Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present. –Babatunde Olatunji
Nairobi, March 8, 2013: I was scheduled for my 5th cycle of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells (National Cancer Institute, US). In layman’s terms, chemo is the poisonous drug that they pass through my body to kill all regenerating cells, including cancer cells. Or according to my sister, Wanjiku, chemo is my bad ass boyfriend whom I have to deal with every other week!
I had mentally prepared myself for the ordeal the whole week by distracting myself through watching lots of TV, thanks to the Kenya general elections, and also watching Season 2 of my now favourite series, the Big C. The Big C is about a lady diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma cancer and does not initially tell her family about it, but instead starts really enjoying her life by doing things she only dreamt off but never got round to doing, including attempting to build a swimming pool in her backyard! I will talk about stages of cancer later but in a brief, stage 4 is when the cancer has spread and chances of a cure are slim. In preparation for chemo, I also spent the week eating exceptionally healthy as per the diet prescribed by my doctor – lots of fruits, yoghurt ,milk, liver and red meat and green leafy vegetables.
A day prior to any chemo treatment, I take a blood test (Total Blood Count or TBC) to determine how my body is coping from the last dose of poison that was injected in me. Physically I feel fine and I have been going about my business as usual. However, my blood test results do not reflect the same. My white blood count (WBC) was horribly low at 1.7L whereas the normal range is between 4.0-10.8L. In additional my Hemoglobin count is at 9.9L while the normal range is 12-16L. This is despite my efforts to eat a diet rich in Vitamin B12 which aids in Hemoglobin creation. As a result, my doctor has postponed my chemo treatment today, as she does not want to subject my body to the battering that chemo is, if my WBC is low.
So far I have had 4 chemo cycles, out of the required 8. I have chemo sessions scheduled every 2 weeks and I have them done on Fridays to give me the weekend to recover and resume work on the Monday after. The first 4 cycles of chemo involve the use of the drugs AC (doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide) and the session usually takes about 3 hours to complete. Doxorubicin is an anti-tumour antibiotic and comes in a bright red colour and is used to stop the fast growing cancer cells from making new cells and thus prevents the cancer cells from continuing to grow. Cyclophosphamide is an alkylating agent that also works to stop fast growing cancer cells from dividing and making new cells. The two drugs attack the cancer cells differently and hence taking them together makes the treatment more effective.
The last 4 cycles of my chemo will involve a change in drugs to Paclitaxel and Herceptin and the session will take about 6-8 hours to administer. Paclitaxel is an anti-microtuble inhibitor that is a natural medicine that comes from the bark of Pacific Yew trees. It is used to stop fast growing cancer cells from dividing and making new cells. Herceptin is a therapy known as a monoclonal antibody that seeks out cancer cells and attached to the HER2 receptors, to prevent the cells from dividing and making new cancer cells.
I was disappointed by my doctor’s news that I would not be able to proceed with cycle 5 as planned. The fact that this cycle has now been postponed just heightens my anxiety about the longer chemo session and the change in drugs. As I am sulking away and figuring out what to do with my now free Friday, I get a What’s App message from one of my best friends Brenda who is lives in Dar-es-Salaam. It goes like this:
Brenda: Hi Sera! You are in my thoughts and prayers today. How are you doing?
Me: Hey girl! I am good. Chemo today
Brenda: Today is the 8 hour one?
Me: Yes. At the doc going over my blood test to see if we will do it today
Brenda: Will be praying for your strength.
Me: Just been told my white blood count is too low for chemo so won’t have it today.
Brenda: Oh no. Pole (sorry). So how do you get the count to increase? Do you have to take something?
Me: I am getting white blood cell boosters (Neurokine), 2 injections, then we check the count on Monday. This has totally messed up my work week next week as I may have to do chemo on Tuesday which means I will be miss work on Tuesday and possible Wednesday. But then again, this cancer does that all time, messes up my plans L
Brenda: I guess the trick is to take it as it comes or you will end up stressed out which isn’t good for you either.
Me: True, true. Ok let me figure out what I will do today J
Brenda: Great! Have a fantastic day.
And a fantastic day indeed I had. Once I got home from the doctor, I decided to take my two sons, Antoine 13 years and Bryan 5 years, to the mall to hang out! No agenda whatsoever. So off we went to Westgate mall in Westlands, and as we were walking aimlessly around, I bumped into Sharon. Sharon and I went to primary school together at Loreto Convent Msongari (1981-1989). We also spent time in Massachusetts while we were attending college, and sometime in Atlanta when we were working our first jobs. Sharon is that good friend who will never go away! She is so honest and humble, and makes me laugh all the time. Sharon is not on Facebook so she recently learned about my diagnosis so off course seeing me walking around Westgate mall with my two soldiers (sons), and in my brand new wig (which she stared at for long…remind me never to wear that wig again!), must have been a shocker for her! So we caught up on my illness and our families and then parted ways. It was such a nice light refreshing chat that got me into a good mood again. I then led my troops to Planet Yoghurt for a delicious treat that we all enjoyed.
Today my gift came in the form of my friends. Brenda for helping me stay positive and Sharon, for connecting with her again and making me smile and laugh.
Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.