Wednesday 27 February 2013

Why I've been MIA for a bit....

... Okay. I know it's been more than 6 months. I have very good reasons though.

  My Grandma died.

  There's no nicer way to put it. You can say she pushed the daisies, kicked the bucket, went to a better place, entered the light, or any other way that you can imagine, but the simple truth is, she's gone.

  I know this is an Art blog, and I strive to keep it that, not a diary, but a place where artists and art lovers can view and enjoy good quality Art. Personal things go in my own diary. But I have reasons for writing this. It's a way of letting you know that I still care for this blog, but I had more important matters to tend to.

  I lost my grandmother to cancer. I want people whose family members have the sort of cancer my grandmother had to be informed. I want my grandmother's journey with cancer to be known.

  My Grandma had cancer of the ovaries more than a decade ago. They gave her radiotherapy to shrink it, then took her ovaries out. The cancer went away, but it also took away the chance of her having another child. My mum was her only child, as am I the only child to my mother.

  Approximately 8 years later, the cancer relapsed with her getting liver cancer. I remembered it hazily. I was just a kid then. My relatives never got on quite well, so with the hospital trying to rush her for surgery, and my mother being stressed out by the whole incident, I guess no one bothered to tell the kid (me) what was going on. I didn't know she had cancer. I didn't know she ever had cancer before.

  I remember her being wheeled into the operating theater. The only connections I could make in my little kiddy brain was that to movies whereby the patient would be wheeled into the operating theater, being really sick and all. In the next scene, a doctor would come out of the operating theater and tell the family that the patient had passed on. I wondered then, if my grandmother was sick enough to die on the operating table.

  She looked really yellow. Through research online, I found out that eating too much papaya could do that to you. So could cancer of the liver. The nurse wheeled her in, and there I was staring at my grandmother, almost too short to see her without standing on my tip-toes. I cried. I thought she was going to die...

  She didn't, thankfully. They took out half of her liver. 8 hours- that's how long the surgery was. But it had removed the cancer from her body. She recovered well and was back on her feet in no time. The surgery gave her almost 10 more years to live. A healthy, fruitful decade. I thank the medical team, and Science for giving her those years.

   Then, in October 2012, she went for her yearly check-up, and they found tumors growing in her lower intestines. It had gotten so bad that the tumors were wrapping themselves around her colon to the extend that she couldn't pass motion anymore.

  She stayed in the hospital- eventually totalling to 28 days. I visited her everyday. It did get a little exhausting, but it was worth it. At that time, I was reading a book; "Pollyanna". It gave me a different perspective on life. Every day during my trip to the hospital, I would play "the glad game", just like Pollyanna did. I would list three things that I was thankful for. That kept me hopeful- that my grandmother would just need surgery, then be okay again.

  She stayed in a Gynaecologist ward for some time. It was then that we found out she had high-grade pelvic leiomyosarcoma. (LMS) LMS is a rare form of cancer. It is the cancer of involuntary soft tissues, like the liver, lower and upper intestines, and the uterus and bladder. Fortunately for us, Singapore does have specialists in sarcoma cancer. I cannot stress enough, that if your family member suffers from sarcoma, that you take him/her to see a specialist oncologist. The cancer was growing fast. It was aggressive, as the doctor's called it. She had to have a surgery to get her a colostomy bag because she could not pass motion and the feaces were building up inside her. She was put on morphine, to relieve the pain. She didn't like it at all though, said it made her dizzy.

  The doctors eventually transferred her to the cancer ward. I hated the cancer ward. It was depressing. Grandma stayed with 6 other patients. There was a patient at the far end of the room who coughed continuously. She passed away two days after my grandmother arrived at the ward. I researched the cancer my grandmother had. I found out that people with sarcoma cancer can sometimes be treated with a new drug calle "Glivec".
  The doctors were, of course, ahead of me on that. Tests had been run and one of them had come out as "inconclusive" so they did further tests, but found that she did not have the responsive sort of sarcoma. My mother was thus informed that my grandmother might not make it through June of 2013. They told us, "The survival rate for this kind of cancer is 50% for 6 months, and 50% for the next 5 years." Which meant half of the patients with sarcoma cancer would not make it past 6 months, while the other half lived for less than 5 years.

  "For now, we'll treat the symptoms, not the disease," they told us.

  I have never been really close to my grandmother. She wasn't one to openly show affection. You could say it's a asian thing. *laughs* But, when they told us that, I felt a piece of my heart had been ripped out.

  She told my mother she wanted to leave the hospital, but she didn't want to be a burden to us, so she thought of going to a hospice. My mother told her to not worry. Arrangements were made and we brought her home. She wanted that. She loved home the best. By then, it was about end-November.
The hospital linked us up with a hospice doctor, and a nurse that would visit us once every two weeks.

  She was on a lot of meds. To be more efficient, my family agreed that I would be the one in charge of her meds. I wrote a timetable for which meds to take when. Thrice a day, I would get the small red box in which I stored the medicine and pop out the pills that were needed. There was the sweet tasting lactulose (as I was told by my Grandma), and small yellow pills, a black one for her stools, and a red and white capsule for her nerve pain, and many more others. Back then, I had memorised all the names for the medicine- to the extend that the hospice doctor thought I was a med student. I wasn't, I told him, I am an Art student. He was impressed.

  I became more resourceful. I researched the medicine I was feeding my grandmother, what they were meant for, what their side effects were. I looked online for apps that could keep track of medicine. Rx Reminder was the best I found.

  I had to change her Fentanyl patch every three days. Once, I forgot, and her pain became really really bad. I still feel guilty about that. They say Fentanyl is the strongest opioid there is in the market. The hospice doctor finally told us she had less than 3 months to live. I told myself everyday that she wasn't going to go that fast.  One thing that burns in my mind was that when I got sick in February 2013, I took a Panadol pill and it went down really easily even though I'm really bad at swallowing pills. I remembered how in mid-December 2012 Grandma had complained that she couldn't swallow the Panadol pill very well and it struck me as very odd. Then I remembered how a nose-throat specialist had said that the cancer had spread to her throat. I didn't like that thought very much...

  Her relatives visited. She made final arrangements. On December 25th 2012, she didn't want to take her medication. She didn't want to eat. I researched about patients nearing death. I told my mum what I found out. I couldn't sleep properly that night. The next day, her eyes glazed over, she became unresponsive. She had her jaws slightly ajar, she wouldn't speak. Her colleagues came over. They tried to get her to acknowledge them. They asked if she remembered who they were. She said, "Of course I do." And that was it. She didn't say another word after. The colleagues left. Hours passed. It was 12 midnight and she was heaving very badly. I called her oncologist. He told us to prepare for the worst. It was not comforting.

  Strangely enough, one of my cats started acting really weird. She came into the room, stood there with her fur all standing up as if.... as if she had seen a ghost. My dad said it was her spirit leaving her body. At 3 am, my grandmother passed away.

  What happened after, is what has kept me very busy. We arrange for the funeral. I'm emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. The traditional Chinese wake lasts 3 days. It's 3 days of family drama, with my family taking the brunt of everyone's attacks. After, my mother had to sort finances, accounts in my grandmother's name, the bills have to be transferred to her name, the house lease and so on.

  It's been a long road. The house reminded us too much of her, so we re-painted our house and moved the furniture around. We've adjusted, I'm thankful for that.What I remember the most about her is her sense of humour. She was really sarcastic. Even with cancer, she still cracked jokes with us. I admire her spirit. She lived a long life– we're not sure of her actual age because her birth certificate was lost during World War 2, but she was about 76 years old. Science gave her an extra ten years to live. People might say that "natural methods of healing" would have prevented her relapse, but I say it's the medical team that gave her the many extra years she had. For that, I'm thankful.

  The doctors could have informed us better. We could have been given more support. But the whole episode made me more resourceful, inquisitive. It showed me how fragile life is. The cancer took less than 2 months to take over her. She, if I put it very bluntly, was put out of her pain and misery. I told her I loved her when she was still okay. I did my part as a granddaughter, and I know she knew how much my mum, and my dad, and I cared for her. I have no regrets.

  We'll miss her, but we all have to die some day. It's part of life, and we've come to terms with that. What I can do now is look forward to the future ahead of me whilst still remembering the good times I had with her.

  That's my grandmother's cancer journey told through my eyes. Every cancer patient, and care-giver of a cancer patient has a different story to tell.

To get informed on leiomyosarcoma, click on the link below:

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