Pancreatic Cancer. The insidious one.

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Apparently there are over 200 different kinds of cancer, and among those pancreatic cancer is one of the most insidious one, as it generally does not show any specific symptoms for a long time, and when it does, it is generally too late in stage 4, and might have already done irreversible damage in the body.  The early symptoms of pancreatic cancer tend to be similar to the signs of many other health conditions, and they also tend to be too generic (e.g. loss of appetite, weight loss, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, fatigue, changes in bowel habits, recent diagnosis of diabetes, pain and discomfort). This means the early signs of pancreatic cancer are likely to be misinterpreted, which would lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment, and waste of time and opportunity in early diagnose and treatment of the real problem.

How unfortunate that this sneaky cancer chose my Mum to manifest itself. Mum had experienced some of the early signs of the cancer, but they were attempted to be treated under different health conditions. Only the symptoms observed at the last stage of the cancer led the healthcare professionals to think outside the box, question the validity of their diagnosis and take a different approach in understanding the problems.

Sadly, it is too late now, it is Stage 4. It is even a late stage of Stage 4.

The sand clock is turned for an uncertain amount of time for my Mum and for us as her family. Whilst the each granule and sand grain is passing through the narrow neck of the glass clock, we continue living our lives, and we feel the harsh reality that the life goes on no matter what. We work, we do house chores, we eat, sleep,smile and laugh. But then, like a grey cloud following us everywhere, the gloomy picture of the future rains on us, shudders our souls with its thunders, blinds our eyes and burns our hearts with its lightening, its blustery showers and sudden storms drown our eyes and face. And the life goes on.

We try to keep positive and hopeful. Whilst the sand pile is shifting as each grain passes through the neck of the clock, we are watching Mum, we are worrying, suffering, and trying to keep her spirits up as well as our own, and searching for rays of hope through the cracks of thick dark clouds of pancreatic cancer. As soon as we find a ray of hope, we reflect it on her and ourselves, we spread it to her and among us. As the each sand grain is falling down the lower bulb of the clock, the sand pile is increasing in size, getting bigger and scarier by the hour, and we are running out of sand grains in the upper bulb, and it feels like we are running out of hope.

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Colour and Taste of Love

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One of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life. Sheffield Park and Gardens in West Sussex, England.  It is like heaven on earth.  I went there first time with my Husband in 2008, and I fell in love with the place.  It was autumn, the most beautiful season to visit Sheffield Park and Gardens.  The autumn colours are enchanting, more beautiful than the scenes in picture books and films.  The vibrant, bright and bold colours, mixed with the more subtle and shy ones, across many types, shades and shapes of plants, and tress.  The setting attracts all sorts of artists from across the world.  Photographers with their camera and kit, watercolour and oil painters with their easels, paints, brushes, seek every opportunity to capture the beauty of this heaven on earth, not only in autumn, but also in other seasons throughout the year.

After almost 11 years not even touching a brush, I started watercolour painting course at the Rayleigh Library at the start of October 2018.  I felt I was rusty with my colour mixing, brush strokes and techniques, but I did not realise I had actually learnt so much about watercolour painting in the past when I went to a weekly art club in Southminster in 2006, and how much of that knowledge and skill was engraved in my memory, my heart, my hands and fingers.  I started the course well, and impressed myself and my teacher in the initial lessons.

I wanted to equip myself with all the new information, skills and techniques, to be able to achieve my ultimate goal, which was to start painting all sorts of real life memories of mine, such as a photo from one of my visits to Sheffield Park and Gardens. I also wanted to paint themes that connected with my mind and soul, such as an abstract, using sharp, bold and strong shapes and colours starting from one end of the paper, and then slowly changing it as it goes to the other end to achieve a smooth, colourful, soft, pleasant and peaceful look, and to create a new fresh sense of feeling at far opposite end – symbolising my personal transformation over the last decade, and also my belief in others who can experience and achieve similar transformation in their lives.

The other idea I had was to paint my Mum from an old black and white photo that was taken when she was a young women before she had married with Dad.  I always liked that photo, and framed it and displayed on windowsills and shelves at home up until the recent years, when I started to question my Mum’s life choices, decisions, character, habits, behaviour and parenting.  This process led me to conclude that Mum had lots of sides about her that I did not like and approve, or that I felt embarrassed about. Then, one day I decided to put Mum’s photo, along with other photos, like my Sister’s, Dad’s, and Grandma’s, into a box, away from eye and away from mind. Unfortunately over time it felt like they (my family) were also becoming to be ‘away from heart’.  But my love for them, and the nature and strength of my love to my Mum has grown bigger but in a more complex way.

It became more apparent to me recently that I actually love my Mum more than I thought I do/did.  My love is not dull, not dark.  It is not grey, or black and white. It is all of it, with big splashes of orange, and yellow, sprays of sweet green and warm red, dabbed turquoise, purple and some light brown and candyfloss pink.  The colour of my love for my Mum is beautiful, it has edges and corners, circular brush strokes of all rainbow colours, with specs of white spaces that allow bright strong rays of warm sunshine to travel through to our hearts. With the warmth of our hearts, the colours play together, hold hands, jump, skip and dance.

As the colours of my love for Mum have continuously mixed and mingled over the years, my love changed shape and form.  It smelled the most delicious sweet fragrance at times, and then stank at another.  Some times it smelled like the summer’s first fresh sweet yellow melon, and then sometimes it smelt like the bright warm pink/red tarhana soup with rich full fat feta cheese sprinkled on top and Trabzon bread toasted till golden served at the side.  Sometimes it smelt burned at the edges, and some other times it tasted ‘off’ while swallowing the mold.

My love for my Mum is like the most fresh and delicious marble bread, toasted and dipped into warm vegetable and meat broth, or made into chunky pieces of croutons piled into warm chicken soup. Full of rich colour, texture, flavour, smell and ultimate eternal happiness.  Depending on which part of the bread is burnt, and where you dip your spoon and get the soup or broth from in the bowl, it will sometime taste the most delicious and sometimes you will close your nose and eyes to help swallow the food without tasting and looking at it, and you will look forward to the next spoon of the soup or broth and a bite of bread, hoping that that one will taste nicer.

On Monday 29 October 2018, as I was excitedly driving to my third watercolour painting lesson at the Rayleigh Library, I heard multiple notification sounds for new messages coming from my phone. When I parked the car, I checked the messages.  They were from my Sister Esra, who sent me a picture showing Mum in a hospital bed and told me that Mum was admitted to hospital.  I called briefly messaged her, spending little time and attention, focusing on getting to class  on time, and thinking ‘That’s Mum!  She will be fine, just another doctor/hospital appointment”.

When I got to the Library, I called Esra, to have a chat briefly before going into the classroom. Apparently Mum had symptoms, such as vomiting, bile in stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and increasing blood sugar levels. She was suffering from backaches for a while, it was believed to be the several hernias she had and she was receiving physiotherapy treatment at a Clinic in Malkara, Turkey.  When she suddenly got ill on the second day at the clinic, her physiotherapy treatment was stopped due to her wider health not being suitable to receive the treatment and the clinic discharged Mum, advising her to seek help from a hospital.  My Sister Esra is a nurse at Bolu, Turkey, and when she heard about Mum’s complaints and symptoms, she suspected gallbladder stones, and told Mum and Dad to go to the hospital she worked at without delay, so she could keep an eye on Mum during treatment and recovery.

On Tuesday 30 October 2018 at 10:59 GMT, I received a couple of WhatsApp messages from Esra, and received the devastating news:

“Elif, Mum has cancer”
“She does not know”

At later messages, I understand that the initial diagnosis is pancreatic cancer. By 12noon GMT, I had a cocktail of feelings and emotions, that of course prevented me from concentrating on work, so I decided to take rest of the day off to process the news that was developing by the hour, and to gather my mind to decide how to react.  I drove home, roads were empty, and the journey more felt like being on a roller-coaster ride, passing through the tunnel of emotions.

I arrived home, got in, looked at the cold house, my Daughters were at school and Husband at work.  Everything felt cold, empty, meaningless, strange.  I did not know what to do.  Then I remembered, my hair was not washed since Saturday wen kerastraight hair treatment was applied at the hairdressers and I had to keep it unwashed for at least 3 days.  I needed to pick up my special kerastraight shampoo and conditioner from the hairdressers.  I was looking forward to washing my hair since Sunday, but I did not know whether I should go to hairdressers at all, as it felt like disrespectful, while my Mum was fighting with cancer, how could I think about my hair beauty.  But I felt going out, walking in the cold weather and even maybe sitting outside maybe in the park would be better for me, than stating at home.

So I did.  I breathed the cold air, and it felt good.  It awakened my lungs, and body and mind.  Walking all the way up to the town, slowly, purposelessly, with paying minimum attention to the outside world to avoid running over by a car.  I always have a purpose, always have a goal in mind, something to do next, and say next, and then move onto the next action, next goal, next to-do.  Now it was different.  I have no idea what to do, to think, to say to myself, or to others. I made minimal eye and verbal contact with my  hairdresser, she looked puzzled, as I was not smiley, talkative and engaged.  I did not want her to misunderstand, so I told her, and while I was, I got emotional, and started crying.  She came over, and told me she was sorry to hear that, and she said she is a very good hug-giver, and she could hug me if I wanted.  She opened her arms, and hugged me.  It felt nice.  It felt I mattered to her, and that she cared about me to give that hug, and to be sympathetic.

I got the hair products, and walked out.  I still needed the cold air, I walked purposefully through the town.  I was not sure where the entrance was to the little beautiful circular garden near the Rayleigh Mount.  I could not remember it for a while, and then remembered, it was slightly behind the Rayleigh Mill.  So I walked.  I noticed a man in orange high-viz outfits , one of the people maintaining the Rayleigh Mill and the surroundings, stared at me, maybe he noticed me walking strange, or my zoned-out face.  Maybe he thought I was drunk, drugged, or raped.  I just walked.  There was no one in the park, exactly what I needed.  I stared at my phone, and without waiting long, WhatsApp messages brought more news.

At 13:13pm GMT, while I was sitting on the bench in the secret garden behind Rayleigh Mill, I received the devastating news:

“Doctor said it is Stage 4.”
“(I) Told Dad.”
“(He is) Crying.”
“(He is) Going to resign.”
“(He is) Coming tonight (to Bolu).”

Rays of Hope

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I don’t remember being interested in art when I was a teenager, or any form of painting e.g. watercolour, oil. When I permanently moved to the UK in 2006, I got inspiration from an old couple lived next door, who run a weekly art club for local people from all sorts of backgrounds, including housewives, high school students, and pensioners.

As a newly-wed young woman with an accented imperfect English who had only recently started living in the UK, I was more reliant on others in life.  So, when the old couple invited me to join the art club, and then offered to take me to the club with them in their car, I kindly and happily accepted.

I lived in Burnham-on-Crouch then, a touristic old fishermen’s village that lies on the north bank of the River Crouch, and one of Britain’s best places for yachting.  The club was run at a community hall in a nearby village called Southminster.  After joining the club once a week for over a year, my watercolour painting skills started to develop, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time at the club, and long hours of painting at home. I also liked talking about art and painting techniques with my neighbours at every opportunity.

After about a year, I moved to Chelmsford, the capital of Essex, at half an hour driving distance to Burnham-on-Crouch. This meant I had to stop going to the club, but I never lost interest in watercolour painting, and I continued to develop my interest and appreciation about painting, and art in general.  Unfortunately, I did not touch a brush and attempt to paint anything for over 11 years since then.

After seeing an advert in the Adult Community Learning course guide in July 2018 about a beginners course on watercolour painting, I remembered about my old hobby and how peaceful and life changing it was to paint.  The feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment, received from being able to create a very personal unique expressions of one’s own feelings and thoughts only by using some water, paint, colours, brush and paper, is indescribable.  So unsurprisingly, I enrolled to the course.

On Monday 29 October 2018, while I was excitedly driving to my third lesson at the Rayleigh Library, I heard the sounds of new message notifications coming from my phone. When I parked the car, I checked the messages.  They were from my Sister, who sent me a picture of Mum lying in a hospital bed, and told me that Mum was admitted to hospital.  I called her when I got to the library, wanted to only briefly talk to her, as I was focusing on getting to the class on time, and thinking that “She (Mum) will be fine, just another doctor/hospital appointment”.

Apparently Mum’s situation was a bit more serious than I had thought.  She had symptoms, such as vomiting, bile in stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and increasing blood sugar levels. She had been suffering from backaches for a while, and it was believed that she had several hernias and she was receiving physiotherapy treatment at a Clinic in Malkara, Turkey.  When she suddenly got ill on the second day at the clinic, her physiotherapy treatment was stopped due to her health not being suitable to receive the physiotherapy  treatment, and the clinic discharged Mum, advising her to seek help from a hospital.  My Sister Esra is a nurse at Bolu, Turkey.  When she heard about Mum’s complaints and symptoms, she suspected gallbladder stones, and told Mum and Dad to go to the hospital she worked at without delay, so she could keep an eye on Mum during treatment and recovery.

On Tuesday 30 October 2018 at 10:59 GMT, I received three WhatsApp messages from Esra, with a devastating news:

“Elif, Mum has cancer, she does not know about it”.

At later messages, I understood that the initial diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. By 12noon GMT, I had a cocktail of feelings and emotions, that of course prevented me from concentrating on work, so I decided to take the rest of the day off, to be able to process the news that was developing by the hour, and to gather my mind to decide how to react.  I drove home, roads were empty, and the journey more felt like being on a roller-coaster ride, passing through the tunnel of emotions, with head spinning ups, stomach churning downs, and body swirling sharp turns.

I arrived home, got in, looked at the cold house, my Daughters were at school and Husband at work.  Everything felt cold, empty, meaningless, strange.  I did not know what to do.

Then I remembered, my hair was not washed since Saturday when kerastraight hair treatment was applied at the hairdressers and I had to keep it unwashed for at least 3 days to improve the long lasting effects of the product.  I needed to pick up my special kerastraight shampoo and conditioner from the hairdressers, as they were the only type of shampoo and conditioner I had to use, and I was looking forward to washing my hair since Sunday.  Despite that, I did not know whether I should go to pick up my products from the hairdressers at all, as it felt like being disrespectful, while my Mum was fighting with cancer, how could I think about my hair beauty.  But I felt I needed to go out, to walk, to feel the cold air on my skin, sit outside maybe in the park. I thought that would be better for me, better than staying at home.  So I did.

I went out, walked, and breathed the cold air, and it felt good.  It awakened my lungs, and body and mind.  Walking all the way up to the Rayleigh town, slowly, purposelessly, and paying only enough attention to the outside world to avoid being run over by a car.  I have always had a purpose, always had a goal in mind, something to do next, and something to say next, and then move onto the next action, next goal, next to-do.  Now it was different.  I have no idea what to do, what to think, what to say to anyone and to myself.

When I arrived at the hairdressers, I made minimal eye contact and conversation with my  hairdresser. She looked puzzled, as I was not smiley, talkative and engaged.  I did not want her to misunderstand me, as it was nothing to do with her, I just did not have the energy, the will and consideration of others to look as my normal self.  So I told her, but while I was trying to talk, I got emotional, and started crying.  She came over, and told me she was sorry to hear about the situation, and said she is a very good hug-giver, and she could hug me if I wanted.  She opened her arms, and hugged me.  It felt nice.  It felt human. It felt like I mattered, and that she cared about me.

I got the hair products, and walked out again.  I still needed the cold air, so I walked purposelessly through the town.  As I was passing by one of the shops in the busy high street, I noticed a homeless young man, covered in blankets, sitting near a shop entrance, leaning against cold wall looking as purposelessly as I did.  My head was low, looking down, eyes slightly swollen from crying.  Then I saw a £5 note. Without thinking for another second, I immediately bent down, reached the note, picked it and turned back, and gave it to the homeless guy, hoping that he would use it to buy proper food, and not drugs.

I then thought about walking to the little beautiful circular garden near National Trust’s Rayleigh Mount, but I was not entirely sure where the entrance was.  I could not remember it for a while, and then suddenly remembered, it was slightly behind the Rayleigh Mill.  So I walked some more.  Near the Rayleigh Mill, I noticed a man, who looked like one of the people maintaining the Mill and the surroundings.  He stared at me, noticing my weird walking and puffed face.  Maybe he thought I was drunk, or high, or raped.

When I found the entrance to the little secret garden, I noticed there was no one in the park, and that is exactly what I needed.  I stared at my phone, and without waiting long, WhatsApp messages brought more news. At 13:13pm GMT, while I was sitting, I found out my Mum was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. At night of that day, I jumped on a flight from England to Turkey to see Mum.

It felt like the sand clock was turned, and I was running out of time.  Time to see her again, alive.  Time to talk to her while she was conscious.  Time to tell her that I actually loved her. Although, I did not remember hearing that word from her when I was child and teenager. It felt like I was running out of time to talk to her, and to say sorry for breaking her heart during the summer in that year.

I was with Mum the next day, saw her fragile, powerless, jaundice, unable to eat for 6 days, being given drips, regular painkillers and drip-food.

The following day, we received the results of the latest tests done by that day, and wer were devastated by the unexpectedly horrific findings of the symptoms. Indicative evidence suggested that if no stent is put in the pancreatic duct to allow the flow of built up of bile, she may die from being poisoned by dangerously high levels of  bilirubin, which was caused due to blockage in the pancreatic duct.

In the evening of that day, we had a long chat, while she was feeling a bit better, as she looked and said.  Or maybe I wanted her to feel better and feel well enough to have a conversation with me.  So maybe, I sought the first opportunity when she felt better and was well enough to talk and have a conversation.  A conversation about past, my childhood, teenage-hood. About the reasons, and consequences, and decisions, and feelings.  A conversation about the situations that I perceived as fact, or I concluded as evidence based realities.  A conversation I dreaded for, feared for, and at the same time longed for, and I came for from England.

I felt selfish for letting her spend her energy to help me close the growing and darkening gaps and holes in my mind and heart that I have had for over the last decade.  But God, it felt good.  It felt so liberating during the talk, and after it. I think she felt that I needed to speak to her, so she let me speak. think she felt that I needed to hear from her the reasons and the details, so she explained. I think she felt I was sorry for breaking her feelings during the summer, and she received my apology, she took it, but she nevertheless needed it.  She said I was her daughter, her child, these things were not important, and I did not need to apologise, she knew my struggles, my unsolved puzzles, my questions.  I thought to myself, did she really know it? I did not want to explain my pains to her.  I did not want her to feel any more pains, but hers.  I did not want her to know my pains, and my struggles, as that would have hurt her heart more. So I gave a as constructive picture about myself as I could, a constructive picture about the reasons of my feelings, thoughts, assumptions and conclusions about her.

I recorded every second of that discussions, along with all other discussions I had with her and my family during my stay in the hospital in Bolu, because I thought that I might not hear her voice again.  The way she talked, although it was changed.  But choice of words don’t change much.  So, I tried to capture as much memory as I could.

She seemed to be getting tired toward the end of the discussion.  If she was well, I am sure we could have continued for another hour.  But I knew, I needed to stop, and end the talk, and let her rest.

I had taken this blog photo through the window of the hospital corridor in the morning on a Friday, when my Mum felt a bit better, and we took a stroll in the long empty corridors of that floor that she stayed on.

Seeing her feeling well, feeling awake, and willing to take a walk was great.  Later that day, we were transferred to a bigger hospital where her condition could be better assessed, and possibly pancreatic stent procedure could be approved and done.

In the evening of that day, I set off to return back to England.  This time with sadness, but also some relief and a ray of hope.