Showing posts with label chronic illness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chronic illness. Show all posts

Friday, April 25, 2014

every three months

Exactly how often should someone living with metastatic breast cancer undergo the tests that monitor our health?

These CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs are inevitably nerve-wracking, expensive (even if we don't pay for them out of pocket) and sometimes come with a risk of cancer inherent in the test itself. Cancer patients waiting for tests results refer to being in a state of "scanxiety." 

It's impossible to describe what it feels like to wait for test results, unless you've been there.

And those of us with metastatic breast cancer go through it over and over again. It's brutal.

When you live with metastatic cancer, one of your greatest challenges is balancing potentially life-saving interventions with the quality of the life you're keen on saving. It's important to check often enough that you catch any change quickly but not so often that you spend your entire life waiting for tests, undergoing tests and then waiting for results. 

Because that can be paralyzing.

I was speaking to a friend last week who was considering delaying scheduled scans by a few weeks. She said that it  had been implied that she wasn't fighting the way she once had. This made me furious on her behalf, as I can completely understand her need for a period of sanity, when cancer isn't always at top of mind.

In my case, I have the advantage of being in remission and the disadvantage of having an un-protected brain. I know it could just be a matter of time until the next brain tumour. I want to be able to catch it quickly. I also want to stop living my life from scan to scan.

I currently have brain MRIs every three months, at the suggestion of my surgeon. My oncologist would like me to wait until I'm symptomatic but I just can't do that. I have symptoms all the time. Symptoms of brain tumours include headaches, irritability, nausea and clumsiness. Who doesn't feel any of those things from time to time? 

My last scan was April 10. On April 14 my lovely GP called me and opened with the line, "Want to hear the good news?" 

All is well and I can wait another three months until I go through all of this again. 

Or maybe I'll let it stretch to four.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

that could have been me

Last week, I was very moved by an interview on CBC Radio with Newfoundland actor-comedian Andy Jones and his wife Mary-Lynn Bernard on the radio about the death of their son, Louis who "passed away by his own hand after a lengthy and brave battle with mental illness...age 28 years." (from Louis' obituary)

Despite pain that was practically palpable, Ms. Bernard and Mr. Jones have been doing media interviews across the country to shed light on mental illness and the very high toll takes on those affected and their loved ones. I was very, very moved by their story, and the brave decision they have made to share it. 

It brought back a very intense memory, part of my own ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety This is just one of my stories:

I remember crawling under the kitchen table in the house we were renting, turning to face the wall and pulling my knees to my chest. I wanted to make myself as small as possible. To disappear. To cease to exist.

I felt defeated and ashamed. I was a failure. 

After many, many months of pretending, hurting, numbing, self-disgust, suicidal fantasies and giving up on getting better, I had accepted a prescription for anti-depressants.

I can acutely recall the self-loathing I felt as I held the prescription bottle in my hand. I was disgusted that I was ill. Disgusted with the weakness of my will. Disgusted that I hadn't been able to just get better on my own.

Depression, as I experienced it, felt like a heavy weight on my chest and limbs. I could not fall asleep at night and then slept for most of the day. When I did get up, eating and dressing would exhaust me and I would sit in front of the television, hair and teeth unbrushed, flipping the channels aimlessly, not really watching. When I did have to leave the house on my own, I wanted nothing more than to be invisible. 

This lasted for months. I was 25 years old.

This was not my first episode of depression and anxiety (I started to wrestle with this in my teens) but it was the longest. And it was the first that did not seem to go away on its own. And so, in the end, I took the prescription. It took a few weeks and a change of meds (the first drug seemed to do nothing for me) and one day, as I was out with the dog, I realized that the fog had lifted. 

I wasn't euphoric. I didn't feel like a different person. I just felt lighter. And interested in the world around me. I felt better. I had hope. 

I'd like to say that was the day I stopped blaming myself for my illness but it wasn't. More than once over the next few years, I took myself off the medication that helps me stay healthy because I was ashamed to be taking it. I didn't know then that abrupt withdrawal can be very dangerous. One time, I actually got off a plane at a stop-over and went to a friend's house because I was so overwhelmed with the desire to harm myself. It took me years to realize that for me, the drugs help and there is no shame in taking them.

This is not to say that everyone dealing with depression needs medication (they don't). Or that everyone needs to stay on it (they don't) but I do, along with talk therapy, exercise, good nutrition and the support of the people I love. I have to stay vigilant and watch for the signs that I need to slow down and take care of myself.

It's only in the last couple of years that I've started to talk about my depression. When I worked, it was my deep, dark secret - onne I realize now I very likely shared with several of my co-workers. There are so many of us who live with mental illness and never talk about it.

My point in sharing all this is to let go of a bit of the shame and chip away a little at the stigma. Andy Jones said in his interview that "compared to people who do heart surgery, the mental health field is still in the 17th century."

Enough already. Mental illness runs in my family. I'm trying to teach my kids to take care of themselves, watch for the signs, seek help and to never be ashamed of who they are.

And we need to treat mental illnesses like any other. We need prevention, treatment and cure. 

Additional reading (otherwise known as some of my very favourite posts from writers who live with anxiety and depression):

"Depression Lies" by Wil Wheaton.

"Today and forever" by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess).

"Adventures in Depression" and "Depression Part Two" by Allie Brosh (of Hyperbole and a Half)

"Depression. There. I said it." by Rachael Herron.

Update: This post was featured by BlogHer on April 4th.

Monday, October 21, 2013

3 weeks later

If you'll recall, I was hesitant to have my port put on my right side because of my truncal lymphedema. I figured that if I'm not supposed to cut my right arm, or even have blood pressure taken on the side, then I probably shouldn't have surgery either. After all, I have very little lymphedema in my right arm and lots in my back and chest.

Well, I have even more now. And it's really uncomfortable. And the site of the surgery also became infected.

I was put on antibiotics for a week. At the end of the week, I saw only a tiny bit of improvement in the wound and the antibiotics had made me sick. And they made me weak enough that, as I was recovering from the antibiotics, I contracted a brutal gastrointestinal virus.

It's been five weeks since surgery and I still don't feel like myself.

And tomorrow, I have treatment.

But at least I'm writing again and riding my bike and going for walks. And the wound, is finally healing.

I think I need to put all of this in a letter to the hospital. An open letter.

Until then, I'm back. And happy to be here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

i can tell when it hurts

Having been a patient for most of the last seven years, I can tell how some things have changed.

One thing that seems quite different is pain management. After my mastectomy and my diagnosis of metastasis in 2006, I was given loads of painkillers - morphine, Oxycontin, percocet, Tylenol with codeine and others - all in small amounts. I never finished a prescription and I always brought the leftovers to the drug store for disposal.

Fast forward to my brain surgery last fall. I was fortunate to be sent home after two nights in the hospital (you heal much better at home). The last thing that they sorted out was pain management. I remember a team of doctors standing around my bed. One of them asked, "What has worked best for you in the past?"

"Oxycontin," I replied without hesitation. I never felt particularly high while taking it but it very effectively killed the pain.

Several of the doctors exchanged glances. One shook his head sadly and said, "Well, we'll figure something out."

I was sent home with hydromorphone, another opioid. It certainly diminished the pain and since I'd never had brain surgery before, I can't compare it to anything else. I did think it was odd that they would ask me what worked and then send me home with something completely different.

In less than two weeks, never taking more than prescribed, I ran out. My surgeon is really hard to reach, so I called my family doctor. She simply asked me how many I thought I would need. When I hesitated, she said, "You need to take care of the pain in order to heal. Addiction is the last thing I'm worried about."

My doctor has known me for more than 30 years, so I decided she was probably right. And if she wasn't judging me, why should I judge myself? Sure enough, I took painkillers for the next couple of weeks, and I didn't finish the prescription.

I was reminded  of all this on Tuesday, when I was told that I could manage the pain after portacath surgery, with "whatever you'd take for a headache."

It hurt a whole lot more than that and, in the end, I was glad that I'd held onto those last few pills in the hydromorphone bottle. I took the narcotic for two nights and I was able to sleep. It didn't completely eliminate the pain but it did a pretty good job of masking it. And I only needed it for a couple of days.

I've heard from others who've been through portacath surgery who've said they had more than Tylenol level pain. I couldn't swear to it but I'm pretty sure they gave me something stronger when I had my first port put in, seven years ago.

I don't mean to diminish the horror of addiction and I understand that doctors wish to remain vigilant. However, pain medicine was developed for a reason and I would think that after surgery would be a prime time for it to be prescribed.

My friend Lene has written extensively about chronic pain management, the risk of addiction and the patronizing attitude of many medical professionals. If they wouldn't give a prescription to an adult woman with no history of addiction for just a few days, what must life be like for those who live in chronic, agonizing pain?

There's got to be a better way to address the problems of addiction and pain management. Unaddressed pain costs lives, too.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

constant correction

"Balance is a process of constant correction."
-Guy Forsythe, "Balance" from the Freedom to Fail

Terry Arnold (@talkIBC) reminded me of the Guy Forsythe song last night during a weekly Twitter discussion of the Breast Cancer Social Media group (#bcsm) on Twitter. These chats happen every Monday evening but the conversation is ongoing. I often forget about the chats but when I remember (or, more often, am accidentally reminded), I love every moment. When I start to chastise myself for spending too much time online, I am reminded of  how much support I find there - across distance and difference. We "get" each other.

One of the threads last night was about seeking balance, a subject near and dear to the hearts of many of us but especially to those who are recovering from or living with chronic illness. When is it right to push ourselves and when is it best to slow down?

Feisty Blue Gecko shared a post about "Seeking Balance" that deeply resonated with me, as I try work my way through my September to-do list, without forgetting to notice all the good (and not so good) happening around me.

It was a great discussion as always but it wasn't until this afternoon that I took the time to follow the link Terry posted and listen to Guy and some of his band, singing "Balance."

I was reminded that I literally stumbled into the audience listening to Guy at last year's Ottawa Folk Festival, on my way to another stage. I was immediately mesmerized and didn't leave until the concert was over.

It was pouring rain when Guy began what has become one of my favourite songs. As he sang the words from the chorus, "You can't change the world and you can't change the weather, the best you can do is make the most of today", the sun came out. It was a perfect moment as I stood there, acutely aware of my beautiful life.

Tomorrow, my mother is coming for a visit. I need to get to the cancer centre lab to get bloodwork done this week. Thursday is parent-teacher night at both my kids's schools. On Friday, I go to Halifax for a few days (starting with the Advocacy Training, hosted and organized by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network). I get back Monday night and have a surgical procedure to replace my portacath the next morning and Herceptin treatment that afternoon. The day after that, I need to organize the milk orders that have come in at my son's elementary school. That Friday, the home care nurse will come and remove the needle from my new portacath (they leave it in for a few days) and I'll head to Toronto. We'll spend a day getting ready then, I'll head to my friend's cottage in Northern Ontario.

That's just my September.

And that list doesn't even include the banal things from my to-do list that need to get done in between each of these things. Or doing the things that keep me whole, healthy and sane.

Some things just aren't going to get done. Others won't be done as thoroughly as I'd like. I'll try not to think of it as dropping the balls, just allowing them to fall, gently. Someone else can pick them back up or I'll deal with them later.

So much of what's happening in the next little while will be memorable and enjoyable. I need to remember to breathe deeply, look around me and take it all in. I have a feeling there are a few more perfect moments coming. It would be a shame if I missed them because I was too distracted or too worn out to really be there when they happen.

 You can order the Freedom to Fail from Guy Forsythe. I bought it last year at the Folk Festival. It's one of my favourites. I think I'm going to go listen to it now.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

getting a little help to ease the way out

Few topics are as controversial as assisted suicide. It's currently illegal in Canada but recently, a Canadian woman with an irreversible debilitating illness travelled to Switzerland, where the group Dignitas provides assistance with suicide, legally.

I think most of us have contemplated our own deaths. When you live with metastatic cancer, it's impossible not to do so. I'm hoping that moment for me is in the distant future, but I find the prospect of a long, lingering death from cancer to be terrifying. However, is it more terrifying than the prospect of death itself?

I differentiate that from euthanasia because I think the term I use clarifies the willing and conscious participation of the person facing death. Am I kidding myself that this is a distinction that can be maintained? 

What would you want to do when the end comes? 

I'm certain that I believe assisted suicide should be legal. I don't know what I would do, if faced with a choice.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

I had the privilege of being an early reader of this book and it's fantastic. Even if you don't live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) there is lots of advice in this book about pain management and living with a chronic illness. Lene is a friend of mine (in the interest of full disclosure). She's funny, smart, compassionate and wise and all of this comes through in this book. It's a must read for anyone who knows anyone living with a chronic illness but an especially important book for those newly diagnosed with RA.

Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis can be purchased as an ebook from and Kobo books for a very reasonable price. Go buy yours now.

Monday, February 04, 2013

almost there

I almost feel like myself again.

And it took surgery to remind that feeling like myself is not bad at all.

My head still hurts but I can live with that, knowing that it's likely temporary. I can't bring myself to get a hair cut (combing my hair really hurts), so I've decided that I'm growing it out. It looks pretty bad much of the time but I can live with that, too.

The best part is the return of my energy. I can do things again, around the house and out in the world. Last week I went swimming, to an exercise class at the Cancer Foundation, to two yoga classes (one restorative and one yin, so not too taxing) and I walked lots. That feels really good.

I'm also cooking more and taking my Weight Watchers membership seriously. 

I think it's all about exerting some control over the things I can.

As for the things I can't control, I'm trying not to think too much about that. I had an MRI yesterday morning (8:20 on a Sunday morning seems very humane when you're also offered 7:00am on a Saturday. And I have friends who've had MRIs during the wee hours). I don't know who will give me results (the surgeon who ordered the test is notoriously hard to get in to see), how I'll get them or when they'll be ready but I'm working hard at figuring that out.

The odds are that all is well and that I can forget again (or at least try) for another couple of months.

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.

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.

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 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

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.

Monday, February 27, 2012

lost my mojo

Mid-winter blues.


No new ideas ("said it all before" syndrome).

Too much loss.

Whatever the reason, I have not felt much like blogging (or doing any writing) lately. 

I couldn't even muster up the energy to blog about the recent Komen debacle (although I took it all in with great interest).

And I can barely bring myself to think about Rachel (a scathingly brilliant and funny anti-pinkwashing activist and kindred spirit) or Susan (an equally brilliant leader, founder of Mothers With Cancer and mother of two young boys) without becoming undone. They deserve the kind of tributes others have written but I can only say who devastated I am that cancer has taken two more wonderful women.

So, I've been taking a break. 

And fallen out of the habit.

I think I might be ready to come back soon. Or to get back to writing down some thoughts.

And spring will come soon too.

Meanwhile, please know that all my latest tests have been gloriously normal. I'm doing OK. I just need to get past this dry spell, so I can return to writing with joy and enthusiasm.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

3 tips

I've been asked by to come up with three tips I'd like to share about going through breast cancer treatment. This poses an interesting challenge. I had to ask myself, "Out of all the good advice I've received and doled out, what three things have stayed with me? Living, as I have, in cancer treatment for 6 years, what is most important."

This is what I came up with:

1. Don't be too hard on  yourself and don't compare yourself to anyone else (why yes, this is one tip - the two statements go together, OK?). Just as every cancer is different, treatments vary widely and so do our responses. Just because that you've been told that Jane worked full time and ran 5k every day of treatment doesn't mean that you ought to be doing these things. And conversely, you don't have to become a shut in just because Jane chose to stay in bed for weeks at a time. Who knows? Jane's choices may have been made because of what other people told her she should be doing. Do what's right for you.

2. When in doubt, bring a friend. People like to be asked to do specific things to help friends and family going through treatment. Don't be afraid to ask for company. Some of the meds I take leave me so wobbly I couldn't make it home without assistance. But even if I feel fine, I've been very happy to have a friend with me to provide a distraction during treatment or be a second pair of ears during appointments.

3. Live in the moment. We all want and hope to put treatment behind us. It really helps me, though, to take a look around and see the things that are good in my life right now. This doesn't come easily to me. I'm someone who lived much of my life looking ahead. I'm working on identifying those things in my life that give me great joy - and then savouring them.

I think that's it. If you've been through cancer treatment, what three tips would you share?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012: ditching the Guilt

What Catholic girl (former or otherwise) doesn't learn to feel guilty at a very young age? I was always a bit of an overachiever. I'm good at Guilt.

I feel guilty that I have No Evidence of Disease when other wonderful women have died.

I feel guilty that I'm not working.

I feel guilty that I have insurance.

I feel guilty for being alive.

And, with every clean scan, every month that I continue in treatment that does not include chemotherapy, the guilt just gets worse.

It's not very constructive.

I need to figure out how to free myself from the Guilt. It distorts my perception of myself and others like a greasy hand-print on the lenses of my glasses. I have to figure out who I am and what I want, without having to squint or interpret what's on the other side of the smudges.

It won't be easy. And it may take me more than a year. But that's what I'm working on in 2012.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

it is what it is (and what it is is ok)

Herceptin makes me feel lousy. Or maybe it's the Demerol they give me from flopping around like a fish with a fever. Either way, after every treatment I feel achy and hungover for a couple of days.

It's a not nearly as bad as when I also have chemo (and I bounce back more quickly) but I'm still really dragging my butt around, when I bother to get up at all. I'll go for a walk later but it will take every ounce of the meager willpower I possess to get myself dressed and out the door.

I saw the cardio-oncologist again on Monday and that appointment went as well as could possibly be imagined. My heart was slightly damaged by the Adriamycin but has remained just below normal, since being on the Herceptin. The verdict: I can continue with Herceptin. I don't need to have heart scans every three months, as I have been. I don't even need to be followed by a cardio-oncologist unless my ejection fraction dips below 45 (it's currently around 49) or I experience symptoms of heart failure (um, yeah).

It appears that this whole heart scare was a tempest in a teapot - a reminder that when it comes to treatment of women living with metastasis, doctors are just making stuff up as they go along. They really don't know the long term effects of the drugs that keep us alive because our being alive and in remission is still so unusual. It's a bit unnerving but, given the alternative, I'm happy to serve as a human guinea pig.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer

Thursday, October 13, 2011

please be aware

Six years ago, I thought I had a pretty good vocabulary but I didn't know the meaning of "metastatic" until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, only 15 per cent of women with mets will still be alive 5 years after their diagnosis. I'm one of the lucky ones ( stats are bogus anyway).

I think one of the reasons I get so angry at campaigns aimed at "saving [insert infantile name for 'breasts' here]" is that, for those of us with metastatic breast cancer, the breast was only the beginning. Our cancer has spread to our bones, brains, liver, lungs or skin. We are "the bad girls of breast cancer."

And we want you to know about us.

We are:




And we remember: