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COVID-19: A Cancer Survivor’s Perspective

Last week I connected with a friend through social media. She and I have been on our own distinct, yet similar journeys over the past 5 or so years. Her husband was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and she is his primary caregiver. As the world around us grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, she remarked that living through these times has not been much different from normal life for her family. They have already stared illness and even death in the face before and have had to make difficult life decisions with a shadow looming over them.

I was diagnosed with two cancers eight years ago, and a third cancer some four years ago. As my friend so aptly expressed, we have lived through the anxiety and fear we see multiplied, at a grand scale, around us everywhere today. While COVID-19 is a global, far-reaching pandemic, I am struck by the parallels I see between it and people dealing with life-threatening diseases.

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Munira Version 3.0

November 19, 2019 – As I walked into the Autologous Transplant Day Hospital on the 14th Floor of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, I was overcome with emotion as I saw many familiar faces from over six years ago when I had my first stem cell transplant.

I saw Aileen who was very pregnant when she oversaw my first stem cell infusion. Joanne reminded me that she had helped shave my head while I was in hospital six years ago. I saw Ana who gave me a big hug and said, “welcome back Premji”. And then there was Tasha, one of my all-time favourite nurses. Tasha is representative of the incredible nurses that work in the Autologous Transplant unit – experienced, competent and caring. She then proceeded to give me warm and personalized care throughout the day and answered all of Nagib’s questions about the countless medications I have to take over the next month. I continue to be amazed with the grace with which Tasha and her colleagues look after their patients.

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OMG! OMG! OMG!

That’s all I can say after my visit with my oncologist Dr. Rodger Tiedemann on Wednesday.

Dr. Tiedemann reviewed the results of my blood tests and advised that I had achieved a partial response to my chemotherapy treatment. My M-Protein numbers have dropped by 50% from the peak in July, when I restarted treatment for relapse of my multiple myeloma.  Also, one of the other markers, serum free light chains, have dropped by 70%.  Although this is not as good a response as we would have liked — a Very Good Partial Response (>90%) or a Complete Response (>95%) would have been better, he is satisfied with the progress and gave me the all clear to start the stem cell process. (more…)

Chemo’s done!

It has been an exhilarating month!  As I prepare for my second stem cell transplant in the third week on November, I have been on this urgent mission to fit everything in and squeeze every moment of life while I have the energy. 

Thanks to the generosity of wonderful friends, I was able to fulfill a bucket list item to go to the circus again.  Cirque to Soleil’s Alegria fit the bill! Best of all, I was able to share this experience with Nagib.  On a cold, rainy night under a big tent at Ontario Place, I channelled my 8-year-old self (when I attended my first circus in Moshi). I was moved, I cried and laughed out loud. I’m still haunted by the music. (more…)

Time for new experiences

An updated bucket list

It has been an eventful month!

I have now completed 12 chemos out of 16, and expect to have the chemo regimen completed by November 9th.  Generally, I am tolerating the chemo well.  More importantly, the chemo is working and my bloodwork shows a reduction of the cancer in my body.  Welcome news indeed! (more…)

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