Friday, January 29, 2010

A meandering road

My therapist and I started a new treatment process last week, with surprising results. We're using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The literature states EMDR is a powerful method of psychotherapy that helps relieve psychological distress.

Yes, I have psychological distress. Like many cancer survivors, I'm often worried and anxious about the disease's return. I was able to shove the anxiety to the back of my mind for two and a half months, but it's reared its ugly head during the past few weeks as my CT scan and doctor's appointment drew closer.

EMDR helps individuals focus on tramatic events so their brains can process them. For some people, a traumatic event becomes frozen in time and remembering it can feel as bad going through it the first time. This reaction can interfere with the way a person sees the world and relates to other people.

The emotional and logical sides of our brains aren't connected, which is why we're not always rational when we react emotionally to a situation or event. The EMDR process uses a back and forth motion - either visual or auditory - to connect the two sides of the brain so a person can logically process an emotional experience. The individual focuses on the disturbing memory and notices the subsequent thoughts, without making any effort to control direction or content.

Each person processes information uniquely, based on personal experiences and values. The back and forth motion or sound, and guided thought process continues until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about oneself.

Successful EMDR allows a person to remember the traumatic event, but it's less distressing. It can help with panic attacks, complicated grief, disturbing memories, phobias, eating disorders, stress reduction, addictions, abuse, etc.

When my social worker broached the subject of using EMDR to help me deal with my cancer experiences (because my traumatic episode wasn't one single incident), I figured why not. Why wouldn't I use a proven therapy that helps my brain heal itself? It couldn't hurt.

EMDR has a very specific process and rules. My social worker's been trained on this process and participated in this treatment option herself. So she's very familiar with how it works and what it feels like to be the participant.

During this treatment, I wear a set of earphones that transmits a tone to one ear and then the other (to connect the two sides of the brain). We began a couple of weeks ago by creating a safe place I can envision when I get overly stressed, to calm my emotions and thoughts. While I created its general premise while in her office, I've added details as I've used my safe place over the past few weeks. In fact, I used it during my breast MRI to deal with the discomfort and the claustrophobia. It worked like a charm.

During my last appointment, she asked me to pretend my nine month experience with cancer was a movie trailer to highlight the significant events. I did so with gusto, even talking about how the music swelled during the heartwarming parts, which made my therapist laugh. The initial image in the Tina cancer movie trailer involved the phone call when my doctor broke the news I had cancer.

I then had to identify the feeling associated with that particular memory from a list. My feeling: I am in danger. She then asked me what feeling would I identify with the end of the cancer experience. I chose: It's over. I'm safe now. Ironically, those two ideas were side by side on the list of selections.

With the earphones on and the sounds bouncing from one ear to the next, I focused on the diagnosis phone call - the doctor's words "prepare for the worst and then move on," the sounds I heard from my cube, the feelings I experienced - then let my mind wander. My therapist then stopped the sound and asked about my thoughts. They'd progressed to I couldn't leave my family, how much I love them, how scared I was.

Then I let my mind wander again with the beeping bouncing from ear to ear. She stopped me again to check in. I explained my thought process and she said, "go with that."

We followed that process about 10 times, following the thoughts my mind produced, with my therapist periodically checking in. These stops allowed me to put into words the images my mind produced, on which I'd focus for the next round.

My mind took me on an amazing journey. I made connections between thoughts, developed connections and discovered insights into myself. Quite honestly I was amazed. The experience allowed me to discover revelations about myself of which I wasn't conscious. At one point, I smiled in wonder and my therapist said, "that's the EMDR smile" - the amazed reaction to the mind revealing its hidden secrets.

One such discovery was that I wish I could be more like my blogger self. I am very honest and uninhibited when I write, yet in person I'm far more conservative and reserved. I feel like I'm two different people and I think people who read my blog expect me to be as open in person. I wish I could. When I write, I don't have to worry about the reaction - good or bad. Underneath it all I'm sure it has to do with my desire to be liked and my dislike of conflict. Besides, it's far easier to screw up in person than it is from behind my computer screen. (How's that for honesty? Crikies!)

We didn't have enough time to come to a resolution with that memory (making it less disturbing or leaving me with good feelings about myself), so it was considered an incomplete session. I think because it was incomplete, it opened me up even more to the feelings associated with the diagnosis memory, which intensified my anxiety about the results of my CT scan. My thoughts and dreams are vivid, which she warned me about, and my emotions feel out of control.

I think we're on the right path towards healing with EMDR and we did some really good work in that first session. My therapist likes EMDR because it produces results quicker than talk therapy and it helps individuals heal themselves. I'm sure we'll continue at our next session.

I'm convinced after one session that we're on the right track. I'm eager to discover more about myself during the next appointment.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Enough already

Oh God has a strange sense of humour sometimes. On the day I decided I was going to be more positive, life went to hell in a handbasket.

I'll freely admit that I was angry with God yesterday morning. My day had barely begun when I got a distressed call from Michael asking me about the symptoms of a stroke or heart attack. When I said, blurred vision, headache, weakness, inability to speak and he answered yes to all of them, I quickly blurted, "Go to emerg right now." Luckily, he works at St. Joe's, so it was a quick trip to the urgent care centre.

His left arm was numb, he had trouble breathing, a headache appeared, he had weakness and had to sit down, and his vision went black. He didn't pass out and the symptoms passed quite quickly, but he (and I) were very scared.

It turns out Michael didn't suffer a stroke or heart attack. The doctor thinks he had a reaction to all the stress he's under (work, me, Noah, etc.). So he's off for a few days and has some follow up doctor's appointments to better determine if there's a medical cause.

So I'm on my way to meet him at the hospital when the school calls. Noah was in trouble and they wanted me to come to the school immediately for a meeting. I had to say no because of Michael's medical issues.

Of course, I couldn't mention Noah's problems to Michael in the hospital, so it wasn't until I dropped him off at home that I mentioned I needed to go to the school. I met with the principal and Noah, and then brought Noah home. Unless I hear otherwise, Noah can return to school tomorrow but he's suspended today. (FYI - You don't swear at a teacher in front of witnesses because it's cause for immediate suspension.)

Needless to say, once I got Michael and Noah settled at home, I had to log onto my work laptop. Luckily, I had a long stretch of time focus, so my work day wasn't a complete writeoff. Thank goodness for a flexible schedule.

It's amazing how focusing on other problems made me stop thinking about my own. Of course, the fearfulness is back today. I've looked up the symptoms for ovarian cancer recurrence and I feel some of them. Is is psychosomatic? Is the bloaty feeling due to a virus? Am I just fat? At this point, I just want to know so I can go into fighter mode or carry on with normal life.

The wait is killer. Do I prepare myself to hear to worst (the cancer is back) so I'm not shocked. Or do I focus on being positive because it can help my body (or is it too late for that?)?

Or am I just crazy? Some days I feel that way.

But enough of that. Whatever happens, it IS going to be okay. Michael will be okay. I will be okay. We'll get through this one day at a time. I have faith (obviously, I'm not mad at God anymore).


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Positive thoughts

In an effort to be positive, today I'm going to focus on some of the good things about me and my life. Hopefully positive repetition will make my mind believe and take some of the focus off the symptoms (real or imagined?) that prompt me to think the cancer is back.

1. I am strong physically and mentally. Even though I'm in a bit of an emotional dip right now, I know my strength exists and can be pulled out whenever needed. I beat cancer. I will continue to beat cancer. I am a cancer fightin' woman, don't mess with me.

2. I have the most wonderful husband in the world. We're going to grow old together and enjoy all life has to offer. I love him beyond reason.

3. I have great family and caring friends who love me. Their (your) prayers and positive thoughts will keep the cancer away. (Bye bye cancer. Not in my house!)

4. My mom is going to beat cancer too. She'll have surgery on Feb. 19 and then maybe some preventative chemo. Then she can say bye bye cancer too!

5. I will take my healthy, albeit pudgey, body to Florida to enjoy sunshine, swimming and fun in six weeks.

6. I have a great job with very supportive people. Who could ask for more?

7. I write well. I enjoy finding the right words to express myself on paper. I'm lucky because it helps me and others. (Now if I could only find a publisher. . .)

8. Chocolate. I'm thankful for it and its stress-reducing properties. Enough said.

9. God loves me - even with my faults and insecurities. He fills me with light.

10. I beat cancer once (and that's more than enough). It's going to stay away. I'm going to get good news from Dr. W on Tuesday. He's going to say the shadowy sections in my abdomen are scar tissue. I'm going to get a clean bill of health and be able to move on mentally and physically.

Of course, I'm focusing on #10. We can all do a dance of joy when it comes true.

Positive thoughts, positive thoughts, positive thoughts. I'm banking on positive thoughts creating a positive reality.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Radioactive juice

The radioactive juice I had to drink for my CT scan yesterday didn't agree with my body. I felt the battle between the two begin about 10 minutes after I finished drinking the required 1.5 L of "enriched" water yesterday. My stomach and bowels started churning and I made frequent trips to the bathroom.

It's amazing how my body reacted differently during each of the three CT experiences. The first time I drank the CT juice, my bowels kicked up a fuss in the evening. The second time, no reaction whatsoever. This time, my whole body got into the act. My stomach experienced a constant dull pain, my bowels growled, my muscles ached, my eyes felt like they'd sunk into their sockets and my head pounded. I even experienced a metallic taste, which reminded me of my chemotherapy days.

I couldn't work, so I went home and slept.

I don't feel 100 per cent today. I still have a headache and some slight stomach pain, and I'm extremely tired. But I feel a lot better than yesterday, so I'm going to work.

I'm not sure these reactions are all due to the CT juice or if I have a touch of that virus that's circulating. I may also be physically reacting to the stress of my churning mind. But this too shall pass and so I carry on.

The CT itself went smoothly and the actual scan time was quick (especially after the MRI). They scanned me a few times with just the radioactive water as contrast. Then they inserted an additional dye via IV and took a few more pictures.

The IV constrast produces a disconcerting warm feeling that travels through the body. My ears start to burn, then I feel my torso get warm and then it feels as though I've peed my pants. It's over in a few seconds, but it's a bit disconcerting. (At least I was warned about the experience before my first CT or I truly would have believed I'd peed myself.)

Now I wait for the results, which I'll get one week from today. It's going to be a long week.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Indulgence and forgiveness

I haven't been myself for about a week now. And I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better. So I'm asking you for your indulgence and forgiveness.

Today I go for my follow-up CT scan. I'm not fearful of the scan itself - even though I drink radioactive dye, have more dye squirted into me via IV and then slide through a spinning machine. That's a piece of cake. It's the results of that machine that I fear - the return of cancer. The news that, despite my best efforts, I didn't beat it.

I won't find out the results until next Tuesday. It's going to be a long, dread-filled week.

I'm trying to be positive, but for some reason, I can't seem to dig it out of the depths of my soul right now. It's ironic because even during those months I spent fighting cancer, most of the time I felt emotionally stronger than I do right now.

I've been an emotional wreak for over a week now. I think re-living my diagnosis experience in therapy only made it worse (before it gets better?). I'm filled with dread, I feel anxious and I'm having strange dreams.

So, my friends, I'm asking for a little leeway for the next week or so. I may not be quite myself. I beg your tolerance.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Whine, whine, whine

Now that I have some endorphins coursing through my body, bent the ear of some sympathetic friends and was given a logical explanation of why I feel completely irrational, I can now shove Mr. Hyde back into the dark space from which he came.

A friend's email reminded me some cancer survivors experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not only from the actual diagnosis but from the series of treatments and events associated with cancer. In fact, my social worker and I have discussed this phenomenon a couple of times.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have experienced a traumatic life event where:

- The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event where there was the threat of/or actual death or serious injury. The event may also have involved a threat to the person's physical well-being or the physical well-being of another person.

- The person responded to the event with strong feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror.

Check and check.

PTSD in cancer survivors may be expressed in these specific behaviors:

- Reliving the cancer experience in nightmares or flashbacks and by continuously thinking about it.
- Avoiding places, events, and people connected to the cancer experience.
- Being continuously overexcited, fearful, irritable and unable to sleep.

While I try not think about the cancer and its chance of recurrence, I know deep down, it's often in the back of my head. Every twinge makes me wonder. I'm fearful and sometimes irritable. I take lorazepam to help me sleep.

In addition, I've been talking about mastectomies, my mom's cancer and my upcoming appointment for a CT scan to re-examine those shadowy spots that appeared on my last scan.

To top it off, my social worker and I started a new treatment on Tuesday where I mentally re-lived the phone call where I learned I had cancer, and the feelings and thoughts associated with that. So technically, I was relieving my diagnosis.

So now that I understand why I feel like a freaking mess, I'm better able to deal with it. I appreciate your tolerance and understanding. Maybe tonight I'll turn whine into wine. Doesn't that sound better?


Mr Hyde morning

The Mr. Hyde of my emotions crawled out of bed this morning. Based on the day so far (and it's still very early), I should have stayed in bed. I woke up grumpy and irritated. As the morning progressed, I got more grumpy and irritated. I now have a headache from crying and want to crawl under my desk for the rest of the day.

The morning started with a bunch of little irritations: someone in my house depleted the school treats without my knowledge, I had trouble finding something satisfactory to wear that didn't make me feel like an elephant, the conversation of the kids (as always) sounded like they were arguing, waffles ended peanut butter and nutella side down on the kitchen floor, etc.

Then the morning progressed downhill when Noah provoked disagreements with Michael. For some reason, Noah omits information or argues with Michael's requests. It pushes Michael's buttons and he gets angry. The result: two males yelling at each other. Me, as a fixer, tries to intervene. But I can't fix the underlying problem. They have to work it out.

So I talked to Noah and explained I feel he's purposefully pushing Michael's buttons. He's acting like the kids at school, who know he's bipolar and do things they know will make him angry to get him in trouble.

For example, Michael gets upset when Noah's room is messy for too long, so he asks him to clean it up. When that doesn't happen, Michael asks a couple more times and then gets angry (with good reason) when Noah doesn't comply. But Noah doesn't volunteer that he and I made a deadline of 5:30 this evening. When Michael gets angry, Noah says, "Talk to mom." So Michael gets frustrated and comes to me to complain about Noah's non-compliance.

So I had a little talk with Noah this morning and told him he's not respecting his dad when he doesn't volunteer information that would satisfy Michael's requests. Noah promised to try harder. We'll see if that works.

I know all of this is such small potatoes. No one is injured, dead or in the hospital because of what happened in my house this morning. We aren't involved in a natural disaster like those in Haiti. It's normal, every day, family stuff. In fact, I now feel silly this is affecting me so much.

But I'm tired, which only exacerbates the situation. Yet my tiredness isn't due to lack of sleep because I retire early enough. I'm guessing it's due to the weather and stress. I feel like I'm in a vice that is slowly squeezing me. Argh!

It's amazing I can go from being so positive one day, to down in the dumps the next. My emotional roller coaster keeps on chugging. But that's life so, I'm not alone in this experience. I'll just keep taking it one day at a time.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Perfect breasts

I finally got some good news for a change. Today I went to the breast specialist - Dr. B - who gave me the results of my MRI and bilateral mammography. Apparently I have perfect(ly healthy) breasts. Both tests were clear.

These results came after the warning that MRIs show ever little anomoly and therefore women often have to go back and have specific areas re-scanned to double check the results. But not me!

I'll need to have them scanned and squished once a year to ensure they stay that way. That is until I can have them removed to prevent breast cancer from ever touching me. If I have the double mastectomy, my chances of getting breast cancer drops from approximately 45 per cent to less than five per cent (less than the average woman).

My next step is to meet with the plastic surgeon to discuss my options for reconstruction after the mastectomy. She's on maternity leave until June, so I'll meet with her sometime after that.

I'm lucky. My breasts are clear. Cancer hasn't touched them. My friend and personal trainer, Theresa, wasn't so lucky. But she's a breast cancer survivor and says she's now in a place to give back. So on June 25, she's running 100 km from London to Sarnia to raise money for breast cancer research.

I can't even fathom running 100 km in one day (or even in a month for that matter). But Theresa's amazing and if anyone can do it, she can. She's asked me to run a couple of kilometers with her. How can I say no? She's promised to help me get physically fit enough to do it. I've warned her I'll slow her pace, but she doesn't seem to care.

Check out for more information about Theresa's amazing story and help support her unbelievable goal to once again beat breast cancer. This nasty disease touches far too many women. We can't allow it to win!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Digging deep

Yesterday I complained about how tired I was, but I dug deep and rose above the challenges the day tossed at me. It's amazing the strength one can pull out when necessary. I'm not saying my day was horrible, but I had one small, niggly challenge after another - and I think I did okay.

First thing in the morning, I worked out with my personal trainer. As usual, T challenged my legs, abs and arms in new and creative ways. While I complained at the beginning of the session I was tired (and I thought to myself I should cancel), T said it was one of my best efforts. Go figure.

Then as I was enjoying my lunch, the principal from our school called. Noah threw a bit of ice and then wasn't complying with requests to go to the office. Even though, as I learned later, he was awesome in the classroom, this defiant non-compliance with requests is deemed dangerous. As a result, he had to go home. He's suspended today too.

So I packed up my desk and my work for the afternoon. I rescheduled a meeting and I went to face the principal. As a kid who rarely got in trouble and never visited the principal's office during my school career, I'm now a regular at the office of my kids' school. We're all on a first name basis, I get hugs from the secretary, etc.

Then as I'm working from home in the afternoon and directing Noah's scholastic activities, I get another call from the school. Tara - my kid who never gets in trouble, except maybe for talking - got in a fight while defending her friend. As the story goes, during break, some boys were picking on her friend and wouldn't leave her alone. So Tara told the boys, "You'd better run." When they didn't, she threw one to the ground and punched him a couple of times.

Part of me wants to laugh and pump my fist my little girl is strong and confident enough to fight for herself. I also think it's admirable she stood up for her friend. But I can't condone violence either - and especially not in front of her. If this weren't her first infraction, she'd be suspended too!

So I had serious talks with both my children yesterday about proper behaviour, following the rules of the school, accidently hurting someone, etc. Those types of conversation don't put me in a good mood.

Then Michael had a stressful day at work, which affects him physically. Add on the fact his kids were both in trouble yesterday and he was in a bad place last night. Poor guy.

But for some reason, I was able to dig deep, roll with the punches and find the strength to deal with everything that happened. These types of situations are going to happen, they're part of life.

Of course, deep down, I'm thinking about my CT scan, which is quickly approaching. I'm trying not to worry about it and remain positive. I know subconsciouly, I'm pondering the results and what negative results will mean to me and my family.

I also learned last week my mom will probably need chemotherapy as a preventative measure after her ureter/kidney removal. I don't wish chemo and all its horrible side effects on anyone, let alone my mom. I worry about her too.

So, I'm taking a deep breath to face another day. I have it laid out before me, with many opportunities and challenges. It's up to me to choose how I'll respond to its events. I know most days, I have the opportunity to make it good or bad (although some days just careen out of control).

We all face the same opportunity every morning when we open our eyes. Will our day be good because of our choices? Good luck!


Monday, January 18, 2010

A tired start

Weekends are a time to relax and rejeuvenate for the work week. But as I sit here on Monday morning, I realize I've done nothing quiet and relaxing for two weekends now - and it's starting to take its toll.

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend. I went to the Canadian Figure Skating Championships with my mom and sister on Saturday. Yes, I know, I sat around all day, but that was surprisingly tiring.

Then yesterday morning, Michael and I cleaned the house and in the afternoon I hosted an Epicure party. I worry when I host a product party, which probably tires me out too - do I have enough food, will people enjoy themselves, will they like the product as much as I do, etc. I needn't have worried, but I do.

I notice when I get tired, my joints and bones start to ache, like I'm suffering the tail end of chemo. I experienced it one evening last week and then again last night. I think it's my body's way of saying, "whoa!"

I know I'm not the only one dragging my butt to work on a Monday morning. We all try to cram way too much into our two days off. I just feel the effects of a good weekend a bit more profoundly than I once did.

My goal is this week is to try to take it a little easier so my body can catch up to my gung-ho mind. It's hard finding the right balance. I get easily frustrated. I shouldn't expect miracles, but I do.

From your tired friend,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Join me!

Last May, a sea of yellow decended on Wonderland Gardens to run, walk and stroll to raise money for ovarian cancer research. I'd just been diagnosed with this deadly disease five weeks before the event, had undergone two chemotherapy treatments, was bald, anticipating surgery and in shock.

The overwhelming show of support by the yellow-t-shirt-sporting Team Tina lifted my spirits, made me cry and helped me realize I wasn't fighting alone. In fact, even writing this today makes me misty because I'm a fortunate woman. I have a whole village behind me. The sheer number of people who joined the team, in a short time frame, was amazing. Friends and family from the city and beyond, converged upon the park that day with noisy enthusiasm. As you can see from Janice Zolf's promo video for this year's run we made an impression.

Organizers say Team Tina provided a jolt of life to the run last year - and we're challenged to do it again. (And this year we have more time to prepare, train and fundraise!)

So, I'm asking you to join Team Tina for the 2010 Run for Ovarian Cancer on May 16. Let's bring our enthusisam and determination to beat this horrible cancer. You can join me during the 5 k run (or run and walk, as I plan to do) or do the 1 k fun run/walk. Last year, Team Tina ranged from serious runners, to avid walkers, to little kids (some in strollers), to those who enjoyed a little jaunt on a beautiful spring day.

Sign up or donate at:

Every dollar raised supports the ovarian cancer research team here in London. These brilliant scientists are working on ways to detect this silent stalker earlier and treat the women who have it. I've toured the lab and was privy to some of the amazing theories they're working on.

I'm still scared and counting on ovarian cancer research to eradicate this awful disease from my body forever. Help me.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Love life

Recently, I ran into someone in the hall at work who asked me how I was doing. I hadn't seen this person since I've returned, so I knew she was asking about my battle with cancer. I'm not always sure how to answer that type of question.

If I say I've beaten it or it's gone (which is what most people want to hear and what I want to be able to say), I feel like I'm lying. I don't know for sure. My abdomen wasn't clear during my last CT scan. But I also don't want to get into the explanation about residual spots and the grey anomolies on my last CT scan. I don't want to talk about reoccurence statistics, etc. It goes against my goal to be positive and honestly, not many people really want to hear it.

So, I said, I was doing well and that I have more tests, but I will for the rest of my life. At that, she replied, "at least you can say for the rest of your life." That simple comment made in passing made me reflect and be thankful I am where I am. I do have my life, however long it may be. Right now I'm healthy and living a normal life.

I don't know what the future holds, but I'm positive I have many years of life still in me. I can't change what happens, but I will face whatever comes my way and fight again, if necessary.

I love my life, and if it includes regular tests to ensure the cancer is staying away, so be it.

Don't take your life for granted because it can change in the blink of an eye. Believe me, I know. It's a gift, make the most of it.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Training with T

Yesterday, I made a mistake. I did a little run/walk before I worked out with my personal trainer. As a result, I was covered in sweat and my muscles were protesting before we even started her challenging workout.

So at one point, when we were lunging and playing catch with an 8 lb. medicine ball, I cried uncle. I felt as though I were going to hurl my breakfast onto the gym floor and make a disguisting mess. My breathing was heavy while my head was light.

I hated to say I couldn't do it. I cursed the damn cancer. I hate how out of shape I feel. Although, it occurred to me this morning, T's regime probably would have challenged me at the height of my fitness level. She's awesome at devising ways to challenge the body and target different muscles.

I also have to give myself credit for the activities I accomplished before we progressed to the medicine-ball-lunge catch. I'd done a few rounds of boxing sit ups (do a sit up while wearing boxing gloves and punch the blocker in her hand) and the dreaded squats across the gym floor while lifting the medicine ball up and down.

I was proud of my strength when I fairly easily managed to push T across the floor. We positioned ourselves on either side of a giant exercise ball. My goal: push her across the gym. I did this four times, alternating between left and right shoulders. Each time, I'd pushed T to her side of the gym in about 30 seconds or less. At one time, I could hear her shoes slide across the floor as they attempted to gain a grip. She seemed astounded at my strength and how much effort she needed to exert. I think my low centre of gravity and heavily muscled legs gave me the advantage.

Luckily, when I bailed on the one exercise, T took it all in stride and we transitioned to different ones.

I learned some lessons from yesterday's experience, eat a heartier breakfast and save the cardio for after the personal training. On a positive note, I managed to run 12 minutes and walk 11, for a distance of more than 2.5 k. Now I know that's not much for those of you who actually run, but from where I stand, it's a good start.

As always, there will be good days when I feel I strong and coordinated, and bad days when even a fairly simple exercise class will be a struggle. But I will keep trying because I can only improve from here.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Gimme a do-over

Do you ever wish you could have a do-over? When you regret how a day went - and know it was partially your fault - and would like it back. Yesterday was one of those days.

Even though I try to be positive, like any human, sometimes I'm grumpy. (Two Sundays in a row, what's with that?) The never-ending energy of my kids and how they chose to use it, irritated me. They regularly argued with one another. That irritated Michael and me, and we were short on patience. Well, you see how this downward-spiralling cycle is going.

Contributing factors include:

- Waiting around the house for two days for the guys to replace our hot water heater and them not showing up due to their lack of communication (they didn't have the part nor the manpower to do the job, but they didn't call to let us know that). We could have gone out and done stuff, but we were anticipating their arrival.

- I hate cold weather, the salt, big boots and the accompanying mess of it all. And it was a cold weekend. Brrrr!

- My 42-year old friend who is dying of lung, bone and brain cancer was consistently in my thoughts. She could die at any time, which is a shame because she's an amazing human. Case in point, even though we haven't been in touch since high school, she asked a mutual friend about how I was doing during these last days. (I think part of it is because she started with ovarian cancer, which hid the primary lung cancer site, and she can relate to my struggle. And also because she's a caring individual.)

Now I know when I was diagnosed and going through treatment, I didn't just think about me, me, me. I don't think any person can. Lives are intertwined with others, their families, their activities, etc. When people are sick, their interest in the lives of others doesn't just stop. Besides, it's tedious thinking about your situation all the time. But I haven't really talked to this old friend in years and years, and she's asking about me. Remarkable.

- I know I have to seriously start eating better if I want to lose any of this weight. Today is D-day, the day I watch every morsel that passes my lips. I'm the type of person who gains weight simply by thinking about cheesecake. My metabolism sucks and it takes great willpower to drop an ounce. Part of me says. "Forgetaboutit. Be happy with the new, rounder you and enjoy life." But the rational part says, "You'll be healthier and feel better about yourself if you drop a few pounds (like 40)." Sigh.

So maybe my mood yesterday was influenced by the lack of chocolate I see in my immediate future.

- I may need some alone Tina time. As a natural introvert, I recharge my batteries by being alone. With the entire family hanging around the house this weekend, I think I depleted my personal energy stores, which made me cranky. I tried to read or play a computer game to turn into myself, but I was interrupted regularly.

Regardless of the reason, I feel as though I'm being gently squeezed by a giant hand. It's not a comfortable feeling. I'm not sure those are all the reasons, but those are the ones my conscious mind can dig up.

But today is a new day and I'll try again. The squeezy feeling is still here but I'm hoping to shake it during my session with my personal trainer. Last time, we played catch with a medicine ball while I balanced on the round part of the bosu ball. It was hard! I fell off a lot! I think it's her new form of torture (oops, conditioning) for me.

So here's to a new day. We all get a brand new start every morning. We choose what we do with it.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

A chilly Sunday morning

On this bitterly cold Sunday morning, I thought I'd provide a quick update:

Mom and mixed messages
You know you're getting good care when there's a oncology roundtable discussion about you. (Yes, I know it could be because they're stumped or concerned, but I choose to believe otherwise.) On Thursday, Dr. P informed my mom she was the subject of such a meeting and as a result, she'd be referred to a medical oncologist (which I'm guessing is what you get when you don't have a specific, common cancer).

But then Dr. C never mention this extra doctor during her afternoon appointment, when they discussed the kidney and ureter surgery. How odd.

Even stranger still, on Friday mom got a call with an appointment this Thursday with a medical oncologist. We don't know what it all means, but she's going to go to the appointment to find out. Just when we thought we had all the answers regarding my mom's care (surgery and done), this new doctor's thrown in the mix. Again, a state of flux. Not that we're especially worried about it - more confused with the mixed messages.

Date change - Join me
Oh, and this week I learned date for the Run for Ovarian Cancer ( changed again due to park availability. Even though the official website isn't updated yet, the new date is Sunday, May 16.

Man, that decreases my training time by two weeks! I know it's going to be a difficult physical challenge for me because I am NOT a runner. But I'm determined to manage it somehow. Please join me in the run or make a donation. All funds go directly to ovarian cancer research in London. Woo hoo!

Working full time
I'm now working full time. It's tiring to engage a full schedule of work, kids, activities, exercise and a social life. I really noticed my lagging energy at the end of last week. Thanks to my flexible boss for allowing me to work from home on Friday. Eliminating the trek back and forth to work helped me start to rebuild my energy stores. I should be good to go for another week by the time tomorrow morning rolls around.

Positive thoughts
These days I'm focusing on thinking positive thoughts about my health. I'm working out, starting to eat better, after the indulgences of Christmas and my birthday, and trying to believe the cancer is gone (and carry on as if it is). My brain is allowing me to think just a little further into the future - one without cancer treatments. I'm currently planning my trip to Florida for March Break and tentatively thinking about summer.

Fingers crossed, my mental images will translate into reality. But I guess I'll find out in less than a month. Until then, I'll enjoy one day at a time.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Tests, oncologists and good news

Yesterday was a medical day for my family. My mom had two appointments and I had two tests. We met for a nice dinner afterwards.

The news for my mom is pretty good, all things considered. She got a post-surgery clean bill of health from Dr. P (gynaecological oncologist). He doesn't need to see her any more.

During her appointment with Dr. C (urological oncologist) yesterday afternoon, he diagnosed cancer of the ureter as confirmed by her surgery biopsy, and said there may be another type of cancer crawling up her ureter towards her kidney (described as a carpet-like growth). As a result, he recommends surgery to remove both the kidney and the ureter - as soon as possible. Since he's now booking for the end of March, Dr. C is going to have to bump someone else's surgery to get my mom in.

While he has her open, he's going to look around, examine all the lymph nodes he can see, etc. Based on the current information, the surgery is the only treatment she'll need. Unless Dr. C sees something unusual when he has her open, she won't need chemotherapy or radiation treatment. It's the operation and she's done. Yippee!

Now it's not going to be an easy operation and she's expected to be in the hospital for five to seven days. But overall, that's great news! I think every member of my family was extremely relieved after yesterday's appointment.

Since I have the BRCA-1 gene mutation and my risk for developing breast cancer is extremely high (about 45 per cent after my hysterectomy and ovary removal, which cuts the risk in half), I now need regular and complete breast screening. So yesterday I had my first ever breast MRI.

Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI) is used to create images of the internal structure and function of the body. Very simply put, the machine uses powerful magnetic fields to align the hydrogen atoms in the water in the body to create an image. Sometimes a contrast is used to enhance the appearance of blood vessels, tumours or inflammation. An MRI creates a much greater contrast between the different soft tissues of the body than computer tomography (CT).

As a slightly claustrophobic individual, I expected to be freaked out when sliding into that little tube. But it was better than expected (and I kept my eyes shut). The tube was shorter than I thought it would be and open at both ends - so I didn't feel as though I was being slid into a crypt.

I knew I'd have to stay still and that it would be noisy, so that wasn't a problem, except when a body part would started to itch. But let me walk you through it.

For the first part of the MRI, I had to lie on my back with my head in a cradle and my knees supported by a pillow. The technicans then placed padded restraints around my head, neck and chest (including my arms positioned at my side) so I was completely immobilized. But that portion of the test was only about 10 minutes, so it wasn't too bad. Although, the inside of my left ear started to itch part way through the test.

Then the technicians reconfigured the bed for the second part of the test, which involved me laying on my stomach. My belly rested on a slight incline and my head lay in a pillow similar to ones on massage tables. I had to open my hospital gown at this point (thank God the male technician left the room) and place my breasts into two wells with my breastbone resting on a brace. So my entire upper body weight was supported by my shoulders (with my arms straight down at my sides) and the middle of my chest.

Part way through this scan, a technician injected me with a constrast through an IV in my arm. It felt cool at the injection site, but that's it.

This test took about 20 minutes. While I didn't find it hard to lay still, as time went on, my breastbone started to ache. It felt as though my body was resting on a bare piece of metal, even though the brace itself is padded. I breathed, tried to relax and thought of calming, beautiful images throughout the test (beaches, vacations, nice places I've been, the spa at Port Franks, Cuba, etc.), which really helped.

After the MRI, I felt light headed and dizzy, and Michael said I was pale. My breastbone still feels bruised today. But it's a small price to pay for a comprehensive look at my breasts to ensure there are no lumps.

As for the noises the MRI makes, I have to admit, they make me laugh. I expected one consistent loud noise. Nope. It's a cacophony of sounds. One would start and then one or more would join in (at different paces and pitches). I heard thumps, muahs, dings, bongs and fire alarm bells. I could even feel some in my head and belly. Every once in a while, they'd stop for a few moments and then the discordant sounds would start again.

Now, after yesterday's experience, I have a bone to pick with medical shows like House. None of their patients are strapped onto the MRI bed, the show doesn't indicate the loud sounds made by the machine change and have different rhythms. But then again, I guess that doesn't make for good TV.

After my MRI, I had a mammogram. My breasts were positioned and squished in between plastic plates and images taken. But after the MRI, this was a piece of cake for me.

So, two tests down. I see Dr. B, the breast specialist on Jan. 20 to discuss the results of these tests and go over my options. My CT scan is Jan. 25 and I see Dr. W on Feb. 2. These appointments, along with my mom's upcoming surgery should keep me busy (and possibly out of trouble) for the next little while.

But overall, I feel optimistic about it all. Hopefully these good feelings bode for good results all around.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Go play

Play. When is the last time you played? When did you do something simply for the pure joy it brings you? If you think about it (or better yet, say it out loud), even the word is fun.

I was reading a book yesterday and it talked about the importance of play for our mental health (and cancer-fighting abilities). We should set aside time to play, just as we schedule time for family, work and exercise, so we make it a priority.

"Living well requires play," writes Greg Anderson in the book Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do. "Millions of people believe that grown-ups should not play. Somehow we think that playing is not the mature thing to do. Challenge this thinking. From this moment forward, I want you to understand that play is an important part of your "work" of wellness."

Playing can be many things - flying a kite, playing cards, dancing, jumping in the waves, playing an instrument, singing, building a snow fort (and having a snowball fight), walking on the beach, playing a board or video game, or snowshoeing. But it has to be something you participate in for the pure joy the activity brings.

Some people think they're playing, when actually they're not. If you feel any sense of obligation or shoulds associated with the activity, it's not actually play. For example, I go to many different exercise classes. While I enjoy them, I feel I should go to better my health, lose weight, strengthen my heart, tone my muscles. I love the way they make me feel and the endorphins they release, but they aren't really playing.

Playing involves an activity you'd do, even if there was no benefit to it whatsoever. It's something you eagerly anticipate, makes you smile and leaves you with that happy feeling. Sometimes, because we're programmed not to play, it can induce guilt.

I really like playing this computer game called Zuma. While it may enhance hand-eye coordination (and maybe even that's a stretch), there's no real benefit to playing it. Yet, sometimes when I load it up on my computer, I feel guilty. I think I should be doing something more constructive. But no, what I really need to say to myself is, "You should be playing. Have fun girl!" So, I've tried to push those guilty feelings down and simply enjoy playing the game.

So give yourself permission to play. Do what makes you happy and smile with glee. It's for your own good health.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Growing older

What a drag it is getting old.
- Rolling Stones

Mick croons this line in the song Mother's Little Helper. I wholeheartedly disagree with him. As I write on my 43rd birthday, I have to admit, it's great getting old(er). It's far, far better than the alternative. Would I have written this same message a year ago? No! I used to lament what time was doing to my body. It's amazing how a vision of the grim reaper changed my perspective.

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.
- Author Unknown

While the afflictions of growing older - aches and pains, memory loss, incontinence, weight gain, wrinkles, etc. - may be annoying compared to the resilience, beauty and zest of youth, growing old is a gift. Additional years provide opportunities to live, love and laugh.

Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty - they merely move it from their faces into their hearts.
- Martin Buxbaum

I say wrinkles, sminkles. It means I've laughed often and thought hard when contemplating life. The years may have weathered my skin, but only because I've been out in the world, living. And yes, my hair is really quite grey. While I sometimes admire the shiny strands of the uniform-coloured hair of some of my friends, I know I've earned every one of these grey hairs. I may still chose to colour it at one point, but for now, I'm content with my brown and silver strands.

Wrinkles and grey hair don't make a person less attractive. But, if the lessons of life are learned through earning them, hopefully one's external beauty is overshadowed by the internal radiance shining out from the inside.

So I thankfully celebrate getting older knowing I have a one-of-a-kind husband, awesome kids, a loving family and unbelievable friends. I celebrate another year hoping I have lots more birthdays in the future. And I invite you to . . .

Grow old with me! The best is yet to be.
- Robert Browning


Monday, January 4, 2010

Wonderful surprise and anxious beginning

I was treated to a lovely surprise yesterday. Despite my positive posting (wishful thinking?), I was grumpy yesterday morning. I was fighting with Tara to finish a project that was due today (yes, despite our best intentions, we left it to the last moment).

I think I was also negatively anticipating today - the back to school rush/worry about suspensions, the first full week of work (even though I have Thursday afternoon off for some medical tests), and the buzz and potential chaos that's going to accompany this week.

But Michael, wonderful husband that he is, completely changed my mood yesterday with some early birthday presents. Much to my delight, he booked me a massage (exactly what I needed to de-stress) before he surprised me with tickets to the London Knights game. It was perfect.

As anticipated, it was slightly chaotic and stressful at home this morning. I worry about my kids trekking back and forth to school in the snow and hope they dress warmly. I fret about Noah's behaviour and hope he's successful at staying in school. I also hope I can handle this first full week of work - and not let anyone down. I pray I can get on track with some healthy eating and exercising to lose some of this weight.

I know it's hard for everyone to get back into the routine (or start a new, healthier one), especially for those who've had holidays. So I'm sure I'm not alone in my anxiety.

Yes, I'm a bit of a mental mess this morning. But I'm sure, in time, it'll all work itself out. I have an appointment with my personal trainer today, so I'm sure she'll get some positive endorphins flowing in my body to improve my attitude.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gratitude and optimism

I'm still regularly surprised at some of the changes in my perspective. I hate winter - the snow, the cold, the bundling up, etc. But my attitude has shifted somewhat towards this coldest and darkest of seasons.

When I was a kid, I'd head out into the winter wonderland to skate on the frozen creek in our backyard or burrow into the snow-piled river banks to create forts and secret hideaways. Angie and I would play for hours and then make our way to the house to shed our snow-covered winter wear and warm up.

Since we lived in the country and rode a bus to school, monster snow storms would produce bonus holidays. We'd have extra time to play, watch TV and burrow in the comfort of our home.

As I grew, I discovered I don't really like the snow and cold (and I get far fewer bonus snow days). Sure, I enjoy a few winter activities, like cross country skiing and tubing, but I don't do either regularly. Skates hurt my wide, flat feet and an accident at Mt. Ste. Anne during the grade 13 Quebec trip (and I have to admit age) deters me from downhill skiing. Winter activities weren't enough to change my feelings for this cold, long season.

I'd much rather be swimming, cavorting in shorts, riding my bike, or lounging in the backyard or on a sandy beach with warmth and sunshine than enduring the ice and snow.

But yesterday, as Michael, Tara and I were out scouring furniture stores for the perfect (meaning comfortable, small and reasonably priced) love seat, a winter storm descended on London. The driving conditions were slick. The snow pelted our heads and bodies as we made our way from the van to the furniture stores. And the overheated stores required disrobing while we sat on dozens of couches.

Yet, I discovered my attitude towards the winter weather wasn't what it once was. I didn't curse the blowing snow. Even when I stepped in a drift that coated my pant legs and resulted in snow making its way into my boots, my mostly cheerful attitude didn't waver.

I consciously realized, I was grateful for the opportunity to experience another winter (enjoy is a little too strong of a word). My hope is to be able to experience many, many more (which means lots of summers - my favourite season - too).

I started the new year right - and the way I wanted to - with the belief that how I bring in the new decade will foreshadow what happens in it. We celebrated at home with our good friends, Diane and Pete. We played cards, drank beer, ate, laughed, sang and wore comfy clothes. It was awesome. New year's day, we did the same thing (doubly reinforcing the new 2010 vibe).

And I've started the first few days of the new year with an attitiude of gratitude and optimism. I'm thankful for every day, experience, month and season. I'm trying to be as positive as possible, hoping that what the mind believes and projects, the body will adopt.

I don't know how long it will last. I'm sure, as always, there will be good days and bad days. For example, my kids are trying my patience today and I think my mood is affected by my friend who is in palliative care. But that's life. I can try my best to be positive, thankful and approach each day believing it's a gift.

Because it is - for each and every one of us. Don't waste it.