Monday, September 28, 2009

ABCs of recuperation vacation

A is for the airplane that will transport us to our vacation destination.

B is for basking in the sun on the beautiful, powdery white beach.

C is for the cerveza Cristal and cafe con leche I'll use to salute the end of chemo.

D is for "Dad, Dad, Dad," a phrase Michael won't hear for a week. He'll just be Michael, honey, senor, Canadian dude, etc. . .

E is for Playa Esmerelda, the beautiful beach on which the Sol Rio Luna y Mares resort is located.

F is for all the yummy food I'm going to enjoy on vacation. The resort has two buffets and four a la carte restaurants. I'll be able to choose what I feel like eating at each meal. I'm also excited I won't have to do dishes for the next week.

G is for Guardalavaca, the closest town to our resort. We may rent a scooter one day and go check it out. Or we may not. That's the joy of vacation - you eat when you're hungry, drink when you're dry, sleep when you're tired, do an activity if you feel like it, etc.

H is for horseback riding, which is free at our resort. I love to ride, so I'm going to take advantage of this activity. Yes, I'll be careful.

I is for Internet. The resort has an Internet cafe and I hope it's operational while we're there so I can email my kids. I may also do a quick blog once or twice during my vacation, so check back every once in a while. If it's down, or if I'm too busy enjoying my vacation, I'll post when I get back.

J is for the jellyfish I hope not to encounter in the ocean. But a small coral reef is situated close to the resort and I do hope to swim with many colourful fish while I'm snorkeling there.

K is for my kids, whom I'll miss and from whom I'm happy to have a vacation from for a week.

L is for the lobby bar, where apparently they have a piano player and a drink menu (to help me decide what to try next).

M is for the many mojitos I'll request from the bartenders. (Lots of people have asked me to have a drink for them. I can't let all those people down.)

N is for next stage of my life. This vacation is all about resting, relaxing, recuperating (maybe this entry should be for the letter R) and giving my mind a chance to process the end of cancer treatments so I can move on to what comes next. Hopefully, it'll only be good things!

O is for the warm, turquoise ocean in which we'll submerse ourselves. Maybe it has healing properties. Doesn't hurt to check it out. :)

P is for the palapas under which I'll park my butt. I still need to be careful in the sun.

Q is for quiet dinners. There will be no need to hear sibling arguments or say "sit down" and "eat your dinner." Aaahhhh!

R is for romance. Michael and I can be just a couple again. (There's also a romantica a la carte restaurant at which we hope to get reservations.)

S is for swimming, snorkelling, sand, starry nights, salty ocean and Sunwing airlines.

T is for Tina. I'll be just me on vacation. Tina, Michael's wife. Not mom. Not a cancer patient. Just Tina.

U is for understanding. Michael understands that I need to go at a slower pace and sometimes I get quietly introspective. That'll happen on our vacation. But I know it's okay because he understands.

V is for victory over ovarian cancer and the celebratory vacation.

W is for wow, I'm in remission! And for the warm weather Cuba is experiencing right now (better than this fall weather in London).

X is for xtra special (yes, I know that's not right but I couldn't find an x word). But this vacation will be extra special because of the reasons we're going.

Y is for yellow, orange, pink and purple - the colours of the sunsets or sunrises we'll watch over the ocean. Yippee!

Z is for Zulema. The wonderful guest services manager at our resort. I've contacted her via email and she promised to arrange something "especial" for us to celebrate the end of chemo treatments. I can't wait!

I thought it would be interesting and fun to do this little ABC blog before I left on vacation. Michael and I drive to Toronto tonight to stay at a Park, Sleep and Fly hotel. Our flight leaves at 6:20 a.m. tomorrow morning, so we'll be at the resort around lunch. Thanks for all the warm wishes to have a good time - we plan to do just that.

With lots of love and excitement,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Relief and joy

Friday would have been my chemo day if I were still receiving treatments. All day the feelings of relief that I wasn't hooked up to the needle in the chemo suite washed over me. But I thought about the others who were there, who I'd met over the course of my treatments.

One woman, who was also fighting ovarian cancer, I saw every week for five weeks. We'd share side effects and strategies for dealing with them. I felt excitment for her and her husband because Friday was her last treatment and she could ring the bell. I hope she rang it long and loud!

Then there's the woman I met during my last treatment, who was starting her second round of chemo for her ovarian cancer reoccurence. I felt terrible for her because the cancer came back in less than six months. Her hair had returned and I'm sure she felt good. But she was bravely facing the chemo again.

Meeting her really affected me because she's now living every cancer survivor's fear - the dreaded cancer will return.

Yes, I'm afraid. But I'm not going to let that fear affect my enjoyment of life. Yes, the cancer may come back, but I don't want to spend the cancer-free days in fear. That's letting the cancer control my life. No way!

So I'm living my life with joy, trying to find the enjoyment and good things in each day.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The continued generosity of people

In yesterday's blog, I mentioned the Cottage Dreams interview we attended last night and promised more information. According to their website, Cottage Dreams Cancer Recovery Initiative is a registered charity that offers recent cancer survivors the opportunity to spend a week at a private, donated cottage to reconnect and rejuvenate with family and friends after successfully completing treatment.

During one of my many visits to the cancer centre, Michael found a poster on a bulletin board promoting this organization. At first we thought it was too good to be true. But we researched it on the Internet and obtained the necessary paperwork from the website, which included an application that I had to complete and a form that I needed Dr. P. to fill out.

I figured, getting cancer and going through the treatment is a terrible experience, why not take advantage of the perqs of being a cancer survivor.

Last night, we met with a wonderful woman who represented Cottage Dreams to discuss our application and go over the rules of using a cottage. It also helps them put a face to those who are participating in the program. I think they wanted to make sure I was a cancer survivor (the bald head kind of gave it away) and that we weren't hooligans.

The cottages are donated by those who are fortunate enough to have a vacation property and are willing to donate it to Cottage Dreams. This is an opportunity for the owner to give the gift of peace of mind and family time to those who have recently fought cancer.

Wow, again, I'm amazed at the generosity of others.

The representative last night said we'd be approved and we'd be contacted when an appropriate cottage was found for our family for the time frame we requested. Our only request is a cottage on a lake so we could swim. I get excited just thinking about it.

If you'd like more information about Cottage Dreams, check out the website at

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Compassion and understanding

I'm constantly amazed at how people are willing to pitch in when someone else needs help. Not only have I received more than my share of assistance during these past five months, today Noah is getting some much needed help.

A short while ago, I asked a contact I had for bipolar if she knew of anyone who could speak to Noah's class about the disorder. Immediately, her and her daughter (who is in grade 8 and has bipolar) volunteered to come. So they're taking time out of their busy work and school days to help Noah's classmates understand why he acts the way he does. Hopefully, understanding will bring compassion and inclusiveness. It's easier to fit in when others understand why you're different. Noah can't help being bipolar and hopefully his classmates will get that message today.

Today is also busy because I'm going with my mom to a doctor's appointment. Because she tested BRCA-1 positive too, she's visiting with the gynaecologist to discuss her hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo oopherectomy (ovaries and tubes removal). She's been waiting for this appointment since May. But to make her trip to London more enjoyable, we're going out to lunch first.

Tonight is meet the teacher night and I also have an interview for Cottage Dreams, which I'll blog about tomorrow.

Whew! I'm a busy lady today. Luckily, I have nothing planned for tomorrow and I can rest and recover.

Thanks to all those who wrote to support me in my decision not to attend the BRCA meeting. You all made some good points and convinced me that I made the right choice.

Have a great day everyone. It looks like it's going to be a beauty.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cowardly lion or smart cookie?

I couldn't attend my first BRCA support meeting last night. I was all geared up and ready to go in the morning. I figured the insight and experience of others could help me as I make my own decisions about being BRCA-1 positive.

Then I started thinking.

I remembered how much Dr. W brought me down last week with all his talk of percentages, reoccurence, second remissions, life spans, clinical trial drugs that could help, etc. It took me a few days to process that information - and I brought everyone else down with me when I shared it.

Given that Michael and I are going on vacation next week, I didn't want anything to bring down the anticipation we'll be feeling this weekend as we pack, or the enjoyment of it once we reach our destination on Tuesday.

This will be our first real vacation since last August when the entire family went camping (as a side note, I really missed camping this summer). Since April, our lives have been dedicated to chemotherapy every three weeks and recovery from it. We had a 6-week break (?) when I had my surgery. It's been a trying, stressful, painful summer.

So, I'm eagerly anticipating getting away, resting in the sunshine, reading some books, talking to my husband over leisurely dinners and indulging in some cool, tropical beverages. It'll also give me a chance to try to get my head screwed on straight to proceed with the next phase of my life.

I also didn't go last night because I was exhausted. I visited work yesterday - apologies to everyone I missed. The time went by in a whirlwind and I didn't get a chance to see everyone. I can't believe how much a simple, enjoyable activity can still tire me out.

Besides being exhausted, I was also fearful of the support group's topics of conversation. Was I going to hear about how these women had to have bilateral mastectomies because of the gene? Were they going to discuss the chances of cancers for those who are BRCA positive? Was the word reoccurence going to rear its ugly head? I guess I am a cowardly lion because I don't want to talk about any of those topics right now.

Or maybe I'm a smart cookie because I'm enjoying my celebratory phase for a little while longer. I think I deserve it. I need to get away from cancer for just a little while. Although I know when I'm the only bald chick at the resort, I'll be asked questions. But when that happens, I can say, I fought cancer this summer and won.

Besides, the topics about the implications of being BRCA positive will still be there when the support group meets again next month.

Your celebratory friend,

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weight of the world

When I visited the social worker on Friday, we identified 10 subjects my mind was trying to process. No wonder I felt completely overwhelmed on Thursday. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.

But since Thursday, I've been processing all that information in my brain and talking to the social worker helped me put some things in perspective. For me, that helps. If I think or talk about things, I can usually make a decision, put it on hold, put it into perspective or dismiss it.

I know I've always been logical, but this journey makes me realize, I'm also an optimist.

Michael and I went out for our end-of-chemo celebratory dinner on Friday night. But Michael was still processing all the news (we all work at our own pace) and didn't feel very celebratory. Perhaps we should have delayed the dinner, but we went. I think my positive mood helped him improve his by the end of the meal. Those six gut-wrenching treatments (and the invasive surgery) are done. We needed to celebrate.

Speaking of weight of the world, I've packed on the pounds since I started treatment and I am so out of shape. At the Port Frank's beach yesterday, I got winded climbing the sand dune from the beach. How pathetic. People try to reassure me that once the steroids are out of my system and I start to work out again, I'll drop the weight. But weight loss has always been such a struggle for me. So much for the 40 lbs I lost in 2006. I'll have to do it all over again - after vacation.

As for today, I'm accompanying Noah's class on a field trip. It's a rainy, wet day and the activities are outside. So we'll don our raincoats and do the best we can. I'm taking advantage of the ability to attend his field trip and spend time with my son.

Hope you have a great Monday, despite the weather.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


I've come a long way in a day. My brain churned yesterday, processing all the bad information. I don't have any solutions nor do I accept any of the information as certainty, but I've decided that my attitude is paramount in how I handle this journey.

I am going with the attitude that I am NOT a statistic. I believe I can make it.

Yes, the information from the Dr. W was bad. But I'm younger than the average ovarian cancer survivor, I have the lucky(?) BRCA gene and I have a positive attitude. I can't focus on what may happen. I can only focus on being as positive as possible.

I always envisioned living into my 80s. With the long life expectancy rates for women, the fact that I've never smoked and how healthy I'd been, I figured age 80 sounded about right. Who knows, I may still make it there. Probably not, but I'm not going to let that get me down.

I've met 17 year ovarian cancer survivors. I know there are women out there who've bucked the statistics and lived for years and years. And given my history and my attitude, I plan to do the same thing.

As for my mom, nothing is certain yet. She still needs tests and results. So I can't focus on the what if, how can, what should I, etc. I can only wait and see, and hope for the best.

A friend said I should have a theme song. The one chosen for the 2010 Olympic games, Believe, was written and sung by a talented Canadian artist named Suzie McNeil. Its lyrics seem quite appropriate. Here's are some of them:

It's like I'm falling through my own fears
They used to haunt me, but now they're not here
There's no looking back, my future is clear
No giving up
And I'm holding on when it gets rough
Cuz you can get through most anything

If you just believe
You can move mountains with dreams
The higher you climb
The better it gets
Cuz you will see things
You'll never forget
If you just believe

No one says it's easy
And no one says you have to be perfect
But as long as you try
You're always gonna find
It was worth it

I believe I can beat the odds. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy my life for as long as I'm living. In the end, that's all any of us can do.


Friday, September 18, 2009


I'm on an emotional roller coaster again. Last night I was in one of the valleys. I woke up yesterday positive and ready to take on the world. By the evening, all I wanted to do was curl up under my blankets and ignore it. Oh, the difference a few hours can make.

I'm really worried about my mom and eager for her to get more test results and specialist appointments. I also wasn't thrilled with the statistics about ovarian cancer the clinical trials doctor quoted yesterday. I'm trying to tell myself to be positive, nothing in either situation is definitive, but it's hard

At my appointment yesterday, the clinical trials doctor (Dr. W) said the vast majority of ovarian cancer survivors have a reoccurence. The microscopic dust left inside from the surgery (that wasn't killed by the chemo) grows inside the abdominal cavity. But here's the kicker, only 20 to 30 per cent of those who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are alive after five years. Holy shit! Mentally, I can't deal with that.

Dr. P always seemed so optimistic when he talked to me. But he never pulled out the statistics. Now, I know, I'm not a statistic. I'm young, can fight (again if I have to) and perhaps I'll be one of the lucky ones. I also think that surely to God, the microscopic dust left after my surgery got obliterated by the four rounds of chemotherapy.

Dr. W did say the average is 12 months disease free. But the average for those who are BRCA positive is usually longer because it tends to respond better to the initial chemotherapy.

So he talked about clinical trial drugs to possibly help improve my chances. Dr. W's involved in a clinical trial at the cancer centre for a drug that cuts off new blood supply, which is what new tumours need to grow. It's the same drug I mentioned on Aug. 15 with all the nasty side effects. He reassured me the most common were tiredness, nausea, diarrhea, and a red rash on hands and feet, which could peel.

He admitted there were also the far more serious side effects but they were rare and I'd be monitored very closely. Even if the more common side effects were unbearable, they'd adjust the dose. Of course, I could pull out of the trial at any time.

I also asked about a PARP inhibitor clinical trial where (simplistically) a drug replaces the job of the damaged DNA in BRCA patients. He thinks it's only for ovarian cancer patients in their second remission, but he's going to check. He's also going to contact his colleagues in the research community to see if this clinical trial would be a better option for me. He discussed how PARP inhibitors work and some potential problems with them, but I didn't quite follow the scientific technicalities.

I also have the option of doing nothing. I could go back to living my life without the constant reminder of cancer. But if that's my choice, I don't get the intensive follow-up (CT scans, blood tests, monthly doctor's appointments).

Instead, I'd visit Dr. P. semi-regularly to see if I have any physical signs the ovarian cancer has returned. The problem with that is I didn't really notice any signs the first time until it was well progressed. And even then, it was the fluid in my belly that tipped me off that something was wrong.

So now I have to weigh the pros and cons of each option to figure out what's right for me.

But yesterday's discussions did remind me again that we're not guaranteed any amount of time on this earth and we have to take advantage of each day we have. We need to love, laugh, share, enjoy and relax. We can't look backwards and wish we would have done something or not done something, but only move forward with what we have today.

Don't wait to live your dreams because there's no guarantee tomorrow will ever come. Each day is a gift - take advantage of it.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

I heard you loud and clear

I questioned, you responded. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

From this side of the blogsphere, I craft messages, hearing only the clicking of keys and the occasional whine of my computer's motor. While I was still getting comments some days, on others, I felt my message didn't touch anyone.

Yet, when I called out over the web, to determine if it was still valuable to blog instead of journal, I heard the response loud and clear.

If you write it, they will read.

So, I'll continue to blog. I have to admit though, some days are easier than others. There are times, I really like what I've written, the words I've chosen and the message I've left. Other days, I feel less than satisfied about my entry. Some mornings, the words appear in my mind faster than my fingers can type. But on others, I have to let my thoughts stew before I can touch my keyboard.

One friend commented recently that my blogs make him feel like he's keeping up with what's happening with me and filling the Tina-shaped void in his life, but also acknowledged it's not a two-way street. I don't have the same luxury and therefore, need other forms of communication to know what's happening in your lives. I love the update emails, phone calls and visits so I hear about you too. (Pssst, I know I'm not the centre of the universe, nor do want to be.) Facebook updates do help me stay a little more current for those of you that use it.

Don't get me wrong, I don't need comments on my blog every day to validate my writing. But I do like the occasional feedback.

So, in terms of an update, my left arm just above and below my elbow mysteriously started to hurt late yesterday afternoon. I'd never experienced this dull ache in exactly that spot before, and never 13-days post chemo. As a result, I had difficulty falling asleep last night. But it miraculously disappeared this morning. Huh.

My depeleted white blood cells are doing their darndest to fight off a cold. I didn't help their situation any when I added Ducerol on Tuesday night. Ducerol is a vaccine to help fight travellers' diarrhea and cholera. I didn't think about the fact that I was only the second week after chemo when I downed the fizzy medication. It was only after, lying in bed, that I contemplated the effects it may have on my compromised immune system. But my chemo nurse reassured me yesterday that I should be fine.

I literally danced a happy jig yesterday afternoon when she also told me my CA-125 is now 17! (If you recall, normal is anything under 35). Woo hoo!

This morning, Angie and I are meeting with a research physician to discuss my options for clinical trials. Yes, I've beaten this cancer, but I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn't make a home in my body again.

Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I'm tired today. The cover-up resistant bags under my eyes are testament to that fact. I was so excited yesterday at my energy level. Was it unrealistic to expect that to continue? Yes. I'm only 13 days post chemo (and it was the 6th body-crushing one at that).

But I'm getting better at listening to my body and will try to rest more today. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will the healthier Tina.

That's it. I don't have anything new or inspiring to say today. I'm not sure how many people are continuing to read this blog every day anyway (after five months). I know I still have a few followers (my dad checks my blog to see how I'm feeling and wondered about Sunday when I didn't post). But now that the major treatments are done, I wonder if anyone is still interested in regular updates.

I have my appointment with a doctor at the cancer clinic tomorrow to talk about clinical trials and I will keep you up-to-date on that progress.

Have a great day,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


All it takes is a shift in perspective. Instead of focussing on the bad events, people and situations in life or I'm now honing in on the good.

Yesterday, I started exercising again. I decided it was the first day of the rest of my life and I was going to take control. So I walked briskly for 5.5 km, did 30 push ups, 60 leg lifts and 100 sit ups. I was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. I was absolutely disgusted at how out of shape I am (damn cancer). But instead of letting it get me down, I shifted perspective and said, "It's the starting point of the new Tina."

I know it's going to be a hard, uphill battle. I've lost a lot of strength, muscle tone and stamina due to the toxic chemicals, steroids and lack of use. But I have to start somewhere and this is where I am. So onward.

I'm also more positive in my attitude - and I'm trying to teach my kids the same lesson. Just this morning, I reminded Noah that it only takes a moment to be kind to someone, yet it can make their whole day.

A simple smile and good morning costs us nothing but can be a rich gift to another who hasn't felt kindness yet today.

Of course, it's a lot easier for me to be positive this week because I have no more pain. Yippee! I only have a little occassional tingling left in my limbs and face. I completely understand how those with constant pain can be depressed. I'm in awe at all they go through.

So I'm cautiously optimistic about planning my future. Michael and I booked a celebratory trip yesterday where we can reconnect as a couple instead of a cancer-fighting team. On this trip, I'll gain strength, and mentally process my journey and prepare to have a more normal life.

It's still one day at a time, but I'm choosing to be more positive and to enjoy the little things every day brings.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Moving forward

The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and a cool breeze gently blows through the window. It's a glorious start to a new week.

I'm also making it the beginning of my journey forward. I struggled last week with gnawing pain, disconcerting chemo side effects, emotional fluctuations and mental inertia. But I'm ready to move on.

That's not to say I've completely recovered mentally and physically, but I'm refusing to let it get me down. I'm so tired of being a whiner and complaining (and of having something about which to complain). I like to think that overall, I'm generally an optimistic person. I know there are days when I'm frustrated with my kids, work, self, etc. and I vent. But overall, I like to look at the positives in a situation and strive to be better.

To help me continue to process the current state I find myself in (of freefall), I'm going to see the social worker this afternoon. I still have to process some of the mental aspects of having cancer. I've been physically fighting for five months, and now I have to figure out how to mentally cope with no more treatments, the chances of reoccurence, the lack of constant follow-up, rebuilding my normal life, etc.

I've also been given information about a support group for those who've tested positive for the BRCA gene. It may be helpful to talk to others who have the same genetic abnormality as me and the decisions they've faced or treatments they've gone through.

On the weekend, I realized, I'm quietly getting more joyful about my situation. While, it's still surreal that I'm done treatment and I've kicked cancer's butt (I hope), the realization that I'm just going to get better now is starting to sink in. It'll probably really hit home on Sept. 25, which would have been my next chemo treatment if I weren't done.

I look forward to getting stronger (and less tired) every day. I can't wait for my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes to grow back. It's fun to wonder what colour and texture my hair will be. I anticipate raising a glass of a nice, cool beverage on several occassions with friends, family and whoever will celebrate with me.

In short, I look forward to reality sinking in.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

The peak

You know that feeling when you've cycled to the top of a really steep hill, you're at the peak and anticipating the thrill of coasting down? You're panting from exertion and sweat trickles down your back, but you've made it. That's how I feel this morning.

Obviously, I feel better. The swelling has subsided and it doesn't hurt to walk. I'm not 100 per cent, but I'm significantly better than yesterday. I didn't immediately seek out the sweet, red Tylenol this morning.

I think the neuropathy peaked yesterday around supper when my lips, the area under my nose and inside my mouth also went slightly numb. The whole experience was very disconcerting. But hopefully it's over, for good.

I would now love to coast down my hill, feel the breeze whip my hair and experience the giddy exhileration of speed. But my descent trip has a bit of gravel to negotiate. My mom called yesterday with a health scare of her own. She needs to see more doctors and have more tests, but I'm worried (Love you, Mom). But all we can do right now is wait and pray.

I'm thrilled for me, but it's dampered by fear for my mom. So I pull out the old mantra, one day at a time. We can't change the past, but only move forward one day at a time with the cards we've been dealt today. Here's hoping for a royal flush.


Friday, September 11, 2009

A bump in the road

I'm a little freaked out this morning. My legs aren't working properly. I feel like puppeteer trying to control a marionette. From the mid-thigh down, they're tingly, swollen and weak. While I know it's the peripheral neuropathy, understanding it doesn't make it any less scary.

I was feeling pretty good yesterday morning (except that I didn't eat early enough, then got dizzy and nauseous). But I'm my own worst enemy, because I didn't rest much yesterday and instead did some laundry. I had some symptoms of neuropathy, but I figured I could just push through them.

By late afternoon, the swelling and pain really started. It feels like my feet and ankles (my hands and wrists to a much lesser degree) are overstuffed sausages. The casing (my skin) hurts because it's stretched, producing a burning and tingly sensation. When I walk, the pressure stretches the skin even more. Ouch.

Then because they're swollen, my feet feel rounded, so I'm unsteady. To top it off, I have a loss of strength, and I fear I'll topple over at some point. (Weebles wobble. But with my luck, I'd fall down).

I woke this morning to find the feeling travelled up my legs to my thighs. Most of my leg is tingly, weak and feels like a giant sausage. Sigh.

I hope it goes away - soon. Last chemo treatment, I had this side effect for the first time, but to a much lesser degree. It appeared on the Friday and was gone by the Sunday. The symptoms are much worse this time, but I'm hopeful they'll stick to the same time frame.

I talked to my home-care nurse about the neuropathy yesterday and she told me it often goes away, but it may take up to six months to do so. She was optimistic it won't be permanent because I'm young. But she did warn me, it may go away, only to reappear periodically (i.e. when it's cold). I may have to don warm socks to protect my feet in the winter.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sorting through my feelings and starting to feel a bit more optimistic. But this morning, I'm down in the dumps because of this side effect. It sucks and it's scary. I'm impatient and I just want it to all go away.

Sorry to be such a downer on this beautiful Friday morning, but this is the journey. I've hit another bump in the road.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome to the crazy train

I don't know if it's the mental effects from the chemo or the post-treatment feelings my social worker warned me about, but I'm struggling with so many different emotions right now.

I feel so unbelievably relieved my chemotherapy treatments are done. It's like a physical weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I could cry just thinking about it. But I also feel weird because I'm not ecstatic - when I should be.

I'm done chemotherapy, my CA-125 was in the normal range of under 35 after my fourth treatment (so it should be even lower after the fifth and sixth), my doctor seems optimistic, he's treating me like I'm "normal" and is talking about clinical trials.

In four to six weeks, I'll have my follow-up, which will involve a CA-125 blood test, CT scan and visit with my doctor. I've been told it'll take at least that long for my energy to return to pre-chemo levels. And even then, I may never be the same again.

So right now, I should be enjoying getting better, resting, celebrating and planning the future. But I feel like I'm in a state of limbo. I think I'm afraid to be happy and optimistic. What if the tests are wrong and the cancer is still there? What if it comes back? How can I plan anything if I feel like my life is on hold?

But then again, a little voice inside my head is pushing me in the opposite direction now that my treatments are over saying, "Hey, you've beaten this cancer and you've got to get on with life again. You need to start exercising. You need to start thinking about going back to work." I feel unduly pressured by my own thoughts. I know I need to slow down, but my mind isn't cooperating.

Then I'm also feeling a little bit angry that this is my life. Go figure, I should be celebrating and now I'm getting angry. I should be thankful for each day and everything it brings (and most days I am). But every once in a while I think, "How did my life turn out like this?" It feels surreal, like I'm a character actor or bi-stander in my own life.

I sound crazy. In a way, I feel crazy.

So welcome to the crazy train. I have a feeling I may be riding it for a little while, so now you're a passenger, along for the ride.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The call of M

It's become a ritual. On the Wednesday after chemo, when I think my tastebuds are making a reappearance, I go through the McDonald's drive-thru and get myself breakfast. I know it's not good for me and my ever-shrinking waistline, but it is good for my spirits.

The practice started the chemo after my surgery, at the end of June. I was having gastrointestinal issues and my body needed a greasy boost. I could hear the sausage mcmuffin with egg, hashbrowns and coffee calling me across the kilometres from Dundas Street, so I succumbed to their greasy goodness. (Yes, it does help with the issues.)

This morning marks my fourth post-chemo Wednesday McDonald's breakfast, and boy was it good. I don't know if it's psychological now, but I feel I'm starting on the upswing when I can enjoy the crispy hashbrowns, savour the spicy sausage and sip the steaming java.

I woke this morning afraid my side effects would be worse today because yesterday wasn't quite as bad as previous Tuesdays, but so far, so good. Last night my feet and legs were killing me, but I expected that and took my pain killers. I also experienced the tiredness and chemo-injected hot flashes, but they wasn't quite as bad. Or maybe I've (sadly) gotten used to it.

Perhaps it was the activity surrounding the first day of school or that Michael was home to keep me company yesterday, but I didn't sink into the usual depression. It was bearable and I was able to enjoy life more this time around. Whatever the reason, I'm thankful.

I'm optimistic today will be better. I'll keep up with my Tylenol, rest and enjoy food as the metallic taste leaves me. I'll take advantage of the peace, quiet and sunshine until the whirlwinds, as known as my kids, come home from school.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A purpose and the pit

It's the first day of school. My kids are not happy, especially Noah. His negative attitude is rubbing off on Tara, who in grade 3 should be very excited about returning to school. But short of telling them to have a good attitude, packing a yummy lunch and wishing them well, there's nothing I can do.

Helping them get ready for school has given me a purpose and I think that's kept me out of the pit of depression for a little while this morning. After taking an extra strength Tylenol, I made lunches, whipped up pancakes for breakfast, helped them select their clothes and attempted an attitude readjustment. A pretty tall order four days posts chemo.

Michael and I will walk them to school, as we do every year, and make sure they're settled. Then I will have the day to recover before my kids come bounding (a little optimistic perhaps) to tell me about their first day.

In the past, this day has been the worst for post-chemo symptoms. The bone pain and the nauseous hot flashes that started last night will intensify. Food is not appealing to me right now (not even those beautiful pancakes I made for breakfast) so I'm sipping my tea. There's nothing I can do but wait it out.

Time is the healer and I have to be patient.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Angels in blue and yellow

It takes a special person to work with cancer patients - people who are very sick, scared and possibly facing death. Yet, the doctors, nurses and staff at the London Regional Cancer Centre are unfailingly professional, polite and kind.

I call the nurses that administer the chemotherapy angels in blue, because they all wear blue lab coats. They work together to ensure the needle gets in (and call in back up if one person is having trouble threading the vein), you're getting your different drugs on time and you're feeling okay during treatment.

The Canadian Cancer Society volunteers - the angels in yellow - wander the cancer suite handing out ginger ale and cookies to the patients. In the main part of the cancer centre, they help direct patients, assist with a machine that each patient must use each visit to answer questions about how they feel, staff the library and the wig-lending library, as well as stock carts with coffee, water and cookies. I know they perform other valuable jobs I haven't witnessed, such as driving patients to treatment, appointments, etc.

Even though the reason for going to the cancer centre brings anxiety and fear, the angels in blue and yellow made the experience less traumatic. For that, I'm thankful.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bruised, battered . . . but still battling

I began the decent in the basement of doom and gloom yesterday, but as of right now I'm only halfway down the steps. I got extremely tired and lethargic after lunch. It's terribly depressing when it gets to be too much energy to smile. I try, but it's hard.

One of the three needle pricks from Friday left a good bruise on my forearm. But that too will fade in a week or so and my arms can rest. One of the chemo nurses and I discussed on Friday, how getting blood drawn is completely different. For blood, the nurse goes straight in and out with a nice, thin needle. For chemo, the thicker needle must thread the vein to get all those toxic chemicals in properly. It hurts going in and can leave a nasty bruise.

Last night, for the very first time during this chemo journey, I had to take the stronger anti-nausea medication I was prescribed after my first treatment. My stomach wasn't happy with me at bedtime, so I prepped the puke bucket and quaffed one of the orange pills. Luckily, it seemed to do the trick. I wanted to be able to say I didn't need stronger anti-nausea medication, but then realized I was being dumb and trying to be some sort of strange hero. So I took the pill.

My hair has already turned fuzzy and white. Michael will help trim it down with the clippers later today. The Yoda look does nothing for me. But at least I know that it'll start to grow . . . soon. Much to my chagrin, the stinky farts made a reappearance last night and a slight metallic taste has invaded my mouth. I've also started with the more frequent hot flashes (tropical moments). It's when they're accompanied by nausea and slight dizziness a bit later in the cycle that they really get annoying.

When my energy level isn't too bad over the next two days, we've got to divide the school supplies, write names on the items, pack the backbacks and write a note to Noah's new teacher. Luckily, we've gathered everything up (I hope), including lunch supplies, so we'll be ready to go Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, that's typically a very bad day for me post-chemo, but I'll dredge the strength up from somewhere so I can participate in my the first day of grade 7 and grade 3 for my kids.

We're in the process of trying to get Tara turned around from her summer sleeping schedule so she isn't going to bed at 10 to 10:30 at night and rising at 8 or 9 a.m. The school wouldn't like it much if she strolled in late to class every morning. As a result of her early waking yesterday, she was so cranky last night at bedtime because she's overtired. She was upset over something really dumb - brushing her teeth - and I didn't have the patience for it. Poor Tara.

But on the bright side, I'm sitting here sipping coffee, probably my last for a couple of days. I'm relatively alert and pleasant for now. I just woke Tara up and she's currently cheery. I'm beating this. Later today, I know I'll decend those last few steps to the dreary basement of chemo hell, but I'll be back in a few days - this time for good.

Wish me luck,

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Baby, I rang that bell

I was no timid bell ringer yesterday afternoon. While I'd heard a couple end-of-treatment bell ringers earlier in the day, I knew my peals would ring longer and louder.
Yesterday was another butt-numbing, long day of chemo, but the anticipation started building as I was on my last couple of infusion bags - the ones that don't take hours to go in. The excitement of ringing the bell and of walking out of there (hopefully) for the last time made me extremely happy.

Wben nurses reviewed my charts and asked if this treatment was my last or when I shared the news with the fellow chemo patients to whom I talk, my smile was a mile wide and my voice almost cracked with suppressed glee. Yes, hallelujah.

My last three visits, I've struck up a relationship with another ovarian cancer fighter. I've shared some side-effect fighting tips that she tried after her last treatment and she had much better results. She's one treatment behind me. She was in the other room (the chemo suite is split into two separate treatment rooms) and when I took a walk because I couldn't stand sitting any more, we chatted. She told me to ring that bell so she could hear it for inspiration. I'm pretty sure her eardrums heard the dongs.

The lone, male chemo nurse extended his arm to escort me to the front desk followed by the three or four chemo nurses he could gather (the ones not already gone home or occupied treating other patients) to witness and clap the bell ringing. Then I was skipping outside on a glorious, summer day.

Michael took pictures, some of which are posted here. He got emotional. I was so excited. We hugged and kissed - to the ahhhs of the chemo nurses.

No, things didn't go perfectly yesterday. My veins knew what was coming and decided to hide, so it took three needle sticks before I began the treatment at 11:10 a.m. I was also on the dark side of the chemo threatment suite, but on the plus side, I did get a bed right away.

I managed to sleep for the first time during treatment. Michael says I was out for about an hour. I think I felt better last night because of it.

My appointment with Dr. P. went well. My blood levels were good, he seemed optimistic and again, treated me like I was normal - go do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt. Of course, I'll have to build up to doing all those things I was doing before - after I get over the side effects of this treatment - but at least I have the go ahead to try. He'll see me for my follow up appointment in four to six weeks.

I was thankful to have Michael there yesterday. He bookended my treatments - the first and the last. It was a shame Angie, my constant chemo companion couldn't make it, but she had to work and she's figuring out the first days of school for her boys (they went back on Tuesday). I missed her but appreciated all the hours she spent sitting around during chemo.

This morning is a typical first morning after chemo. I'm going to enjoy my coffee and paper. I'll go out for a little while later while I still feel good. The tiredness and skunky mouth will sneak in this afternoon and then I'll be down for the count.

But this morning, is okay and holds promise. I have the anticipation of getting better and a summer day. The sun is just coming up and it's going to be a glorious one. Enjoy.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Courage and the bell

When you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.
- Joseph Campbell

Over the past five months, many have commented on my strength. Quite honestly, I didn't know I possessed this depth of determination until I faced this cancer challenge. I don't know from where it comes. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell's quote above, I found the strength when I most needed it.

And I need that strength today as I go into my last chemotherapy treatment. Not so much for the actual infusion, although I hope it only takes one needle, but for next week. As regular readers of my blog know, the side effects begin about Sunday.

But I only have one more week or so to endure the worst of the side effects. Then hopefully the physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion will start to dissipate and my hair will begin to grow back. In four to six weeks, I'll have a follow up appointment with Dr. P. to make sure the cancer is gone.

So I can do this. I have the strength. I will beat this.

I know many of you wearing your Team Tina t-shirts today or yellow in support of my last chemotherapy treatment. Yay! I'm touched and honoured, once again, by this demonstration of support. Michael and I will stride into the cancer centre together with our yellow Team Tina t-shirts for today's treatment. We're stronger together and I feel the strength this united group provides.

When my treatment ends today, I get to ring a bell. A former cancer patient brought in this special bell to ring in celebration of his last treatment. He left it behind so others could also feel the exhilaration of ringing it when they too were done with chemo. I heard it a few times last session - tentative soft rings. But I'm plan to ring it with some gusto because I'll feel relieved, thankful, blessed and excited my chemotherapy treatments are done.

Wish me well today (and a few prayers wouldn't hurt) and mentally ring that bell late this afternoon in celebration.

With love and determination,


The adventure of life is to learn.
The purpose of life is to grow.
The nature of life is to change.
The challenge of life is to overcome.
The essence of life is to care.
The opportunity of life is to serve.
The secret to life is to dare.
The spice of life is to befriend.
The beauty of life is to give.

My friend, Lisa has these beautiful inspirations by William Arthur Ward posted by her desk as a reminder to do, see and be more. When she shared them with me a couple of weeks ago, I immediately honed in on the challenge of life is to overcome. That's my focus right now. I need to beat this damn cancer to move on.

My LAST chemotherapy treatment is tomorrow. I'll get my blood drawn at 8:30, see Dr. P. at 9 and then start my chemo around 10:30. I'm scared, excited, nervous and relieved.

As of this morning, I'm mentally preparing for tomorrow and next week, which I know will be terrible. But once I'm through that, I can start, and continue, to feel better. Unfortunately, my worst day for side effects will be the first day of school.

It's tradition that Michael and I walk our kids to school, see the new teachers, give the kids a hug and kiss (if they let us) and wave them off to their first day of the new school year. I know I'll find the strength somewhere to keep up this ritual, but Michael may find me in bed the rest of the day.

Tomorrow, I plan to wear my Team Tina t-shirt and my cancer sucks socks to chemo as a badge of honour that my village has been behind me every step of the way and continues to support me during my last round of chemo. Thank you! You guys have captured the essence of life is to care and the beauty of life is to give.

Although I latched on the inspiration about overcoming challenges, if I really consider them, I notice many can apply to my journey with cancer. I know I've learned, grown and changed in many ways. I think mostly for the better. I've also connected with more friends (I'm a lucky woman).

I've captured the dare inspiration because I'm daring to fight and beat this horrible disease.

While I feel I haven't done my best on the care, serve and give inspirations, I know I'll have many opportunities in the future. I've made comments about how I'll never be able to repay the kindness and generosity people have shown me over the past five months and I've been encouraged to pay it forward. No on who gives expects to be repaid, they just want to help. For that I'm grateful. What I can do is know how important support is during a struggle and help someone else who faces difficult challenges in the future.

We all have opportunities in life to learn, reach out, love, befriend, change, grow, care, overcome, share and dare. These inspirations encourage us to be more. Don't get mired in the muck of every day and forget to reach for the stars. We all have the ability.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Celebrating 73

We celebrated my father-in-law's 73rd birthday last night with a BBQ and cake (of course, I consumed two pieces of the delicious lemon cheese crumble cake because I can't stop eating).

In some ways, he looks his age. He's a little white man who is shrinking a bit each year, his hearing is going and he runs around regularly without his false teeth in, which puckers his face. But he's still mobile, regularly putters cutting grass, pulling weeds, shovelling snow or gathering up the garbage. His memory is excellent, and every now and then he enjoys a glass or two of scotch and tells stories.

In some ways, it's amazing he's still alive. He suffered a heart attack and stroke at the young age of 49. His memory was hampered and he still has trouble saying what he means - he explains the word he wants isn't always the one he says - but he made it through.

As I helped him celebrate birthday 73, I thought I want to celebrate that milestone too. I want my children and future grandchildren (hopefully) to come dine with me.

I notice older people more now and want to experience being a senior citizen one day. I hope to be one of those spry, healthy ones who I often see enjoying their golden years. But sometimes I'm shocked by what the ravages of time can do to a body. I've often heard how unfair it is that our bodies start to fail us just when we have the time to enjoy life.

When I'm old, I won't care if I'm wrinkled or if my hair is white because I'll have earned every laugh line and grey strand. They're badges of honour of a life lived.

I hope to be a fairly hip old woman wearing current, but age appropriate, clothing, semi-current on the latest technology and with an inkling of what's important to the younger generations.

I want to have a chance to spend all the money I'm socking away for retirement with road trips without time boundaries, hobbies, writing and books. Of course, I want to spend my time with the love of my life, Michael.

Many fear growing old. I fear not having that opportunity.

So I'm fighting mentally and physically right now to beat ovarian cancer so I have the option of offering my guests a second piece of birthday cake on my 73rd birthday.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The external toll of cancer

The label on the little green tube makes false promises. It proclaims it's a daily anti-fatigue eye cream. So why do the craters under my eyes look more pronounced every day? In fact, one of them has a slight purplish hue like it's saying, "look at me." Sheesh.

The chemo induced zits don't quite go away. Despite using my son's anti-acne cream, they flatten but remain as little red dots on my face. They don't create any miracle cream for that affliction. Short of using concealer and foundation, which I don't bother with, I'm stuck with them for now.

A fuzzy brown and white halo still surrounds my head, with approximately 1/30th of the hair follicles I previously sported. I look forward to the time when all my hair grows in - and stays. The cooler weather prompts me to pull up the hood on my sweatshirt to protect the back of my neck from the chilly wind. I'm lucky my cancer fight happened over the summer so I didn't have to wear a tuque everywhere.

My eyebrows are mostly gone (yes, it looks funny) and I sport about five eyelashes on each lid. It's funny, but I think it's the loss of eyelashes that bothers me the most. It feels strange and I look a bit like Yoda. On eyelids, no eyelashes you say?

As for the loss of body hair, it's a bonus in some ways. It's a shame this hasn't been a bathing suit summer (both from a weather and health standpoint), because I'm physically prepped hair wise. My arms and legs are smoother than they've ever been. My underarms and bikini line sport no stubble and require no upkeep. But it's weird not having hair in other regions.

On the other hand, I'm thankful to not sport a bathing suit in public right now. Between the steroids, the lack of exercise and the cancer excuse to eat what I covet to keep my strength up, I'm not in prime physical condition right now. That's going to be a long and difficult road when I'm healthy.

I tried running half a block the other day (how pathetic, eh) and realized I'm not starting at zero with physical fitness, I'm in the negative numbers. My physical condition and stamina suck. Since I've been active almost my entire life, being this out of shape is a foreign concept. But I'm going to have to be patient with myself. Yes, I'll need reminders because I'm hardest on myself.

The cancer chemicals must be incredibly drying too. My skin soaks up moisturizer like a desert with water. When I go for a massage, the therapist is surprised when the lotion disappears on my back. But it could be worse. Apparently, some forms of chemotherapy affect the finger and toenails, turning them brown and brittle.

The right hand still has the numb section on its back. From all the reading I've been doing, that phenomenon seems to be a freak of nature. I laugh and think, only to me. At least it's in a fairly unimportant area.

So besides all the physical, post-chemo side effects, I've been working with these other afflictions. While they aren't physically painful, most are annoying. But I just suck it up and carry on. It doesn't really matter what I look like to fight cancer. It's an internal physical and mental battle.

As Yoda would say, "To beat cancer's butt, outside beautiful you need be not." And since that's what I'm doing, the zits, hair loss, dry skin, extra weight and undereye circles don't matter in the end.