Monday, September 5, 2011

Jeepney Press 2011 September-October Issue page 21

by Amelia Iriarte Kohno

A Decade and a Year Ago…

Have you ever thought of recalling where you were and what you were doing a little over 10 years ago? Or simply not doing or what you should have done then?

For me, exactly 11 summers ago, I was first diagnosed with having cancer cells in my left breast. I had the removal of a 4.8 cm CA tumor of the breast, called “Lumpectomy” (only an affected area is removed and replaced with a muscle tissue from another part of the body – mine was from the back and it was an 8 hour surgical operation). It was already big when I discovered the lump. In those days, it was usually followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Nowadays, doctors give drugs to the patients to make the tumors or lesions smaller, then remove the CA cells.

What is quite alarming these days is a lot of younger women are now diagnosed with several kinds of cancer starting from the breast. A decade ago, most of us (cancer patients) had grown-up children. Yes, there are newer, faster more effective cancer drugs now easy to purchase from medical institutions and drug centers, some health insurances are more applicable for affordable payments, but Japan is still lagging behind in the use and allowance of many cancer drugs already used for several years in other countries. Some reasons “Why,” are very obvious because they are openly discussed in the media business. Marketing strategies of drug companies and big time medical business are favorite topics.

Well, with all these years trying to cope with the difficulty of having cancer, I am beginning to accept it as a part of my life for the many miracles I have experienced.

Even my doctors and other medical staff who know my history are surprised at such unexpected changes in my cancer infected body. Starting from my breast, it has now metastasized to my lymph nodes, throat, lungs, bones, liver, uterus and brain. Doctors are closely monitoring for the new lesions in my brain, advanced stage of my liver and drainage of water from lungs which makes breathing difficult at times.

My latest prognosis (diagnosis?) my body is getting weaker and so all treatments have been stopped including the chemotherapy. I am only given morphine and daily 3-hour steroids with pain relievers to ease the pains. At least I have appetite when the pains including headaches are temporarily controlled.

Changing topics, I would like to share the good time… the “miracles” … Cancer sickness is not always suffering or unbearable moments. There are times when I am even grateful for having the experience of understanding the meanings of this unique journey in my personal life. A very recent one was last month when my brain surgeon found out that CA was already in 6 parts of my brain. I was immediately scheduled for a new type of brain therapy called “Gamma Knife Radiation” discovered in Sweden. It was life-threatening. In Kyoto, there is only one hospital with this modern state of the art medical equipment and my doctor, Dr. Aita is only one of the two doctor specialists who could operate such machine.

The problem was with me. The fluid in my lungs prevented me from lying down flat on my back even for ten minutes and it was a 2-hour radiation process. They also had to put 6 cm bolts around my head to keep me from moving. Can you imagine an N.F.L. player with the helmet?

Well, after my doctor explained the complications that could happen if there was brain damage like internal bleeding, paralysis, loss of memory, and others, I was given the pre-radiation 10-minute brain scan to pinpoint where the gamma rays should be concentrated. I almost gave up the idea because I could not lie down even for a few minutes. It was only later that day when the doctor convinced me to give it a try as it was really necessary. God was so kind, I finally made the scheduled operation which was perfectly adjusted to my problematic condition. Each tumor was separately treated in shorter minutes that my body could allow. I still have the lesions but they are smaller and there are no new ones.

At the moment, my cancer condition is daily monitored. The latest “miracle” happened only this week, when I was in great pain one night. Even with the steroid drips, oral morphine and anti-pain injections, my body pains were increa-singly growing. My oncologist, Dr. Nobuhiko Shinkura, Director of Sawai Breast Clinic, with 6 nurses were at my bedside. Silently and helplessly staring at each other, perhaps accepting the reality that I would not make it that night, as they know that the pains were due to my greatly affected liver. We all had tearful eyes and all I could do was pray to ease the pain. Even thought of my Aimi to tell her “I loved her.”

Miraculously, the hospital staff must have put me to sleep to ease my suffering. I woke up in the middle of the night with my bedding and pajama all-soaked in perspiration but to my wonderful amazement, I was relieved from the pains, feeling refreshed and re-born (“Umare Kawaru” in Japanese).

Only when you've gone through a night you thought you would never last will you relish the sweet blessedness of life the next morning when you begin to feel the fresh air and you are one with nature again humbly thanking our loving God for the beauty of one more day. My sickness is really making me experience many miracles. Surely, our God's life is in all of us – the dying and the living. Let us keep our deep and strong faith.

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