Not Everyone Gets Happily Ever After

Monday, 12 November 2018
People have been telling me how raw my posts had been lately - which contradicts my very occasional writer's block before this. I guess words flow so much more easily when it comes from the heart. So here goes another series of word vomit. 

Three months, countless appointments and other than the sentence “you have cancer”, there’s a new string of words that haunts me more - "you can’t get pregnant."

You would think that a liberal millennial would rather be conquering the world through travel or career progression - but not me.

Before I wanted to become a nurse, a wife and heck, even before I wanted to become a baker, I wanted to be a mother more than anything. Even if knowing that motherhood comes with a whole ton of responsibilities and knowing how movies often create perfect characters that depict an inaccurate representation of perfect women juggling her career while taking care of her family, I still wanted it. I mean sure, the sleepless nights and defiant teenage phase could almost be the death of every mother but take away all the negatives, you'd come to realize that parenthood altogether is actually a rewarding experience. 

And I took it for granted that as a woman, I would always have that privilege.

Having to live through PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) throughout my adolescent years have made me grown accustomed to the fact that the diagnosis already lowered my fertility chances. Still, seeing that it's somewhat reversible, low chance was still better than no chance.

While the topic about family and kids had never been a priority in the beginning, it was something my oncologist finally wanted to branch out to.

She explained how chemo could affect the functions of my ovaries and eventually decrease my fertility rate. Of course, there are options like taking monthly injections to preserve the ovaries but then again, with a pre existing medical history like PCOS, I’ll be back to square one.

Putting science aside, and putting into the equation that cancer runs in my DNA and that Aziz has a family history of autism, do I really want to bring a human being in this world knowing that he/she may have a high risk of having those health conditions?

I've seen many couples beat those odds and end up with happy and healthy children. I can't put to words about how I feel towards this issue but I know what it's like to have cancer. It's daunting and painful and something I never hope another person should ever have to experience - especially not my kid. 

Choosing not to have kids by conceiving them just because he/she may be at high risk of having a fucked up disease like cancer may sound irrational, selfish even. I could choose to adopt and there's still no guarantee that the kid would be cancer free. But to me, the stakes were still too high - and I didn't want to risk it. 

Aziz had a whole other perspective and said that I should opt for those monthly injections to preserve my eggs because even if we fail, at least we know that I tried. 

It was a heavy topic for two twenty-something year olds to have to discuss way before marriage comes into the picture. But it's happening now and although we both have opposing views towards this situation, he supports me nonetheless. 

For the longest time ever since I was little, my idea of happily ever after was marrying a good man and to have a family with him. Although it was only child's play, I still thought of names, their possible talents and hope that they'd have Aziz's resilience and heck, even my stubbornness.  

But the thing about happily ever after is that it only exists in fairy tales. In real life? This is it. This is what I get. 

I start chemo tomorrow and it breaks my heart that when I start, there's no turning back - that this is possibly where my bloodline ends. And while I am well aware that adoption could be an option, it was still something I never thought I had to resort to.

But right now, I'm focused on my next nearest happily ever after - which is completing 16 cycles of chemotherapy.

If you've reached here, thank you for following me on my journey all this while. I'll be sure to keep this space posted for any progression in my treatment.

Till then - spread love, sugar plums.

Carpe Diem

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

I just wrote an entire post summarizing my past year. There's lots to say but as always, I can't seem to find the right words.

Instead, I'd like to talk about carpe diem.

While I may not be fluent in Latin, I get how the definition may differ to many but how it will always circle around the same meaning - seize the day.

Or better yet, to seize your day.

Whether you're an adrenaline junkie or a couch potato, the days in your life belongs to you and although some people may have their opinions on how you should live them, always remember that ultimately, it is your life.

There's a Malay saying that goes, bersusah-susah dahulu, bersenang-senang kemudian, which directly translates to, initial hardship leads to ease in the future (thank you google). At this day and age, it's so natural to make decisions based on how it will impact our future rather than to make impulse choices that would make us happy.

But the thing is, there's no way to see if you would even be able to live long enough to see the fruit of your hard earned labour.

So, take it from a girl who once thought she had many more years to live and many more chances to be reckless.

Carpe diem, my loves.

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*