Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hopefully, It's Malignant...

... I am struggling to come to terms with this scenario; a friend is in hospital having been admitted last week because doctors could not detect the cause of her 10-day-old fever. One test led to another because upon checking the results of her first test, they found other things to run more tests on. Those results came back and they found yet more things... repeat process...

She's been through at least four tests in in almost as many days now. The initial dread was the possibility of a deadly lung tumour. At this stage, the doctor had said that the suspicious nodules found in the lungs could be the cause of a growth elsewhere. That meant more tests. Whoopee. The interminable waiting game to be dealt one's fate is something else I will leave for another day to write about.

Meanwhile, what started out as a dreadful fear for the worst (and the bundle of emotions that went along with it), was dispelled a couple of tests later which confirmed that there is indeed a cyst in her ovaries... there was relief all round. And there was immediate hope all round that it was malignant.

And that's what I'm struggling with.

Most women would have immediately lapsed into the 'dreadful fear' stage that my friend was in if they were being told of a benign growth in the ovaries, let along a malignant one. But my friend is relieved. Because this means that lung tumours can be ruled out. Lesser of the two evils, I guess.

Mind you, this result is still not conclusive. If yet further tests indicate that the cyst in the ovaries is/are benign, they're back to square one... what's causing the lung anomalies? I think that means it's back to dread...

Footnote: I've received heartening news that all tests have proven negative and the respective specialists for problem related to lung, ovary and cancer in general, will consult on the next course of action. In other words, more waiting. But the person who bore the positive news capped it off by saying, "we're not yet out of the woods, but we are out of the big, bad rainforest."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mission Accomplished... And I'm a Sea Slug...

... Ok, so it took two attempts when most normal people need only try once... but who cares now? I finally completed my Open Water certification, I made two subsequent dives without hanging on to my instructor's apron strings and now, I can't wait to do more.

My qualifying dive with my instructor was a very eventful one. Apart from the fact that I still had to overcome the demon of removing and replacing my mask with my eyes wide shut, I also had an innate tendency to breathe through my nose (a very bad combination, I assure you). It took a while to psyche myself up because this time, Han (my friendly slave driver) took me down to 18m... there was no escape and no entertaining the thought of surfacing "in case of an emergency". Seriously tho, Han knows how to work people's motivations and inhibitions while never losing their trust in him and I do recommend him to anyone who is thinking of taking up diving instruction.

Anyway, so I composed and psyched myself up and used a lot more air than I really should have but I did it in the end. Off came the mask and I fumbled to get back on again since I couldn't see what the hell I was doing, cleared the mask and coughed out half a breathful of sea water and that was it. Done... he shook my hand, offered me congratulations and that literally, was it. 5 minutes was all it took... in other words, I was a mere 5 minutes short of being certified the last time around...!

So, the rest of the time was spent on what Han calls jalan-jalan. And the extraordinary events were just beginning. Now, please keep in mind that this was my 4th real dive. The first two were in confined water where there were nothing more than schools of ikan bilis to look at. I was new to the underwater world and looking like a total klutz, no different from a child learning to walk, my concentration was merely to keep up with Han and to not touch the bottom. And aside from ikan bilis and a lot of sandy bottoms, I had no idea what wealth of creatures there were around me.

We were about 10 minutes into the jalan when Han stopped to look at something at the sandy bottom. He took out his dive knife and probed among the sea grass at something that looked like a chip of wood... and then he got excited. He looked around him and there were literally hundreds of them. He kept pointing at them, playing with them, attempting to make them 'dance' in the water and in spite of being under 18m of water, he looked like a little boy in a candy shop and I really had no idea why he was so thrilled since these wood chips were all over the sea floor. After a while, I thought it might be because these little wood chips were all bonking one another... it was wood chip mating season and perhaps Han liked watching marine creature porn.... I shrugged.

It wasn't until we surfaced that he threw off his mask and squealed, "Ju, this is your lucky day!" and I thought, "yeah, lucky that I didn't drown in 18m of water without my mask on..." He explained that those little bonking brown wood chips were actually nudibranches.

"Ooooh, ok... I've heard of those and now I know what they look like" but he went on to say that although he had seen that particular nudibranch in Indonesian waters before, he has never ever seen it anywhere on Perhentian Island. In other words, it was a rare nudi to be spotted where we were.

So ok, great. But the occasion was to get even more auspicious. At a dive briefing after getting back on land and one cold shower later, Han plonks a voluminous encyclopedia of nudibranches on the table and opens it to a page full of brown looking wood chip-like nudibranches. "It's got your name". That's all he said. I looked at where his finger was pointed and there it was... a picture of the same brown chip-like creature which we had seen just an hour before and the name below it: Juliana Sea Hare (Aplysia Juliana). "It's your lucky day," Han said again in affirmation.

I got home and told the world about this via Facebook and was quite amazed at how many people were envious that I had seen not just A sea hare, but hundreds of bonking ones. Some said that they had never had an opportunity to ever spot a sea hare and some said they had only the benefit of rare sightings of one at a time.

It was now becoming clear that something which almost completely passed me by as a non-event was indeed to be the high point of my trip. And I think it's realizing that it isn't about actually getting my certification that was the achievement but that it merely allows me to now stand on the threshold of many such great sightings and personal discoveries that still lie ahead. And I will never be as blind and assuming again in my new under water world.

I now burst with anticipation and almost cannot wait for my next dive.

Friday, September 05, 2008

To Moderate, or To Be Moderate? Therein Lies the Rub...

Back in March, there was a uproar on a mailing list that I am subscribed to, one that was for the benefit of the old girls' alumni of Assunta Secondary School, my old alma mater. It was generally to do with freedom of expression on the mailing list that was related to Malaysian politics. Remember... it was March in Malaysia, when we were on the verge of a landmark General Elections.

I was of the view that the list was really a high-school alumni mailing list and its content and contributions should remain apolitical and religiously neutral simply because of the thousands of alumni members are have eventually embraced diverse political views and is, of course, multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious. To share ideas, thoughts and prayers with each other is one thing. But when it starts to border on advocacy where some are more vocal in imposing their views than others, it becomes more sensitive. Especially in the realm of politics and religion.

I have my politcal views and my stand on religion and both are things that I am comfortable with. But I feel no need to impose it on others. I will 'share' my views if they are sought, but I don't feel it my place to tell others that the way I lead my life and the things that I believe in are the right ways for others to follow. Hence, I am understandbly irked when someone does the same to me. You know... do unto others etc...

And then there is the paradox; while the 'leader figures' in the alumni opine that there should be freedom in expression of (their) thought, they are also of the opinion that the list should be moderated. And it is. Hence, there are some self-appointed arch-angels who will vet through all messages before the mere mortals get to read it.

That was in March. And it hasn't changed. Just this last week, the subject was broached again and I felt it necessary to make a comment. Here it is, in reply to someone else on the list with a similar view:


I will have to agree with you on this. I've said this before on this list back in March (and I think we also both said the exact same thing even back then) that this is an alumni mailing list and not a political one. But back then, that line of reasoning faded into the sunset when it was argued with this is a place to 'share ideas', 'free country, free speech', etc.

I continued that discussion offline with some other friends and here is one of the most interesting thoughts that emerged; the members of this list are ex-Assuntarians. Of these past pupils, some of the illustrious daughters have have found themselves in political limelight. Among them are Nurul Izzah who is an MP under the PKR banner and another is Wanita MIC Chief, P. Komala Devi, the BN candidate of Kapar parliamentary seat back in the March 8th elections. Nurul Izzah needs no introduction. And for the benefit of those who can't recall, Komala was feted in the same breath alongside Sister Enda and Datin Seri Jeanne when they all received awards from the Sultan of Selangor back in December.

Here's a hypothetical scenario: imagine it is the month of March 2008. Malaysia is preparing for a general election that would eventually sweep the nation off its feet. Supposing this was a free forum to say what we want to say without fear of reprisals and censure, it would thus be completely allowable for Nurul Izzah and Komala to wage their election campaign battles on this very mailing list, if it had so suited their strategy. And I imagine that as the campaign got more lively, many would have opinions of their own to post, as many vocal Assuntarians would, and there would have likely been an unprecedented number of daily posts with the number going up and up until the excitement died down. I can certainly imagine the moderators' job would have become a full-time task!

This imaginary scenario would have been possible, but would it have been right? I asked the same question back in March, and up til today, I still don't know the answer. My quandry is that I am FOR the argument of freedom to express oneself on ANY list. And yet, I am also AGAINST the notion that the free speech on a secondary school alumni mailing list should include political and/or religious advocacy. The toughest part of this is where to draw the lines. Have it moderated? It sounds like a monumental responsibility, preferably for someone with a neutral head screwed on tightly:

Word Definition: Moderation (noun) - the quality of being moderate; restraint; avoidance of extremes or excesses; temperance.

On Wikipedia, a more comprehensive and contextual explanation of the term include (among others): A moderator may remove unsuitable contributions from a website forum or IRC channel they represent, in accordance with their moderation system.

Interestingly, in that same Wiki entry, there was also a depiction of moderation in an ancient Greek social context: Moderation is also a principle of life. In ancient Greece, the temple of Apollo at Delphi bore the inscription Meden Agan - 'Nothing in excess'. Doing something "in moderation" means not doing it excessively. For instance, someone who moderates their food consumption tries to eat all food groups, but limits their intake of those that may cause deleterious effects to harmless levels. Similarly in Christianity, moderationism is the position that drinking alcoholic beverages temperately is permissible, though drunkenness is forbidden. Moderation is a characteristic of the Swedish national psyche, more specifically described by the Swedish synonym lagom.

So, should there be moderation if one is to support the idea of freedom of expression and non-censorship of thoughts and ideas? It's a paradox, isn't it?

Oh and by the way, there was a point where I had received notices about Sister Enda's supposed political leanings on Facebook with invitations to join social advocacy groups but I see that Sister has now reverted to a neutral stand on the social network. I'm used to having Sister Enda's voice in my head (planted there at the tender age of 13) teaching virtues such as recognizing right from wrong and striving generally to be better human beings. That voice has never said how I should live out those virtues. Hence, to receive notices that Sister Enda is into social activism was rather disturbing.

Nuff said... bring on the mud...