Archive | June, 2012

Pam’s Perspective – 3

29 Jun

So here we are, in the ‘plane, waiting to take off from O. R. Tambo airport to go home to Tel Aviv.  We have had a magical, well-nigh perfect 2 weeks in gorgeous South Africa… our friends and family enveloped us in love and kindness – we ate and ate and feasted our eyes on the most stunning beauty in the world, and day by day I felt myself restored.

But what, I wondered, as my feet hit the pristine sand of the Robberg beach, made me feel quite drunk with joy? So overwhelmed, in fact, that I started turning cartwheels by the surf, as if I was fifteen again.  Yes, the sky was sunny and bluer than blue; yes, the waves crashed gloriously over the dramatic rocks, and yes, the seagulls whirled and swooped playfully through the crisp, clean air.  But there are equally magnificent places elsewhere; what is it about Plettenberg Bay that makes my blood sing?

And then I realized as I strode along the beach, that this beauty is ‘mine’ somehow – the houses on the cliffs are houses we stayed in as kids, the clammy things crawling on the sand are the great-grandchildren of the creatures that tickled us as they squirmed on our arms; it’s ‘my’ warm Indian Ocean.  And, as I reconnected with my happy childhood memories of easier times – when everyone I loved was well and in the prime of life – I felt a great weight lift off my heart.

In the presence of such majestic loveliness it is difficult to feel sad … the waves sing that everything will be as it has to be, and the sky sighs that there is no point worrying.  And I realized that I have sort of been ill, too, for the past 20 months – sick with worry and dread and unhappiness.

And in South Africa I started to heal.  As the days passed my delight in the beauty grew and grew, but my need to get home to Israel and family and friends there, and the different beauty that we have come to love, and the outstanding medical care and top class research and the caring doctors, grew simultaneously.

And now we are going home.  And I’m happy that we got to enjoy this wonderful gift  of two weeks succored in such love and beauty, and I’m happy we’re going home, and I’m happy that Martin was almost entirely well while we were away.

And I’m trying to hold on to that as we start thinking about treatment on Monday … when we’ll have to start planning our next break.

Ketogenic in Cape Town

23 Jun

Is there a ketogenic challenge in Cape Town? My research started this week thanks to more hospitality from that indefatigable supply of Pam’s cousins. My writing skills took a back seat in the Western Cape while we were whisked through the rolling wine fields of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The backdrop was the rocky mountain peaks topped by a clear blue African sky. A feast for the eyes – but what about the stomach?

How fortunate that one of the only difficulties of being driven through this glorious countryside is the choice of restaurant or vineyard to visit. If ever one needed an incentive to keep up the pancreatic cancer fight – or for anyone, for that matter, wanting motivation in a mundane life – this is the place. However much time one has, it would seem inadequate even to scratch the surface of what this country has to offer.

What I’m wishing is that everyone would have the chance to witness this beauty – but I’ll try to be more practical and relate some of my experiences. Let’s start at the beginning – breakfast at the hotel. First problem – tempering the temptation. Long gone for me are the days of “Continental” or “Full English” breakfast. Someone has to come up with a new term. “New Improved Israeli” is probably not politically correct – but many might know what I mean. The Cape Town variety includes my allowable raspberries and strawberries with Cape gooseberries thrown in (they’re the size of a Malteezer but not as tasty). These can be covered, or smothered, or in my case totally immersed in clotted cream thicker than a London”pea-souper” (fog, for the uninitiated). The thickest cream carbs have ever evaded. This was the easier bit – especially as it’s self-service.

Lunch and dinner shouldn’t have been a problem either – as the choice of fresh fish and meat is mind-boggling. And service in this part of the world tries to be so friendly and helpful. But here’s the caveat – and it happened more than once. I explain carefully that my ketogenic diet means no carbs, suger, or fruit etc. Surprisingly enough, the word carbs was met with a blank until I give a few examples; no bread, potatoes, chips, – yes that includes boiled potatoes, etc.

Surprising enough my plain grilled fish comes majestically covered in bread crumbs. Maybe something was lost in the “translation” from my version of the Queen’s English to the local vernacular – but whatever, beware that your food requests have been properly understood; particularly for those for whom the ketogenic diet is as important as it is to me.

It’s a minute price to pay to for the miracle of being here. The pay-off comes from seeing Pam back in her element. Perhaps I’ll let her share her point of view with another of her perspectives. Perhaps when she’s “home” in Port Elizabeth tomorrow night.

What a Difference a Day Makes

18 Jun

This time last week I would’ve been having the third and last of my current series of Abraxane. Only I moved the treatment a day forward to give me more time to recover before our trip to South Africa– for a wedding.

What a difference a day makes. Fortunately, the flight to South Africa went well and landed me in a different world. From the heat of Israel to the cold of Johannesburg. But what a warm reception! We were met with pure love and joy by truly special friends – the parents of the bride. And we’ve been treated like royalty ever since.

How happy I am that Pam and I were again blessed with the ability to travel. I knew what a challenge the trip would be. For a day or two after landing something seemed not quite right. I can’t explain. But going to a wedding of dear friends provided me with the incentive to take up that challenge; attending happy occasions is what life should be about. And the change of surrounds has been far better than any rest – or regular break from chemo.

What could be better than the luxury of Illovo? Wide, broad avenues of quiet and seeming tranquillity. Houses that require a re-definition of palaces. The frenetics of a full day chemo replaced by the hospitality of friends. And best of all – a pampering for Pam. I’d like to think of the trip as a special thank you for Pam. So far we’ve been simply spoilt – largely because of the massive goodwill generated by my late in-laws. They were a very special couple whose kindness and generosity seemed to know no bounds.

Fighting pancreatic cancer is a full time job. I’ve always known the importance of giving myself goals – including, in my case, continuing to make travel plans; anything to keep lethargy from creeping in.

Such is the nature of this illness. You just don’t know where you stand – yet have to live with it and keep going.

Salute to the Queen

11 Jun

Sometimes you just have to see the sunnier side of a situation. Yesterday, I had another treatment at Ichilov. Sacrificing my Sunday golf to put a distance of one more day between this treatment and our Friday departure for South Africa.

The more I’m at Ichilov, the more I’m aware of its administrative mess. This time registration and retrieving my file was a relatively simple process – only to be “compensated” by an almost two hour wait for a blood test. Then the usual interminable wait for their results, and an even longer wait for the chemo to arrive from the pharmacy.

But as they say in the “Life of Brian” – “Always look on the bright side of life”.

My middle daughter came with us for this treatment – which was a pleasure in itself. Having been allocated my comfy-chair, it was well into the afternoon before we settled down to watch the Nadal/Djokovic final on the personal entertainment system. Nice. But while flipping through the channels we came across a replay on BBC Entertainment of the Jubilee concert for the Queen outside Buckingham Palace. Someone must have been looking after us. The sound – which is normally limited to head-phones only – came through loud and clear. The likes of Stevie Wonder, Elton John et al soon put us in the mood. Our sing-along was in full swing.

And when Paul McCartney morphed his magic into the national anthem – I couldn’t help myself and stood up and saluted the Queen!!! How many cancer patients can claim that feat during a treatment? (or would want to….)      

My daughter took some photos of me, hooked up to my medication, standing and saluting the Queen – with Her Majesty smiling serenely back from the screen. But as I’ve said several times before, my narrative in this blog remains in the medium of the written word only, and I’m not tempted to document it with photos. “CAN CANcer be fun?” (my blog of Jan 12, 2012) remains the only exception.

How are you? How was the MRI?

8 Jun

There’s one of those “definition” questions in Hebrew, that translates something like this: How do you define a “nudnik” (one of those irritating sorts of people who simply gets under your skin) – A person whom you ask “How are you?” – and they tell you, to the very last detail.

One’s asked that simple question “How are you?” all the time. In my case it comes from people with a complete range of information regarding my condition. Many tell me how they know how I’m doing from the blog; some know considerably more because they just happen to be close family or close friends. Some think they have the right to know. They follow up my standard “OK” or “Fine” answer with the ultimate question of penetration: “But how are you – really?” And then they’re still others who I’m not even sure know that I’m ill.

But the question still remains valid – and I often struggle with the answer myself. Many of the experts say it’s your clinical condition that counts. If you look well, feel well and can do some of things that healthy people do some of the time – then you’re probably doing well. But science today has no bounds. We have the technical ability of CT’s, MRI’s, Pet scans and, of course, a whole battery of blood and other tests including markers (the subject of which I posted a blog back in November).

From the early days of my illness, Pam and I took the decision not to share results with anyone. The stress of waiting for the results is bad enough – but to compound it with the interest of well-wishers would be just too much. So we keep the results to ourselves. Last week however, my oncologist decided it was time for some updates of my status; it was time for another MRI.

Why an MRI when a CT could suffice is a story on its own. To make that story short, about 20 years ago I had an anaphylactic reaction (have I mentioned this before?). Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen. After being exposed to such a substance – it could even be a bee sting – the person’s immune system becomes sensitised. On a later exposure to that allergen the reaction could occur again – and in severe cases could be fatal.

As a result, my Health Fund no longer authorises CTs that require an injection of material – but will allow MRIs. The first appointment we can get is toward the end of July. But Pam, being Pam, gets on to it immediately and presto, we had the MRI last Sunday. Needless to say Pam’s organisation was so fast that the Health Fund didn’t have enough time to issue its financial undertaking to the hospital. A trivial matter. The hospital simply debits you with the costs – several thousands in local currency – and thousands in any other stable currency as well. The run-around needed to sort out the administrative nightmare would be enough to keep any Olympian fit.

Back to the point I wanted to make about MRIs or any other medical test. These are no normal tests for cancer patients. So many people are limited in seeing the scope of their own problems. They see them in such a narrow context, that they lose sight of their real magnitude. But cancer tests are completely different. I can certainly empathise with my own daughters’ final exams results at University this year and their importance to them. But a cancer patient is literally waiting for the hangman to tell him if the noose is getting tighter. And extended waiting time seems insurmountable.

So I had my MRI. It was for my stomach and chest areas. And Pam managed to get the results in what could well be record time. Only to find out that the hospitable had “forgotten” to do the MRI of the chest area! Go figure.

I have one more chemo treatment in this series next week and if I come through it satisfactorily, we’ll forget about MRIs till the long distant new appointment and, one week today, we’ll be off to a wedding in South Africa – for a well earned break. For Pam in particular.            

 

10,000 hits – still counting, and recounting

2 Jun

Last night I received my 10,000th visitor to my blog. FromTaiwan, would you believe? Who guessed correctly? For someone who considers themselves a “private” individual and had great reluctance to enter cyberspace, I find this number way beyond anything I could have predicted. Especially as I’m certainly not social-networking savvy, nor have I made any attempt to “push” or promote the site.

In the roller-coaster journey the blog is trying to follow – it has given me some surprising insights; overall, amazingly positive. On the dry accounting side of the numbers, hits have come from far and wide. From over 50 countries. Some, like theRussian Federation, Brazil or Singapore are always a surprise and others likePapua New Guinea, Lithuania or Croatia– a curiosity. The main hitters have, of course, come from places much closer to home, the UK, US, South Africa, Australia – and home itself, Israel.

From an altruistic point of view, through my blog I got to meet Agi Hirshberg of the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research ( www.pancreatic.org ) – a pure privilege.

So how do I summarize? I must admit a certain disappointment that fellow pancreatic cancer suffers have hardly been knocking down the proverbial door with interest. I still receive e-mails and phone calls from the few – but I may not have helped as many as I’d hoped. But who knows? I’m truly humbled by those who’ve told me that I’m “inspirational” or have complimented my writing style. I know I don’t take criticism easily – but taking compliments seems even harder.

I keep surprising myself as to how regularly I follow my statistics – something the site supplies me as privileged information. Statistics that haven’t really helped. I’ve  posted questions about whether I should continue and/or broaden the content of my blog. Only a few responded (off-site) and I decided to continue without change.

Where do I go from here? The last thing I would wish for is that this becomes a “developing story” because of deteriorating health. Which may mean that I’ll have to keep struggling to find things of interest to share. I feel I should be doing more to promote pancreatic cancer awareness and prevention – but I have to keep my postings in proportion.

May my deliberations continue for many a long year.