Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Personal Bubbles

You know those speech bubbles cartoon characters have to tell us what they're saying? What if we all had bubbles over our heads to tell people what we're thinking, feeling, or experiencing?

Sometime last year, I was undergoing chemotherapy, but that particular chemo drug didn't make my hair fall out, I had hardly any side-effects, and I was very strong and full of energy. So nobody could tell I had cancer.

One evening, I went for a run around the lake near my house and imagined a bubble over my head that read, "I have advanced-stage cancer, just had chemotherapy a few hours ago, and now I'm doing a 12-kilometer run. Yay me!"

To anybody else, there was nothing special about me. I was just another runner getting her exercise. But I was proud of myself for being out there. I'd only taken up running after my cancer diagnosis, and it was part of my plan, along with my ultra-strict diet, to fight cancer with every weapon I had. That's why I was so proud of myself. I wasn't going to let cancer beat me and I wasn't going to just leave it to doctors; I was an active participant in fighting my cancer.

Of course, nobody could know any of this just by looking at me. Then I started to think about all the others I saw out there on the running track. I imagined their personal thought bubbles and what they would say.

I saw a man in his 60s who looked quite fit and determined. I imagined his bubble saying, "I may be getting old, but I'm going to do all I can to keep my body fit. I'm healthier and happier than most men half my age!" I saw an attractive woman in her 20s who stared straight ahead, jaws clenched, sweating and pushing herself hard. I saw her bubble saying, "I can do anything I want to do. I'm stronger and smarter than most men I know. They think I'm just a pretty face, but I can kick their butts in just about anything!"

I saw an overweight man in his 40s with a big belly, moving quite slowly, almost toddling along. His bubble said, "I'd rather be eating noodles right now, but if I don't get myself healthy, I'm going to leave my kids without a father or worse, with a father they can't respect." Another man in his 30s was running hard and looking angry. I pictured his bubble saying, "I don't want a divorce but I don't know how to make her happy and she won't give me a chance. I'm going to lose her and I don't know what to do about it. What can I do? How can I stop this?"

It was just a game to counter the monotony of running around the lake, but maybe we should all try this once in a while. We all have stories and experiences that make us who we are. We can't know everyone's story, especially those of strangers, but simply imagining stories for them might help us look at them as real people rather than 2-dimensional cartoon characters.


Anonymous said...

Hi Shin,

Five months ago - when I first took up running - you would have seen this bubble - with tears running freely down my face - why me? how did I become so unattractive and unlovable - just like your 30 something man - I would have said - what can I do? how do I stop this?
To be honest I am still asking the same questions - even after shedding 14 kilos and 4 inches off the waist and 3 dress sizes down - less tears (but still tears) as I run now - but same thoughts on the bubbles!!

Anonymous said...

My bubble says "whoa! look at the bald hot chick!"

Do stay around for my kids. I would be thrilled to share them with you.

Are you still on avastin? Do you have a chart of where all the tumors are and their size? I was thiking a mega dose of avastin / chemo to nail the circulating cells (alittle cyto tox and a little angiostat - think tbsp not tsp), Y90 microspheres for those in the liver coupled with some RF intervantional ablation, and a gamma knife approch for the brain is how I would go at it. Never heard of this kind of assault - but then why the fuck not?

At least your pancreas and colon are clean - yes? And your heart of course.

Please tell Tony hello from a friend he has never met.


Shin said...


Why didn't you go into oncology? You could be saving my life right now instead of wasting your talents saving other people's lives!

I'm still on Avastin. I've only had one dose so far and due for my second next week. I'm having it along with Ixempra, but I started the Ixempra first, then added the Avastin.

It's still too early to tell whether it's working or not. I'll have some tests done in a week or so to see if this combo has had any impact on my tumors.

According to my scans, I have eight tumors in the liver, the largest of which is 3.6 cm. and five in the brain, the largest being 2 cm. I have too many tumors in the lungs, soft tissue, sternum, ribs, and lymph nodes to do an accurate count.

The cancer in the lungs is what they call "ground glass" - scattered opacity throughout the lungs, rather than discrete, isolated tumors.

Because my tumors are so numerous, scattered, and non-distinct, all the surgical options seem to be inappropriate.

Maybe the Avastin/Ixempra combo will shrink the tumors enough to make surgery an option. We'll see after the next round of scans.

Shin said...


You've lost 14 kilos in five months and your thought bubble hasn't changed?

I don't know you, but anybody who has the will power and determination to lose that much weight in such a short time (I assume it was excess, not healthy weight you lost) is impressive in my book.

I know you've commented on my blog before, but can you remind me who you are with a bit of background? Are you a cancer survivor? You're married? Have kids? I'd like to know you. Maybe you can e-mail me at

I hope to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Ditto Shin! No matter where I am, I look at other people and try and work out who they are and what their tale is. I have often thought it would make a great documentary series...."What's your Story?" where you would take, say a crowded bus, and people would tell their story.
Lots of love
Sasha x

Anonymous said...

And it keeps you going if you see a fit guy on the horizon, you think "just jog past him, and you'll be almost there, don't let up. If you stop now you'll look like you're unfit and he won't know you've just jogged 5 km- " that's my mantra, and it's worked so far, also the other one is "man, I feel so terrible now but just think about what it's doing to my butt, see that person who is walking, well, I'm fitter than her, I can get past her, I'll have a firmer butt than her,,, keep going"
Will power, which you have tonnes of, which is why you are going to get through this "bad" stage, and kick the butt off your cancer...

Shin said...


What a great idea! I'd watch a film like that. What about a reality show where you try to match up the story with the person - a good way to see how we judge people based on one passing glance.

When I was at university , I participated in a study by the psychology department. They showed a hundred of us subjects photos of a graduating class from decades earlier and then for each graduate, we were asked a number of questions.

These questions ranged from what kind of car they drove and what job they had to where they lived and how many kids they had. All this based on photos that only showed head shots from the chest up, all wearing the same graduation gowns.

I scored the highest in the study. I've always prided myself on being a good judge of character. But through the years, I've found it more helpful to let go of initial judgements of people than to cling on to them, especially if they're negative.

Bill said...

no comment on the bubble thing, I'm just pumped that you're back to running. Now I can't complain about my aching knees to you!

Shin said...


Sorry to disappoint you, but you misread my blog post. I'm not back to running. I was talking about a time I went running last year.

I can barely walk a few blocks from home without panting, coughing, and gasping for breath. I think running is pretty much out of the question for the time being.

But as soon as I can put on my running shoes again, I'll be bragging about it all over this blog.

Anonymous said...

hi shin,
u remind me of myself 4 yrs ago when i am trying frantically to lose weight
thou the difference is only 8 kg in 6 months, but initially bubbles sound something like tat "oh dear, i am so heavy, my leg is aching but i know i could not stop cos i wanted to b slim and beautiful!!look there, i wanted to look just as slim as her"( as another 20+ jogger pass by, obviously running faster than me...haha)
but when time pass by, running bcome a routine and i just dun feel good if i did not go for a jog tat particular day
thereafetr, when i jog, i hav time to enjoy the air, the trees, my muscles contraction and relaxation cos i do not hav to push myself to jog anymore...
i miss those days!!
i stop my routine jog after i shed my KG's and now am back to square one..haha