Saturday, May 30, 2009

A little worried

I have some pain in my abdomen this morning, and it worries me a little. I'd like to think it's the chemo eating away at the tumor, but it's been two weeks since my treatment so I have my doubts.

I can also see the ascities expanding my stomach again. I hope it doesn't grow to the point where it requires another draining. While that procedure brought relief, it wasn't pleasant to have my belly punctured with a needle.

While my surgery in 2-1/2 weeks will take care of these niggling worries, I still have 2-1/2 weeks to wait - with the potential for them to get worse.

I have a couple of celebrations in the next two weeks - a 25th wedding anniversary party tonight and my cousin's wedding next weekend. I just hope my bald head and rounded belly don't detract from the lucky couples (ha ha!). Like any activity or event we've attended, we'll stay as long as I feel good and don't get too tired.

I hope to take advantage of this time before my surgery to enjoy some activities and perhaps take a small weekend vacation with my family - because it may be our only summer holiday this year. I only hope these pains (and the worry that accompanies them) don't detract from these goals.

I'm trying to stay positive, and most days I am, but when I experience physical symptoms of the cancer itself (not the side effects of the treatment), I get worried. And now, my surgery date can't come fast enough.

Oh, I'll still be living for today, but anxiously anticipating June 17.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Still just Tina

Life's a journey not a destination And I just can't tell just what tomorrow brings. - Amazing

These lines by Aerosmith often run through my head (of course, once they do, I'm singing the whole song, with botched words and hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmms for the ones I don't know). But these two sentences are one of my mantras these days. Not a bad one to have.

I want to share some insights about a thought-provoking article I read yesterday about a woman who was traumatized by breast cancer and the scars left on her body by the treatments. She said cancer ruined her life and her body.

I can't identify with a lot of what the woman said, because I'm a far more positive person, but I can identify with her feelings that cancer changed her life. I wrote about some of the positive changes yesterday.

On the negative side, I commmiserate with her fear. I do believe I'm going to beat this disease and be cancer free at the end of treatments. But I will fear, the rest of my life, its return. In the end, it may be treated like a chronic disease, like diabetes. But who knows what new treatments research will bring as I travel down this road (using the money raised by Team Tina!). I will need to learn to manage that fear so it doesn't debilitate me. Because I need to take advantage of every day, month, year and decade given to me.

Apparently, some women experience a loss at the end of their treatments when they should be happy the cancer is gone. They feel immobilized by the fear it will return. When the constant treatment and follow up is finished, it's a free fall period of waiting and hoping. I don't know how I'll react at this stage, but I can already understand this fear. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I could also identify with this woman's dislike of her body after the surgery - and I haven't even had the surgery yet. She felt disfigured and ruined. The interviewer in the book encouraged her to look at her body and marvel at its healing abilities.

I already have lots of scars on my body and this surgery is going to add one doozey. I'm trying to mentally prepare for the scars and the recovery process. It's hard, but look at the alternative - not having surgery means dying of cancer. Not even an option. So cut away, doctor, because my body will heal.

In one major respect, I'm very different than the woman in the article. She let cancer and what it did to her body identify her very being. I know I am so many more things than just cancer. I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, writer, athlete, skydiver, crazy person, who is also currently fighting cancer.

While the cancer experience is changing me, like any major experience in life, at the core of who I am, I'm still just Tina. I may live, laugh and love a little more intensely, but it's for the same reasons I had before my diagnosis.

With lots of love on this Friday morning,

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Six revelations

My glass is half full today, despite the heavy rain. I'm feeling positive so I thought I'd list six good things to come out of my cancer diagnosis and the lessons I've learned from them:

1. I have strengthened or repaired relationships with others - In some cases, life as it existed put up roadblocks to deeper relationships. But over the last six weeks, I've come to live the philosophy that the past is the past, and we can only move forward as better friends (or relatives). Lesson - Don't let petty disagreements get in the way of better relationships. Identify your friends and work at the relationships. Good friendships take effort.

2. I have more time to think and a new perspective - I contemplate life and death. I've identified what's really important to me. I've begun to let go of those I mistakenly thought were important. I've also had the blinders of immortality ripped from my eyes. Lesson - Life is short, so it's important to do what you love, create time for yourself and treat yourself well.

3. I realize I have great people in my life - I couldn't fight as effectively without all of you. I have many in my life who are generous, thoughtful and kind. I have an amazing husband who loves me just as I am and will be there fighting with me through this entire journey. Lesson - You've surrounded yourself with great people and they want to help, so let them.

4. My kids are amazing - I don't believe in sugar coating messages to my kids. I've told them I have cancer, that it's serious, that I'll get worse before I get better, but that I'm fighting as hard as I possibly can because I don't want to leave them. They seem to understand and are helping a bit more around the house. While they seem to be coping well, I've signed them up for art therapy because they may not be talking to me. Lesson - Kids are resilient and will surprise you in ways you don't expect. But you also need to anticipate they may need supports other than you.

5. I'm less afraid to make choices that are right for me - In the past, I sometimes held my tongue or did things because I thought I might hurt someone's feelings. Now, I realize I have to take care of me and people aren't going to hate me if I say no to a request or express my needs. I'm also less afraid to tell people (okay Michael - sorry honey) about the actions they do that drive me crazy. I'm not unkind or harsh, but I'm expressing my feelings in a more healthy way. Lesson - It's okay to think of myself first to build healthier relationships.

6. One day at a time - In the past, I've tended to look to the future. As a communicator, I constantly watched upcoming dates: the next deadline, the printing date, the end of the project, etc. In my personal life, I planned the next weekend, the next vacation, the future goal. But I can't do a lot of planning right now (except for chemo and surgery dates) and have to take each day as it comes. As a result, I appreciate the blessings each day provides. I look at the colour of the sky. I watch the rain. I marvel at blooming of spring. I enjoy the time and laughter with my family and friends. Lesson - Take advantage of what each new day brings. Each one is precious. Don't live your life waiting for the future.

I'm sure I could go on with positive lessons I've learned, but I'm afraid I'm starting to sound preachy. That's not my intention. I simply want to point out the results of a serious diagnosis aren't all bad.

I'm different. I'll never be the same as I was before cancer. In some respects, that's not necessarily bad.

Your positive friend,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The promise of rain

While bright, sunny days lift my spirits, today's rain isn't tugging on my mood. I feel promise in the rain today. It brings a much needed drink of water to the lawns and flowers, and provides a cleansing wash to the world in general. It's a good, optimistic rain.

Optimistic, that's how I feel today. I've got my mind wrapped around the surgery and am ready to go (of course, I still have three weeks to get nervous). As my mom said last night, if she had cancer, the surgery is the first treatment she'd want. She's right - cut the damn cancer out of me!

Now thankfully, upon diagnosis, my doctor didn't make me sit back and wait for a surgery date weeks in the future. At least, I felt I was doing something with the two rounds of chemo because it is shrinking the offensive cells.

The other positive is I'll be free from the effects of chemotherapy for about six to seven more weeks. Maybe my body will have a chance to recover from the toxicity, and the cumulative effects won't be as severe.

So I'm optimitic today and this optimism is spilling over onto how I view the weather. The rain will end. We're not supposed to get showers on the weekend. So try to enjoy the rain and all the beautiful things it brings, but keep planning for better weather.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A shift in focus - Part 2

I now have a surgery date - June 17.

Yesterday, I lamented a sense of loss now that the ovarian cancer run is over. My blog discussed the need to shift my focus. Obviously, I now have that new focus.

My stomach clenched in worry when I heard the date yesterday morning. I knew surgery was inevitable, but to have a concrete date in the not-so-distant future initially filled me with dread. But as the day wore on and the shock wore off, I could feel myself mentally preparing.

I reminded myself of the benefits of the surgery - the removal of the nasty tumours, and my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes (the culprits in producing the mutant cells). My surgeon will also remove a portion of the omentum (that fatty layer in the abdomen that typically protects organs) - something I feel I have way too much of anyway. I keep dreaming it'll be like a tummy tuck, but I suspect I'll be sorely dissapointed.

The surgery will also allow my oncologist to assess the extent of the cancer, examine the tumours and confirm my staging.

But that's what scares me too. What if he can't remove it all? What if he discovers when he opens me up, the cancer has spread to other organs? What if my tumours aren't the type that respond well to the treatment I'm undergoing? I'm worried my situation will be worse than we originally thought.

Right now, I live in blissful ignorance (that may be an overexaggeration) that the chemotherapy is working for me. Theoretically, it's now shrinking the cancer cells, which will make the surgery easier to tolerate.

I'm also scared because it's going to be invasive surgery. I've been saying, much to the chagrin of others, they're going to gut me like a trout. They'll make a huge t-incision down my abdomen and across my pelvis to open me up and remove the offending organs and disease - and whatever else they find that looks suspect. Then they'll wash the empty cavity and collect the cells to examine in the labs. When they're done, they'll sew me back up.

I'll wake to some pretty incredible pain and a huge scar. Good thing, the hospitals have strong narcotics for the pain. I have a feeling drugs are going to be my new best friend right after the operation.

Apparently, I'll be in the hospital for three to five days. When I go home, I'll have to take it easy and won't be able to lift anything heavier than 10 lbs. or stretch to reach anything. Sounds pretty limiting.

While I'm scared of the surgery and all it entails, I'm really am happy to have a date. The prospect of the operation lurked in the back of my mind since my diagnosis. The surgery removes the cancer (or most of it) and the chemotherapy will clean up what remains. It's moving forward. It's one step closer to recovery.

So I'm gearing up for the next stage of the battle. I will be strong mentally and physically for June 17. This cancer can't beat me.

Your friend,

Monday, May 25, 2009

A shift in focus

I wasn't even going to write today. I felt like I had nothing to say. But once Michael and the kids left this morning and the quiet settled in, I started thinking (I do a lot of that these days without the chaos of normal life filling that gap).

I realized, if I'm to be true to this journey, I have to capture my feelings for today.

I woke up exhausted - physically and emotionally. Yesterday, the Run for Ovarian Cancer was absolutely amazing. I loved seeing everyone and feeling the undeniable support and love. But I also realized how much I miss being at work and interacting its people every day. I miss the random conversations. I miss going to the gym. I miss the sense of purpose from the work.

Thankfully, you, my friends and family are amazing at staying in touch. Not a day goes by that I don't get a phone call, email or text message. If not, this would be a very lonely - and much tougher - journey.

I think I'm also feeling the post-run blues. For the last four weeks, I've logged into the Run for Ovarian Cancer website to track the participants and the fundraising total. I've eagerly anticipated the day when I would be able to see all my supporters and give them a hug. Now that it's done, the anticipation of this fun event is over.

Following the run was a distraction. Concentrating on the race allowed me to push the focus off me, my disease and the next steps. If I really admit it to myself, I'm scared. The invasive surgery is coming up and more chemotherapy. I want to move forward with these actions because they're what will make me better (and I truly believe I will beat this). But they won't be enjoyable activities.

The run also played on my emotions in ways I didn't expect. It was tear-jerking to hear someone say every single person involved in the event stood behind me, as a woman with ovarian cancer. The daughter of Ann Crowley, who started the race, talked to me yesterday and told me to keep fighting. Members of an ovarian cancer support group approached me with information on their meeting times. Organizers wanted to meet me as the person who provided the impetus to Team Tina. Even hearing the researchers talk about all they do to work with patients and find ways to detect, treat and beat this disease touched me.

As a result, I feel like an emotional basket case today.

And to top it off, I've got a cold.

This morning, I read (for the third or fourth time) a book with questions and answers about ovarian cancer. It helps me mentally deal with what I'm going through and prepare for the next steps.

So, the plan for today is to rest and rejeuvenate physically and mentally so I can refocus on this disease and prepare for the fight to come.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Proud and tired

What a great day! Team Tina did an awesome job at the Run for Ovarian Cancer. We were a sea of yellow shirts among the many runners, volunteers and supporters - and we were a loud and rambunctious group.

We were the top fundraisers. Yippee! And that's before the additional $6,000 London Life will kick in. Apparently someone from the Grand Bend Crew (which came in second in fundraising) said they'd beat us next year. That sounds like a challenge to me . . . one we can't pass up.

The sun shone just as the runners and walkers started their treks - a positive sign.

I think I managed to hug all the members of Team Tina (probably several times and to the annoyance of some) and thank each one personally. It was so much fun!

I'm happily exhausted now. But it was worth it.

While I only walked this year, it's my goal to run the 5 k in 2010. I hope many members of this year's team will join me next year to run, walk and fundraise, so we can continue to the battle the silent stalker, ovarian cancer.

Who is proud to be the Tina and Team Tina.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Signs of aging

Advertisements proclaim revolutionary anti-aging serums, scientifically advanced wrinkle creams and hair colour with rich emollients to cover the grey. I, like most others (more specifically women), am drawn to the promises of a younger visage and silky, grey-free hair.

My cancer diagnosis shifted my perspective.

I used to look in the mirror and lament about the laugh lines forming between my nose and mouth. "Why on earth do I have all these horizontal lines running across my forehead?" I'd wonder. "Surely, I don't furrow my brow that much."

Every five or six weeks, I'd religiously cover the grey sprouting on my scalp - grey that's been making an appearance since I was 18 years old. I'm no longer exactly sure of my natural colour.

I admit, over the past couple of years, I've even pulled my skin up around my temples to test how much younger I would look with a face lift (not that I'd seriously consider the surgery, but to see the ravages of time and gravity).

The skin at my neck is a little less taut and my hands reveal my age. And why on earth do women start sprouting hairs in weird spots (the chin) when they hit a certain age?

But over the past six weeks, when faced with the prospect of not growing older, I've learned to better accept the signs of aging.

The groves around my mouth mean I've had plenty to talk and laugh about with friends, the furrows in my brow are signs of thought and intelligence (for surely if I were concentrating that hard, I'd have to be smart), and the wrinkles gracing my eyes are witness to the thousands of days of sunshine I've been able to enjoy.

The signs of aging are simply testaments to the experiences of living.

While I may more readily accept these changes to my body, it doesn't mean I'll give up on slowing their progress. I am human after all and want to look good. I will continue to use moisturizers and sunscreens, which just make good sense anyway, pluck the stupid hairs on my chin and eventually I'll probably go back to colouring my hair. (Although when it first returns, I'll have to leave it au natural, which will probably be more grey than brown. Oh well.)

I want to grow old - and as a result, look old.

So when you look in the mirror today, don't look for wrinkles, look for signs that you've been living your life. And make sure every day counts.


Friday, May 22, 2009


Team Tina has, count 'em, 69 participants. Woo hoo!

As of 8:30 this morning, the fundraising online stood at $5,495. (Okay, technically $5,494.95 because of a funny competition between my mom and dad). That doesn't include the money collected via pledge sheets or submitted directly. It also doesn't include the $6,000 matching London Life will provide. What an amazing company. What an absolutely exceptional group of supportive and caring people!

I know I've said this before, but I'm completely overwhelmed by the support. I scan the names of participants and contributors with awe and whisper to myself, "they're doing this because of me." I watch the fundraising go up every day, knowing my friends and family are pestering their family and friends, raising money for research because of a disease I had the misfortune to get.

I hear stories, like Brooke Doyle, who travelled from class to class at her high school with a yellow bucket with my name on it and told my story to raise $150 in an hour! I may have met Brooke once or twice, but she doesn't really know me. Amazing!

I'm can't wait to see everyone at the run Sunday as I proud wear my Team Tina t-shirt. We'll be a sea of yellow marching to defeat ovarian cancer. Yee haw!

Warning - I'll probably cry (bald and crying, won't that be a pretty picture?). I hope to be able to hug and talk to every single person who participates. I have to confess, I'm a bit afraid I'll be overwhelmed and won't acknowledge everyone (I know, I worry about the silliest things sometimes). But I want to thank each of you in person and hope I have the opportunity to do so.

The weather is going to cooperate and it's going to be a great day!

My friends, Rachna and Alfredo, who live in Portland plan to walk 5 km on Sunday in support of Team Tina. I've been told by others who can't participate in the run, they'll be there in thought and spirit. Good karma all around.

As Sunday approaches, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who is participating in the Run for Ovarian Cancer and those who've made a donation. You do make a difference to those fighting this disease - probably even to me directly.

With lots of love and gratitude,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bon appetit

I've always strugged with my weight. I joke that I can pack on the pounds by simply looking at something decadent. I need to work out fastidiously and watch every morsel I put in my mouth to lose weight. Even when I do succeed and sport a trimmer figure, I still have the dreaded Thomas belly.

So, I partially blame this curse on lazy genes, but I also have to take responsibility and confess that I love food. Warm, crusty bread with sweet melted butter, fresh apple crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a thick and juicy steak barbequed and served with sauteed mushrooms, crispy salads with a melangerie of veggies and, of course, the item that should have its own food group - chocolate, in its many iterations.

Much to my husband's delight, I love to cook and I love to eat.

So you can appreciate how annoyed I am with the side effect of chemotherapy that changes my sense of taste. Most food tastes muted and not quite right. Items I usually enjoy hold no appeal. Even my water, which I tote everywhere, doesn't taste good.

Sometimes those undergoing treatment, experience a metallic taste in their mouths and need to change the foods they enjoy and even the cutlery they use (to plastic instead of metal). I've had a slight metallic taste but it hasn't been too bad, yet.

Over the past few days, I've been eating and drinking to keep up my strength and ensure my body keeps working properly. But sadly, I've been getting little enjoyment from it. This is one hell of a way to go on a diet.

Thankfully, I think I'm turning the corner today. I enjoyed a cup of coffee this morning, and my English muffin with raspberry jam tasted pretty good. Hopefully this round of treatment will mimic the last and my major side effects, including the off taste, will dissipate by the weekend.

Personally, I think it's a nasty, little inside joke. The one time I've been encouraged to eat what I want and indulge in what appeals to me, nothing does. Go figure.

I hope you enjoy a really tasty treat today. When you do, think of me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More years to come

Fourteen years ago, today was full of promise for the future, a celebration of love and one of the happiest days of my life. It's the day I married Michael.

Marriage doesn't come with a list of the trials and tribulations a couple will face during their life together. If it did, many would run screaming from the alter. Yet, I know if Michael and I received a copy of the list, telling us about this obstacle in our future, we'd have clasped our hands together and taken the plunge anyway.

While we never could have predicted the fight we face today, like so many things in our marriage, we're doing it together. He's by my side, every aching step of the way - and for that I'm grateful.

In many ways, it feels as though Michael and I have been together forever. We know each other so well and compliment each other's strengths. We have two beautiful children, enjoy many of the same activities and genuinely enjoy each other's company.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, it's not long enough. I want to grow old with my soulmate. I want to revel in the accomplishments we've achieved individually and together, and I want to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

He's one of the reasons I fight.

While this won't be one of our best anniversaries, because I still don't feel well, it'll be special because we ARE celebrating this anniversary - with the promise of more years to come.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sitting sipping tea

You know it's not one of my best days when my beverage of choice is tea instead of my perfectly connocted cup of java. Yet, it's a ginger and green tea day because I'm hoping its antioxidants and stomach-quelling properties will work on my toxin-filled body.

I'm right into the nasty side effects of round two of chemo. I seem to be able to handle the first day or two with the minor nausea (for which I have lots of drugs) and tiredness, but when the aching starts deep in the marrow of my bones in my legs and ribs, my spirits nosedive. The pain saps all my strength and I sit like a useless lump.

Part of my problem is that I feel guilty about it. There are so many things I could be doing around my house or with my kids. Yesterday, I sat outside in the shade (no beautiful sun for my skin) and watched Michael wash and wax the motorcycle . . . and felt like I should be helping.

I wanted to go for a walk but didn't think I could find the energy to put one foot in front of the other. I was bored mentally, but physically couldn't do more than sit and stare at a beautiful day.Yet I didn't even enjoy it because of my state of mind. How pathetic.

I was grumpy to my family. I didn't want to talk on the phone. I stayed away from the computer for the most part. I simply closed in on myself. Perhaps not the smartest move for my emotional well being, but I couldn't help myself.

Yesterday depressed me. I am not used to being this inactive. I like to feel productive. I woke up grumpy again today and was afraid the trend would continue.

But, my wise sister reminded me this morning that it's my job to get better and the chemo is going to take its toll on my body. I have to be able to accept (as much as I can) these days when the chemicals are killing off the cells - because feeling bad is how I know they are working. And I have to try to let go of the guilt of trying to accomplish something, because this job is bigger than any I've ever tackled before.

So I'm trying. Just talking to her this morning lifted my spirits. Perhaps I can shake the blue mental funk so I can handle the physical symptoms a little better today - and be a better wife and mom this evening.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Phenomenal friends

It takes a special kind of person to sport the bald look in support of a friend with cancer. I'm lucky enough to have three such amazing people in my life. As you know, Michael gained hair freedom on Wednesday.

Well, last night, Diane and Pete joined us at our abode for some dinner and fortifying beers (mine was ginger ale, to keep my tummy settled) before the big event. Pete, sat in the sacrificial chair first and Diane had fun, creating tuffs, leaving sideburns, making a reverse mohawk, etc. before the shaving cream and razor hit his head.

Prior to last night, Diane was growing her hair and sported a long bob. She could finally braid and style her hair in fun and different ways. I reminded her (and Pete) yet again they didn't have to go bald - that I was okay with it. Without hesitation, they both reaffirmed this gesture of support.

They call us Bratschers their clan. Definition: a family one chooses, not the one into which one is born. How awesome is that!

I think Pete had even more fun when he got the clippers into Diane's hair. He created unique designs, including a T in support of Tina, a cross, a pathway with thin strips and long sections, and maintained a small braid at the front. At one point, she looked like Golum from Lord of the Rings and called me "my precious." Too funny. Finally, she told Pete to finish the job.

We had a ball last night, with lots of laughs. And I have to say, they look good bald. In fact, we all look good bald - as you can tell from the photo I've posted. This is our surprised look - the way everyone will look when they see us walking down the beach in Port Franks. Ha!

This hair-sacrificing gesture of support really touches my heart. Diane and Pete are amazing friends and I love them to the ends of the earth for joining my small, but mighty bald crew.

Enjoy this Sunday with the sunshine on your face, or for a few special few, on your proud bald head.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday morning random thoughts

Happy long weekend everyone. My blog today is going to be an update and some random thoughts from over the past week.

Most importantly, I was able to get my second round of chemo yesterday. Yeah! My blood counts were excellent and I sailed through the long transfusion period with my sister at my side. One new and strange side effect, that I probably didn't notice last time, my eyes blurred during the Benadryl drip. It made reading my Chatelaine magazine difficult because the words jumped all over the page. Interesting.

I feel pretty good this morning. I'm religiously taking my anti-nauseau meds and knock on wood, they're working so far. Some slight chest pressure/heart burn started about 10 minutes ago. I can deal with that.

Another side effect, which I also experienced last time too, is the early morning waking (some would even call 3 a.m. the middle of the night). I suspect it's from the steroids the nurses give me to prevent an allergic reaction.

I got many compliments from the cancer clinic staff on my t-shirt from Margie with the slogan "I'm kickin' ovarian cancer's butt." That's how I felt yesterday too. I was bouncy and optimistic. I think some of the staff and other patients may have found that strange. Angie and I snacked on the smorgasboard of munchies she brought, my spirits were up and I received the medicine I needed to fight.

Oh, much to our suprise, I learned from my oncologist yesterday that I may have another round of chemotherapy before my surgery because his secretary still has to book it (why that hasn't already been started is beyond me). I was dissapointed by the news.

So I may have my next chemo on June 5, with surgery in early to mid July. Or I may have the operation in mid June, as originally planned. As scared as I am of the invasive surgery, at least it will allow the doctors to cut out the offending tumours (I envision Arnold Swartzeneggar saying that word - TOO muur) and remove the main organs that are the sources of the disease. But at least the chemo is working on shrinking the offending interlopers.

On a funny note, as I was losing my hair this week and my palms were completely covered in lost strands, I kept singing in my head "clap for the wolfman." Strange how the mind works during semi-tragic events.

Yet as anxious and scared as I was about the hair loss, it really is no big deal. I really don't care. I'm willing to show people, and I mostly put on head scarves and hats so as not to startle others. Go figure. Besides, I have my bald husband by my side and so we're just a couple of coneheads together. There will be four of us by the end of the day (ha!).

Kudos to Jodi for providing a post chemo meal for my family last night. What a huge relief. I came home to a crock pot of yummy smelling food - and I was even well enough to eat a bit. Thank you!

Friends, and all the big and small things they do to help, are a blessing. I don't know what I would do without you. I know I've requested this before, but it never hurts to be reminded to think of something in your life that is a blessing (even if it's the experience of a long weekend).

Until next time,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Second round chemo

As good as I've felt over the past week, I'm glad today is here. I want to receive my second round of chemotherapy. I want to fight again. Over the past week, my body needed to recover and reproduce blood cells to make me strong for today.

It may be psychological, but I feel like the cancer cells felt a reprieve too and started gleefully plotting to take over my body again. I've felt twinges in my abdomen over the past two days where I feel the tumors are located. Is my mind playing tricks on me now that I've seen the lab reports stating the size and potential location of their growth? Am I afraid to feel good because that's how I felt when I didn't even know I had the silent stalker?

So bring on the chemo, with its nausea, leg pains, tiredness, and the multitude of semi-debilitating symptoms. It's better than believing I'm not getting better. That's my only goal right now.

On that note, I'm going to wear a special t-shirt I received from my cousin, Margie, to my appointments. It states, "I'm kickin' ovarian cancer's butt." She said it reminded her of feisty little me and told me to fight, fight, fight. Yes, ma'am.

In closing, I'd like to wish my dad a happy 70th birthday. He's an awesome man who plans to swim a mile today in celebration. Dad, I love you and I wish I could be there and swim it with you, but I've got this important appointment I'd better keep. Happy birthday, dad.

Keep me in your thoughts today. I feel you all pulling for me and it makes a difference.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Foreign tongue

The experience was similar to visiting a new country where you know some of the language. Enough to get by, order from the menu, ask where the bathroom is located, but not enough to understand the crux of an entire conversation.

That's how I feel about my experience with the geneticist yesterday. He's a brilliant man, but he's a researcher who is excited about his area of expertise and shares this extensive knowledge in great detail. I think he expected we'd understand it all. Angie, with her medical background, gleaned more from the conversation than mom or I, who at times sat glassy eyed with blank looks on our faces.

I understood DNA, RNA and mututions in one of the strands, etc. I got the general gist and it helped when he drew pictures. But I don't even remember all of the terminology.

I did walk out of there with the understanding that if I have the BRCA1 gene (which is highly likely given that it's in my family and I have ovarian cancer at age 42), it seems to respond well to platin type of chemotherapy, which I'm receiving. Yeah!

But, if I have the gene, my mom definitely has it (and will need to make some medical decisions to protect herself) and my sister has a 50/50 chance of inheriting it - my fingers are still crossed she doesn't. I'm willing to take the hit (since I don't have a choice in the matter now).

The statistics are sobering for those who do have the BCRA1 gene. The chances of developing breast cancer is something like 60 to 90 per cent. But it drops to half if a woman has a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (fancy term for the removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries). So on top of my cancer treatment, I will now be referred to a breast cancer specialist to discuss my options.

The doctor asked if I wanted to wait until after my cancer treatment to talk to the breast cancer physicians. No! Let's deal with everything now to make me as healthy as possible.

I came home last night to a bald husband. He looks good bald but, damn him, he had a five o'clock shadow by the time he went to bed. He exclaimed his velcro head got caught on the towel after his shower this morning. I'm shiny bald and he sported regrowth hours after the shave. He says he's going to maintain his baldness, but that seems like an awful lot of work just to support me. But I appreciate the sentiment.

Diane and Pete are visiting on Saturday for the big shave off in support of my alopecia (hair loss). I'll be sure to post a picture of the four of us sporting our bald heads soon. (Of course, Michael may need to do a reshave on Saturday so he doesn't look out of place.)

I'm praying today that my white and red blood cells, and my platlets have recovered enough for chemo tomorrow. Despite the yucky side effects, I really want to kill more cancer cells. So bring it on!

Your fighting friend,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Very cool

I find being bald surprisingly freeing. The first night, I experienced shock whenever I saw myself in the mirror. My first thought after the shave off was conehead. (Remember them on SNL - and yes, I'm dating myself again.)

But the shock is gone. I seem to have no problem saying to people, "do you want to see it?" Colleen Maass and Melissa Dodge both visited yesterday (much to my delight) and I unhesitantly whipped off the pink bandana. They both complimented me on the nice shape of my head - lucky me - and said bald suited me. Huh.

I don't feel compelled to cover up all the time, and wander around the house, cook, watch TV, etc. sans head cover. I'm happy I feel so comfortable with it. I know others may be uncomfortable but as Jodi's dad used to say "they can look elsewhere."

Today, I go to the geneticist with my mom and sister today to get tested for the BRCA1 gene. This gene, which can cause breast and ovarian cancer, runs in my family. I'm pretty sure I have it given the circumstances. But if I have it, unfortunately so does my mom. She can do something to prevent cancer from catching up to her. And I pray it skipped my sister entirely.

Of course, once we learn who carries the gene, we'll undergo counselling to learn the options and understand the implications. When I have confirmation that I have it, I'll need to figure out when Noah and Tara should be tested. It doesn't necessarily pass to the next generation and my fingers are crossed they don't have it. But we have to make sure so appropriate precautions can be taken. One step at a time.

In closing, I've posted a picture of me bald so you can all get over the initial shock and experience a chuckle on this sunny Wednesday morning.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cue ball

I'm now as bald as a cue ball. Think Andre Agassi, Britney Spears and Sinead O'Connor (for those of you old enough to remember her). I'm THAT bald.

It feels very strange. At first my scalp felt tingly when I touched it. I think it's because that skin hasn't been exposed since around my first birthday. After 41 years of being protected by hair, my scalp is a little sensitive.

But I have to admit, bald is far better than maintaing the thin hair with which I was left (yes, I could do a comb over). I took a shower yesterday afternoon to dislodge more, to no avail. After I towel dried what remained of my hair, I stood in front of the bathroom window. With the light streaming in behind me, Michael said I looked like a baby oranguntan. Not a look I want to maintain. The comment horrified me.

Margaret and Michael say I have a beautiful scalp with no unusual bumps and ridges. They assured me I look great. But last night, every time I looked in the mirror, it screamed BALD at me. I'm getting used to it this morning and a little bit of self tanner will help my white pate blend in with the skin on my face.

I can't believe how cold my head gets - and I haven't even gone outside yet. When I reach inside the fridge to retrieve an item, I'm startled at its cold air hitting my head. Sitting here writing, I can feel a breeze. It's ridiculous.

Okay, I know you men who have receeding/thinning hairlines are saying "welcome to the club," but I went from all there to bald in less than 12 hours. No gradual adjustment period for me. And I'm a woman. People WILL stare.

Michael's shave off is Wednesday afternoon because Margaret didn't have time yesterday. He currently has longish, very thick hair. He's in for an adjustment. Then he'll know what I'm talking 'bout.

I'm going to save a fortune on shampoo and conditioner. And I still have my eyebrows and eyelashes. Yes, the glass is half full this morning.

So as you run your fingers through your hair, think of me and chuckle.

Your bald friend,

Monday, May 11, 2009


Yup, the day I was dreading arrived. My hair starting coming out in clumps in my hands in the shower this morning. I knew it was coming. Every day for the past week, I've tugged on my locks to see if the strands were loose. Yesterday, when I performed the procedure, six to 10 hairs came out without resistance. It freaked Michael out a bit and he told me to stop.

Despite knowing alopecia (fancy word for hair loss) is a guaranteed side effect of the Carboplatin chemo drug, it's still pretty darn tramatic when it actually happens. Some small part of me is relieved it's arrived (yet not over as I'll explain later.)

But as I stood in the shower for 45 minutes, I experienced horror as I placed big clumps of hair in a Shoppers' Drug Mart bag, extreme sadness that I have to go through this and frustration because I couldn't get it all to come out. At the beginning, I was gentle, rubbing my hands gently through my hair. After about half an hour, I was angry and began roughly pulling it out in clumps.

But it wouldn't all come out. I gave up trying when the water ran cold. I towelled off and ran past the mirror without looking at my reflection. I didn't want to know how horrendous I looked.

I called my sister-in-law, Margaret, begging for a head shave ASAP. She encouraged me to go look in the mirror while on the phone with her. I was horrified. I look like Brad Pitt in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I have this big bald spot right in the front of my head. I could still have bangs (wouldn't that be an attractive look?) and it looks as though I have a really short haircut everywhere else.

I think I'll make another attempt later when the hot water replenishes and my scalp recovers - it's a bit red right now. What doesn't go this during this afternoon's shower will be subject to Margaret's ministrations around 4 p.m. today.

So here I sit, with a baseball cap on. If I went out, no one could tell I'm going bald (I have enough hair sticking out). I have the hebie jeebies because I have hair everywhere; like after a hair cut when the little bits are hanging around inside your clothes and scalp. And my poor bathtub needs a good rinsing down.

I think it'll be better when I'm bald. But who knows exactly how I'll feel. With my hair loss, there's no denying I'm undergoing treatment for cancer because no other treatment plan produces this side effect. It's a reality check.

And as open as I am about my diagnosis and treatment via my blog, complete strangers will know I have cancer when I go out in public. Unless I wear a wig, which isn't in my current plans, it'll be public knowledge. I've been warned some people will stare. Others will exude sympathy.

I'm a little nervous about leaving my house now, but I can't be a shut in. I know you will all be sympathetic, but I feel anxious about seeing friends too. I expect some of my friends will share a laugh with me at my bald pate (when I'm ready to laugh).

I'm sure I'll adapt - I have to get used to it. I have a life to live.

Your hair-challenged friend,

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Super Sniffer

I am now a superhero - Super Sniffer. Chemotherapy can intensify one's sense of smell. Since I was a pretty good smeller (is that a word?) to begin with, I am now Super Sniffer.

My powers were especially strong in the first few days after treatment. When Michael and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood, I knew what everyone was barbequeing for dinner - pork chops sizzled at one house, potatoes were grilling at another, while hot dogs graced the grill of another.

The flowers decorating my living room smelled beautiful. The gas of one member of my family was especially malodourous. The wet dog scent particularly annoyed me.

Even today, more than two weeks after treatment, my nose sniffed out the wet straw when we passed a farm and the roads after the rain smelled like dust and dirt.

As Super Sniffer, I have one request to those who visit me. Please omit the cologne or perfume. While it may smell great to me normally, it may offend my sensitive nose now.

So Super Sniffer signs off on this cloudy Saturday and wishes everyone only good smells. (Don't all the really important superheroes sign off at the end of their shows?) ;)


Friday, May 8, 2009

Strange things

I've got that tune from the movie Toy Story running through my head this morning. The lyrics croon, "strange things are happening to me." Yup, that's how I feel. No, my hair is still firmly affixed to my head, much to my delight.

It's the other little side effects of chemotherapy making me chuckle. Not because they're particularly funny, but because the combination of all these little side effects, add up to one big annoyance. Of course, nothing's easy and maybe laughing is my way of dealing with them.

Earlier this week, I broke out in a rash of small, red, very itchy bumps on my hands, arms, legs and belly. I thought it was a delayed reaction to the chemotherapy, but my home care nurse (Roman) told me my body/skin will change and I may suddenly develop a reaction to products or environmental allergens. Great!

So I ditched my beloved deodorant Irish Spring, which I suspected as the cuprit, and tried cucumber and aloe Dove. Two days later, my rash is gone.

My body is also drying out. My skin craves lotion, my eyes get sticky, the inside of my nose feels dry and lip balm is my new best friend. Since I've always consumed a lot of water, I suspect this continued habit prevents my mouth from drying out.

I'm also getting these weird red dots on my skin. There's only two (that I know of) right now, but more may suddenly appear after my next treatment. I'm only hoping that we won't have enough to play connect the dots as the weeks go on.

To top it off, chemo also cause pimples. So I'm essentially a middle-aged woman with dry skin, red dots and pimples. Throw in the round belly from the ascities and the impending baldness and I'll be a sight. Sigh.

But again, I have to laugh and find the humour in this situation. You can laugh with me. It is quite ridiculous.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Prepare for the worst

When my doctor told me to prepare for the worst and then live each day, I felt angry. It felt like she was declaring my diagnosis a definitive death sentence; like she wasn't even giving me a chance.

But last night Michael and I went to get wills drawn up. Yes, I know, we should have done that 11 years ago when Noah was born. We've been chastised. We know better. Still, we hadn't done it. But now that the process is underway, I feel slightly liberated.

I did all the research into our life insurance, pension plans and investments to gather the information for the lawyer. It's now all in one place. It's a process I knew should be done, but never had. The cancer diagnosis was the impetus. Yet, it shouldn't take a serious illness to prompt action.

Tragically, people die in accidents every day. We wouldn't have been prepared if that happened to Michael or me.

So while I know it's a lot of work, I encourage everyone to have a will, power of attorney, living will and a file folder containing all the necessary documents. I'm still working on my file folder. For some reason, I can't find my marriage licence. Sheesh. Almost fourteen years later, I'm missing a critical document. So much for my haphazard filing system.

I'm not sure I'm quite prepared for the worst mentally. Of course, I've thought about it. But I don't think one can really prepare until the doctor says there's no hope. Besides, it doesn't fit with my belief that I'm going to beat this blasted cancer.

On a health note, my ascities (fluid in my belly) is coming back. I'm not happy being all round like Santa, because it makes me anything but jolly. I know the chemo helped bring it down last time so I'm hoping I can wait until next Friday's treatment so I don't have to go through the painful puncturing process of being drained.

Yet, I have a slight cold. Now I need prayers my white blood cell levels will get high enough by next Friday so they don't have to postpone treatment. I'd be devastated.

I think I'm trying to do too much on the days I feel great. I felt so good yesterday, it felt as though I were playing hooky from work (sorry Colleen and Rachael). But I'm more tired today. I guess I just have to listen to my body and get used to the roller coaster of side effects this illness brings.

Oh, and I wanted to mention to those who visit - you don't have to bring anything with you when you come. I'd love to see just you.

Finally, go Team Tina! We now have at least 50 registered participants raising money for ovarian cancer research. I appreciate the efforts of all the runners and am thankful for every dollar donated to this researcher, who may find ways to directly improve my life.

I hope you enjoy this beautiful day before the rain comes.

Love, Tina

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Scary hairy truth

My brain is playing tricks on me. I wash my hair every morning and think "yeah, it's getting a little thinner." I was accepting that quite gracefully, I must say. But when I announced my receeding hairline during lunch on Monday with Angie and my friend, Jacqueline, they both sadly shook their heads at me. Apparently, my hair won't fall out gradually, with my adjusting every step of the way.

"You'll find it all over your pillow one morning," they said, gleefully cackling at my fate. Okay so they were compassionately smiling, but it felt like evil laughter because I was horrified. Sure, I expected to find chunks on my pillow and even pull out sections in the shower, but all at once? Ack!

With my luck, I'm betting little sections of hair will remain, so I'll look like I got scalped by a half-blind hair stylist. When that happens, I'm calling my sister-in-law, Margaret to visit with her razer pronto! Then hats and beautiful scarves will be my friends (even though I don't know how to tie them properly yet).

But currently, I still have my hair. I'm starting to really like it short. Too bad it's going to fall out any day now.

My blog is a little late today because I went to talk to my son's class about cancer. Noah's classmates seemed to know he had this secret and discussed it behind his back. So I alleviated the problems this caused by sharing my cancer diagnosis. I explained the treatment and the side effects. I'm at the school regularly and these kids will see me when I'm bald. I cautioned that Noah will experience feel a range of emotions - angry, scared, sad, etc. - and they may notice it. I touted the benefits of my great support group and asked them to be understanding and supportive for him. Noah was very keen to have me come in and talk to his class, so I hope it helped.

While I struggle to figure out how this cancer affects me, I also have to figure out how it affects my children. Right now they seem really resilient and understanding, but I am continually providing bits of information and giving them opportunities to ask questions. At dinner last night, we talked about when I'll be bald. Both Noah and Tara said, "No offence mom, but you're going to look funny."

As long as we can continue to find things to laugh about, we'll be okay. Laughter can make the serious stuff easier.

It's good advice. So take the time to find something to laugh about today (besides the visions of my bald head).


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Statistics suck

I know my title is going to freak out some of the math folks. As a communicator, numbers aren't my strong suit. Don't get me wrong, I can do basic math, budgeting and simple statistical stuff. I'm also still capable of helping Noah with his grade six homework (even though we've moved into ratios and fractions). But there's a reason I went to journalism school.

My dislike of numbers intensified this week when I read the survivor statistics on the Run for Ovarian Cancer website. Quite honestly, I've avoided researching this data because I didn't want to know. But since Team Tina is participating in the run, I read the spiel with all the reasons to run or donate. There is was in black and white - 60 per cent of those with ovarian cancer die from the disease. Arrrrggghhhhh!

Now that little number is stuck in my brain, ready to rear its ugly head whenever my defences are down.

But as a wise person (okay, Angie) said to me yesterday when I expressed my fears, I AM NOT a statistic. I'm younger, stronger, healthier than many who begin this fight. Many women are much older, so they don't even tolerate the surgery and chemotherapy treatments well.

I know my strength and age don't guarantee me recovery or a prevent a reoccurence, but they're factors in my favour. I need to cling to those because I have to be strong and believe I will beat this. Maybe I will die from the disease, but let's say in about 30 years or so.

I did have a good cry last night because this is completely unfair. This isn't the way my life is supposed to be. I'm supposed to grow old with Michael (my soulmate), travel and, enjoy my children and eventually grandchildren without the looming presence of cancer.

After we wiped our tears, I once again repeated my mantra - one day at a time.

So today's a new day and I have to say whoo hoo to Team Tina. It's already surpassed recruitment goals and captured second place for funds raised among all teams participating in The Run for Ovarian Cancer. Way to go!

That alone gives me a reason to smile today. Thank you.


Monday, May 4, 2009


Being diagnosed with a deadly disease has made me realize how lucky I am because it puts so many things into perspective.

First, I feel good today. On Saturday morning, during the first few moments of wakefulness, I realized I didn't feel any pain for the first time in weeks. The achy bones, nauseous stomach and extreme tiredness seem to have taken a hiatus - at least until my next chemo treatment on May 15. It's a welcome reprieve, even if it is only short lived. If I can have these types of days to break up the side effects of the treatment, I'll be able be able to face the chemo with more determination.

Second, the weekend was absolutely beautiful. I was able to visit good friends, enjoy food (something I haven't been able to do properly for at least a month), go for a walk in the forest, have some laughs and enjoy good conversation. It was exactly what I needed.

I'm overwhelmingly thankful for the plethora of gifts with which I've been showered recently. Michael and I can't begin to thank everyone enough for their generosity. So many of them will help ease some of our everyday burdens as I focus on fighting.

I also love the phone calls, emails and visits - many from people who just want to touch base and find out how I'm doing. It's nice to know so many people care. I'm not fighting this alone. I have a whole "village" behind me.

Which brings me to Team Tina. On Friday, I learned my friends at London Life created a team in my name for the Run for Ovarian Cancer on May 24. I can't even put into words how amazed I am that people are running and raising/donating money in my name to fight this horrible disease. There are so many people on my team - some of them don't even run! One woman's daughter is fundraising - and she doesn't even know me. It's astounding!

I cried.

Michael promptly signed up and will start training with Ginger. I'll be there in all my bald glory, proudly wearing the t-shirt designed for Team Tina. I'll try to walk the 5k (or at least the 1k) and enthusiastically cheer my team on.

The Run for Ovarian Cancer raises money for a research position at London Health Sciences Centre. The researcher works directly with ovarian cancer patients and oncology doctors, as well as spends time in the lab; making this the first local project fully dedicated to ovarian cancer. This is also one of the first positions of its kind, an innovative type of research position bridging the gap between pure research in the lab and the bedside of the actual sufferers of the disease.

I know some of you are going to ask how to join Team Tina (to sport the fancy t-shirt). You need to let me know by Wednesday, May 6 if you want to participate and I'll let the organizer know. You also need to register on the site.

Go to the running shoe on the right side and click on the link. If you go to the team names on the right side (click on more), you'll find Team Tina. If you need help, feel free to contact me.

If you're not a runner, but still want to help, sponsor one of the runners. Every dollar counts.

So I'm going to continue being thankful by going out to lunch with my sister, Angie and my friend, Jacqueline. It's a beautiful day and we should all take advantage of it.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Crazy cautious

I've never been one to worry too much about the typical germs in society. I believe exposure to organisms and bacteria (within reason) only builds our immune systems. Don't get me wrong, I regularly washed my hands, sometimes used hand sanitizer and was extra cautious when I had a cold so as not to infect my friends and family. Overall my immune system was strong.

With chemotherapy killing my white (and red) blood cells, I've turned into this crazy cautious person. Hand sanitizer is all over my home and in my purse. I cringe away from sneezes. I nag my kids into using Kleenex and then diligently washing their hands. I've turned into the germ police.

I now view my kids' school as a germ-infested hot spot and the grocery stores a danger zone. It's ridiculous.

Even my beloved lime that I put in my Diet Coke and soda water is suspect. When I'm home, I wash it thoroughly with soapy water before slicing its juicy goodness. But in a restaurant, it's a quick squeeze and then the spent rind sits discarded on the table. "You never know who touched that or where it's been," my sister told me. That's never crossed my mind all those years I've quaffed my lemony ice water or lime-infused drinks.

And most people needn't worry.

The advent of the swine flu brings another source of worry. It's fairly benign to those with normal immune systems, but mine isn't. I just dread the day it's discovered in the London area and I pray the germ dies out quickly.

I don't want to be afraid to leave my house. That would be terrible for my emotional well-being during my fight. While it's okay to be extra cautious, it's not a role I enjoy.

So I'm planning to get out this weekend and visit good friends (Diane and Pete) in Port Franks. "Come to the spa," they say. I'll be able to sit on their porch (weather permitting) and get some much needed laughter. Yes, I'll be extra careful, and I don't doubt they'll watch over me to make sure I rest when needed.

It's one week after my first chemo treatment and I woke up feeling better than I have all week. I hope it lasts.

Try to learn something new today, laugh with a friend or colleague and tells someone you love them. There's no better time than today.

Happy Friday,