I’ve now been back a week and am easing back into my old routine. 45 minutes of yoga and meditation in the mornings, a daily visit to Prof Tee Tong Ang (more later, http://chinesenaturecure.com/) and then picking up on my mother’s war letters project. And doing lots of cooking for my recipe book!
5 spice (home made natch) tofu with oyster and enoki mushrooms & baby pak choi
pak choi in the wok
On arrival, as if on cue, far away from the comfort of the Marsden and the lovely Dr Miah, my leg turns scarlet on the radiotherapy burn and swells up like a balloon. Continue reading →
Back in Singapore! The flight was a doddle, a good sleeping pill saw me right for the longest bit; a speedy wheelchair transit through a thronged KL airport, where they waived me through passport control without asking to see either passport or boarding pass. ‘Excuse me, don’t you think you should look at these after all the problems you’ve had?’, brandishing my documents. Embarrassed smiles. Continue reading →
The radiotherapy is complete! Six and a half weeks or 33 sessions, 8 concentrated at the end. To quote Dr Miah: ‘She has tolerated treatment extremely well. She demonstrates stage 1 erythema [common side effect of radiotherapy treatment due to patient exposure to ionizing radiation] and no evidence of skin breakdown…no evidence of lymphoedema. In fact, she continues to improve her muscle tone and strength…causing hypertrophy in the residual posterior compartment muscles’. We formally named my new muscle Victorious.
My leg showing the burn
My leg is nevertheless very burned and covered in raised blisters (see photo); puffy round the knee joint and stiff. Exercise and stretching does help.
Tommy with old nanny Nicki who came round last week; had not seen her for many years
Tommy came round to celebrate the end, and we had a glass of champagne, it was about 6pm. ‘I’m very hungry’, he kept saying, ‘shall we go eat now?’ But I was tired and he couldn’t get me moving, also I felt it was too early. Having studied the menu at The Hill, his chosen venue, I found little I could eat, so was making other suggestions. No, no, let’s go the Hill. Eventually at 7, a decent time for supper, we stagger down to the pub; I push open the heavy door and first thing I see are Louise’s friends Dot and Daz. Funny coincidence, think I, smiling at them, then I hear people shouting surprise! surprise!
Celebrating before the surprise!
The gang when I arrived at The Hill
I look around, and assembled are a mixture of my friends, Louise’s and Tommy’s – family friends you could say – all waiting anxiously for me to appear. They had been waiting since 6.15 but Tommy couldn’t get me moving! Wonderful, warm feeling, I was too happy to cry, but felt close to tears. As Tommy said in his FB event ‘She’s not the kind of person who would organise a party for herself, and we think that quite frankly she deserves one for everything she’s had to deal with!’ So a huge thank you to him, Dot and Lulu, who invited everybody. It was a moving moment for me, a special milestone in my journey, one of the love and affection that we all need to get us through the tough times.
Tommy with Jake and Vicky P
The ‘oldies’: l-r Rachael, Stevie B. Lucille, Sue, Jadzia
Lulu, Dorcas, Liz
I am now signed off with Prof Thomas (thrilled with my new muscle growth) and MRI scans booked for June. At my final debrief with Dr Miah I had urgent questions regarding my planned visit to Japan early April to see the cherry blossoms; several people have questioned whether it’s safe or not after the Fukishima disaster, but she says its fine for such a short period.
Another pressing question concerns flying: need a ‘fit to fly’ note for insurance, and worry about the stockings and my leg. Got to wear the stockings, she says. But how am I going to get it over my sore leg? Just slather your leg with aqueous cream and put it on. I try hard not to giggle as I have visions of rolling it on, durex-like, over my engorged organ, and hope she isn’t thinking the same. I am almost tempted to crack a joke, but think better of it.
my treatment table; blue blocks on left and leg cast foreground right. Try and picture me lying down, head cushioned by the head rest
I look back over the past weeks. They went quite fast in the end. I had a good little routine going, wake early, do my emails, film reviews, blog writing etc, nice cuppa from Mandy (latest one is green tea with toasted rice); cook up witches’ brew for the day and make veg juice; breakfast of home-made granola, blueberries and soya yoghurt; 45 minutes of yoga, free weights and mediation, once a week Priti (thanks for the Ayurveda cookbook!) comes here to do proper yoga with me; shower and dress; taxi to Marsden, sometimes with a companion, most often not; have treatment; meet friend; go to lunch (increasingly difficult recently as eating out is a nightmare: everything seems to have cheese, tomatoes, shellfish, or chilli in it, and a piece of fish is too much at midday!). Go home via organic shop to pick up supplies; rest; twice a week go to Dr Deng for one and half hours in the torture chamber; once a week to Pilates; and the evening either receiving guests, cooking or going out. Bed as early as I can – Dr Deng says I must be in bed by 9, but I’ve only managed that once. As you can see, it’s hard work living with cancer.
Healthy lunch, tuna nicoise with no toxic tomatoes and organic salad, avo etc
My visits to Dr Deng have their own routine. I sit down and she checks my pulses. Encouragingly over the weeks my kidney yin is much improved, due to the various tablets and cleansing teas I have been downing religiously. I am –almost – getting used to them. Then she invariably says:
‘Show me your tongue? Good, brighter, much better, but still not perfect, should be white covering. What you eat? Dairy? Meat? Alcohol? Chilli?… ‘No, no, no, I’m being very good.’ I daren’t tell her about my occasional weekend glass of champagne; anyway I think I’m doing brilliantly on the no alcohol front. ‘Got to be very strict with diet, maybe for many years [this is bad news]. Energy yang still weak’. A special needle in the stomach for that one!
Needles and cups all at once!
This is not unexpected due to the radiotherapy but requires many needles to unblock the channels; she tells me that I have to have frequent treatment because of the radiotherapy, and the fact that my whole body is so much hotter now than normal. Also that, as a result, the needles hurt much more than usual. I had wondered why the needles seemed to get progressively more painful as they are pinged into my poor old body. The kidney area is obviously sore, but the bony areas on the top of the foot, the collar-bone, and the ones at the base of the neck are particularly irksome. Once she put half a dozen needles into my head! And then I had to turn over and lie on my back while they were still in!
Dr Fi, who has a professional interest in all of this, asked me how I feel while I am being treated, how do I cope, as it is painful. It’s a question I ask myself as I gaily jump on the bed and say, ‘Bring on the torture!’ Dr Deng laughs, ‘You very brave, very strong’. I try to relax the muscles as she deftly passes her hand over my back and pinpoints the meridian she wishes to unblock. The thing is, you never quite know where its going to be; I listen for the rustle of plastic as she opens each needle; it’s the only way I can tell when it’s about to stop! Another pointer is when she checks the pulse, but sometimes she still does a few more!
‘Rest now,’ is the sign of closure as she dims the lights. I feel like a giant butterfly, on a collector’s board, pinioned and unable to move. Each tiny movement – once I tried to see my watch – and a shooting pain travels down the channel, like an electric shock. It is a form of paralysis. So I close my eyes and try to meditate, breathe deeply, think of nothing…and sometimes I doze off. However, sometimes the channel unblocking and the needles cause a sharp pain; similarly the cupping, while not exactly painful – apart from the time she cupped my lower bad leg (ouch!) to try and get the circulation going, and thus the healing, is uncomfortable. The massaging of my leg is, however, excruciating, especially the soles of the feet. ‘You try reflexology in Singapore, very good’ she says gaily. I am not so sure!
Pickle likes to help me meditate
So why do I keep going back? Well, I sincerely believe it’s doing me good, that my lack of side-effects from the RT is at least partly attributable to the holistic TCM approach. It is also a scientifically proven phenomenon, The Common Sense Approach, pioneered by Professor Howard Leventhal, where ‘patients’ perceptions and interpretations of symptoms and function affect treatment choices and self-management for chronic conditions’ (Wikipedia). In other words, it’s about taking control of your illness and making your own choices in management. People like me have the best survival rates, and that’s a fact!
It does take dogged determination though. Pony-tailed Joseph tells me he admires me for the tea ‘You very brave, how can you keep taking it?’ He says I am the bravest person he knows, as only three patients take it, and few continue as I have done!
Magnolia tree in full bloom, before the wind blew the petals off – Kyoto in my front garden
Meanwhile, I am preparing myself for the off. Friday will find me aboard Malaysian Airlines – oh yes, I will be eyeballing the pilots and crew to make sure they are not fanatical types – and Saturday back in Singapore. I have already booked an appointment to see Professor T T Ang. This link not only shows how eminent he is, but is also a succinct explanation of TCM http://www.unspecial.org/UNS680/t21.html. I also have a yoga teacher coming Tuesday and am debating which Pilates studio to sign up to, there are so many.
The journey will continue, on another continent and, this time, with some real travel. The cherry trees of Kyoto beckon.
Cupping and acupuncture can be done together, if you look carefully you can see the needles on my neck
News flash: ONLY 7 SESSIONS LEFT!
Third appointment with the good doctor. This time I have TWO rounds of cupping: the first over my needles, and then, because not strong enough, another lot…plus more acupuncture. Again painful. But, she says, looking at my tongue, I am making good progress, kidney yin much improved. I admit to transgressions over the weekend but some honour is restored during my rigourous treatments!. I ask about the energy pills and discover they are the caterpillar fungus that we came across in Bhutan: so rare that the Prime Minister told us he had started an annual auction to prevent smuggling and to regulate the market. These, however, are farmed.
When I get home, I look at my back – it looks like my Orla Kiely bedcover. Three layers of fading cupping marks…
Orla Kiely eat your heart out!
Left alone for long periods today…half-heard conversations with other patients fascinating: the male artist has lost 5-6 kgs since xmas and we have long descriptions of his bowel movements (think he has back problems); then there’s the woman who talks about ‘weeing’ and is keeping a chart…cystitis perhaps? It keeps me occupied as I lie in vague pain and stiffness waiting for the channels to clear.
It is true that, even after so much time in discomfort, I come home and feel invigorated. Mandy, and Hilary, who has come to visit, both notice.
No alcohol passes my lips, two days now…buy an organic apple juice with ginger, which is rather refreshing. Think I could get used to this – but see later!.
A new Japanese dish which combines chicken with dashi, a Japanese fish and seaweed stock. surprisingly delicious
Only 8 more sessions left, but this morning as I rush to dry myself after my post-yoga shower, I feel a searing pain on my shin: look down and it is bleeding! Overnight the dreaded radiotherapy rash has appeared. When I present to the radiographers they are surprised it hasn’t done so before, but comment that my skin is very good, and I ‘look after’ myself well. The problem is the final sessions are much more concentrated.
Later, I see Dr Miah, who is not worried; she tells me to keep up with the aqueous cream but make sure it doesn’t go in any of the raw areas. She thanks me for telling her about Servan Schrieber’s Anti-Cancer book; she now has something to recommend to her patients when they ask her for advice. I confess my forays into TCM but she is fascinated and now wants to read the blog!
Back at the TCM surgery, pony-tail boy whispers, ‘I don’t know how you can drink that tea’, as I leave after my fourth session of acupuncture and cupping. Dr Deng, though, is pleased with my progress, and the cupping marks are decreasing in their intensity. She tells me that my stagnating blood is finally on the move again, and she places needles around my rash in order to feed it with blood to help it heal quicker.
The needles concentrated around my kidneys
My kidney pulse/yin is much better now, and my tongue is a good colour. The alkaline diet is beginning to work. However the terrible tea gives me noxious wind and the energising caterpillar fungus pills keep me awake! She adjusts the tea, and lessens the dose of the pills, while increasing the frequency of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, also known as Rehmannia 6 or 6 Flavour Tea-pills, the classic TCM remedy for restoring the kidney yin. Also known for increasing libido, menopause symptoms (ladies please note!) and boosting the immune system. Worth a go, three times a day!
The perfect lunch: miso soup with shitake and tofu; pumpernickel avocado salad sandwich and veg juice
I have been reading up about the kidney yin and TCM in general. In TCM the kidney really governs the well-being of the whole body:
Western physiology and anatomy limits its description of the kidney to the actual organ itself, TCM assigns such profound, broad significance that it is obvious that the Chinese concept of `kidney’, as the home of the `ancestral chi’ (inherent constitution) and the root of yin and yang for the entire body refers to a much vaster terrain. Dr Michael Tierra
Thus the health of the kidney is critical to restore the correct ph balance (7.4) in the body and discourages the growth of cancer cells. When the blood is alkalized, it is able to contain more oxygen, absorbing up to 100 times more than a body with a high acid content. People with cancer often have bodies, which contain too much acid, thus eating right is critical. Further, in relation to cancer, TCM pinpoints possible causes of blood stagnation, which seem pertinent in my case:
Traditional Chinese medicine holds that cancerous tumors are the result of blood stasis or phlegm accumulation or both. Qi activates and governs blood circulation. Deficiency of qi may cause blood stasis. Stagnation of qi, which is usually due to an emotional upset or affection by exopathogens, is another common factor that impedes the normal flow of blood and results in blood stasis and eventually tumor formation. A Practical English-Chinese Library of Traditional Chinese Medicine by Prof. Dr. Enqin Zhang (Engin CAN)
Many may think it is mumbo jumbo, but it has worked for over 5000 years, and I am just hoping it works for me!
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The weekend finds me in Wales with old friends, Anthony and Carrie, chauffeur driven by another chum, Tara. They are the most perfect hosts – great cooks and lots of laughter; I feel a right spoil-sport as I decline various of my favourite foods – smelly cheeses, home-made chicken-liver pate; and more than a bit naughty as I accept a glass of champagne and then a glass of red wine – surely a girl must have some time off for good behaviour? Nevertheless, I have taken the precaution of boiling up two days’ worth of tea – partly out of deference to my hosts as the smell is so disgusting, but partly to ensure that I safeguard my progress and don’t find an excuse not to take the medicine! Just hope that my yin will be back in shape by the time I see the good Doctor Deng on Tuesday!
Carrie enjoying the sunshine
Anthony with the wild ponies: we went on a walk, at least a mile
Nor forgetting beautiful Crumble who was determined to give me a friendly paw on the leg