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 is nevertheless very burned and covered in raised blisters (see photo); puffy round the knee joint and stiff. Exercise and stretching does help.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.