Friday, December 31, 2010

Grateful new year

On this date last year, I was eagerly anticipating celebrating the arrival of a new year. I was sure 2010 couldn't be worse than than 2009; the year in which I received my cancer diagnosis and battled the dreadful disease. I popped the top on a cold beverage and looked forward to the countdown to midnight.

Little did I know, 2010 would bring a similar set of woes. I once again endured treatment for a reoccurence, which sapped my strength and wreaked havoc with my emotions. This return of the evil beast brought many trips to Hamilton, a new doctor, a clinical trial drug and enhanced side effects. It also forced me to more closely examine my inevitable demise (which we all have to come to terms with sooner or later).

While I'll once again enjoy the new year's eve with close friends, good food, a few beverages and some cards, I will propose a different toast when the clock strikes midnight. Instead of cursing the year that passed (even though I have lots of reasons to do just that), I'm going to be grateful I was blessed with another 365 days on this earth.

I'm not going to try to forget the events of the past year because they enlightened me and made me stronger. Besides, lots of good things happened in 2010 too. I went to Myrtle Beach with my sister, and Florida with my family and in-laws. I enjoyed a few days at a beautiful cottage on a lake. My mom got through her cancer treatment and has a clean bill of health. We got a hot tub. I swam in the lake. I celebrated Easter, Christmas, the last day of school, Halloween and lots of birthdays. And most importantly of all, I had time to spend with those I love.

So goodbye to 2010, with all its ups and downs. Hello 2011. I hope you'll be kinder to me and my village. I hope you bring happiness, health, laughter and peace. Whatever happens, each sunrise brings promise, and I'll take each day one at a time.

Happy 2011 everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Doing cancer wrong

I needed some emotional healing (or food for thought) this morning, so I pulled out Kris Carr's book Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. When I need to put my feelings into perspective, she nudges me in the right direction.

On my cancer journey, I easily get sucked into a whirlwind of ideas and emotions, with no discernable way out. I sometimes need external forces like a book, a person or action to push me out of the swirling and back on a more grounded path.

The words written by one of the contributors in Carr's book really spoke to me this morning. She said she was fearful those who loved her would be disappointed if she ceased to be the do-it-all survivor. "There was a "right" way of having cancer and I was doing it wrong. No one blamed me, but I blamed myself," she wrote.

Her words reinforced I'm struggling with expectations right now. I feel when I have my big emotional slumps, sluggish days, rages and fearful episodes I'm letting down my village. I worry voicing my fears about my health, my cancer and the road to my death only brings those around me down (and you didn't sign up for this).

I've heard many people say they admire me for the way I'm dealing with this stupid disease, I'm so strong. I'm their hero. I have to admit, the praise makes me feel good. (I guess I'm a bit of a praise junkie.) But, I didn't sign up to be anyone's hero. Now I feel like I'm letting everyone down because I'm weak and scared. I'm doing cancer "wrong." I'm burdening everyone around me by talking about it. I'm scaring people away.

I also feel stuck. I'm scared to move forward because I fear cancer's return; sooner rather than later. I'm reluctant to write, and yet I promised I'd work on my book, so now I've let all those people down. I'm dwelling on getting sicker instead of focusing on getting better - and going out and enjoying life - which also disappoints all those who love me. It also mortifies me. I deserve better than this! (Am I screwed up, or what?)

I even feel guilty for writing this blog. But I'd be a hypocrit if I didn't because I commented on someone else's blog yesterday about being honest in one's writing:

"Blogging removes the privacy wall and, if we're honest, allows us to share insight and delve deeper into thoughts and emotions. Remember, each one of us is complicated and composed of both sunshine and night.

In our blogs, if we aren't honest about our true feelings, whatever they may be, we're dishonest to ourselves and our readers. If people don't want to hear the dips and rants, they can stop reading. But it's all part of the journey - whether it be losing your mom or battling cancer."

I closed my comment by saying I'd continue to read through her ups and downs. I know many of you will too - and for that I'm thankful.

Fighting cancer is a shitty job. Being the support angels beside the cancer survivor is an equally shitty fate. I'm so very thankful for those who prop me up when I'm feeling down. Thanks to all of you who stick with me through the craziness, I couldn't do it without you.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010


We prepare for months and then enjoy it all in a few days. Christmas is a wonderful, exasperating, awe inspiring, tiring, filling, delicious, worrisome and blessed time of year. I had a good holiday and was showered with many nice surprises. I was also able to watch the glee on others' faces as they opened their gifts. I like that part.

My house now looks like a whirlwind went through it, despite being cleaned really well on the Dec. 22, and my body feels the same way. That doesn't bode well for me doing anything about the messy house - at least not right away.

My home and energy levels are kicked, and so is my emotional state. I've decended into a blue funk over the past day or so, and am having trouble coming out of it. (Picture Elvis singing Blue Christmas.) It could be the fear over some pains that reappeared over the holidays. I experienced a sharp, consistent one in my lower, left abdomen that got really bad on Boxing Day. Then my right ribs started to hurt yesterday. Of course, my mind jumps to bad conclusions like tumours and ascities. I know I need to be positive and come up with reasonable explanations to these troublesome owies: scar tissue, doing too much, eating too much, gas.

Yup, I'm once again on the dip portion of the emotional roller coaster. Hopefully, it's one of those speedy ones right before the big, big climb upwards.

Luckily, I have casual new year's eve plans with some wonderful friends to anticipate. It's good to have fun events on the horizon. Now, I'll just have to do something about this house . . .

I hope you're holidays were/are awesome and you're having some fun and making some memories.


Friday, December 24, 2010

It's what you make it

Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts. 
     ~Janice Maeditere

This morning, as I sat in the hot tub, I turned my day around by thinking about all the wonderful things for which I'm thankful. It helped. I've been in a sad and grumpy mood, and I knew it was up to me to change it.

Last night, I was angry and sad after my little baking extravaganza. Even though I greatly reduced the number of treats I made, the experience left me hobbling and with a terrible abdominal pain. I broke down in tears and sobbed in Michael's arms. I was furious at the injustice of this stupid disease.

This morning, I woke lacking Christmas spirit. Quite honestly, I'm still angry, worried and sad. But I didn't want the holiday to simply slip by without joy in my heart, so I stopped and wondered how to improve my mood.

Then I remembered what I've always believed, Christmas is what you make it. It's about opening my heart. It's about recalling the reason for the season: the birth of Jesus. It's about giving, not receiving. It's about being with my family and friends. It's recalling the generosity of others.

So I sat in the swirling warm waters and remembered:

- I'm alive and kicking, here to celebrate.
- I'm an Olaparib girl. I got chosen to receive the potentially life-saving drug.
- My mom's surgery, chemo and treatments went well and she's in remission.
- The hot tub helps Michael's ankle and reduces his stress level, which improves his health. (Even though he admits he's really worried about me).
- Oh, and then there's the hot tub.
- The generous friends and family who are still supporting us. Wow!
- That Noah's now in the mental health medical system and has a social worker to help with his anger management issues.
- Tara is a sweet, giving, 9-year old girl who is turning into an excellent horse rider.
- The next few days are going to be filled with good food, tasty beverages and excellent company.
- Did I mention the hot tub?

When I went grocery shopping this morning, I hummed as I strolled down the aisles. I smiled at others in the store. I wished the cashier a Merry Christmas. I turned the day around in my mind and I am going to do my very best to make it an awesome day.

I hope you have a very merry, blessed and fun-filled Christmas. (Remember, it's what you make it.)

God bless,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas spirits

My procrastinating ways caught up with me and I'm now feeling the pressure. Don't worry, it's not too bad and if some chores don't get done, they don't get done.

But I'm heading out the doors soon to brave the crowds and pick up a few things. I'll do my last-minute groceries tomorrow morning after I drop Michael off at work. Hopefully the early hour will mean fewer shoppers, but maybe everyone else will have the exact same idea as me. Regardless, it'll be what it'll be.

I've got to hit the LCBO today to get some wine. I'm sure merry individuals will be also be shopping for some Christmas cheer (or maybe they won't be so merry because they haven't started to imbibe). I also need ink for my printer. Of course, when I have an important project to print, I'm out of ink. So it always goes.

My kids are out shopping with their grandmother (Omi). She takes them to the dollar store every year where they pick out "thoughtful" gifts for everyone. It doesn't really matter what I get, the gift is from my kids and chosen with love - and that's what counts.

That's what Christmas is all about - love, family, friends and cheer (yup, I'm talking the wine again).


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tina, the elf

The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.
          - Elf

I'm shaking off the bah humbugs today and doing what I can to capture Christmas cheer. I started the day by donning my elf hat and making a few toys. Er, okay, I wrapped a few toys. Well, actually I wrapped some chocolate and special electronics for my kids. But let's not get hung up on semantics. I was Tina the Elf.

In a little while, when the entire household is awake, I'm going to slide a Christmas CD into the player at my desk and let the carols wash over me. I'll probably even sing along as I make my lists and check them twice.

Tomorrow my littlest elf and I will pull the flour, sugar and chocolate chips from the cupboard and bake some Christmas treats. Of course, the carols will still be playing in the background. We'll probably sing and dance as delicious smells waft from the oven. My eldest elf will wander upstairs to assume the role of official taste tester of the 2010 Baking Extravaganza.

Then I just have to groceries and make a homemade clendar for my in-laws (shhhh), and I'm ready. I guess I'd better be because it's only three sleeps until Santa comes. Maybe it was a subconscious gesture to leave some of these tasks until the last minute so I could infuse my home with the spirit at the right time.

Enjoy these last few days before Christmas and remember, there's room for everybody on the nice list.

Tina, the Elf

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A day to be sad

The Christmas carol chimes, "It's the hap, happiest season of all . . . " So why do I feel sad and disgruntled today?

I LOVE Christmas, but for some reason, I can't seem to capture the spirit of the festivities this year. I'm trying, for the sake of my kids, I'm trying. The little trek to Toronto was part of the effort. I did enjoy most of it, but by yesterday morning I was ready to come home. The most important part was the kids had a good time and we spent time as a family making memories. I seem a little fixated on that these days.

I do have flashes of Christmas spirit when I feel happy and content, but today isn't one of them. I think I'm tired and worried. I have a nagging sensation in my abdomen that radiates. Sometimes it's slightly painful and other times it's just a presence. Regardless, it worries me.

Oh, I'm sure there are lots of different, benign explanations for it, but until I go for my appointment in mid-January and get the results of my next CT scan, I think I'm going to worry. I may even be nervous after that. Oh, the horrible ramifications of battling cancer.

I can't help myself. Last time I believed I'd beaten this stupid disease and I was wrong. I want to believe it this time, but I can't. I can't help but think it's still lurking. I'm having a hard time with the holidays, planning my return to work and life in general today.

I think the expectations of Christmas and how special the holiday is to me only contributes to my unease. I love the traditions and visiting of this season. I want to sit back and enjoy it, but because of the possibility my Christmases are numbered, I feel incapable to doing just that. How stupidly ironic.

I'm also sad because of the limitations my body now puts on me. I really noticed in Toronto how quickly I got sore and tired from simply walking too much. My muscle tone is diminishing and I don't feel up to all the excursions and activities we'd like to do. Part of me is mad at myself and how much the disease has robbed from me.

As a result of my physical limitations, my roller-coaster emotions and my mental block around planning for the future, I feel I'm letting everyone around me down. I feel like I'm holding Michael back from enjoying activities. I worry I'm a bad employee because I'm mentally and physically not ready to return to work. I fret when I don't have energy for the kids.

I pray these fearful and inadequate feelings are temporary. Hopefully, I'll get caught up in the happiness of the holiday very soon.

Regardless of this sadness, I am truly thankful for every single day. I'm thankful for another Christmas. I'm relieved my cancer seems to have settled down. I'm blessed to have my supportive family and friends. And I'm happy I have a day to just be sad, so maybe tomorrow I can be happy.

One day at a time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Greetings from Toronto

We managed to do it. Michael and I were able to suprise our kids with our pre-Christmas trip to Toronto.

Noah suspected we were going by train based on the clues, but had no idea we were going VIA 1. They loved it! I think we've spoiled them for travelling by train any other way. They'd better work hard and make good money if they want to continue to purchase seats in first class.

The hotel isn't fancy and its pool is really, quite cold, but it's sufficed as home for the last two nights. We upgraded to a two-bedroom suite once we arrived and it's been worth it. It gave us both a microwave and fridge to prepare food in our room, and provided a little more privacy.

Yesterday, on Tara's insistance, we did a little shopping at the Eaton's Centre, and she spent most of her savings. Then we went to the show Miracle on Mercer Street, which was just okay. It was only an hour long (which makes it quite an expensive experience), but the kids seemed to enjoy it, which is the important thing. It also exposed them to a little live theatre.

This trip, with all its walking, revealed I'm not able to do what I was once able, or what I want. My feet swell and tire VERY easily. Mind you, there's a lot of walking here, but I used to be able to walk for hours. Now, after a few kilometres, my feet burn and I start to limp. I'm trying not to let it stop me, but it's frustrating.

Today, we head back to London on a late afternoon train, where Michael and I will enjoy a few drinks and we'll all experience the wonderful hospitality of VIA 1.

This little escape provided us with some great family time to start Christmas week. It reinforced that Christmas isn't something you find in a store, it's spending time with those you love.

Enjoy this crazy, amazing, wonderful week before Christmas.


Saturday, December 18, 2010


Today, Michael and I are surprising our kids with a trip to Toronto. Yeah, I know, they've been to Toronto lots of times, but this trip is different. We're going on the train (they've never been on a train), staying in a hotel and going to a show.

It's a pre-Christmas, end-of-school, let's hang out as a family celebration.

They know we're going somewhere. I announced earlier this week they should not make plans for the weekend. I've told them to pack clothes for two days, a bathing suit and some goggles. I instructed them to fill only a backpack (that they can carry themselves) with toys to amuse themselves - including chargers for electric games.

As a result, they're curious and have asked questions to which I've answered yes, no or I can't answer that. They've speculated about our destination.

How long are we going to be in the car? We're travelling about 20 minutes in the car. It's true. From our house to the train station it's about 20 minutes.

We're going somewhere with a pool. Or maybe we're going to someone's house and they have a pool.

Are we going to Great Wolf Lodge? No.

We're sleeping there? Yes.

Are we going to be indoors? Like any day, you'll be indoors and outdoors.

And a bunch of other questions.

Their grandmother is here to drive us to the train station. I hope they'll be pleasantly surprised. I'm a little anxious about their reaction.

We're travelling VIA 1 (or first class). It's God-awful expensive, but Michael won a gift certificate at his Christmas party last year and I had points I cashed in to purchase the tickets. I wanted Michael to experience VIA 1, with its nice meals and free alcohol, at least once.

We got a great deal on the hotel and theatre tickets with a Toronto tourism package. The hotel is considered downtown. but it's a little further northeast. We're going to see Miracle on Mercer Street tomorrow afternoon. From what I've read, it's a Muppet-like Christmas-themed performance designed for kids. I think they'll like it.

We'll swim in the pool, check out the Christmas lights at the Eaton's Centre and generally see what trouble we can find. We'll be as active or as laid back as we want. That's the beauty of a vacation like this. I think it's exactly what we need.

So off we go,

Friday, December 17, 2010

A big dose of cheer

When I was off sick last year, I often went back to work to visit with my friends and colleagues. I needed the connection, I craved the sense of normalcy and I think I defined myself by my work a lot more back then. This year, I haven't been back once - until yesterday.

Part of the reason is this time the chemo kicked the crap out of me. I felt far more tired and run down than last time, and I didn't think I was up to visiting.

But yesterday, my communications team planned a Christmas lunch, so I went. It was great fun and the food was good. Then I lucked out, because the department held a baby shower for a women who's due any day - and I got cake. During this festive event, I had the opportunity to chat with many members of the communications department. It was great.

Then I visited the marketing area I support. Luckily a few folks were kicking around and I was able to visit with them. But I'm sorry I missed some people during my visit yesterday. Some were out of the office and I didn't get to visit with others because I ran out of time.

Even though I was tired by the end of the day, seeing many of my friends and colleagues was awesome. To me, the visit was a big dose of Christmas cheer, and exactly what I needed.

While I have to wait until my next doctor's appointment in mid-January to plan my return to work (to make sure my hemoglobin is up and the CT scan doesn't show any suprises), I suspect I'll go back in late January. I'll have to adjust my lifestyle again (it's amazing how I can now fill my days without working), but it'll be good to go back.

I hope you experience something in your day that brings you cheer.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hair update

I laughed at myself when I looked in the mirror this morning. I had bed head. Yes, the hair I now have is long enough to get bent by my pillow and create a weird smushy section. I have to admit, that makes me very happy.

While it's still somewhat sparse, my hair is getting long enough to:

1. See very easily
2. Actually lay down at the sides of my head, over my ears
3. Notice the dark strands outnumber the grey ones (yay!)

And like last time, it's very, very soft.

My eyebrows are back in full force, my eyelashes are slowly growing longer and I'm actually going to have to start shaving my legs one of these days really soon, especially since I go in the hot tub daily.

Unlike last fall when my hair came back, I don't have all the soft, whispy facial hair. I had a little, but the full wolfman look didn't happen. Not that I'm complaining.

My wonderful hubby allowed me to take the clippers to his head again last night and shave him almost bald. Now we're in the same boat. His is shorter; mine is sparser. I suspect his will still grow faster. Oh well, I have company in my follically challenged situation.

But it's coming back, and I'm thrilled.

I've adapted a Christmas song and am singing, "All I want for Christmas is a full head of hair." That doesn't sound like too much to ask.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The true spirit of Christmas

Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!
                                                - The Grinch

Diane's comment on my blog yesterday made me think of this very appropriate quote from one of my favourite Christmas specials. As I'm racing around shopping and wrapping, she gently poked me in the side to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas. Oh, I knew it all along, but I easily got sucked into the commercialism of it with my list making and fretting about shopping.

But I think, despite my minor brain fart, I'm teaching my kids the right reasons for the season: It's better to give than receive, the most precious gifts are family, friends, health and happiness, and Christmas represents the birth of Jesus, God's generous and loving gift to us all.

The other day, my daughter wanted to buy her best friend a small Christmas gift (with her own money). She found some beautiful little braclets, lovingingly wrapped them herself and proudly brought them to school yesterday morning. Last night, we talked about her friend's happy reaction to the gift. I told Tara that's my favourite part of the season - seeing the expression on someone's face when unwrapping a gift I've chosen. She agreed. We talked about how it's nice to get gifts, but it's also very satisfying to give gifts.

Maybe that's why I'm a little frazzled. I want to get the perfect gifts, things I know my loved ones will enjoy. Sometimes that's tough. But then again, I honestly don't care if I get anything for Christmas. That's not what's important to me, personally. So why am I getting so hung up on what I get others?

The physical gift isn't really important because the real joy of Christmas is spending time with those I love. It's sharing laughs and cheer (in whatever form that takes). It's telling people they're important to me. It's hugs and kisses. It's taking time to be with those people who rock my world. I don't know how many Christmases I have (none of us do), so I'd best make sure I live the true meaning of Christmas during the ones I do get to experience.

May your homes be filled with cheer and laughter fill your hearts,

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm dreamin'

White Christmas
It's pretty much guaranteed I'll get my dream of a white Christmas. Given the amount of snow that's already fallen, the forecast for more over the next few days and the long range prediction of temperatures below or around the freezing mark, I don't think the white stuff will go anywhere before the big day.

I like a little sprinkling of sparkly snow for Christmas; enough to cover the ground, but not to hamper driving to holiday celebrations. It helps put me in the mood. Unfortunately, I don't have the holiday feeling yet. I'm hoping the Christmas spirit will settle on me during the next week.

Of course, once the big day has come and gone, the snow can go. We have way more snow than is necessary for my white Christmas dreams and I'm not a big fan of winter. I don't like the cold and I hate trecherous driving conditions.

Distant, sandy dreams
That's why I'm also dreaming of sun and sand in a tropical locale. I know the hot tub replaced the end-of-chemo trip and I'm really enjoying soaking in the warm water, but a girl can still dream. I know it's a fruitless one for this winter, so I'll just have to plan and save my pennies for a trip NEXT year. (Look at that! I'm making plans in the future. That's a big step for someone who's had cancer twice in two years!)

Until then, I'll plan for Christmas, try to capture the holiday spirit, soak in the hot tub, take up a winter sport and enjoy spending time with family and friends. With all those awesome activities, it may not be a bad winter after all.

Try to remember what makes your holiday special and be sure to include lots of that (or them) over the next few weeks. That's what this season is all about.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Santa Claus is coming

I'm making a list, and checking it twice. I know darn well who's been naughty and nice.

I feel a bit anxious today. I am NOT ready for Christmas and there aren't that many days left before the jolly man in the red suit starts his journey. To be honest, I haven't felt very festive. Nor have I had a lot of extra energy. Many a day, I've sat in my chair and said, "tomorrow." Well, damn, there aren't that many tomorrows left.

That's why I'm making the list. The one that will tell me exactly where I need to go to pick up my last minute gifts. I also need to sit down with Michael and go over the spreadsheet listing the gifts I've already purchased. To be honest, I'm a big fan of this year. With some searching and a few clicks of a mouse, I place an order. A few days later, it shows up at my door.

I hate that I've left so much for the last minute. I never do that. I hate crowds and crazy parking lots. I abhor the folks who stand in the middle of the aisles browsing or worse, chatting. When I do my Chrismas shopping, I'm on a mission and get out of my way. That's why I usually have everything wrapped up by early December.

And speaking of wrapping, I have that to do too. Ack!

I keep hearing this little voice inside my head telling me to calm down. It reminds me there are two full weeks left until Christmas Eve and so much can be accomplished once I set my mind to it.

That's why I'm making the list, checking it twice . . .


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A new perspective on hospitals

It was only a couple of years ago when I thought of hospitals with fondness. It was a place to have a baby or visit a patient who had surgery. In fact, I even worked at a hospital for over six years and my husband's been employed by one for over 20 years.

But early last year, when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my opinion of hospitals changed.

I know they're necessary, helpful and filled with good, caring people. But I guess I never expected to need so many medical services in my early 40s. I never expected to be young (okay, fairly young) and dependent on these institutions.

Having a baby or a minor procedure is far different than knowing you need to go to hospitals regularly, and will for the rest of your life. Childbirth is generally a happy, albeit painful event, and made up the majority of my hospital experience. On the flip side, cancer surgery, tests and treatments are not happy processes. They're filled with anxiety, fear, uncertainty, pain, anger and tears.

I can't even count the number of times I've visited a doctor or had a procedure at a hospital (which includes cancer centres) during the past 18 months. Sometimes I approach these visits with optimism and determination, while other times I'm sad and resigned.

Sometimes, for a fleeting moment, I think, "Maybe this is all a big mistake. I'm not supposed to have cancer. I'm not supposed to be living this life." But then I pull myself back to reality. Unfortunately, cancer can hit anyone, and health care, needles and hospitals will always play a role in my life.

My family doctor made an interesting comment to Michael a few weeks ago. She said, my patient file is the thickest one in her practice, and she receives reports about my tests and progress about once a week. At least everyone is in the loop.

Regardless of my feelings about hospitals and their employees, they're helping prolong my life. For that, I'm thankful.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bright eyes

When I was in the midst of chemo treatments, I knew I looked sick. There were the obvious signs: no hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, pale skin, lethargic demeanour. But to me it was something more.

People were kind and said I looked good, especially on those days when I had more energy and colour touched my cheeks. But when I looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn't agree with their assessment.

About a month ago, I saw a photo of myself from last fall, a couple of months after I was done treatment. I admired how good I looked. I thought it was the thin layer of hair and the make up I was wearing. But this week, I realized the healthy look didn't come from something external. The key element was my bright eyes.

During treatment and for a month or two afterwards, my eyes are dull. To me, that says, "girl, you're sick." I'm sure it's from the chemicals coursing through my body, attacking the evil cancer cells.

Last week, I got the sparkle back. I look in the mirror and think I look so much better. Trust me, I know how I look isn't nearly as important as how I feel, but I'm also starting to get more energy and experience fewer side effects from the Olaparib. Obviously, the residual chemo is also leaching from my system, which helps my recovery.

Although, I have to admit, it's also nice to see the bright eyes stare back at me when I look in the mirror. To me, it means good health and I'm extremely thankful for it.


Monday, December 6, 2010


London is blanketed in a thick layer of snow and it's STILL coming down. In fact, we're supposed to get 20 to 30 centimetres today, 20 to 30 cms more tonight and then 20 to 30 cms tomorrow. Yikes! That's a lot of snow.

Ironically, I was discussing the snow of my youth with a friend at lunch on Friday. In my memory, there was so much more of the white stuff back in the 70s and 80s. We lived in the country and our neighbours kindly plowed our circular driveway with their tractors. I remember one year when the pile of snow was as high as our ranch-style house. Talk about playing king of the castle.

We also had a creek in our backyard that would freeze each year, allowing us to skate and slide down its icy surface. The snow would pile up on the banks, so my sister and I would dig into the white surface to build little cubby-hole forts and tunnels. Great fun.

I also vividly recall one winter day in high school when I awoke to hear all schools and buses were cancelled for the day. I didn't understand. The grass was green. The sun was shining. But I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth (what does that saying really mean anyway?) and I crawled back into my warm bed. From my bedroom, with its two exterior walls, I felt the storm hit as I was lying in bed. Visibility was nil and the world was white. Crazy!

I heard on the radio this morning our current environment is creating the perfect atmosphere for this lake-effect snow storm. The Great Lakes are like hot tubs, providing lots of moisture to create the snow, while the cold weather and wind carry it over the region.

The representative from Environment Canada said, Mother Nature must have looked at the calendar as it flipped to December and thought about snow. London's received 100 hours of the white stuff since Dec. 1 - and it's still coming down. If the weather predictions are right, we'll have more snow in the first six days of the month than we received in all of December 2009, and two-thirds of the accumulation for ALL last winter.

The snow now swirling around outside reminds me of the snow of my youth. My children are thrilled because the schools are cancelled and they're outside. They've shoveled the snow (bless then) and are now happily playing. I envision hot chocolate in our not-so-distant future.

Unfortunately, Michael's at work. As for me, I'm hunkering in on this snowy day.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Memory tree

We put up our Christmas decorations today. It's so much work, but everything now looks so beautiful. The tree is in the living room, the lights are on the weeping mulberry outside and evergreen garland (okay, so it's fake) festively hangs on the fence behind the hot tub and on our banister. It all looks especially pretty with the massive amount of fluffy, white snow coming down today.

Over the years, Michael and I have gathered our own special collection of Christmas ornaments and decorations. I love opening each box and bag to rediscover each one. There's memories, not only from our years together, but also from my childhood.

In 1993, when we started dating, we started the tradition of buying a dated ornament. We've gathered quite a collection and many reflect the events of that particular year. In 1995, we bought one with a little bride and groom mouse to commemorate our wedding, in 1997 and 2001 "Baby's first Christmas" ornaments were added to our tree, in 1999 one with "our new house" joined the collection.

When the kids got old enough, they started getting ornaments too. Noah has Hagrid, Buzz Lightyear and Jimmy Neutron. Tara has some little power puff girl or something. They've also got a few ornaments with their names on it.

Our first dog, Diesel, is remembered every Christmas when we hang the snowflake with his photo. Our current dog, Ginger, is represented with an golden lab ornament lounging on a pillow. We've also got special decorations that reflect our lifestyle and beliefs - cycling Santa (because Michael cycles back and forth to work), a camping mouse roasting a marshmallow, the guitar to represent my musical husband, a mouse reading and of course, a nativity scene and peace dove.

Then we have those special ones that come from relatives or childhood. There's the chimney sweep my Aunt Margie bought in Germany when she was stationed there with the armed forces, the little plastic snoopy on skiis, and red velvet reindeer and mouse I vividly remember from when I was very little, the fire trucks that remind me of my dad's profession and the ceramic ornaments my Grandma Thomas made in 1976 (she died of cancer in 1985). I smile each year when I carefully unwrap these to add to our tree.

Yet, my smile dimmed a bit today when I wondered, "Will this be my last Christmas?" Michael admits he thought the same thing when we were at a family Christmas celebration yesterday. When your life's been touched with cancer, I think it's normal to have those fleeting sad and contemplative thoughts.

I guess they're a reminder to enjoy each day and each season; even when the kids argue about where to place the ornaments. Because that's life, and I'm so glad to be living it.


Friday, December 3, 2010


About 8:30 last night, the water was 103C, hot enough for us to try out new hot tub. While it was cold outside, it was toasty warm in the water.

I thought we'd be chilly exiting the spa for the return trip to the house, but our internal body temperatures were so warm, we didn't need to bundle up in robes or towels, but instead walked to the house in our bathing suits. So weird. In fact, I was hot for about 1/2 hour afterwards.

Tara joined us for our inaugural dip last night (Noah was too tired), but Michael and I enjoyed it by ourselves this morning. We looked at the stars and sipped our freshly brewed java. What a great way to start the day.

I'm already eagerly anticipating my next soak later today.


Thursday, December 2, 2010


The day is finally here. It felt like it's been ages coming. Exactly six weeks and two days ago I placed the order. After construction and delays, the hot tub comes today!

It's been so long it doesn't even feel real any more. I was excited when we did the wet test over six weeks ago. That involved taking a long soak in one of the store's demonstrator hot tubs. It seemed like reality when the deposit appeared on my credit card. And when we made the final payment about two weeks ago and made delivery arrangements for last week, I started to get excited.

But, the big snow storm in western Canada delayed the delivery truck from British Columbia, where the tubs are made, by three days and our golden delivery date was postponed. The money was spent (a big dent in my credit card) but I had nothing to show for it (damn snow). Because it'd been so long, I started to lose the excitement and feel like our beloved dream of hot tub ownership would never come true (melodromatic, eh?).

Yet, today is the day. Michael and Noah are outside in the snow, moving all the big objects in the way so the delivery guys can smoothly slip the spa into its landing pad in our backyard. The salesman and owner assured me we'd be able to soak in the warm, bubbly water this evening. God, I hope so!

While the excitement level is racheting up a little, Michael is having a few problems outside moving the frozen tent trailer, which is frustrating and mood dampening. So I don't think I'll really get excited and believe we actually own a our hot tub until it's placed in its new home without incident. Once the icy cold water starts to fill its cavity, ready for the heating action, I'm sure it'll hit me. When I take my first dip in the warm, soothing waters, that's when it'll all be reality - and make this LONG wait worth it.

Medical update
Since I went to my check up in Hamilton yesterday, I should provide an update on the medical stuff. My stubborn hemoglobin remains stuck at 101. No wonder I still get tired and dizzy. I was hoping for a big jump to get closer to the low end of normal, which is 120, but no such luck.

The doc said I'm doing very well two-months post chemo. I'm sure some of the chemicals are still floating around in my cells and contributing to the unwell feelings and slow recovery. But you know inpatient me; I want and think I should feel better NOW.

I did get some good news. My CA-125 dropped from 60 to 47. It's closer to the normal of >35. The doc and nurse both assured me these results are good and this will probably be my new normal. Dropping or a slight up and down is good. A large spike in the number is bad.

My next appointment isn't until mid-January when I'll get my next CT and full physical exam. Hopefully my hemoglobin will rise in the next seven weeks, more of the chemo will exit my system and I'll be (and feel) closer to normal.

Oh, I'm sure the hot tub will help!

With slowly building excitement,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Born to be, um, mild

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure, er, no. Looking for the Juravinski Cancer Centre.
And whatever comes our way, um, again no. Heading to a medical check up, some lunch and maybe some shopping.

I guess Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild lyrics don't really apply to Angie and me today. Considering I'd like this checkup to be uneventful and go as smoothly as possible, I'd have change the title to born to be mild. I'm okay with that.

Besides, the song seems to call for gunning motors and a recreational substance or two (to get through that long, somewhat weird musical interlude in the middle). Since we'll be traveling in a silver Prius hybrid and coffee will be our stimulant of choice, I don't think we fit the target demographic.

But it's a good tune nonetheless and a great one to belt out when alone in the car. Although I have to admit that I substitute humming for some of the lyrics I don't know. I don't think I'm alone.

Today, it's Born to be, um, mild. Catchy.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feeling low

I feel sad today. Despite my optimism from yesterday and all the cool things I have planned for this week, this emotion snuck up on me last night and has me feeling tearful this morning.

Maybe it's the rain. Perhaps it's my still-hurting eye. It could be the weight of the whole flipping cancer reality and lengthy recovery situation.

Regardless of the reason, that's how I feel. I'm going to roll with it until it goes away.

Until next time,

Monday, November 29, 2010

Another visit from Murphy

A couple of week's ago, I blogged about Murphy's law. This weekend, much to my chagrin, Murphy visited me again.

I have a friend named Murph and I'd welcome a visit from her any time. But what I experienced this weekend is not welcome in my house. These types of events cause headaches, expenses, pain or all of the above.

Extreme agitator
Since London began using smart meters on Nov. 1, Michael and I have been saving our laundry for the weekends, when electricity costs less. Smart meters charge electricity at different rates based on the time of day and season. Consumers pay more to use electricity during times of peak usage and less when many people sleep and on weekends. Hence the big piles of laundry I had in my house Saturday morning waiting for the cheapest electricity rate.

We'd completed two or three loads when Michael knelt down in the laundry room to adjust one of the legs and level the washing machine (a common necessity on the old machine). He rose to discover the knee of his jeans was wet (as was the area rug). We wondered if perhaps water escaped from the machine because it was off balance and optimistically started another load. After a few short minutes, we watched water pour from the front corners of the washer and snake across the floor towards the drain.

Given our washing machine was over 20 years old, we knew the amount it would cost to fix it (if even possible) wouldn't be worth it. Heck, the service call alone would be over $50, without the necessary repairs.

Luckily, we'd completed washing and drying all the bedding in the house so we all had fresh, clean sheets on which to sleep. But we needed a washer! I even contemplated bagging up the remaining laundry and carting it over to my mother-in-law's and begging the use of her machine. Instead we went shopping.

Our choice of washing machine came down to price, features and whether we could load it into our van and cart it home right after purchase. Luckily, we found just that. Of course, the removal of the old washer,  which was heavy and the introduction of the new machine, which was even heavier (unbelievably so) was a nerve-wracking experience. It involved removing doors, manipulating stairs, hurt fingers and fears of damaging our floors and/or new appliance. Luckily, my in-laws came over to help.

Now that it's in place, I have to admit I really like it. Being a front loader, it'll end up saving money in water and electricity. Of course,  we didn't need the almost $700 price tag this close to Christmas and while I'm off on disability, but there's nothing we can do but suck it up and carry on. Hopefully, I'll notice those efficiency savings quickly (ha ha).

A poke in the eye
On Sunday morning, Michael and I were feeling the effects of our adventurous Saturday. We decided finishing the laundry and cleaning the mess involved in the machine switch would be the extent of our work. This would give us time to rest and recover.

Yet Murphy decided I needed another affliction to contend with - a poke in the eye. While carrying a load of laundry, I walked into a grapefruit tree branch. Since I sport only very, very short eyelashes, they don't protect my eye very well and the spiky branch scratched my eyeball. I couldn't open my right eye for a good portion of the day because bright sunlight hurts it and makes it water. If I had an eye patch, I could be pirate Tina. Argh!

Today, I can leave my eye open most of the time and it only hurts a little, so that's an improvement. But a stick in the eye reflects the luck I've had lately.

Four-leaf clover turnaround
But my cruddy luck is going to turn around this week. I have faith. Besides, I have some good things planned for this week and I'm going to focus on them:

1. Our hot tub arrives on Thursday! We were supposed to get it last week but the snow storms in the west delayed the truck carrying it from British Columbia for three days. So our delivery was pushed out a week. But it comes this week and we can't wait!

2. My daughter is in a play on Tuesday and I actually have the time to go see it.

3. My sister is taking me to my doctor's appointment in Hamilton on Wednesday. We'll talk on the drive, enjoy lunch and maybe do a little shopping around the required visit with the doc.

4. I have lunch plans with a friend on Friday. Yay me!

5. My extended family Christmas celebration is on Saturday (and I already have the gifts bought). We'll enjoy delicious food, tasty wine and most importantly, good company.

This Monday morning, I'm putting the weekend (and parts of last week) behind me and focusing on the good and exciting events happening over the coming week. Yup, I'm a glass is half full kind of girl this morning and it feels good.


Friday, November 26, 2010


Friends are like snowflakes.
Each one is beautiful and unique.

I saw this very accurate statement on the window at the Starbucks where I met a dear friend for coffee this morning. I loved it and thought I'd share.

BTW - I'd forgotten how energizing spending some time with a friend can be. So thanks M, it was fun and I'm still smiling about our visit.

Don't forget about all the special people in your life. Perhaps it's time to pick up the phone. . .


It's beginning to feel . . .

Ho, ho, Ho!

I was out at Walmart really early this morning to pick up a couple of their Canadian black Friday specials for Christmas gifts. On my way home, I saw a few flakes of snow and then I saw a salter/sander driving down the road. I don't care what the calendar says about Dec. 21 being the first day of winter, for me, it's the arrival of the flaky, white stuff.

Yeah, I know other parts of the country have already experienced a blast from old man winter, but it hasn't hit good old London . . . YET. I have a feeling it'll come soon. Honestly, I'm not ready for it. I'm not a big fan of winter, but there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Of course, doing my Christmas shopping only reinforces the feeling of winter. I plan to hit a few stores today so I can cross some items off my list. I've done a lot of shopping online, which is quite handy. But there are some items you just have to go out and see.

Luckily, I feel a bit more energetic today. Yesterday, I was absolutely exhausted. I don't know why. Perhaps I have enough get up and go for a few days and then the energy stores are depleted. So I take advantage of the more energetic days and lay low on the others.

But, today I go out - at least for a little while.

Enjoy your Friday and the weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A foodie fairy tale

Once upon a time, an culinarily adventurous couple lived in the eastern border of the city of London. They enjoyed a variety of foods, both at home and afar (meaning restaurants in the city and beyond). The woman loved scouring recipe books and magazines for new dishes to create. She took great pleasure in cooking varied foods, trying these new recipes and creating more than a few of her own.

The man loved food. He taste tested all the concoctions with relish, giving each a thumbs up (most of the time) or thumbs down. He eagerly anticipated dinner and the plethora of food it would provide. The woman would savour each creation and decide whether it was up to snuff or determine what needed to change the next time she cooked it.

Meals were rarely boring. A wide variety of ingredients graced their cart at the grocery store. New spices were purchased, local and exotic veggies lovingly selected and tantalizing smells wafted from the pots on the stove.

Then one day, this couple produced two offspring. While their children didn't immediately affect the couple's dining habits, before long, the chants of "Eeewww" and claims of "I won't eat THAT!" grew tiresome. It became far easier to create kid-friendly meals than to turn dinner time into a battle ground.

The woman would sometimes venture outside the usual family menu to encourage the kids to try new foods and provide her and her husband with a taste of the days BK (before kids). Sometimes she'd even create two meals to satisfy both sets of palates.

This restrictive atmosphere lessened the woman's enjoyment of cooking and bored the man. In fact, they reminised just this morning about the meals BK and talked about how they missed the variety. The woman wondered if her children would ever be more open to different foods or whether they'd have to wait until they kids were out of the house before resuming the adventurous repitoire.

It's a sad, but true, tale.

The end.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010


It's not necessarily a bad place to be, but I feel stuck in limbo.

Chemotherapy treatment is over. My oh-so-frequent trips to the hospital now decrease. I take my Olaparib and monitor the symptoms. I rest and get better. But I feel like I'm waiting for something.

Due to the change in my antacid and the cold I had last week, I still don't feel I have a definitive grasp on the side effects I'm experiencing from the drug - and whether my doc can do anything about them to make my life easier. I'm still experiencing some acid reflex, albeit less. My stomach still gets upset, although it's mostly now in the late afternoon and evening instead of all day. And I still get headaches, but I'm not sure if they're related to the drug or to tight muscles in my back and neck.

While none of these side effects are horrible or debilitating, there are portions of every day when I feel generally unwell. I'm not sure if that will be the new normal for me with the clinical trial drug that may save my life. If that's the case, it's a small price to pay. But living day in and day out with this feeling is a little depressing.

Don't get me wrong, because I'm getting stronger and feel less tired, there are now portions of my day when I feel awesome (and mostly normal). I have to admit, I love those few hours when I don't think about my stomach, throat or tiredness and just do what I want.

Like I said, I don't know if this is how it's going to be or whether something can be done. Maybe the new antacid, Nexium, hasn't completely kicked in yet. Maybe I have an ulcer the Nexium will help heal. Perhaps something else can and will be done. But for now, I'll swallow my pills, keep track of the symptoms, celebrate the great hours and be thankful the side effects are relatively mild.

And I'll wait. I know I may have rushed jumping back into a normal life last year after treatment, and I'm so much more battered this time, so it's probably wise to listen to my body and doctor, and take it slow. But it's hard because I'm in that "what's next" phase and I'm a little anxious to know the answer. Again, I have to call on patience to get me through. I'm sure it'll all fall into place given time.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Road trip

I love a good road trip. The kind where you dress in comfy clothes, and pack up a bunch of rockin' tunes, a cooler full of snacks and a good attitude. A real good one lasts many hours, if not days.

I got the road trip urge as I tooled around town on Saturday morning. I ran a few errands to the gas station, library and bank before we headed to Port Franks for the weekend. But as I slipped a Bon Jovi CD into the player, the travel bug bit me. All of a sudden I wanted to fill the tank with gas, grab the GPS and hightail off to parts unknown.

With a road trip, there's not only the joy of the destination, but the sights, activities, food, music and conversation along the way.

Luckily, Michael feels the same way about hopping in the car for long jaunts. In fact, we cemented our relationship with a road trip out west. We'd only been dating a couple months when my beloved little Volkswagen Rabbit diesel blew a piston and was out of commission. Michael and I had both been planning to visit friends in western Canada that summer. With my car woes, he suggested we travel together. After some negotiating about where we'd go and for how long, we were off for 12 straight days together. Although we'd only been together for three months, we got along great and that awesome camping/visiting trip made us both realize we were meant to be together forever.

Now our kids also enjoy/tolerate road trips. Tara went on her first when she was only 10 months old. It was 2002. Michael and I overlapped maternity/parental leave and vacation, packed up our 1978 pop-up tent trailer and went on the road with our four-year old and baby for a month of camping, visiting and site seeing.

On that cool May morning, we started in London to travel across Canada. We went almost all the way to Vancouver via the Canadian route, then drove down through Seattle to Portland and took the second row of states (for the most part) back to London.

We dressed in layers when we left and experienced 100 degree farenheit weather on the way back. We saw the statue of Terry Fox, the corner of Portage and Main, the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rushmore, Craters of the Moon National Park, Old Faithful, good friends, snow, dust, bugs and more. It was awesome.

When my parents escaped to the Florida sunshine for five months every winter, we took advantage of the free accomodation their little trailer provided for a winter holiday. For nine years, we headed down the I-75 to spend two weeks in the warmth of the sunshine state. Except for one year, we completed the trek in 24 hours straight; not only to give us more time to enjoy at our destination, but save money as well. The various states on the drive down offer some varied and interesting scenery (okay, maybe not Michigan and Ohio).

I'm not sure where my next road trip will take me, but despite the urge, I'm not quite ready. My quick Saturday-morning errands left me tired due to my low hemoglobin and the whole recovery process. But one day in the not-so-distant future, I hope we'll gas up the van and grab the GPS to head off on another road-trip adventure.


Friday, November 19, 2010

The wave

My strength and stamina are slowly returning. But it's obvious when I've had enough. Tiredness washes over me like a wave, leaving me lethargic and exhausted.

I really noticed this phenomenon last Sunday. I brought Noah to a friend's house for a hair cut. Another friend came over and we had a big ol' gabfest. About two hours into the visit, the wave hit and I felt like a giant lump sitting on her couch. I knew it was time to go.

When I experience this tiredness, it's almost too much effort to move my arm to scratch my nose. In the aftermath of the wave, I'm stiller and quieter. My eyes get heavy and feel like they're sinking into my face. I guess I get pale too because my research nurse commented on the colour I have this week (as opposed to the past two).

While the intervals between the waves seem to be getting longer, I never know when it will strike. As a result, I take advantage of my energetic times, try not to do too much and then rest when I'm tired. I know that's the only way I will get better.

It's aggravating, but I have to remember to take it one day at a time.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

In the right direction

"You have eyelashes!"

Both my sister and the research nurse told me this wonderful news yesterday. When I looked in the mirror and felt my eyelids, I indeed have the beginnings of these wonderful bits of hair. This excites me. It means my body is recovering from the chemo onslaught. My eyelashes join the bits of fuzz that's trying to pass as hair sprouting on the top of my head.

Speaking of recovering, my hemoglobin is finally rising. It increased six points from last week and now sits at 101. While normal is between 120 and 160 in women, at least it's headed in the right direction. I'm opptimistically hoping it'll be hoving around the 115 mark at my next appointment in two weeks.

There's nothing really exciting to report about my appointment yesterday. Because I have this cold, I couldn't determine whether some of the symptoms I've felt over the past week were due to it or the Olaparib. So I was sent on my way with a new supply of the drug and an appointment for Dec. 1.

Dr. H is at a conference so I saw a different doctor (for a whole three minutes). But it was nice to hear another medical professional say how good my response has been to the chemo and Olaparib combination. I always love to hear the treatment is working. It means I'll be around to enjoy yet another day.

It lies before me full of possibilities. I know it's going to be a quieter day than yesterday, which is good because I'm tired, but that doesn't mean I won't be productive or have fun.

What are your possibilities for this November day?


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In hot water

Invasion of the germs
When sickness circulates in your house, it's hard not to succumb to the germs; especially with a somewhat compromised immune system. Even though Michael and the kids used buckets of hand sanitizer, coughed into their sleeves and washed their hands regularly, the sickness still infiltrated our home and I got it.

So far, I've been lucky. The sickness has limited itself to a cold. Michael went to the doctor yesterday and, because of his asthma and the stress in his life, he now has bronchitis. The doctor prescribed some steroids to help him kick the illness.

My stomach is upset, but because I'm on the Olaparib and we've been fiddling with my antacids, I don't know whether to attribute the queasiness to the cold or the clinical trial drug. I'll pass along the information when I had to Hamilton today, but I doubt the doc can draw any conclusions at this point.

This morning, I shaved Michael's head. I've been complaining about how cold it is with a bald head and he offered to shed his locks in solidarity with my plight. While I have a tiny bit of stubble peaking out on my scalp, for all intents and purposes, I'm still bald. Hurry hair, hurry. Before the snow flies.

I love that Michael is willing to sport a cue ball head and subject himself to the chilly weather just to support me. What a guy!

As I woke up on this rainy, cool morning, I thought of my parents, who are now in Hawaii. It's going to be a high of 25C/77F on those beautiful islands today. I am thankful they've taken this trip and I hope they have a good time. They certainly deserve it after the year they've had.

I have to admit, I'm a little envious. Blue skies, warm sunshine, crashing waves and swaying palm trees sound pretty good right now.

No trip
That brings me to news about my celebration. I mentioned Michael and I would once again go on a trip to commemorate the end of my second bout of cancer. I did lots of research. I drooled over fancy resorts. I dreamt of warm sand and cool drinks.

We weighed our options and decided NOT to head south for some R and R. Instead, we decided to bring the celebration to us - a holiday in our own back yard in the form of a hot tub.

We've dreamed of getting a spa for years, but always put it off because it wasn't in the budget. We decided this year to stop delaying this decadent pleasure. While we don't have the full amount for the purchase and installation of the hot tub, the bank is full of money they're willing to lend us. (A wise fellow cancer survivor told me that once and it stuck.) So we decided to order it and enjoy it, while we're paying it off.

It's scheduled to arrive in the next couple of weeks and the entire Bratscher family is eagerly anticipating soaking in its therapeutic hot water.

Hopefully, by that time, the sickness in our house will be gone and we'll be able to properly toast the end of chemo in the hot tub with a glass of wine or two. And with any luck, we'll toast the exodus of cancer over and over in its frothy water for years to come.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Newton's first law of motion

It's so hard to get moving again. I'm now a big lump who likes to sit at home, work on my computer and read books. I am the perfect example of Newton's first law of motion.

According to Wikipedia, Sir Issac said, every body remains in a state of rest or uniform motion (constant velocity) unless it is acted upon by an external unbalanced force.

The mass of my body is remaining at rest and I need to exert a force to get my booty movin' and shakin' again.

While I've done a better job of getting things done and being productive over the past few days, I'm still mostly doing so from the comfort of my house, with a few trips here and there (including to Hamilton to see the doc). I'm researching and shopping online, making phone calls and writing. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, but I'm now almost reluctant to leave the comfort of my slippers behind. I resist going out on weekdays when Michael's at work and the kids are at school. Is that because I value the alone time? But it's getting ridiculous.

I completely understand the once in motion, you stay in motion portion of this law. I remember the days when I'd work, exercise, shop, take care of my kids and socialize without pause. It's easy to keep going to the gym once you're actually going (and feel really good and strong). Gotta love those endorphins.

But it's strange being on the other side of Newton's law. I wasn't this stuck when I had chemo last year. When I do go out and socialize or run some errands, I enjoy myself. But right now, I can practically feel tentacles growing up from my desk chair to hold me here. I hear the alluring cries of the Internet and my books. I continuously think, "maybe tomorrow."

But tomorrow is today. I WILL exert that pressure to move. I'm sure my slippers will still be waiting for me when I return.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The to-do list

I love lists. They keep me organized and on track. These days I need them even more because I've discovered chemo brain - and its ability to make things flit from my mind never to be found again - has affected me more this time around. I get a feeling of satisfaction when I cross accomplished items off the list.

But I have to be careful. While lists can be super useful to get chores accomplished, I can't tie myself to one. Sometimes I have to cut the strings and just be spontaneous. Many of the most enjoyable things in life won't be written on my list. These multiple tasks don't tend to capture the fun things in life, but instead record items like clean the house, call the teachers, complain about the service at a particular store, make doctor's appointments, etc. No fun at all.

That's not to say I don't write tasks that lead to fun items: make dinner plans, schedule a coffee date, book train tickets or schedule a massage. But lists definitely don't capture the spontaneity of running into a friend and talking for half an hour, jumping in the leaves (instead of raking them), talking on the phone to an old roommate or going for a walk with the dog on a beautiful day.

As Kris Carr so wisely wrote in her book Crazy sexy cancer tips:

"So often we wait for all our ducks to be in a row, our closets to be neat and tidy, and our endless to-do lists to be checked off before we allow ourselves to have fun. We believe that only after we get all our "stuff" done can be take a deep breath and live.

"Well, cancer doesn't wait for order. In fact, it thrives on chaos. Breathe now. Burn the lists, and let the dust bunnies roll like tumbleweeks. Narrow your focus on what really matters: you."

Doing so may mean my house isn't the cleanest and it takes me longer to get some of my documented tasks done, but it's because I'm out there living. I can't wait until I accomplish everything I think I should do because that list will never end. Time to spend doing the things that make life worth living will.

What have you done lately just for fun?


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Response able

I went to school on Friday, and technically I should have received a detention for talking way too much. I attended parent/teacher interviews, and while I did discuss my kids' progress, most of the time was dedicated to other interesting subjects.

As every worthwhile trip to school should provide, I walked away with a few good learnings:

Being response able
My daughter's teacher passed along a message he learned at church. As human beings, we need to think about how we can be responsible (response able). How are we able to respond to those around us? While he specifically talked about volunteering - and not just around Christmas time, but in January when the charities really need help - I've been thinking about what response able means to me.

There are so many responses we can provide to make life a little better/easier/happier for others. While there are the obvious and very important ones of donating food, clothing or money and/or volunteering time to help those less fortunate, there are also little acts we can incorporate into our every day life to create a better world.

I know it always makes me feel good when I get a geninue compliment on something I've done well or how I look. Words can so easily provide sunshine to a person's day, when used generously, yet cost us nothing. Encouraging compliments are especially important for kids. I once learned a very valuable phrase that I try to regularly incorporate into my parenting: Try to catch them doing something right.

Spontaneously offering assistance to those who need it is another way to be response able. Helping a physically challenged or elderly person navigate an icy sidewalk, reaching an item on a tall shelf for a short person (like me!) or picking up the papers a colleague accidentally dropped. It's easy to walk by others who could use a hand, but it creates a good feeling to offer help.

Sometimes these little ways of being response able are called random acts of kindness. Shoveling a neighbour's driveway, letting somone with a few grocery items go through the checkout before your cartload or tossing a few coins into the guitar case of the busker in the subway can mean a lot to the recipient of our actions.

Little everyday choices can also make a big difference: our tone of voice, our driving habits, whether we hold the door or elevator for others, etc.

Credit where credit's due
Yesterday, I also learned we need to give ourselves more credit for the actions we do right. While we can be response able, we don't have to take on the entire burden of another's situation. For example, we can provide a batch of freshly-baked muffins to a recently widowed neighbour, but we can't feel compelled to take on all his sadness and responsibility. Be proud of the kindness and don't feel guilty for circumstances outside our control.

I've been on the receiving end of such kindness, and everyone who's helped in any way deserves a big pat on the back and a thank you. You've made a difference. But you can't be expected to take on my cancer fight. I'd never expect that of anyone.

Everybody has a story to tell
Another valuable lesson reinforced yesterday is everyone has a story. Everyone's life is interesting, we all have challenges and sometimes a sympathetic ear can make a big difference.

A good conversation requires give and take, talking and listening. Yesterday I had two really good conversations with two very different and interesting people.

My kids are lucky. They have teachers who are not only great educators, but wonderful people. That's why I ended up talking to them for about three hours yesterday (yup, detention for me). For me it was time well spent. I walked out of there with some wonderful lessons and a big smile on my face. It was an awesome way to start the weekend.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Murphy's law

Someone named Murphy must be sending her luck my way because when I went to Hamilton yesterday, the rib pain that's been plaguing me subsided, with only residual discomfort. When I saw the doctor, I reported my difficult week, with the nausea sitting at the base of my throat and the rib pain, which technically is the stomach area just below my ribs.

He examined me thoroughly and asked a bunch of questions about uneven leg swelling, bowel movements, abdominal discomfort, etc. He and my medically-inclinded sister then bandied about words like blood clots (which he thankfully ruled out), ulcers and residual acid reflux.

He wasn't sure about the source of my pain, but I was told if it returns to call so I could come in right away, while the symptoms are still present.

Even though I didn't walk out of the cancer centre with answers, I did clutch a prescription for a stronger antacid in my hand. This one will help heal my stomach if I do have an ulcer. But, I'm supposed to avoid coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and spicy foods. As if. I'm going to see if the medication can work its magic on its own first.

Yesterday, I was surprised to learn my hemoglobin is virtually unchanged. I thought I was starting to feel better, but maybe it's wishful thinking. Dr. H said a slow recovery isn't uncommon after the sixth treatment of the second round of chemotherapy. I think my body did a great job and produced enough hemoglobin so I could get the chemo. Now it knows it's not medically necessary, so it's resting and taking a while to bring the numbers up again. My low hemoglobin explains why I'm tired, breathless, dizzy and cold lately.

The test result that bothered me was my CA-125. It's up a little bit from 53 to 59. No one else seemed worried about the increase and C, my research nurse, said the numbers fluctuate regularly. But it worries me. I want it to go down. I want it to be in the normal range of under 35. I don't like that I may have a "new normal" higher than the usual normal.

I return next week for more pokes and prodding. But that's okay, at least I know my situation is being watched very carefully.

In follow up to yesterday's blog, I took a step up my staircase. When I was done writing, I made a phone call I'd put off, I got out of the house (albeit to go to my regularly scheduled appointment in Hamilton) and I went for a walk in the afternoon. Baby steps, but movement nonetheless.

Today, even though I've succumbed to the cold circulating in my household, I plan to get some computer work done; maybe even some online Christmas shopping. When it warms up this afternoon, I'll head outside for some fresh air and exercise.

Onward and upward,

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The staircase

As I look up, I see I'm in the middle of a giant staircase. Stairs ascend as far as I can see. Behind me, a seemingly equal number of stairs descend. I have a choice: Do I go up or down?

Down would be infinitely easier. Gravity would help pull me down those stony steps. But the further I go in that direction, the more pessimism, pain, misery, hopelessness, frustration and lethargy I would feel.

Going up will be difficult. Each step is steep. Each one raises me to a better place. Every single one of them will require effort and determination. But I'm tired of sitting on this cold surface in the middle of the staircase. I'm tired of being a recluse, shut away in my own home and, partially, in my own mind. I need to make a choice and move.

Of course, I choose to go up. This means:

I am going to start exercising again, even if that only means a walk around the block. I'm sure that walk around the block will lead to activities that require more exertion. But walking is a good place to start.

I am going to be less of a slug. That doesn't mean I won't be resting and getting better, but it does mean that I will stop procrastinating so much. I've even started procrastinating jobs that require no more effort than picking up the phone.

I am going to start meditating, reading positive writings, doing yoga and/or praying more. I need to work on the inside parts of me to bring more light and positivity into my life.

I am going to stop shuffling around the house in my slippers every day and get out in the world.

Yes, these are small steps, but they're ones in the right direction. As simple as they sound, they're not going to be easy. As I climb higher, I'll incorporate more ambitious goals into my plan.

But as difficult as this journey may be, I know I'm not alone. I know many friends will climb down from the places they've reached on the staircase, to help me climb a little higher. And I know, without a doubt, Michael will be with me every step of the way.

Of course, I may hit a slippery step along the way and tumble backwards. Luckily, someone will be there to catch my arm so I don't fall too far. When I get discouraged, others will give me a gentle shove from behind to maintain my momentum.

Today I take the first step. Wish me luck.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


This morning, I feel like crying. I'm such a wimp.

I think my downward spiral results from a few things, which have compounded into a very big issue in my mind. Of course, I'm probably blowing everything way out of proportion, but it's hard to tell yourself to be rational when your emotions are spiralling downward.

The rib pain remains. It's an almost-continuous pressure on my left side. I'm scared because it reminds me of the pain I experienced when I was full of ascities Yet, that's impossible given my fluid-free CT scans a few weeks ago. My stomach feels round and bloated; if only I could pop that sucker, I'm sure I'd feel relief.

I like to sleep on my left side because it allows me to cuddle up to Michael. But every time I tried to roll over during the past two nights, the pain would wake me up. Michael says I've been moaning in my sleep. So I'm tired, which can in itself induce tears. I admire those who are in continuous pain and face the world every day. Give me a few days of it and I get all weepy.

Of course, I think my emotional distress stems from the misconception that all the difficult parts of this round of fighting cancer were essentially over. I made it through the ascities draining procedures, the initial acid-laden experience with Olaparib and chemo, and the dark chemical side effects. After a week on Olaparib with no horrendous reaction, I thought maybe I'd be able to be on maintenance relatively unscathed. I'm disappointed and scared.

I think the root of my fear is the possibility Dr. H won't be able to do anything about this gassy side effect and I'll be taken off Olaparib. Where does that leave me?

Then a few minor issues add to my already fragile emotional state:

- I'm fighting off a cold that everyone else in my family is experiencing.
- I hit something yesterday and jammed the fingers on my left hand. My middle finger is swollen and hurts.
- I'm still tired and get breathless with exertion due to chemo, which frustrates me.
- I can't do all that much around here, yet feel overwhelmed with what I do have on my to-do list.


I see Dr. H tomorrow and I pray he'll be able to provide some relief and answers. And hopefully, my mood improves and I return to my basically optimistic self. It's a lot easier to face the world that way.

Your wimpy friend,

Monday, November 8, 2010

Too much gas

Pain = gas?
Much to my chagrin, the pain under my left rib is back. I know from the results of my CT scan, my abdomen isn't full of fluid pressing against my ribs, as I initially feared. So I'm guessing this is some severe gas or a gastrointestinal bug tormenting my gut.

The pain started last night at bedtime, preventing me from sleeping on my left side. It woke me several times during the night as I tried to turn over. This morning, it's pressing, pressing, pressing, preventing me from sneezing or coughing.

I find I fill up with gas while I'm taking Olaparib. Toward the end of last week, the weekend, the feeling of acid or food stuck at the base of my throat returned. It's an unpleasant feeling. I don't want to continuously rely on antacids or Gaviscon, but those seem to be the only remedies to the situation. I'm going to chat with Dr. H and C on Wednesday about options.

I'm still tired, but it's not as oppressive as mid last week. My hemoglobin levels must be rising. Of course, it didn't help my recovery that I was busy with Noah's birthday celebrations on the weekend. They were fairly low key, but they still required some shopping, cleaning, baking and cooking.

Weekend blogs
You may have noticed I don't tend to blog on the weekends any more unless I have something new or important to report. I have a feeling readership drops off on the weekends too (which is why I don't feel compelled to write on Saturday and Sunday).

The lack of comments in general, made me wonder if people were still following my journey. But when I added the hits per week feature to my blog, I was surprised with the results. I guess lack of comments don't reflect the number of readers.

But remember, I love to hear from you, so feel free to add your thoughts at least once in a while. I've noticed some new followers, who've written supportive messages. Welcome and thank you.

It's a new week, full of opportunity. What are you going to do with it?


Friday, November 5, 2010

A birthday, side effects and a celebration

An important birthday
This week, I became the mother of a teenager. Yup, my son turned 13 years old on Wednesday. He's now taller than me, his voice is low and he requires frequent showers.

Last year, I blogged about how his birth provided my first experience with my own mortality. The grim reapers cold fingers brushed against my skin to remind me how fragile life can be. Yet, 13 years later, here I am. I'm very thankful to celebrate another year with my wonderful, confident and sometimes challenging son.

Olaparib update
I've now experienced eight days on Olaparib maintenance. I'm swallowing the eight, large, white capsules twice a day with, thankfully, minimal side effects. I think I may be developing some gas issues, because I've had some pain in my left ribs and back, which intensified yesterday.

I exerienced these pains on occasion during chemo, so they may be a residual side effect. Another lingering side effect is my numb moustache area (that space between your lips and nose). I don't know if these issues relate directly to the Olaparib or if they're due to residual chemo and its related drugs in my system.

I have to admit, I'm anxious about the next week or so because during treatment, I really started to notice the stomach queasiness during my second week of recovery, when I was only on the trial drug. This is week two, so I'm carefully watching my body's reaction.

But I'm keeping an eye on these side effects and my doc is keeping an eye on me, so I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this fairly soon. Perhaps there is something the doc can recommend if the side effects stick around.

The acne that I think is related to the steroid, Dexamethasone, is still plaguing my face. I haven't been this pimply since my teenage years - and I don't like it. I was hoping it would be gone by now. Another lesson in patience, I guess.

Ready to celebrate
Michael told me last night that he's finally ready to celebrate the end of my chemo and moving into the next phase of our lives together. When I asked what changed his mind (because he wasn't ready last week) he mentioned my doctor's appointment this week. Although we're still not sure what's up with the lesion on the bowel wall  - is it the mass they've been tracking, is it a new mass, is it simply a thickening of the bowel wall or scar tissues? - Dr. H doesn't seem worried. Now Michael's taking his emotional cues from the doc.

But with the gas/rib pain issues and tiredness that makes me feel as though I've been kicked around the block a few times, I'm now the one who isn't quite ready to celebrate. I'm sure we'll eventually reach the optimistic emotional stage together and plan something.

Last night Michael hugged me and said, "I'm so glad you're still here with me." I agreed. That's the bottom line. I'm still here to celebrate birthdays, love and life.

Even if everything doesn't go your way today, it's far better than not having this Friday at all. Make the most of it.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Too much, too soon

I am exhaused.

It's been three and a half weeks since my last chemo treatment and I've been so excited to be done and recovering, I've planned my schedule with activities of a normal life. Now, I'm paying the price.

I want to be out there doing things and living life. I want to be able to buy groceries for my family and cook meals. I get satisfaction from doing some of the chores around the house; like the five loads of laundry I did on Monday. I enjoyed getting out and celebrating spa day with my sister. I don't even mind the trips to Hamilton for check ups. Being able to do these activities makes me feel like I'm moving past treatment.

But it's very tiring. One contributing factor may be my hemoglobin is only 96. (You may recall I needed at least 100 to get chemo.) Low hemoglobin circulates less oxygen through my body, making me tired, breathless with exertion and slightly dizzy. It also can produced headaches and lethargy. I know my HgB levels are on the rise, but hurry up already, I've got things to do.

While I planned to rest today and work on my computer, read a book and perhaps nap, Noah got suspended for the day and I need to supervise him and his work. The poor boy got suspended on his birthday and he was devastated. I'll try to keep it low key for both our sakes.

I saw the doctor yesterday and he's pleased with my progress. He isn't concerned about the area the radiologist measured on my bowel wall. He's happy with how I'm handling Olaparib alone. Things seem to be good. It was an three hour drive for a blood draw and a 15 minute chat.

And for those of you who've asked about my mom, she's doing great. She's had a CT scan post chemo and tests to check her kidney and bladder, and she's all clear. Yay! Her and my dad are packing and planning for a trip to Hawaii in mid November. They were supposed to take this dream trip last year, before her diagnosis. I'm so happy they're able to go this year. Aloha!

As for me, I plan to take it easy. One day, I'll be recovered and able to do all the activities I'd like to do. But for now, I have to let my body get better.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spa day

I ruined my sister's 40th birthday. The day before this momentus, milestone birthday, I found out I had cancer. She was the second person I told, after Michael, and she's provided unwavering support ever since.

As a result of my diagnosis, we never really celebrated her 40th birthday (and I'm sure she doesn't really care), but I felt bad. So I'm taking her to the spa today. Spa day is a myriad of celebrations - her 40th birthday, the end of my chemo treatment, a thank you to Angie for being by my side every step of the way, and a woman's version of trick or treat (emphasis on treat).

We'll get buffed, polished, massaged and coifed (or at least Angie will since I have no hair).

Unfortunately, I have a bit of a cold creeping into my sinuses this morning, but I'll pop some research-nurse-approved Dristan and ignore the pesky thing. Because it's a day for the Thomas sisters to be treated well. After everything, I think we deserve it.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

A positive sign?

Last summer, my social worker invited me to select a small, metal icon out of a big, glass bowl. I rooted around, looking at the designs and words carved into them until I found the one that spoke to me. I carried it around everywhere during my treatment last year. I'd often rub my fingers over its bumpy pattern and draw strength from what it represented to me.

I'd transfer this small metal cross carved with a vine, leaves and the word grace daily from one pocket to another. When the clothes I selected lacked a pocket, I'd toss it in my purse or wallet.

Last spring, I misplaced this protective talisman. It'd been with me throughout most of my chemo and all my remission. Yet, when I was going into treatment for the second time, I couldn't find it anywhere. I wondered if this was a bad omen of my prognosis.

The definition of talisman is: an object marked with magic signs and believed to confer on its bearer supernatural powers or protection. Since the cancer grew within me again while I carried it every day, maybe it didn't do its job? Perhaps it hid because it couldn't help me on my second bout with chemo.

But I believed it gave me strength, so I was sad when I'd lost my beloved little cross. I trusted in God and being in a state of grace, and I felt a little lost without it. I missed its continued presence and the calming effect rubbing it between my fingers brought me.

Yesterday, while watching TV, I thought my cell phone fell between the cushions of my chair. I reached in down to find it and instead discovered my lost cross. I hugged it to my chest, feeling great relief.

Is it coincidence I found it just as I finished treatment and started on the Olaparib maintenance? Is it a good sign? Have I moved into a state of grace, a state of remission, a period when I can enjoy my life without being treated for cancer? Will this talismen do its job and provide protective powers?

I'd like to believe all these things. I don't want to think I'm going to need it for strength because bad news is on the horizon. So I'm not. I'm going to go with the premise I found it at exactly the right time. At a period when I need the strength to get better and move on to the next stage of my life.

Believe me, I'm ready to do that.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Danger and opportunity

The Chinese symbol for crisis is actually two symbols: danger and opportunity. Cancer is a crisis and no one would dispute it would fall under the danger component of the symbol. But some may question the opportunity the disease presents.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson

Cancer is dangerous because it's a painful, gut-wrenching illness that kills far too many people. The surgery and chemotherapy treatments commonly used cause many side effects and can damage the heart, blood cells, immune system, digestive system, etc. Radiation produces its own set of dangerous side effects.

It's also dangerous to families and relationships because not everyone responds well to a cancer diagnosis. Both patients and those around them may react in unpredictible, unhealthy ways. While we'd like to believe this type of crisis brings people together, that's not always the case. Marriages fall apart, kids get angry with their parent for getting sick, friends disappear, and individuals go into denial and refuse to believe in the seriousness of the situation.

Cancer also presents a danger to the patient's sense of self esteem. It's hard feeling good about yourself when you have a deadly disease growing in your body. The side effects of surgery and treatment can make the cancer patient sick, weak, tired, lose/gain weight, get acne, lose hair, produce scar tissue, cause pallor or jaundice, etc. Many patients can't continue to work or partake in many of the activities of daily living. It can produce a feeling of helplessness and uselessness.

Awesome opportunity
Yet for all the danger cancer brings, it also presents valuable opportunities for cancer patients and those around them. But they have to be open to seeing the good side of an awful disease.

So, as the Chinese symbol indicates, crisis also brings opportunity.

I feel I'm a better person because of the learnings I've gained from cancer and, as a result, enjoy life more. Some of my blog readers tell me they've also changed. While I mentioned some of these before, they bear repeating. Here are a few of the things I've discovered along my cancer journey:

1. Relationships are important and constantly changing. Over the past year and a half, I've repaired relationships, culled or limited soul-sucking ones and deepened others. I've learned it's okay to say no and not have people hate you.

I've gone through rough patches in some relationships; but that trauma only strengthened them. The people in my life and spending time with them is far more important than things, making money or getting a promotion.

2. Work is just work. I used to get all worked up (pun intended) and stressed about my projects. I thought I was the only one who could accomplish the work I was assigned. One of my personality traits is a strong sense of responsibility, so I believed if a task was assigned to me, by God, I had to complete it regardless of how it taxed me.

Cancer taught me, I am replacable at work, I can ask for help and the stress produced trying to be Super Tina isn't worth it. While I value doing a good job and enjoy what I do, I live for what working allows me to do after work.

But I do have a bonus to my job, I actually enjoy so many of the people with whom I work. This allows me to work on those important relationships I discussed above. Lucky me.

3. Everyone has a unique story and I shouldn't be so judgemental. Sure, some people still bug me and I'm still convinced some people don't have a mirror or friends when they wander around in public in a questionable outfit. Like the woman in the grocery store yesterday whose breasts were practically falling out of her too-tight top. But I digress.

We never know the troubles others are experiencing in life. Be kind, be flexible and refrain from making judgements.

4. It's good to be patient. I'm thankful every day I wake up. I don't know how much time I've got on this earth, but I'm not going to waste it by getting impatient about things that don't matter in the whole scheme of life.

For example, I'm a much more patient driver. I rarely talk to drivers who make stupid moves any more. I drive slower. I don't crowd other cars as much. As a result, I actually enjoy driving more.

With my kids, I try to inject more humour into conversations, and I attempt to be more patient and flexible. Although it doesn't always work and at times I lose my cool, I'm doing my best. 

5. Don't sweat the small stuff. I know that's a book title, but it's so appropriate. It's easy to get caught up in little issues or aggravations, that really don't mean anything in the big scheme of things. I'm not saying it's easy to let go of some things, but my son's clean room, an aggravating salesperson, a driver cutting me off in traffic or a perfectly-clean house are not necessarily important.

I tell my son, that when he allows someone to bother him until he gets upset, he's given that person the power to get him in trouble/suspended, ruin his day (my day, his dad's day, his teacher's day) and get privileges taken away at home. Some kids push his buttons inadvertently, while the rotten ones, do it simply to get a rise out of him. I encourage him to let go of the little things that bug him and walk away. He can let others control his mood and his actions, or he can choose to let them go.

6. I've learned when choosing between a chore, or spending time with someone or participating in a fun activity, the tedious job should take a back seat. Again, life's too short.

Cancer's allowed me to learn many, many things about my life. I've said it before, my diagnosis with this disease and the journey it's taken me on has been a gift in many ways. While cancer is indeed a crisis, the optimist in me would rather look at - and share - the opportunity this journey brings.

Have a great day,