2018 Round Up

Tuesday, 1 January 2019
Here we are, at the end of another year. I've had my reservations about wanting to talk about my year in summary because we all know that the big C pretty much defined it.

While having cancer came with it's own set of fucked up consequences, it also came to me as a blessing in disguise because it taught me to find happiness in this smallest situations.

Ever since initiating chemotherapy, I often found myself down in the dumps. I feel trapped and I couldn't recall a situation that has made me unhappier. The presence of social media made it worse as I saw my twenty-something year old peers live their lives to the fullest while all I had to do was wait miserably for my next chemo session. 

I was angry and I was jealous.

But just before I let it consume me, I finally found a reason to look forward to everyday. Granted, I wasn't suicidal, but I was becoming toxic.

And as weird as this might sound, I look forward to having fresh food everyday *shows double chin* Although the idea of 'tasty food' has become a foreign concept to me, I guess a foodie will always be a foodie. 

I also seek comfort in binge watching series on Netflix, baking and making plans once the side effects wears off. I know it's all simple and nothing like the middle class luxury of impromptu shopping sprees at Sephora or having eyelash extensions but happiness is still happiness no matter how big or small. 

Apart from that, it made me realize the people who matter. Ever since I announced my diagnosis, I could count the number of people who's still here. Yes, the world doesn't revolve around me and everyone has their own problems. But it truly is the littlest gestures - like the ones who reply to every single igstory about my journey, even if it's just a heart shaped emoji.
While I was surprised with the amount of support I received from acquaintances, ex schoolmates, colleagues and even ex boyfriends, nothing shocked me more than the silence of some friends, or friends. Needless to say, I was disappointed. But given the fact that I already have a lot on my plate, I decided to just let it slide and to no longer put my hopes in these people. 

2018 was a long year for me. After resigning from my job, I thought that 2018 could potentially be a year of growth. But it became a year of healing and self-discovery. 

This year, was also the first time I went on my first solo trip to Tasmania. I wasn't alone throughout of course but going on a solo flight counts for something and let me just say that I had one of the worst in-flight experience ever. Nevertheless, it was a small matter. But I genuinely hope to not have to take Singapore Airlines ever again. 

Rewind to my time in Tasmania, it truly was an eye-opener. I remembered my trip vividly as though it was yesterday. I missed the serenity and the calmness and despite being to Australia for the millionth time, I always came back with a culture shock. The holiday came in the midst of work politics and oh boy, how much I needed that break. Oh what I would give to go back. 

Another major milestone was graduation. If you were to ask me when I was a poly student, I'd thought that having a Diploma (or an Advance Diploma) would be the end of my education journey. But here I am with a Bachelor's Degree. 

It definitely hasn't been easy having to juggle through work and school but I'm just thankful for having really good classmates. Also considering the fact that I pretty much self sponsored my university education, I was much more motivated to study harder and it definitely showed in my results. Well, I wasn't excellent, but it was still an accomplishment. 

Moving on to the topic of firsts, Aziz and I celebrated our first year anniversary this year. 

Things really took a turn for the worst ever since the diagnosis but if there's anything that cancer has proved is that our love could withstand anything. Not to toot on my own horn but I think I found myself a keeper because really, who else is willing to accompany me to every appointment during the holidays?

Lastly, I said goodbye to my first job as a full fledged nurse and while the past three years had taught me to be resilient and disciplined, a lot more has happened other than the lessons and it didn't take long for me to realize that it was finally time to move on. I've had my fair share of controversial opinions when it comes to healthcare in Singapore but at the end of the day, I don't think that there's another job that can ever give me the same satisfaction as a nurse.

Like I always say, the healthcare industry in Singapore is brutal - and if dealing with difficult patients and relatives aren't enough, the lack of transparency, and not to mention politics, makes it harder to survive in this line. Whatever medical drama you've watched can never measure up to the harsh reality of being a healthcare worker. And while I've seen many who has excelled in their field, there are still many others who have crumbled.

Nevertheless, this is definitely not the end of the line for me. I dare say that I was young, and probably still naive to be able to fully understand how the working world works and learn about the inevitable reality of workplace drama and politics. There's so much more the world of nursing has to offer and I cannot wait to explore it.

I guess the biggest lesson I've learned from 2018 was learning to let go of toxicity - not just from friendship but on the day I submitted my resignation letter. I remembered leaving my superior's office feeling like the whole weight lifted off my shoulders and the only time I looked back was to relive the glory of knowing that the future has so much to hold. 

And I guess that's how 2019 will start for me - with lots of adventures and uncertainty. Perhaps with much more love and gratitude too. Happy New Year, lovelies Xx  

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.