Thursday, December 20, 2012

somehow, i thought

I thought it would all happen more quickly than this. I thought if I had no complications, then I would just heal.

I thought that "three days in the hospital and two weeks puttering at home" meant that by the start of the third week I would be running errands, writing, going for walks and yoga and that I would be putting this behind me.

It's not happening that way.

I am healing.

I'm just not very patient.

My head still hurts. Sometimes a lot.

I am more tired than I could have imagined.

I still feel stoned, even when I have taken nothing for the pain. My brain is just not working properly.

And my fingers don't seem to want to type what my brain tells them.

It has been three weeks since my surgery and it really doesn't feel like it was very long ago at all.

Except that I'm less patient now.

Which is probably a sign that I'm healing.

I'll get there. Of course I will.

Today, I just wish it were easier.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Well it's not been linear but I definitely am healing well.

The drugs have made it hard to concentrate and type but things are progressing well. Today is the first day that my fingers and my brain seem to move more in concert.

And now I have treatment tomorrow.

So please don't worry if I don't blog. I'm doing fine - and expect to get back into regular writing next week.

Thanks so much for all the love and support from near and far.

It means more than I can say.

Saturday, December 01, 2012


Best news:
Clean margins. Clean MRI. Home to heal better.

Extremely tired and drugged but pain meds managing.

It was cancer. Very like original adenocarcinoma from 2006 (i.e it's breast cancer in my brain). Full pathology in a couple of weeks. 

Next treatment will be one dose of cyber knife radiation in a couple of weeks.

I have herceptin mid-December, not sure if anything will change on that front.

Writing is very hard but I am doing well.

More on whole experience soon.

Thanks to you all so much.

Monday, November 26, 2012

it's all official now

Dear Everyone,

I just got the call. I need to be at the hospital by 6:15 tomorrow morning. My surgery is at 8:00am until 3:00pm (gulp). I am my surgeon's only patient tomorrow (the person who called said this like it was unusual). I'm happy to know that I will have his full attention.

I am likely to be on Twitter until they take away my phone. Tim will update as he has info. You don't have to be on Twitter to read updates. You just need to click on the links below:

Laurie's Twitter feed.

Tim's Twitter feed.

I'll be in the hospital for a few days. Once I'm out of post-op and in a room, I'll have wifi access and Tim will bring me my phone and computer. 

If you're in Ottawa and thinking of coming to visit, let me know. Visiting hours are between 3:00 and 8:00pm but I'm only allowed two people at a time, so message me before coming.

Thanks so much for all your messages of support. Each time someone reaches out to let me know I'm in their thoughts, it lifts my spirits.

I am vacillating between a surreal sort of calm and waves of anxiety. I feel like I should be getting ready but I think, for so many reasons, that's hopeless.

I, however, am filled with hope. I am planning my life on the assumption that the tumour will be safely and completely removed with no complications. 

See you on the other side.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

fun facts about Laurie's brain surgery

I will be having surgery, next Tuesday, November 27.

The exact time is to be confirmed but I will be going to the hospital very early in the am. The operating room is booked for seven hours but some of that time will be bringing me in and out of the anesthesia (I'm guessing at this because the surgeon estimated the procedure would be five hours long).


If you don't want to know the gory details, I understand completely. Why don't you go over to Frivolity? It's a much for fun place. Come back any time you like.


I will have six different tubes in me in various places in my body. This will be uncomfortable when I wake up.

Surgery to the back of the head is sometimes done with the patient sitting up. I don't know if my surgeon will choose to do it this way.

He will have to cut through my neck muscles to get to the cerebellum.
You can read about the rest of the steps in this very helpful article from Johns Hopkins. The biggest difference is my bone will be tossed and replaced with wire mesh to avoid infection. You shouldn't be able to tell - it won't feel very meshy from the outside.

My surgeon does what his colleagues laughingly call a "California hair cut." He spent time at Stanford University, where they treat many celebrities and try to shave as little hair as possible. It will be nice not to be bald again (also, this makes me like my surgeon even more).

I think I would have liked a few more days to prepare and nest but I'm very relieved to have a date and to be moving forward.

Friday, November 16, 2012

call me George-Michael

We've posted a short clip on Frivolity. In this one Andrea and I talk about overcoming our  obstacles, trying new things, taking bold steps and learning how to have fun.

There is also an Arrested Development analogy or two.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

new post at Frivolity!

I have a new post up on grabbing the moment over at Frivolity, called walking the talk:

On Sunday night, my spouse asked me to join him and my youngest son in front of the fire. I passed (my exact words were “Who’s going to do the dishes?”)
A few minutes later, I heard my 9 year old’s voice from the living room. Suddenly, I was very aware of the irony that I had just launched a site about doing what makes you happy. Really, what did it matter if the dishes stayed dirty? The dishes in my house are always dirty.
You can read more at and check out our new site and podcast at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

going with doors number 2 AND 3

I've been persuaded to have surgery, followed by targeted radiation. This will be my best shot at getting it all.

I really liked the surgeon we met yesterday. He was patient, clear, forthcoming and took lots of time to answer our questions. I've decided to trust him.

I was feeling pretty devastated yesterday. I was hoping hard that the route I wanted to go would also be the best route. Who wouldn't want the treatment that purports to have few side effects and doesn't involve having your head cut open?

But I went for a lovely walk with a friend and then slept for 11 hours last night. Today, I feel much more at peace with my decision.

Although I'm still a little freaked out.

One cool thing: The surgeon says that if you rate the difficulty level of what the kinds of surgery he does from 1-10, mine will be a 3.

Makes it sound pretty simple, for brain surgery.

Monday, November 12, 2012

watch and listen: i get tattoed

The most recent episode of "Get Frivolous" is up over at Frivolity, the site of my new project with Andrea Ross.

This is the one in which I get my new tattoo. You can listen in before, during and after. Watch the video (Andrea put together a slide-show with photos taken by my friend Helen Berry) and/or listen to the audio on it's own.

It takes less than twenty minutes and it's good fun - if I do say so myself!

Thursday, November 08, 2012


Last week, Tim and I met with my new radiation oncologist. Dr. C is a walking talking Gallic stereotype, with a rumpled white coat and a turned up collar. He was full of sighs, snorts, "Boff!"s and very eloquent shrugs. Both Tim and I observed that the only thing missing was a Gauloise emerging from between his lips.

Not my radiation oncologist. This is the French actor Gerard Depardieu, to whom Dr. C. bears a remarkable ressemblance. (photo IMDB)

After asking how it was that my tumour had been found (he was surprised that I had asked for the MRI), Dr. C shocked us by putting three options on the table:

Whole brain radiation (which he noted is still the standard treatment for brain tumours in most of the country).

Surgery (which is possible because my tumour is on the surface of the cerebellum).

Cyber Knife radiation treatment (which is the only option we were expecting).

Dr. C offered no advice as to which we should choose. He told tell us that there are no clinical trials and no longitudinal studies to guide us because most patients with brain tumours don't live enough to be studied longitudinally. On the other hand, it's really unusual for a patient to have only one small tumour.

The size and singularity of my tumour are very positive things but they make it really hard to base my decision on anyone else's experience. For example, whole brain radiation (WBR) "treats the whole brain" (as Dr. C helpfully pointed out when I asked him the advantage to that treatment). The rates of overall recurrence are lower with WBR. However, the treatment also causes permanent alopecia and can cause permanent cognitive damage. It seems to me that it's a bit like taking a sledgehammer to hit a single nail - you end up needlessly damaging the plaster.

I've decided that WBR is off the table for now (keeping it as an option to treat future tumours).

With surgery it might be possible to clearly cut out the tumour. However, it's still surgery with all it's risks, pain and side effects. 

Cyber Knife has very few side effects (in the words of Dr. C "almost nil."). There is a risk of necrotic (dead) tissue needing to be removed surgically in a few months' time.

Dr. C wasn't condescending or impatient just painfully honest. I am once again navigating the land of the cancer unknown. Perhaps the surgeon to whom I'm being referred will have some insight.

To recap:

WBR is the standard treatment and may prevent future recurrences. However, I have no indication that there is another tumour developing soon and WBR comes with some nasty, permanent side effects.

Surgical techniques are being refined all the time. A surgeon may be able to more clearly extricate the tumour. However, I do not relish having my skull cut open and the subsequent pain and recovery time.

Cyber Knife is reported to be as effective as surgery, painless and with few side effects. On the other hand, some of those reporting this are the owners of the company. I don't relish the possibility of necrotic tissue but I do love the idea of walking away after a 40 minute session.

I kind of wish I had a three sided coin. Or a crystal ball. And then there is this guy in Italy with a brain tumour who hacked his medical records, posted them online and got advice from all over the world.

I wish I knew how to do that.

Meanwhile, I have a CT scan and Cyber Knife mask fitting on November 9th, an MRI on November 11th, a consultation with a surgeon on November 13th. I have a Cyber Knife appointment booked for November 23rd, in case that's the route I choose to travel. All these dates have been booked in the last couple of days. I still don't know what I'm going to do but it feels good to be moving forward.

Saturday, November 03, 2012


Not Done Yet is now available as an ebook on Kobo (other e-retailers to follow). 

I still have lots of hard copies to sell but this is cheaper for you and no shipping!

Friday, November 02, 2012

pondering options

I know that some of you are waiting for a post about yesterday's appointment. I do plan on writing a longer post but have been too busy with lots of good things to get to it.

For now, I'll just say that I'm fine. I was actually offered options at my appointment and have to make choices. This is not bad news, though, just not what I expected. We're doing lots of talking and reading and re-visiting. The radiation oncologist has referred me to surgeon for consultation. I'm still going into the Cyber queue and one way or the other will be dealing with the tumour in 3 to 4 weeks.

Stay tuned for a more detailed post in a day or two.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

the raven and the sun II

photo: Helen Berry

I think it's appropriate that, at this stage of my life, I should re-affirm my love of the raven myth. 

embracing Frivolity (a new project)

I'm so happy to announce the birth of the Frivolity project! You can find us over at 

Here's an excerpt of my perspective on  "Why Frivolity?"
A couple of years ago someone wrote a review of my book that really pissed me off. The reviewer took me to task for seeking and finding pleasure in things irrelevant and frivolous (I’m shamelessly paraphrasing here). I threw the review across the room, where it sat for several weeks (Those of you who know me will will understand that this is literally true. Housekeeping is not one of my strengths). 
Then I got to thinking about why it’s actually OK to be caught seeking fun and happiness. We all have lists of things we’d like to do “some day”. We write them down in notebooks, scribble them on napkins (or is that only in the movies?) or keep them locked away inside our brains. That’s certainly what I did – until I was faced with a life threatening illness and was suddenly very motivated to make “some day” happen “right now.” 
From spending the day at the art gallery to writing a draft of a novel to getting my first tattoo, I began to ask myself “Why not now?” 
This new blog and podcast are all about finding ways that Andrea (my co-conspirator) and I, and any of you who want to play along, can embrace the frivolous, take risks and have fun. In my opinion, the world could use a little more frivolity.

Come listen, watch, look, read and share. Send us your ideas, responses, images and stories. Join us in our Frivolity!

Monday, October 29, 2012

sometimes you confront it

photo: Andrea Ross

A few years ago I wrote a list that I turned into a blog post called "whiskers on kittens." This is the opposite of that post, because sometimes you need to deal with fear head on:


Getting old. (I'm aware of the irony of this.)


Being a terrible writer and not realizing it. (I had a dream last night that a former boss morphed into my father and he/they said, "You don't write. You just throw words on paper.")


Being irrelevant.

Going blind.

Fears too big to name. (They involve loved ones and I'm just not going there.)

Being at a cocktail party with nothing to say.

Being forgotten.


photo: Mark Blevis

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

time is still relative

November 1st.

That's when I'll meet the radiation oncologist, ask some more questions, get more information and most i mportantly - MAKE A PLAN.

This morning, I spoke to Rejeanne, the nurse who works with my medical oncologist. I must have gasped when she told me the date of my appointment because she said (and kindly),  "If Dr. Gertler thought the appointment needed to happen sooner, he would have said something."

And so I wait. November 1st is only a little over 2 weeks away. 

It feels like an eternity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

have you read "Not Done Yet"?

Have you read this book yet?

I think I have all the remaining copies of Not Done Yet : Living Through Breast Cancer in my attic. I'm selling them for $25 (tax included) plus shipping. 

I'm told it's a pretty good book. You should read it. Or give it to someone you love.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

don't freak out

Have you heard the supposed ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times?"

Things just got a little more interesting around here.

The routine MRI I had on October 5 revealed a 20mm lesion in my cerebellum. 

My oncologist and another from whom I got an unofficial second opinion are very optimistic that this thing can be easily zapped with stereotatic radiosurgery (also called Cyber or Gamma knife surgery), which isn't surgery at all but a very precise form of radiation. Treatments are few (between 1 and 5 sessions) and cause very few side effects. 

It's a really weird feeling knowing I have a cancerous mass in my brain. It does explain all the falling down (the cerebellum controls balance). I've always been clumsy but the last few months have been ridiculous.

I'm having a harder time dealing with the fact that the cancer has returned. I've been in remission, or NED, for five years. It's become easy to entertain the fantasy that the cancer was gone for good. My oncologist has even mused about that possibility.

This relatively little (I'm assured it's small by medical standards) tumour is a sobering wake-up call. I have Stage 4 breast cancer. That is always going to be true.

Still, I continue to be lucky. Herceptin came onto the market in time to save my life. Ottawa is only one of three Canadian cities to have Cyber knife technology and that is only as of this summer. Time is once again on my side.

So please join me in not freaking out (or in only freaking out a little bit). Life around here continues as normal (or at least our version of it). The day after finding out about the tumour I joined Weight Watchers. How mundanely optimistic is that?

I'll know more once I meet with the radiation oncologist. Meanwhile, I really want this t-shirt:

I'd order it, except that  Ihopefully would only get to wear it a couple of times before I'd have to change "have" to "had." I don't want to waste my money.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

limits on multi-tasking (on not doing pelvic lifts while I brush my teeth)

You'd think that since I don't have a full-time job (or even a part-time one) and both my kids are in school that time management would be a breeze, yet I still find myself struggling to get things done.

Part of that is pure procrastination (it's a slippery slope from checking my email to reading 10 tabloid stories someone linked to on Facebook). 

Part of it is feeling overwhelmed (where to start on a large project? which project should I work on first?).

It's also that I have changed the way that I live my life. Before cancer, when I worked full time, it seemed that every minute needed to be spent in a productive way. I tore myself out of bed in the morning as though jolted by a starter pistol and collapsed back in long after I knew I was tired. I answered emails while watching TV, talked on the phone while I played with my kids, read over documents while I rode the bus. There were seldom any truly quiet moments.

Cancer pushed me off that treadmill. In some ways I miss it but in lots more ways I don't.

While I still keep lists obsessively, I try not to obsess over getting through them. And over the last few months I've begun to embrace the efficiency of doing one thing at a time and doing it to the best of my ability. I still have a long way to go.

Every time I read a newspaper online or leaf through a magazine, I am urged to multi-task in every possible way. "Give yourself a facial while you make dinner!" "Fold laundry while you return calls!" "Tighten your butt muscles while you brush your teeth!" It all feels exhausting to me.

I am very fortunate to have been given the gift of time. I'm working at making it work for me. I want to focus on playing the game, not worrying about whether I'm going to drop the ball.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

brain fart

Today, I set myself up to do a phone interview with an author based in Los Angeles, California. 

The whole thing was set up through her publicist and we'd worked out a time of 12:30pm PST for me to call.

Counting the three hour time difference in the wrong direction, I came very, very close to calling her at 6:30am PST. This would have been bad, especially because she writes in her memoir that she is most definitely not a morning person.

This is embarrassing. The publicist first suggested an earlier time and I balked because it would be "the craziest possible time in our house, as we try to get everyone out the door." The time suggested had been 11:00am PST, which really would have been 2:00pm EST, which would have been fine.

I really should know better. I spent three years on the West Coast, in the heart of PST-land. I also spent 15 years working for national organizations and was adept at working out time zones.

My brain is rusty.

The interview is really scheduled for 3:30 EST. I will be in the middle of my afternoon slump but at least I know I'm ready.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

keep your head down

It's begun.

The annual barrage of pinkwashed crap and pinxploitation is in full swing.

And I really don't feel like talking about it. What I want to do is stay home for the rest of October and not open any emails until this month is done. Enough already. Now that it seems that more people can relate to my pink ribbon anathema, why haven't the pitches slowed down or the products become harder to find?

I want to make like an ostrich and just wait until it all goes away.

Instead, and to spare myself the need to get worked into a lather, I'll direct you to the right sidebar of this blog. Scroll down to the "labels." Click on the one marked "don't buy pink crap" (or just click on this link to go there directly) and you can read rants, observations, a little analysis and links to the blogs of some compadres.

Speaking of compadres, these great bloggers are kindred spirits, when it comes to pinkwashing:

i hatebreastcancer

Uneasy Pink

Gayle Sulik (author of Pink Ribbon Blues)

The Assertive Cancer Patient

Nancy's Point

and, of course, the late, great Rachel of Cancer Culture Chronicles

I'm sure I'm forgetting some bloggers and I'm sure there are more that I don't know. Do you have others you could add to the list? Let's make an anti-pink blogroll!

(As an aside, I note that all but one of these blogs is written by women with metastasis. I will be writing more about living with mets amidst the pink ribbons in the next few days)

I also can't resist another chance to put in a plug for Pink Ribbons Inc, the movie that explains it all and does it very powerfully.

Updated to add:

 A great article from the web site xojane: I Hate Breast Cancer 'Awareness' Month.

October:  Breast Cancer Awareness Scam Month by Suzanne Reisman. Suzanne writes a post for BlogHer on this subject every year. And her words meant a great deal to me in October 2006 when the shock of a pinkwashed world first hit me. I even quoted her in my book!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ambiguous ambivalent

I had abdominal and thoracic CT scans a couple of weeks ago. For the first time since July 2007, I was not simply told that all is clear.

But I wasn't given bad news either.

I was told over the phone that some of my lymph nodes look "suspicious" but as my oncologist conveyed via his nurse, "that could be anything."

I was just recovering from a bad cold when I was tested, so that could have inflamed by lymph nodes. The only thing to do right now is wait, go in to see my oncologist on October 10th and then - I don't know. Do another scan and see if there is any change?

I've been told not to worry, so I'm working on that and on patience.

Meanwhile, I have a brain MRI scheduled for next week. This is purely routine, as herceptin does not cross the brain blood barrier. I have been fretting about it because I did not enjoy my last one - it's so unbelievably LOUD! I'm bringing company, extra ear plugs and lorazepam.

I'll have the results for that on October 10th as well.

So I'll be sitting tight, keeping busy and focusing on the things over which I have some control.

Anyone want to sit and knit somewhere or come help me organize my house?

"Worry has an anxious and unfocused quality. It skitters subject to subject, fixating first on one thing, then on another. Like a noisy vaccuum cleaner, it's chief function is to distract us from what we are already afraid of." - Julia Cameron, Walking in this World.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

flip side

I read enneagrams the way some folks read horoscopes (if you're into such things, I'm a textbook 1). . Here are two that have arrived in my inbox this week:

"If you become unhealthy, a negative feature of your personality is the tendancy to become bitter, harsh and inflexible. Watch yourself for this today."

"Remember your outstanding healthy qualities include caring deeply about the dignity of your fellow humans and maintaining strong personal convictions. Notice how you express these today."

My best. And my worst. Summarized very neatly.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

time passes

My kids went back to school today. My oldest is now 14 and in high school. My baby is in Grade 4. They were 2 and 7 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and 3 and 8 when it became metastatic. They were 4 and 9 when I went into remission. Now, five years later, I look at these beautiful boys - scanning them for the scars, anxieties and challenges that are the fallout of living with a mother with a life threatening illness.

The signs are there but they are strong. We all have good days and bad but they are resillient. They are bright, talented, creative, insightful, empathetic individuals. And they are very, very brave.

I love my boys and I'm so proud of them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

finding hope beyond the pink ribbons

My friend Sean Moore, Orit's husband, posted the following note on FB. I reprint it here with his permission:

An enormous number of people have asked about donations in Orit’s name over the past 2 weeks. As many of you know, Orit was very academically minded and spent considerable time reading the medical literature and evaluating charities. We found that most cancer research charities had very high administration fees and poor impact factors. We came across some specific research, which has very good promise in helping find a cure. The Ottawa Hospital Foundation has set up a fund, which will be used 100% to go directly to this work. The discovery is very novel and was published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal in June of this year. I will include a link to their latest publication and an easy to understand explanation:

Here is a link to an easy to understand summary of the research:

Donations in Orit’s name can be made online by using the following link:

The first page will capture the information regarding the person making the donation. Under “Donation Information”, please choose “Other” in the drop down menu and specify “As requested by family” in the space provided. Once the donation portion is completed, you’ll be directed to a page to indicate that the donation is being made in memory of Orit and to indicate if an acknowledgement should be sent. Tax receipts are immediately available after donation is done.

Donations can be sent by mail (indicate in memory of Orit Fruchtman) to
The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, 737 Parkdale Ave, 1st Floor, Ottawa, ON K1Y1J8.

Donations can also be taken by phone by calling (613) 761-4295.

1 in 8 women will get breast cancer. Research is the only path to finding better treatments and a cure to this disease, which has devastated our family and so many others across the world.

Love, Sean

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
  Nelson Henderson
This message had a very strong impact on me. Orit was a very smart woman. Sean is a doctor. I trust their judgement. And I agree with their priorities. 

Let's do something great to honour a wonderful woman. Let's help fund research that will effect real change. I donated. Will you?

Friday, July 13, 2012

for Orit

photo: Andrea Ross/Mark Blevis

As of Saturday, June 30th, I have been in remission for five years. This is a huge milestone and I'm very fortunate to have the chance to mark it.

But I really didn't feel like celebrating.

Just a couple of days before, my beautiful friend Orit passed away, leaving three young kids, a loving spouse and a large group of family and friends in deep mourning. I spoke to her husband Sean early on the day she died and afterwards posted on Facebook what was for me an unusually vague status update:

"Warning: This would not be a good day to tell me that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes wrong stuff just happens. And sometimes life is terribly unfair."

So much about cancer is a crap shoot. Some get cancer, some don't. Some walk away, others live with the illness forever. Some live for a long time and some die way before they are ready to go.

Orit had strength and determination and a great love for her family and community. She had access to the best health care and, prior to being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, was healthy and fit. She never stopped fighting to live and she most definitely did not lose a battle.

Despite the fact that we lived in the same neighbourhood, I met Orit less than a year ago, not long after her cancer diagnosis. Our illness brought us together but we soon found that we had so much more than than cancer in common. We both found humour in the world around us, sought to nurture our creative selves and wore our hearts on our sleeves when it came to those around us. I had the privilege of watching her face light up when her husband got home and the clear eyed love she had for each of her kids. We had the chance to talk about being in cross-cultural relationships and about the values we hoped to share with our kids. We talked about petty grievances and big ideas. And we shared our fears, hopes, sorrow and anger at facing the scourge that is cancer.

One evening, as we were yarn bombing our local community centre, Orit and I sat on the pavement sewing a 6 foot tube of yarn onto a bike rack. As we took turns holding the piece in place and passing the needle, she suddenly said. "I really wish that we had the chance to know each other before. We would have been such good friends."

I felt my heart break as I struggled to find an appropriate and truthful answer. But I knew it would be wrong to say "We will get to be friends for a long time" or even "It's going to be OK." Instead, I said swallowing the lump in my throat, "I agree. I wish I'd met you sooner as well."

The last time I saw Orit, we had tea on her front porch while she knit. She had been in the hospital the night before because of unmanageable pain. That morning she seemed fine, if weak. She talked about convincing her oncologist to try one last course of treatment and her profound grief at the thought of leaving her children. We both cried.

And then I left for a yoga class, borrowing a t-shirt before I left. It didn't occur to me that I would not see her again.

A few days later, she was hospitalized. And a few days after that, she died.

I wish I had told her how amazing I thought she was. That I thought she was a great mother, an interesting person and inspiring in a way that transcended her illness. I wish I'd said how beautiful she was.

I've struggled for two weeks to write this blog post. Orit's family have been so kind, loving and generous to me but I can't help thinking how grossly unfairly life has treated them.

Which is why I haven't felt like celebrating.

I am very lucky to be alive and I hope to be around writing blog posts in another 5 years. None of us knows when our time will come. We need to live bravely, love fiercely and hold on to the things that matter. We need to tell those we care for how much they mean to us and to do those things we always wanted to do. No matter how long we have on this earth, we need to truly live.

I, for one, plan on doing a little more yarn bombing. I have Orit's last piece of knitting so a little bit of her will be there as well.

Care to join us?

video: Mark Blevis

you must watch this

Update: You can now buy or rent your very own copy of Pink Ribbons Inc.! 

You can download it.

You can rent a digital version.

You can pre-order the DVD by calling 1-800-267-7710.

I wish I could give a copy of Pink Ribbons Inc to anyone who has ever asked me why I'm down on the pink ribbon industry. The documentary summarizes all that is wrong with pinkwashing, in the most powerful terms possible: through interviews, images, facts and with women telling their own stories.

My 13 year old son and my mother in law saw Pink Ribbons Inc when it opened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. They were both blown away. My son is a film buff and he declared this one to be one of the best documentaries he'd every seen. Last week, I was invited to an advance screening of the film and - although I was already sympatico with the message - I was riveted, moved and angered. It's incredibly well done.

The movie is based on the book by Dr. Samantha King (the author is featured in the movie) and could be separated into three threads (each of which could make it's own documentary):

The truth about cause marketing and the pink ribbons industry.

The lack of discussion and resources going into determining the environmental causes of breast cancer (or any cancer). 

How traumatic and alienating the pink ribbon industry and talk of "survivorship" is to women who live with metastasis.

It's all extremely powerful and persuasive.

My one quibble with the film is the depiction of those who participate in runs/walks for the cure as naive dupes. While there is no doubt that many of us have been led to believe that we are effecting real change when we fundraise and walk, our reasons for doing so may be more complex than the movie allows.

Taking part in these walks can be fun - a celebration of life and community. Even with all my objections and analysis, I have felt myself swept up in the fun and emotion of the Run for the Cure - all the while wearing my No Pink for Profit t-shirt. And what's more not all the money raised at every walk goes to undefined research. I know that the Week end to end Women's Cancers in Montreal (a walk featured in the documentary) built a survivorship centre from funds raised that's of concrete use to all women with breast cancer.

But the quibble is a minor one and the movie is terrific. You should see it. In Ottawa, the movie will be at the Mayfair Orleans from February 3 to 9 and the ByTowne from February 17 to 23. Check your local listings often and go! Documentaries don't stay in the theatres for very long.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

schoolyard currency

Last night, my 9 year old lost a baby tooth. This didn't strike me as such a big deal - he's been losing them (including all his front teeth) since he was 6. He, however, was thrilled. "I can't wait to tell my friends."

I didn't think his friends would be especially impressed  but I have never been a nine year old boy. This morning, he walked into the yard at school and straight over to two friends. Watching from a distance, I saw him say something and open his mouth. His friends peered in excitedly and one shouted "Ooh! Bloody!"

I turned to go home, leaving behind a very happy boy all shored up and ready to have a great day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

proud mama requests your support

 My son and his friends made this video as their entry for a contest. Canadian indie rock artist Joel Plaskett (we're big fans in our house) has invited folks to make a music video for a song from his Scrappy Happiness album. The winner gets a free backyard concert!

 This is where you come in. Please watch the video. If you like it (and how could you not - it's brilliant!), click through to YouTube and "like" it (the like button is under the video on the left side). I know it's a bit of a popularity contest but I'm proud of these kids and think they should be encouraged (and not just because I'm Sacha's mother!). 


Monday, June 18, 2012

This image has been appearing as a status update all over Facebook. It really bothers me, and I can't even really articulate why. I think part of me just finds it silly - do we really all think that 97% of our friends won't repost and that only 3% will.?Where do those numbers come from?

The message also implies that if you don't repost, it's because you really don't hate cancer - that you are apathetic or worse. But posting a statement that cancer is bad, is not an act of activism and affects no real change.

In addition, I'm bothered by the statement "all someone battling cancer wants...". Really? You think that's true of every single cancer patient? As an individual person living with cancer I have wanted a new mobile phone and dreamed of fixing up my house. I've also wanted a dog, for my kids to do more around the house, to travel and be able to watch something good on TV on a Friday night. While I've struggled with my health, I have remained a whole person with complex wants, needs and desires. The illness hasn't changed that.

Finally - and I know this doesn't apply to all of us with cancer - but I don't like the "battling" and "war" analogies, especially when we go on to say someone has "lost" or "won" the war. It's not true that only the fighters and the strong survive. And it's certainly not through that those who pass away just didn't fight hard enough.

I know that the people who post this status update have big hearts and are very well intentioned. I don't want to sound mean-spirited or ungrateful. I just want to let you know that this cancer patient would prefer you did something else. Something real. Something more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

look what we did!

Remember my secret happy project?

We did it! We yarn-bombed a corner of my neighbourhood. We were 10 knitters, 14 installers and one videographer. It was so much work but so much fun. I dare you to watch this short video without smiling:

(video: Mark Blevis)

There are lots more photos up at our web site, It was so much fun - we're already planning for the next time!

An observer pointed out that three of the knitters/installers involved in this project have lived with breast cancer. I don't think it's coincidence that we all wanted to share in a little frivolity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

on finding my Thing

I had a breakthrough moment a few weeks ago. I've written quite a few posts over the last few years about the loss of identity I experienced as a result of having to leave the full-time work force. Letting go of my identity as a long-hour-working-communications-research-professional-activist-labour-staffer was really hard.

Since going into remission (and no longer feeling that fighting for my life was my main job) I've done an awful lot of navel gazing and spent a lot of hours in therapy trying to figure out who I am, since I no longer define myself by The Job.

Sacha, my perceptive and thoughtful son sent me a link to a wonderful article and inspiring article by Jesse Thorn. His instincts were right- I've been looking for my Thing.

I think I've been putting too much weight on each new idea, though. Every potential project would need to give me a new identity - provide the answer for when someone asks "What do you do?" 

But the truth is that no project can fulfill all of anyone's needs. And I was scaring myself off of trying new stuff because I was afraid that it wouldn't work out and that I'd be searching all over again. 

My "aha!" moment came with what should have been a pretty straightforward realization. I'm not looking to redefine myself. Overall, I'm pretty happy with who I am. What I want is to feel fulfilled, purposeful and happy.

I will never be able to define myself with just one word. I am a mother, wife, friend, writer, lover of dogs and books, social observer, activist in and out of the armchair and, occasionally, an opinionated bitch.

My Thing doesn't have to be my everything. I just need to figure out the things I love to do and allow myself the time to do them. I need to be brave and take risks but if today's Thing doesn't work out in the long run, that's OK too.

I may never have a few short words with which I can define myself at cocktail parties but I hardly every go to those anyway. Life isn't about creating an identity that others can understand and judge. Life is about living in the best way that I possibly can.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

filling that prescription

A few years ago, I worked my way through the Artist's Way. I found the process to be extremely helpful in getting me past my writer's block and I followed the program dilligently - except for one component. In all twelve weeks, I did the Artist's Date exactly once.

I know in my head that play time fills the soul. And I know that the repetitive motions of knitting can spark creativity and be enormously soothing. Yet I seldom set aside time just to knit unless I'm watching a movie with my kids,out on a knit date or on a road trip. And I know, too that I chose knitting as my play because I usually have a product at the end that someone can use. This makes the time easier to justify.

But human beings need to play in order to be happy. And the benefits of creative time spill over in to so many other aspects of our lives. Blondie, one of my favourite bloggers wrote in a recent post she wrote after a night of insomnia:
...I got up and went to the couch. Sitting on the footrest was the latest cross stitch project I've been working on. It hadn't been touched since sometime last week. I can't even remember when I started it? I picked it up and worked on a little flower. In no time at all, I felt my body and spirit relaxing. I realized I was holding my entire body slightly UP and in a very unusual and stiff way. I was wound up TIGHT. If you touched me, I probably would have zapped you with a long, blue, electric arc. But after a half hour of stitching, I was much more calm. Even the kittehs seemed more relaxed. Collectively, we were detoxing. And after I made some good stitching progress, I made myself go lie back down and try to sleep. Eventually, I did.
Blondie called her post "Prescription for Art." I think this is perfect. Indulging our creative needs should not be an afterthought but a prescription for mental health and happiness. As Blondie points out in her post, art is good for our bodies and our spirits. We should all make time for it. The product need not be perfect. It's the process that matters.

We can't all make great, or even good art. But perhaps this prescription applies most of all to those of us who would never call ourselves "artists." We can all seek inspiration in the world (and from art of all kinds) to make stuff and make ourselves a little happier.

Friday, April 20, 2012

up to something

I have a project.

It's taking some planning and a fair bit of work. It won't change the world but it will make my world  a more fun, brighter place. At least I think so. It may even inspire a few people.

I'm not working alone but I'm not sure how many of us there will be. It's something I've been wanting to do for years but an awesome friend proposed a date and an action plan. We're being a little bit subversive, a little bit creative, a little bit brave and deliberately frivolous.

I think I need more fun in my life. I need to do some things just because they make me happy, not aiming for perfection, not trying to be "productive" and not with any particular purpose in mind. We're just going to put our heads together, set our hands to work, make a leap into action and then sit back and see what happens.

I'm having fun.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

updating my words and myself

I've been thinking a fair bit about my last two posts.

First thing:

After writing my post about the lack of privacy in the chemo unit at the cancer centre, I was encouraged by several readers to follow my words with some action. I went to the Ottawa Hospital website and filled in the feedback form with a brief comment and a link to my post.

On Tuesday (the first business day after the long week end), I got a phone call from a "patient advocate" at the hospital. She was calling to let me know that they'd received my message and to ask permission to look into my medical files in order to determine with whom they should follow up (I was so stunned by this phone call that that it didn't occur to me until just now that they didn't need my medical info; they already knew that I was writing about the chemo unit and I could have just told them the date and time of my treatment. The irony in my  readily agreeing to this invasion of privacy, so they could follow up on a post about privacy is not lost on me). 

I was impressed to get the call and I have since been wondering about all the times that far more egregious things have happened at the hospital (as well as some equally wonderful things) and how I could have acted on them quite easily. On the other hand, no promise has been made to actually do anything or even to report back to me. The advocate said that I "may notice an improvement" the next time I go for treatment. And if I don't, she said I should fill out the feedback form again.

Second thing:

My last post was the first one I have ever considered taking down after publishing. I don't actually think that I'm a bad friend, generally speaking. I just have days when I tend to dwell on my regrets. In writing the post, I thought that by naming this shame, I might be able to let go of it a little.

I have a tendency to see the world in terms of right and wrong, good and bad (at the risk of sounding totally flaky, I am a textbook 1 on the enneagram scale). This can make me a little (ahem) judgemental  One of the things I like about myself is that, as I have aged and lived, I have also mellowed and come to understand that, a lot of the time, there are very many shades of grey. However, I still tend to be hardest on myself.

One of the things I'm working on is learning to let things go, forgive and move on, without repeating the same mistakes. Progress is not always linear but without a doubt, I am progressing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

i've been a bad friend

I've been brooding a little bit lately over all the ways I have been a bad friend since my breast cancer diagnosis.

I know I have and can still be a good friend much of the time but I've been thinking of how good people have been to me and I feel like I've fallen short in the reciprocation department.

I'm not being too hard on myself for cocooning during the worst of treatment. But there have been lots of good weeks during remission. I have missed so many important events in friends' lives - the births of children, loss of loved ones and serious illness. And now I don't know how to make up for that.

Friends, acquaintances and co-workers have sent me on trips, bought me presents and food, taken me out and sent me beautiful messages of support. I've been better lately at being the kind of person who does these things for others but I think, for longer than I cared to admit, I was too busy staring into my own navel - at least some of the time.

I'm in a pretty good space these days. Today, however, I am especially aware of regret.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

it matters

Last Tuesday was treatment day. After a longer wait than usual (40 minutes -  I don't think I've ever waited that long in more than 6 years of treatment), my name was called and I was asked to go to Pod 3 (this sci-fi evoking nomenclature amuses me greatly, given that the world of cancer care is already pretty bizarre).

Despite my long wait, I noticed that Pods 1 and 2 were completely empty. Pod 3, however, was a different story. All 6 spots were occupied and there appeared to be only two nurses helping us all. 

Have you seen 50-50? I loved that film, and by and large, I found it to be a pretty accurate reflection of my own experience. One thing did raise an eyebrow though - the fact that they seated the patients in the treatment room so close together that their knees could touch. I understand that this likely fiction helped to advance the story but in real life I would never enjoy being so 'up close and personal' with my fellow patients.

For a while, things were almost that bad at the old cancer centre until the construction of the new building began. After that, the din was excruciating but it did block out my neighbours' reports to the nurses on the frequency of their bowel movements.

The move to the new cancer centre has been a huge improvement. I love the light and the air in the new building but most of all, I love the space. During my last couple of visits, though, it has felt like there is a little less space to go around. 

On Tuesday, I cringed as I heard the woman in the bed beside me being grilled about her emotional, physical and financial situation by a community care nurse. I tried to concentrate on my book while the woman across from me was informed that she would need a transfusion. I was very relieved when my own interactions with the nurse were over and I could plug in my ipod and let The Flying Bulger Klezmer Band drown out the voises around me.

I'm a fairly stoic cancer patient and it didn't really occur to me to complain. The nurses were lovely and patient as usual, and they were definitely doing their best to keep on top of everyone's needs. I didn't want to give them a hard time because I was annoyed and embarassed.

But it occurred to me later that these kinds of conditions are also unsafe and unhealthy. I, for one, am extremely reluctant to talk about the intimate changes to my body that are a side effect of treatment, so I can't ask how to mitigate them. My conditioned response in these circumstances is almost always to say "fine!" when asked how I'm doing. These days, that's pretty much the truth but that hasn't always be the case. There was a time, on a quiet treatment day about a year ago that I confided in a nurse that I'd been feeling low. She told me about the counsellors at the psycho-social oncology centre and asked permission to get someone to call me. A few sessions later, I was feeling much better.

I appreciate that I am getting cutting edge treatment and I know that's why I'm still alive. That's why I was initially reluctant to make a fuss about what seem to be little indignities.

But dignity matters. And how we feel as patients has a direct effect on our health. It's not petty or selfish to believe that there should be enough nurses working the floor so that patients don't have to be clustered together.

Maybe I should write someone a letter. Or maybe just a short note and a link to this blog post.