Cancer Diaries

Monday, 10 September 2018

I've been thinking of many ways to write this. I even contemplated if I should write about it at all. But I've come to realize that I started this blog as a platform where I can express myself - which is something I desperately need to do now seeing that the last few weeks had been a roller coaster.

A month ago, I discovered a lump in my left breast and to spare you the agony of how the investigative procedures went about, the results came out positive... for cancer.

I was diagnosed with stage one invasive ductal carcinoma on 21st August - ten days before my planned resignation and a day after my family got into a car accident.

Up until now, I can never find the words to explain what I feel. I've lost count of the number of times I've said, "I'm fine", when in reality, I just didn't know what to say. But here it is. Baby steps.

The people closest to me had been a wreck and it felt like shit knowing that I'm the cause of it. I realized that I had to put up a facade and having my family and closest friends see that I'm fine eventually made them not worry as much.

My last day of work didn't turn out like I expected. Of course, there was the usual bickering (also known as our daily entertainment) among my colleagues but at that point, everyone also thought that I had bigger plans for myself when in reality I had this huge weight on my shoulder that may disrupt my future. I couldn't bring myself to tell them so I kept it to my social circle, which I later realize was more than enough.

The doctors I've seen said that I took the news surprisingly well. Of course, I wasn't okay with having cancer. But being a nurse has exposed me to so much worse.

It wasn't always roses and daisies. A lot of times, I was tired of having to put on a mask every morning when I wake up, supporting others emotionally when it should be the other way around and people telling me how I should combat this sickness instead of dealing with acceptance.

There were days when anger went beyond anything else I've experienced and I hate that there's no solution to this.

And then there are those who've said, "Oh, it's only stage one. There's nothing to worry about."

If you happen to belong to this group of insensitive dimwits, let me just break it down for you:
Unless you actually have cancer, you will never know what it's like to be in my shoes. Even if you have a relative, a close friend or family member who has cancer, nothing you feel can ever measure up to all the emotions and stress that a cancer patient has.

Truth be told, I wasn't just carrying my own emotional baggage - it also felt like I was carrying everyone else's.

I've tried talking to a person or two about it and they could only assure me that I won't be going through this phase alone.

Thing is, I didn't want them to tell me that everything is going turn out fine or that they will be with me every step of the way. I just didn't want to have fucking cancer.

I probably have the stages of grief all mixed up but grief itself is so twisted.

I may have a long way to go before acceptance but right now, I'm angry, sad, hurt and in so many ways, still blessed because this experience has opened up a world where I finally realize the people who really matter.

There's a high chance that I'd spend the rest of my life with that constant fear that cancer may come back and take my life one day but until that day comes, I'm just going to live.

Ever since knowing my diagnosis, it felt as though I could relate to every movie character living with cancer. So, if I were to describe the biggest fear I have, it would be through this quote:
“It’s more that I’m afraid of time. And not having enough of it. Time to figure out who I’m supposed to be… to find my place in the world before I have to leave it. I’m afraid of what I’ll miss.”
― Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Of course, being in my twenties, I'm inclined to think that I have my whole life ahead of me - and provided that the surgery goes well, I know I will.

I've written so many versions of this post and while I've always thought that I've written more raw posts in the past, I don't think I could get anymore vulnerable than this.

Right now, I'm living by the love that radiates from people around me, reading self-help articles from survivors and most importantly, my future.

And if you're reading up till here, I'm glad you did because I feel a little bit lighter sharing this part of my life with you.

So this is it friends. My exposé. I'm Artika, I'm 23 and I have cancer.

With Love, From Tasmania

Monday, 6 August 2018
When people ask me why I chose to go Tasmania - out of the many states in Australia - or why I chose to visit this country for the fourth consecutive year, I only have three words why: my best friend.

I shall save you the agony of our back story but let's just say that we go way back - 14 years to be exact. And given our history, I'd circle the world to spend a few days with her. 

Australia, altogether, is an amazing country to seek refuge in if you're looking for a temporary escape from our hectic society. And as for Tasmania, it has exceeded my expectations.

I mean sure, the landscapes aren't like the ones I saw in New Zealand. But given that I've lived 23 years in a concrete jungle, I don't mind settling for low-rise buildings and cool weather for a while. 

It was my first solo flight and to be honest, I did not enjoy the solitude as much as I hoped. I managed to easily spot my luggage and find my way through the transit. And seeing Sabila after travelling for nearly ten hours made my heart glow. 

Throughout my years of living, I've never usually realized how close-minded and easily paranoid I am with certain people with strange personalities. I guess I'm easily quick to judge but I learned to be more accepting towards other people's culture especially when I'm in their country. Nonetheless, the moment I stepped foot into this country, I knew that I would love it. 

I stayed with Sabila and met a couple of her housemates - and she definitely wasn't lying when she said that she had the best housemates. I kid you not, they take care of each other like family. 

Moving on, our first few days were spent exploring the neighbourhood. 

As we were walking along the docks on the first day, I felt a sense of serenity that I haven't felt in a long time. Temperature was roughly 9 degrees that day but the sun was shining. The sound of waves crashing against the docks felt like music to my ears. The wind had been pretty unforgiving but I still prefer it over Singapore's humidity. It reminded me of how hard I worked to get here and how much of a break I needed from work. Of course, once in a while I still get a couple of notifications but all in all, I'm glad to be away. 

Among many places that we visited, Mount Wellington was my favourite. We managed to hire a driver to take us there and I definitely underestimated the climate on the mountain. It was roughly a 30 minute drive from Sandy Bay. I was eager with anticipation as it was my first encounter with snow and as we got out of the car, my hands were numb and I was freezing but my excitement outgrew the cold. Everything was beautiful and finally being able to experience snow gives me a sense of fulfillment. A part of me didn't want to leave but it'd really be silly not to. 

And then there were oysters. Yes, oysters. Throughout my stay, I only had one tray of oysters that I shared with Sab but if it wasn't already obvious enough, I love oysters. They are crazy expensive in Singapore (and well, they aren't that cheap here either) but nothing beats oysters with Tabasco sauce. I'm generally not a seafood person (I love me some lamb and beef) but I promise that you can easily win me over with a tray of oysters. 

If you're not a fan of raw/under cooked sea life, they sell fish and chips almost everywhere here! Sab brought me to Mures because it was one of her go-to spots and I understand why she loves it there. They serve a whole array of seafood! Their fish and chips are crispy, tender and fried just right - unlike the oily ones we have here (eek). 

Considering that many things here were shipped from the other states and that Tasmania is just an island, there weren't much shopping to do here. But still, if there's anything I always look forward to when coming to Australia, it would be Target (or Tar-jayyy) and K-mart. Both of those places are plus-size friendly without having to cause a hole in my pocket. I love that I never have to worry about not finding the right size because there is always something for everyone. (I went crazy and bought two pairs of boots for AUD $15 each). 

If you appreciate historic monuments like me, you'd find Richmond a treasure cove. We paid a visit to the Richmond Bridge and took pleasure admiring ducks paddling along the river and seeing some of the locals feeding them. If you happen to plan a trip there, do drop by the cafe that's situated near the bridge to buy a packet of duck food. I love how there aren't any restrictions in feeding wildlife here. After which, we went to Richmond Gaol. Having a father who works as a prison warden (who is also a history fanatic) means you have your own tour guide to this kind of places - also happened when we went to Melbourne Gaol. 

And for the rest of our time, we were either walking around, binging on friends (and chips) or chilling outdoors. 

I've always loved the idea of travelling, learning about other cultures and meeting new people. But amidst all the mingling, I enjoyed being on my own best because that's when I can truly sharpen my senses and appreciate the little things around me. 

To my surprise, I found myself looking forward to going home - mainly because I miss $5 meals. On the second last day, I got pretty home sick and splurged on a $14 bowl of laksa. Still doesn't beat the one at home. 

I've spent many days thinking how I should end this post. So to simply put it, I honestly don't know what I feel about this trip. 

I started out overwhelmed with excitement and came back feeling unchanged. It was unlike my previous vacations where I felt renewed and right now, I'm just confused. 

If it's any consolation, perhaps there's more that I've yet to discover. Perhaps this trip is gravitated towards learning how to (financially) cope on my own as opposed to self-love and self-discovery. 

Nonetheless, I have many years ahead of me and many more chances to fulfill those motives as well as my wanderlust. 

I'd like to end of by giving a special shout-out to my better-half. Thanks for hosting me and being an awesome roomie. I can't wait for you to graduate and be back here for good! *spams hugs and kisses* 

Things To Consider Before Taking Your Part Time (Nursing) Degree

Thursday, 26 July 2018
Photo from weheartit
Registering for my part-time degree was no doubt an impulse decision. Of course, it sounded like a worthy investment but considering that not much has changed for me in terms of actual career progression, is it really worth it now?

But here it is people. Here it is.

          School fees and loans.

My degree costed a total of approximately SGD $16 000 inclusive of administrative fees. If I remembered correctly, this was one of the cheapest institutions with others ranging up to SGD $20 000. If you were a disciplined spender who could afford it, then you'd probably have no problems at all. But if you're a big spender like me? It would be nearly impossible.

I decided to take up a loan from Mendaki because I felt like they could be a bit more forgiving than banks when it comes to repayments. The remaining were paid by myself (thank goodness that the fees were due on my bonus months) and also with the help of my dad.

Many people had this misconception that working adults are supposed to be able to afford a lot but you'd be surprise to know that working adults get broke very, very fast. We splurge on loans and bills. And groceries and transport (goodbye student concession) etc etc. So, no, we're not rich.

After the completion of the program, I finally realized that the student loans took a toll on me. At 23 years old, I was paying two student loans - diploma and degree - and not to mention other payments (damn you, taxes). It was still a heavy burden to bear and it's something I wished I could've planned in advance. Nonetheless, seeing the balance decrease every month felt like a little bit of weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

          Institution and location.

If there was anything I was proud of, it was choosing to settle with Curtin Singapore.

Since I was a nursing student, I've always heard about how prestigious the nursing course is in Curtin University. It started out as a goal to migrate and study there but I decided to settle for a more realistic (and affordable) option.

Majority of the offshore campuses in Singapore that provide bachelors in nursing are recognized worldwide (last I check). But every institution have a different study approach. Some are more research based while others are more concentrated on assignments and exams. You'd have to do a bit of research to find out which school is more suitable to your learning strengths. A good source would be from an alumni of that particular school.

Also, since you'd be working full-time and studying part-time, location is another important factor. I end work at 4.30pm and my class starts at 6pm and since most of the time I can't anticipate what time I end or how the traffic is going to be like, I'd tend to book a grabhitch or an uber (which reminds me oh please bring back those days when I had more travel options) which in turn, burns a hole in my wallet. It helps if your workplace or your home is near your school so you won't waste a lot of your energy and money travelling.

And trust me, school after a long 9 hour shift with no meals (at times) is really, really exhausting. (Ask my coursemates how often I sleep in class).

Which brings me to my next point!

          Time Management

Working three shifts and studying part-time has got to be one of the hardest things to do because you're so tired all the time.

Again, if you're like me, you'd struggle really badly with this.

A lot of my dates with Aziz back then involved going to his school (because it has everything) and completing my assignments and doing as much studying as I can. Most of the time I can't last more than two hours (lol kidding, I netflix after one hour of studying) without feeling like my brain was going to explode because my body was already so lethargic from work and other things.

I shall spare you the agony of sharing my experiences on how most of my assignments were completed merely hours before the deadline because it has happened too many times but if there was anything I've learned is to complete your assignment as soon as it's been given to you.

Having good time management is a skill you'd desperately need (yes I said desperate because it's so important) to have while studying part-time.

I know how deadlines may seem very far away but the longer you delay, the more work you accumulate. And don't even get me started on having to spare at least 24 hours to check on plagiarism.

          Is it recognized at the place you work at?

If your degree came from a local university like NUS or SIT, you're most likely to be employed with an SN 1 rank as opposed to diploma holders who'll come in as an SN 2.

However, some work places (like mine unfortunately) don't recognize degrees from offshore campuses so you'd pretty much feel like you've wasted your time because you won't be promoted based on the particular degree.

So, if your goal to take a degree is for promotion purposes, I'd recommend to settle for a local university just to be safe.

Or just work your butt off and get promoted based on the quality of your work - which is better in my opinion.
          Lastly, are you willing to sacrifice leisure for mugging?

If there was anything I regret while I was a student (-ish), it was not being fully committed and not giving it my all till my last semester.

Whether you strive to do well or do barely enough to scrape through, you'd definitely need to be disciplined and hardworking to pull through till the end.

Since majority of your classmates are also working shifts and probably living xyz miles away from you, it will be a bit of a challenge to get together for group meetings.

I cannot help but realize how much of my time going for classes can actually be used to rest or spend time with my loved ones. Other than the fees, taking the course itself was mentally and physically exhausting.

Needless to say, I wasn't prepared.

Right now, seeing that I'm finally done, I won't say that I regret it, but I'm sure as hell glad that it's over. There are some things in life that I wouldn't mind experiencing again (like poly), but I definitely wouldn't want to go through those 16 months again.

Before you think that I'm scarring you into not pursuing a part-time degree (because let's face it, unless you're all brains, there's no way you can get into a full-time local uni at your first try at least), I am just stating facts based on my experience.

Of course, I'm not saying that you'd have to kiss your social life goodbye because like I said, time management and self-discipline is key.

My journey may not have been fruitful (and I dare say that it is not because of the people I meet but because juggling work and school is just so goddamn tiring), but since it earned me a degree at the end, I must say that it's worth it. After all, just because it's hard, it doesn't make it impossible.

My last piece of advice is to endure, endure and endure and just stay positive. You've got this!

Seeking Refuge

Saturday, 21 July 2018
Words don't flow out of my mouth as easily as when I type them. Like a composer who meddles with ways on how to write the perfect song, I seek refuge by expressing my feelings through writing.

I'm heartbroken. A non scientific term that as a nurse, was taught to not use because how can a heart be physically broken? But when it feels like your heart is getting heavier and palpitating even harder every second and then it finally sinks to the bottom of your stomach, how else would you call it?

Pain. Nothing but pain. Pain on your chest from taking in too much emotional struggles all at once. Pain from throbbing headaches. Pain in your neck from multiple failed attempts at swallowing tears and sore eyes from tugging them a little too roughly.

Anger, knowing that genuine words are left unacknowledged and unappreciated. And sad, from disappointment of the outcome.

So many words and yet not one other person can fully understand what it is that I'm feeling.

But if it makes it any easier, I've got one word to sum it all.