Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Forever thankful

"In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices."
                      - Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

My tango with cancer continues to teach me a great deal about the unselfish generosity of people and the depth of kindness. I matter to others, and they show me through words and actions every day. It's a really good feeling.

It's sad it sometimes takes a brush with a serious illness or death for people to tell others how they really feel. That's why I try every day to engage others, tell people what I like about them and say, "I love you."

Right now, I'm working with a wonderful team of people on a soup event to raise funds for Team Tina and the Run for Ovarian Cancer. We're going to simmer up many pots of delicious soup and serve them up on Friday. I'm also thankful to all who bought a ticket. Without rumbly tummies, this fundraiser wouldn't be a success.

I'm thankful for all the wonderful things people have done for me: fundraising, joining Team Tina, donating/buying soup tickets, friendly emails, supportive words, listening when I'm worried or happy, and all the wonderful gifts I received. I have an amazing support system.

As Elizabeth Gilbert so aptly wrote above, I can't even begin to thank everyone for all they've done for me over the past two years. I know all these caring people don't expect payback, but I will continue to say thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as I have a voice. Let's just hope that's a long, long time.

Thank you, my friends. You sustain me and make my life richer, more colourful and incredibly blessed.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Learning to run

I layered my workout wear, donned gloves and a warm headband, and laced up my running shoes yesterday at lunch to begin the learn to run program through work. A few snowflakes swirled in the air as we headed out for our jaunt around Victoria Park in downtown London.

I'd somehow convinced my friend, Dorothy, to join me in this adventure. She's another non-runner and I think we were both wondering what the heck we were doing as we headed down to the gym.

I was a bit nervous about the whole thing. My stomach was performing funny little flips and anxiety crawled up my throat. But as a friend (who runs) pointed out, it's a learn to run program, not a come run with us if you're fabulous at the activity. I may be fabulous in different ways, but I digress.

It turns out, I had nothing to fear. We start really slow. In fact, I'm harder on myself when I've started running programs by myself in the past. We walked at a brisk pace for about five minutes before we started running our first minute. It flew by. Then we walked - and talked - for two minutes. And then we ran again. And we only did it five times! I've always run at least 10 minutes, despite the length of the intervals in between.

But I've promised myself I'll follow the program and not try to get ahead. After years of experience, I'm sure the trainer knows what she's doing. I run again tomorrow with the group and then once by myself over the following four days.

So I feel good today and am telling myself, "I can do this."

I know it will get harder as the weeks progress, but I'll be building stamina and improving technique (something I've never had anyone correct me on before).

I doubt I'll love to run, even by the end, but at least I'll be able to it.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Blub, blub

After a 10-month hiatus, I headed back to the pool yesterday. We recently reactivated our membership at the local Y, which we'd put on hold as I went into treatment last June. Michael and I have been regular Y members since before our kids were born. We love the commraderie - and the pool - at this fitness facility. Many of the staff know our names and cheerily welcomed us back.

When we go to open swims, we have a rule for the kids. They have to swim as many lengths as their age in addition to playing in the water. So Tara swims 9 and Noah 13. Yesterday, Michael and I also followed our own rule. So I had to swim 44 lengths of the 25 metre pool.

I've always been a good swimmer. Given that I spent five years swimming competitively as a child, I feel comfortable in the water. I've also consistently exercised, therefore, my strength and stamina are usually pretty good. But spending more than half of the last two years in cancer treatment, I'm at an all-time fitness low. And I noticed the difference when I hopped in the pool yesterday. During my first four lengths I was shocked at how hard it was to swim. I'd never felt that uncomfortable in the water. My arms protested and I couldn't find my rhythm.

Luckily, the muscle memory came back and after a warm up of about 12 lengths and the exercise got easier. It was still difficult and my arm muscles ached, but I finished all 44 lengths. I averaged a decent (despite my lack of conditioning ) eight minutes per 12 lengths. I took a brief break between these sets and managed to swim my entire 44 lengths in a hair under 30 minutes. (Yes, I was timing only the swimming portions.)

It felt good to get back in the pool. I was proud of my accomplishment when I finished. And surprisingly, I don't feel any unusual muscle aches today.

But I'm starting a Learn to Run program at work today. I'm a little nervous about it. Unlike swimming, running is not my sport. But I want to be able to put in a decent showing at the Run for Ovarian Cancer, and I figured doing a program like this might condition me to do a better run.

I have a feeling I'll be feeling some aching muscles tomorrow.

Wish me luck,

Friday, March 25, 2011

Seizing control back

I haven't been following my own advice lately. As a result, I've felt stressed, frustrated and unhappy. Yet, as two friends reminded me yesterday, I'm allowing it to happen and I'm being too hard on myself.

In a previous blog, I wrote, "I find that if I focus on the good things in my life, I diminish the power of the bad ones." Sometimes I can come up with good advice. It'd be better if I followed it.

I've allowed myself to get worked up about work, worried about fundraising for the Run for Ovarian Cancer, frustrated with my kids, bogged down by household responsibilities, and concerned about the delimmas of my friends.

I've been walking around with a scowl, which does nothing to help the wrinkle situation on my face and makes me unapproachable. I've been feeling heaviness in my shoulders and in my heart. My head's been whirlwind of lists and chores.

While I need to be supportive, sympathetic and responsible, I can't let these influences bring me down every day. I need to be a duck and let the waterfall of woes wash down my back.

So I'm going to try to do a better job of concentrating on the good things in my life because doings so makes me happier and helps me realize how lucky I am. In the end, many of  these worries that have been plaguing me don't matter in the grand scheme of things. So today, I'm going to list five things for which I'm thankful:

1. My family - I have a husband and kids who are fun, supportive and love me unconditionally. I have an awesome sister with whom I communicate daiily and am planning the second annual sisters' getaway. My parents, in-laws and extended family (aunts, cousins, etc.) are always willing to lend a hand or cheer me on.

2. My friends - I am so lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life who listen to and commiserate with me. They encourage me, give me hugs, bring me food, offer shoulders to cry on and celebrate my successes. They help remind me I'm not alone and what's really important.

3. Health - While I still have cancer in my body, I think it's still sleeping. (Shhhh, don't wake it.) I am getting stronger and feeling good. Michael's back is steadily healing and he's back at work. Noah is getting more mental health support and is maturing, so things are improving for him (although he's suspended for fighting right now). It'd be easy to concentrate on the bad when it comes to our health situations, but it's far more uplifting to concentrate on the good.

4. It's Friday. It's jeans day at work. My daughter has pizza day and a dance-a-thon. We have no strenuous plans for the weekend beyond riding lessons, drinking wine and sitting in the hot tub. Life is good. (The only thing that would make it better is if it were pay day.)

5. I'm reading an interesting book - and I'll probably get a chance to read more of it on the weekend. I received The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire as a gift a couple of weekends ago with the warning that I had to read past page 60 in the first book (because it's hard to get into). Well, I followed that good advice and tore through the first book. I'm now about a third of the way through the second and enjoying it immensely.

With my little list, I'm seizing back control of my mood and emotions. I refuse to be bogged down by negativity today. It's a beautiful day to be alive.

What's on your thankful list?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I know I've been absent from the blogosphere for a little while, and for my regular readers, I apologize. I just haven't felt like I had anything relevant, significant or interesting to say. But it's a catch 22 situation, because I love having followers, and if I don't post, I lose them. In fact, due to the lack of comments on some of my posts, not as many people follow as they did previously when I was in the thick of treatment and recovery.

My life has somewhat stabilized on the health front, for which I'm thankful. Don't get me wrong, there are days when I worry a great deal about a reoccurence and what my life may bring. Sometimes, this is exacerbated when I read the blogs of or about other women who have travelled further on this cancer journey.

But I feel pretty good and have no niggling symptoms that make me suspect the cancer is back. Unlike last year at this time, when I started to feel different, I feel pretty normal. Of course, that's an out-of-shape, somewhat tired, "new" normal, but my normal nonetheless.

I find I'm also having emotional up and downs, but I think that's also part of my new normal. Yesterday I was extremely grumpy and touchy. As a result, I felt better if I kept to myself so I didn't rain my negativity down on anyone else. But I don't have a very good poker face - my emotions easily play across my face - so I'm sure many at work suspected something was wrong. But it was just me feeling extremely bitchy and negative.

I feel better today. Although I have to admit, I frustrate easily these days. That may be tiredness talking. I'm working more and trying to exercise. It may also be a side-effect of me processing the changes at work and the somewhat aggravating projects I have on my to-do list. I'm sure I'll get over it, eventually. Again, this is a great opportunity to practise my patience.

I thought I'd also share a few interesting things I've noticed lately about my health and body situation:

1. The wolfman. fuzzy facial hair finally seems to finally be gone. So no howling at the full moon this week.

2. My eyelashes came in, broke and are coming in again. That happened after the end of treatments last year, so it wasn't a shocker.

3. My hair is coming in much, much curlier than it's ever been. It's still pretty short, so I don't know what it'll look like in the future, but it's a very different experience for me to have hair this curly. I am learning how to style it, which requires new products and experimentation.

4. I'm back to being a hairy beast. After the last set of treatments, my body hair didn't come in as thickly as it was pre-cancer. But now it's all back, and I use my razor regularly. Darn.

5. The Olaparib side effects are now minimal. Despite the inconvenience of the three-hour fast around the pill's consumption, the only symptom I notice is some acid occassionally gathering at the base of my throat. I can live with that if the pills help me live.

So all-in-all, things are pretty good. I'm still anxiously anticipating my CT scan on April 12 to confirm my the-cancer-isn't-growing suspicion, but until then, I'm going to try not to think about it.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Fight ovarian cancer

Join, train, fundraise, run, donate, cheer = fight

Help beat ovarian cancer. This nasty disease claims the lives of way too many women. Yet, you can do something to help find a better way to detect and treat this horrible disease.

The annual Run for Ovarian Cancer on May 15, 2011, raises funds that directly support research at the cancer centre in London. This dedicated team of researchers work diligently to figure out what makes these cancer cells tick, and search for ways to beat them down and eradicate them.

I believe in my heart that we're on the verge of some amazing breakthroughs. It's about time. Too many women have fallen in the battle ring.

I say we punch, kick, scratch, bite and head butt until this cancer (and all cancers, really) go down for the count.

Help me. Join or donate to Team Tina.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Angelic reinforcement

I've second guessed the wisdom of writing last Thursdays blog about half a dozen times since I hit the "publish post" button. Was it wise to blab my insecurities in such a public way? Do I have the right to talk about work in that way? Am I alientating myself by doing so? And most importantly, am I making a career limiting move (CLM) by admitting my fears and shortcomings?

Now, I've declared my belief in angels in the past and elaborated on my occasional use of angel cards. I don't take these cards literally, but I do believe God can share messages with me through their use. I look at them as a way of opening up my mind, and thinking about my situation and experiences a little differently.

On Saturday morning, I did an angel card reading. I'm often amazed at the cards I get and how they relate to the thoughts or worries swirling around in my mind. Saturdays shuffle revealed the throat chakra card, which says, "The angels sent this card to you because of important messagees that you need to express, either verbally or in written form. You're encourage to speak your truth to yourself and others. To yourself, admit your true feelings as well as any revelations you've had."

It also says, "When you squelch your truth because of fears of disapproval, your throat chakra tightens and darkens."

After I read the message from that card, I felt better about what I wrote. Deep down, I probably knew I needed to write the blog and share my feelings, but it's nice when reassurance comes from an unexpected source. I can't be afraid to speak the truth; even if it may be a CLM. I have to be true to myself.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Love now

The Time Is Now

If you are ever going to love me,
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings
...Which from true affection flow.

Love me now
While I am living.
Do not wait until I'm gone
And then have it chiseled in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.

If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping,
Never to awaken,
There will be death between us
And I won't hear you then.

So, if you love me, even a little bit,
Let me know it while I am living
So I can treasure it, and take it with me.

~Author unknown

My blogger friend and fellow ovarian cancer warrior, Pateeta, posted has this beautiful poem on her invitation to a party this weekend. Tomorrow she's having a fiesta as a celebration of life, early birthday and living wake. She wants to eat, drink, dance and laugh with her family and friends. I think it's a wonderful idea.

While I'm honoured I got an invitation, I don't think I'll be able to make it to Phoenix, Arizona by tomorrow afternoon to join the celebration. So instead I just send warm wishes and lots of prayers Patty's way.

The poem above reminds us all to tell those we care about exactly how we feel - before it's too late. Events, accidents, natural disasters (prayers to all those in Japan) and disease will separate us from the ones we love. No one knows when their time will come, so the time is now to say, "I love you."

With lots of love to all my blog followers,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Where's my life jacket?

When you allow your best self
to shine through
and have the courage to believe
in unlimited possibilities,
you will discover how wonderfully magnificent
you truly are!

- Elizabeth Hyland, author of "Surviving The Unemployment Roller Coaster" on

Change is happening all around me. I'm transitioning from cancer patient in active treatment to one who's in remission. (I'm also trying to train my mind to believe this remission will last.) I'm adjusting to a more "normal" lifestyle with work, exercise and social activities. I'm slowly easing back to work, with a few energy-depleting speed bumps along the way. And, as I've written before, I'm trying to adjust to the new work world in which I find myself.

My role and how I work is changing significantly. In some ways, that excites me because I'll be able to do more writing and be more creative. On the other hand, some of the proposed changes make me anxious. I went to a meeting the other day and mentally freaked out after it. I felt overwhelmed and unprepared (and I thought I was alone with those feelings).

After mentally hyperventilating for about 20 minutes, I stopped myself and said, "Tina, you're a smart woman. You've been part of the organization for eight years. You can write. You are capable. Smarten up and see what happens."

So like the quote above says, I'm going to do my best and let it shine through. I'm going dredge up the courage to believe the possibilities will be wonderful. Then I'll wait and see what happens.

Part of my problem is all the responsibilities, processes and changes aren't determined yet. It's a long-term plan, and the leaders promise to listen to concerns and challenges. So that's comforting. And I'm not in this transition alone. Many of my colleagues are in the same boat and I'm sure we'll get help from leadership along the way.

I'm sure my anxiety is high because I'm encountering so many changes at once (and to be honest, it takes me a little while to mentally adjust).

Alf - I know I told you I wouldn't blog about the meeting the other day, but I couldn't resist. It's part of who I am and what I'm experiencing right now.

So I'll strap on my life vest and proceed on the journey. I'm sure the water will rock the boat and spill over the side sometimes, but hopefully I'll also experience some smooth sailing along the way. Whatever this trip brings, I'm sure it'll be an adventure.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Get out of the muck

". . . and when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times, you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt. This is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty to find something beautiful within life no matter how slight."
                                                         Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

Last week I watched the movie Eat Pray Love. Its promotional trailers spoke to me because I was struggling with cancer, searching to discover meaning in my situation. The goal of the main character was to discover herself and purpose in her life after some disasterous relationships.

While the movie itself wasn't nearly as good as I anticipated (apparently the book is better), I keep thinking about the awesome messages it shared. The quote above is one of those stellar ideas that I think would benefit anyone.

Regardless of what life throws at us, it's our job to find happiness in it. Yes, I have cancer. I've battled it twice and according to statistics, will probably struggle with it again. Yet, I refuse to allow it to control my life or my emotions. I try to be positive and find the beauty in the people and things around me - and in myself.

Sure, sometimes it grabs hold of my ankles and drags me down into the darkness, but my finger nails are broken and bloody with my struggle to make my way back to the top; to feel the warmth and brightness of the sun. I don't want to live my life in a constant state of fear and anger. I refuse to continually ask "why me?" I deserve better than that.

I constantly encourage happiness to grab my ankles and drag me out of the muck of my life, hose me down and let me bask in the contentment and blessings I've been given. Regardless of what life throws at me, I am a lucky woman with many good people and things in my world.

As I keep saying, we've only got one go around in this life and we can't waste it waiting for happiness, fulfillment or a stroke of luck. We have to go out and find it, create it or discover it within ourselves.

What we're living now is not a dress rehersal for life. It is life. Don't continually put off your dreams for the future, for retirement, for a rainy day - live them now in whatever capacity you can.

Michael had an uncle who spent years and years saving for retirement so he could travel and enjoy his time after work. But when he got to retirement age, he fell ill and was unable to realize the dreams he'd saved for all his life. On his deathbed, he warned Michael to not be like him and to enjoy his life at every stage.

Believe me, I know this practise is sometimes far easier to say than do. I often have to remind myself not to put off my dreams. While I may not have the financial means to realize them all (that trip to Australia is outside the budget right now), I can plan little goals to achieve along the way.

But I have to admit, I'm struggling with fear and uncertainty right now, which creates a huge roadblock to living in happiness and realizing dreams. As a result, I'm afraid to plan anything until I know my health situation. I'm living in suspended animation until my CT scan in five weeks. I know this reaction goes against everything I just wrote and everything I believe, but I'm not perfect. I'm just a woman trying to do the best I can.

But to practise what I preach, I'm going to start thinking about goals for the spring and summer. While I may not plunk money down on a trip or book a cottage, I'll be one step closer to shaking off the paralyzing fear and moving toward a goal or two.

Here's hoping you're living your dreams and enjoying the day.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happy happy happy

As he lays sleeping down the hall on this rainy Saturday morning, I think about my husband, my best friend and the father of my children. It's his birthday, his 48th, and I want it to be a good one.

The coffee is brewed, a cinnamon coffee cake is in the oven and blackberries with yogurt are prepared. A special little breakfast to give him a glimpse of how special he is.

Later today, we'll visit our friends in Port Franks (aka the spa). We'll dine, drink, laugh and play cards. We'll relax and enjoy each other's company. And we'll have carrot birthday cake with cream cheese icing.

But nothing could show the extent of my love for Michael. He's walked beside me for almost 19 years - through the wonderful times and the crappy experiences. I love him more than when I married him.

So my wish for his birthday goes beyond all the tangible gifts I could give him. I wish him a less worrisome year. I hope he has less stress. I pray his back heals and gets strong (and no other physical ailments plague him). Mostly I wish him lots of happy experiences and memories through travel, excursions and friends.

But mostly, I hope he feels loved every single day.


Friday, March 4, 2011

All aboard

The crazy train is slowly pulling out of the station and picking up speed - and I'm on board. I have no idea how long I'll be on or my exact destination. I do know I've started on this crazy trip again, with my semi-irrational thoughts and overwhelming feelings.

I'm scared.

Spring is slowly coming. I can feel it. While the transition to this warmer and beautiful season makes me happy, it also makes me worry. The last two springs brought bad cancer news and the need to go through treatment throughout my very favourite season, summer.

While I had a check up this week, it wasn't a comprehensive one where they looked inside, scanned, poked and prodded me to be sure the cancer is still sleeping. Now every twinge, every ache, every minor complaint becomes a death sentence; a sign the cancer is choking my internal organs and killing me.

As a result, I've started thinking about my funeral, headstone, grave plot, etc. I've imagained how I would like to stay at home as long as possible. I've already planned the hospital bed we could put in our dining room so I could be part of the family interactions as long as possible. How incredibly morbid. But I can't help it.

Yet, I'm afraid to speak my fears. It's supposed to be an optimistic time, where I feel happy and excited. My appointments are going well, I'm on the wonder drug and I'm easing back into a normal life. I can't burden others with my fears, especially when they've got problems of their own. Even my husband is working through his back injury.

I feel I'm illogical and therefore I can't bring anyone else down with this. So I feel alone. (Don't worry, I've got an appointment set up with my social worker so I can work through some of these emotions and thoughts.)

This morning in the hot tub I almost cried because we didn't go on a vacation after I was done treatment and we don't have one planned. I got the overwhelming feeling it was too late. It made my heart sink.

I know I should believe and be optimistic because that will affect me physically.

I know I shouldn't think the worst when there's no proof there's anything wrong.

I know I should be celebrating every single day, because it's all I've got.

But some days it's difficult. Some days I feel crazy. Today is one of those days. But each day on this cancer journey can be different, so who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Thanks for listening (uh, reading).


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Check-up update

"C'mon little pills, work your magic."

Yup, I've been known to talk to my Olaparib. It's crazy, but I figure a little encouragement can't hurt. And quite honestly, it's probably to prompt my subconscious to continue to believe in it. The strength of the mind is a powerful thing.

I'm counting on this clinical trial drug to keep me cancer free longer. So far, so good. In fact, when I was at my check-up appointment in Hamilton yesterday, I asked about the other women who are in the hospital's study. C, my research nurse, said all the participants are doing well - including those who aren't on the study drug. Go figure. There are three women taking Olaparib who are ahead of me in the study - I'm number 4 of 6. They're experiencing minimal to no side effects and are doing well managing their cancer. Yippee!

They've even seen shrinkage in tumours with the Olaparib alone. I found that news extremely encouraging. Yay wonder drug!

My hemoglobin is finally rising and now sits at a respectable 113. It's still a little low, but far better than hovering around the 100 mark. My CA-125 rose slightly from 40 to 48, but C assured me it's normal to see a roller coaster effect with this marker. The rise makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I'm trying to forget about it since eveything else seems to be fine.

C even had a decent explanation for the hollow feeling/weird sensation I mentioned yesterday. My abdomen is full of scar tissue and nerve endings that may be stimulted by the jets in the hot tub. She wasn't sure because she'd never heard anyone complain of it before, but it seems logical to me.

As my fellow-blogging friends, Patty and Sami say, as women touched by ovarian cancer we're more in tune with every twinge in our bodies. We may blow inconsequential aches out of proportion, but we'll be sure to catch anything that requires further medical investigation early.

That's a good thing.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Check-up day

Today I head to Hamilton for my six-week check up. At this appointment, I'll give blood for testing - including my hemoglobin and CA-125 - then talk to Dr. H and my research nurse, C. We'll discuss any side effects of the Olaparib, which I'm happy to report are minimal and sometimes non-existent, as well as any aches I'm experiencing.

I have a few sensations that concern me, but I don't know if they're reason to be worried or my new body. My whole abdomen feels looser, especially in the hot tub with the jets pounding on my lower back. I feel sensations and slight pressure my vaginal and anal areas. It's weird and hard to describe. It also isn't as noticeable (or disappears completely) when I'm on dry land.

My back aches when I sit in the wrong type of chair for too long. The pain then travels around and affects my ribs. But this isn't a new phenomenon, and is probably a result of my weakened back and ab muscles. I also still tire easily, but then again, with my return to work I'm doing a lot more. Hopefully my hemoglobin is on the rise and I'll build up my stamina.
As I write, I realize those complaints are really minor, but I worry anyway. I think it's the time of year. For the last two years, spring sucked. In April 2009, I was diagnosed with cancer and in May 2010, I had my reoccurence. While I've managed to think about cancer less over the last few months (and worry less than I did at this time last year), the topic occasionally makes its way to the forefront of my brain. One evening last week, I went down the slippery slope into despair thinking about the possibilities.

I'm sure there's a constant, niggly thought of reoccurence in the back of my brain as spring approaches. While this appointment may help ease some of my concerns, it's the next one with the CT scan and physical exam I'll be anticipating. I want confirmation via imaging the cancer is still small and sleeping. I need to know if the Olparib is continuing to work its magic.

I know I have to believe.. For the most part, I'm optimistic, but I'm human and sometimes doubt. I so desperately want this treatment to work and for it to add years and years to my life. In the short term, I want to enjoy a great summer, free of cancer and treatments.