Mentioning the word cancer in any shape or form will often lead to stress, worry, and a plethora of negative connotations. However, as cancer is something which will affect most people either directly or indirectly in the space of a life time it is prudent to approach the subject with an optimistic perspective, one that promotes being informed as possible about prevention and treatment.
Mrs. A is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with lymphoma, a lymphatic disease that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system. Mrs. A is a modern working woman who took the time to care for her health, paying attention to aspects such as diet, exercise, as well as being vigilant about annual check-ups. As such, it came as a surprise when the cancer diagnosis was made.
“I was diagnosed during one of my annual health check-ups after an ultrasound found a lump which led to further tests being conducted. After a biopsy, it was confirmed that I had lymphoma”.
Although diagnosis was made early on, Mrs. A felt the same apprehension and fear any cancer patient would be able to relate to when her doctor delivered the news.
“When I found out I was very worried, thinking a lot about whether or not I could beat it. It is my personal ethos that when obstacles present themselves in life we must overcome them, that this is not our last chance. Apart from self-encouragement, another source of inspiration I received was from my family and friends, especially from my husband, who was always there by my side. The last source of power was keeping a peaceful mind and body, this allowed me to approach a bad scenario with a conscious, and positive state-of-mind”.
Mrs. A admits that daily life was tough and filled with worry and stress following her first chemotherapy cycle. There was a mindset of weakness and fear that prevented her from normal activities such as leaving the house for fear of infection, taking a walk in her own garden, and swallowing food for fear of choking.
With the determination to overcome disease, she strictly adhered to her doctor’s instructions, often going above and beyond requirements. This positivity helped to contribute to successful treatment initially. However, after a few months the lymphoma returned. This was a turning point in Mrs. A’s attitude and perspective on life.
“The lesson I learnt from the initial sickness was that I was constantly putting myself under too much pressure, overstressed about getting better. For this new bout of treatment I approached getting better by incorporating the principles of Dharma. Not wanting to live my life as a ‘cancer patient’ I tried to spend every day being happy. If I ever felt stressed or worried, I would remind myself to be mindful and adjust my emotions to have a more positive outlook”.
After the recurrence, Mrs. A underwent chemotherapy treatment and bone marrow transplant which required that the medicine dosage be increased. This time round Mrs. A approached the entire process with a positive attitude, reducing the pressure she placed on herself. She promised herself that no matter what happened she would feel good about herself, one way this was accomplished was by partaking in activities which she avoided during initial treatment. This included buying a new wig, bicycling around the neighborhood, and finding delicacies to taste (apart from the healthy dishes she normally had with her husband regularly). Her husband indicates that another key aspect to successful treatment is emotional support for the patient.
“Cancer is a disease just like any other, do not fall into the mindset that being diagnosed is equivalent to a death sentence. Our doctor emphasized that adjusting our attitude and positive thinking goes a long way in successful treatment”.
Mrs. A reiterates that it was an optimistic attitude and perspective which helped her to overcome cancer, despite the long hours spent in hospital for treatment. “Our thoughts are powerful. Especially potent is positive thinking which can outweigh the power of negativity tenfold. If you ever feel negative thoughts creeping up, immediately try to change to a positive mindset”.
For me, the first day I was admitted to the sterile recovery room and realizing this would be where I would spend the next month I tried to imagine forward to the end of November where I would be able to wear my own clothes and go home. In the end I was able to overcome and got better, a major contributing factor was staying positive.”
Mrs. A says that not all consequences of having lymphoma were bad, indicating that it allowed her to get in touch with spirituality. Prior, she had known Buddhism in theory, during treatment and recovery she was able to apply these in practice which is now having a lasting positive effect on life overall.
Furthermore, Mrs. A and her husband supplemented their emotional happiness by creating a charity initiative which involves reading to the blind. This is achieved through the mobile application ‘Read for the Blind’ and a Facebook page, both of which are her husband’s creations aimed to help blind people with tasks such as reading medicine labels, expiry dates, and various documents. Intriguingly, this was an idea which came about during the long periods spent recuperating in the hospital.
“Back in the past we never really sat down and listed out the things that make us happy. We spend each day thinking about how to get better grades, how to move up to the next level at our current job, and how to make money. All of which is dictated by what is most acceptable to society, did we ever pause and think if these are the things we really want, did we really have time for our personal happiness?”
The second time round treatment was a complete success, and Mrs. A indicates that it changed her physically and emotionally. She now lives every day with happiness and surrounds herself with those special to her. Previously, Mrs. A would call her father once a week whereas today it is a daily routine. Happiness is now found in the little things more than anything, such as listening to music in the shower or a casual stroll in the garden. Mrs. A’s story of perseverance and willpower to beat cancer would be incomplete without the role of her primary doctor, Prof. Dr. Surapol Issaragrisil, The Director of the Hematology Center at Wattanosoth hospital. In the following Dr. Surapol provides some interesting background information with regards to hematologic malignancy.
“Hematologic malignancy or blood cancer can be divided into three types, namely leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma or MM. Leukemia is caused by abnormalities in white blood cell production where abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and divide more rapidly crowding out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow. Although the exact cause is unknown, a theory suggests that it may be associated with electromagnetic waves, such as being in close proximity to high-power cables which emit significant amounts of radiation. Leukemia can be categorized as acute leukemia and chronic leukemia. Acute leukemia is considered more severe, and without proper treatment within 3-6 months the chances of mortality are extremely high.
Lymphoma on the other hand refers to a group of blood cell tumors that develop from lymphatic cells and spread throughout the body in areas such as the throat, armpits, groin, chest, and abdomen. The exact cause is unclear, however there are indications that it may be caused by certain types of viral infections. Early symptoms include abnormal size of lymph nodes and presence of lumps which can often be found around the neck area. If allowed to spread further symptoms may include weariness, fever, and drastic weight loss. Multiple myeloma-MM, similar to the aforementioned cancers, has no known cause. However, it may be linked with environmental risk factors such as pesticides and other chemicals. The main symptoms of MM are weariness and susceptibility to infection due to the uncontrollable increase of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow which disrupt the process of creating healthy blood cells. Furthermore, MM also creates the M-protein (abnormal protein) which causes kidney malfunction and osteoporosis as a result of cancer cells emitting a chemical which deteriorates calcium (causes it to melt off) in the bone. This in turn leads to bone pain and fractures, as well as a high amount of calcium in the bloodstream causing paleness, constipation, and kidney damage”.
Today, Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation is an innovative technology/technique used to treat cancers of the blood which is gaining in popularity due to positive outcomes and is becoming more popular amongst medical practitioners. It involves the transplantation of multi-potent hematopoietic stem cells, usually derived from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood into a patient intravenously. These stem cells are able to access the bone, once there they will begin dividing and creating new blood cells. The process is divided into three stages; first comes the pre-stem cell infusion stage, which involves administering high-dose chemotherapy and immunotherapy to significantly reduce the amount of abnormal white blood cells and lower the risk of infection. Throughout the process the patient will be required to remain in a sterile environment.
The next stage of treatment is stem cell infusion where the stem cells will be administered through an IV catheter, much like a blood transfusion. At this time the patient may experience some side effects such as tightness in chest area, cold shivers, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and bloody discharge during urination. However, most side effects will subside within 12 hours. The final stage of the process is post-stem cell infusion. Some side effects which may occur at this stage include infection, low blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia), paleness, wound in oral cavity, hair loss, dry skin, and the possibility that the stem cells will be rejected by the patient’s body. Presently suitable stem cells can be obtained from a patient’s siblings, a matching donor, from the patient his/herself if applicable in accordance to a Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matching.
“In Mrs. A’s case, the patient decided to seek further medical attention and treatment after a lump was discovered in her spleen. Following a biopsy, diagnosis showed presence of lymphoma. Immediate treatment included administering chemotherapy which initially caused the cancer to remit. However it soon returned, the second time round chemotherapy was given along with stem cell bone marrow transplant. For most cases of lymphoma, stem cells will be retrieved from the patient themselves (autologous bone marrow transplant) and stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 C then infused back into the patient. These new stem cells will help to produce new red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets to replace those that have been destroyed. For leukemia, stem cells are usually obtained from a sibling or matching donor (allogeneic bone marrow transplant). This is considered more risky than autologous technique”.
Due to advancements in treatment technology and techniques, cancer may not seem as frightening as it once was. However, Dr. Surapol reiterates that one of the most important factors for successful treatment is for both the patient and family to have the right mindset and positive attitude
“My advice for people in the immediate aftermath of being diagnosed with cancer is self-encouragement. I always tell my patients and family not to be fearful, rather to be confident that treatment will be a success. If full treatment is not achievable, there are medications which can help to control and repress symptoms. Furthermore, keep in mind that the side effects of treatment, such as those of chemotherapy, are not permanent. Soon your body will be able to recover to its normal state”.
“Cancer is a reality that we must face and overcome. Existing treatment procedures are methodical and structured; however having a positive mental/emotional state can go a long way in successful treatment. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it may be beneficial to approach the treatment process as a learning experience and opportunity for self-improvement augmented by a constant determination to get better”.