Breaking a World Record with 10KSA

December 12, 201d5

The big day. Finally. So much planning and preparation and stress… but I think we’re ready to break a world record!!!

I was so excited to start this day and bring awareness to the women of Saudi and empower them… and help them break a world record!

I checked into Princess Noura University Sports Complex by 0800 with all my First Aid Team… A team of nurses and doctors from the university hospital would be joining us later in the day.

The day started out gorgeous (ended beautifully also!). The winter sun was out… warming us gently as the temperature wasn’t much above 10 degrees.

First thing, we signed in, got our 10KSA sweaters… and then went to the First Aid center and attempted to organize first aid supplies… which we didn’t have and wouldn’t have for hours yet until the University Hospital opened up and our physician and her team of nurses would bring them. I was seriously stressing that we wouldn’t get the first aid supplies and I was praying we wouldn’t have any emergencies before supplies arrived, and hopefully no emergencies at all! but with 10,000+ women scheduled to arrive, it seemed unlikely that would we end the day without any issues.

Mid-morning we put all our planning on hold to meet together with all the other volunteers (at least 2000 women!!) for an beautiful message from our fearless leader Princess Reema. So excited to start the event and start seeing people come around!)

Much of the morning and early afternoon was spent just wandering around the facility before the event actually started… checking out all the displays and booths and the various areas. There an Awareness Zone (where all the booths on health and wellness were set up), Nutrition (all the food… some of it was seriously gourmet!!!), Active (basically a full on gym set up with yoga center, spin class, zumba/dance classes, and active wear/food products, etc!), and finally the Fun Zone where Luxury Events had set up a photobooth, a carnival, clothes/artsy things to purchase, as well as a beautiful group painting women could participate in… it was lovely.

My favorite place was the Active Zone… the decoration was incredibly well done. And there was constantly music and laughter coming from within the zone as women participated in the various fitness classes…

At one point late in the afternoon when I actually had time to walk around and enjoy everything, the sun was setting over the Active zone and the sun shining through all the gauze and streamers and wooden supports… it was gorgeous!

I spent the whole day, from 0800 to nearly 2400 rapidly walking from one end of the sports complex to the other. Our main First Aid center was in the sports complex building at the far end, and completely at the other end of the complex was the Stadium where we had our main first aid outpost.

Finally… the most important part of the event… the highlight of the whole day.. the formation of the Worlds Largest Human Health Awareness ribbon. Around 7pm, women started lining up to be counted to go into the stadium to form the ribbon. Hundreds of volunteers had been recruited and trained to help with ribbon formation… they’d been scurrying around for hours getting organized… but trying to organize roughly 10,000 women is a monumental task! But they did so well!! The first aid volunteers joined all the women in the stadium, helping the other volunteers get the women organized in the ribbon, as well as being accessible in case of emergency.

There was beautiful inspirational music playing and the 10KSA theme song…

All the women were given pink tarha’s to wear to cover their heads… the Tarhas were beautiful with gorgeous Saudi themed prints on the ends… and the pink was a gorgeous fuschia color!!

I joined the ribbon also just before the final count… standing there with hopefully 10,000 women, united in anticipation… united in the uniqueness of our position in Saudi Arabia and the significance of this day and this moment for women… united in support of one another to raise awareness for a disease that devastates us all in some way… filled with hope…

Finally, the most inspirational moment of the day… the representative from Guiness World Records went on stage and presented Princess Reema and the women of Saudi Arabia with… the new world record!!!! 8,264 participants… the worlds largest human health awareness ribbon. And it was all women. All women living in Saudi Arabia… at this moment crushing the stereotype of a country known for its repression of women… a country filled with so many of the strongest and most ambitious and dedicated and inspirational women I’ve ever met.

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To be part of that moment… standing there with 8,264 women celebrating our strength and celebrating women coming together to empower each other and raise awareness about a horrific disease that impacts every single one of us in some way. My heart was so full. These women are incredible. And I am so blessed to have been a part of this day… and to see into their lives in this country…

Of all the opportuniities I’ve had in Saudi Arabia and the amazing experiences… this one is by far the best. I’ll never forget how it felt to stand there with all those women… I’ll never forget the beautiful women who organized the event and how they inspired me with their courage and strength… We are blessed. Truely blessed.

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Riyadh 2014 Terry Fox Run

October 31, 2014

Today we run… or maybe walk… but either way, we participate in the Riyadh 2014 Terry Fox Run. As Canadians… and oncology nurses… it’s amazing to be able to participate in this event in honour of one of the most influential athletes/humanitarians in Canadian history… and to raise money for the Terry Fox Foundation. “A single dream. A world of hope.”

Terry Fox, aka Terrence Stanley Fox, was a Canadian who was passionate about many sports but unfortunately developed Osteosarcoma and had to have his leg amputated. Despite this amputation, in 1980, he began the “Marathon of Hope” and attempted to run across Canada in order to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. Unfortunately, after 143 days and 5373 kms, he lost his life to the cancer. But, he created a lasting legacy and the Terry Fox Foundation was created and every year, Canadians around the world run in the annual Terry Fox Run which has ben held every year since 1981.

So, as a group of Canadians… and girls of various other nationalities… we registered to run in Riyadh and this morning… got up bright and early to run at Salwa, a large compound near the outside the city of Riyadh.

Didn’t have time for coffee before leaving for Salwa… but no worries at all… they had Tim Hortons at the starting line!! This guaranteed that we wouldn’t be running as it is pretty difficult to run with a coffee and donut in hand… But we had a very joyous walk.

imageimage The sun was out, it was beautifully fresh and gorgeous. We shared a lot of laughs… starting out by laughing at ourselves as we were clearly not the brightest runners in the race… the start and finish line were both in the same place and somehow we started the race backwards…  we ran the wrong way through the finish line and backwards down the course. We were wondering if we were going the wrong way… we passed a lot of people going the opposite direction from us.. before we clued in that in fact we were going the wrong way. Felisha thought it was a hoot that we were just walking the wrong way and wanted to continue that way. Of course I was shwaya embarrassed… who runs the wrong way through a race?!! Only the crazy Canadian girls! Eventually we decided  it was silly to continue going the wrong way and turned around and went back and walked the correct way through the race path around the compound.

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I had so much energy… probably just because I was in such an absolutely fabulous mood… so I played a bit of EDM (electronic dance music) and we walked/danced our way through the race… singing and laughing and just generally absolutely enjoying ourselves!! These girls… they really are amazing company!!!! Mafi homesickness when I’m around them!!!

So we reached the finish line and took the required finish line photos… Not posers at all!!!! :S haha.

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Side note… Saudi’s don’t recycle. There are no recycling facilities… to my knowledge anyways. I always feel absolutely horrible when I have to throw away the 5 million plastic water bottles I drink from in a week into the regular garbage!! But… we found recycling at Salwa!! A bin for compost, waste and plastics!!! Vivian and I just had to take a picture with it!

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And then… we had brunch with all the race participants… waiting eagerly for our names to be called in the raffle for fabulous prices… none of us won anything though 😦 But… it was a great way to start the morning…

Looking forward to the next run… the next adventure… the next bit of awesomeness that Riyadh delivers me…

Changing Departments: Off to Oncology Clinic

October 23, 2014

So I’ve been in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center for about 2.5 months now.

I had originally applied to KFSH&RC because I wanted to become an oncology nurse and learn chemotherapy. At home, it is fairly difficult to get into chemotherapy clinics as positions are usually snatched up by staff with much more seniority.

So learning that KFSH&RC was opening a big a new cancer center and looking to train new staff… I jumped at the opportunity to come here and learn new skills.

Unfortunately… but not really… I ended up in the Radiation Clinic for a few months initially as this is where I had some background experience back home. But after 2.5 months… of really not utilizing my Radiation Therapy nursing skills… and not much of my nursing skills in general… I realized I had to switch departments. To something a little more intense… where I’d actually learn what I’d come out to Saudi Arabia to do!

I requested a department transfer to the Oncology Clinic… and after a few weeks of following through the appropriate chanels… I landed an interview with the head nurse… who then offered me a job in the Oncology Clinic. YAY!! I would be trained in chemotherapy administration and also would take a basic oncology course to gain a greater understanding of oncology nursing.

Fortunately, between my Palliative ICU background and my Radiation Clinic experience from Canada… Oncology nursing isn’t completely new for me so I’ll have a bit of a leg to stand on… I hope!!

Anyways. Today is my last day in Radiation Clinic. I’ve loved getting to know a lot of the staff there and building relationships with them and some of the patients… However… it is time already … to move onto what I came out here to do…

Masalama Radiation Clinic… I’ll just be a couple floors above you now 😀

Nerd Alert: Can’t wait to start learning heaps of new things again!! I seriously love cancer care… it’s fascinating!! I could talk about it for ages… but I won’t bore you with my jabber of that at the moment.

So… enjoy this video… love the app… it had myself and my coworker Vivian, from back home, laughing hysterically for ages at work!! Stress relief!!

Enjoy…

 

Breast Cancer Awareness Day

October 21, 2014

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month… especially in North America. Follow the link below to learn more about how you can become more aware about Breast Cancer.

http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month

Today is Breast Cancer Awareness Day at KFSH&RC

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Breast Cancer is a devastating disease that affects many women and also men all around the world. It is a disease that the majority of us can relate to as we have most likely somehow been affected by it, whether we ourselves have had breast cancer, our mother, auntie, sister, friend, grandmother… or maybe we are cancer nurses and have had significant exposure to the impact of breast cancer on individuals and their families. It is one of the leading causes of cancer related deaths worldwide, and although there have been significant advances made in the treatment of breast cancer, it is still a devastating disease.

In Saudi Arabia, breast cancer rates are high and similar to what they are in the rest of the world. However, the average age of diagnosis of Breast Cancer for women in Saudi Arabia is age 48 years old, an entire decade earlier than in North America! http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3370407/

One significant disadvantage is a lack or primary care and awareness about breast cancer and how to detect it early. Many women do not have a family doctor. They are not regularly assessed for their risk. Many women are unaware of how to perform breast self exams. There is no regular screening program either where women of a certain age regularly receive mammograms.

This all leads to later detection where the disease is further advanced and treatment options are not as easy or as simple as they are when the cancer is detected at a very early stage.

However, advances are being made in educating the public. And days like today, breast cancer awareness days, help to advance knowledge about Breast Cancer among women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And hopefully, one day there will be excellent screening programs in place for women and cancers will be detected more frequently at an early stage rather than at a more advanced stage.

Follow this link below to read an article from the Middle East Journal of Scientific Research… “A Review on Breast Cancer in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”

http://www.idosi.org/mejsr/mejsr14%284%2913/14.pdf.

I hope one day women and men around the world will be fully aware of their risks,  and pray that one day everyone will have equal opportunites for monitoring for this terrible disease and treatment if required. I wish I was positive enough to believe that one day there will be a cure for this deadly disease, but the realist in me says that it is impossible as genetics deteriorate and we continue to lead unhealthy lives.

So please, be responsible for your heath. Do your BSE’s regularly (Breast Self Exams)… eat healthy… a diet with minimal fats and high in nutrients and colorful fruits and veggies containing heaps of antioxidants (cancer fighting molecules)… and exercise regularly! These things might not prevent you from getting breast cancer, but at least you know that they are less likely to be a factor in the development of cancer.

Much love to you all… I pray you are never affected by this terrible disease!

Love from your Oncology Nurse in Saudi Arabia…

xo

Annemarie

Welcome to the Radiation Team

September 18, 2014

Today is Thursday. And Thursday means it is a relatively quiet and lazy day in the Radiation Clinic. No doctors clinics. Just a few drop in patients who might need to see a nurse/doctor before the weekend but nothing scheduled.

So it is generally a day where we have inservices and various presentations for “staff development” and such.

And we also get to have parties!!!

I’ve been in Radiation Clinic for almost a month now, and Vivian has just arrived. So the unit held a welcome party for us… and a masalama (goodbye) party for Esperenza who is leaving us for another department.

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The great thing about Thursdays here in Radiation Clinic is that there are no official clinics so it is so much less busy… Although it does get a little boring! But today it’s a good thing because we could easily spend some time decorating the staff room…

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And easily spend an hour or so at lunch hanging out with the whole radiation interdisciplinary team… The radiation therapists, the nurses, even our head nurse and the doctors. I really really enjoy this group of people actually… and coming from a region in Canada, just outside Vancouver, where the majority of my coworkers were Caucasian as well as the majority of our patients… it is a wonderful experience to work with people from all around the world!!

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I must say… it is absolutely wonderful to have a coworker from back home here with me… it helps you gain perspective one days when its a little hard to find a positive perspective… or when you’re feeling particularly challenged by the differences in practice between Saudi Arabia and Canada… It’s nice to have a friend who understands where you come from and what it was like back home… So, I’m very happy to have Vivian here with me!

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There was so much food there it was a little ridiculous almost!! Asking everyone to bring a dish for a potluck results in excessive amounts of food. But in this extremely multicultural workplace, it’s great because we get to sample food from all over the world! Homemade sushi, Saudi dishes, Indian food, ceasar salad (my contribution as requested… Tried to make it with turkey bacon but it just doesn’t crisp up or taste as delicious on top of ceasar salad as the real stuff!!)

Anyways…. It was a really great way to end the workweek… especially because after the potluck, all of us nurses just sat around chit chatting and building friendships with each other!

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The end. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!!!

xx

Annemarie

We do work some days…

September 2014

So… I know it seems like all I do is have fun out here (and that would be pretty accurate!!), but I do also do some work!!

I’ve finished a couple weeks of orientation now and I’m really enjoying a lot of things about my new workplace… My radiation clinic coworkers are absolutely lovely human beings with such warm and loving hearts!! I feel extremely welcomed into the department and it’s a wonderful feeling.

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We have plenty of time to chit chat and build rapport and it is really really nice to build relationships with my new work family! I am going to spend the majority of my time here in Saudi with them… a minimum of 44hours a week… so it is a good thing that we all get along well!!

The actual nursing… I’m not going to go into much detail… but as I think I’ve mentioned… it is much different from back home. I don’t do a lot of nursey-nursey stuff… and I do really miss the nursey stuff!!!

Although I did have a couple hours in the recovery room today with the little kiddies as they recover post Ggeneral anesthesia for radiation treatment… Definitely more “nursey” skills involved!!!

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(one half of our recovery room… shown above)

One of the biggest challenges I’m facing now, is the language barrier!! I knew it would be a challenge before I even moved to Saudi, but a couple weeks of general orientation and being constantly surrounded by English speaking people, put me in a slightly delusional state, forgetting that it wouldn’t always be that way!

So now, when I do happen to have a patient who actually speaks English enough to communicate with me or to understand me fairly well (when combined with an excessive amount of hand guestures), I feel this overwhelming sense of joy as I can really get into nurse mode and ask them questions and assess them properly and teach them things about managing their side effects! It’s wonderful!

I had a patient with breast cancer one day… and she showed up in the clinic with her daughter. They were both very well dressed individuals and spoke remarkably beautiful English, and seemed like highly intelligent and knowledgable people. It was only the beginning of this woman’s cancer treatments, so she asked me what she could do to prevent her skin from breaking down. (Note: one of the most common side effects of Radiation Therapy is Radiation Dermatitis… where the skin breaks down due to the radiation damaging the poor little surface and deeper cells).

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This is when I’m in my element… Educating patients!! (Very very rarely get to do that here as it is generally not our role… again, largely due to the language barrier.) So I got to tell this lovely lady and her daughter all about how to keep the skin clean and moist and to moisturize regularly and what type of products to use and things to avoid in the products. And they soaked it all up, and asked lots of questions. It was wonderful. I felt like I actually was able to fully do my job for the first time in a while!! Hopefully, this patient will have learned from what I taught her, and be able to take measures to prevent Boxes, B,C or D (above) from happening!!!

At home, at the BC Cancer Agency, we have well developed policies and protocols for managing side effects such as Radiation Dermatitis, plenty of handouts and leaflets and information sources for patients to help them prevent and manage these side effects. However, here at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center, these policies and protocols haven’t been developed yet, although they are working on some of them. So I hope that myself and my colleague from home will be able to help them implement some strategies and information sources in order to reduce the risk of side effects in patients undergoing Radiation Therapy here. Prevention is key!!!

Anyways… enough jabbering… this turned out to be a long-ish post. But I figured I needed to put something up for once that wasn’t about parties and fun. Although as you can see, we do still have a lot of fun even at work!!

And we have lovely patients who bring us all sorts of deliciousness… just like at home. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups… Om nom nom!!

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So…

Ma’asalama

xo

Annemarie