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When the body protests, the soul hardens; My cancer journey (Part 9)

I looked up at my doctor as tears slowly trickled down my face. He looked at me and stopped talking, he knew, he understood. My mind raced back to when it had all begun. A number of images and moments flashed through my head. I remembered it all. It was overwhelming.

Following my last chemotherapy session in February 2020 I was nervously waiting for the month of April to have a CT scan. As days turned into weeks, a new phenomenon gripped the world and plunged everyone into a wave of fear and uncertainty. Covid 19, the menace. The virus turned the world upside down and had us holed in our homes for days, weeks, months. Having been inactive for more than six months, I longed to move around, aimlessly even, to test my strength and get my body back in shape. However, the country was locked down and movement became very restricted. Those with compromised immune systems were especially advised to avoid all movement and stay indoors. My doctor called me to reemphasize this point, given that I was still fresh off chemotherapy.  I had no choice but to comply.

The anxiety that came with the lockdown was a bit much. Watching tv became a source of sadness as an hour after hour we were inundated with the rise in infections and daily death rates from different countries. Considering the contrast between our public health delivery system with that of other countries, there was a shared apprehension about our fate once we reached the peak of infections. Winter was coming. Despite all that, being locked down came with it some time for reflection, self-introspection, time with family, and the development of new hobbies and skills. I even got into baking, mostly with a premix of course. Exercising was also on the agenda and it felt good to see myself increase my 5-kilometer pace on a daily basis and reach targets set by the captains in our fitness group.

As I tried my best to keep myself busy, I was disquieted. The question “how are you?” became difficult to answer truthfully. “I’m ok,” was my rhetorical answer. I was not ok. It was easy to assume that because I had completed treatment it meant I was feeling fine. The side effects that come with chemotherapy and radiation wreaked havoc in my body. I could not eat well, my body was still weak, I had sleepless nights and persistent hot flashes.

Once my doctor gave me the green light to have a CT Scan, I booked an appointment for the procedure. Before that, I was advised to go for a colonoscopy. The procedure itself was not painful, it was done under general anesthesia. It was the preparation that had me troubled. I was not to eat for 24 hours before the procedure and had to take the prep so that my bowels were clear. I had a nightmare of a night as I visited the bathroom numerous times and each visit had me wishing I had opted for a colostomy bag. Although my appetite was still on the low end, I felt hunger pangs from the 24 hours fast. I was so hungry that when I got to the Anesthetic Clinic I started humming and singing to distract myself from my rumbling stomach. The nurses found it amusing.

Fortunately, the doctor and anesthetist were right on time and I could not wait to be put to sleep. When I was woken up after the procedure, I was not hungry anymore, I just wanted to go back home and sleep to compensate for the night that I had literally spent in the bathroom. However, knowing that I had not eaten for more than 24 hours, everyone around me made sure that I got something to eat. A few days later I received my results – the colon was clear. This result had people optimistic about what was to come, with my siblings convinced that I was cancer-free. I refused to celebrate too early. I kept saying, ‘What if?”

A day before the ct scan was done, I had to go for a blood test. Without an authorization letter for movement, it was a gamble to go to the CBD. At the first roadblock, the police officer asked where we were going, my brother and I, and I said I was going for a blood test in preparation for a scan. “Women don’t usually lie, so I’ll let you pass. But where is the gentleman going, is he getting a blood test too?” I said, “No, he is accompanying me, I do not move alone because of my health situation and I need someone to always be there in case something happens.” He let us through.

At the second roadblock, I narrated my story to an officer who wished me well and let us through. The blood test took very little time, I was used to injections now and somewhat felt no pain when blood was being drawn. I was given a letter confirming my ct scan appointment for the following day. That was to be my pass at the police roadblocks. Unfortunately, the letter was not stamped and that saw me being held up and delayed for my appointment. It took a lot of explaining and negotiation to get through to the hospital.I arrived thirty minutes after my scheduled appointment.

For the ct scan, a special dye called contrast material is needed to help highlight the areas of the body being examined. The contrast material blocks X-rays and appears white on images, which can help emphasize blood vessels, intestines or other structures. The contrast was to be administered by injection through a vein. The experience was less than pleasant as my veins seemingly disappeared. I was pricked more than three times and the chosen vein on my hand had me in pain during the whole process.

CT scanners are shaped like a large doughnut standing on its side. You lie on a narrow, motorized table that slides through the opening into a tunnel. You have to keep still during the process. This is not a walk in the park especially when the contrast is pushed into the body through the veins. It’s done so quickly that you feel like your veins will burst. With it comes a feeling of warmth, a metallic taste in the mouth, and nausea. It is at this moment that you feel like jumping off the table, but it is right then when you are absolutely not supposed to move.

A technologist in a separate room can see and hear you. You will be able to communicate with the technologist via intercom. The technologist may ask you to hold your breath at certain points to avoid blurring the images. being taken. The whole process takes not more than thirty minutes, but it feels like an hour because of the discomfort. The room is also very cold.

Soon after the procedure, it was time to go back home – and wait. There are times when you pray to God, asking him for a gift of patience. Through this experience, I realized that the gift is not just bestowed on you, but God puts you in a situation where patience is required. I had to be patient with these results and when my doctor finally called me a few weeks later, I had butterflies in my stomach.

Because of the Covid19 precautions, only one person could go in to see the doctor, so I went in alone. With my scan images and results laid out on his desk, I held my breath. A part of me knew that there was good news, but I desperately needed the confirmation. The doctor went through my results explaining that the scan was clear and this meant that 40 days of radiation and 6 months of chemotherapy had been successful. In short, that meant that the cancer is now in remission.

As I heaved a sigh of relief, I was hit by a wave of a hot flash, as if to remind me that the battle is still ongoing. With relief came tears, tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of praise. “Remission,” he repeated, for effect. I had done my research and knew what it meant – that the signs and symptoms of cancer are reduced. ‘Remission can be partial or complete. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. If one remains in complete remission for 5 years or more, some doctors may say that you are cured.’

So this is it – remission. I wait five more years to be able to say that I am cured. Thus far we have come!


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