Friday 1 October 2021

We can treat this

Commending medical advances

Confidence without a tinge of arrogance or boasting, just a good sense of understanding the situation and how to deal with it is one of the far-reaching lessons I learnt about the Dutch medical establishment, specifically related to my situation.

I qualify this because whilst I had the onset of AIDS presenting as cancer, some other close friends who had been diagnosed with different kinds of cancer did not make it. It was September, Dick came to visit me at home after I returned from hospital in October, that was when I last saw him, we spoke sometime in January, and he was gone by the 2nd of February.

Marcella, a very gregarious and generous Dutch-Indonesian, I had seen in August when she persuaded me against my inclinations to attend a party at her place. I was in pain that she shared some of her painkillers with me. She had had cancer which had gone into remission, but it returned aggressively in the New Year and by October, she was gone too.

It is against this backdrop that I appreciate everyone who has ever faced cancer, because whether we live or die, their medical experience redounds to the body of knowledge that helps to define outcomes for others. Hopefully, better outcomes too. To all who have had that human cancer experience, I am exceedingly grateful.

Life or just 5 weeks

For instance, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the internationally renowned Nigerian musician died of an AIDS-defining disease presented as Kaposi sarcoma, 12 years before I had the same condition, and I cannot speak for the kind of medical opportunities he had then. Kaposi sarcoma lesions were for the while definitive of the onset of AIDS and it was a downward spiral from then on.

Blog - Remembering Fela (1938 - 1997) through our shared history of AIDS

However, when the professor visited my beside the day after I was put on ARVs and suggested the treatments offered theretofore were not producing the desired outcomes, he had a new plan of action and with confidence he said, “We can treat this …”, the only caveat was whether my body could tolerate the bombardment of chemotherapy, for if I could not tolerate the treatment, I only had 5 weeks at best.

Blog - Scuttling cancer with chemo

How I fared with chemotherapy

I was put on liposomal doxorubicin (Caelyx), all the basic information was given me some 4 days before my first session of chemotherapy, the only thing I was not told was about cytotoxicity, the fact that as the treatment killed living cells, anyone coming in contact with my bodily fluids, especially blood had to don biohazard clothing, and I was to be in an isolation cordon whilst in hospital.

I eventually had 7 sessions of chemotherapy on Mondays, 3 weeks apart, by the 3 session the cancer lesions had begun to disappear with the need to remove necrotised skin and allow fresh new pinkish skin to show. I tolerated it enough, though, by the fifth, I needed extra medication to deal with the emesis.

It was 12 years ago, when I was being informed of the decision to put me on chemotherapy that the consultant said, “We can treat this, it depends on how your body takes the treatment, if it takes, you’ll be fine, else you probably have five weeks to live.” That confidence added to my ability to see beyond the circumstances I was in.

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