananas the following year and the plants now tower above me. A tropical climate provides rapid results but the same would apply to any growth, whether flora of fauna, rooted in the principle of tomorrow.

Of course I still believe in tomorrow, though I no longer treat it with the same cavalier attitude.  None of us know how many tomorrows we have, and cancer pushes our belief in tomorrow in our face and laughs.  But we can smile back gently and plant our trees while we invest in the belief of all of our tomorrows.

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Can it be true?

It is a bright and sunny day in Bangkok, and it hasn’t sunk in yet …………………………….

……. but it is there in black and white – and blue and red – my final radiation zap!  I even get 2 neat lines underneath the final session just to make sure I don’t get confused and come back for more! Finally, 25 out of 25 sessions done! One Feisty Blue Gecko well cooked and done!

So it is goodbye to the Bunker with its lead lined door and red flashing light ………………

Goodbye to the blue mould that has held me in the same position ………….

and the beeps, whirrs and rays of the machine.

I will see the staff again at follow up appointments, so I have words of immense thanks and gratitude to them, rather than a goodbye.

And hello the new phase of RECOVERY!

I realise it is exactly 7 months ago today that I had my first chemo session, and – how weird is this? It is 8 months TO THE DAY that I first discovered the lump.  The past 8 months have been the most challenging, frightening and difficult of my life, yet I have so much to be thankful for.

It is far from over though.  The heavy duty treatment which was set out when I was diagnosed is now completed. I have appointments this week with Drs W and W2 for a review of how the treatment has gone, and to plan the next phase of care.  We will also find out if I am fit to travel long haul and get back to Scotland for long overdue leave.  I will have review and follow up appointments after my leave.  Depending on how Dr W2 feels the treatment has gone, I may have another surgery – my de-portation 😉 or removal of my port.  I have started taking Tamoxifen (another story for another post) as a measure to prevent recurrence.

I also have a lot of physical recovery to focus on.  Twang arm has been attempting to stage a comeback during radiation and is really stiff and painful.  Slowly but surely revenge is coming for Twang arm.  The skin changes and burn from radiation need a bit of time to heal.  The nerve damage from surgery also needs work to repair slowly. I still have a number of reminders of chemo, especially Taxotere – numb fingers, tender feet, aching and tired legs, sensitive skin – and BALDNESS!  These take time to get out of the system, and some reminders may be permanent.

It feels as if Bangkok and I are both nursing our wounds and scars and looking towards the healing stage.  We have been through something life-changing, unforgettable and traumatic.  Although things will never be the same again, for the moment at least it feels as if it is time for healing and recovery.

Today, Bangkok also feels as if it is moving away from the past dark days.  There is a huge clean up going on, the sky train and other public transportation is getting back to normal.  There was a violent thunderstorm last night which seems to have cleansed the atmosphere and the day is fresh and bright today.

Life changed for sure when I discovered that lump, and although it will be different, I feel at last as if I am on a different path now that I am on the other side of all the heavy stuff.   I am under no illusions – I know that recurrence or metastasis is a risk, and once diagnosed the fear of recurrence is ever present.  I know that the old port might be needed again one day and I could have to face heavy treatment at some point again in the future.

But for now I need to bask in the sunshine of this phase and enjoy the fact that I have got through all of this.

And the 3rd event of the triathlon? The Marathon!

If chemo was the Boxing Match in this triathlon from hell, then I think Radiation is the marathon.

It feels non stop (even though it is for such a short session) because it is daily.  I have to keep ploughing on even though I am exhausted, and my legs are totally uncooperative!  Each session is like a mile marker, though there are 25 markers for me rather than 26.  However, if I include the long planning and simulation session at the start, we are indeed at a nice 26 sessions!

I realise that I approached this Radiation Marathon with the attitude that it would be a walk in the park after chemo.  In many ways it is, but because the chemo is so tough then it did give me a false sense that all other treatments would be “easy” in comparison.  I think the fact that I started radiation very quickly after chemo has also been a factor.  It is indeed great that I will be finished with the heavy duty treatments sooner (all being well, crossing numb fingers, peeling toes and even Twang Arm with non Twang Arm if that will help).  However, it has meant that I was a bit frail at the start of the Radiation.   In Yangon the Doctor I saw just before I came to Bangkok did tell me that Radiation is not easy, has its side effects and also often brings some depression.  Now when you hear “a leetle depression” with a lovely French accent it doesn’t sound so bad at all, in fact it almost sounds quite cute.  It doesn’t feel at all like the weepiness and grey feeling which descends most days.

Don’t get me wrong, the treatment is not painful, it does not involve needles (well not as part of the treatment though they still need to monitor blood levels – yuck!), and the side effects are not nearly acute or debilitating as they are with chemo.  But it is uncomfortable, lying totally still in an awkward position while the machine goes through its daily workout.  It is also quite boring, even with the music so I have started counting the beeps.  This also helps me keep on track and know how far I am through the session.  I seem to get 75 beeps every session, each lasts about 3 seconds.  Except for the 9th and 14th beep and one much later on – for some reason these ones last much longer!  I say that I seem to get 75 beeps because I usually lose count in the 30s!  Apparently everyone gets a different number of beeps or zaps, depending on their diagnosis, treatment required and calculated by the specialists and the computer.  I am also finding that Twang and other arm are already feeling stiff and sore.  I feel nauseous (but I hope this will pass) and still very weak and tired.  I also have some skin irritation from tape which covers the marks.  One part reacted and has blistered – chemo skin is still very sensitive and probably over-reacted!

I think the main reason it feels like a marathon though is that the whole day, if not life at the moment, revolves around the daily treatment.

On the positive side, I am passing those daily milestones fairly quickly  – 6 passed and 19 to go, so I have already completed nearly a quarter of the course.  I just have to keep ploughing onwards………

A footnote before the note?

Now I am having fun – playing with the dimension of time and putting a blog post before a post!

The next post is one which has been in preparation for a few days, and touches on some heavy stuff.  The reason for this footnote is put it into perspective a bit before it is read.

Right at the outset of this blog, I stated that there are different reasons for me recording and sharing this experience.  And to be very honest, the biggest part is the selfish one.  It helps me.  It helps me to process this heavy stuff.  It gives an outlet for the heavy physical as well as the emotional path which I am travelling.  It helps me to deal with it because it is less overwhelming once it has been chewed over in my mind over and again and then set out in black and white text.  This whole process means that by the time the heavy words appear on the blog I already feel lighter and see things more in perspective!

So please remember that when you need the next post that I felt a lot better after writing it than I did before!