Thursday, September 30, 2010


We all have a magic number. It represents the number of days we're blessed to live on this earth. The years we're given to build a life, accomplish goals, learn new skills and love others.

It'd be easier if we knew that finite number. That way we could ensure we made time to go skydiving, climb a mountain, learn to paint, travel to Australia, live in a foreign land, earn that coveted promotion at work, read the classics, quit a soul-sucking job, get out of a bad marriage, learn a new language or love someone completely.

Knowing the end was coming in x days prompts action. Or does it?

There's no guarantee debilitating illness or injury won't suck up the last years, months or days of life and make us incapable of achieving some of our goals. That's why it's important to live today and work on accomplishing those important goals when the opportunity presents itself. Don't hold back.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, and after the shock and fear wore off (but not completely because I still feel these emotions), I contemplated what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; however long that may be. I've got some activities on my list - white water rafting, traveling, writing at least one book and more I haven't solidified in my mind yet -  but several changes involve my attitude.

I want to live happy. I want to take joy in the small things in life. I want to spend time laughing with friends. I want to let go of the little, mundane, it doesn't really matter but causes me stress things.

I know I've said all this before, but I'm finally feeling well enough to surround myself with that spirit of how I want to live. I know I'll go back to that dark place one more time (and I'll fumble with staying with this attitude when presented with some of the regular burdens of life), but it's good to step out into the sunshine - and appreciate it - for at least a little while.

That brings me to the second song my dear friend sent me this week. Again, I've never heard it because I don't listen to country music, but it fittingly sums up the topic of this blog.

So I encourage you, take each day - even today - and live like you were dying.

Live Like You Were Dying
Artist: McGraw Tim

He said: "I was in my early forties,
"With a lot of life before me,
"An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
"I spent most of the next days,
"Looking at the x-rays,
"An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."

I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

He said "I was finally the husband,
"That most the time I wasn’t.
"An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
"And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
"Wasn’t such an imposition,
"And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.

"Well, I finally read the Good Book,
"And I took a good long hard look,
"At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
"And then:

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?

"Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin'."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Starting to stand

Thanks so much for hanging on. Just knowing you've got my back helped lift my spirits yesterday.

I managed, even with my exercise-deficient arms, to pull myself a little higher out of that dark hole yesterday. I tested the crumbly dirt edge and I'm confident it'll support my weight, so I'll be laying on the green grass and soaking up the sunshine in the land of the living really soon. Maybe even today; despite the rain pouring outside my window.

I'm grateful to all who responded to yesterday's blog. I heard from friends I know, and new friends I haven't had the pleasure to meet. Just know I consider anyone who follows and supports me on this winding journey, through its ups and downs, successes and failures, technical mumbo jumbo and emotional confessions, wherever it may lead, a friend.

Today, I see my social worker to help me work through some of the chaos filling my brain. I made the appointment at the end of last week, when the depression was pulling me down. I feel different today, but know I need help cleaning up some areas of my grey matter. I think I'll always have "stuff" to work on, and I value the opinions and insights of my therapist. I want to be a better person by being more self aware and she helps me do that.

In closing, I want to share the lyrics of a song. A dear friend sent me the words to two songs yesterday to inspire me. I've never heard either because I don't listen to country music, but I love the lyrics. This one (yes, I'll share the other one in another blog) is a good reflection of how I've been feeling lately. But don't worry, I'm starting to stand.



By Rascal Flatts

You feel like a candle in a hurricane
Just like a picture with a broken frame
Alone and helpless
Like you've lost your fight
But you'll be alright, you'll be alright

Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of
You might bend, till you break
Cause its all you can take
On your knees you look up
Decide you've had enough
You get mad you get strong
Wipe your hands shake it off
Then you Stand, Then you stand

Life's like a novel
With the end ripped out
The edge of a canyon
With only one way down
Take what you're given before it's gone
Start holding on, keep holding on

Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of
You might bend till you break
Cause it's all you can take
On your knees you look up
Decide you've had enough
You get mad, you get strong
Wipe your hands, shake it off
Then you stand, then you stand

Everytime you get up
And get back in the race
One more small piece of you
Starts to fall into place

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hang on, please

I'm dangling over the black, yawning chasm of chemo depression and pain. While I've moved a few feet up the rope and can see the top, I'm not quite there yet. And the edge seems crumbly and dry, as if I'd slide precariously back down if I tried to grasp and pull myself up into the sunshine that illuminates the land of the living.

But I have hope I'll get there soon. I just need someone to keep holding onto the other end of the rope.

During these recovery periods, I always seem to discover something new about myself. Some of those revelations, I like, while I cringe at others. But they make me self aware, which offers me opportunities to explain, or at least apologize, when I feel out of control.

Last week, I discovered my mind emerges from the post-chemo stupor earlier than my body. When my body and mind are both in the chemo fog, and it takes all my energy just to shower and read during the day, they're in sync. I just do what's necessary to get through the day.

But then my mind sharpens and I start to think and plan, while my body continues its decent downhill. The bone pain kicks in, I swell up from the steroids, my hands and feet tingle, the heartburn kicks it up a notch and my tastebuds remain curiously absent.

I want to do things - and I can in small doses - but I'm tired of remaining inactive. So I tend to do more than I should earlier in the day, when I feel good, which makes me hurt as the day progresses. As I lay in bed at night, I pay for my enthusiasm.

It's during this stretch that I think I sink into a depression. My mind is racing along and my body can't follow. So it starts to theorize, this is going to be life from now on. It even prods me to consider the steps along the slippery slope to the end. Cancer fights to get the better of me during these times and I even imagine it growing - instead of shrinking - inside my body. Isn't it ironic the very chemicals designed to kill the nasty cells in my body taunt my mind with images of the cancer taking over my body?

When I get like this, I feel I'm betraying my very spirit and everything I write about on this blog. I feel like an imposter. I am a swollen, pain-filled lump that doesn't get out and grasp the possibilities of each day. I'm irritable and little things bother me. In the dark of night, when all the daily activity ceases, I wallow in sadness and domesday scenarios.

I know it's the chemo, the steroids, the anti-nausea meds, the pain, the pain killers and probably even the Olaparib changing my brain chemistry. Restless sleeps and every day stressors probably contribute to the problem. But I hate it. I hate who I become. I hate that I turn into such a whiner too. (Wah, wah, wah.) This is not the way I want to live my life. But man is it hard to climb out of the hole.

Yet, as I write this, I realize, I'm capturing my thoughts and feelings of this minute, reflecting on the last couple of days. My whole outlook could change over the course of the day or during the next couple of days. I just have to keep holding on to that rope.

Will you continue to hang on to the other end?


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bull by the horns

I've mentioned that life doesn't stop, just because mine stutters for a week or so. But why does life have to present me with tough stuff when I am feeling weak and disoriented? I actually asked God "why" yesterday after talking with Noah's school for the fourth time in two days.

It's been a crazy week. I know it's only week 3 of school, but he's had some behavioural and listening difficulties at both home and school, and they came to a head yesterday. Fortunately, I was just strong enough (or was I just as strong as I needed to be?) to start to deal with them. Next week, I'll meet with the school and try to sort out goals, expectations, responsibilities and strategies for working with Noah. I feel so unprepared as a parent to actually deal with these types of situations, so I stumble along and do the best I can.

In the whole scheme of things, the transgressions weren't that bad. But he's been pushing the envelope in all aspects of his life, so I had to have a serious chat with him last night. At one point, he said, "I've already blown it." What?! Third week of school and he's done trying?

I said, "It's never, ever too late" and encouraged him to start over and try again. It doesn't do anyone any good if he throws his arms up in the air and quits trying. I'm not going to give up on him. (And I don't want anyone giving up on me either.)

That's one of the lessons I've learned during my cancer journey. If it's really important to you - life, family, career, painting, travelling, marriage, whatever - you can't give up on making it work. You don't necessarily get another chance. You can't always say next time or later. The trick is identifying what's really important and then sticking to your guns about making it happen. It's also being able to let go of the things that really don't matter in the whole scheme of happiness and life. 

As much as I preach that, I have to admit, I'm not the embodiment of that lesson this week. I'm sore and swollen, covered in acne, having wicked hot flashes with nausea thrown in for good measure and listless. I am not grabbing the bull by the horns and riding it with enthusiasm. I can barely give my wonderful husband a smile in the morning and get something out for dinner in the evening.

You know how much this waiting-around-to-feel-better time bothers me. I constantly have to remind myself that I'm letting the drugs work and letting my body heal. I try to reassure myself and say I have no choice. But I'll be happier when I start to feel better.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nap time

Whoa, I slept terribly last night. I swear I was awake every half hour, moving my legs around, trying to get into a better position, attempting to sleep. And of course, with that type of drifting in and out, I experienced lots of weird, little dreams (none of which I can remember).

Although the aches started in my feet, legs and knees about 7:30 last night, I don't think that's what woke me. I didn't feel pain, I just woke up. I tried taking some XS Tylenol at 1:30 a.m., thinking it may send me off to slumberland. It did allowed me to drift off for an uninterrupted hour or two, but I'm not sure it was very restful.

So needless to say, today is going to be uneventful. I've already popped some Tylenol 3 because I know the bone/joint pain is going to come barrelling through shortly. I've got my book and my blankie ready to rest. I will nap.

It's just going to be one of those days. And even though, it's not even 9 a.m. - and I don't really want to rush life - I'm looking forward to tomorrow or later on this week when things will get better. But for now, I take the day as it comes and do the best I can.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Emotions riding high

The paperwork to prepare my chemotherpy concoction must have been lost in the shuffle in the pharmacy on Friday morning. I was at the cancer centre at 8:30 a.m. to get my blood drawn to ensure my hemoglobin was above the magical number of 100. It popped right up to 104, and I headed upstairs to the chemo suite, ready to go.

But it didn't quite happen the way I anticipated. Even though I swallowed my Olaparib at 9:10 a.m., my I.V. wasn't inserted in my vein until after 10:15, and the chemical infusion didn't start until 10:30.

Now, I must have been anxious, all worked up about the number of needle sticks it was going to take, how round five was/is going to transpire and consumed by thoughts of how many more treatments I'm going to need (more on this later), because the waiting around took a toll on my nerves. For a brief point in time, tears streamed down my face and I thought, "Let's just get this going."

Once the whole process was underway, with thankfully only one needle stick, and the chemo drugs were dripping into my veins, I felt a little better. Go figure. But there's no turning back at that point. Now I just wait for the side effects to start - and then end - and I'll be done this cycle.

Above I mentioned I may need more than six rounds of chemotherapy. That's one of the options if my tumour isn't responding as well as expected. Of course, I'd have to go off the clinical trial to do so because the protocol only allows six rounds in conjunction with the Olaparib.

But the drug alone may continue to eat into the tumour and do that important shrinking work all on its own. And my CA-125 continues to drop. Last treatment it was 135 and this time it was 96. Still a lot farther from the less than 35 that's considered normal, but at least it's movement in the right direction.

But I believe in my heart, the best option for me is to stay on this drug. I fought so hard and prayed so much (as did so many others) to be part of this clinical trial, I feel I have to stay on it. I feel it's going to help stave off the cancer. And if for some reason, in a reasonable time frame, we find it's not working, we'll discuss what else I can do. I'll continue to work with the doc to figure out the best options for me. I still have untried treatments and opportunities to beat this evil cancer.

 I think my anxiety is rising because of a number of additional reasons:

1. These last two rounds of chemotherapy and the side effects are bound to be a bitch. The cumulative effects of these drugs will compound to enhance all the negatives. And I feel less strong than I did at the beginning. It's all wearing on me. At least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. That, and all the support I receive makes me feel I can do this.

2. I'm worried about how slowly my tumour is shrinking and the small increments my CA-125 levels are dropping. Of course, this is my interpretation. My doc and nurse seem pleased by my progress and that the cancer is responding to treatment.

3. I don't know how everything is going to work when I am done chemo. If I don't drop out of the study and continue with chemo, I'll go on Olaparib maintenance. This involves a double dose of just the Olaparib daily (so eight capsules in the morning and eight at night). I will not have a 10-day break every three weeks. I'll consume the tablets daily, with the fasting one hour before and two hours after each dose.

That means nothing but water for me (and of course, the eight giant pills) between 8 and 11 every morning and evening. That alone requires planning and coordination. No more sleeping in past 7:30 for me if I want a coffee or food in the morning. No more late night dinners, sipping wine or playing cards with drinks, snacks and friends in the evenings. I'll be a horribly demanding dinner guest. It requires planning, coordination and clock watching. It'll be one hell of a way to go on a diet - oh you can't eat for six hours every day.

I'm also a little worried about the side effects I'll experience when I'm taking just the Olaparib. While my doc assures me there have been few reported side effects, I could be different. He reassures me the acid reflux, general nausea and feelings of unwellness are probably due to the combination of the chemo and Olaparib, but he doesn't know that. I'm a guinea pig.

Right now, when I am on the Olaparib, I don't feel right. About 24-hours after I consume my last dose, I start to feel better and can enjoy food, drink and life again. I'm worried these bad feelings will continue when I go on maintenance and I'll have to get used to them. Sigh. But I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

4. Whenever I dip into my slump, the mood around my house seems to change. Michael commiserates with me and as a result, gets worried, anxious and slightly grumpy around the same time I do. Noah gets helpful and thoughtful. Tara gets clingy and loving. It's a weird combination - and some of easier to handle than others.

I understand the emotions and how hard it can be to watch me dip down on the roller coaster, but to be honest, sometimes I can't handle anything but my own feelings and pain. So please forgive me if I'm short with you, don't get back to you right away or avoid your well-meaning attempts to contact me. I shrink into my shell. It's the only way I know how to cope.

5. There seems to be no clear, discernible pattern to each round of chemotherapy side effects this time (unlike last year). I don't start to feel bad at the same time each round, I can't predict when I'll rise out of the slump, I can't even identify which side effects I'll experience since new ones seem to be popping up all the time. It's frustrating because it's not predictable. I don't know what to expect exactly, which makes it hard to prepare mentally and physically.

But in the whole scheme of things, I'm lucky. I'm still here. I have opportunities and choices available to me for treatment. I'm near the end of chemotherapy. I'm on what promises to be an amazing clinical trial. I have family and friends surrounding me, helping me face the dark days and chemo demons. I have a whole freezer full of delicious food from my awesome friends at work to make feeding the Bratschers a little easier. And I know I have a huge cheering section, clapping and encouraging me as I travel down my path.

And for all that I'm extremely grateful.


Friday, September 17, 2010

It's a go

The beer worked. My hemoglobin is 104. Yay! No delays. Time to get the IV going. One stick! One stick!

Chemo #5

I'm thirsty. I'd love a coffee. I can still taste the dexamethasone anti-nausea medication residue lingering in my mouth. But I'm avoiding liquids that will dilute my blood and lower my hemoglobin count. I want to get my treatment today and this little component in my blood needs to rise one, little point to meet the criteria for the protocol.

I'm confident I did it. I drank less than usual yesterday. My dinner included a couple of dehydrating beers with some chicken wings (I didn't have time for steak, and the chicken wings were part of a very generous food donation from the wonderful friends at work).

I find I'm approaching chemo #5 with a bit of a different attitude. I want to get the treatment, I want it to kill the cancer and get this over with. But I'm not skipping into the chemo suite, optimistic and anxious to begin. I'm worn down and tired. I know it has to be done. I know it'll help save my life. But part of me really, really wishes all the chemotherapy treatments were all over.

I was tired and teary yesterday. Maybe it's because Dr. H talked about the possibility of extending the chemotherapy past #6. While I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, the potential is probably lingering in the back of my mind, dragging down my spirits. Part of me doesn't think I'll have to go there because I'll stick to the protocol and stay on the Olaparib, but what if . . .

One day at a time, that's always been my mantra through this journey. I can get through today, with its IV poke and hours sitting in the chemo suite. I can take those cancer-killing liquids in my body. I can and will do it. And then, I'll face tomorrow.

One day at a time.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rooting for one

I just got home from seeing the doc in Hamilton. All looks good with me, except my hemoglobin is one digit shy of the minimum required by the clinical trial protocol to get chemotherapy. Now, I have two days to get that number to rise - and I'm confident I can.

Being dehydrated can raise the levels because the blood isn't as thinned out. So I'll try not to drink much tomorrow evening and then have nothing in the morning before my blood draw at 8:30. Yup, I need to present myself to the lab half an hour before my scheduled chemotherapy time slot to have blood drawn again.

Before my last treatment, I increased my hemoglobin by five points (or whatever unit of measurement it uses) in two days, so I'm sure I can raise it one measley point by Friday morning.

I think I may dine on red meat and consume a dehydrating beer on Thursday night to add protein and well, beer, to my body. I'm going with the notion that beer has some magical properties because I drank two the last time I needed to increase my HgB and it rose significantly. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

On the positive side, I don't need a blood transfusion, I don't need to stick myself with a drug via needles to increase my hemoglobin and my treatment isn't delayed. Yay! And then we only need to worry about the last chemotherapy.

Although, if my tumour isn't gone, my doc and I need to discuss options that may include additional chemotherapy treatments. I don't even want to think about that possibility now because the idea depresses me. But I asked the question, "What if the tumour isn't completely gone at the end of the six treatments." To which he replied, we could go off the clinical trial drug and have a couple more rounds of chemo (which is what he'd normally recommend to those who aren't part of a study) or go on maintenance and see if the Olaparib further reduces the tumour, which is part of its function. Sigh.

So I can't plan anything. I can't even get my hopes up this may be my second last treatment. It's truly a test in patience, taking one day at a time and accepting whatever comes my way. It's tough, but I'm mentally better able to handle this approach this time around (rather than during my first experience with cancer).

Now physically, that's another story. On days like these, when I'm feeling good, I feel I can do anything. But when I'm in the throes of the side effects, I sometimes wonder how I can get through another two rounds, let alone the potential for more. But, I'll do what I have to do.

I believe we're all stronger than we think. My stamina and resolve are just being put to the test. Good thing I have broad shoulders.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cancer survivors

Last night I had dinner with some of my cancer survivor group, and it was great. We talked, laughed, shared and commisserated. They all wanted to know how I was doing and where I was in my treatment cycle. We dined on good food and I even had a glass of red wine. We toasted to good health for all of us.

At first I felt weird about going. It's obvious I'm going through cancer treatment with my bald head and wan completion. I feel I'm the embodiment of their worst fears - the return of cancer. My appearance can shock some people, but I imagine it would scare those who've been through treatment, know what it's like and want never to experience that again.

But when I confessed my feelings to one member of the group, she was quick to reassure me that, to her, I represent strength, courage and the ability to face the odds yet again. So my vitality and smile, despite having cancer, were encouraging, not discouraging. That made me feel good.

The group is a special one: we faced death and learned lessons from the experience, we share fears of cancer's return (or the long-term side effects from its treatment) and celebrate clean test results, we understand the psychological, physical and mental side effects of the treatment, we offer advice, share recipes and recommend books. We understand each other.

I'm thankful for them and proud to be part of such a strong, powerful, beautiful group of people.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Fun and food

This weekend took a lot of energy, but the end result was worth it. I had tonnes of fun - and that's important.

The weekend started well, with a really good massage on Friday afternoon. It worked out some kinks in my back and neck. I think I could have a massage every other day and still have tight muscles, but going every month makes a bit of difference (and it's what the benefit plan and bank account can afford).

On Saturday, the Bratscher family hit the Western Fair. We hadn't gone in several years so it seemed brand new. The kids spent most of the day on the rides while Michael and I browsed through some of the hundreds of displays. We ate fair food, including a delicious elephant ear and a candy apple.

It was better than I anticipated and I lasted longer than I thought I would. But after seven hours walking around, my feet were throbbing and my energy stores were low.

So yesterday, I took it at little easier. Michael and I went to the Delta Armouries' fabulous brunch with its breakfast foods, waffle/pancake/french toast station (with about eight different toppings and real whipped cream), omelette bar, pasta bar, carving station, salad bar and, my favourite, the dessert bar with decadent cakes and chocolate covered strawberries. Yum.

We were so stuffed, we didn't eat for the rest of the day. In fact, we had to go for a walk in the afternoon to work off some of the food. Oh, it was bad and oh so good.

But it's now Monday. Michael is back at work and the kids are settling into school for the day. The day lays before me with promise because I don't have any firm plans until tonight, when I meet my cancer survivor group for dinner. I think I'll fill it with a few chores and some relaxation outside. Sounds like a good combination to me, as I mentally coax my red blood cells into rising for my appointment on Wednesday.

It looks as though summer is trying to hold on, hope you enjoy it.


Friday, September 10, 2010

It's about time

Two weeks later, I finally feel normal. Now, that's a relative term. The normal to which I'm referring is my treatment normal, defined as almost no aches and pains, a desire to be involved in social events and activities of daily life, the ability to eat whatever I crave without my stomach protesting with acid and starting the day with a good cup of coffee.

These are the days I see my friends, eagerly go to my kids' lessons, create meals, organize life and plan for the future. I love these days. I feel optimistic and productive. Unfortunately, these periods are getting shorter and shorter with each consecutive treatment. But on the bright side, I only have two more chemo treatments and then this (and even better) should become the norm.

Now that's not to say I don't feel tired or exhaust easily. I'm sure my red blood cells are dipping pretty low at this point, so I have to pay attention to my body and try not to overdo it. But that's difficult, because I want to be active during the days I feel well.

I also have to keep my friend, hand sanitizer, close to ward off the germs that could infiltrate my compromised immune system. My white blood cells should be climbing up again, but it never hurts to be cautious.

So I'm back from the chemo depths and rarin' to go. I have a busy weekend planned, starting with an eagerly-anticipated massage this afternoon. Tomorrow, we're heading to the Western Fair (a surprise for the kids) where we'll eat junk, look at displays and check out exhibits. We'll also let the kids ride until their hearts are content. I know I have to be careful of germs and exhaustion, but it'll be worth it.

On Sunday, I have a brunch date with my wonderful husband. We'll nosh and talk in the beautiful dining room of the Delta Armouries. Yum!

Once again, I'm happy to say I'm out there living life. I hope you have a great weekend too!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mourning the loss

When I was 39 years old, I was finally able to stick with a diet and exercise routine that put me on track to being my fittest ever. As I approached the big 4-0, I was deteremined to look and feel my best. By the time I hit that milestone birthday, I was 43 pounds lighter and stronger than I'd ever been.

I recall this story because this goal was very difficult to obtain. My metabolism has always been terrible and I had to be careful about every little morsel I ate. I also exercised four to five times a week. I went to bed hungry often. And most of the time I abstained from delicious treats and drank very little alcohol.

I was very proud of my accomplishment. I even bought a bikini (for the first time) to wear on my 40th birthday celebratory tropical vacation.

On the weekend, I mourned the loss of that Tina. Late one night, when I couldn't sleep, I wept because, realistically, I'll never be that fit, strong or thin again. I'd just spent a week feeling nauseous, weak, sick, bitchy and tired (and was still feeling that way) so I cried bitter tears. I'm angry I'll never be that person again.

When I mentioned this loss to a friend, she stopped my lament to remind me she likes this Tina better, both personally and emotionally. She reminded me of how much she's learned from my struggle about living life to the fullest, not taking things for granted, focusing on the important things in life and telling people you care about them.

I paused and agreed that, I too, like the person I've become because of cancer better. Her words reminded me to focus on the positives my journey with this horrendous disease has given me. They're gifts. Since I was feeling terrible - both physically and mentally - I couldn't see past my current state to remember what I've gained. It's so easy to forget the good when you're feeling bad.

Of course, it doesn't help that currently my face is covered in chemo acne (think teenage acne), I'm bald, my eyebrows are sparse and only about six eyelashes grace each eye. Yup, full Yoda mode is almost here. I'm also pale and have bags under my eyes. I'm getting these weird red dots on my forehead, and I'm bloated, pudgey and swollen. Some days my eyes are dull from the side effects. I avoid looking in the mirror because I feel ugly. It's such a big difference from the body I'd worked so hard to achieve just a few short years ago.

I'm still incredibly sad I've physically lost the old Tina; the one who was strong, healthy and felt almost invincible. While I can work my butt off to gain some of the strength and fitness back when I'm done treatment, I've almost accepted I'll never return to the physical person I was when I turned 40. My scarred, battered and menopausal body (and months of toxic chemicals and inactivity) make it almost impossible.

I still hate what this disease has made me physically, but I've got to remember the good things I've learned and gained. I've got to focus on the positive. As Michael always says, he's happy with me any way I am because I'm still here and living life.

It will take time, but I'm sure I'll slowly accept the new me. I'm easier on myself these days. I'm sure I'll feel better when I have hair again. Until then, I have to remember to focus on the gains I've achieved emotionally, spiritually and mentally. And while it won't be easy, especially during the bad post-chemo days, I'll have to focus on the positives of my tango with cancer.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to school

As is tradition, Michael and I walked the kids to their first day of school this morning. I find it hard to believe my babies are in grades 8 and 4. I sit in amazement wondering where the time has gone.

Noah is taller than me and quickly catching up to his dad. I was amazed to discover during our shoe-shopping excursion a few weeks ago, his feet are bigger than mine. His voice is deepening (with the occasional squeak or croak) and acne covers his face. But I still think he's a handsome devil and I am convinced he matured over the summer. I hope he experiences a fun and successful grade 8.

Tara, my little diva/tom boy, was actually excited about returning to school. She picked out a super-cool outfit to wear for the first day and we straightened her hair. She got a few carmel-coloured highlights last week, so she feels beautiful - which she is inside and out.

She too grew a couple of inches over the summer and her legs are long (that certainly doesn't come from me). Her class is a grade 4/5 split with a cool teacher - her first male. She's self directed and learns quickly, so I'm sure she'll do well and learn even more than the grade 4 curriculum.

Like my kids, I'm excited, nervous, sad and relieved about the new school year. Most of all, I'm thankful I'm here to experience it.

As for me, I'm slowly recovering. Yesterday was the first day I felt even close to semi-normal since chemo. I still suffer from acid reflux, I tire easily and I'm overemotional. I know I'll experience my chemo trough this week, during which my white blood cells will drop to their lowest. I can feel my red blood cells counts dropping too because I can't do much before I get tired.

I have to remember to take care of myself and take it easy. I have to remind myself that's my job and not feel guilt about it.

So I will do just that until I can retrieve my kids from school and hear the excited chatter about the first day. I can't wait.


Saturday, September 4, 2010


In the back of my mind, I knew this would happen, but it doesn't make accepting it any easier. It's taking longer for me to recover from each round of chemotherapy. Of course, because I'm more tired, more dissatisfied with my appearance and further removed from regular life, it's hard to accept.

Those close to me notice the side effects strike harder and linger longer. I can see their desire to do something and notice the frustration at their helplessness. I feel the anxiety and disquietude, both in myself and those around me.

It makes me feel hopeless - at least temporarily.

But it's funny. Most of the time I don't dwell on the cancer or what it could be doing to me. But I don't focus on how I'm beating it either. I simply am. The emotions go up and down from dismay to calm assurance. I just live.

When my emotions are low and the pain is present, I'm sometimes pessimistic deep down, which affects my mood. While I haven't thought about dying and the rest of my life with cancer over the past couple months, it's risen to the surface of my mind over the past few days. But I'm shoving it back down. Am I in denial?

Of course, next week, when the sun is shining and I'm productively getting my kids to school, organizing their extra curricular activities, writing, cooking and enjoying the positive energy of being with people, I'll probably bounce back. I'll be back to refusing to believe that I'll just cease to exist in the near future, removing me from the lives of those I love.

Rest assured, the ball has hit bottom and, while it's rubber is getting a little worn and cracked, the sphere is bouncing back up. I'll do my best to enjoy the upward arc. I hope you enjoy your own on this long Labour Day weekend.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Overflowing emotion

I'm not sure if it's withdrawal from the dexamethasone, impatience and frustration, or just where I am in the recovery cycle, but last night my emotions went way out of whack. Instead of lethargy and withdrawal, I felt teary and contemplative.

It was good I was alone - Michael took Tara to her riding lessons and Noah occupied himself - in the dark office with my computer. My chest got tight and I felt so very sad. I lamented this is my life and I'm fighting cancer - again, damn it. I moaned about the fact it's not all gone (yet). I felt sad I had no energy or will to do anything. I felt sorry for myself, Michael and my kids. I felt without purpose.

It wasn't a concrete feeling, just a wave of emotion that overtook me. I felt afloat in an open sky of feelings, with no tether.

I think part of the reason I go into this emotional state is that I tend to isolate myself during the really bad days. Even when Michael is home, I turn into the vortex of my inner self, absorbed by lethargy or discomfort. I often don't want to do or say anything. It's quite pathetic.

Maybe that self-absorbed behaviour precipitates the lonely feelings when I start to come out of the worst of the side effects. I've shunned human contact so I miss it. But then again, I still don't have the energy to do much about it. What a vicious cycle.

I do know I was very happy (tearfully so) to see my kids last night, who've spent the last few days at their grandparents. They look so beautiful, healthy and sparkling. It's almost as if they grew in the three days I was recovering. I just want to hug them and tell them I love them. And they've been so helpful and loving since coming home. It makes me so very thankful.

I think I also mourn the sense of purpose I lose during my post-chemo days. I know, I'm healing, recovering, getting those ninjas kicked into high gear, but it's not my typical activities. It's low-key and mostly out of my control. And I have to admit, I like control. Although, I'm getting better at relinquishing some of those things over which I am powerless.

I also have no control over my willy-nilly emotions and my lack of energy to do anything. Life just keeps moving on though and it feels as though mine stands still; at least for a few days. Hopefully, it'll get back on track as I bumble through today, with my heightened emotions and my slightly sore body. Then maybe I can enjoy the long weekend.

Your over-emotional friend,