Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On The Other Side

When I was receiving radiation in February of last year, I would meet many other patients in the lounge. It puzzled me how some of them seemed to be upbeat and had a positive attitude despite what they are going through. I assumed that it must have been their nature or personal trait. Well, being back in the same place last week, I noticed a change in my attitude. I am one of the veterans now, like those people I always envied.

Yesterday, there were 2 guys and one lady who are going through the treatment for the first time. I listened in as they were sharing tips and talking about their experience and thoughts. I wanted to chip in and tell them not to worry, it will all pass and they will come to my side of the fence eventually. I wanted to tell them that their struggle will merely become another fact of life one learns to deal with. But I kept quiet; everyone needs to travel the journey themselves. They were also discussing how chemo makes the cancer cells more susceptible to radiation. I wanted to chip in again and say it's the other way round: radiation sensitizes the cancer cells and make them more susceptible to chemo... but I kept quiet again :)

While waiting, one lady, in her late 70s, came in a wheel chair guided by a medic. She was bald and had a white feathery hat, like an ostrich's. She sat next to that other patient with a wig and they started a conversation.
Wig lady: I can't do the bald look; I have to wear a wig!
Ostrich lady: It's beautiful to be bald. You can do so much with your bald head. I once had an artist draw some artwork on my bald head. Another time, I had him draw beautiful eyes at the back of my head.
Wig lady: Good for you; that's not something I can do. I need hair on my head even if it's a wig.
Ostrich lady: I don't need no wig. I have enough charisma and charm to make me look good--hair or no hair, wig or no wig!
Everybody in the room erupted in laughter. Good for her! The ostrich lady is definitely not burying her head in the sand.

Now I know that in one point of my journey I will reach that stage where she is. One stage at a time--there's a lot to reflect on and to learn from at every stage. Starting today, I'll be going there daily to be treated, entertained, and enlightened by the scores of people I meet there.

Kudos to the Ostrich Lady!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Building Without a View!

When I started at my current place of work 3 years ago, my office was in the Tech Center, the infamous Tech Center! It is a building with no windows at all! Imagine in the winter time: I'd get to the office when it's still dark and leave when it's already dark. So, if I don't get out of the building during the day to walk to another building, I would never see daylight. You can't even tell what the weather is like, rain, shine, snow, windy, etc. It was dreadful.

We call the Tech Center a maze, because you could really get lost with the so many corridors that can only accommodate one person at a time and offices along both sides. Really, people do get lost, I did couple of times.

First, I was in office 209, then moved to 219, then 229. I thought back then that my next move would be 239 and I even located office 239 to familiarize myself with it. Well, my subsequent move was to the CSB Building in Spring of 2009. The building had open space with cubicles and high narrow windows that let the sunlight in. They were not much or many of them, but we could see the natural light. The other nice thing about the CSB building is the lounge downstairs that had benches. My colleagues and I got in the habit of eating our lunch there instead of at our desks. It gave us a nice break from work and provided a fresh start to the rest of the day.

I moved office again this past Thursday. And guess where to? Yep... the dreadful Tech Center! My manager told me I'll be in an office and I was not thrilled about that. I liked being in an open space in a cubicle. And there are now big rooms in the Tech Center that were recently created and remodeled with cubicles. Well, my manager was treating me to an office, so I took it unwillingly.

The move was needed for my group, Supplier Quality. We are part of the Purchasing organization and that's where Purchasing is located. It's also the building where Engineering is located and we do interact with them constantly.

Settling in my new office had a surprisingly pleasant effect on me. It's like walking into your home after a long period of absence. Same feeling I used to get when we go back to our house in Benghazi after being abroad for many months every summer. But of course, there were no flipped cockroaches in the Tech Center like the ones we'd find in our home in Benghazi.

It was nice to be back there. I almost know everyone in the building and was part of that group 2 years ago. Colleagues and friends kept stopping by my office to greet and welcome me back. I got a couple of office-warming gifts :) And I took a stroll around to let others know that "I'm Back!"

I finished unpacking in my new office yesterday. And around 5 I packed my computer, portfolio, and other things to take home with me. I'll be working from home starting Monday because of chemo and radiation. I changed my voice mail on the desk phone so people could contact me on cell instead. I taped a note to my door saying I'm working offsite and how I could be contacted. I turned the lights off and shut the door. I felt gloomy and sad leaving the office knowing I might not be back there full time for at least another 6 weeks. It is amazing how you could react to things and how your mind or psych surprises you with a different reaction. I really like the new setting and wished I didn't have to leave now. Well, I will be back and I might find pictures like the ones below to transform my office!

I left the office with get-well wishes and offers of support and help. I enjoyed a get-well-soon lunch with my colleagues at the Indian-Greek restaurant.

Essence of this tought: Always keep an open mind... Things might not be what they seem to be... Embrace change and anticipate to be surprised!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

And Life Goes On!

I'm scheduled to start radiation and chemotherapy on April 19th. Tests have been going on since October to determine if there's a recurrence. Biopsy is negative, CT-Scan is negative, but PET-Scan was not. Another biopsy was taken yesterday with not much success. The doctors were not interested in the biopsy, but I insisted. I told them that if it comes positive, it will stop the what-if's going in my head all the time; it would give me peace of mind if you can call it that... My name, Hana, means peace of mind!

I went in today to do the planning for the radiation treatment. That's when I get tattoos on my body to mark the area to be treated. Dr. Kim told me that he'd order an ultrasound-guided biopsy before I start treatment. He is now looking for some conclusive evidence of the recurrence. It's a puzzle to them since I'm healthy with no indication of a recurrence but for the lump in my abdomen and the PET-scan. The route is that I will go through with the treatment either way. Better safe than sorry.

It is amazing how the body and mind adjust and learn how to deal with this situation. I am not the same I was a year ago, and at times, I'm surprised at my own reaction and coping with the fact that I have a terminal illness. I guess it is the survival instinct. And I don't believe it has to do with being strong or anything like that--it's simply human nature.

The prospect of imminent death brings on a different kind of maturity and a new look to one's life. Dealing with this situation is an emotional experience, an intense one. For me, first there was denial; then anger, depression, and sadness; and now finally peace. Yes, I'm in peace with whatever life brings me.

I will live my life to the fullest. Cancer cannot define my life or my lifestyle, and I sure do not want it to define who I am and my relations with friends, family, and the world. I want to be in constant touch with family and friends, but I don' want my illness or treatment to be the focus or the driver of those relations. I will talk about my struggle when I feel like it. I want to talk more about life and its wonders, ups, and downs and everything in between. I want to live life!

I've had a good life and will continue to have a wonderful life... as long as I'm alive!