|Tan Sri Ani Arope|
I usually do my blood test every six months to check on my cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most of the other parameters seemed to be under control and within limits. Then one day, the Pathologist from the Testing Laboratory rang up to enquire whether there had been some changes in my sleep and health patterns. I casually mentioned that of late I had been experiencing interrupted sleep due to frequent urination. Then he told me that my PSA had elevated to an extremely high level of 947 where the normal range was between 2.7-4.7. He advised me to go for a thorough check up by an urologist.
I got myself admitted to the University Science Malaysia Medical Center for the thorough check-up. After the initial undignified prostrate examination, they put me through a battery of tests, starting with an Ultra Sound examination, a whole body bone scan, a CT scan and scans of my skull and pelvic region and finally injecting me with a radioactive material to scan the other vital organs. At the end of the two day tests, I will never forget hearing the words, ‘You have cancer’. They are the three chilling words one can ever hear, stopping one of control over ones’ life, not to mention any confidence that life will even continue.
My vital organs and lymph nodes were free from cancer except for some areas of my skeletal system--- some ribs and the pelvis. There was no point in doing a surgery on the prostate gland as the cancer cells had broken loose and attacked other parts of the body. I was prescribed some anti-androgen pills and a monthly hormonal injection. Apparently this brought down the PSA readings to below 150, but still it was a long way to go to get back to the normal readings.
Telling my wife and children was the first difficult step. But it had to be done. I tried to carry on as normal except for the frequent visits for my medical check-ups. Another difficult decision was whether or not to share this with others. I am not used to writing publicly about something so intensely personal. But as I see it, it seemed the best way to deal with it. Whilst I see it as a coping mechanism to help me meet the challenges, it is also a way of keeping family and friends up to date. I also hope that it may help others in a similar position.
The reaction was as expected. Everybody took it rather badly. It was like telling them that I had just received a verdict of the death sentence. I made my own preparations-- telling my former secretary Rahimah, who had been with me since the Rubber Research Institute days, that if the inevitable happened, she and her husband, Noordin were to take charge of my funeral rites.
My wife is partially paralyzed due to a stroke and two of my daughters were residing outside Malaysia and my son, due to his nature of work was often outside the country. They would not be in a position to help. Rahimah and her husband Noordin, would make arrangements with the nearby mosque to have my body prepared for burial. I contacted the secretary and committee of the mosque and got their consent that non-Muslim friends of mine wanting to pay their respects could do so at the Mosque.
After this initial shock had subsided, my daughter Salina who resides in Switzerland asked me to join her and spend some quality time with her holidaying in Austria and then undergo some alternative therapy in Switzerland. As I was in no immediate danger, I consented to take the long journey. We had a good time hiking and bicycling in the hills of Austria. On our return to Lausanne, Switzerland, Salina took me to see some therapists. One therapist gave me a body massage and said something to Salina. That made her break into tears and she left the room in haste. I asked the therapist what made her cry. Reluctantly he told me that he had said that I had wanted to go, ‘Il veut partir’. He made me promise to tell Salina that I wanted to live and I would live, ‘Je veut vivre et je vais vivre’. Then he called her in and I had to repeat the affirmation with conviction to her.
I had an open discussion with my wife. She wanted to know where I would like to be buried, -- near my mothers’ grave or elsewhere. To me it did not matter where. I wanted something simple and convenient for the living that has to attend to me. We talked about coming back to an empty house might be one of the greatest challenges in spite of the occasional blips in our daily lives. I guess she would miss those blips. There would be no one to bounce back some ideas or to argue with. We have relied on one another, have been intimate with each other, befriended and ‘defriended’ each other. Now when she needed me the most, she would be alone.
Ismail took it silently. He suddenly became more spiritual and suggested that we went to Makah. I accepted his invitation. Our ten day stay there was a spiritual bonding between father and son. He led in the rituals and saw to it that I was comfortable at all times. Makah is something special to the Muslims. One needs to be there physically to experience the spiritual vibes. One may be among millions, but one feels alone with the Creator. It is hard to describe. One has to be there to experience it.
On my return I felt spiritually rejuvenated and ready to meet whatever challenges that may come my way. We have no control over the challenges that come our way. But our reaction to the challenges is certainly within our control. We could be ‘bitter or better’, allow the challenges to ‘make or break’ us and emerge as ‘victims or victors’ of the challenge. With His Grace and the support of family and friends I will meet the challenges as they come.
When we got back to Malaysia, Sakinah our eldest daughter who had been in the US for fifteen years met us at the KLIA lounge. She had arrived earlier that morning via Moscow and Singapore. It was a pleasant surprise and brought back the family together again. The Almighty works in strange ways.
Then in September, twenty months after being diagnosed for cancer, things began to change. My colleague who was diagnosed together with me succumbed to the disease. Maybe this affected me psychologically for I took a turn for the worst. I lost my appetite and my body weight plummeted by twelve kilos within six weeks. My food intake was two mouthfuls at each meal and I was wasting fast. I could not walk unassisted. I suffered stomach cramps and would groan in my sleep. Then I had prolonged constipation and had to be admitted to the hospital.
Our hospitals now have many lady doctors. As an ex Colonel in the Territorial Army I was admitted to the palatial Tuanku Mirzan Military Hospital. The doctor who attended to me at the emergency ward was a lady. She told me that she was going to perform a PR on me. Not being medically trained, I thought that she was going to do some Public Relation stunt on me. She put on her rubber glove and probed my bottom! At that instant I lost my self-esteem and male dignity.
I must say she was very professional and competent. She directed me to go for an x-ray which diagnosed me as having ‘impacted stools’. That got me re-admitted again. They did their magic and very soon I felt very much relived and able to begin to take my food again.
After a week of being discharged, I was not able to urinate, another medical insult I was back in the hospital again. My Pathologist friend Col. Dr. Kuna took me there. As it was a Saturday, he told me that my urologist might take some time to come. As it was an emergency he decided to perform the procedure himself. I asked him when he had last performed this procedure. To which he replied, ‘some twenty years ago’. Well that was not very comforting but I signed the necessary papers anyway as the fluid pressure was building up. He drained out nearly a litre of urine from me. What a relief!
I was ten days in hospital convalescing. Then one morning two young nurses came and told me they were going to remove the catheter. I just lifted up my sarong to cover my face and told them to do what they wanted. They told me to take a deep breath and delicately removed it. Then they told me to accompany them to the toilet as they had to re-train me on how to urinate. Dutifully I did as I was told. I sat on the toilet bowl and they turned on the tap for sound effect, but nothing happened. Then they took turns saying ‘Shoo Shoo’ as if toilet training a child. I told them to leave me alone for a while. They could stand outside,. I found out that I still had my ‘marchioness‘ in me. I could only do it whilst standing!