Friday, December 18, 2015


I am being taught a lesson in patience. 

I finished the last of my radiation on December 7. They told me it would be two to three weeks before I feel like myself again. It's only been 11 days but I feel so frustrated that I still can't do much, especially at a time of year when so much is happening and there is so much to be done.

I am definitely on the mend and have felt that way for the last few days. It's nice to have a bit of energy but I have learned that it goes suddenly. I can go out to do an errand and before I am done, I can barely make it back to the car. I need to be more patient with myself.

The ear ache and vertigo are not gone. This means nothing. One of the tumours was (note my optimistic use of the word "was") sitting on the nerve for the Inner Auditory Canal. The tumour could be gone and there could still be nerve damage, which is either temporary or permanent. Only time will tell. I need to wait patiently to see if I will ever be symptom-free, or if I just need to figure out how to cope.

I don't see the radiation oncologist until middle of March. I won't learn until then what the status is of my brain and if the treatment worked. Pictures are meaningless, if there is still swelling from the radiation, so I need to be patient about this too.

I had a bunch of other tests before radiation. My bone scan and CT of my chest came back clear (Hooray!) but my abdominal CT showed a very small spot on my liver. It could be scarring (my liver has a lot of scarring from previous tumours) or it could be a new metastasis. The only way to know for sure is to do another CT in a couple of months, to see if anything has changed. I see the medical oncologist again in mid-February and will have done another CT before then. I need to be patient about this too.

I have never been very good at patience. I was the kid who shook the presents under the tree and ripped at the corners. I wanted to know the sex of my kids, as soon as I possibly could (although fate intervened to teach me a lesson). I am the queen of instant gratification.

I'm realizing though that I can't wait until I know more to start doing the things that are good for me. It's time to start taking Vitamin D and eating vegetables again (it really is too damn bad that potato chips are not a vegetable). I also need to cut myself some slack about what I can't do.

And I need to be patient.

Monday, November 30, 2015

the wisdom of my therapist

I've been seeing a therapist for a couple of years and, at this point, she knows me really well. I honestly don't know how I would have lived through the last couple of years without her and only wish I had started working with her sooner.

I've been thinking of some of the things that I have learned from her.

Patients who advocate for themselves have better outcomes. My therapist used to work in a hospital and this is something she learned then. I find it very comforting, especially as I make call after call to make sure I get the information I need to know how I am being treated and why. I feel so much better when I know what's happening. It's good to know that studies bear out my gut instinct.

It's almost impossible to have a panic attack if you are breathing. In one of our earliest appointments, she had me stop talking and take the time to breathe deeply. I felt first impatient and then much calmer. I very often forget to breathe when I am stressed, or I breathe very shallowly, and if I remember to breathe slowly and deeply I immediately feel much better.

Pay attention to what your body is telling you. This is especially true if, like me, you tend to live in your head. As with breathing, it's easy to ignore a headache, tense shoulders or anxiety gnawing away at the stomach. I've had to learn that, somewhat counter-intuitively, ignoring these pangs does not make them go away. They need to be noted and even held up to the metaphorical light and examined. As she keeps telling me, the body and the mind are very connected. Not in the sense that you can will yourself better but if you pay attention, your body can be telling you that something is wrong or that you need to slow down and take care of yourself.

Talking about something, even your worst fear, doesn't make it happen. This should be kind of obvious but I think lots of us are guilty of not saying things out loud because we are on some level scared that we will make them happen. Of course this isn't true and talking about a fear openly can make it lose some of it's power.

Friday, November 27, 2015

the latest developments in the brain of Laurie K

I have been planning for ages to return to writing in this space and feeling a bit guilty about it. I've just been really busy with other writing, volunteering, having fun and getting healthy.

Ironically, what brings me back is a return of the cancer in my brain. The letter below is an edited version of one I sent out via email earlier this week. 

I am happy to have this blog. I just wish I had different news to share at this time.

Dear friends and family,

My last MRI revealed two new tumours in my brain. Both are the same area as before - the cerebellum. One is in my inner auditory canal and the other is in the cerebellum tentori (the lining separating the cerebellum from the rest of the brain). In mid-October, I began to have vertigo and an ear ache and sore throat followed later. Once ear infections were ruled out, I wasn't surprised to learn that the tumour that sits on the auditory nerve causes these symptoms.

Surgery is not on the table at this time. I'll be having Cyber Knife radiation to both spots on December 1, 3, 4 and 7. The additional dates (the last two times, I did Cyber Knife in one shot) are because the tumour in the auditory canal (IAC) is sitting on a nerve and very close to other nerves. The radiation oncologist wants to take his time and cause as few side effects as possible. Given that these can affect movement, feeling, hearing and of course the vertigo, I'm all for taking things slowly and with caution.

Tim and I have had two weeks or so to let the news sink in and we are doing OK. We spent the first few days vacillating between sadness, anger and despair (and watched a lot of Netflix) but have been much better since seeing the doctors, knowing we have a plan and that the doctors are very well informed and communicating with each other.

My medical oncologist was also telling us about various possibilities for next steps. There are some really interesting things on the horizon, in terms of crossing the blood brain barrier and viral treatment of cancer. As I said to my medical oncologist, "It's a very exciting time to have brain mets!" 

He laughed.

I am hoping hard  that by the end of 2015 the tumours are zapped to nothing and we don't have to go through this again any time soon.  Here's to a healthy, bike-riding, surgery free and zap free 2016.

I hope this is reasonably clear. Please feel free to ask questions and to talk about this - the boys know and it's not a secret.

With much, much love,

The dogs in coats have nothing to do with the blog post, except that they provide distraction from a heavy message. Dogs in coats make me happy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

i'm aware. are you?

Circulating on Facebook, posted by the late Lisa Bonchek Adams

Yesterday was Metastic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. This is official in the United States but not in Canada. 

I should have written about this yesterday but I was busy getting treatment, which I do every 4 weeks and will continue to do until it stops working. 

Despite a liver that once had "more tumours than you can count" and two brain malignant brain tumours, I have been very, very lucky. As per the graphic above, the median survival of someone with a diagnoses of metastasis is three years. It has been almost 10 years since my original diagnoses and 9 since I learned I have mets.

This October, as we are awash in a sea of pink, I ask you not to go bra-less on my account, get cutesy about where you leave your purse and I don't want to know the colour of your bra, if you are wearing one. And please don't buy pink crap or anything just because it is festooned with a pink ribbon.

Inform yourself for real. Educate others. Donate if you can, to where you money will go the farthest.

In the United States there is Metavivor and the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. 

In Canada, we have no group devoted exclusively to metastasis but the Canadian Breast Cancer Network has taken on a strong advocacy role and outreach role.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

the myth of early detection

This is a link to an excellent article in Psychology today. It addresses the myth of early detection. I know it is comforting to believe that if you catch cancer early you can prevent it but that's not how it works. It's such a fraught notion that it can be hard to explain. This article does it well. 

The greatest myth serving the early detection belief system is that breast cancer is a single, homogeneous disease that always behaves in the same way, progressing from early to late to lethal (stage 0, 1, 2, 3, 4). From this linear perspective, catching breast cancer "early" suggests that the cancer can be nipped in the bud, stopped in its tracks, prevented from progressing to a lethal stage. A cancer stage, however, is not a point in a definite progression.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

it's october!

I'm fine and I know I owe an update but I could't let this month pass without sharing some the best that's out there when it comes to writing about pink ribbons.

To begin, here's one from Breast Cancer Action (thanks to Kate for drawing my attention to this one).

The post is by Jeanette Koncikowski. Here's an excerpt. 

"When I start talking about my concerns about the pink ribbon, people often ask me what my problem is (not in that seriously inquisitive kinda way, but in the seriously, you are taking issue with THIS?! kinda way). They equate questioning this symbol with a lack of support for women living with and who have died from breast cancer. My problem is that pink is a color and not a cure. The pink ribbon has been corrupted. Corporations, not community, have become the primary promoters of the pink ribbon. Corporations are exploiting our collective generosity and concern for breast cancer patients to make a profit. Many of these companies are not transparent about which breast cancer charities or research, if any, are benefiting from our purchases.  Other companies are pinkwashing, claiming to care about breast cancer (often evidenced by placing a pink ribbon on a product) even though their product actually increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer! There are also countless pink ribbon promotions that degrade women by objectifying their breasts and bodies. Campaigns focusing on saving the boobies, the ta-tas, and second base send the message to women with breast cancer that saving your breasts is more important than saving your life." 
The first sentence of the paragraph of above really resonates with me. Most people who buy pink ribbon stuff just want to show there support. I really don't want to diminish that. It's just that there are better ways of doing that and the author does a pretty good job of explaining why.

There is so much more awareness about Pinktober and pinkwashing than there was when I first started thinking about these things in 2006. Is there any good writing you'd like to share? Please post links in the comments section!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

update on the fly

I am finally feeling like myself again. I realized that today, in fact, despite the fact that I have a cold, gifted to me by my children.

Since I last wrote, I had a wonderful week in Florida. I then attended my son's Grade 6 "leaving ceremony" and had treatment.

Today was spent attempting to get ready for a little family vacation. There is so much catching up to do that it seems a little silly to be going away but it will be good for us.

The neurosurgeon says all is well. No heavy lifting or dyeing my hair for three months. My head still hurts enough to need Tylenol a couple of times a day. I have an MRI at the end of August.

I rode my bike to an appointment this week. It was just four minutes away but I forgot my lock so I had to come and go twice. It felt really good.

This week will involve some long walks. Maybe I'll even start running again. 

I need to talk to my oncologist about what might come next. I need to stop worrying about what might come next.

I need to enjoy the normal.