Monday, November 30, 2009

Hair update

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

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

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



Hair, hair everywhere

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 27, 2009

Gym flashback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your trying friend (in many ways),

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My time horizon

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

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

Everything else comes with a big IF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hopping on the exercise bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 21, 2009

A letter to cancer

Dear Cancer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 20, 2009

Cancer in the backseat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The storm

The storm

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

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

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

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

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

- Tina Thomas-Bratscher, September 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Welcome back hair

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 16, 2009

Slow down and feel groovy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join me in the quest for grooviness.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The emotional teeter totter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,

Friday, November 13, 2009

The dream, interpreted

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

According to her dream book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Restful, sunny Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Recovery and changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 9, 2009

Hi ho

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Funky dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome your interpretations.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Redefining healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 6, 2009

A new attitude - work version

It's all official, sanctioned by Human Resources, Health Services, the rehab consultant, the disability office and my department. I start my gradual return to work on Monday morning for three hours a day, three days a week. I'm looking forward to going back, being with people again and building some normalcy back into my life.

I'm also nervous about getting tired, dealing with my up and down emotions at work and getting sucked back into expectations - although I know very well they're my unrealistic expectations and not anyone else's. I can be a mean taskmaster sometimes, cracking that whip and screeching more, quicker, better!

Colleen, my wonderful boss, warned she's going to keep her eye on me so I don't overdo it and work only the hours approved in the plan. She didn't want to give me my laptop yesterday either. I think she was thinking of the old Tina, who would have felt compelled to log on this weekend if only to clean out emails or get it prepped for Monday. But I actually didn't even want it. Monday is soon enough for me. There will be plenty of time to work on all that stuff when I return to work.

Mentally, I have no intention of reverting to my previous ways, but old habits die hard. I'll have to be vigilent to slow down and be realistic with my expectations. To keep the quality, yet not the quantity.

I've always said, I work to live, not live to work. But I think I only halfheartedly lived up to that mantra and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off. Colleagues could identify my presence by the way I race-walked through the department. I always had a mission and had to get it done - now! To be honest, being very busy made me feel important and as if I were contributing.

These seven months off (as if it were a vacation!) demonstrated, while I really like my job and want to do it well, it can sometimes be a life-sucking force instead of a life-giving one. But I don't think it has to be that way. I think it depends on choice, pace, attitude and gratitude.

My social worker recently asked me if I'd thought about doing something different with my career now that I'd been through the cancer fight and its mind-altering effects. Happily, the answer was no. I like my job and love the people with whom I work.

So now I'll focus on easing back into work and incorporating (and living by) my new attitude. Life has taught me some valuable lessons and it's time to work them into portions of my old life to make the new one even better.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mother of a 12-year-old

At 9:45 last night, I officially became the mother of a 12-year-old. It used to make me feel old, but now it makes me feel thankful I've seen another of my precious son's birthdays.

On Nov. 3 every year, I remember the events of the day of his birth. Michael had just left for work when I experienced the signs I was going into labour. I happily waddled into his nursery to unpack the last few gifts and ensure all was in its place for his arrival.

But it wasn't all sunshine and roses on Nov. 3, 1997. At the hospital that afternoon, after the nurses took my blood pressure and a blood sample, my doctor broke the scary news that I had HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening obstetric complication, thought to be associated with pre-eclampsia. As a result, I had high blood pressure, my liver wasn't functioning properly and my platlet count was low.

The cure - an emergency C-section so I didn't get worse and go into seizures, bleed out or experience any of the other horrifying and deadly possibilities. I couldn't have an epidural to experience the birth of my first child because I could bleed out through my spine. So they completely prepped me for emergency surgery, including swabbing my abdomen with the antibiotic, so they could cut immediately after I was out.

I remember waking from the anaesthesia and Michael telling me it was a boy. I said, "Of course." But I wasn't properly awake and didn't really see him until the next morning. He was (and still is) beautiful - and healthy.

Me, on the other hand, went downhill with jaundice and lethargy the afternoon of Nov. 4. I spent three days in recovery before I was out of the woods and able to go to a regular hospital room. Once there, I recovered rapidly and relished the time with my new son (poor boy had to stay in the nursery because I wasn't healthy enough to care for him).

I almost died giving birth to Noah. But here I am, thankful for my wonderful, exasperating, caring, confrontational, imaginative, crazy, funny little boy (although I'm sure he'd hate for me to call him little). He's a tween who is almost as tall as me and changes weekly. He and I have a special bond, which I hope continues as he grows.

I sometimes worry that cancer will take me from my babies and they'll have to continue to grow up without me. Michael and Noah are so much alike, they butt heads a lot, which worries me. But somehow I can communicate with Noah, so I feel he needs me, especially because of his bipolar disorder. My mom job isn't done yet. Surely, I can't be forced to leave before it's complete.

Here's hoping I get to experience many, many more of Noah's birthdays (and perhaps even his children's birthdays).


Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I went into work yesterday to prep my cube for my return next week. But I have to say, it was a bit bittersweet.

It was wonderful to see some of my work friends. Tears welled in my eyes several times because I received such a warm welcome and unconditional understanding. I got lots of big hugs and I saw some people I haven't seen since I left work.

But when I was alone and started to clean my cube, a weird feeling washed over me. I nostalgically remembered my B.C. (before cancer) life where I blindly carried on thinking I was almost invincible. I donned a superwoman cape back then. Too bad, tumours hid in its folds.

I had a weird sensation in my stomach when I washed down the phone on which I received the call telling me I had cancer. I sighed with dissapointment when I noticed my calendar was still on April. Dissapointment that I dramatically dissapeared from life as I knew it in mid-April, and I reflected on the hard fight those unflipped months entailed.

I felt a little sadness that I'd lost my B.C. life - when cancer didn't touch my body and soul. For a time when my biggest worry was whether Noah would be suspended from school. A time when I was fit and didn't have a gigantic scar or cringe at every twinge in my abdomen. When I didn't have to worry about a life-threatening illness coming back to wreak havoc with my life and family.

But the good of the visit outweiged the bad because, while I temporarily focused on B.C., I quickly moved back to reality. I'm blessed to have many wonderful, understanding people in my work life who, I have no doubt, will help me ease back in and will accept the new work Tina - a person who goes slower and reflects more than the speed-walking, stress-induced, deadline-driven, Type A individual I used to be. While I'll still care about doing a quality job, I won't take on more than I can handle and I'll carve time out to enjoy each day.

I long for my B.C. life, but I'd want it with all the valuable insights my fight with cancer has given me. Yes, I want my cake and eat it too.

Talking to people yesterday, I realized, I've truly put my cancer in God's hands and am ready to move on. I really mean it when I say I'll see what the CT scan says in three months and deal with it then. I want to live my life as normally as possible until I have to change it.

I know people are sympathetic to the bad news. I saw it in people's eyes yesterday. Please don't feel sorry for me. Feel sorry with me and listen to me rage or cry when the roller coaster dips down, but help me celebrate life every day. I'm going to try avoid wasting too much time feeling sad because I want my life (however long I have - hopefully many, many, many years) to be happy.


P.S. Oh, in follow up to yesterday's blog, I went bald (which isn't exactly true as I do have very, very short hair) yesterday. I took off my hat when I got hot cleaning my cube and then ran around without it. I even went to the cafeteria sans head covering. It felt weird and I was a bit nervous, but all was fine.

I didn't even get very many stares, which is typical out in public. So I think that's what I'll do at work. But I will have to wear a hat or toque outside as my poor, baldish head gets cold. Brrrr.

Thanks everyone for being supportive and for the compliments on my very short hairstyle. ;)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hairs of my chinny chin chin

Life is just not fair. I am using every ounce of willpower to urge the hair on my head to grow, only to discover the ones that grace my chin are back with a vengeance. They didn't seem to have any trouble sprouting after the chemo left my body.

In fact, on the places I'd prefer not to have hair - underarms, chin, legs - I see regrowth. And it's growing to the point where I have to do something about it. Yet, the hair on my head, continues at its seemly slow pace.

Michael kindly tells me it's growing quickly and that people would shell out good money for the "highlights" I have in my hair. I think he's just trying to make me feel good about the astonishing amount of grey (silver, platinum) I have on my head. Men tend to look distinguished with grey temples. I'm not sure that's what others say about my look, but oh well. There's nothing I can do about it right now and I like having hair, regardless of its colour.

I'm getting more comfortable with taking my hat off in public, although I still get double takes and astonished stares. Most of the time I ignore people so they can quickly look and adjust to the semi-bald woman. I know that if I were in their shoes, I'd probably do the same thing.

But, last week at the hospital with my mom, an older lady in the waiting room continued to stare at me until I looked her square in the eye. After a beat, she quickly looked away, embarassed to be caught openly staring.

So now my delimma now is what do I do when I return to work - bald, scarf or hat? Hmmmm.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

BRCA support group

I almost didn't go. After the shocking news on Tuesday, I didn't feel emotionally prepared to go to the BRCA support group that evening. I felt too raw, too emotional, too exposed. I even said to Michael, "What can they say that can help me at this point in my journey?"

"Go," he said. "At least you'll know what it's like and see if it can help you. You have to go at least once."

He was right. I met a small group of BRCA-positive women - those who have been diagnosed as having the hereditary BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutation in their genes that predisposes them to contracting breast and ovarian cancer.

Some have fought cancer, others are having surgeries to stave it off. One of these women, Karen, was featured in The London Free Press a few weekends ago. This awesome story talked about a mom and her two daughters who tested positive for the BRCA-2 gene and their subsequent decisions.

At the meeting, Karen talked about her double mastectomy and explained the tram flap procedure she chose. She talked about the operation and recovery, and even showed us her scars and her new flat belly. Brave woman!

Actually, anyone with the gene is a brave woman because it's not a question of if you'll get cancer but when. We have to make tough decisions to prevent it from taking hold, and if it's too late, be brave and fight it when it's discovered.

Two genetic counsellors also attended the meeting. I think their role is to be supportive, provide information and reinforce facts about the BRCA genes. Apparently Dr. A used to attend the meetings when the group started about 10 years ago.

I have to admit, when I was asked for my story, I rambled. I'm good at explaining the whole diagnosis, fight, chemo portions, but when I had to talk about the too-fresh results of the CT scan, I wasn't very eloquent because I was still processing the news.

But no one judged. Everyone was supportive and accepting. One woman complimented me on my smile. Who doesn't need that kind of group of people in their lives?

Despite feeling a bit aloof and alone, I was accepted for who I am and where I am in the journey. I left feeling less alone, knowing there are others who understand what it's like to be BRCA positive. We're a select group with a mutation none of us asked for, but we're dealing with it. I have a feeling I'll be able to learn from some of these women, to make my BRCA journey a little easier.