Wednesday, December 05, 2007

RBC, Haemoglobin, Platelet counts - and Beef!

After my 1st chemo-cycle, I checked back with my oncologist, Doc Smiley, as to whether there were any dietary concerns, no-nos and what-nots that I should be aware of... and his immediate response was, "you can eat anything and everything.. in fact, you can even go ahead and eat a hamburger!" .... In my heart, I clapped with joy! Being the food-loving creature that I am, it looked like my relationship with my oncologist was on to a smashing start!

However, I did have some reservations about that hamburger advice - having read in some macrobiotic book that red meat was a no-no and should be off the recommended food list. The nurses at Doc Smiley's clinic insisted though that I needed to pack in at least 3 to 5 servings of beef a week during my chemo-treatment to replenish my red blood cells and haemoglobin levels that would be diminishing from the onslaught of the chemo drugs. For my first three cycles, I ate conservatively 1 to 2 servings of beef a week and thought I could get away with it!

By the time I reached my 4th chemo-cycle, my blood test came back with red marks (just like an errant student's primary school report card) - my red blood cells or corpuscles (RBCs) and haemoglobin counts had dropped below the recommended levels. Doc Smiley insisted on giving me a booster jab to increase these counts - sheesh... the result of not listening to well-meaning advice cost me a bunch of $$$, which could probably purchase more than a month's supply of beef!

Not wishing to fork out more wads of $$$ in booster jabs at the next cycles, I have been upping my beef intake at least for the time being until the chemotreatments are completed.

This is one of my favourite recipes for beef slow-cooked until it reached a tender texture - a very oriental beef stew with carrots, with flavours heightened by an assortment of aromatics (onions, red chillies, ginger, garlic, lemon grass), and spices (cinnamon stick, star anise, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and 5-spice powder).
food for my red blood cells
  • heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wok or saute pan - though I much preferred to use my Le Creuset enameled cast iron casserole pot for slow-cooking - and add 1 large onion (chopped), a few slices of fresh ginger (peeled and chopped), and 2 fresh red chillies (deseeded and sliced) and let these aromatics cooked over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring
  • increase heat to high and add about 500 gm of lean braising or stewing cuts of beef (cut into 3/4-inch or 1-inch thick cubes) and stir-fry for about 5 to 8 minutes until lightly browned
  • next, add the remaining aromatics, 2 garlic cloves (crushed or chopped), 1 lemon grass (sliced thinly), and the spices - 1 cinnamon stick, about 5 star anise, a teaspoon of chinese 5-spice powder, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, a teaspoon of black peppercorns (crush coarsely, if you prefer an increased peppery flavour), about 2 tablespoons of light soya sauce to taste, and 600ml of water (if you have home-made beef stock, that would be preferred as it would give the stew a much richer meaty flavour)
  • bring the whole mixture to a boil and then turn down the heat to a low simmer - cover the pot and cook for about 1 and 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally so that the beef does not stick to the pot
  • add carrots (which have been cut into thick chunks) and continue to cook covered over low heat for another 1/2 hour or until the carrots and the beef cubes have softened
  • wonderful served with brown rice - the red chillies, ginger, lemon grass and spiced flavours are great for igniting a tired appetite!
Despite my best efforts, there are days though when I cannot bring myself to chomp down another sliver of beef (a condition called 'meat overkill') - and that's when dear Mum comes to the rescue with her steamed/double-boiled beef essence!
down to the essence
  • selecting a choice cut of lean beef (generally from the ribeye) - the same is chopped and minced at home (try not to use the minced beef sold in the supermarkets, which sometimes contain bits of fatty tissue, in an attempt to reduce the amount of fat in this soup)
  • place the minced beef in a big bowl, sprinkle a handful of wolfberries (or in place, one can use deseeded red dates - which is reputed to be effective in building up strength and blood levels), a codonopsis root (dang shen/dong sum) cut into short 1-cm lengths (to improve blood circulation and promote general good health) , a few slices of american ginseng (optional), and pour in a rice bowl or 1 cup of water (just one bowl will do - we are pursuing essence here and not soup quantity!)
  • place the big bowl into a pot filled with water about half way up the big bowl - bring the pot water to a boil, cover pot and lower heat - steam/double-boil on slow fire for about 1 hour or so
  • all the goodness of the beef (its very essence) together with the benefits of the chinese herbs are then ready to be drunk in a single bowl - the serving size is just right for one (me!)
  • the beef in the above recipe can also be substituted with minced pork taken from pork tenderloin (one of the leanest cuts of pork) if one gets tired of the taste of beef - though I must add that having tasted both, the beef essence is definitely a notch higher up in flavour as compared to the white meat of pork!
I just completed my 5th cycle today and managed to convince Doc Smiley to refrain from prescribing that $$$-booster jab - hopefully my meaty constitution can put me in good stead with my RBC, haemoglobin and platelet counts for the next couple of weeks until I complete my final 6th cycle!

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Sunday, November 04, 2007


"You really need to eat more vegetables, organic preferably... I hear broccoli is one of the best anti-cancer vegetables around... have you tried eating broccoli raw or juicing it?" ... That last one came from my good friend, C who tried to get me to chomp on raw florets of broccoli. For the sake of friendship, I managed one raw floret and there and then made up my mind that some vegetables are never destined to end up on my dining plate in its raw form no matter how convincing the proponent may be!

With modern cancer literature stressing the importance of a plant-based diet in the prevention of cancer and to ensure proper nutrition during cancer-treatment, it is no wonder that every other concerned relative, friend and colleague has urged me to eat like a cow, but ahh... here's the thing, few have actually stepped up to share with me in the "joy" of chewing and ruminating on raw greens (even my very supportive hubby has days when one more scrap of green lettuce, just like the final straw on a camel's back, can send him scurrying for cover)!

To get more greens into my system and preferably through an appetizing and enjoyable manner - salad lunches (especially the kind where a single plate covers most of the requirements in the food chain) are the easiest. The following, a simple home-style "Salade Niçoise", is one of my favourites - it has the requisite greens (in the form of romaine lettuce and blanched french beans), carbohydrates (blanched quartered potatoes), protein (quartered hard-boiled eggs and tuna flakes) - and finally the zing of sliced kalamata olives!
The recipe is a bit sketchy in terms of quantities but should be sufficient to serve two persons:
  • cook 4 peeled potatoes in a pot of slightly salted water - bring to a boil, and simmer potatoes for about 10 minutes until tender - drain, cool and quarter the potatoes
  • cook 2 eggs in a pot of water - bring to a boil, cover, remove pot from heat and let stand for about 10 minutes - drain, cool eggs under cold running water - peel eggs and cut into quarters
  • cook a handful of french beans in a pot of salted boiling water (about 1 minute) - remove beans from pot and plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process for a slightly tender yet crunchy texture
  • arrange salad with romaine lettuce leaves, french beans, potatoes, eggs, tuna flakes and sliced kalamata olives
  • drizzle with dressing, which is basically whisking together 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of honey, salt and black pepper, whilst adding in a slow stream less than 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil until emulsified
The following Roast Pumpkin, Tofu and Broccoli Salad is another great salad to try - a mish mash of hot and cold textures containing all the stuff that's supposed to be good for me - pumpkin (containing alpha-beta carotene), broccoli (containing high levels of sulphoraphane, indoles and flavonoids), fresh spinach leaves (a good source of iron and other antioxidants), and egg-tofu (source of protein), and a tasty Asian-style dressing of mirin, fish sauce and lime juice.
  • cut half a small pumpkin (peeled) into bite-sized cubes and toss in a baking dish with a tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper - roast in a preheated oven at 180C for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and tender
  • steam or blanch the broccoli florets
  • stir-fry the egg tofu slices in a tablespoon of garlic-infused olive oil until slightly golden brown on both sides
  • arrange salad of spinach leaves, broccoli florets, cubed pumpkin and tofu rounds
  • toss gently with dressing - made from a combination of grated zest and juice of 1 lime, half a tablespoon of fish sauce, half a tablespoon of soy sauce (or Bragg's amino acids), and about 50ml of mirin
  • finish off by sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds
As I 'vege-out' during this period of chemotherapy and recovery (and I meant that both in the literal sense of 'passive relaxation away from stress' and in the culinary sense), I'm beginning to think that being a cow is not such a bad idea after all - Moo-moo-moo!

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sunflower Cheer

Some weeks back, a group of wonderful warm-hearted colleagues sent me a beautiful basket of sunflowers which added a great sense of brightness and cheer to my living room - and each morning, afternoon and evening as I happened to glance at them, they reminded me of the cheerful sentiments, sincere well-wishes, support and encouragement sent along. Thank you, guys (you know who you are) - you definitely cheered me up and made me feel very special - it's no wonder that I'm raring to get back to work (not so much for the work but for that wonderful camaraderie at work and during lunch and coffee-breaks - boy, oh boy, do I miss that!)

As sunflowers last only about a week in our hot and humid weather, I shot off a couple of photos hoping to retain some beautiful memories - and of course, not to mention that I had all the time in the world to set up my camera - wait or create the best lighting conditions - and basically fill up my hours hovering over these sunny flowers with a camera plastered against my face!

Here's hoping that you will enjoy the following shots as much as I have enjoyed taking them - for in each of them, I have attempted to show and highlight a different aspect of these bright and cheery flowers.

yellow cheer
Definitely 'cheery' flowers - a basket of such sunny blooms not only brightens up the room, it uplifts the spirit and the mind! This particular shot of the back of the sunflower stalk and leaves sets off the contrast of green leaves against the yellow petals, highlighting the details on the leaves.

rising sun
The original shot was just a shot of half of a sunflower - I much preferred this photoshopped one using the poster edges filter effect - where the lines within the petals and the stamens at the heart of the flower are much more pronounced - hmmm... I might consider blowing this up and hanging it on my wall to remind myself that the sun rises each day without fail, no matter how dark the night was!

against the grey
Pushing up the contrast in this shot and playing around with certain controls in Photoshop, I had changed the warm brown background - my timber floor - into a grey color so as not to distract from the solid green and yellow colors of the sunflower and its beautifully veined leaf.

and finally, A SINGLE PETAL
a single petal
a single sunflower petal spotlighted to show the beauty of nature even in its minutiae part, and this particular shot is dedicated to a quote that I read in a women's magazine recently - something that should be shared and remembered in our quiet moments:

"Courage doesn't always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.' "

- Mary Anne Radmacher

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Cool Me Down

During the first 10 days of each chemotherapy session, I can feel my body 'heat up' with the drugs inside my system. With the looming threats of mouth ulcers, sore throat, heat pimples on my back and shoulders (all of which I unfortunately and painfully experienced at one go during my first chemo-session), drinking lots of liquid, up to 2 litres (or approximately 8 cups) or more a day is one of the ways to keep those threats abay whilst flushing out all the toxins.

Apart from drinking water and fresh fruit juices, I also love cooking a huge pot of barley water or green bean soup which can be drunk throughout the day. Both barley and green bean (mung bean) are considered to have 'cooling' properties under the Chinese concept of yin (cold) and yang (heat) in food and cooking.

For variety, there are days when I look forward to a bowl of sweet papaya double-boiled with white fungus, candied dates ('mi zao' in Mandarin and 'mut cho' in Cantonese) and a bit of rock sugar, very refreshing - and on top of it, papaya is supposedly good for the complexion (as you can see... vanity is still high in priority!) and has plenty of carotenoids and lycopene! White fungus supposedly also improves skin complexion, relieves ulcers and constipation and dispels body heat. Dates are said to be effective in countering fatigue, anaemia and low energy levels - and that sounds right up my alley!
something cooling
  • Peel one papaya (not too over-ripe) and cut into pieces.
  • Soak one round piece of white fungus (the ones that I bought were about 3 to 4 inches in diameter and one is enough since they expand to more than double their size when soaked and cooked later on) - cut into quarter pieces when softened
  • Boil 8 cups of water in a pot. Add the cut papaya pieces, the soaked white fungus and about 3 candied dates (which is optional) and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes over high heat.
  • Cover and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes, and then add some rock sugar (according to taste - usually, I reduce this amount if I'm adding the candied dates). Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Can be served hot or cold.
Another firm favourite is barley cooked with gingko nuts ('bai guo' in Mandarin and 'bak gor' in Cantonese) and dried soya beancurd sticks ('fu zhu' in Mandarin and 'fu chok' in Cantonese, which softens during cooking creating this lovely milky color in the soup) . My preference is to use china barley, which has quite a nice nutty flavor. As mentioned earlier, barley is great for cooling heated constitutions and for those suffering from sore throats. Gingko nuts is reputed to be good for bladder and urinary problems, and should therefore help to cleanse my bladder and kidneys of the toxins that I need to discharge!
barley wonder
  • Wash and rinse a handful of barley (ok, if you really need to be exact - approximately 50g in weight).
  • Clean about 25 to 30 (or more, up to you) shelled gingko nuts (i.e. remove the bitter centre core, a task I find very annoying as I tend to break my nice whole gingko nuts during this process - normally I try to push the core out with a stainless steel cake tester)
  • Cut about 50g beancurd sticks into 2- or 3-inch lengths and soak in water for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Boil 8 cups of water in a pot. Add the rinsed barley, gingko nuts and the soaked beancurd sticks, and bring to a boil for about 15 minutes over high heat.
  • Cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour, and then add some rock sugar (according to taste). Continue to simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour, by the end of which, the beancurd strips should have softened and broken into tiny soft floating pieces. I prefer to serve this dessert warm.
Hope you enjoy these two simple and common desserts, which from my reading of various cookbooks on traditional Chinese medicine/cuisine seem to suggest good health benefits.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

A Second Opinion

"In future, you will not be able to carry anything heavier than 5 kg...", said the nurse-counsellor as she brandished about a small plastic bottle which she had minutes ago informed me would be hanging from my armpit to allow for lymphatic drainage after the axillary clearance operation. I was SHELL-SHOCKED.... and my calm composure, carefully maintained during the earlier consultation with my first surgical oncologist, slowly disintegrated as tears started to bunch up in my eyes!

"Oh no... I won't be able to carry my baby niece and nephew anymore as they are already past 5-kg in weight... oh no... will I still be able to carry my SLR camera and go for photo-jaunts?... oh no... does that mean I won't be able to carry heavy pots and pans in the kitchen?", the potential consequences of losing my lymph nodes really came crashing down that afternoon.

When I first got my mammogram results back, I was sent by my company doctor to a government hospital (which I will not name here) where the surgical oncologist who examined me had recommended that I be admitted as soon as possible for surgery to remove the lump, and if tested to be cancerous then, to proceed immediately to remove the lymph nodes under my armpit on the side of my affected breast (known as an axillary clearance), which he explained was the standard operating procedure for breast cancer surgery. I had been prepared to do a lumpectomy to remove the lump but had not factored in the loss of my lymph nodes and the risk of lymphoedema (swelling of the arm) and other attendant risks of infection to the arm arising from the removal of the lymph nodes. I was bloody scared - in fact more scared of the axillary clearance than the lumpectomy!

Hubby insisted on a second opinion, and thankfully with C's help, we managed to get an appointment the very next day with Dr Zen (C's surgical oncologist). [Dr Zen is my nickname for my surgical oncologist, as he is the direct polar opposite of Doc Smiley being at all times very serious and reassuring in manner, explaining all the important stuff in his low and calming voice, hardly ever joking - very very zen-like!]

Dr Zen did a very thorough examination of my breasts, armpit and neck areas to check for any unusual lumps other than the one that I had felt. He recommended that a core-cut biopsy be done immediately on the day of consultation to confirm that the lump was indeed cancerous. Thereafter, he told me in a very serious manner that I had small breasts and that although I could get away with breast-conservation surgery - i.e. a lumpectomy (instead of a mastectomy - removal of the entire breast), it may distort the shape of my breast. Hold on a minute here... I may not have been a D-cup but I was definitely not an A-cup either... there and then I should have been instantly insulted, even hubby would not dare to call my breasts small... but somehow, Dr Zen managed to get away with that comment delivered in the gravest and calmest of tones!

What was more important though about this 2nd opinion was that Dr Zen had recommended that a sentinel node biopsy be done, a new technique which allows the surgeon to check whether the cancer cells have spread to the sentinel (guard) nodes before deciding on whether to do the axillary clearance of all the lymph nodes in the armpit. Premised on the fact that fluid from the breast first drains to a limited number of nodes in the armpit, any cancer cells which may have spread to the lymph nodes would get trapped first in the sentinel nodes, the procedure involved injecting some kind medicine (which contains a tiny amount of radioactivity and a blue dye) into the breast to track the path of drainage of the fluids from the breast to the armpit. During the surgery to remove the lump, Dr Zen would also remove the sentinel nodes and have them immediately examined for cancer cells. Only if the sentinel nodes had cancer cells would he proceed to do a complete axillary clearance to remove the lymph nodes under the armpit. For me, this was the Lord's answer to my prayers over the fears of the axillary clearance.

I was so anxious about my lymph nodes that my first two words uttered to hubby when I woke up after my surgery from my GA(general anaesthetic)-induced unconsciousness were "lymph nodes?". Total relief flooded through me when he gave me the all-clear - the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes - all praise and glory be to the Lord for answering our prayers!

Immediately after my surgery, I ended up with a blue breast (due to the blue dye that was injected for the sentinel node biopsy) which was quite alien-looking but thankfully, the discoloration has reduced over the weeks - a small price to pay for going thru' this procedure.

Seeking that second opinion turned out to be such an important turning point in the course of treatment for my breast cancer that I cannot recommend enough to any one seeking medical treatment for any form of cancer to have a second or even third medical opinion, whether to get confirmation on the type of treatment recommended or to be aware of the alternative medical procedures available.

a taste of heaven

The above was my celebratory salad two weeks after my surgery - a green salad of fresh sweet figs, a couple slices of prosciutto (parma ham), shavings of parmesan cheese, and a light dressing of balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and extra-virgin olive oil! A celebration of the fullness of life provided by the Lord!

As for Dr Zen's concern on the reduced size or potential distortion of my breast after surgery, I leave you with this light-hearted story (which a friend forwarded to me) (and no religious offence meant to any one):

"A man walked into the Lingerie Department of Macy's in New York City. He tells the saleslady, "I would like a Jewish bra for my wife, size 34B." With a quizzical look, the saleslady asked, "What kind of bra?"

He repeated "A Jewish bra. She said to tell you that she wanted a Jewish bra, and that you would know what she wanted." "Ah, now I remember," said the saleslady. "We don't get as many requests for them as we used to. Mostly our customers lately want the Catholic bra, the Salvation Army bra, or the Presbyterian bra."

Confused, and a little flustered, the man asked "So, what are the differences?"

The saleslady responded. "It is all really quite simple. The Catholic bra supports the masses. The Salvation Army lifts up the fallen, and the Presbyterian bra keeps them staunch and upright."

He mused on that information for a minute and said: "Hmmm. I know I'll regret asking, but what does the Jewish bra do?"

"A Jewish bra," she replied, "makes mountains out of molehills."

Looks like I need to find me a Jewish bra as well! :-P

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Get Yourself Mammo-ed!

Today's post is dedicated to a very special friend who discovered she had breast cancer just a few months before I discovered my own lump in the breast.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer amongst Singapore women and I'm sure we've all read at one time or another newspaper or women's magazine articles quoting horrendous world and national statistics on breast cancer, and maybe even bought a pink ribbon pin in support of the cause during the month of October, designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month worldwide. And yet despite all the exhortations to go for breast screening, I bet many of us have said to ourselves, "it won't happen to me" and postponed yet another mammogram appointment.

That was me for the last few years, until the day C, my very good 'makan kaki' (singlish for dining companion) and traveling companion told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Somehow, the threat of breast cancer had never seemed real until someone close to you gets it. As the 'makan kaki' gang gathered around C in support, we also became individually more anxious for our own mammary glands and I particularly started to feel extremely guilt-ridden over those missed mammograms.

Well, the guilt didn't last long as a couple of weeks later, after feeling a slight lump in my right breast, I was scheduled for my first mammogram.

Ah... yes, most of us have heard horror stories of that evil contraption that clamps our precious breasts in its vise-like grip like an instrument of torture left over from the Spanish Inquisition. Obviously designed by a man who never had his own breast clamped and flattened, my only tip to women - steel yourself and follow strictly the instructions of the technician as she tells you to hold on tight and hold your breath (which is a no-brainer since all breath ...oof... will be forced out of you once those metal plates come pressing down) - remember, if she doesn't get a good x-ray, she is likely to repeat the process and who in the world is that masochistic!

Going through an annual mammogram is a necessary evil for women who've hit their 40s, and the several seconds of pain for each breast is a small price to pay for early detection of any cancerous mass.

By the time I had surgery to remove my lump, it was 1.5 cm in diameter and I was extremely lucky that the cancer had not spread to any of my lymph nodes in the armpit or neck area - Doc Smiley commented that I must have had really sensitive fingers to have detected the lump, but methinks it was the Lord's guiding hands thru' heightened awareness after C's diagnosis! Early detection saved my lymph nodes and I'm truly thankful! strands.....

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - do not let the message just float through your consciousness - if you haven't gone for any breast screening, let me encourage you to do it now and do it regularly.

For more information, you may wish to drop in at this latest website launched by KK Women's and Children's Hospital - it is definitely worth a tour on breast-cancer related concerns.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

hair today, gone tomorrow

When I started my first session of chemotherapy, Doc Smiley assured me that I will definitely lose my hair within 2 weeks of the session. I didn't believe him as I had heard that some other patients may take longer to lose all of their hair and I was hoping my hair follicles were stronger than most (though I really had no basis at all for such blind hope).

Nothing happened for 13 days and I was cautiously hopeful... and then the 14th day came and that morning as I shampooed my hair, it started ... I ran my fingers through my hair and an inordinately large amount of hair strands fell away in my hand ... wah leow! could certainly have done without Doc Smiley's absolutely spot-on predictive powers in this instance :-((

Argggghhhh ... I would sit quietly and shed hair like a golden retriever ... there was hair in my bathtub, hair on the sofa, hair on my bed and on the floor ... that day I also discovered hair in my lunch and dinner ... this would not do ...


And so, to the hairdresser I went ... and now I'm as light-headed as I ever will be :-)

Yes, instead of dragging out the agony of seeing more hair come away each time I run my fingers thru' my hair, I decided to lop it all off. For $10, the deed was cleanly done with a proper hair-shearer at this wig-shop I went to in Lucky Plaza which had curtains that could be drawn around your seat-station for privacy during the shave. A very good idea in my view, as the shock of me seeing myself bald for the 1st time can only be described as 'mouth-gaping horror' - not being tough, toned and tanned enough to be GI Jane, nor demure and pale enough to pass off as an Emei nun - alamak... looked like my bald pate needed cover!

I had bought a wig from the same shop some time back after the Doc had mentioned about the impending hair-loss - and boy oh boy, did I have FUN FUN FUN trying out all kinds of hair-styles then. The wig that I eventually chose was very different from my usual hair-style - had decided I needed an upward change of image to brighten up my day and went with a 'Mod Tai-tai' style - nice loose bangs in a layered style with lovely curls ending at my collar-bone, dyed a lovely medium brown with highlights - what the heck, thought I might as well go the full hog since I was living the 'pseudo tai-tai' lifestyle with my days spent at home (except when the chemo side effects kicked in and I didn't feel like a tai-tai)!

How did my family and friends take to the new hairstyle?
  • hubby loved it.. though he seemed to like touching my bald pate every now and then and has encouraged me to go 'commando' in public (i.e. no cover for that scalp) - what a horrifying thought, never!
  • both my sisters-in- law loved the new style, and my bro-in-law has recommended that I take a picture of this new style and when my hair grows back in future, show my regular hairdresser the pic to get back into this style - hmm, my bro-in-law is quite the impeccable dresser, so I'm now wondering what he thought of my previous hair-styles.. scratching scalp!
  • my close friends loved it, and one whispered in my ear the other day that this is the best hair-style that I've ever had! OK.. point taken, all previous hair-styles of the past few decades will be trashed ... maybe I should change my hairdresser (just joking ... I really like her!)
  • even Doc Smiley liked the new look at the last consult and this sparked off a discussion on the prices of wigs in the market... hmm, can never quite figure out the man - couldn't believe he actually keeps track of such prices :-P
Unfortunately, my chemotherapy drugs affect the normal cells in the body as they go about doing their job of attacking the cancer cells and disrupting their growth. Normal cells which include the cells of the hair follicles thus causing hair loss. And to my horror at first and delight later (upon acceptance of the fact), this included the hair follicles at the pubic area as well - wow, no need to go for bikini-line or brazilian waxing for the time being - save a bundle!

And now as I go through my day, wondering whether and when my hair will grow back (Doc Smiley has promised it would and I'm holding him to that!), getting to grips with the heat of wearing a wig, the impossibility of scratching any itch when a wig is donned (a dead giveaway of a wig, for as one scratches, the bloody thing moves up and down as well!), the constant reminder to myself to grab the wig or a hat before I leave the house (I dread the day when I become so comfortable with my light-headed status that I will conveniently forget, and then wonder who everyone is staring at!), wondering how to shampoo and lather the scalp (since there is no hair to lather - and currently have resorted to using mild Johnson's Baby Shampoo so as not to further dry the scalp) ... I can only offer all these anxieties (big and small) to the Lord, and know that He in his goodness, will provide the right solution at the right time, having so wonderfully provided me with positive emotional support and laughter from all quarters after I went bald!

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."
- 1 Peter 5 : verse 6-7 (KJV)

And so, I think it apt (or maybe ironic?) that whilst I lose my hair, I end this post and leave you with these food shots of a lovely 'angel-hair' pasta tossed with asparagus stalks and strips of parma ham which have both been cooked lightly in garlic-infused olive oil and some boursin garlic cheese for a light creamy touch! A couple of good wrist actions with the black pepper grinder and lunch is ready :-)
"angel-light" meal

Angel-hair pasta is easy to cook (2 minutes in boiling water - almost like instant noodles) and is not as heavy on the palate as spaghetti or fettuccine - perfect for those days when I just want a quick meal without too much trouble. Oh and in case you're wondering - asparagus is folate-rich (has one of the B vitamins), has high levels of ready-made glutathione (which is the main antioxidant in cells, helps to detoxify carcinogens and other pollutants, boosts the immune system, helps to form new blood cells and prevent anaemia), and is also a good source of rutin (a type of flavonoid which helps to strengthen capillary walls and improve blood circulation) - sourced from various extracts of the book Hot Potatoes & Cool Bananas (Healthy Food - What, Why & How) by Anne Perrera, Carolyn Lister & Lesley Hedges (you can look for it in Popular Bookstores, which was where I bought the same).
light & healthy

With that, bon appetit to a healthy lunch :-)

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Sunny "Soup" Up

"super-charged"... "hungry"... "full-alert"... my choice of descriptive words on how I felt during my first few days of chemotherapy!

I started chemotherapy within a week of my surgery - thanks to my very efficient medical oncologist, Doc Smiley (of course, that's my nick for the dear doctor largely attributed to his sense of humor, which can be a wee wicked at times too). At that first consultation, when asked about the duration of my chemotherapy, Doc Smiley started marking out in pink highlighter on one of a stack of pocket calendars on his desk the various treatment dates and handed it over to me. Six courses in all over a duration of approximately four months. The first course was highlighted to start on the date of the consult. I looked at him in puzzlement and said, "This is only for illustration, right? We are surely not starting chemo TODAY, right?". He looked at me with a twinkle in the eye and said, "Don't see why not - you look healthy enough, we can start this afternoon if you have no objections." Duh... uhh... for starters, I wasn't mentally prepared ... but Doc Smiley assured me that the treatment would be a breeze taking no more than an hour in all.

And with that, I started my first course of chemotherapy, going into his clinic for daily 1-hour intravenous-injections-cum-drip sessions over a 3-day period, and my goodness, did I feel like a 'superwoman' then. I was adrenalin-charged, sleeping only a couple of hours each night, waking up at intervals at 3 am and 5 am each day (like an aged person suffering from insomnia), going for early morning 2.4 km brisk walks, and eating like my 4-month nephew (hunger pangs struck every 3 hours or so). I thought to myself, "Hey, if this is how 'chemo' is like, I can go back to work pronto!"

Told Doc Smiley about my 'superman' status, and he reluctantly told me that such transient superpowers were the result of steriods that had been added to my intravenous drip (to counter nausea and vomiting) and an appetite-inducing drug that he had prescribed. When I completed my 3rd day of treatment, my 'superman' powers vanished into thin air and from day 4 onwards until day 8 or so, I suddenly turned into an 80-year old 'clark kent' suffering from constant fatigue and body aches. Sheesh....

During this period, eating (which requires the mouth to chew and swallow) was not a much sought-after activity (not to mention the unappetizing metallic taste in the mouth) and cooking any form of elaborate meal would be akin to climbing a very very high mountain. Soups (both Chinese and western ones) came to the forefront as being the easiest to prep and to ingest and digest.

This sunny-looking soup was one of my favourites. Liquidized carrots, cauliflower and onion, with a touch of sea salt, cumin and black pepper to spice up the same.
sunny "soup" up
  • saute one medium onion (quartered) in a pan of heated olive oil for a few minutes
  • add 3 to 4 carrots (cut into chunks) and half a head of cauliflower (cut into chunks), a dash of sea salt and half a teaspoon of ground cumin
  • add 3 cups of water and bring to boil - then lower heat to a small fire and let simmer for 15 t0 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft
  • liquidize contents in a glass blender
  • and lunch / dinner is ready in less than half an hour - either serve with brown rice or wholemeal bread slices for more substance

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Friday, September 28, 2007

A Stormy Period

stormy skies

"It's confirmed." And with those two words from my doctor, my usually uneventful life became a roller-coaster of emotions for my family and I.

Several weeks ago, I discovered a lump in my breast and after going through the standard procedure of a mammogram, an ultra-sound scan, and finally a core-section biopsy, my oncologist spoke the two dreaded words that I was praying would not come true. But yes, the biopsy had confirmed that the lump in my breast was cancerous.

There were no tears in the consulting room that day - for whatever tears I could afford on myself had already been wept and spent in the earlier days since I discovered the lump - tears of anxiety, apprehension, frustration and fear. But now that I knew what it was, I had to get down to the business of removing this interfering blot in my health and life.

And with that firmly held in mind, the last two and a half weeks have been a whirlwind of activities with first the surgery to remove the tumour, and then the start of my first course of chemotherapy. It's been tiring, to say the least, but the support of hubby, family, friends and my doctors, and even strangers from time to time, have filled the past weeks with warmth and lots of humour (.... laughter is after all the best medicine!). And never forgetting to praise the Lord who has kept me in the palm of His hands, answering our prayers and guiding us along this difficult path.

You may think from the above that I sound pretty strong and positive about this 'big C' episode - and I am - but it's definitely not from my puny internal resources - it comes all from the 'big Lord' Himself. Several months ago, my hubby and I had decided that we should up our ante in our spiritual life, and when the 'big C' came knocking on my door, I was hard put wondering if the Lord had sent this on as a test of our faith. I shared this with my hubby's cousin, who is a pastor, and his take was that the Lord had wonderfully prepared the foundation for us so that when we go through this very trying period, we can and will be able to dip into that foundation of faith, grace and mercy and find solace and comfort! Now that is one comforting take, which I hold dearly in my heart :-)

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
- Proverbs 3: 5-6

And just like the above picture I've taken of the scene from my living room, it may seem that there are dark and stormy skies hanging overhead now, but the bright and warm lights shine like a beacon leading the way to solace and comfort.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

After the Rain

How fast time passes... in the blinking of an eye, an entire year has gone by since my last update!

The usual claims and commitments at work, a dearth of inspiration... and I figured that a breather from blogging and trying to make sense of my thoughts would be welcomed indeed.

And now you may be wondering my reason for coming out of this long silent hiatus...

A wholely unexpected and unsettling set of events has occured recently in my life, turning it upside down and yet with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, I'm walking through this period ever grateful of His presence and hand-holding protection, and the support of my dearest hubby, parents, family members and close friends.

I am still undecided whether to go into the details of those events in this blog, but for my close family and friends who may be following this blog, I truly wish to take this opportunity to THANK all of you for your constant prayers and to tell you to rejoice in the enduring mercy of the Lord!

after the rain

I am sharing this picture I took a couple of months back of a little dewdrop collecting after a short rainfall at the tip of the leave, full of promise of the goodness to fall on this green earth.

After this latest rainfall in my life, I look forward positively to the little dewdrops collecting day by day through the grace of the Lord Almighty!

Though new updates may be infrequent, I will try my best to share the many little and big ways in which He has touched, comforted and even made me laugh day by day through the people he has placed in my life now... till the next post :-))

Monday, October 30, 2006

Heritage Sneak Peak

As I rush around in the Raffles Place City Business District (CBD), Mondays to Fridays, from carpark to office to meetings to lunch, I sometimes see foreign tourists walking the CBD with their cameras in tow, and I've always wondered what in the world is there for them to snap in this steel and glass contained concrete district.

So, a couple of weekends ago, I took my camera out for a walk in the CBD. But this time around, instead of taking wide-angle shots of steel mammoths and towering glass reflections, I settled for 'sneak peaks' into Singapore's heritage tucked into little corners of the CBD hustle and bustle. Looking through my camera's viewfinder, hopefully I will be able to show you a bit of that 'exotic' heritage that some foreigners find intriguing, and which has beauty worth rediscovering for ourselves.

1st view - a pair of golden ancient guardians
Door Guardians
This happy pair graced the entrance doors to the Fuk Tak Chi Museum at Far East Square along Telok Ayer Street, and is a sight which can only be seen in the early morning or late evening when the Museum doors are closed to the public. The rich golden hues and the intricate lined drawings on these doors are good enough reasons to visit this small street museum, which contains only a single square courtyard and a shrine room. The first Chinese temple in Singapore built in the 1820s by Hakka and Cantonese immigrants, it was dedicated to Tua Pek Kong (the Earth God, but more commonly considered as the God of Prosperity).

2nd view - lotus trunks
Lotus Trunk
Moving away from the doors, my viewfinder found these carved 'lotus' trunks that were set at the two ends of the entrance beam - lovely carpentry-work that one hardly ever sees nowadays with our preference for modern simple lines in our furniture and homes.

3rd view - delicate curly wurly
At the Tip
At the tip of the roof beam of this traditional Chinese temple architecture, a beautiful wood carving curves in a wavy leaf pattern, its lines enhanced by the yellow wall in the background and tiny weeds growing on the roof.

4th view - treasures of old
A Silver Pair
A silver or more likely pewter container with intricate engraving in the background and a jug in the foreground. Converted into a museum in 1998, this heritage building is no longer used as a temple and now contains old artifacts, probably used by Chinese immigrants once upon a time.

5th view - a sienna scene
A Sienna Scene
More of these lovely artefacts, but the shot has been color-processed to create a warmer tone in order to highlight the copper-paint on the basket-container and the dark-red wall in the background.

6th view - what's beyond this wall?
What's beyond this wall?
Walking another five minutes or so towards Philip Street, I find these beautiful embossed blue tiles lining the outer wall of the courtyard of the Wak Hai Cheng Temple. It's so sad that we don't build houses anymore using such intricately detailed tiles.

The Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple was built in the 1820s by Teochew Chinese from Guangdong Province and dedicated to the goddess of the sea, and is one of Singapore's oldest Taoist temples. The temple is also known as Yueh Hai Ching Temple, which means Temple of the Calm Sea. Traders and travelers of old returning from China visited the temple on disembarking to offer their thanks for a safe journey.

7th view - coils of wishes
Coils of Wishes
Beyond those blue-tiled walls, my viewfinder saw rows of incense coils/spirals hanging from strung wires across the courtyard of this Taoist temple. Cast your wishes onto the red pieces of paper and stick them in the center of the coils and as the incense slowly burns, the smoke carries your wishes to the heavens! Apparently, these coils can burn for days and hopefully your wishes come true by then.

These two temples are unusual in that they are sited right in the midst of the CBD area, the first in a row of shophouses and sandwiched on its left and right by small restaurants and eating houses, and the second sitting in its little courtyard with hazy incense smoke rising up to the skies surrounded by concrete skyscrapers all around.

The little gems in CBD that perhaps, you may wish to pause for 5 seconds to admire when you next pass them along your route to office!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Weekend Perk

The weekend... ahhh, just the thought of these two precious days will put a light spring in my steps on its eve! The only days when I don't have to drag myself out of bed at an unearthly hour, no rushing out of the house without a cup of caffeinated sustenance and no fighting through miserable tail-gating early morning traffic into the office.

Yes, yes, on weekends, I can sleep as late as I wish only to wake when my stomach growls in protest... on weekends, I have the luxury of time of making breakfasts at leisure... on weekends, I actually get to see the morning sun-rays streaming into my home giving me the wonderful natural lighting for photoshoots of my breakfast.... can't wait for each weekend to come and embrace me!

Two weekends ago, this bowl of colorful reds and blues bathed in gold greeted my Saturday morning.
Sunday Morning Perk

A simple bowl of plain yoghurt, sprinkled with a generous handful of organic apple walnut muesli (from Bunalun), decorated with slices of sierra sweet plums and dotted with a few blueberries, and heavily drizzled with thistleflower honey.... need I say more when you can just feast your eyes on the shots here!

Is it too hedonistic to claim that this is one of my simple weekend pleasures... ahh well, a hedonist I will be then if all weekends consist of pure simple pleasures of this nature!

And so from one hedonist to another (I assume you must be one if you're reading my blog), let me bid you a hedonistic weekend filled with epicurean pleasures :-)

A Bowl of Goodness