Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good riddance

As we count down the last hours and minutes of 2009, I reflect on all this year had to offer. While some enjoyed marriages, babies, new homes, promotions and good luck, I can only be thankful the year is drawing to a close. For me and my family, 2009 was the most difficult year.

When I discuss the suckiness of this year, I get nods of agreements from many around me. Two who are close to me lost a parent this year. Many had challenges at work that tested their skill and patience. Others had home disasters befall them. Marriages broke up, friends got sick, others lost jobs and that blasted N1H1 virus infiltrated many homes.

Don't get me wrong, 2009 wasn't all bad. Among the cancer diagnoses and surgeries (me and mom), chemotherapy treatment, money woes, van breakdowns and the myriad of other troubles, good things happened too. I grew closer to my family and friends, discovered amazing people in my life who've helped during my difficult times, learned more about myself, discovered what's really important in life, learned how to better help Noah with his bipolar diagnosis and went on a kick-ass vacation to celebrate the end of chemotherapy treatments. Best of all, I'm alive to usher in the new year.

The end of the 2009 brought two awesome events, which bode well for happier times in coming years. My sister-in-law got engaged on Christmas Day to a wonderful guy. They obviously make each other very happy and I'm thrilled for them. Woo hoo to an awesome wedding celebration in 2011. My cousin also got engaged at Christmas. Previously she was in a toxic relationship, so I'm happy she's found an awesome and supportive guy with whom to spend her life.

So I'm looking forward to 2010 and counting on its events to be better, happier and less challenging than those of the past year. But it's funny how much stock we, as a society, place in a new year. It's not as though simply replacing a calendar and flipping to January 2010 contains magical properties to change luck. But we've all been conditioned to believe a new year is a fresh start, a chance to make ourselves and our lives better (which is why many make resolutions).

I want to believe in that magic even more than ever. Our minds have powerful control over our bodies, so I need to draw on positive thoughts to create an awesome 2010.

I'm kicking if off right by enjoying a quiet evening at home with good friends, tasty food and several beverages. When that clock strikes midnight, I'll toast to a better 2010.

I hope you enjoy your new year's eve doing whatever makes you happy. I wish you and your families a healthy, happy, richer, balanced and enjoyable new year - and new decade.

Until next year,


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Astounding responses

Every once in a while, I'll receive an email or post on my blog that astounds me and makes me pause. Sharon's reply to yesterday's blog was one of those moments. She's the daughter of Ann Crowley, who's life was cut appallingly short by ovarian cancer.

But Ann, with her indomitable spirit, was the initiator and inspiration behind the Run for Ovarian Cancer. As a result, I'm thankful to this woman whom I never had a chance to meet. I'm thankful to Ann's daughter, family and friends for continuing to participate in her name because the money raised by this run provides valuable dollars into researching this horrendous disease. As a result, their dedication and fundraising, helps me and all the other woman who've been diagnosed with this silent stalker. So thank you.

I'm also grateful to all who contact me and let me know my words made them laugh, cry, think, change or act. For those who are technologically challenged and can't seem to respond, or who would prefer a more private conversation, my email address is I've met many new friends as a result of my candid blog, so I'm lucky.

But I do have to say, sometimes I feel slightly embarassed when someone calls me strong or an inspiration because some days I just feel scared, weak and even irrational. Yesterday was one of those days. As a result, I curled inside myself (which probably isn't the best thing to do, but it's the way I cope sometimes). While others were happily recounting Christmas tales, I silently fretted in my cube. I didn't want to dampen the enthusiasm of others, and I think I needed time to process my feelings and figure out what was going on in my head.

I determined my emotional roller coaster dipped yesterday for three reasons. First, the excitement of Christmas is done. I focused on all the good events and busy activity Christmas brings, which kept both my body and mind occupied. But now, in the post-holiday lull, I am reminded my CT scan is at the end of January, with the results coming on Feb. 2. I'm afraid Dr. W will tell me the cancer is back. I fret about the pains I feel in my abdomen (scar tissue? gas? cancer?) and my weight gain (too many treats? lack of discipline? ascities?). I hate this state of flux in which I sit.

I also worry about my mother, who has a follow-up appointment with the urological oncologist on Jan. 7 to plan her next steps, which will be surgery at the very least. Again, another unknown that prays on the minds of my entire family.

Lastly, I learned a high school friend is in palliative care, dying of cancer. She was originally diagnosed with ovarian cancer and beat it. But then she was diagnosed with lung cancer (yet she never smoked). If I have the story right, the doctors believe the lung cancer was the primary cancer site, but they discovered the ovarian cancer first.

While this friend and I are no longer close, I feel sad about her imminent death. I feel afraid I may be in that same situation sooner than I'd like.

Luckily, I saw my social worker yesterday afternoon and she helped me process some of this mental junk. Some of our future sessions are going to include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which is supposed to help with the anxiety and fear associated with a tramatic episode (and the post tramatic stress disorder many cancer patients experience). It sounds interesting and I'm sure I'll tell you more about it after a session or two.

I do feel better today - more optimistic and cheerful. I plan to go to the gym today at lunch, which will also get some happy endorphins flowing in my body. And then tomorrow is new year's eve, when I can say good riddance to 2009 and look forward to a better 2010.

Oh, I should mention the date of the Run for Ovarian Cancer has changed (and as a result, I changed the date in yesterday's blog in which I wrote about it). The event is no longer on the long weekend, but on May 30. That should improve turnout for this very important event. Again, I invite you to join Team Tina and raise funds (or donations work well too - I'll be running/walking and seeking pledges) to support this valuable research.

Your happier friend,

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The incredible lab

When my mom had surgery on Dec. 9, Angie, Michael and I were treated to a tour of the research labs at the London Regional Cancer Program. The cancer researchers have a floor to themselves, but unlike other scientists, they're not separate from the actual patients. They see them every day because they're in the same building. As a result, they know for whom they're working and see the faces of the people they help.

Being right in the cancer centre also allows them to collaborate and get validation of their work through meetings with the clinical oncologists. For example, when a researcher presented findings at a meeting, a doctor said the cells grown in the lab looked exactly like cancer in a patient.

Different researchers in the centre focus on different major cancers. But because they work in such close proximity, they share findings and learn from each other. Each group of researchers had its own separate lab, but there's also a core lab where scientists from all areas work. This type of environment encourages collaboration and allows the program to share major equipment, lowering costs.

Dr. Trevor Shepherd, our tour guide, leads the Translational Ovarian Cancer Research Group. While I didn't understand everything he said during our tour, it was enlightening and exciting. The research group's website identifies its two main goals:

- Conduct molecular and cellular analysis of ovarian cancer cells isolated and cultured from patient ascites (They got lots from me so maybe mine is being used to make brilliant discoveries!)

- Develop transgenic mouse models of human epithelial ovarian cancer (Or in other words, use mice to test theories and examine how ovarian cancer behaves and progresses in live cells.)

Due to a lack of reliable early detection methods, ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed when it's in its later stages. Late detection, along with poor therapeutic management, make this cancer the most lethal of the gynaecological malignancies. But the Transitional Ovarian Cancer Research Group is working to change that. I say, work faster!

They're looking for ways to diagnose the disease quicker, and provide better and more targeted treatment. Some of the research we learned about includes:

- The role of bone morphogentic protein (BMP) signalling in ovarian cancer cell adhesion and metastasis (I think that's looking at this BMP protein to see if it can identify cancer earlier)
- Studying scabs cells to discover the body's immune response and see if there's an indicator of cancer in them
- Examining how ovarian cancer cells join together to form spheroids when they're floating in the abdomen.

It's all quite amazing - and complicated.

We actually got to look at spheroids they grew in the lab under a microscope. They've discovered when cancer forms and it's not directly attached to tissue, the mutant cells stick together to form a spheroid. It's when these spheroids attach to an organ or abdominal wall, they start to multiply more quickly and cancer spreads.

The most exciting discovery for me (and therefore the one I remember the most) is the theory of using a virus that kills rabbits to target ovarian cancer tumours. Research shows this virus, when injected into the spheroids, will lie dormant until they attach. Then this virus kills the mutant cells. Unlike chemotherapy, the virus only attacks the mutant cancer cells, not all cells in the body. So if this theory works, this rabbit virus will kill only ovarian cancer cells as they start to form. How exciting! Give me some rabbit virus.

Another interesting thing I learned during the tour is that in cancer patients, the immune response to cancer (the body's natural ability to destroy mutant cells) is turned off, which allows cancer to grow. Chemotherapy can reactivate the immune response by differentiating the cancer cells (allowing the body to recognize these cells as different than normal, healthy cells) so the body recognizes them as foreign and kills them. They're studying what needs to change so the natural immune response can be turned back on in these people.

It was also interesting to discover how several of the researchers are injecting cancer cells into developing eggs without their shells to learn how they behave, spread and test the effectiveness of treatments.

Hopefully some of this great research will translate into clinical trials in real patients. To help facilitate these (and other clinical trials), the London Regional Cancer Program is currently renovating a floor so the researchers can work directly with qualified patients on various cancer clinical trials. This dedicated space will allow the patient involved to have all the tests and follow-up they need in one area to make it easier and quicker, as well as improve the quality of care.

When we walked away from our tour, we were excited about the research the Transitional Ovarian Cancer Research Team is doing and proud the money raised by Team Tina in May went directly to supporting this program. It geared us up for the 2010 run, which incidently is May 30, 2010 (note date change from original post). I know that's the long weekend, but I'd love for you to join me in this very important event. The website is To register, click on the box with the running shoe.

Let's make Team Tina even bigger than last year! Let's support the awesome work the research team is doing. Their work could save the lives of many women with ovarian cancer - maybe even mine.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Celebrating 64

I'm tired, but happy. Luckily, I was able to balance the hectic festivities over the past few days with some quiet time (to blog, flip through a magazine, watch a movie). Neither Michael nor I got all worked up about things and it made for a very enjoyable Christmas. It was exactly what I needed.

Today, it's my mom's birthday and I'm thinking about her. She spent her birthday 43 years ago stuck in the hospital trying not to have me. She'd miscarried twice before due to blood incompatability, so my parents were hopeful I'd make it. Obviously, I did. But I was eager to come out and arrived as a tiny baby on Jan. 5 - six weeks early.

I'm recalling this story because I'm thinking about how lousy it would be to spend your 21st birthday in the hospital. (As if it isn't enough of a rip off to have your birthday so close to Christmas.) I hope her 64th, despite recovering from surgery and anticipating another one, is a celebration of life and love. She's been married to my dad for 46 years. Together they raised two daughters who are successfully making their way in the world. She's a great mom and a grandma to five grandchildren - and I hope she's around to celebrate many, many more birthdays (and go to Hawaii).

Happy birthday mom. I love you.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Poetic boxing day

I don't conform, don't put me there
Whether it forms a rectangle or a square
I am unique, I am just me
Accept me as I am, let me be

This day is for boxes
Yet, I don't fit
I'm not quite normal
But cancer's not where I sit

I span and balance, the great divide
My body can't choose just one side
Yet even if cancer stays away
I'll never return to before-diagnosis day

I choose to live
With peace and joy
Thankfulness reigns
My heart's a buoy

On boxing day, people pack away
The wrapping and packing of Christmas Day
Yet I opt to keep for the rest of the year
The love that accompanies the holiday cheer

The lesson was hard
A high price to pay
But it'd be for naught
If I ignorned the better way

While 2009 brought pain and tears
I hope 2010 is a blessed, lucky year
Take the time to reflect and rejoice
In the end, our attitude's a choice

In the coming year
I wish you wealth
Happiness and cheer
And most importantly, health

I hope you enjoyed my strange, but heartfelt, boxing day poem. While the big day is over and some people are winding down their holiday celebrations, I'm lucky enough to be able to partake in another Christmas festivity today.

As my poem says, I enjoy the feelings of Christmas giving and thankfulness that occurs during this tima of year. I am going to strive to keep those feelings top of mind because I think it's important to be thankful every day.

I don't know what 2010 is going to bring - but I sure hope it's better than 2009 (which sucked). I do feel stuck in the middle of normal and cancer, but that's okay. Most of the time, it's not a bad place to be. I'm thankful to be in remission and I hope I stay here.

I wish everyone only the best for this Christmas season and in the new year. We all deserve it.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

It's almost tradition, Noah rises at 6 a.m. to wake us all up and lovingly say, "Merry Christmas." We've given the directive, no earlier than 6, after he woke us all up around 4 a.m. one year.

After the Santa Claus' breakfast is in the oven, the dog has done her business, and Michael and I hold steaming cups of java, we gather around the Christmas tree to see what Santa brought. The gifts were opened with glee - and a lot of thanks. Some items were big hits (like the DS games, the Pokemon cards and the DS carrying cases) while the toothbrushes, Clearsil skin pack and swim goggles got slightly less joyful responses.

It was timed almost perfectly, we finished unwrapping gifts and breakfast was ready. As we noshed on the strata of eggs, pemeal bacon and cheese, we paused to be thankful. For Michael and I, this first Christmas post-cancer diagnosis is more special. We clasped hands and expressed thanks I was still here this Christmas - and hopefully for many, many more.

I'm happy I'm not on any treatment, feel good and have a positive attitude.

I look forward to spending the day at Michael's parents, celebrating Christmas with them, Michael's sister and her boyfriend. Then tomorrow, we head to Wallaceburg to celebrate with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephews and cousins.

It's strange, but I feel more peace this Christmas than those in the past. I think it's because I've slowed down and appreciate the little things more. Like the Grinch discovered, Christmas isn't something you find in a store. It's spending time with those you love. Even while working to prepare for Christmas, my heart was light. It's all good.

I hope you all have a wonderful and magical Christmas. May your hearts be light and joyful. May the conversation be good, laughs be plentiful, food be delicious and beverages flow freely (but don't drink and drive because I want you all around to celebrate 2010 with me).

Love to you all.
Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the day before Christmas

It's the morning before Christmas
And in our chilly abode
Only three Bratschers are stirring
Getting ready to hit the road

I'm sipping my coffee and
Ignoring cold and cough
It's not strong enough
To throw my mood off

Michael's tuning his guitar
In hopes of a day
With a few less packages
So he can pick it up and play

Ginger is watching
The activity of the morn
But when we're gone to work
She soon will be snorin'

The kids are still nestled
Snug, warm in their sleep
Because their grandparents
Overnight did they keep

On our way to work
Michael and I do plan
To exchange gifts to each other
A new transmission in our van

Two snow tires, some brakes
And a lube, oil and filter
Merry Christmas, my dear
We've throw the bank account off kilter

After gifts, car repairs and vet trip
For Ginger, our dog
Our finances could descend us
Into a depressed, dismal fog

But it's Christmas and money
Is not the true meaning of this season
The gift of the baby Jesus
Is the ultimate reason

So with family and friends
At this time we do gather
Celebrating with food and company
We're together, that's what matters

We're healthy and happy
And that's really the goal
To be grumpy about things
Is the big lump of coal

So for you, my dear friends
On this green December 24
Is a house full of joy
When you open the door

A joyous and happy
Season full of laughter and cheer
Enjoy all people
Who've been part of your year

My big wish to you
If the truth be told
Is good health to you all
As we all grow old

This evening as I help place
Cookies and beer for Santa's flight
I'll silently wish all my village
A merry Christmas and peaceful good night.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Series of unfortunate events

If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.
- Hee Haw

Over the past few days, I feel as though this lyric from the old TV show Hee Haw invaded the lives of the Bratscher family. I really should be more cheery given it's Christmas week, but a couple of financial setbacks knocked us on our butts. I will recover my optimistic attitude - once the shock wears off!

Incident one
Our house is about 20 years old. As a result, most of the systems, windows, etc. in it are the same age. A few weeks ago, Michael and I heard on the radio that most water heaters last 10 to 12 years before they spring a leak. The expert on the radio went on to say that when a hot water tank bursts, it not only empties the water it holds, but the pipe feeding it from the city continues to disperse water.

I had visions of returning from work, or worse, a vacation, to discover everything in my finished basement ruined. As a result, I called up Reliance, from whom we rent the tank. I mentioned the radio story I’d heard and tactfully explained that while we’d owned the house for the past 10 years, a technician had never stepped foot in the door to even examine the water heater.

So the representative suggested a simple remove and replace with a tank of the same size. No cost to us, no increase in rental payments. Sounded ideal and I promptly booked the appointment for this past Saturday. I thought I was proactively doing something to protect my family and felt good about that.

But apparently, the building codes change regularly and as soon as the plumbing technician saw the tank, he pointed out all the infractions. We discussed our options (which are few since we have a window in the utility room and it's accessed via a bathroom), and decided to go with the one that wouldn't require extensive renovations. But we do need a plug installed within six feet of the hot water tank in order to comply with current code. So we'll hire an electrician to put in a plug and get the new tank installed in early January. While this one will probably be more efficient and reduce our gas bill slightly, the rental cost is more than double what we now pay. Argh.

Incident two
Yesterday, Michael dropped me off at work (where I'm now full time again - yay!) and proceeded to drive up Richmond Street towards St. Joe's. He'd only travelled a short distance when the van abruptly quit. The engine was still running, but it wouldn't move forward or backwards. After 1-1/2 hours, CAA finally arrived to tow the van and Michael ran to his very, very busy workplace to play catch up for the time he missed while waiting with the broken van.

Prognosis - transmission. Worst case scenario - around $3,000. Just when we thought we'd catch up a little bit from when I was off, we get smacked back down into the pit of debt.

So last night we weighed our options - new transmission/rebuilt transmission? Replacement vehicle, new vehicle or keep the 2003 van? Bury our heads in the sand and wait for spring? Personally I kind of like the last one, but it isn't going to get me anywhere. And of course, I feel that awful pressure to make a quick decision.

The mechanic is going to call us today to let us know the damage and our options. When I talked to him this morning, he said except for the transmission, overall the van seems to be in good shape. And damn, cars are expensive (albeit they've come down in price significantly over the past year or so).

I need a magic genie to say, "poof, what do you need?" Or I could plead to Santa, "All I want for Christmas is a new transmission (or a new car). Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way.

Regardless, of what we do, the situation sucks. I want the bad luck to go away and good luck to take its place. And don't quote the old wives tale that bad things come in threes because I'm not sure I could handle something else right now. When it piles up like this, it's very overwhelming.

Change in attitude
I have to remember, I've had lots of good luck and plenty of good circumstances over the past seven months. In the end, it is only money. No one got hurt. The van didn't break down on the 401 at night or on our way to Florida. We still have a warm, comfortable place to live. We still have our health (knock on wood). It is only a thing that is damaged, not a person. It could be far, far worse.

I'll probably mope and worry about this for another day or so, and then let it go. I have the goodness and blessings of Christmas to enjoy. I'm not going to let these expensive incidents over things ruin the good times I have with people and the memories I create. In the end, it's not worth it.

Hopefully, your Christmas week be filled with good things, not unfortunate surprises.


Monday, December 21, 2009

It snuck out

Even though I try my best to shove cancer into the background of my life and carry on with contentment and purpose, sometimes it sneaks out when I least expect it. Then I get scared.

Last night was one of those nights. After a fabulous evening at a Survivor-finale party, I noticed my ribs hurt and my stomach felt slightly extended, so my mind automatically jumped to the conclusion the ascities was back. Never mind there are logical reasons for those very conditions. I swam 50 lengths of the pool yesterday afternoon and I've overindulged in holiday treats over the past while. Those two conditions could create that sore, full feeling.

But the cancer snuck out from under its hiding place in my mind and toyed with me. "This could be your last Christmas," it mocked. "So enjoy those precious children now."

"Yeah, make the most of everything because it's fleeting," it sniggered.

"Your husband is here beside you and all looks rosy, but just you wait," it warned.

"Don't you even think about running that Survivor pool for next season because I'm going to consume your life again soon," it advised. (I thought about doing exactly that when someone hinted I should run one again.)

The bad, scared, lonely feelings tumbled out before I could stop them. I envisioned having to go through chemotherapy again, and the pain and depression that accompanies it. I felt sad about the tension and worry cancer's return would bring to all those around me.

I know my prognosis is poorer the sooner the cancer returns and I'm so afraid my window will be short. I know there are still lots of treatments the doctors can do, but I don't want to have to go through them. I want to stay healthy and normal.

I'm scared.

I'm sorry if I'm bringing you down during Christmas week. I know these feelings will be fleeting and I'll push cancer back in its place so I can enjoy all that my life has to offer. But I have to acknowledge these feelings when they rise to the surface so I can deal with them. That's the only way I can cope.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas week

It's the last weekend before Christmas and I know many are scrambling to get those last presents bought and/or wrapped, attending Christmas celebrations or creating menus for the upcoming festivities. I too have my trusty list and am checking off the tasks as I accomplish them.

Yesterday, after Tara's soccer game, I started (and finished) my Christmas baking. After making six different types of cookies and three kinds of squares, my back and feet were sore, but I was happy. I actually love to bake - and cook - so yesterday's baking extravaganza gave me great satisfaction. I packed up a couple of big boxes and put them in the freezer so I can bring them to my parents (and they'll have baked goodies too).

Today is clean-the-house day. This chore I don't love. But I know that scrubbing the bathtub provides me with time to think and reflect, so that may be a good thing. I'll probably hum Christmas carols.

I'm trying to focus on all the good things in my life this holiday season. Despite my lists, I'm attempting to reduce the stress I impose on myself. My strategy is to go into each day with a feeling of thankfulness and fewer expectations.

In previous years, I've had ideas of how events should be and was sometimes disappointed. I'd forgotten that people or situations don't magically change just because it's Christmas. And quite honestly, sometimes I was unrealistic in my visions.

This year, I'm trying to go in with an feeling of openness and internal satisfaction. It's hard to be disappointed when you're happy with yourself and then just take everything that comes your way - good conversation, yummy food, a robust wine, a big hug, a special gift - as a bonus.

I hope it works. It all sounds good in theory, but I'll have to see if I can put it into practise. I know if I can focus on relaxing and enjoying, while letting all the little stressors go, I will enjoy all this Christmas season has to offer a lot more.

I do know I'm more thankful this year to be able to spend time with my family and friends to celebrate the holidays. Life is good.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Knock knock

Where are you?

While I get great enjoyment and therapeutic satisfaction from writing this blog, I miss your comments. I know everyone is busy at this time of year and some of you actually see me at work, but if a particular post moves you, makes you think, educates or inspires you, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know.

I miss the comments and emails. I'd even welcome verbal comments if I see you regularly.

My social worker says my blog validates my thoughts and feelings because it gives them an audience. But lately, I feel as though my you've all left. Are you still reading? If so, please take the time every once in a while, to let me know.

Alone in cyberspace?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Scars remind us where we've been
They don't have to dictate where we're going.

- Criminal Minds television show

My body is a roadmap of scars. Each tells its own story. The one on my chin originates from childhood when I went flying over the handlebars of my bicycle. My parents were on vacation and my sister and I were staying with family friends. They wanted me to go to the hospital for stitches but I balked and cried, so they put a bandaid on the bloody cut instead. I probably wouldn't have the scar today if I hadn't been so stubborn.

Then I have a number of crater chicken pox scars. I broke out in red spots around the age of 13. My parents first thought I was the afflicted with a terrible acne breakout (and denied me chocolate ice cream as a result). I was covered with chicken pox spots and they were terribly itchy. As a result, I scratched too much and have the scars to prove it.

My two rewarding scars are a result of the two c-sections I had to deliver my children. I'd happily do those operations all over again to get the two precious monsters I have in my life today. I love them so much, so two scars are small prices to pay for their presence in my life.

I've also undergone breast reduction surgery, which produced their own tracks across my body. If I decide to choose a double mastectomy, I'm sure the surgeons will add to those scars. I read a cool t-shirt a little while ago, which I find hilarious. "Yes, they're fake. My real ones tried to kill me." If I chop off my breasts to prevent me from getting breast cancer, I may have to get myself one of those shirts.

And then there's the giant vertical abdominal scar I now have from about two inches above my belly button to my pubic bone. But, the bottom line is, I'd rather have scars than cancer.

In addition to the external scars on my body, I know I also have some internal ones. We all do.

Like the quote from Criminal Minds, each one of these scars reminds me where I've been, the experiences I've had, the battles I've fought and the rewards I've earned. They make me who I am.

But, they DON'T have to dictate where I'm going or what I can do with my life. I have to remain positive and believe.

My good friend once told me, when I waffled about getting a tattoo, that I have all kinds of marks on my body that I didn't choose. A tattoo would be a beautiful mark that I did. I haven't gotten that tattoo yet, but I may one of these days.

In essence, the quote says the experiences of our past may shape who we are, but we still have choices to form our futures. Choose to learn from the experiences and scars life has given you to make the most of your tomorrows.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My normal life

Going back to work accomplished exactly what I'd hoped it would. I am now living a normal life, with little thought and energy going to cancer (which it doesn't deserve at this point anyway). It doesn't hurt that I now look like a regular person, with a snazzy, short hairstyle. My hair looks look like a conscious choice instead of the result of chemotherapy. Besides, I really like it and get compliments on it all the time.

I LOVE my new eyelashes. They've come in longer and darker than they used to be. That's a bonus. The head on my hair is darker too - if you exclude the silver strands. Incidentally, having grey hair doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would.

My new normal life allows me to focus on regular stuff - work, my kids, Christmas, exercise, the lives of others, getting chores done, etc. Who knew I'd be thankful for the mundane and usual aspects of life.

That's not to say I don't think about cancer any more. It flits through my mind at least once a day. Little events will remind me of it. For example, I noticed a sign at London Life today advertising the blood donor clinic next week. I always took great pride in giving the gift of life by donating. I can't do that any more. On a television show the other night, a character talked about organ donation. I can't do that either. Or a book or television show will talk about cancer and I'll be reminded of my fight. That damn disease changed my perspective on so many things and limited some of the choices I can make.

While those little reminders make me sad sometimes, I'm thankfully living the lessons cancer taught me. I hummed a Christmas carol on my way to work this morning. I hug my kids a little tighter and make sure they know I love them. I try to incorporate more joy into my life by my attitude.

I know as my CT scan and appointment with Dr. W approaches, my mind will once again start to worry and cancer will rear its ugly head. But until then, I'll just carry on and be content with my normal life.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


May today there be peace within
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others
May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you
May you be content with yourself just the way you are
Let this knowledge settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love
It is there for each and every one of us.

-- variation on the prayer of St. Theresa

For some reason, when my good friend sent me these words in an email last week, they really hit home. As you know, I can be inpatient, dissatisfied and forget to focus on the goodness in life. It's especially easy for all of us during the chaos this time of the year brings. Yet, I think it's more important to ever during the holidays and as we ring in a new year to heed these words. They remind me to be happy where I am right now and celebrate all that I have been given.

We all need peace within - contentment really. Despite all the crap that's happened in 2009, overall, I'm content with my life. Sure, I have terrible and frustrating days, just like everyone else. Good and bad things happen on a daily basis. And the whole big fight with cancer that sucked up most of this year wasn't fun. But if I look deep down inside, I'm content with what I've done with my life. Sure, I'm not rich, have a big house, drive a fancy car or hold a big, important position at work, but I've realized that's not what satisfies me anyway.

My contentment hit home when my social worker asked me what I would change about my life, if I could. With all the lessons cancer has taught me and the changes it instigated, I couldn't answer the question. So, in essence, if I can't think of anything to change, I must be pretty happy.

And as St. Theresa says, I am where I am meant to be. For some reason, I was meant to fight cancer, parent a bipolar child, work at London Life, have wonderful people in my life, stand by my mom with her fight with cancer, etc. It doesn't mean I have to like all that's been handed to me, but it's where I'm meant to be right now. Even when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I said that if it's my time, I can't change it.

The faith in myself and others came shining through this summer while I struggled through my treatment. This faith opened up infinite possibilities for my life in general. I realized I'm strong and resilient. While the support and prayers of everyone around me overwhelmingly reinforced my faith. You all pitched in to help in any way possible, during my fight (and even today). I am still awestruck by the amazing generosity of the people in my life. How could I not have faith in you after all you've done?

That ties into the section of the prayer about the gifts and love I've received. I bow in gratitude for it and hope I recirculate it every day. We all receive gifts - large and small - each day. The trick is recognizing them for what they are, being thankful for them and then turning around and giving ourselves. The world would be a much nicer place if all could practise this simple act.

I struggle a little bit with the being being content with myself just the way I am. Mentally I am content with myself. I can recognize my talents and gifts. It's physically where I'm dissatisfied and need to be reigned in - by myself or those close to me.

I'm often discouraged when I get dressed in the morning and lament that items I once loved don't fit right or I don't look as good as I expect to when donning a particular outfit. At those times, I'm frustrated by the weight gain and the giant scar on my abdomen that puckers and likes to retain fat.

I also struggle with the whole diet thing. Part of me says life is too short to deprive myself (and that's what I have to do - all the time - in order to lose weight) and then the other part - the one that looks in the mirror says you're too fat - says lose some weight. It's trying to find the right balance between enjoying life with good things like wine and chocolate, and watching what I eat and exercising that I haven't quite mastered yet.

But when I really think about it, does it really matter? Sure, I'd feel more confident and happy with my appearance but do people love me less? No. My wise husband reminds me that he's just happy that I'm alive. My body went through the ringer this summer and it doesn't matter if I've gained weight or have scars. I'm here to live, laugh and love.

I like the sing, dance, praise and love portion of the prayer. We don't do enough of that. Life is good. There are many successes to celebrate. There are many gifts for which to be thankful. There are many wonderful people to love. Recognize them and the joy they bring. It's out there for all of us. Let all the wonderfulness settle in your bones and mine.

We all deserve it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Almost a full week

The work hours increased steadily over the past few weeks. I started in mid-November at three hours a day for three days a week and increased hours/days as the weeks progressed. At first, I found myself tired at the end of each short day, but my stamina steadily increased as the weeks flew by.

This week I work six hours a day for the full week. Next week, I'm back to full time! Although I did book a vacation day for next week and we have Christmas holidays. Perfect timing.

Every once in a while, I hit a particularly bad day. It seems as though everything - work, exercise, being a mom, preparing for Christmas, socializing, etc. - catches up with me. On that day, I'm sore, tired and cranky. Yesterday was one of those days. Even though Michael and I did some early morning Christmas and grocery shopping, before the last item was stored in the cupboard, I was more than done.

I was hunched over from the back pain (damn weak abdominal muscles), a headache formed in my frontal lobe and my eyes burned with exhaustion. The kids wanted to go swimming but I couldn't find it in me to exert the energy. Michael took them, and I stayed home and wrapped Christmas presents. Yes, I know, that's not exactly resting but I think it helped me mentally because I was worried when I'd be able to do it. I still have more to do, but I feel better now that I've started.

I think the stress of my mom's surgery last week also contributed to my tiredness. But she's home now (discharged Saturday morning), doing amazingly well with her recovery and is in good spirits.

I have to admit, I'm annoyed with the doctors though. A urologist didn't visit her again during her stay and we're getting conflicting stories.

Dr. P. visited her on Friday night to clarify his earlier report on the operation. He said that while the lymph nodes around her heart looked clear, the ones in the kidney area looked suspicious. That's not what the urologist said during his visit Wednesday night. He said the bladder and lymph nodes were clear. Mom was told they did a bioposy of the tumour during the surgery, while her chart says a resection. To me, those mean two different things. Biopsy = small sample for testing purposes. Resection = removed as much of the tumour as possible.

As well, Mom was supposed to leave the hospital with an appointment to see Dr. C in four weeks. Nope. I'm encouraging her to start calling this morning (and to call every morning and afternoon until she has an appointment).

So, the news about the operation being the only treatment for the tumour in her ureter may be incorrect. She may also need chemotherapy or other treatment.

While I felt angry and disappointed about the news, mom had a great attitude. She said she'd rather go through chemo and make sure the cancer is all gone rather than take the chance some is left to grow throughout her body. So true.

So now we wait to hear the treatment plan from Dr. C.

In the meantime, we're past the surgery, mom is recovering well and I'm taking the opportunity to get into the Christmas spirit and enjoy the holidays. I'm thankful to be here to enjoy them this year. I'm thankful my mom is here too.

I've always taken the holidays for granted, assuming everyone would get together again next year and we could do it all over again. But that's a naive view. We never know when the situation will change and we'll lose someone we love. Celebrate the special people in your life over the holidays. Be thankful for them and the joy they bring. I know I will.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Update on my mom

Thank you for all your prayers and positive vibes for my mom. She's doing well, recovering nicely from her surgery on Wednesday and is good spirits. As a result of the surgery, I've got good news and bad news.

The surgery itself went really well. Dr. P removed her uterus, ovaries and tubes. He examined the cyst on her one ovary and it was benign. He took a good look around, examining her lymph nodes and other organs and almost everything looked good. So that's the good news. Her incision site is smaller than anticipated and nothing gynaecological is cancerous. Yippee!

Before I get into the rest of the news, I have to back up the story a little. My mom experienced some back pain this summer, at which time she started seeing a procession of doctors and having a multitude of tests related to her kidney. The end diagnosis - a completely blocked ureter (the tube that runs from the kidney to the bladder), which is most likely cancerous.

The last doctor she saw, a urological oncologist, indicated he needed to perform a scope under general anaesthersia to confirm the cancer diagnosis and determine what type of surgery he needed to perform. So Dr. P coordinated with this doctor (Dr. C) to do them both on Wednesday, with the hope that Dr. C could do his scope and then also do the required surgery at the same time.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Dr. C sent a fellow (a more junior doctor who is studying to specialize in urological oncology) to do the scope (a cystoscopy) and get a biopsy of the tumour. So that's the bad news - everything wasn't done in one surgery.

While the tumour is big - enlarging her ureter to the size of a sausage as opposed to the diameter of a pen - it seems to be completely contained within her ureter. Tests run on her bladder and lymph nodes indicate it hasn't spread, which is phenomenal. While she'll need a scope every year to check her bladder, the cancer is contained.

So she has to undergo another surgery in six weeks (boo) to remove her kidney, which died from being blocked, and her ureter. But the surgery is the only treatment she'll need (yay!). She won't need chemotherapy, radiation or any other cancer treatment.

While the news she'll need a second major operation was disheartening, the fact that her cancer is contained and can be treated through surgery alone was a huge relief.

Her appointment to see Dr. C (in four weeks) is supposed to be scheduled before she leaves the hospital, and her surgery booked approximately six weeks from now - after she's recovered from this surgery.

Yes, it's crappy to have to recover from two major surgeries, but then it should be over. I know I was extremely relieved to hear the news about her ureter.

So, in late January or early February, I may once again ask you to say a little prayer for my mom as she goes under the knife again.

On a side note, I got to tour the cancer research labs while my mom was under. Very, very cool place. Watch for the blog in the next few days and I'll try to recount (and remember) all the interesting information I learned.

Thanks again for all your good wishes. It's awesome that all of you who have supported me during my struggle with cancer can also send positive vibes to my mom as she contends with hers.

Happy Friday,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Say a little prayer

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, my mom goes in for surgery. We have to be at the hospital at 6:30 and she'll be operated on at 9 a.m. I'm asking all of you, who sent so many positive vibes and prayers to me, to send a few extra on Wednesday to my mom.

Since she has the BRCA-1 gene, she's getting the hysterectomy bilateral salpingo oopherectomy. But she's also got a blockage in her ureter, which could be serious. We'll know more when the surgeons (she's got two!) get in there and look around.

I'm already getting nervous for her (and I'm not the one undergoing surgery). I woke up a lot last night. I know what the gut-ripping surgery is like and I really don't want my mom to go through it. But I'm sure she'll pull through like a trooper. It's amazing what you do when you have no choice. I know it's tough the first couple days and then gets easier day by day.

At least she'll be partially recovered and through the worst by Christmas when we'll get together and thankfully celebrate another year with good food and great company.

So on Wednesday morning as you get ready for your day, please say a little prayer for my mom that all goes well.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Cancer's letter to Tina

Dear Tina:

I know you hate me. Everyone hates me (and all my brothers and sisters). I've been called many names: a parasite, a mutant, evil, diabolical, foul, malevolent, ungodly, vicious and vile. I don't care. Names don't hurt me.

From the moment you were born, dear Tina, I knew I'd be making my home in you. It was just a matter of time. I couldn't wait to start producing my army of mutant cells to march throughout your ovaries and abdomen. Lucky for me, I was able to start early, so I had a firm hold by the time you caught me at age 42.

I'm just sorry you discovered me when you did and started injecting that poisonous chemotherapy into your body. You allowed your skillful surgeon cut away the lovely tumours I'd grown. I could have taken over your entire body, but you thwarted my plans.

I hid and grew in the dark recesses of your body because I knew you'd fight back. Oh yes, you hurt me with those six chemo treatments. I could feel my strength being sapped each time the infusion hit me. You killed off my mutant soldiers.

You're stronger than I anticipated, Tina, and you have an amazing support system. You didn't just curl up, cry and accept your mortality. Instead you drew on your reserves of strength to fight with determination. I hate it when people do that. I also despise your strong support people because they also make my domination goals harder, if not impossible.

With some people I inflict, I can plunge them into depression and therefore weaken their immune systems so I can keep a toehold on them, even during treatment. But even though you experienced a roller coaster of emotions and sometimes fell into the blackness of depression, overall you've remained positive and optimistic. You're emotionally strong and also have a great group of family and friends who help strengthen your mental health. As a result, most of the time, you believe you can beat me. You have no idea how much that weakens me.

Boo hoo! You don't want to leave your loving husband. Cry me a river, your kids need you. So sad, you love your friends and your life. I don't care. I wanted you and couldn't care less about those around you.

In your letter, you talked about all these good lessons I'd taught you. I couldn't give a rat's ass if you gained anything valuable from me. In fact, those "live for today" and "remember to tell people you love them" that blow sunshine up my ass annoy me because they make you more positive and stronger. They help you gather people around you, encourage you to exercise and get on with life, make you laugh and love - all the things I hate and negatively affect me. I wish you could have just been miserable, angry and hateful.

You may have squashed me this time, but I'm not going to stop fighting with you. Maybe one day, your defences will be down again and I'll try again. But now that you know how I work, you and those doctors at the cancer clinic are going to be watchful. I hope I can establish myself in you again one day but unfortunately, I know you're not going to stop fighting me.

Until we tango again,

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's my life

This ain't a song for the brokenhearted
No silent prayer for the faith departed
I ain't gonna be just a face in the crowd
You're gonna hear my voice
When I shout it out loud

It's my life
It's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said, I did it my way
I just want to live while I'm alive
It's my life

-- Bon Jovi

I was signing along with Jon, Richie and the boys recently and these lyrics, which I'd heard hundreds of times before, touched me differently. Before, they were catchy and interesting, but now they seem to capture what I'm trying to say and how I'm trying to live.

I know my journey with cancer is unfair and evokes emotions like sadness, anger and frustration. But I also want it to inspire hope, kindness, understanding and love. I don't know exactly where this journey will lead me, but I want it to bring about some good, not break people's hearts.

Cancer also opened up my relationship with God. I've always believed - one of those quiet, non-practising believers (faith departed?). I feel a bit hypocritical turning to Him when my health took a nosedive. But I know He forgives and understands. There's a whole discussion about this, but I'm not going to get all preachy and religious on you in my blog.

I hope I am not just a face in the crowd and that my voice is heard. I hope my choices and actions make me stand out for who I am. From the outpouring of love and support I've received, I've obviously touched a lot of great people just by living my life. One day, when I'm gone (hopefully, a long time in the future), I hope people will remember me fondly for all I am.

It's my life. It's now or never. I ain't going to live forever. I just want to live while I'm alive. That says it all. I have been granted this life, with all its ups and downs, blessings and tragedies. I have to make the most of it - today - and choose how I want to live it because I only get one go-around, and it's a limited-time ticket.

So like Frankie (Sinatra for those of you in the dark), when it's time for me to depart, I want to say, "Yeah, I lived my life the way I wanted to. No regrets." I know that's easier to say than do, but taking it one day at a time and stopping to reassess every once in a while (like Tuesday) helps. It's when I was racing through life without stopping to check on my emotional health that I wasn't necessary living the way I want.

It's your life, it's now or never. Are you living the way you want? Do you feel happy/proud/satisfied that you're living while you're alive. Can you repeat Frankie's mantra? Life is too short to do it any other way.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

A step back

I was absolutely exhausted on Tuesday, which resulted in a wake up call for me. I'd fallen back into over-ambitious habits, letting my mind and desires guide my actions. But my body yelled at me loud and clear that I was trying to do too much, too soon.

Good thing I'm more intune with my body and less stubborn than before because I actually listened to it.

After increasing my work hours each week and then working out six times in eight days, my body said, "Whoa, enough!" I can't blame it. I jumped right back into the fray and expected to be able to do it.

On Monday, I spent 40 minutes on the treadmill (running 20 minutes in total). Apparently, running isn't good for a girl with minimal stomach muscles. My back was killing me by Tuesday afternoon and I could barely bend over. I was so tired, I didn't want to move and then the bone-aching chemo symptoms temporarily returned in my arms. I was a bit of a mess (hence my overreaction to the lorazepam prescription.)

I also realized I was stressing myself out trying to figure out how to fit in work, exercise, kid functions, social activities and Tina time. It wasn't working. So I talked to my personal trainer about scaling back to working out three days a week - IF I feel energetic enough. I turned down an invitation for coffee yesterday afternoon because it would have meant running all over the city to get everything done (although I really, really wanted to see you Diane). And I'm back to taking it one day and one function at a time, with healthy doses of relaxation time.

What I was trying to do wasn't fun and created stress. Life is way too short for that. If I try to do less, I'll enjoy what I am doing my more.

I know it's difficult during the holiday season, but try to slow down and enjoy the activities instead of racing through them or trying to do too much. You won't fall apart if you miss that workout or if the house is less than pristine. I know it's hard, but your body, mind and spirit will thank you.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Unbelievable generosity

Once again, I'm blown away by the generosity of people. This time, it's the folks at Michael's work - St. Joe's - who brought us to tears with their very generous gift.

Once upon a time, I also worked at St. Joe's and it's amazing how after 11 years, I still have friends at the hospital. Apparently, it took one email asking who wanted to contribute to a gift and the amazing people came with their hearts and wallets open wide.

Michael and I were both in tears when we unwrapped the box. We will drink the wine, toasting to good health and good friends. The donations will help us make the Christmas season a little cheerier.

It's the wonderful, giving, graceful, loving spirit of the people of St. Joe's that shines through with this gift. During our difficult time, you didn't hesitate to help. We can never thank you enough for your generosity. Just know we will always be grateful.

Tina and Michael

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Doctor drop

Maybe I should consider it a good sign, but I feel abandoned by my doctors. I called Dr. W today (since he was the last cancer doc I saw) to ask for a renewal on my lorazepam. With my mom's surgery, going back to work, the uncertainty over my scan, etc., I'm not ready to give it up. I only have two little, white pills left, so I called the cancer clinic.

But his nurse told me since I'm not under active care by Dr. W, I should go see my family doctor to get my prescription renewed.

Say what?!

I feel like no one at the cancer clinic is looking out for me. Doesn't the fact that I have a CT scan booked for the end of January and an appointment with Dr. W on Feb. 2 count for anything? Since I signed up for the clinical trial, my primary care transferred from Dr. P to Dr. W. Never mind that I didn't qualify for the clinical trial drug. Now I feel like I don't even have secondary care at the cancer clinic.

I should probably be relieved they don't want to see me and trust my care (especially for a simple thing like anti-anxiety medication) to my family doc. But after all that time at the cancer clinic, I feel like no one is watching out for my well being.

Yeah, I am overreacting. I'm tired. I think I've tried to do too much lately. Besides going back to work, I've been gung ho with my exercise and think I've overdone it. After work today, I was toast and I came home to sit at my computer, make some phone calls and be still for a while. Tonight, my back is killing me from running on the treadmill yesterday. I think I'm going to have to scale back my activity a bit because I'm feeling the results of my excessive enthusiasm.

Oh, and back to that Feb. 2 appointment with Dr. W to discuss the results of my CT scan, there had better not be any resemblance to the movie Groundhog Day where I have to re-live the past eight months. Fingers crossed, it'll be the start of a new beginning (of health) that I get to live over and over.

Anyway, enough rambling (that's what I get for trying to blog at night). I'm going to go be a couch potato and rest so I can function tomorrow.

Your tired friend,

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hair update

Okay, so I did some research on this new facial hair I've sprouted and apparently it's not uncommon. Other women had some funny ways of referring to it: blond monkey face hair, wolfman sideburns or peach fuzz.

It's also another one of those icky side effects of menopause.

Women have waxed, shaved, exfoliated and used hair removal products to get rid of it, while others have left it alone. In all the cases I read about online, the hair does go away.



Hair, hair everywhere

It seems unfair that after many months of no hair, I have more than I want. No, the hair on my head hasn't sprouted out of control. It's the hair everywhere else. The hair on my arms, legs and all the normal areas has returned. It's the extra hair that has me concerned.

I now have this peach fuzz gracing my face. To me, it seems to be more than the usual facial hair I had before. It's like the extra hair some babies have - very fine, wispy and white. I don't like it. I wonder if it will go away. Then I seem to have extra hair on my toes (ack!). I know I was a somewhat hairy woman before but this is ridiculous.

I think that everyone who participates in the experience of chemo should get to choose where the hair returns. It seems like it should be the prize at the end of treatment. But alas, it doesn't seem to be working that way.

So I guess on this wet, somewhat snowy morning, I'll just be thankful for the abundance of hair I have.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Gym flashback

Yesterday, as I stood in the doorway waiting for my step class to begin, I experienced a flashback to the last time I participated in an exercise class at the London Life gym. It was before my diagnosis, before I was trampled by cancer.

I felt like I'd been punched in the gut, yet was left with a hollow feeling. Emotionally, I curled up into myself.

As I watched the participants of boxing class that was finishing up, many of whom are gym regulars with whom I'd exercised plenty of times, thoughts raced through my head:

"Oh, she's pregnant. She looks good!"
"She's looking fit and strong."
"She cut her hair."

I felt at home, yet, irrationally, a bit like an intruder. And while I like my new short hair style (and how I can wipe my sweaty head through it), I felt oddly conspicious with it during the class. I got a few glances, but no one said anything.

I love step class and have been doing it for years. I find it's a great workout. But yesterday's class proved how out of shape I am. I couldn't do the whole class (but I didn't give up). At times, I had to march while the others were traversing over the step and do stationary lunges instead of the moving ones. I got frustrated, but I kept moving. And I never quit.

So the double whammy of the flashback and the inability to do to the class properly had me crying in the shower. My bouncy, optimistic mood from the morning plummeted to the basement.

I was mad at cancer and, illogically, mad at myself for being less fit. The whole experience left me with a heavy feeling in my chest that lingered for the remainder of the day. Today I feel a little sad, and my emotions are a little closer to the surface than they should be for a woman who is heading to work. But persevere, I must.

As for the exercise classes, I won't be giving up. Now that I've experienced the first flashback memory, hopefully I won't have any more. My fitness level can only improve from here. Yes, I'll be frustrated when I can't do the classes with the same stamina as before, but as I keep reminding myself, it's a starting point.

Your trying friend (in many ways),

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My time horizon

"How long are you planning in the future," my therapist wisely asked during one of our sessions. My answer: March Break.

When confronted with a life-threatening illness that may return at any time, your planning time horizon shrinks significantly. While I want to, I can't think long term. Unfortunately, I have a very hard time concretely thinking of most events in the future. (One of the few things I can visualize is my kids in high school or college/university and helping them get there. Go figure.)

Everything else comes with a big IF.

If I make it to retirement . . .
If I get to dance at my son's wedding . . .
If I make it to Australia . . .
If I'm healthy next summer . . .

I sometimes wonder if this will be the last house I live in. If this will be my last job. If I'll ever own a new car. (I know for sure, Michael will be my last husband - and that makes me happy).

Sometimes this thought process makes me sad and angry, but I'm getting used to it, so it doesn't bother me as much as before. It's like I'm coming to terms with my eventual demise (and trust me, we'll all have our eventual demise, but I'm much more aware of it than most).

I'm sure it must be frustrating for others - especially Michael - that I'm having a hard time planning the future. He sometimes flips through the real estate section of the newspaper, pointing out properties that would be nice to consider. I can't even go there. I can't commit to something like moving and leaving him with a new house (with no memories of me) and a big mortgage. I can't even think about replacing our beat up 1993 Saturn wagon because I'm afraid I won't be able to help pay it off.

Even when people ask me seemingly insignificant questions about what I plan to do with my rapidly returning hair - keep it short, grow it long again, colour it - I can't answer them. I don't know. I fear I'll need chemo again and I'll once again lose the precious locks I've just managed to grow. I like having hair, eyebrows and eyelashes again because it makes me feel real, healthy and normal again. Having that back is more precious than I realized it would be. But I have to come to terms with the fact my follicle return may be fleeting.

Hopefully, the amount of time I'm able to plan in the future may eventually grow (the longer my cancer stays away). But for now, a few months is the best I can do.

Being stuck with short-term thoughts isn't ideal nor does it make me particularly happy, but it's the only way I can function right now. In one way, it forces me to live and enjoy the here and now, which is exactly what I need to be doing.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hopping on the exercise bus

Everyone knows exercise is good for you. It fills your body with oxygen and invites endorphins to cavort through your body to make you feel good. The energy you expend to work out comes right back at you, producing more energy to carry out the activities of daily life.

I had a great exercise routine before cancer. But during treatment I turned into a sluggish couch potato, and it shows. So after seven months with only walking, a few swims and some failed attempts to get back into a workout routine, I'm hopping back on the exercise bus -
with an inspirational driver.

T encourages me to be the best me I can be, so she's the perfect personal trainer. She put me through the rigours of my first fit test on Monday. While I was disgusted with my performance in a few areas (my balance is out of whack and my cardio ability has greatly diminished), I surprised myself in other areas. She also said I still had good form. We now have a starting place from which to judge my fitness improvements over the next six weeks.

She's pushing me, which is exactly what I need. At the end of our session on Monday, she asked, which cardiovascular exercise I was going to do on Tuesday. Hunh, I hadn't thought about it. But I quickly said, "swim some laps." Then I was committed. So yesterday, I swam just over half a mile in 30 minutes without stopping. Yay!

T then reminded me of our appointment today where we'll work together and asked, "So what do you plan to do on Thursday?" I was compelled to provide a specific answer, which again committed me to following through. Then she told me I had to plan one more cardio activity between Friday and Sunday. Alrighty then.

It takes 21 days to form a new habit. I'm lucky I have T inspiring me to reintegrate exercise back into my life. Since I'm forced to be accountable to someone and don't want to let her down, I'll form this awesome habit again.

I have to admit, I've felt good the past two days after working out. Focusing on exercise also pushes cancer from my mind, which is a good thing.

Although I do have another job from my social worker that will bring cancer back to the forefront, at least temporarily. She wants me to write myself a letter from cancer. I have to mull this one over a bit before I write, but watch for it within the next week. I think it's going to be harder than the one I wrote to cancer.

But in the meantime, I'm going to sweat my way to a healthier, stronger, better me.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

A letter to cancer

Dear Cancer:

I hate you! I can't believe you've come into my life to create chaos and fear. I know you've taught me a lot, but you create a lot of misery, so the lessons are hard to learn. I've discovered more about myself and improved how I live my life, which is good. But it's been at a high price.

When you came into my life I was career and family focused. I took great pride in being extremely busy and valued. My list-making and organizational skills reigned supreme, and I raced around to get everything accomplished. In the evenings, I ferried my children to activities and helped with homework. This hurry-scurry lifestyle produced a lot of stress, which I admit, I created for myself.

In the spring, before you revealed your presence, I was also in great shape. I was training for a tri-triathalon and took up running (the activity that makes me feel like an elephant on a treadmill), dove into the pool regularly and cycled my little heart out. I also regularly attended other fitness classes. I could step, kick, crunch and lift iron with the best of them. Rarely a work day would pass when I wouldn't make a foray into the welcoming gym in the basement of London Life.

I ate fairly well, drank only occasionally and was fit. As a result, I never believed you would come into my life. Cancer was something that happened to other people - most of whom I don't know. I also thought, for the most part, you were a disease that afflicted older people. I didn't think you'd make your home in me during the prime of my life.

I was so shocked when my doctor told me you were here I could barely cry. I sat at my desk and felt I was being squeezed. Time around me seemed to slow, yet at the same time, I was super-sensitive to all the office sounds around me. I sat immobilized for a few minutes, wondering what to do. Then I picked up the phone to break the news and rally my supporters. I called on my family and friends to be there for what I knew would be the hardest job of my life.

I can't believe you're so underhanded that you don't reveal many symptoms of your presence. You're a nasty bugger for that. Sure, the ascities continued to make my belly grow, but I believed I was gaining weight and then thought I was suffering early stage irritable bowel syndrome. As a result, I thought I needed to be more disciplined and I could take care of it myself. Little did I know.

While you probably knocked on my abdomen with some small seemingly insignificant signs, you just sat there growing and spreading while I obliviously continued my life. A life I want to keep, damn you. You should have shown yourself sooner and made your presence known with more obvious signs. But you slunk into the shadows of my belly, hiding, so I wouldn't try to eradicate you.

While I now know you were eventually going to find me because I carry the horrific BRCA-1 gene mutation, I wish I had forewarning you were gunning for me. Believe me, I would have sought the medical big guns to work their magic and form a protective barrier around my body. But hindsight is 20-20 and I can't change the past. I can only move forward with you in my life.

You scare me and you terrify my husband. You make us face mortality. Now there isn't a day that passes where I don't have at least a fleeting thought about dying and what that will mean for my family and all those I leave behind. I'm not afraid to die, I'm afraid to leave. I truly believe I'll go on to an unbelievably better place that God has waiting for me, but I'm not ready to leave everyone in this world. They need me. I want to be with them. I want to watch my children grow up, and grow old with Michael. I haven't finished all I want to accomplish in this world - and that includes simple things like sitting on a porch in Port Franks and enjoying the sun.

To fight you, I've had to endure unbelievable pain and prolonged misery. The surgery ripped open my body, left me with an enormous and ugly scar, produced scar tissue in my abdomen, created a hernia and cyst in my body (which I now worry about) and eliminated the abs I'd worked so hard to develop. In the flash of a scalpel, my body is irreparably different.

Then I suffered the onslaught of the chemotherapy every three weeks, which dropped me into a pit of depression and fog, and produced stabbing pain in my bones. Chemo made me shrink into myself, oblivious to the world around me. Each session wore on my spirit and assaulted my mind. But I said, "bring it on" because I wanted everything in my arsenal to fight you. I envisioned you writhing in agony every time a new infusion entered my body. The pain was worth it if it caused your death.

But I don't know if you're gone. You may still be lurking in the recesses of my body or you may decide to reappear like an unwelcome visitor armed with a gun. I want to slam the door in your face, gather my family lovingly in my arms and scream, "go away and never come back." But I worry every day you won't listen to my vehement request. I worry that I'll have to live the nightmare again. I worry you'll win the fight.

But like an abusive boyfriend, my relationship with you taught me a lot about myself and how I want to live my life. Your attack opened my eyes to negative or insignificant behaviours I'd been living. As a result, I've slowed down and become more patient. I'm more conscious to partake in activities and conversations with people I enjoy. I stop to appreciate the small wonders handed to me every day. I forgive others, and more importantly, myself more easily.

Your visit also improved my relationship with many people. I've discovered during the fight that I've been lucky enough to surround myself with an incredibly large group of very supportive people in my life who stepped in to help when you knocked me down.

My husband, Michael, continues to stand by my side, propping me up when my strength waivers. I am now closer to my sister, who walked step by step with me during my journey with you. I have repaired or improved relationships with friends and family who've jumped in with support, food, painting skills, prayer and company. You opened my eyes to the wonderful people in my life who, in some ways, got lost in the busy shuffle I'd been living.

You've also allowed me to give myself permission to put me first. When I was actively fighting you, I had no energy to do anything but battle. I had to focus on me. In the past, I always took my role as wife, mother, daughter, friend and employee too much to heart and as a result, often took second place. You made me realize I have to put myself first sometimes and I have the right to say "no." I realized people aren't going to hate me if I do (or I realized that if they did, they were the wrong people to have in my life anyway). When I put myself first, I make myself a better wife, mother, daughter, friend or employee because I recharge my batteries and have something to give others.

Because of you, I now know myself better than ever. Over the many months of our fight, I had plenty of time alone to think. You abruptly made me consider my mortality and as a result, I explored the corners of my heart and mind to figure out what really matters to me. I'm lucky enough to say, I like a lot of aspects of myself and my life. Oh sure, there are lots of activities I'd still like to do and places I'd like to explore, but if you were to beat me today, I'd say I'm pretty darn satisfied with my life. I'm a lucky woman.

Despite the benefits you've given me and the lessons you've taught, it's time for you to excuse yourself. Trust me, I can continue to live my new and improved life without your presence.

But I have to admit that even though I'm physically ready to let you go, you've still got a strangle hold on my mind and emotions. It's like I'm constantly looking over my shoulder, into the shadows, to see if you're following me. Every ache and twinge in my body reminds me of your presence. I'm so afraid you're not really gone or you'll return.

Perhaps over time, as I physically repel you, I can sever those mental and emotional ties. I so want to break them now, but our relationship is too fresh and new, and you're too strong and persistent. But I can see a future without you, cancer, where I live a thankful, emotionally rich, personally satisfying life. I see my children growing up, making their way in the world. I see retiring and traveling with Michael. I see holidays and visits with family and friends where we share stories, laughs, tears, aspirations and perhaps even a glass of wine or two.

I'm ready to leave you behind because I've learned my valuable lessons. I'd like the opportunity to put them into practise and enjoy the people and experiences in my life for many, many years.

So I hope I'm saying good bye to you, cancer, and good riddance (don't let the door hit you on the way out). I have way too much living yet to do.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Cancer in the backseat

I may be in denial but I have stopped thinking about cancer almost all the time. Perhaps it's because I'm back at work and have a job to do and other people with whom to have conversations (about topics other than cancer).

I can almost go a full day without dwelling on what is happening inside my body and how/if it's going to affect me. Sure, I have fleeting thoughts about what will happen if the CT scan in January shows its return. I look at my hair in the mirror, think about how much I like it and then automatically lament that it'll go if I have to undergo chemotherapy again.

I start with a personal trainer today to get my sorry body back in shape. Then I think about what a reoccurence would mean to my fitness plan.

I'm back at work, contributing and earning a salary, but then sometimes worry about what would happen if I have to go off on disability again.

I still have some ideas to process in my mind, which will require some serious thought. I also have an assignment from my social worker that will show up in this blog over the next few days. However, it's nice to take a break from my health and my worries. Most of the time I'm not even dwelling on pains or twinges in my abdomen. I acknowledge them and move on.

I know my thoughts, feelings and fears about cancer are still in my mind, but they've taken a backseat to everyday life. I think that's because I'm not actively fighting right now and there's nothing I can physically do to change whether it returns or not.

And maybe I truly have placed my health in God's hands and trust in His plan. I'll act when it's necessary.

To me, it's a big step forward. It allows me to have a more normal life - for as long as possible. Enjoy it with me.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The storm

The storm

It formed silently, building in fury and size
Unknown, unseen, unfelt
Until it unleashed its destruction
On the oblivious
Unsuspecting of the impending storm

Denial and fear, shock and tears
Unbelieving eyes and ears
Experts' words, tests, reports
Images on screens
Rapid preparation for the onslaught

The fierce, merciless storm hit
Thick, hard, fast
Driving rain, stinging needles
Thick, blinding fog
Its path ripping, mashing, destroying

A cycling storm, patterns emerge
Intense fury, restorative calm
With each repetitive onslaught
Resolve, strength depleted
Yet winning spirit unwaivering

After the storm's last hurrah
Emergence, rewakening, relief
Emotional status again assessed
Physical rebuilding begins
Joy awakens, hope flourishes

- Tina Thomas-Bratscher, September 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Welcome back hair

While I wistfully miss my hairless legs, arms and even face (and not having to shave or pluck), I am so happy to witness the return of my hair. I now look like a woman who chose a very, very short cut. My head doesn't scream "cancer patient" to all onlookers and I think I get far fewer second looks. I say, I think, because I've gotten very proficient at ignoring that phenomenon.

I am especially happy to have eyebrows, and especially eyelashes again. I don't feel like Yoda any more. I look back at the photos from our trip to Cuba at the end of September and notice I'm conspiciously hairless. It's not a good look on me.

It's taken a long time to return, but I saw welcome back hair. I missed you.

While this style is especially easy - I simply rub the hair down with my palms after I wash it in the shower with one drop of shampoo - I look forward to figuring out how to work with new and longer hair in the near future.

I'd hoped to have a nice short hair cut by Christmas and I may just get my wish!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Slow down and feel groovy

Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last. Just skipping down the cobble stones. Looking for fun and feelin' groovy. - Simon and Garfunkel

Change the morning to moment and you've got my current philosophy. Enjoy each moment you have, especially if you're doing something you really love. There is no sense running around like crazy. because that's no fun at all.

It's easy to start ruminating on the to-do list, raising the blood pressure and ruining the current moment. I do it all the time. But, I also feel good when I get a lot accomplished; when I cross several tasks off my to-do list.

So for me, it's discovering a new balance. One where I still feel a sense of accomplishment, without running myself ragged. Where I stop and enjoy the good things in each moment, hour or day.

One way I'm trying to accomplish this goal is through mindful meditation. It a practice of trying to be completely present in the current moment, not simply doing a task while my mind rushes off to figure out what I have to do next. While practising mindful meditation, I pay attention to what I'm doing or to whom I'm talking, listening to the individual and the noises around me, assessing how my body feels, the temperature in the room and the sensentations I feel.

As a multi-tasker, mindful meditation is quite difficult. I regularly do two or three things at once or list subsequent tasks in my head when I haven't even completed the one I'm working on. So I'm starting by being more present when visiting with others. Sometimes, I'm successful, other times, I'm not. But I'm trying.

I found that since I spent a lot of time alone during my cancer journey, I practised a twist on mindful meditation. When I was walking or simply sitting and recovering, I'd reflect on my situation and how I felt. I paid a lot of attention to my body and mind. That practise, as well as this blog, helped me better mentally process. I was mindfully in the present and conscious of what cancer means to me.

I find I also practise a form of mindful meditation when I clean. While I don't focus on the act of scrubbing the bathtub and how the cleanser feels on my hands (which is true mindful meditation), I use that time to let my mind roam free and randomly hone in on the issues bothering me, or reflect on situations or feelings. For me, it's a way to work through things.

So between slowing down and practising mindful meditation, I think I can better capture each moment so I can be kickin' down the cobblestones and feelin' groovy.

Join me in the quest for grooviness.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The emotional teeter totter

When a couple copes with a disease like cancer, it's extremely difficult. Sometimes one partner dwells on the awfulness of the disease and its possible outcomes, while the other is blithely partaking in an activity of daily life.

The emotional roller coaster of cancer affects so many people, and unfortunately the ups and downs can occur at different times. For a couple as close as Michael and I, we sense and feed off each other's moods. Maybe it's good when we're both at different stages of the emotional processing cycle because the person who is happier can help elevate the mood of the other.

It can be a real bummer - but also something that brings us closer - when we're both down. While it's awesome when we're both extremely optimistic and actively celebrating life.

Last night, I was happily making homemade pizza for dinner. I love puttering in the kitchen, whipping up delicious dinners, and I don't get to do it as often as I like. One reason is I have picky kids who don't seem to like my creative cooking and the other is my recent lack of energy.

While I was cooking, Michael came home from work and I knew right away he was upset. He had a difficult day at work and, as a result, on his bike ride home, his thoughts turned to me and cancer. We hugged and I hoped my strength from being on an emotional upswing helped him. That's all we can do, be there for each other. We're both going to have wildly swinging emotions, but we're in this journey together, wherever it leads.

My feelings can flip flop several times in a single day, as if I'm on an emotional teeter totter. Yesterday morning when I was driving to work, I felt a little blue. I don't know why, but I was on the verge of tears. But being at work, distracting my mind and chatting with my friends raised my spirits. (See, going back to work is a good thing.)

Speaking of work, a funny thing happened yesterday. While most people compliment me on my very, very short hairstyle - some have even asked if I'm going to keep it this way - one woman couldn't help but blurt, "wow, you're grey." Yes, I am. I've had grey hair since I was 18 years old and creatively coloured it. But now, I share the silver hue with the world. I don't know if it makes me look older, but I don't really care. I am thankful to have hair.

I know you're all on this journey with me and experience a myriad of emotions at my news, blogs, presence and emotional reactions. I know many of you worry with me (and Michael) and will be a shoulder to cry on, if we need it.

More importantly, I know, you'll be there to celebrate the good news and milestones. I appreciate it all. I've said it before, I couldn't do this without your support. I'm a very lucky woman.

With love,

Friday, November 13, 2009

The dream, interpreted

I don't know if it's because others saw bad premonitions in my dream from last Friday night or if everyone thought ruminating on it was a bunch of hooey, but I only got one response, via email, providing insight into my noctural vision.

According to her dream book:

Searching for an unknown purpose: Subconscious reminding your conscience you are wasting your time in meaningless activity and/or relationships.

So maybe I'm wasting my time needlessly worrying about the return of the cancer because all will be okay. I like that interpretation. Or that I shouldn't spend my time worrying because it gets me nowhere.

Gun: Represents an injustice to you or someone in your close circle you will have to fight to overcome.

I think I've already been through this. Don't want to go back. Let's consider this closed.

Threatening atmosphere: Strong warning against speculation (or gambling).

So perhaps it's trying to tell me I shouldn't speculate or try to predict the future because it only causes undue worry. I waste time speculating about bad outcomes when the results could actually be good. Or, I shouldn't be planning a trip to Vegas any time soon.

Locker (not in book) so open door: (Especially if it opens to a pleasing vista) Predicts realization of highest hopes. More than one doors means you can soon pick from a number of good activities.

I had lots of lockers from which to choose so maybe I will have lots of opportunities (lots of years) to realize my highest hopes - the biggest one is that the cancer is gone, and gone for good.

The book goes on to say I need to consider a number of factors, including how I was feeling. The fact I felt safe in my cozy locker is a good omen.

It's funny what the mind can churn out and while I don't necessarily believe in dream interpretation, maybe a little bit of it is true (of course, I'm not sure I'd be saying that if it was all bad). But, it was fun to think about for a little while.

If anyone has any other insights to add, please feel free.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Restful, sunny Thursday

I am grateful that I have today to recoup and rest. I can put my feet up, reaquaint myself with my computer, wear comfy clothes and read my book. I need today. It's been an exhilerating yet exhausting week so far.

As you know, I returned to work on Monday. There were a few moments when I experienced flashbacks from before cancer (BC) and felt sad and angry. As my social worker reinforced when we met Tuesday afternoon, I'll have experiences similar to post traumatic stress disorder, with my mind returning to the life-changing, horrifying incident when I was told I have cancer (or some other traumatic experience during my journey).

But I think I'll be able to adjust at work pretty quickly and the flashback will occur only when I experienced a bunch of first - the first time alone in my cube (done), the first time cleaning out my email inbox (done), my first meeting with business partners post cancer (PC), my first design project PC, etc. It'll take some time, and some firsts may be easier than others, but I'll get through them because I have a great support system at work.

It's humbling that work completely exhausted me, but I'll build up my stamina again. It was great to return, to go through the motions of getting ready for work, and to go in and have a sense of professional purpose. Of course, I'm slowly easing back into it.

In some ways, returning to work is like going back to watching your favourite soap opera from which you took a break for a few months. You go back to watching, the characters are mostly the same, the deep underlying storyline is the same and you just have to catch up on the most recent happenings. In a way, that's very comforting.

It's amazing how routines provide structure to our lives and give us a sense of purpose. It's good that I'm adding some non-cancer routines to my life. It's exactly what I need.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I realized yesterday, I must learn how to live with fear, because I'm going to feel fearful for the rest of my life. It's up to me to choose (or try to manage) how much it controls me.

While talking to my social worker yesterday, I admitted that right now I'm fearful almost all the time. My abdomen has been crampy a lot, especially on the left side, and I'm afraid it's a tumour growing and trying to commandeer control of the space. I try to tell myself the scar tissue is probably thicker there because it was the location of the tumours Dr. P cut out of me, but it's difficult.

Now my back is sore and instead of saying, it's because you've gone back to work, worn high heels, walked around and were a bit more active than usual, my mind jumps to bad reasons for the pain - your kidneys are now affected, it's cancer again (why it would affect my back is beyond me since I don't have ascities). I'm sure it's simply because my non-existent stomach muscles got tired and made my back carry most of the heavy lifting of the activity over the past couple of days.

I still get weird pains in my thighs or arms - probably post chemo symptoms - but my mind spins out of control.

I know it's irrational, but it's the truth. I can't control the emotions I experience - and fear is a big one. And I'm sure I'm not alone with this experiencde. Most of the time, I push it down beneath the surface of my consciousness so I can function and enjoy my days. But in reality, it's always there and probably always will be.

I've faced (and am facing) my death because of my disease. I can't put the veil of immortality back over my eyes and my mind. I can only learn to deal with it and not let it control my life.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Recovery and changes

I've turned into a whimp! Three hours of work and I was just whipped yesterday afternoon. Of course, it didn't help that I slept poorly the night before. But still, I used to be able to function normally, even if I didn't sleep well.

So I came home after work and scarfed down some lunch. In the past, I used to be able to go hours without eating. Sure, I was hungry, but it didn't make me feel ill. Now, if I don't eat regularly, my stomach lurches and my head pounds. So, even though I only work for three hours a day this week, I have to bring in snacks. I feel a bit like a little kid who needs her goldfish crackers and sippy cup.

I slept like the dead last night (with the help of my little, white pill) and feel better this morning. I'm heading into work again today so I can have tomorrow off with my honey. He's a government worker and as such, gets Remembrance Day off. Perhaps we'll get some Christmas shopping done. That crazy holiday is creeping up on me like a speeding semi in my rearview mirror as I drive along the 401. Yikes!

My attitude towards Christmas has completely changed this year. I'm simply thankful for the opportunity to get together with those I love to enjoy good food and company. I remember looking at the pictures of last Christmas shortly after I was diagnosed in April, crying as I wondered if that was my last one.

Well, I'm here to celebrate another one and I feel fortunate that my gifts are: the opportunity to experience the joys of Christmas through the eyes of my children, time with my family and the love we share, get togethers with my friends where we laugh, eat and drink, an opportunity to walk in the crisp evening and look at the coloured lights, baking Christmas cookies and pies, working with my sister as we help prepare for the traditional feast at my mom and dad's, etc.

While I know gifts are part of the experience of Christmas (and I do enjoy watching the reaction when I give a perfect gift), I don't care if I get a single present this year. I just want to soak in the experience and atmosphere.

But I know while my perceptions have changed, not all with whom I celebrate have this new attitude. So I still need to do the shopping. I hate crowds and have limited stamina, so taking the opportunity to do some tomorrow sounds like a great plan. (Thanks for the suggestion Colleen.)

It also gives me a few hours alone with Michael. Sounds good to me.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Hi ho

I return to work this morning, albeit only for three hours, three days this week, and I feel a bit like a kid going back to school in the fall. I'm excited about working with my colleagues, doing some constructive work and the normalcy of heading to London Life. I'm also a bit nervous, although I'm not sure why.

I don't know if it was these mixed emotions and the accompanying thoughts swirling around in my head, but I didn't sleep well last night. I was hot (go figure in November) and woke up a lot. Then my head would swim with a myriad of ideas that kept me awake for an hour at a time. I'm sure forgetting to take my Lorazepam (again) contributed to the problem.

So as I go back to putting on my make up this morning, I'll have to pull out the concealer to cover the bags under my eyes. But given that I'm only working three hours, I'll have time to nap this afternoon before the kids come home from school. These rehab consultants are smart people.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go . . .


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Funky dreams

If our dreams define the inner workings of our minds, mine is on some crazy trip. I didn't sleep well Friday night because I thought I'd try to do without my Lorazepam. Apparently that tiny, white pill works wonders to quell the thoughts of my inner mind because I rarely remember my dreams and I tend to sleep quite peacefully through the night.

But I didn't take it and my mind went on overload. I can't remember all the dreams, but the most vivid - because it was right before I woke up at 4:48 a.m. - was about hiding in a locker. I was wandering in a room full of lockers looking for something or someone. I had a partner somewhere in the room too, who was on the same mission as I.

At the beginning of the dream, the room was quite empty, but as time went on, more and more people were walking around. Suddenly someone pulled a gun and I hid in one of the lockers. I remember thinking that I'd be pretty safe there, even if someone started searching, because I could hold the door closed. Then I woke up.

So my dream interpreter friends, what do you think that all means? I'm looking for my health and I have a partner (Michael? my doctor?) who is on the same quest? The people around me (helpful or dangerous? health care professionals? other cancer survivors?) are growing all the time? But all of a sudden there is danger (the gun), so I hide and feel quite secure?

Am I hiding from my feelings, from the reality of danger? Do I feel unrealistically safe in my little cubby-hole of a locker? Or am I really safe, dodging the (cancer) bullet?

I think one of the people in the room was a mother, who was looking for her son. Now what was that all about?

And in an earlier dream, I was returning to my in-laws house (but they had a completely different house and it felt like a different era - like the 1970s) to retrieve an answering machine (perhaps I'm afraid of missing some important news) and a loaf of bread so I could make sandwiches for my kids' lunches (ever the provider mom). I'd forgotten these items because my mother-in-law was on the phone. Hunh.

I don't usually put a lot of stock in dream analysis, but I do think our dreams can take our fears, hopes, thoughts, worries, etc. and manifest them into some strange little movies that play while we're asleep.

I welcome your interpretations.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Redefining healthy

In the last chapter of Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor she says, "Everybody wants the (cancer) journey to be over and to get their lives back." This really hit home for me, especially since my last CT scan indicates I don't have a clear abdomen.

Yes, I agree it would be idyllic to return to a time and place untouched by cancer, and forget the very real reminder that I'm only on this earth for a finite period of time and will one day leave all those I love so much. It would be great to return to when I felt in control of my body and not betrayed by it. And to once again be someone who only saw the doctor for a yearly check up, and didn't worry about things like disability and not qualifying for life insurance.

But there's no way to go back to my old life. My perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and priorities have changed as I travel along on this journey. How insurance companies, doctors and some others view me has also changed - not always for the better.

But I did expect to completely beat the cancer and be in remission (no signs of cancer left in my body). I can't say that because I don't know for sure. Yes, those crazy, grey dots on my CT scan may be scar tissue or just plains cysts, but they could also be signs of cancer.

Carr often gets asked if she's in remission yet, if she's beaten the cancer, and she feels the pressure. "At first that dreaded question took the wind out of my sails . . . as if I were being quizzed on my net worth or, worse, my weight. But on a deeper level, I was just ashamed to admit that I hadn't kicked it yet."

When I read that paragraph, I noddled my head in acknowledgement because that's exactly how I feel - and I am often the one asking the question! Kris has cancer (the big C) and it's chronic (the little C). Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is also often treated like a chronic disease.

Now, I know what you're saying. Wow, has she rolled over and given up? NO! I still pray those little, grey dots are false alarms and that I've kicked ovarian cancer's butt. And I'll continue to fight. But I'm opening myself up to the potential reality that I may have to live with this disease. Not that I want to live with it! But I can't stop living, even if I haven't beaten cancer (or until I do).

Kris says we have to redefine healthy. It doesn't necessarily mean being cancer or disease free because in this day and age, many people have some type of illness or disease. It means living the richest life I can with what I've been given. It means filling my body with good fuel, treating myself with kindness, getting closer to God, appreciating my friends and family, and being the best me I can be.

As Carr says, we'll be healthier, even if we aren't cured.

"Nothing is guaranteed. If I could guarantee that juice and a positive attitude would cure you, I'd be a zillionaire. But I can't. What I can promise is that you will grow and create peace. Quality is far more important than quantity. When I stopped focusing on being cured I started healing and living in a ginormous way."

Constantly worrying about being cured isn't healthy and it isn't living. That's why I've tried to stop thinking about what my innards are doing and focus on what I'm doing to make the most of my life.