The Reunionistas and the “C” Word

Some of my Philippine elementary school classmates and I enjoy having annual reunions to rehash old stories from grade school days. Come on, you say, how much precious memory could be made between the ages of five and eleven? Well, not much really. That’s why they are rehashed. Actually, we just delight in each others’ company as we celebrate successes until one day it hit us! America’s high standard of living can’t save us from the tsunami of the aging process. Suddenly in the last reunion, life’s fragile nature emerged as a popular topic.

Several weeks ago, our de-facto fearless leader sent us reunionistas an email broadcast, which I am repeating here verbatim. Please note that the names in mostly lower-case letters had been changed to protect the individual’s privacy. The name in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS is mine and it’s real. I’m not a very private person. If I had privacy issues, I would not be blogging. I’d be hiding behind one palm tree after another, assuming I’m running around naked in Southern Orange County, California.

Here’s the broadcast:
“Just got off the phone with Raymundo. His hip replacement surgery went very well last May 29. He was discharged on June 4th. He is very thankful for our prayers and well wishes.

However, Raymundo’s wife Pablita had a fall in their kitchen as a result of a mild stroke last Friday. She is still in Long Beach Memorial Hospital. Surely, she can benefit from our group prayers.

Similarly, let’s include in our prayers another one of us, Johnny San Juan. According to Amelia Caballero (note that she has an email address now and it’s listed in this group email), Johnny fell while doing house maintenance. He is now recuperating from a rib-hairline fracture. Let’s make sure to include Johnny in our group prayers for his fast healing.

Of course, let’s continue to pray for our MS PALENGKE, CELIA RUIZ-TOMLINSON. Her very upbeat and positive spirit is carrying her through the challenges and opportunities of her medical issue. And she has been successfully winning her battle.

And while you are praying to our God almighty, do say a prayer of thanks for me too. I’ve just had my 2nd eye cataract removal surgery last June 4th (1st one was last April 6). And remembering what Adelina San Juan told me, “everything would be clearer afterwards”, I’m truly amazed at how clear everything seems to be now. In fact I can see Alfonso’s wrinkles now that my illusion my hubby is still young has unfortunately been blown away. Ah, the hands of time seems to be moving faster. Esmeralda”
End of broadcast.

Okay! So the poor reunionistas’ human bodies are falling apart. But that’s not the point here. It’s something else. Do you notice the striking difference in the way the first six maladies are mentioned with apparent impunity? Hip replacement surgery, mild stroke, a fall accident, rib-hairline fracture, cataracts, wrinkles. The health problems are succinctly identified by their real names. How about the affliction of MS PALENGKE (that would be me!)? The phrase “medical issue” is used instead of the disease’s name “cancer” or more specifically “lung cancer.” We’ll get back to that.

“Ms Palengke” (translates to Miss Market), was my beauty queen title in those days. Actually only the other reunionistas and I know about the title. My queenhood domain covered a seedy part of town that surrounded a public market. Those days, beauty queen competitions flooded the country and some form of judging determined title awards. Not my title Ms Palengke. I self-proclaimed it after realizing that beauty queen status was unattainable for me through the normal judging process. Those were the days when good taste was not a criterion in the selection of beauty queens.

Back to the phrase “medical issue.” The explanation for the rhetoric dance around the word “cancer” is simple: the stigma of cancer obviously still persists. I guess I’ll just have to ratchet up my efforts in the crusade toward the de-stigmatization of the word cancer. And this post is a part of that effort.

It’s not easy. Before my cancer diagnosis, I was known in my circle as someone who called a spade a bloody shovel. But when it came to talking to the cancer-afflicted ones like my now deceased father-in-law and a former employee of mine, I wimped out. I could not utter the word cancer to their faces or within hearing distance. I feared hurting their feelings. Now a cancer patient myself, I understand both sides. I can only help to raise some people’s awareness that the word cancer is okay to say or write about me since I am one of those who choose to talk about it. The oncology world has practically transformed my type of cancer into a chronic disease, much like diabetes, which can be managed. Diabetics don’t get puppy-dog eyes from peeps.

Back to the next reunion where the dress motif is drum roll……denim! I think I’ll start sewing sequins on my provocative denim gown. I have a beauty queen reputation to maintain.

Related previous post:

My CO-1686 – Two New Happenings

New Happening Number One…

I woke up on June 10th feeling celebratory, a sense that something awesome was fixing to happen. Sure enough at Club Med, my trial coordinator brought exciting news: My one remaining EKG (same as ECG) per visit would henceforth be done just every nine weeks instead of every three weeks. I secretly did a fist pump like Tiger Woods does when he sinks the golf ball in the putting cup, and whispered “Yes!” Hey, in clinical trials, we celebrate anytime anything is reduced such as dosage, frequency of scans, and side effects.

Why is less EKG a big deal? Because it means a lot less hassle. I’ve been on the CO-1686 clinical trial drugs for 16 months now. During the first six months, I had two EKG’s at each three-week visit: a pre-dosing EKG and a post-dosing EKG two hours apart. For the pre-dosing EKG, I’d lie down face up on an examination table for the EKG procedure. From there on the trial nurse owned me. She glued color-coordinated round stuffs under my breasts and on the legs. Next she wired me to a portable EKG machine. “Keep quiet for one moment and stay still,” she ordered me. Such order comes to one who takes seriously her responsibility to furnish sound where silence exists. The machine whirred then spat out a piece of paper showing mysterious lines, which meant my heart was beating. The Good Doctor reviewed the good results and the nurse gave me the CO-1686 pills to swallow. I always played the Drama Queen to the hilt during the pill-swallowing event because that’s what I do. I gag when I swallow pills. After the pre-dosing EKG, the nurse allowed me to walk around the hospital with those glued stuff on my chest and legs. After two hours, I returned to the examination table for the post-dosing EKG to see if my heart would still chat with the machine. From the ninth month of the clinical trials to the eleventh month, the interval time between pre-dosing EKG and post-dosing EKG was cut down from 2 hours to just 45 minutes. On the twelfth month, the trial honchos eliminated the post-dosing EKG altogether. And now, it will just be every nine weeks for the one remaining EKG!

I suspect that the Clovis Top Dogs are weaning me off the trials because they think I enjoy myself too much. I must confess: I have a suspicious mind, which can be debilitating. Totally. Even when watching NFL football, the moment a team goes in a huddle, I immediately suspect the players are talking about me and my relationship with my bookie.

New Happening Number Two…

I am fortunate to have been under the care of the world’s two topnotch lung cancer research oncologists, whom I suspect talk to each other about me. How could they not? How many self-professed amazing senior babe patients are there floating around?

Okay, moving on to Happening Number Two! So my designer lungs represent a masterpiece of another kind. It has the Milky Way. Tiny, tiny spots too many to count dot the landscape of both of my lungs. If those spots are metastatic, I’m glad they are confined to the lungs. I would even be gladder if those tiny spots could tweak the already adequate air flow in my lungs to a capacity that pulses operatic soprano voice. Oh, how I’d love to add to my glowing resume: “Sang the aria of Phantom of the Opera.”

The microscopic spots have shown up repeatedly on CTscan after CTscan since cancer diagnosis over three years ago. Radiologists described them in various medical terms which translate to “Actually, I’m clueless what they are.” I call them – the spots – “bird caca infection” because I believe I got them after I accidentally inhaled air-borne dried bird poop under the Albuquerque Interstate 25 overpass, which is condo to pigeons. My Onc’s Onc calls the spots “Little Fellas.”

During my June 10th Club Med visit, I heard Hot Shot Onc tell his assistant, “Get the last measurements of three suspect spots because we are going to start watching those Little Fellas.” Aha! The moment bowled me over. It confirmed my suspicion that Hot Shot Onc in Orange, CA and Onc’s Onc in Denver, CO had indeed conversed about the senior babe. But disappointment washed over me. I was hoping they would collude to secure my title “CO-1686 Poster Girl,” but nooooo! They talked about Three Little Fellas.

On June 27th, I had my nine-week CTscans.

On July 1st, I asked Hot Shot Onc, “How are the Three Little Fellas?”

“Meh… same!” he declared then strutted out of the room. The Good Doctor was possessed of neither the time nor the inclination to indulge in excessive verbiage. I wouldn’t bet on him to filibuster on the senate floor when he grows up.

The Radiologist’s report: the microscopic shred left over after Tarceva devoured the malignant nodule: STABLE; and the Three Little Fellas? Yada yada medical words that translate to “clueless but STABLE.”

My take: As long as these Occupy Celia nasties don’t cause me cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and diminished charisma, I’ll take clueless.