Friday, July 31, 2009

Memory lane

Sleep was elusive again last night. I was very tired, but my mind wouldn't shut down to allow me to get some much-needed rest. Instead it presented a slide show of early memories. My very first memory: Christmas when I was about three years old, a puppy (named Peanuts?) and a golden-coloured rocking chair.

Click to the next slide. My first memory of my sister: Her and I sitting at the kitchen sink at our neighbours on Brander Avenue, excitedly creating tie-dyed undershirts. Mine was purple, hers green.

We moved from that house when I was five years old, but I remembered its entire layout, the pink, plastic swing secured with yellow string to the tree in the backyard, the giant sunflowers crowding the garden behind the garage and playing contentedly with a kitchen set in the hallway outside my bedroom upstairs.

Click. Camping at Cyprus Lake with family friends, swimming in the clear lake and the five kids sharing one double bed in the pop-up trailer.

Click. Going to see the house my parents were building in the country - the place where I grew up. My mind holds 14 years of memories from it, its huge yard, the creek flowing behind it and the orchard next door. I remember building forts with Angie in our bedroom, swimming for countless hours in the creek, consuming the not-quite-ripe pears in the orchard and the red velvet wallpaper in the living room (it was the 70s).

Click. My dad playfully flicking something (leftover gravy? cranberry sauce?) one too many times at my mom while they were doing the dishes and her chasing him out the backdoor. Much laughing ensued and the leftover substance ended up on the ceiling of the kitchen. My dad used to be quite the joker, stirring up hilarious trouble regularly.

Click. Click. Click.

I feel I'm 80 years old, recounting the experiences of my past. I urge to sit down and recall the photographs stored in my mind. Is that what a brush with mortality does?

Maybe remembering my experiences validates them, validates my life. But only my life so far.

I hope I have many, many more years to create photographs to add to the scrapbook of my life so when I am 80, I can share the memories with my grandchildren.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Strange musings

The cicadas trilled their night-time song, my family cavorted through dreamland and I laid obstinately awake, shuffling my aching legs and contemplating life last night. Oh, I fell asleep, but the midnight hour poked me back to consciousness.

I'm blaming the decision not to take my anti-anxiety medication at bedtime for my mind foray. For when the half pill I did take at 12:30 a.m., along with the sweet, red Tylenol pill, took effect around 1:30, I too slipped into delicious sleep - for about five hours.

Unfortunately, the effects of my night are imprinted on my face, for Michael commented on my less-than-rested appearance this morning.

I'm amazed the twisted paths my mind travels sometimes. Last night, as I yearned for sleep, they wove an odd pattern in my consciousness. I must warn you, these colourful musings may be disjointed and a bit philosophical.

I know I have a singular purpose of healing these days, but I miss the hectic, multi-purpose, busy lifestyle I used to live. I miss being normal. I miss stupid things like caring about my appearance (choosing nice clothes, doing my hair and makeup, wearing earrings). Don't get me wrong, in some ways I like the streamlined preparation, but I miss the ability (and reasons to) look nicer.

Last night, my mind also acknowledged activity breeds more activity. As a worker bee, I used to get a lot done. I was a go-to person who would pick up the ball and run with it. Many days, that ball sits on the sidelines waiting for me to summon up the energy to grasp it. As a result, a multitude of activities I'd like to accomplish, don't get done. But luckily, I'm better at accepting this temporary limitation - most days.

I also feel my body weakening due to lack of activity. I've always been strong. My linebacker physiology, physical lifestyle and killer calves contributed to keeping me that way. But this cancer, treatment and lack of exercise has kicked me to the curb. I can start limited exercise again, but I have to be careful. I know, I have to be patient and I have the rest of my life to get back in shape, but this is a weird and uncomfortable feeling for me.

A very strange analogy about my current state of life flitted through my mind last night. One, I'm determined to change today as I gain strength and health.

I feel on some days, I'm little more than a shadow floating inconsequentially, making little mark on the canvas of life. The artist creates water-muted images, which lack the vibrance necessary to evoke a satisfactory response.

But my thoughts came full circle to realize that while I may sometimes feel without much substance because I'm mired in a hazy reality, I'm pivitol to some very important people. As the fog fades, I need to climb out and become engaged again. My chemo-induced impressions of my impact and importance bear little correlation to reality.

I suspect the pigments of my life paint will brighten considerably during the next few days as I recover and become more active. But also because I choose to matter more.

Everyone lives at the core of someone else's existence. We all matter to other humans, who counts on us for love, friendship, companionship, guidance and hope. I came to that re-realization in the early morning hours and plan to take advantage of the time I have with others before my next chemotherapy session - and then beyond treatments.

I warned you these ramblings would be a bit strange. My mind sometimes works in wonderous ways.

As a final note, I want to say thank you to everyone who responded to my blog yesterday. Your comments touched my heart and made me cry. I'm very lucky.

Enjoy the sunshine and remember, you matter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Feeling selfish

As I slowly climb out of post-chemo, I'm feeling a bit selfish. I've concentrated on me, me, me so much that I block almost everyone else out. I'm not sure I can help myself, because it takes so much darn energy to heal, get chemo and deal with the side effects, but it certainly doesn't make me feel like a good person.

I feel the fog lifting (again) and I can once again see the world around me. I notice my wonderful husband, who sits beside me while I whine and moan. He takes over the household, cares for the kids, rubs my back, gets me Tylenol and checks on my condition. In return, he gets little response and lethargic thanks.

I am grateful for the consistent company and unfailing spirit of my sister, who sits through the six hours of chemotherapy with me, providing snacks and encouragement. She also calls and emails me regularly, and puts up with my chemo funks.

I thank God for the resilience of my kids who seem to be going with the flow and understand when I get weepy from treatment and have little energy to share with them. I'm lucky they're at an age where they're fairly self sufficient. But Noah also needs my help and attention because of his bipolar diagnosis and I often don't have the energy or patience to deal with it. Hopefully, I'll be able to concentrate more on helping him after I get through the rest of my treatments.

And again, I'm thankful to the friends and family who make up my village. You who check on me (even when I'm grumpy and bad about responding), provide food, child care, prayers and support in its many forms. I know I'm not a good friend/wife/sister/daughter right now. I am thankful for your tolerance and patience.

During my appointment with the social worker last week, she reinforced one of my thoughts. I'd rather be fighting cancer - as crappy as it is - than watch someone I love go through this. While I don't have a lot of control, I can fight, complain and deal with the treatment. I feel like I'm doing something. Others around me can only watch, worry and wish they could help. I know others would willingly take part of this burden to make it easier for me - and I thank your good intentions.

So thank you for your unselfish support from your selfish friend,

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A new day

It looks as though the weather will be a little less depressing today, with the rain holding off until this evening. Perhaps that will help my recovery process. I'm not counting on today to be a good day, but I'm hoping it's better than yesterday.

My friend, Extra Strength Tylenol, should be able to keep most of the bone pain at bay and I'll do my best to keep my spirits out of the dumps. Only one or two more days of this and I should be back to my more optimistic moods.

Good news came yesterday from my oncology nurse. My CA-125 level is now 45. Normal is 35 and under - and I was really hoping to be there - but she seemed encouraged, so I have to be patient.

And I'm healing well. I have permission to start to do and lift a little more starting tomorrow (six weeks post op) as long as it doesn't hurt. I've been doing a little more each day and I feel good. I'm rising from a chair without using my arms for assistance and getting into bed without sitting on the edge and then flopping down on my side. The ability to do those actions without pain makes me feel I'm on the road to recovery.

My hair is once again a fuzzy, white ring of fluff. I have no idea why it turns white at this stage when a good portion of the new growth was coming in brown. I also have a beautiful heat rash or something on my head from the hot flashes. I'm a beautiful site.

But I'm here. Still quietly fighting.

My friend, Jodi, shared this quote with me a while ago and it seems like an appropriate time to use it:

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I'll try again tomorrow." - Mary Anne Radmacher

That seems to sum it up.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Same old, same old

"It's the same old story, same old song and dance, my friend." - Aerosmith.

Steven Tyler and the boys sum up my feelings once again. With nothing new to say, I feel boring and repetitive - and I'm sure you're tired of it too. I'm suffering the same old symptoms, in different degrees of severity.

The metallic taste in my mouth is far more pronounced this time around making eating and drinking less enjoyable. I don't know whether to consume more or less to alleviate it. I'm relunctant to risk my coffee this morning, so it's back to sipping ginger tea. Perhaps it'll help with the slight nausea tickling the edges of my stomach.

The bone pains in my legs also returned last night, making me restless. I assume they'll get worse before they get better, but I'll stay on top of them with pain medication.

I'm suffering some terrible hot flashes. While I get the menopausal ones, these are more often, more severe and, leave my head and body dripping. Last night, while trying to go to sleep, I swear I had one every half hour. I'm on my third since rising at 6:30 this morning. Gross.

Worst of all, the crushing, depressing tiredness (aka the dementors) came back yesterday afternoon. With this feeling, I sit very still and stare at nothingness. I try to keep my mind and body busy, but sometimes it's hard. I get less enjoyment out of activities than I normally would.

I'm sick of this. I'm frustrated with fighting this damn cancer and I want it gone. I know I'm getting there, but it's hard. While my body is reacting better than the last round, the one immediately after surgery, I'm getting weary. I can't imagine being one of the poor cancer patients who deal with much longer, more intensive treatments than I am.

I'm thankful the current plan means I tolerate only two more treatments after I get through this week and the side effects don't last very long (although it's depressing when I'm right in the middle of them).

So I'm lucky. I have to focus on the good to help me get through the bad.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Metallic mouth

As I mentioned yesterday, some of the post-chemo symptoms are making their appearance earlier. The metallic/skunky taste started in my mouth yesterday, which affects the taste of everything, even water.

But luckily, it doesn't seem as bad this time as long as the food or drink has some good flavour. That doesn't necessarily mean it tastes exactly as it would normally, but at least some enjoyment factor is still there.

I'm tired, but restless. I tried to nap yesterday to no avail. When I went to bed, I was exhausted and dosed in and out of consciousness, but didn't really fall asleep for about an hour. Luckily, I was able to sleep in until after 7 this morning (not a common occurrence on the best of days).

I'm waiting for the bone pain. I know it's coming and dread it. I'll have to start taking the pain killers once the first twinges make their appearance. The pain in my legs, feet and ribs, as well as the extreme lethargy are the worst side effects. But I just keep telling myself, a few more days and this too will pass.

Michael and I are working together this morning to make pancakes. I felt like eating the crepe-style pancakes and hey, why not indulge my taste buds' whims while I've got them. I've sliced fresh peaches and blueberries to accompany them.

Hope you find some small (or large) pleasure to enjoy today. Find the joy in the small things you may normally take for granted.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Treatment, side effects and rest

The power of positive thinking didn't work as well yesterday as during the previous treatment. On the positive side, I did get a bed, and Angie and I agreed the six hours seemed to pass quicker than in the past. But I got my least favourite side of the chemo suite and it took two different nurses three sticks to get the needle in - and the first two were quite painful.

The nurses kept apologizing, asking if I was okay and if I wanted to stop for a rest. I said just do it. (I feel like a Nike ad these days.) I have deep veins, which may look pretty when I don't need needles, but they're a pain in the butt at times like these. So, I'll have four nice bruises on my arms over the next few weeks since I also have the one from the blood draw on Tuesday.

I started getting the side effects of chemo earlier this time. As a couple of people have pointed out, perhaps the chemo doesn't have much to attack since the tumours are gone and therefore it's looking for other areas to prey upon (as well as the itsy bits of cancer still left).

I felt shooting pains in my stomach while trying to go to sleep last night, my legs were restless (perhaps from the Benadryl and hydrocortison I get during treatment), my stinky farts are back, much to Michael chagrin, and the funny taste is starting. But thankfully I can still tolerate coffee this morning. Yay!

Hopefully their early arrival will mean a quick departure of the side effects. But I'm not counting on it.

The plan for the next few days is rest. I'm back to taking it one day at a time. Apparently, the rainy weather scheduled for the next few days will make that easier because the sunshine won't beckon from out my bedroom window.

Despite the rain, I hope you have a great weekend and manage to squeeze in some fun.


Friday, July 24, 2009

A little nervous

Today is chemo treatment number four. I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about this one for two reasons:

1. My stomach is a bit upset for some reason. I don't know if it's a reaction to the anti-nausea drugs (seems counter-intuitive though), nervousness or that I'm coming down with some nasty bug. The last one could delay my treatment, which is the last thing I want.

2. The after-effects of the last chemo were terrible, so I'm nervous I'll experience the same debilitating symptoms. I tell myself the experience last time was magnified because I was still healing from the surgery. But perhaps the response is cumulative and I'll again be under a black cloud for a few days.

But I'm trying to be positive and envision a successful outcome for both worries. I also envision I'll get a bed by a window and the needle will go in successfully the first time.

So I sit here and wait for my coffee to finish brewing so I can partake in its addictive goodness. Today, and maybe tomorrow, I'll be able to enjoy my cup of joe before my stomach begins its revolt of my favourite morning breakfast beverage.

While drinking my java, I'll contemplate the six hour process I face today. I'll know it's going to be a long day and the effects are going to be tough, but I can do it. I have to do it. And I'll remember and gain strength knowing you're all rooting for me.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Insight through words

"Writing down our stories validates our experiences, gives us confidences and reminds us that there is a reward in the struggle. It helps us feel less alone." - Cori Howard

Thanks Jane for sharing this wonderful quote. It reinforced the value of capturing my journey. I write because organizing my words provides clarity to my experiences. But I also write because I think - no I know - others can benefit from what I'm going through and the insights it provides. Others can better understand the multiple emotions and actions involved when fighting cancer.

The author of the quote said recounting our stories makes writers feel less alone. I concur because I gain strength from comments readers leave for me, both on my blog and via email. I know many great, loving people walk beside me on this journey.

But the actual fighting is a one person job. I have to do it alone. I can be the only one who fights these nasty cancer cells, struggles through the after-effects of chemo and finishes recovering from surgery (and come to terms with my new body).

Yesterday, I learned my white blood cells, while still acceptable for chemotherapy, are now on the low end of normal. As a result, I'll have to be more vigilant about protecting myself from germs - especially with the spread of the N1H1 virus. That means, I may be more house bound than I've been to date and as a result, more alone.

I was going to send my kids for a week of day camp this summer to let them play with other kids and get out of the house. But given my increasingly precarious immune system and the germs they could pick up, I think it's unwise this year.

The quote mentions the reward for the struggle. My reward? Many more years with the people whom I love, a chance to explore new experiences (and re-live others I want to repeat), an opportunity to share my talent at a job I enjoy (most of the time) and a chance to accomplish goals I've set for myself.

In less broad terms: road trips, sunsets, sunny afternoons at a beach, snorkelling, whipping up a delicious meal or dessert, riding roller coasters with my kids, Bon Jovi concerts, laughing with a glass of wine and friends on a patio, days at the spa, cuddling with Michael, bike rides, waterskiing, family holidays, hair, coffee on a quiet Saturday morning, garage sales, vacations, etc. The list goes on and on.

Life brings many rewards and it's important to recognize the small, seemingly insignificant ones along with the obvious. Each day and the experiences it brings is a gift. The talent lies in recognizing and being thankful for them.

May you find the gifts your day brings.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I thought there was something wrong with me. While everyone was celebrating with high fives, tears, shouts of joy and exclamations of relief at the results of my surgery and my prognosis, my response has been cautiously happy.

I thought it was because I was so busy concentrating on physically healing from the surgery and chemotherapy treatments, I didn't have time to process it. But, my feelings haven't really changed as my physical condition improves. So I made an appointment with the social worker at the cancer clinic.

Yesterday, she assured me my response is perfectly normal. I've been presented with my own very real mortality. While everyone knows they'll die some day of something, my cancer diagnosis proclaimed I could die one day soon. Now luckily, the operation and chemo seem to be doing their jobs and my life span expectancy expands again.

She explained I still have a cloud of doubt hanging over my head - what if the treatment doesn't work and what about the very real possiblity the cancer returns? As a result, I don't feel ecstatic. I feel cautiously optimistic.

And she warned me I may always feel this way. In fact, she warned me my reactions could get worse before they improve, especially when my treatment ends. I may go through an emotional free fall period because my condition isn't monitored every three weeks. I guess I cross that bridge when I come to it.

I'm fortunate the cancer clinic provides the services of social workers for patients and their families to help deal with the emotional reaction to cancer and its treatments. It's reassuring to learn I'm normal, hear an explanation as to why I feel this way and learn what emotional reactions may happen in the future.

On a positive note, I'm healing nicely. My incision site and lymph nodes feel normal. And most importantly, my blood levels are sufficient for me to receive chemo again on Friday.

Speaking of chemotherapy, I asked if it's working and the resident gave me a great analogy. Papillary serous cells (my type of cancer cells) can be compared to a rough group of guys hanging out on your street. They look dangerous and menacing - sporting mohawks and evil looking tattoos - but when you confront them and ask them to leave, they do so willingly, without incident or trouble. They aren't the kind of cells that put up a fight, stay where they're not welcome and generally create havoc. The chemo is prompting the nasty gang of my type of cancer cells to leave the premises. Pretty cool.

I plan to enjoy the last couple of days before Friday when I once again issue the invitation for the cancer cells to vacate my body.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

London Regional Cancer Program

Today I see Dr. P to see how I'm healing and prepare for the next chemotherapy treatment. In the past, this appointment (and my bloodwork) occurred on the same day as chemo but for some reason, they've split it up this time.

Of course, this is less convenient since I couldn't expect Angie to come down twice in one week. She's my master note taker and back-up question asker. During my appointment today, I'll inquire as to whether I can return to all appointments on the same day.

Angie will come down to keep me company during chemo on Friday. She brings good snacks, a variety of drinks and her cheery personality. It's a long day and I get tired as all the meds course through my veins, but she understands. It's okay if I'm quiet and nap or read. She's there for company when I want to chat. Perhaps we'll bring a movie to help the hours pass more quickly.

So I'll spend the morning in the cancer centre; not necessarily a bad place to be. It's a beautiful place where live music often plays in the atrium. The staff and volunteers are amazing, caring people. It takes special individuals to willingly surround themselves with cancer patients and their families.

From the volunteer who greets visitors to the reception staff to the nurses who administer chemotherapy, I'm greeted with a smile and respect. They go out of their way to ensure I have everything I need to make my visit as comfortable as possible.

It's heartwarming such a wonderful place exists for those who are going through a very scary stage of their lives. And again, kudos to the amazing people make the place more enjoyable (or bearable) for those who need to visit.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Recognize the love

I sit here this morning and am reminded that I'm surrounded by amazing people. Friends and family who jump in to help, who provide food, who check in on me regularly, who make me laugh, who allow me to talk or vent and who let me be me - regardless of the state I'm in on any particular day.

My body must be consuming lots of my energy these days trying to heal itself. Over the past few days, I've been more lethargic than usual - and that's okay. As a result, I'm more quiet and contemplative.

I attended a pig roast on the weekend, where I was less than my usual lively self. I had a great time and laughed until my belly hurt (literally) on Saturday night. In fact, several times I had to hold my incision site while I laughed and tears streamed down my eyes.

But I listened more than I talked. I sat instead of danced. I enjoyed the atmosphere more than contributed to it. But I promised Diane that I would dance with her at her birthday next year.

I'm lucky because I can say "next year."

Unfortunately, the father of a dear friend lost her father this morning after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's Disease. My thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family. While his death is a blessing because of his deteriorated quality of life, it's still difficult. Death is always hardest on those left behind.

I believe a person goes on to a better place with no suffering or disease, but the family and friends experience a gaping hole where that individual touched their lives. But a loved one can live on in hearts and memories. Jacqueline - Remember the good things about your dad and keep him alive in your heart.

Luckily, she spent a lot of time with her dad and visted him only yesterday.

We never know when we'll lose someone we love. Make the most of each day and never miss the opportunity to say I love you to those who matter. Life is busy, but it's the people in it that make it special. Don't get so caught up in things and tasks that you forget about those who make life worth living.


Friday, July 17, 2009


Just a quick update to say I can feel myself healing. I'm more mobile and only feel discomfort from my incision site sometimes. I'm down to one Tylenol a day (and some days no pain killers at all). The side effects from the chemotherapy are gone and I feel good.

I walked for over 6 km yesterday morning to get my body moving and make my muscles happy. I was a little tired by the end (how pathetic), but it also energized me mentally and spiritually.

I'm looking forward to a pig roast/birthday celebration this weekend in Port Franks with good friends. I anticipate lots of laughs and great company. I can take it easy, but enjoy the best weekend of the chemotherapy cycle by doing something fun.

Next Friday brings chemo #4. I'm anxious about how my body will react this time. I'm a little scared it will be similar to last week, which was so terrible. But regardless of what the treatment brings, I'll get through it.

A little rain must fall (today) to bring the sunshine of tomorrow (I hope). That analogy applies to my thoughts on this weekend - and on life.

Have a great weekend,

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hair today, gone tomorrow

It's a shame really. My scalp is covered in a thin layer of short brown (and grey) bristles. It feels like a really short brush cut. While it feels I don't have quite as many of the follicles I had prior to treatment, it actually looks as though I could have hair - if it were allowed to grow.

But, based on experience, they'll start to fall out again on Monday.

My eyebrows and eyelashes are fully present and some of the body hair that had previously fallen out made a reappearance. But I expect that all to change starting next week.

You know, part of the alopecia isn't so bad. The disappearance of leg and underarm hair provides a welcome reprieve from shaving. It would be awesome if I could choose which hair follicles fell victim to the killing effects of the chemotherapy. Unfortunately, that's not how it works.

I'd hoped to have a thin layer of hair by Christmas. Given this is all I've got after a two-month reprieve from chemotherapy, I'm a little doubtful. I know I'll return to work sporting my bald pate. I may have to get a bit better at using pretty, co-ordinated scarves to cover my scalp instead of resorting to baseball caps.

It's going to be a chilly fall and early winter!

It's a little sad to say, I've gotten used to being bald. I put on a wig earlier this week and it looked and felt puffy (like there was too much volume for my head). But I don't feel attractive bald either.

One day, we'll say "remember when" and joke about my bald period. At least I now know that I will get better and will have hair again one day.

Until then, I remain your bald (sooner to be balder) friend,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Patience tested

As you know, I'm working on being a more patient person. But yesterday, my patience was tested in a couple of ways.

My mom and mother-in-law came yesterday to work on organizing Tara's room (bless them). They installed a closet organizer and helped sort through her piles of clothing, culling all except that which currently fits. (Yeah, I'm bad at that and only do it a couple of times a year when she gets new stuff.)

I helped by sorting through Tara's drawers. But of course, all the twisting and rising tired me out, and now my abdomen is sore. I have to learn to say enough. I have to learn it's okay to let others help (without my assistance).

So, of course, today is a day of rest.

Last night, Noah decided to go on strike because he didn't like what I prepared for dinner, and I made the rare move of insisting he eat what was on his plate. As a result, he absolutely refused to do something we'd asked and wouldn't even give us a reason for his defiance. As a result, Michael and I lost our patience.

Noah apologized later (and we did too). But it wasn't a good scene for a while. As a result, Noah's lost the one thing he values most today - electronics, in its many forms. A trip to the library to find some amusing books is on today's agenda.

My friend, Jackie, told me St. Monica is the patron saint of patience. I think I need a little of her help right now. While overall the healing process is going well and I feel pretty good, I still need a little more patience. Today is only four weeks post surgery and it's perfectly fine to have days of rest and healing.

On a positive note, I'm now a more relaxed driver. I'm not always in such a rush - perhaps because I'm not late for work. I don't get as frustrated with other drivers and I don't need to speed along the city streets, racing from destination to destination. The whole experience is more enjoyable as a result. So I have learned to be a more patient driver. (An old dog can learn new tricks!)


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Missing some of my favourite things

I love summer and the activities that accompany this wonderful season. But summer 2009 is a bit of a write-off for me (and my family) because of cancer. I can't enjoy many of my favourite summer pastimes due to treatment. While my list of enjoyable summer activities is extensive, here are a few I particularly miss.

Obviously I'm not allowed to swim right now because my incision is healing and I can't use my abdominal muscles yet. But even chemotherapy prevents me enjoying the cool water two out of the three weeks of every treatment cycle because I can't expose my immune-compromised body to the potential germs swimming brings. So I can't swim at the YMCA, the pool in my backyard or the beach. I miss it.

Every summer, the Bratscher family escapes the busy city and lure of electronics by pitching our pop-up trailer in a small patch of wilderness. We cycle, cook outdoors, hike the trails, enjoy the beach and partake in relaxing campfires. We haven't been out once this year.

Last week, we were booked into a water-front campsite at Algonquin Park and it would have been my first camping adventure at the famed Canadian getaway. We cancelled our reservation when I got the cancer diagnosis.

Perhaps towards the end of the summer, if I'm feeling up to it and when I can lift more than five pounds, we can try a couple of weekend camping excursions close to home. Next year, we'll attempt to venture to Algonquin again.

Motorcycle and scooter
Given I can't lift anything over 20 lbs. for at least three more months, the motorcycle and scooter are off my activity list. It's important to be very alert and cautious when riding a bike, so even before my surgery, I was a poor candidate for this enjoyable activity.

High SPF sunscreen and shade are essential now (and I've heard perhaps for the rest of my life). While I know it's not good for you, I like laying in the warmth of the sun with a book. I enjoy tropical getaways to escape the snow in the winter. I like the warm brown tones of a tan. So I miss my friend, the sun.

Since the weather this summer has been cooler than usual, it decreases the envious feelings I have for those who can swim, camp, ride and enjoy the sun. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise - but don't start blaming me for the terrible weather this summer!

I'm beating this cancer and my prognosis is great, so I will have future summers to enjoy the wonderful activities the warmest season brings.

Enjoy whatever great summer activity your day brings.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Marvels of science

If you stop to think about cancer treatment, modern medicine is quite amazing.

First, I needed a variety of medical tests to confirm diagnosis and assess the size of the tumours, including ultrasounds and a comuted axial tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan displays bodily structures when they block the scanner's x-ray beam. It's a medium- to high-radiation exposure test because I had to drink an awful lot of a barium solution, which is radioactive, to allow my body to light up like a Christmas tree.

I marvel at the individual who originally discovered radioactive material could be used to diagnose disease (especially by drinking it). I'm a little worried about the medical isotype shortage in Canada because I think I'll need another CT scan at the end of my treatment to ensure I'm disease free.

Second, my gynaecological oncologist cut away all visible traces of the cancer during surgery. I can understand how big growths would look different than the necessary bodily organs, but I wonder how the little bits can be easily distinguished. Apparently cancer looks different than other cells, but in a messy, bloody mass of a body cavity, how does evidence of the disease look different? Obviously, way over my head.

Chemotherapy perplexes me most of all and I mentally thank those who went through the research stages of this treatment so I can participate in its life-saving abilities today. Think about all the research that went into determining the right type of chemotherapy drug, proper dosage, treatment schedule, etc. for each type of cancer.

As an ovarian cancer patient, I receive two very specific types of chemotherapy - carboplatin and paclitaxil - infused for six hours every three weeks. But each type of cancer receives a different combination of drugs via a different treatment schedule. Amazing.

Chemo marches through the body, indiscrimately killing cells. It can't differentiate between good and bad cells, hence the horrible side effects. The idea of having the right dosage to kill cancer cells while leaving enough of the good cells to keep the body functioning astounds me.

I know chemotherapy has come a long way and continual research will make the treatment better and less painful. Nausea and sickness were a common, debilitating side effect in the not-so-distant past, yet I now have a combination of medications to thankfully prevent them.

My oncologist also mentioned a study for when I'm in remission and feeling better to test a new ovarian cancer drug. Other current research studies examine stimulating the missing gene in those with the BRCA 1 and 2 gene to prevent reoccurence. These ground-breaking studies are exciting because it feels as though doctors are on the cusp of turning ovarian cancer on its head.

Cancer is a shockingly widespread and devastating disease. I'm thankful to those innovative researchers and doctors who've discovered - and keep working on - ways to identify and better treat cancer.

I, for one, continue to hope that all the research will bring a cure.

Hopefully yours,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oh, the smell!

They almost bring tears to a grown man's eyes and roar out at inopportune times. Even though they're unavoidable, this indelicate end result of chemotherapy isn't mentioned in the educational literature. But to me, chemotherapy-induced farts can't be anything but hilarious.

I laugh because they smell horrendously bad. The odour is so embarassing and unexpected, I giggle. I joke with Michael that something crawled up my butt and died, so now we're suffering the after effects.

Apparently, there's a simple scientific explanation to my malodorous affliction. Something about how the cells in the large intestine reproduce quickly and therefore are one of the first affected by the chemotherapy death squads. Their impending doom produces the smell that starts escaping from my body about a week after treatment.

I think I find the situation humorous because by the time the stinky farts make their appearance, many of the other discomforting side effects have done their work and departed. This one, while inconvenient and fairly short lived, causes no real harm. And their resulting laughter is a welcome reprieve from worry and pain.

Besides, better out than in.

Your smelly friend,

Friday, July 10, 2009

For granted

Stop and think for a moment, how do you feel today? Are you little tired, really stressed, relieved it's Friday, anxious for the weekend, a little under the weather, healthy and strong or just pretty good?

Then be thankful for it. Yup, be thankful even if you're frazzled or slightly sick because they're far better than the alternative.

After this week, I really appreciate normal feelings. Sure, I still have the aches and pains from chemo and surgery, but they're tolerable without the oppressive sick feeling that's so hard to describe. Part of it may be mind games or depression, but it left me with a lack of purpose and no energy. For a type A personality like me, that's a mighty blow.

Speaking of the pains, lying in bed last night, I identified a way to describe the bone pain I'm experiencing in my feet. Imagine you've worn a pair of tight shoes walking or dancing (how fun) all day. They're digging into the bones in your feet and crushing them. You long to rip them off. That's the kind of pain I experience in my feet, legs and ribs with chemo. My other bones are more sensitive to pressure and touch so I shift positions regularly, but the the majority of the pain localizes in those particular areas.

But I'm sure it'll abait soon and extra strength Tylenol takes the edge off. I eagerly anticipate my massage appointment tonight because I know it'll start to ease the muscles I've clenched in response.

It's so easy to take feeling good for granted. I've done it most of my life, and I'm sure I'll do it again when I beat this stupid cancer. It's human nature. But I've realized in my future, I'll stop every once in a while to appreciate feeling good.

Life's road isn't always smoothly paved. Sometimes we have to stumble on the rocks in its path, scrape our knee in a fall or feel cold because the rain beats down. But we need to appreciate the wonderful gift of the journey and marvel when we traverse it smoothly.

I urge you to appreciate the good feelings on your journey a little more today because we are all very fortunate.


Thursday, July 9, 2009


I turned the corner during the night and feel closer to normal this morning. Thank God!

I do have some abdominal pain from the bathroom difficulties I've been having, which I will discuss with my home care nurse this morning, and my sore body feels like it's been through the wringer. I think a nice relaxing massage may be the ticket to alleviating some of that.

I actually feel alert, have some energy and the idea of food isn't repulsive, which are all good signs. Logically, I knew it would only take time, but illogically, I felt this was my new life - and I didn't like it. It's amazing the tricks your mind can play on you when you're susceptible. My lack of patience doesn't help either.

Thank you to all who contacted me to make sure I was okay, try to cheer me up or drop off food. I know I'm not great company during those periods, but I do appreciate the efforts and good thoughts of all my family and friends. I'm also thankful to my in laws who watched the kids over the past few days. I could not have handled it all.

I guess my determination that yesterday would be better came true (along with the healing properties of time) and the same sentiment applies today. The weather looks as though it's going to cooperate with my positive thoughts.

So away evil dementors (from Harry Potter), you don't get me any more this treatment.

Your increasingly better friend,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hoping for healthiness

It's cruely ironic that as the good news keeps coming in, I feel sicker and sicker. I didn't really feel sick before. Sure, I had that bothersome ascities but I was still strong, moving around and generally felt healthy. Now the tumours are gone, my CA-125 level is getting better and I feel like crap.

Yeah, I know this is the week post chemo and I'm supposed to feel bad, but I'm so sick and tired of this. I feel pursued by dementors from Harry Potter and they're trying to ensure I'm never cheerful again. (Yes, I'm watching the movies and reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in anticipation of the new movie next week.)

It's also ironic that I have time to pursue reading, movies, relaxing, etc. but I don't really enjoy it because I don't feel well. I know I'm terrible company, and I feel bad for Michael because he has difficult days at work and then comes home to me as a moaning lump.

But while I layed around in bed most of yesterday, today I got up, showered early and am in my living room. I'm determined today will be better. I will go for a walk. I want to get my body functioning properly again. I'm not sure how exactly, but I've got to try.

I have to admit, I'm a little worried about my general health and the funk that accompanies it. I don't like this me.

I know some of my writing creates discomfort because of its brutal honesty and graphic details, but I feel compelled to be as honest as possible on this journey. And these past couple weeks with the side effects from my surgery and chemo have been pretty terrible. But I guess that's just part of fighting ovarian cancer. No one said it was going to be easy.

But I'm done complaining. I've done it for days now. I'm hoping today will be better and that I'm starting down the road to recovery. Then I can regroup and gear up for next time. I hope this will be the worst of the treatments, but I can't be sure.

So I hope to have my cheerful, optimistic self back soon so I can keep fighting - and so my blogs are my enjoyable to read.

Hoping for healthiness,

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another good sign

Yes, I still feel terrible coping with the side effects from round three of chemotherapy, but I got more good news yesterday, which indicates the surgery and chemo are doing their jobs. So at least I know the suffering is not for naught.

My CA-125 level dropped significantly.

The CA-125 is a blood test that measures the protein (called an antigen) in blood. It can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer, but it's not an absolute (it seems nothing really is with this disease, which makes it so hard to find).

The level is useful for those who are being treated or followed up after treatment, and whose CA-125 was high at the time of diagnosis. While it should not be the only measurement physicians use to measure the disease, it can help indicate if treatment is working or a reoccurence.

The normal value in most labs for a CA-125 level is <35.

On April 27, my CA-125 level was 511, which worried me because it was so high. Imagine how I freaked out when my level hit 946 on May 19! I'd already been treated with one round of chemo and was just experiencing the side effects of the second. I despaired that this type of chemo wasn't working for me and the cancer was continuing to grow rampant.

But yesterday my oncology nurse called to say my CA-125 level is now 70. Whew! According to a book I've been reading, the level should ideally be normal after the third treatment (my blood test before my next chemotherapy treatment), although this may depend on how high the CA-125 result when I started treatment.

The crux of this biology lesson is my cancer is responding to the treatment. The surgery removed the big tumours and the chemo continues to do its job.

So I deal with the pain and tiredness again today, which unfortunately makes me pessimistic. For now, I'll deal with the physical side effects and their mood-sapping ability, but underneath I'm thrilled to know my cancer is going away and one day, I'll be able to live a normal life again.

I know that in a few days, when I'm feeling better, I'll be able to reflect on that and celebrate all the promising things the good news brings.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Double whammy

I knew experiencing chemotherapy just over two weeks after surgery was going to be difficult - and I was right.

I have the usual suspects of side-effects - extreme tiredness, aching bones in my legs and ribs, skunky taste in my mouth, weakness, indigestion and upset stomach. While they appeared during the last treatments, they seem to be rearing their ugly heads a little earlier this time. (On the optimistic side, maybe they'll go away quicker too!)

But because of the surgery, I'm also experiencing some additional pain in my abdomen, around the incision site. I'm sure it's the drugs doing their usual work, and it just felt much different before the operation. While I need the chemo to attack the remaining cancer cells, the experience is far from pleasant.

The pains were really bad last night, so I took a Tylenol 3 when I went to bed. While I felt pretty good upon waking this morning, I know the onslaught of symptoms will come looking for me the longer I'm awake. Yeah, I know, my optimism is waning, but pain will do that to a person.

So today I'm going to curl up in my bed with my book, computer and some movies. I'm going to do what I need to do, including sleep, rest and moan, if necessary. Luckily, my kids are with my mother-in-law so the only person I need to worry about is me.

While I appreciate when people reach out to make sure I'm okay, please understand if I don't feel much like talking on the phone or don't respond to your emails as quickly as usual for the next few days. These symptoms make me cocoon. It's my way of dealing with the pain.

I hate this. I hate the feelings of helplessness and weakness. I hate not having enough energy to do anything. The pain is debilitating and depressing.

But I will prevail. I have to do this. And I can do this - one day at a time. Today will just be a little rougher than some of the others.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

The resting plan - a day late

I'm terrible at listening to my own advice sometimes. Yes, I had a smart plan to rest yesterday. But despite being tired from the chemotherapy treatment, I felt pretty good. So the Bratschers decided to take a drive up to Forest and have a sandwich at the D.P. Euro Deli.

It was great seeing Diane and Pete, and our family enjoyed our grilled lunches. But then, we helped with the activity at the deli, helping Diane and Pete build 50 sandwiches for an event. Don't get me wrong, it was great fun and I look forward to helping out at the deli more - when I've recovered. So yesterday evening, I felt the effects of the exertion. It's my own fault. There's no one to blame but me.

So today, I'm returning to the rest and relax plan, especially since I was awake sometime after 4 a.m. I'm starting to feel some of the chemo side effects - slight metallic taste in the mouth, some minor bone pain in my legs, a little nausea and heartburn - but they're not debilitating yet. My abdomen is a little sore too, but I'm going to try to stay on top of that and the bone pain with regular doses of medication.

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day. I'll probably try a little walk to prevent the chemotherapy from pooling anywhere and to maintain my generally good mood. But I won't go too far. That's against my rest and relax mantra of today.

I know more of the after-effects of treatment will rear their ugly heads today, so I have to take it easy, get better and be patient with myself.

Try to be patient with yourself today too. Your entire to-do list doesn't have to be completed on a beautiful day like today. Take some time to really enjoy it.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Post chemo 3, day 1

I'm over half way through my treatments. Yippee!! I'm kickin' cancer in its butt.

Yesterday went well. The power of positive thinking really seemed to work. I had a wonderful breakfast at Cora's with my sister - really enough to sustain me most of the day along with the chemo treats Angie always brings to break the boredom at the cancer centre.

I spoke to my oncology nurse about the new pain in my abdomen and she said it's perfectly normal and I probably pulled a muscle when I startled myself the other night. My wandering thoughts in bed this morning - since I woke at 4:40 a.m. - made me realize that particular site could have been the location of one of the two big tumours that were cut out. So of course, it's going to be more sensitive than other areas of my abdomen.

As envisioned during my positive thinking exercise, the first needle went in and I was off to the races with chemo, albeit 30 minutes later than my scheduled appointment time (I guess everything can't go exactly as I want). However, I did subconsciously mention which side of the chemo suite I'd like to be on. Not only did I get that side, but I got the private room with a big window, which was nice. The rainy, cloudy weather didn't provide much of a view, but Angie and I had some privacy.

Chemo treatment themselves aren't too bad when I don't experience an allergic reaction, but they're long. My butt starts to hurt, gas starts to build in my abdomen (probably from the chemicals) and boredom sets in. Thank God, I have company (usually Angie) during these six-hour treatments. Yesterday we watched the first Harry Potter movie in eager anticipation of the new one coming out later this month. We also talked, read and ate munchies.

The chemical concoction and sitting all day makes me exhausted. I'm still tired this morning, but for some reason I'm awake. I suspect my sleep will be screwed up again for a little while. Hopefully, I'll sleep a little more - day and night - to encourage my body to heal from both the surgery and tolerate the side effects from the toxic chemicals. Luckily, I have a very supportive husband and kids that allow me to do just that.

While lying in bed this morning, I also realized my body is holding up pretty well despite everything being thrown at it. I have to thank it for being so strong and tolerant. I guess all those workouts helped it prep for its biggest fight to date.

So today I plan on having an easy, relaxing Saturday - a day to heal.

Enjoy your Saturday. Listen to your body and give it what it needs today. It'll thank you for it in the long run.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Collective positive thoughts

I just wanted to mention I donned my Team Tina t-shirt and cancer sucks socks this morning to remind me of all of you who are behind me as I head into chemotherapy today. I'm blessed to have the power of positive thought times 100 (or more!).

You guys are amazing and help sustain me during this difficult journey.

Thank you,

The power of positive thought

I've been feeling a bit down the past two days. Pain, discomfort and a setback precipitated the slight shift in attitude. Don't get me wrong, I was still quietly optimistic, but at times I've been sitting still, not smiling, wondering about the pain. I know I have Michael worried.

I've been experiencing a new pain the last two days. On Tuesday night, I started myself and jumped when I dropped a water bottle. Since that time, I've had a non-incision site soreness (sometimes pain) that has me worried. Did my sudden movement pop a stich? Did I do internal damage that will cause healing problems?

I have no blood or fever accompanying this pain and since I'd already seen the doctor on Tuesday, I haven't contacted any medical authority about the issue. I will talk to my oncology nurse this morning to ask whether these types of pains are typical.

During these past two days, I've buried a powerful weapon. A dear friend reminded me yesterday of the power of positive thought. He said, he knew I was going to be okay during my surgery because of all the prayers and positive thoughts generated for me (thanks to all of you). He reminded me that I have control over my experiences by thinking about them in advance.

You know, I do believe to some degree that we can control our own bodies through our thoughts. So, I took my friend's words to heart and have been thinking positive thoughts about today's chemo treatment (one day at a time for me).

So, to make this experience a positive one today, I/my body will:

1. Accept the first chemo needle site (instead of two or three so that I'm a pin cushion covered in bruises)
2. Accept all the chemicals without an allergic reaction
3. Not experience any nausea or vomitting (helped by all my anti-nausea medication)
4. Enjoy a nice breakfast with my sister before my treatment
5. Get into my appointment on time - get in, get out (six hours later)
6. Heal so I don't feel the pain as much

As I laid in bed after taking my meds at 4:30 a.m., I thought about goal 6 and this morning I woke to no pain. There's no guarantee it'll stay that way, but I'm encouraged by this small sign of the power of positive thinking.

I needed the reminder to remain as positive as possible. I know the degree of optimism will change over this journey, but I'd hit a slump, which isn't the best way to approach chemo.

So today is a new, positive day and I say with more conviction than yesterday, bring it on. It's going to be okay.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Preparing for chemo

Today, I mentally and physically prepare for chemotherapy. While I say, bring it on, I know it's not going to be easy - especially two weeks and two days after surgery. But despite how difficult this could be, I don't want to wait.

Luckily, my blood counts are high enough to proceed tomorrow. When I went to the cancer clinic on Tuesday to check out my bleeding, they sent me for blood work. All my levels are fine and I can just show up for chemo tomorrow (instead of doing blood work and seeing the doctor in advance).

Tonight, I start taking my anti-nausea medication, Dexamethasone. I take five tablets 12 hours prior to chemo and then five more six hours before. Then I take an Ondansetron tablet about an hour before chemo.

After treatment, I take one tablet of Dexamethason and Ondansetron every 12 hours for five doses - so starting when I get home and for the next two days.

Luckily for me, research seems to have perfected the combination and dosage of these anti-nausea medications. To date (and hopefully continuing), I've only had stomach upset in response to the toxic concoction. But I do have stronger meds if I do get nauseous.

I hope I don't get sick this time. Sneezing hurts my incision site. I can only imagine what vomitting would do to it. But I'm optimistic since it's been six weeks since my last treatment. My body has recovered and I hope my reaction won't be any worse than before.

On the bright side, extra time tomorrow morning allows me to go out for breakfast with my sister before my appointment time. And after tomorrow, my chemo treatments will be half over. Both are reasons to rejoice.

I think it's important to find the silver lining to this grey cloud because attitude is everything.

So now I prepare mentally. I can get through this.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A sign to rest more

As most people know, I have a hard time sitting still and letting others do everything (or anything). It makes me feel guilty and dependent. So day by day, as I felt better, I was doing more and more. I wasn't doing anything stupid. I didn't lift heavy things. I didn't vacuum. But I probably did more than I should.

Yesterday, I had a bit of a scare, which is prompting me to rest more. I started bleeding from my vagina. While bleeding is common with a hysterectomy, it scared me because I hadn't bled at all up until yesterday morning. I figured they'd vacuumed (the official medical term, I'm sure) me out really well after the surgery.

I called my doctor's office and after consultation with a nurse, the secretary asked me to come in to see my oncologist as soon as possible. That scared me even more for if it were common, they could have reassured me over the phone.

But Dr. P examined me and declared the bleeding was due to a pool of blood that collected at the top of the vagina and made its way down. Whew! Of course, the internal and manual examinations were uncomfortable and now I'm more sore than I was before this incident.

To top it off, I got my staples out yesterday. While I'm now more comfortable because my clothes don't rub against the staples (that my body was also rejecting) any more, the incision site is tender.

So I feel like I've gone backwards in the recovery department because I'm experiencing more discomfort - not pain exactly, thanks to my extra strength Tylenol - than before.

But I think it was a wake up call to me to relax and recover. A message that I don't have to be superwoman, I don't have to recover as quickly as I was trying to and I can let others help me. So as hard as it is, I sit in my chair and ask for help.

I have to remind myself, I'm not a burden, just a woman with cancer who is recovering from invasive abdominal surgery. Of course, I'll have the added side effects of chemotherapy after Friday. But lots of people love me and want to help. I just have to let them.