Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cancer, Cancer, Everywhere

I really think there’s an epidemic going on. Not a week goes by that I don’t learn of yet another person who’s been diagnosed with cancer. I just learned a woman I know has been diagnosed with lymphoma. She has a one-year-old daughter. Her sister died of lymphoma when she was 21 years ago. My neighbor’s father was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s inoperable and his prognosis is very bad. He’s only 56 years old. And four mothers at Josie’s school have had breast cancer. Considering the school only has about 50 families, this is quite a large percentage!

If people were coming down with a virus at the rate that people were getting cancer, I’m sure the World Health Organization would sound an alarm and label it a pandemic.

It seems so commonplace and unavoidable now while before I was diagnosed, it was a fairly rare disease for people over 60.

All this news of cancer lately has gotten me down. I feel like I’m surrounded by it. Corny as it sounds, it makes my heart feel a bit heavy. As I was thinking about this today, it struck me that people who live in war zones live with heavy hearts all their lives. Watching people around you get diagnosed with cancer might not be as soul-destroying as watching people around you get shot, bombed, starved, or massacred on a daily basis. I can’t imagine living with such fears day-to-day. Where does hope come from in situations like that?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cancer?! Ha!

I met a woman today who’s had three different kinds of cancer over the past 25 years and she’s still going strong. She’s the mother of a friend of mine, and though I’d known her for a while, we’d never talked about her brushes with cancer. I hadn’t seen her for a few years and when she asked me how I’d been, I told her I was doing great but I’d been diagnosed with cancer. She immediately took me by the arm and sat me down with a big smile and told me the story of her fights with cancer.

First it was cancer in her nose. Sixteen years later, it was a brain tumor. Then three years after that, cancer in the lymph nodes on her neck. She’s been cancer-free for five years now and her attitude is, “Cancer? Ha! I can kick its butt!” She’s 61 years old and as lively and sprightly as anyone my age.

What struck me about her was that as she was telling me about her cancer experience, she spoke like a soldier bragging about how many enemies she’d fought off. She almost spat out the word “cancer” as if it were something to scoff at. I suppose if I’d battled and won against cancer three times in a quarter of a decade, I’d be claiming bragging rights as well!

Friday, October 27, 2006

My Cancer, Your Cancer

I spent the last two days accompanying a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient to the hospital for bone, liver and lung scans to see if her cancer had spread. When the bone scan radiographer was talking to her before the scan, she referred to “C-A” instead of cancer. I wanted to jump in and say, “You mean CANCER, right?” I want to take the stigma out of this word that makes some people look at you as if you’re a goner.

But later on, my friend the patient told me she appreciated that the radiographer didn’t say the word “cancer” to her. She’s afraid of the word. I, on the other hand, want to say the word to everybody and anybody. At restaurants: “Can you make sure there’s no cheese on that? I’m avoiding dairy products because I have CANCER.” At the supermarket: “Can you show me where I can find organic foods? I’m trying to avoid chemicals because I have CANCER.” At any public place: “May I offer you this pamphlet on how to do a breast self-exam? You see, I have breast CANCER and I hope to help save other people.” CANCER, CANCER, CANCER. I figure the more we hear it and the more people we know who are up and about with cancer, the less frightening the word will be.

People don’t drop their voices to a low whisper to say someone has *diabetes* (shhhhh...). So why should cancer be so scary? Granted, in the old days, people got cancer and pretty much died within months. But it’s different now, especially with breast cancer. People live for decades with cancer.

But what I learned from my friend is, not every cancer patient is like me. I have to respect that some people with cancer can’t face hearing it said out loud. Each patient has a different attitude toward her cancer because we are, after all, individuals with different tastes and views toward everything.

So my cancer is a normal everyday thing that anybody can talk about, even joke about. My friend’s cancer needs to be treated with a bit more respect, awe, and fear.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hard, Cold Reality

A friend of mine asked me recently if I knew anyone who’d actually died of breast cancer. I was happy to say I didn’t. I didn’t even know anyone indirectly who had died of it. But now I do. Well, sort of.

I have a book of cartoons titled, “Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person” by Miriam Engelberg. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. She was treated, then had a recurrence. She chronicled her cancer treatment in this book of cartoons, showing a very funny but real side of cancer. I thought she really hit the nail on the head with her cartoons, addressing a lot of issues that I’d gone through.

She just died a week ago from her cancer. Now I’m reading the book again to see what stage she was, what treatment she got, and other details to compare to my own case. I know it’s a bit morbid, but I can’t help myself. According to the cartoons, she didn’t have any cancer in her lymph nodes and her tumor was only 1.5 cm. That means her cancer was only Stage I and she died anyway! She had just published her book of cartoons earlier this year. She was funny, positive, full of hope, from what I could tell. I think she was also very careful about her diet and was taking a lot of anti-cancer supplements. What in the world went wrong?

If I ever have a recurrence, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going out for the greasiest, juiciest bacon cheese burger I can find. Would you like fries with that? You betcha! And make those chili cheese fries! Plus a pint of ice cold lager, followed by a warm hot fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream on top. Then I’ll die of heart disease and people can say that cancer didn’t get me in the end! Ha ha!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Celebrity Cancer

I found a Web site that lists famous people who’ve had breast cancer. The list is compiled by category: movie stars, musicians, royalty, politicians, business executives, etc.

I was astounded by how many celebrities had breast cancer that I’d never known about. Of course, everyone knows about Kylie Minogue and Sheryl Crow because they’ve both spoken quite openly about their cancer.

But not Cynthia Nixon from “Sex and the City”, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, all three original Charlie’s Angels, Olivia Newton John, Koo Stark (soft porn starlet who scandalized the British royal family), Adolph Hitler’s mother, and on and on. And almost all of the women on the list were either still alive or died of something other than cancer.

Granted, they could have died from other things as a result of their cancer treatment, but cancer wasn’t listed as the cause of death. And a lot of these women lived ten, twenty years, even longer after their diagnoses. This is really significant, given that medicine has come a long way in the past few decades. So if someone diagnosed with and treated for cancer 20 years ago can still be alive, then someone who’s diagnosed now has the advantage of medical advancements to live many more years than that.

Of course, it’s not all roses. The Latin Grammy winner, Soraya, died of breast cancer at the age of 37, just seven years after diagnosis.

But I’m keeping close tabs on Kylie, Sheryl, and Lance Armstrong. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Lance Armstrong’s diagnosis for testicular cancer. They say if you haven’t had a recurrence in ten years, you can consider yourself cured. I hope that’s true for Lance. Not that I know him or think he’s a kind-hearted soul, but because his survival means so much to cancer patients and survivors all over the world. The day Lance Armstrong dies, cancer patients everywhere will be mourning -- not just for him, but for themselves.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fear and Prevention

I saw a documentary film tonight about a woman whose mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and aunt had breast cancer. She had a young daughter herself and at one point in the film, she said she wasn’t as worried about passing on breast cancer genes to her daughter as she was about passing on the fear.

I don’t think fear is necessarily a bad thing. Fear is just heightened awareness, and as long as it’s tempered with reason and positive attitude, fear can be a productive force. Because I’ve had breast cancer, Josie’s risk of getting it has increased. Should she live in terror that one day she will get breast cancer? Of course not. Should she be aware that she is at risk and that there are some things she can do to minimize that risk? Yes, definitely.

Of all the factors that raise our risk of getting breast cancer, the one thing we have any control over is lifestyle choices - diet, exercise, rest, stress, and exposure to hormones. If Josie is made aware of how these factors can influence her risk for breast cancer, she can choose to take some precautions -- drink less alcohol, eat less sugar and hormone-injected foods, exercise regularly, and maybe even have children earlier than I did.

As her mother, I feel it’s my job to educate Josie about lifestyle choices and breast cancer risks. I don’t need to tell her about cancer until she’s much older, but for now, I need to lay the foundations of a healthy attitude toward diet. That’s the only thing I can do for her so when I’m gone, she’ll have this in place to protect her, even if it’s just a little bit.

Of course, she can eat well and exercise all her life and still get breast cancer. Just like I can drive carefully and obey all traffic rules and still get killed by a runaway truck. We can’t control our environments, but we can certainly take control of ourselves and do the best we can with that.

The worse thing about having cancer is loss of control. Well that, and the dying bit. But I can’t do much about that. What I CAN do is take care of my body so it can have the best chance of fighting cancer and recovering from chemotherapy and radiation. I could forget about my special diet, supplements, and exercise, and just carry on with my life, waiting for cancer to get me someday. But I choose to fight it with whatever weapons I have so I can feel like I’m doing something.

Am I afraid that cancer will come back? Of course I am. I’m an optimist, not a deluded fool. The chances that cancer will come back and kill me are very high. Am I going to give up and wait for the inevitable? Of course not. I’m going to do everything in my power to fight it. And I expect my daughter to do the same.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Numb Hands, Chest Pains

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t feel my hands. They were numb and stiff -- the way your foot feels when it’s gone to sleep after you’ve sat on it for a long time. Except I’d slept flat on my back and not on my hands. I tried to wiggle them and after a few seconds, I was able to get a tingly sensation in the fingers, then the rest of the hands and finally, the tingling and numbness went away and my hands felt normal again. Maybe this is the neuropathy that chemo sometimes causes. But why’s it happening now, months after the chemo stopped?

Later on in the day, I began to feel sharp pains on the right side of my chest, deep inside, toward the back. I’m guessing it has to do with the radiation I got on that side. I wonder how long these side-effects last.

I suppose I should call my oncologist and tell her about these symptoms, but I keep getting these little quirky things from time to time and I can’t get into a panic each time it happens. But what if the cancer has spread to the lungs? I’m trying to remember whether I’ve had a chest X-ray recently to check the lungs and my chemo brain can’t even remember that.

It’s funny how I go from being super careful about every little thing that might be wrong in my body to just waving it away as another false alarm. I guess this is what living with cancer is about -- some days you have cancer and really feel it in your life, and other days, you just can’t be bothered even thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Faith and Cancer

Someone gave me an audio CD of a woman narrating her story about having breast cancer. The disk had the title, “I Survived!” and had photos of the woman, before, during, and after chemo hair loss, all smiley and happy. I was looking forward to listening to this personal account of someone who seemed so confident and happy, she must have some wisdom to impart.

She introduced herself by saying that in 2003, she learned about the “weakness of the human body...” And I expected her to say, “and the strength of the human spirit”. But no. Instead, she said, “the strength of God”. I was disappointed. Another testimony by a religious person, talking about the glory of God.

I listened to the entire CD anyway, about the woman’s fears about chemo and how having God by her side kept her going. How God was using her to help others, because she then went on to counsel other cancer patients. How God saved her life and kept her from feeling alone throughout her worst moments.

Why can’t I have that faith? It must be comforting to believe that there is a God out there who is always with you and is looking out for you. A personal God would have come in handy on those days I sat in hospitals, waiting to have my body injected with radioactive dye and put through a tunnel to see where the cancer cells were. I felt very alone and scared. It would have been nice to have a God with me, but frankly, it would have been even better to have a friend or my husband with me. They would have done the job just as well, if not better. I can’t hold God’s hand and joke with him to relieve my fears. That’s the kind of comforting I needed.

I wish I could have this absolute faith that people have in their religions. Faith is an impossible thing to pin down. By definition, it can’t be proven or measured. It’s blind, instinctive gut feeling that cannot be rationalized. So if you don’t have it, how do you get it? I have some faith in science and medicine. But I don’t think that’s all it will take to beat my cancer. I have faith in my own strength and will, but that’s not all it will take either. I have faith in the goodness of people and the world in general. But that’s not enough to make me believe all is well in the world. How does anyone have 100%, absolute faith in any one thing?

I wish I could get a lobotomy to slice out the part of my brain that rationalizes and questions too much. I wish I could be hypnotized and wake up with complete and absolute faith in God. I WANT to believe in something as powerful and beneficent as God is supposed to be. But how do I MAKE myself believe that? Is there a pill I can take?

I should be a test for anyone planning to be a preacher. If you can’t convert a dying cancer patient to Christianity, then what chance have you got with perfectly healthy people who aren’t facing death and looking for a way out?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Herceptin, Stitches, Dodging Bullets

Three doctor visits today: Oncologist for my Herceptin treatment, surgeon to have my stitches removed, and gynecologist for an ultrasound of my ovaries. Turns out ovarian cancer is far scarier than breast cancer -- by the time screening finds the cancer, it’s already Stage III or IV, with a five-year survival rate of about 40%. I just started to write, “Thank goodness I have breast cancer instead”, but then realized I have Stage IV breast cancer, with a five-year survival rate of 20%. I keep forgetting. I guess that’s a good thing, though.

I now have to be very careful about ovarian cancer because having had breast cancer raises my risk for ovarian cancer significantly. Sigh. The body’s full of potential cancers. The world is full of potential dangers. Life is full of potential deaths. So when we live to a ripe old age, I think we should celebrate that we’ve dodged all the bullets.

I will welcome every birthday that comes now, not with a sad, “I’m ANOTHER year older!” but instead, “Hey! I’m still alive!” I’ll hit the big 40th next month so I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to my 50th and 60th birthdays as well. I’m looking forward to being a toothless old granny in a rocking chair, laughing at my little grandchildren, toothless and gummy, in diapers, and drooling just like me!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Doctor Without Heart

I went to the hospital today to visit the mother of one of Josie’s schoolmates who has just had a lumpectomy for Stage I breast cancer. While I was there, her doctor came to see her. She asked him about the results of her surgery and the histology report that he had received from the lab. Typical questions: “What grade was the tumor? What does Stage I mean? Is it curable?" His answer: “You don’t need to know. Just leave it to me.”

She tried asking him over and over again, in many different ways, for details of what the histology report said and whether her cancer was curable. At one point, she asked, “I read on the Internet that the survival rate for Stage I is 90-97%. What do you think?” His answer: “Don’t read the Internet. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

I was watching my friend grasping for words of hope, even a hint of something positive from her doctor, or at least some basic information and facts about her condition. But instead of addressing her questions, he rolled his eyes, waved his hands in front of him as if deflecting the silliness of her questions, and treated her as if she were an ignorant child. I was shocked by his dismissive and disrespectful attitude.

After about 15 minutes of her trying desperately to get him to tell her something, he finally said, “I can guarantee five years.” That left my friend thinking she had five years to live. Before he’d arrived, she’d been so upbeat and positive, saying, “Thank God it’s only Stage I!” She went from being relieved and hopeful to feeling despondent, thinking she could have only five years left.

I was so angry at the doctor, but I couldn’t interfere. All this woman needed was reassurances, even plain facts (Her chances of survival ARE in the 90s. Stage I breast cancer IS completely curable.). He didn’t need to tell her how many years she had to live. She wasn’t asking for that. He could’ve just said she had an excellent chance of beating her cancer and she had reason to hope for a normal life span. Why were these words so impossible for him to say? What was wrong with this doctor?

I plan to write a letter to him and to the medical association about this exchange I witnessed later, when my friend is no longer under his care. I don’t think he should be allowed to cause anyone else such anguish again. He might be a good surgeon. He just has no idea how to treat a patient as a human being. If he’s a good surgeon, then he should just do the surgery part and let another doctor handle the patient contact. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t let that man near a cancer patient again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Sisterhood

I had lunch today with three other expatriate women who’ve had breast cancer. There were supposed to be two more, but one couldn’t make it because of work and the other was too sick after her chemo to join us. So that’s five expat women who’ve had breast cancer in the last few years that I know personally. And I know many more women here in Singapore as well as overseas -- maybe 30 in total now. It seems almost everyone I know has had breast cancer or knows someone who has.

Maybe it’s like when I was pregnant -- suddenly, I was seeing pregnant women everywhere, whereas before, I never noticed them. Having breast cancer is like being pregnant in another way -- it creates a sisterhood. When I was pregnant with Josie, I read dozens of books on pregnancy and infant care. I went to prenatal classes and regular doctor visits. I did research on the Internet and became an expert on babies and pregnancy. But the thing that helped me the most was talking to other women who’d had babies themselves. When my water broke, I didn’t call my doctor; I called my best friend who’d had two kids herself. Talking to my single, childless friends about what I was going through was distancing for me and boring for them.

Same with cancer. It was helpful, even fun, to talk about what I was going through with other women who’d had the same experiences. We traded tips on the best oncologists in Singapore. We compared notes on reconstruction options -- implants or back tissue? Maybe tummy tuck and boob job in one? And we can joke about our situation. Sometimes, I make a joke about my cancer or about dying and non-cancer people look uncomfortable or scold me for being so distasteful. Just like when I was pregnant. Pregnant women can joke with each other about the burps and farts that go along with carrying a baby. It’s pretty rude to talk about that stuff with the civilian population.

I’ve never been interested in support groups. When I was pregnant, I was asked to join a new mothers’ support group but I didn’t. After my cancer diagnosis, I made a few feeble attempts to join a breast cancer support group, but I figured it would just be a bunch of women sitting around getting emotional. I didn’t want that. I wanted information. The ladies I saw today are like me. We just want the best information available to give us the best chance of living as long as we can. And we all have young children so we can understand the additional stresses that go along with having cancer with young kids (Will I live long enough to see them through their teen years? Do I even WANT to? Ha ha.)

During our lunch, I got a phone call. It was from the mother of a girl in Josie’s school. She was calling from the hospital -- she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and had just had a lumpectomy. Eerie coincidence. Just as we were talking over lunch about how to help other breast cancer patients, along comes a newbie to Cancer World. I’m going to the hospital tomorrow to see her. She also has two young children, about the same ages as mine. She’s also under 40. I hope I can be of use to her. Something good has to come out of my cancer.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stitches and Strangers

Went to the doctor today to get my stitches out, but he says the wound hasn’t completely healed yet so they’re staying in for another week. Rats. But I don’t want him to take the stitches out too early and have the wound open up again, so this is a good thing. That’s my spin.

For the past week, I’ve been keeping my arm movements to a minimum because of the pain, but mostly because I don’t want to risk overworking the arms and getting fluid build-up like I did after the mastectomy. Normally, I’d pick up 10 shopping bags all at once or carry both kids, one in each arm. But the other day, I asked the taxi driver to get my shopping bags out for me and take them to the elevator. And I’ve asked store clerks to wait while I unloaded my shopping cart in slow motion.

Each time, I explain, “I’ve just had surgery, so I can’t lift heavy things or move very fast, so please bear with me.” I want to go on and say, “I’ve had reconstruction surgery because I had breast cancer and lost both breasts. So you’ll have to cut me some slack.”

I know some people don’t want to go around telling everyone they have cancer. I used to think I was one of those people. But now I want to tell everyone, even strangers, about it. I want to say, “This isn’t the real me. Normally, I am strong and agile and would never let anyone help me lift my shopping bags. And normally, I have long straight hair, not this kinky wiry stuff that makes me look like I’m wearing a helmet made of animal fur. Normally, I could drink you under the table and dance on bar tops all night long. I could eat a big juicy steak and not this namby-pamby rabbit food. Normally, I wouldn’t be so annoying when ordering food in restaurants (‘no meat, no dairy, no MSG, no sugar please’).”

I want people to know that the person they’re seeing is a weak imitation of the real me. I think knowing a person’s story helps us be more tolerant and sympathetic.

I once saw a kid throwing an almighty tantrum in a supermarket and his mom did nothing. I thought she should be disciplining her child, or at least controlling him in public places. But now I think, maybe that kid was autistic or he was having a seizure? Or once, a seemingly able-bodied woman got on a crowded elevator on the second floor of a hospital, leaving a woman with an infant in a stroller to wait for the next elevator. I wanted to scold that woman for being so inconsiderate and lazy. But what if she had just undergone surgery and couldn’t walk up and down stairs?

What if people are looking at me and thinking, “What a lazy, spoiled brat! She can’t pick up her own shopping bags?! And what is UP with her hair?!! Doesn’t she have a mirror in her house?!” Maybe I should wear a sign around my neck, “Cancer patient. Under construction. Inconvenience regretted.”

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Out with the Drains! Again!

The drains came out today. This is the 4th time I’ve had these plastic tubes coming out of my chest carrying blood and fluid from the chest and into plastic barrel-shaped containers. It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can stick a tube of plastic inside a person’s body to drain blood out and then you just yank on the tube and about 20 centimeters of plastic tubing comes sliding out of the body, leaving a hole in the chest that you just plug with a bandage.

It’s also pretty amazing that you can lop off a body part and the body can go on. Just think of all those muscles and nerve endings and blood veins that get chopped up in the process. And somehow they manage to reconnect and heal. Seems the human body is capable of withstanding quite a lot. Add to that all the medical technology now available, and there’s real reason to hope that one day there will be a cure for cancer. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of help from science and medicine to prolong life with cancer and make the fight less painful. So hooray for scientists, researchers, and doctors who are looking for a cure and fighting the disease day-to-day.

If I could start my life over again, I think I’d go into oncology. I’d probably cry all the time for my patients and be very poor giving all my money away to patients who can’t pay for treatment, but I’d feel like I was doing something useful with my life.

I wonder if I haven’t given enough thought to what I’ve been doing with my life. What if I’d been told at the beginning of my adult life, say, age 20 or so, “You are hereby given an entire planet and 50 years to do whatever you want with it. Go forth and use those 50 years the best you can!” It’s like one of those reality TV shows where contestants are given a set amount of time to accomplish a task. Would I map out a plan? Would I set goals and work toward them? Do other people do this? Do they sit down and decide, “I’ll finish law school by 23, get married by 30, have kids by 35, retire by 55, see the Eight Wonders of the World by age 60, etc.”

If we were given one year to accomplish a task, we’d certainly map out a plan to best succeed at accomplishing the task. But if given 50 years? And what sort of task would we set for our lives? Enjoy life and leave a beautiful corpse? Touch people around you and leave your memory in their hearts? Or something less esoteric like set up a foundation to educate the poor. Amass the biggest collection of rare Indian coins in the world? Are people planning ahead or just bumbling along? Should I be planning something big?

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Reconstruction Surgery

I came home from the hospital today after a one-night stay following reconstruction surgery. It was supposed to be day surgery, but I was in too much pain after the procedure to sit up in bed, so they had to put me on a stretcher and into an ambulance to get me from the surgery clinic to the hospital across the street. I felt like a bit of a wimp that I couldn’t just get up and walk out. A friend of mine who had breast augmentation surgery said she woke up with no pain at all and just walked out of the clinic. That’s what I expected would happen to me. But when I tried to sit up, there was such a sharp, stabbing pain deep in the center of my chest that I couldn’t even catch my breath. I thought maybe something had gone wrong with the operation because I hadn’t expected it to hurt at all.

The most disappointing part of the experience was the helplessness I felt because the doctor and nurses had no clue about what I was feeling. The doctor never even asked me about the nature of my pain or where it was located. Instead, HE was telling ME where my pain was, saying the right side had undergone radiation so it would feel constricted, etc. I tried to tell him that the pain was deep in the center of my chest and NOT on the radiated side, but because I could only speak in a whisper due to the pain, I couldn’t make myself understood and no one made any effort to bend down to my level to listen to what I had to say. And one nurse in particular kept moving my body forward while I desperately tried to tell her in as loud a voice as I could (but I could only manage a whisper) that she was causing me a lot of pain. Tony was standing behind her and I tried to catch his eye to tell him not to let that nurse touch me again, but he too, seemed unable to hear me or understand me. I felt completely helpless and voiceless and they could do whatever they wanted with me because I had no power to stop them.

This experience has made it abundantly clear to me that if I ever have to undergo any kind of serious medical procedure again, it will NOT be in Singapore. And this was just a simple surgery. What if I’m ever really incapacitated? What if my condition deteriorates and I get to the point where I can’t actually speak or move my own body? I’m worried that no one would know what I needed or wanted. I’m glad I’ve filled out a Living Will, but what about before I get to that point? What if I’m just too weak or sick to express my wishes and nobody can think of a way to listen to me and see what I need? All I needed today was for someone to put his ear right next to my mouth so I could tell him what the pain was like, where the pain was, and what I wanted him to do. I couldn’t speak loudly enough to say all that. I was so frustrated and angry -- that was worse than the pain itself.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Hope in a Boat

“Hope in a Boat” was the name of my Dragon Boat Racing team. We came in second in the Plate Finals for the inaugural Breast Cancer Dragon Boat World Championship Race. Our fellow teammates in the other Singapore boat, “Paddlers in the Pink”, took first in the Plate Finals. There were teams from all over the world, including South Africa, Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, U.K., and Italy.

It was quite a festive and lively sporting event. There were paddlers with their entire families who’d flown out to support them. Upbeat dance music played in the background, people broke out into spontaneous dancing, teams were doing their chants, kids running around, pink balloons flying everywhere, women greeting each other with hugs and squeals. It was like a big outdoor party with hundreds of people. Such a happy atmosphere. Then you think, “Hey, all of these women are here because they’ve had breast cancer.” I looked around at the faces -- most were in their 50s and 60s, but when I saw young women in their early 30s with little kids, I felt a bit sad and angry. Angry at what? I don’t know. Just angry that these little kids had moms with breast cancer.

We had one man on our team who was taking his wife’s place. She died earlier this year. He was one of our most enthusiastic paddlers and cheerleaders. I think Dragon Boat racing must give him some comfort after losing his wife, but I also think how sad it must have been for him that his wife didn’t make it for the big race. I’ve never seen him with anything but a smile on his face though. What an amazing man.

All the women at the race were so warm, cheerful, friendly, and energetic. I wonder if they were always like this, or if their personalities changed after their diagnoses. I always hear about people who are more optimistic, appreciative, happy after they’ve been through cancer, but I don’t think cancer’s changed my personality at all. I was pretty cheerful and optimistic before my diagnosis. I’d love to see a study on this aspect of cancer -- do people’s personalities change after cancer? And why hasn’t mine? Why hasn’t cancer completely altered my life and personality? Why hasn’t cancer been a mind and life-altering, earth-shattering experience for me? Am I missing something?