Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good riddance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next year,


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Astounding responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your happier friend,

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The incredible lab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's all quite amazing - and complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 28, 2009

Celebrating 64

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

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

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

Happy birthday mom. I love you.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Poetic boxing day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to you all.
Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the day before Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Series of unfortunate events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 21, 2009

It snuck out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm scared.

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


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 18, 2009

Knock knock

Where are you?

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

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

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

Alone in cyberspace?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


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

- Criminal Minds television show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My normal life

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


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

-- variation on the prayer of St. Theresa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all deserve it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Almost a full week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 11, 2009

Update on my mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Say a little prayer

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 7, 2009

Cancer's letter to Tina

Dear Tina:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until we tango again,

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's my life

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

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

-- Bon Jovi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 3, 2009

A step back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Unbelievable generosity

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

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

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

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

Tina and Michael

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Doctor drop

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

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

Say what?!

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

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

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

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

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

Your tired friend,