Monday, February 26, 2024
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Cancer, life and healing

Contributed by Hajah Ja’aranah binti Haji Talip

I am a cancer survivor diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer.

Cancer sounds terrifying, especially when the numbers get bigger. When I was first diagnosed, my immediate thought was I would never be able to go through this and I
am dying.

I was 47. My complaints then were a series of heavy menstrual periods, body cramps and I often slept in a pool of overflowed blood. I had irregular vaginal bleeding about eight months before the diagnosis.

Looking back, I had been neglectful, not getting my symptoms checked while also having had an unfounded phobia of vaginal pap smears.

I delayed going for one, believing then I understood my own body (and that these symptoms will pass and get better) and even purposely missed gynaecology appointments.

January 31, 2017 was the fateful date when I rushed to the emergency room after feeling weak because of non-stop heavy periods.

The very next day, a doctor called to have me admitted at the Suri Seri Begawan Hospital (SSBH), Kuala Belait because my red blood count was too low. I was anaemic and had three units of blood transfused.

Hajah Ja’aranah binti Haji Talip. PHOTO: PJSC

During my admission, I had a pap smear and a biopsy. They found polyps (growths or swellings) and a few days after, I was told that I had cervical cancer.

Somehow, I was expecting this. I had been doing my own research for causes of heavy periods. I remember calmly accepting the diagnosis.

I cried silently and the first things that popped in my mind were “Am I going to die from cancer”, “When am I going to die?”, “How long will I have with my loved ones” and “What becomes of my children?”

I had many sleepless nights, thinking of my uncertain future.

When I was calmer, I did more research and gathered more information. Finding out the facts is a scary experience, but I told myself that I am not just going to lie down and wait to die! I prepared myself with questions on what to expect next, treatments, procedures and results.

After I was discharged from SSBH, I was referred to Gynaecology Specialists in Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital.

There, I also met doctors from The Brunei Cancer Centre (TBCC) and they discussed my cancer diagnosis and the planned treatment.

I got to know about the cancer stages, how much cancer has spread within the cervix and the much-anticipated answer to “How much time is left for you to live?”

NAVIGATING THE COURSE

Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. It can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells.

Can I stop it? Of course! There is nothing wrong with my other parts of the body. It’s just down there (localised). My first thoughts were: I must prevent it from spreading.

I am quite amazed after five years (and cancer free, Alhamdulillah), I did exactly this. I believe cancer has a ‘brain’. If I fail to fight it, cancer will take over and I will be defeated.

I had my radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachytherapy completed in three months.

All except the brachytherapy treatment was done through TBCC at Pantai Jerudong Specialist Centre (PJSC). The brachytherapy was carried out in Singapore after completion of combination chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Before initiating the treatment course, I made sure my doctor explained to me my treatments and procedures that I had to go through. I was given information leaflets on the therapy. I was informed that my treatment was for curative aim.

Prior to the treatments, I made sure to drink a lot of water.

Holding not to urinate is challenging (as I had to keep my bladder full for radiotherapy fraction). There were few occasions where I had to give up my queue because I needed to go to the bathroom and had to drink again before radiotherapy.

It was tiring but I just did it. It became my everyday routine during the treatments except for weekends.

I also had four cycles of concomitant chemotherapy (to enhance the effect of radiotherapy), which was once a week, at the same time I was having radiotherapy.

Again, I had to drink plenty of water. Going home, I needed to drink at least two litres of water to wash the medicine out of my body.

One of the side effects of chemotherapy was hair loss.

Hearing and anticipating this, I trimmed my hair very short. I had a few strands fall, but not all.

I did however, temporarily lose my sense of taste and smell for a few days after chemotherapy.

At one time, my taste was completely gone so I substituted my food or drinks with fruits, especially oranges, green apples, and any fruit with strong flavour.

To keep full, I ate cereals and potatoes instead of rice. When my sense of taste came back, I realised water has a sweet flavour and tried to eat as much as I can. Despite this, I lost a lot of weight.

I’d heard stories before I flew to Singapore for my brachytherapy: that said it is the most painful experience, which frightened me a little.

In hindsight, going through the process was easy, like a little bumpy ride where you feel a bit giddy.

Surprisingly, I did not feel anything at all.

REFLECTIONS

Going through the whole treatment process needs a strong mind, will and support.

There were times when I broke down crying and felt weak, but I forced myself up and imagined my cancer was just a teeny-weeny pimple that grew in the cervix.

As you read this story, you might ask why I highlight water. I find water helps me a lot, it helps me wash my cancer cells away, it helped with hair growth, and it healed and hydrated my skin because my skin dried up a lot and even got scalded during the treatment.

Finally, I would like to say to those going through what I had to go through then: never put your head down, never give up and be strong. Learn your body’s strength and gain knowledge to overcome your worries. Never forget, Allah the Almighty will not test you beyond your will.

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