Sunday, December 31, 2006

how i do it

Someone asked me yesterday how i do it, meaning how I manage to keep it together in the face of my most recent diagnosis.

The truth is, sometimes I don't keep it together at all. There are moments when I feel like I 'm standing on the edge of an abyss and it takes everything I have not to be pulled into the darkness. And, sometimes, I feel like I have fallen over the edge and just managed to pull myself out or, more often, have had someone who loves me grab my hand just in time.

And, even on the good days, there are hard moments, like the conversation I had today with my spouse about a call we need to make to our financial planner. We need to tell her that she will no longer need to put a plan together for my retirement. It's hard to say some things out loud.

But I do have so many good reasons to stay positive, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, willingly and with determination:

1- I want my kids to have an engaged, active mother. I plan to be around for some time yet and I want to enjoy my children. I also want them to remember me as strong, loving and mostly happy.

2-There are still so many reasons to be happy. I went for my first post-treatment walk today. The sun was bright, the snow was new and white, my dog's tail was wagging happily. What's not to enjoy?

3-I have so many people who love me (see above re getting pulled out of the abyss) and have shown me in countless ways that they will never give up on me.

4-Life is full of fun surprises, like the gift certificate for that I found in my inbox the other day (Sassymonkey's doing. She did a very generous, wonderful thing. You can check her blogs out here and here and a bunch of other places too, like BlogHer).

5-I still have lots to learn and do. Life is not boring. And with a lot of the petty stuff stripped away, many things are, in fact more interesting.

6-The way I see it, I have two choices. I could wallow or I could chose to enjoy life as it is. I believe the latter route will help me to live longer and definitely make the time I have left more enjoyable. In a lot of ways, it just makes sense to chose to be positive.

I'm writing this from my brand spankin' new laptop. I needed a new one (and writing is so key to my happiness) but Santa went all out and got me a fancy one (100 Gig hard drive! Whoo hoo!). I've named her Betsy. She's beautiful.

Happy New Year everyone.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

another one down

Well, we survived (thanks to my bro-in-law, imw, for the photo of our Christmas dinner). There was lots of emotion, laughter, the usual family craziness, a few surprises and an orgy of presents.

In our family, we open our presents to each other on Christmas eve (a variation on the French-Canadian tradition). Santa comes during the night, so there are more presents (for the children) in the morning. We enjoy doing things this way but it makes for a late night for the children AND a very early morning.

We have now settled into the kids-are-home-what's-next phase of the holidays. After all the visitors and presents, this period of relative quiet (no daycare and no school. Sigh) feels a bit like a letdown to the kids and they are going a bit stir-crazy.

I had chemo yesterday, an event that was wonderfully uneventful. It was just the vinorelbine (no herceptin) and the whole process barely took ten minutes. Today, I'm a little green around the gills but nowhere near as sick as I was on the first go 'round. This and the fact that I am in less pain today than I have been in weeks have put me in a very good mood.

The break from pain is incredibly welcome (an understatement, I have newfound compassion for those who live for years with chronic pain) and I am choosing to take this change as a sign that the treatments are working and that my tumours are shrinking.

Thanks to all who wished me happy holidays in the comments and via email. It really meant a lot to me. Thanks especially to Flippy, for the image of me running down the grocery aisle, innoculating oranges. That really made me smile on a hard day.

Friday, December 22, 2006

i'm a freakin' pin cushion

I had nine needles stuck into me for various reasons this week. I also learned how to inject myself in the belly with Neupogen, which I will now be doing for five days after each chemo treatment (that's 10 days out of every three week cycle). During my first go-round with chemo I was on Neulasta, which worked just fine but my new regimen has me going for chemo two weeks in a row and Neupogen spreads the doses out a bit more.

It's weird jabbing yourself with a needle but I can see how people get used to it. And I will do just about anything to bolster those infection fighting/keeping me away from hospital food white blood cells.

The last few days have been tough slogging (more on this weeks when I have a bit more time and energy) but I am home and my temperature has been normal for more than twelve hours so I am hopeful that all will be well through Christmas.

We lit the last Chanukah candle tonight.

I think my oldest son may not sleep until Christmas.

And my children were both especially lovely tonight (and funny. This makes me especially happy now that I also see this as blog fodder.)

It was nice to be reminded what joy feels like.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

i'm not in the hospital

Although I have been there every day this week (today just for a CAT scan and bloodwork).

The last few days have been a roller coaster but I'm hanging in. I promise to update you all when I have a bit more energy.

Oh and yesterday I learned to give an orange an injection. Today I injected myself in the stomach. How cool is that?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

eventful day

Blood tests.

Breakfast with friends.

Relatively painless xmas shopping.


Throwing up.


Teeth chattering, freezing, trembling mess (although it happened later in the treatment than last time and wasn't as intense).

Demerol and Gravol.


Kid's woke me up when they returned from an outing with Grandma.

OJ, pita and a quick swipe at the blog.

I'm running a fever again (38.5C or 101.3F). Not going to emergency tonight (too full of sick people) but if the fever hasn't broken by morning, I am going back to the cancer centre.

I promise.

Monday, December 18, 2006

the darkest humour

November 24. My spouse and I had just been told the news of my metastasis, which had been followed with a truly unhelpful session with the hospital social worker (more on that another time).

As we were leaving the social worker's office, she handed us a parking pass, the first time either of us had seen such a thing.

We looked at the pass.

We looked at each other.

Me: "What do you know! With every death sentence..."

My spouse: "You get to park for free."

Friday, December 15, 2006

i melted

I went to the holiday concert at my son's school today.

His class was up first. Twenty-five eight year olds (all but four of them boys. Interesting that more parents of girls don't opt for the gifted program), all dressed in white shirts (except for one rebel in a grey sweatshirt) singing 'Give Peace a Chance.'

As he first got on the stage, I could see that S. was scanning the crowd for me. I was sitting on the floor, having arrived a bit late. I got up on my knees and waved like a crazy woman. When he waved back, I blew him a kiss. Then, right there, on the stage, in front of his peers, he blew me a big kiss right back. It almost undid me.

The performance was wonderful, and over very quickly.

An hour, several Christmas and Chanukah songs and a few poems later, we were done. After thanking his teacher, I went to collect him. We had planned to go to the movies but, instead, he asked to go home.

We cuddled up in the big chair in the basement, ate popcorn and watched two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I made him promise that he would never be too old to hug and kiss his Mama (except maybe in front of his friends).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

take two

I spent a fair bit of time this evening writing out a joke that made me laugh today. Then, without saving, I went over to Creative Commons to see if I could find an illustration. Not only did I not find anything, Firefox crashed and I lost my post.

So no jokes for you (it was amusing but I just can't face the retype).

From now on I save. Or should I be checking out Blogger for Word?

Today was a bittersweet day. More sweet than bitter but I'm still a bit sad this evening.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

through the haze

I am ever so slightly stoned as I write this, having just taken a Tylenol 3 (I call this the medium guns, as compared to morphine or the lovely high from oxycontin). I have been trying to manage the pain with plain old extra-strength Tylenol, and usually that's fine, but sometimes I just need a little extra numbness.

I think my doctors actually think I'm pretty stoic.

Speaking of doctors, I saw one of the GPs who works with my oncologist today. Dr. D. doesn't usually back up my oncologist but I gather the place was really hopping today. Dr. D. was also the doctor I saw in the hospital. I referred to her as the warden. And I definitely felt like I was in jail.

A couple of days into my stay, my friend H., who was visiting me when the Dr. made her rounds, made a joke about how I was planning my escape. Dr. D. was most distinctly not amused. It took several minutes of reassurance from me before she stopped radiating disapproval.

Today's appointment went fairly well though. My bone scan showed no evidence of metastasis. This means that, although the cancer, having travelled from my breast, is likely elsewhere in my body, there appears to be no significant presence outside my liver.

I've also been given the green light to start Herceptin and chemo again next Tuesday, pending blood test results (we need to make sure that those infection-fighting white blood cells have rebounded).

My heart has not yet recovered from the stress placed on it by my first six rounds of chemo (Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxan, known as TAC). However, the doctors have decided that given the agressiveness of my cancer and the improvement I experienced after just one treatment, the benefits of Herceptin outweigh the risks (the big one being permanent heart damage). Consequently, though, I have regular echo-cardiograms, possible heart medication and a consultation with a cardiologist in my future.


Just a little over a year ago, I considered myself to be a very healthy person. Other than a brief stay in hospital when my second son was born (for his sake, not mine), I had only ever been hospitalized for a tonsillectomy when I was eight years old.

By the end of my appointment, though, I found that I had warmed to Dr. D. She may not smile much or laugh at my jokes but it's clear that she is a caring doctor, who wants to deliver good news. She did smile when I was finally sprung from hospital and when she delivered the news of my bone scan. She also is willing to take the time to answer questions and explain things, without ever making me feel that she is 'dumbing things down' or patronizing me. What's more she is honest when she does not know the answer to a question but quick to inform herself and get back to me.

I think this makes her a pretty good doctor.

This is life as a cancer patient. Full of surprises. Not all of them bad.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

good things (part 1)

Just before heading out to the hospital last Tuesday (I thought I was going in for chemo but ended up being admitted), I checked my email. The day before, I had groused about not winning a NaBloPoMo prize (it turns out I was not alone. There were some great prizes up for grabs).

That day, I found an e-gift certificate from and a note from Flippy (go read her blog. Her girlfriend's a Canadian. How could she not be cool?) saying, "I shall assuage my bitterness at not winning a NaBloPoMo prize by awarding one."

Isn't that unbelievably generous? The woman deserves a hundred years of good karma. I hope she knows how much this act touched me (and not just because I'm going to get a couple of great books).

Flippy and I had never communicated before this message. Her kindness made my week.

I think, when the moment is right, I will try and replicate her generosity with someone in the blogosphere who could use a lift.

Monday, December 11, 2006

febrile neutropenia

Sounds vaguely distasteful, doesn't it? Like something you wouldn't want your mother to know you'd contracted?

It's actually what happens when chemo beats the shit out of you and your white blood cells are pummelled out of existence, leaving you feverish and sleeping round the clock for days on end.

At least that's what happened to me.

This is the best technical (but accessible) explanation I could find online

I was pretty stupid about it, actually. I had been told pretty clearly that if I had a fever that topped 38C, I was to come into the hospital immediately. I didn't take my temperature for several days (and didn't think that I should be worried about sleeping all the time) and then, when I did, I didn't think 38.4C seemed all that high (I was in grade school when Canada switched to metric and still prefer Fahrenheit for temperature. 38.4C is 101F).

One cancelled chemo session and a four-day hosptital stay on iv fluids and I can honestly say that I have learned my lesson.

Nothing like a stay in hospital to help focus your thoughts. I was fortunate to have a private room (thanks to a very good health insurance programme through work) and, even though my iv and I were permitted to wander the halls, I preferred to stay in the room. I was the only person on the oncology ward in for febrile neutropenia; the other patients all appeared to be receiving palliative care. It terrified me.

I need to do everything I can to delay my own palliative stage of cancer treatment. And I need to come to terms with what it means to have a terminal illness.

I'm working on it.

And life is still filled with more good things than I can count.

Tomorrow: Good karma.

Friday, December 08, 2006

hi honey. i'm home!

Dear blog,

Oh, how I've missed you.

Only four days in the hospital could keep my fingers from the keyboard (you should have seen how my fingers trembled when my laptop and I were reunited). I hope it will provide some measure of comfort to you to know that I thought about you all the time while we were apart, composing entire missives during the night's darkest hours.

The hospital stay was necessary due to fever and a dramatic drop in my white blood cells (I'll write more on that tomorrow) but it felt like such a long time to be away. And no, I did not ring for the nurse in the middle of the night to beg for the use of a computer with internet access.

But I thought about it.

While it would be untrue to say that I cease to exist without you (we did spend four days apart, after all) but I do know that you help me to understand my thoughts and provide a venue for me to say the things I dare not speak aloud, even to myself. You are a reflection of me, a place for me to process my thoughts and figure out how life's events have made me feel.

I cannot commit to return to the grind of NaBloPoMo but I do promise to be faithful to you during the coming weeks, months and years, as we face the challenges life delivers to us.

Baby, I'm back.

And I'm yours.



Monday, December 04, 2006

it sucks

Despite the fact that I blogged right throught November month, I didn't win a prize. Fussy even opened up a category for those who missed a day due to some illness or disaster (I think I qualified). All they had to was write the story of why they had missed a day) and be entered in a contest for a conslolation prize. But did I take a kick at that can? Nooooooo.......

I think I had a really, really good reason to bail but being a good little first-born child, I didn't and where did it get me? Nowhere. Prizeless.

Oh. But I grew so much as a person.

And, OK, I did have fun.

More chemo tomorrow (but just chemo). Whoo hoo!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

thanks for all the fish

I was waiting for a technician to give me an injection prior to a bone scan today, when I noticed a sign:

"To all females: Please advise staff if you are pregnant or nursing."

It made me wonder. Why not say 'to all women'? Are they likely to be testing females of a range of species?

The French equivalent was addressed to all "women" (femmes, not femmelles).

Is there something indelicate or offensive about the word 'women'?

Beats me.

At any rate, the bone scan is behind me. I've been sleeping and having SERIOUSLY bizarre dreams today. I thought I'd get a dog essay (and it would have been a good one) in under the NaBloPoMo wire, but frankly I'm just too stoned from the chemo.

Well, I made it. I blogged every day this month. And what a month this turned out to be.

Thanks so much to Fussy for inventing and organizing NaBloPoMo. It really has been fun. And I've discovered some great bloggers.

I may take the a few days off but not too worry - I'll be back.

Time to go dream again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Apparently my reaction to Herceptin yesterday caused quite a bit of excitement at the cancer centre. The side effects I experienced, chills and shakes, followed by fever, are quite normal. It was the intensity of the reaction that set tongues wagging. My oncologist called it "dramatic." I called it flopping around like a fish (and thanks to my friend A., for pointing out in the comments that many fish do, indeed have teeth). It was an unusually intense reaction.

And the fact that I had to go back today was definitely unusual.

During the night, I got the shakes again, although they were much milder than on the previous morning. Then I got the fever. And it just kept climbing. It peaked at 40C (104F). By then, we were on our way back to the cancer centre.

They put me in bed, gave me IV fluids, drew some blood, gave me assorted pills for fever and pain and I dozed on and off for a couple of hours. By the time the blood tests came back and I was released, I felt considerably better.

And the good news? My oncologist and the cancer centre pharmacist think I am reacting so intensely because the Herceptin is working really well. I like that.

The other good news? The side effects of Herceptin usually diminish significantly after the first round. Then, again, I seem to be an unusual cancer patient.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

a wild ride

Boy, Herceptin is a trip. One moment I was fine, the next I was flopping around like a fish with chattering teeth (I know that fish don't have teeth. I just mean that I was shaking uncontrollably and my limbs were jerking around). This lasted for several minutes.

It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.

They used Demerol to stop the shaking. A lot of Demerol. I was very happy.

Then they told me I was running a fever.

After examining me and deciding there was no sign of an infection that could be causing the fever, the doctor decided that treatment could proceed.

We were at the hospital for eight long hours.

Apparently these are not uncommon side effects of Herceptin and that I am less likely to experience them next time.

That's good news. I liked the Demerol but I really didn't like the convulsing.

Monday, November 27, 2006


November 9: I wake up with a stitch on my right side. I figure that I had either pulled a muscle doing abdominal exercises or was coming down with something. I take the day off work.

The week of November 12: The pain has intensified a little and I am plagued by the 'gut-rats' (an expression I coined during my pregnancies to describe the intestinal discomfort I felt). I take a pregnancy test (negative, thank gawd). Towards the end of that week, I call to make an appointment with my family doctor.

November 18: It occurs to me that I might be showing symptoms of Celiac's disease (an auto-immune disease that causes an inability to digest Gluten). My sister has it and it tends to run in families. I groan and cross my fingers. Celiac's would be a pain.

November 19: Returning from a walk with my son, I have an attack of the most intense abdominal pains I have experienced since giving birth. It occurs to me that I might have something more serious than Celiac's with which to contend. I notice for the first time that my waist seems to have disappeared and the area on my right side between my waistband and ribcage is hard and swollen.

November 21: My GP examines me. When she asks me to take a deep breath, I yelp in pain. Obviously distressed, she tells me that my liver is very enlarged. She says, "I'm sorry. I know that's not what you wanted to hear." That's an understatement. In the last few days, I have learned that when breast cancer metastasizes (spreads to areas of the body other than the breast or nearby lymph nodes) it most often goes to the bones, chest, brain, lungs or liver. My GP calls the nurse who works with my medical oncologist and urges them to schedule an ultra-sound as soon as possible. I go from the appointment and then get my hair cut and dyed red in defiance.

November 22: I have a previously-scheduled appointment with my medical oncologist, although I end up seeing the GP who works with him. It is clear that she, too, is very worried. She orders bloodwork and says that they will get me in for an ultrasound before the end of the week. She does say that other conditions can cause a painful swelling of the liver and that they will test for those things as well. As we are leaving, my spouse and I agree that, "when you are hoping to test positive for hepatitis, life has become very weird."

November 23: The blood test results are in. My liver functions are elevated. Everything else is fine. I am scheduled for an ultrasound later that day.

November 24: I have a late-afternoon appointment with the oncologist. We wait a long time. My knees buckle when the nurse comes for me. I know that I am about to hear bad news. My oncologist enters, grim-faced. He is compassionate but doesn't sugar-coat things. I like him. He tells me that I have more tumours on my liver "than they could count." He tells me that from now on, we will not be talking about curing me but extending my life and making me as comfortable as possible. The first thing I remember saying is, "I have two beautiful children!" and "I'm only 39 years old" - as though these things should exempt me.

My oncologist was wonderful, clear and, as I said before, very compassionate. I finally screwed up the courage to ask, "How long do I have? Weeks....?" "I'm better than that," he replied (I really loved that answer). Then he said, "Years. Not decades."

So I start chemo, along with Herceptin tomorrow. My heart has still not recovered as much as my oncologist would like from the chemo but, as you can tell by the timeline above, my cancer is agressive and fast-moving. We need to act now.

The good news is that the new chemo drug I'll be taking is less hard on the body and less likely to cause nausea and hair loss. I may also be able to avoid taking the steroids that I hated almost as much as the chemo.

I am, all things considered, in fairly good shape emotionally (and not just because I am full of morphine). I have lots going for me and I intend to revel in the good things, especially my wonderful community of family and friends.

Don't get me wrong. I am really, really pissed off. And I'm sure that the real emotional fallout is yet to come. But, for now, I'm OK.

And I intend to keep blogging. My posts of the last few days have been terse, and not just for lack of NaBloPoMo inspiration. I needed to have answers before dropping hints and then I needed some time to absorb. I've missed being able to blog through my feelings and experiences. My blog will have very different content than I would have hoped in the coming months (and my blook a very different ending). But so it goes.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

pet therapy

The house is a mess. There is lots going on. But I have a cat and a dog on my bed, both stretched out and very relaxed.

I am calm.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

the raven and the sun

This summer, I was out enjoying the sunshine towards the end of a chemo cycle and I stopped in at Magpie jewelry to browse. I spotted some lovely rings, designed and crafted by Native artists from the west coast.

My favourites were silver with the animals of Haida legend in gold. None of the rings fit me but the staff person who showed me the rings said that the artists would do custom work, if I wanted to give some thought to which animal I wanted.

It didn't take long for me to realize that I loved the story of the raven, who put the sun, the moon and the stars back in the sky after the world had gone dark. The imagery, as I viewed the light at the end of my own tunnel, really captured my feelings of hope and joy at the thought of having put cancer treatment behind me.

I put in my order. I had no particular requests of the artist I had chosen (Joe Descoteaux), mentioning only to the clerk at the store that I loved the story of the raven and the sun.

The ring arrived on my birthday (several weeks earlier than I had been told to expect) and it is beautiful. It is also very special. The artist designed my ring with a raven with the sun in his beak, about to return it to the sky. I love it.

Just as the raven is very tricky, so, also is fate. My life is taking some twists and turns that I did not plan for when I ended treatment. My ring, however, still symbolizes hope and joy to me, as well as all the good things that bring light into my life every day.

Friday, November 24, 2006

the raven

I am spent. So, tonight, I am copping out and linking to artist and storyteller Bill Reid's version of how the raven restored light to the world.

Tomorrow's blog will tell you why this story is so meaningful to me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

hospital fashion

I've written before about the indignity of hospital robes. In my experience, they are hideous, never fit right (either they are tiny or huge) and just generally add to the vulnerability you experience as a patient.

Then I discovered the three-armhole robe.

It's a really neat design (and they actually had detailed instructions as to how to put it on taped to the changing room wall). Left arm. Right arm. Then bring it around to the front and put the left arm through the third hole. Comfortable, modest and stays put without ties.

It was a truly ugly yellow-green colour, though. I guess, when it comes to hospital gowns (and many other things in life), you can't have it all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

when the going gets tough...

This is from Despair, Inc. I love their "demotivational" posters.

Nothing like laughing at fear to diminish its power.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

my first hair cut

Bye bye hedgehog!

Are there any red-violet hedgehogs?

No more chemo hair.

D. and I have the same hairline.

It's good to have hair.

Monday, November 20, 2006

building my vocabulary

I love words. And I love learning new ones.

Just after I went on leave to start treatment, a friend got me hooked on online scrabble (I know, the pixies are a bit weird but the site is well run and I love the rythm of their version of an online Scrabble game, where players are notified over email that it's their turn).

There are, however, words that I have learned in the last year that have not given me pleasure:




Especially metastatic. A word I didn't know a year ago that I now think about every day.

What's the old rule for learning a word? Use it five times and it's mine for life?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

his version of reason

My three year old son, D., clutching his arm: My ankle hurts!

Me: That's your elbow.

D.: No! My ankle hurts!

Me: That's your elbow, honey.

D.: No! My ankle hurts!

Me: This is your ankle.

D., clutching his ankle: My ankle hurts!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

why nablopomo?

Why did I sign up for NaBloPoMo?
  1. Because it sounded like fun.
  2. I thought it would be a good way to get the creative juices flowing.
  3. Because I wanted to win one of the prizes.
Now that we're more than half way to the end of NaBloPoMo, why do I continue to participate?
  1. Because I said I would do it and so I am going to, dammit.
  2. Because I want to win one of the prizes.
I don't even care which prize anymore. I just want to win. And it's not bringing out the best in me. When Fussy, who came up with this whole torturous enterprise in the first place, announced that she had decided to relent and allow the participation of bloggers who had signed up after the deadline (midnight on November 1st) and who had blogged every day since, I did not praise her for her fairness.

I cursed her.

I'm not proud of myself, but it's the truth.

I want to win a prize.

That is all.

Friday, November 17, 2006

book fun

One of the blogs I check out most days is SassyMonkey Reads. I really enjoy her writing and have added many of her recommendations to my already too-long list.

A week or so ago, Sassy answered a meme question on how she manages the list of books she wants to read:

On the computer. It started off as a Word list. And then once it got to about 6 pages I turned it into an Excel sheet. Then I started with the whole colour coding thing…. me = geek!

This totally speaks to me.

I wonder if Sassy knows about Library Thing? My spouse turned me onto it last night. It's a website that lets you keep track of your books, manage your lists and connect with others with similar tastes.

My spouse has actually started to log his books. I don't think I'll be doing this, at least for a while (too bogged down with NaBloPoMo and mastering my new cell, phone, PDA and wireless keyboard).

I did, however, spend way too much time last night playing with the Book Suggester. I particularly enjoy the UnSuggester. Just enter the name of a book you like and it will generate a list of books that you probably won't like. The results were interesting, if not always accurate. Apparently enjoying Steinbeck and reading knitting books are mutually exclusive. I had no idea.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Want to know a secret?

OK, so I know that I'm telling this to hundreds of people I don't know (and quite a few that I do). Sometimes telling the blogosphere some things seems easier than telling my closest friends.

When I started this blog, I did not anticipate how important the writing it would be to enduring, processing and celebrating my progress through treatment and beyond. I had even less of a sense of what powerful connections it would help me strengthen and create with the people, near and far, who were so central to my survival.

And now, I will turn it into a book (well some of it, at least. One of the tasks ahead of me is to separate the wheat from the considerable chaff) or, more accurately,
a 'blook' (a book based on a blog). I still have a hard time believing that anyone would want to read what I have written through the course of the last year, much less publish a book about it.

But I just signed a contract (complete with a 'witness') that commits me to writing and a publisher to publishing.


The deadline for the manuscript ('deadline for the manuscript'?! How cool is that?) is not until the fall of 2007. The publisher wants me to continue to blog about my physical recovery, return to work, emotional fallout and other relevant musings (I will, of course, continue to write lots of irrelevant musings. I can't help myself).

And do please continue to let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

a safe city

It's 9:30 in the evening and I just got back from a walk with my dog.

We were out for more than an hour and we went through several neighbourhoods, including the downtown core. I was thinking to myself how safe I feel walking the streets of this town.

Ottawa just elected a new mayor. He promised to freeze taxes and to 'make our streets safer.'

I think our mayor and I have different ideas as to what makes a city safe.

I don't think that 'cracking down' on panhandlers and harassing homeless people will make my city safer. If safety is what matters to our new city council, these are the things they need to consider:

Ottawa is one of the few cities in Canada that has yet to pass a bylaw banning pesiticides for commercial and residential use. It is past time for this to happen.

Many of our parks, especially in the downtown core and in poorer neighbourhoods have play structures that are badly in need of replacement.

Ottawa needs more affordable and mixed income housing.

We need to address homelessness and child hunger. This means improved funding to shelters and more no or low-cost children's programming.

Funding for libraries and the city's bookmobile must be protected. Library hours could be increased and more programming, especially for older children, should be a priority.

You see where I'm going with this.

I don't feel threatened when I am out walking in most places in this city (and my dog and I log 30+kms/week). I would be much more fearful in a city where even more angry, bored and hungry youth had no where to go for support, to blow off steam or to put some food in their bellies.

It makes more sense to fund an arena than to buy one kid (or even a whole team of children) a pair of skates. And I feel strongly that my taxes are well spent when they fund these kinds of services.

I fear the mayor's solutions will make my city a more dangerous place and one where most of us will feel a lot less comfortable.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

what passes for normal (part two)

A couple of weeks ago, my son came home with what looked like orange marker on his arm. We were curious.

me: And why do you have orange marker on your arm?

S.: I was trying to make a wound.

me: A wound.

spouse (simultaneously): Cool! After your homework is done we can work on making it look more authentic.

And here you have it. Pretty gruesome, no? In case you're wondering, it's red food colouring, vaseline and cloves.

Thank you 'y' chromosome.

Monday, November 13, 2006

NaBloPoMo cop out (Hallowe'en pictures)

Finally, due to popular demand (OK, only one person asked for them) and as a way of meeting my NaBloPoMo commitment, are the photos I promised from Hallowe'en.

This is my younger son, D. Last year, I bought him a truly beautiful bee costume, complete with a cute little stinger and a gorgeous pair of wings. When I showed it to him, he ran screaming from the room in terror. He went out in a ratty Spiderman costume that my spouse bought at Value Village.

This year I got smart and took him to the second hand store myself. There were racks and racks of beautiful costumes and this is what he chose. A Power Ranger. It cost me $2.95 (A note to my friend S.: I think this disproves once and for all that D. was upset last year because I didn't make his costume).

S. is Wolverine again, in a more seasonally appropriate costume:

Check out the facial hair. This costume broke my heart. I kept seeing some serious flashes of the man he will become.

The 'scars' were added in the evening. This despite the fact that Wolverine has the power to heal. So much for authenticity.

My nieces (and their Dad). The littlest would not permit me to photograph her with the cat-head on. A shame, it was too, too cute.

What I said above about my oldest son applies equally to my niece, Z. She was a fine Fortune Teller.

And they're off!

My sister-in-law really gets into Hallowe'en.

Dividing the spoils. A time-honoured tradition. It was a lot of fun to watch them do this.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

paging dr. jung

I had a dream last night that the cancer came back. Or rather, that it had never really left.

I'd had a test of some sort and it revealed that I had tumours in my chest and abdomen. There was nothing I could do to make it go away; just eat well and take good care of myself.

And it was sort of implied that the cancer had metastastized (spread, invaded, colonized) because I hadn't been taking good care of myself.

Not that hard to deconstruct.

Where my consciousness fears to tred, my subconscious takes me.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

baking bread, breaking bread

The boys and I spent our Saturday afternoon learning how to make bread. They worked harder than I did.

And then we ate. They did more of that than I did, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

important things

1-Some things are easy.

The phone rang this morning. The caller ID showed the school's number. I grabbed it. And went on to have the following conversation:

My oldest son, S., age 8: (Tearful) You forgot the refreshments for the party! (They were having a class party as a reward for good behaviour).

Me: I can bring you the Cheesies (lest you judge me, last time there was a party, we sent home made granola bars. All but one - eaten by the teacher - came home again).

S.: OK. You can bring my agenda, too.

Me: OK...

S.: And my POW (it means "Problem of the Week, a weekly homework assignment that had been completed on Monday). It's the only thing I haven't handed in.

Me: Is there anything else you might need?

S.: Let's see. You could bring in a CD of dance music.

Me: (Silence)

S.: Wait a second. Are you being sarcastic?

Me: I am being sarcastic. But I'll bring you a CD.

And I did.

2- Being injected with radioactive isotopes is scariest the third time around.

I had my heart scanned today. The last time, I barely thought about the test. I was much more focused on where to go for dinner.

Today, I was nervous.

I want my heart to have recovered.

I want to start Herceptin (mostly because I want to finish Herceptin - I'll be taking it for a year).

I also want to know for sure that I am among the ninety-eight per cent of chemo patients whose hearts are not permanently damaged by chemotherapy.

I'll have the results on November 22.

3- Some friendships are built to last.

My friend dd had a birthday today.

I didn't get to see her.

But I thought of her all day.

She's been my friend through ups and downs in both our lives. And she's one of the few people with whom I am comfortable letting my guard down completely.

I hope she realizes how much I love her.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

pain and my inner selves

I'm in a bit of pain today. My shoulder is very tight, having been damaged by surgery and radiation. It's become much worse in the last couple of weeks. My massage therapist and physiotherapist (ah, the advantages of a good insurance plan) have both reassured me that, if I keep doing my exercises, the ache will go away and reaching for a glass from the cupboard will no longer take my breath away.

I also have a stitch in my upper right abdomen. It feels much worse if I stand up, cough or breathe deeply. My spouse thinks it's a pulled muscle (from the above-mentioned exercises). My inner hypochondriac (aided and abetted by the Internet) would have me be worried about pancreatitis, gall stones or worse. I have decided to ignore my inner hypochondriac.

I know that lots of people deal very stoically with living in constant pain. I've been feeling some newfound empathy and respect for these people. My pain is very likely to go away in short order. Not knowing if this would ever be the case would be very hard indeed.

Today, though, I am nursing my inner wuss, taking it easy and waiting for the pain to go away.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


A friend called me this a couple of days ago. I had to look it up here.

It's true. I can be pretty optimistic (and determined, for that matter) in the face of adversity. It is a characteristic that served me well tonight. I managed to get this post in to keep me in the running for NaBloPoMo, despite the fact that Blogger has been down for the last couple of hours.

I did have a little nap on the couch, though. Now I can go to bed.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

at least i roasted a chicken

The path to recovery from cancer treatment is certainly neither straight nor flat. In fact, if I were training on a path like this one, I'd have some serious thighs of steel.

My commitment to taking good care of myself has been somewhat inconsistent. Some days I eat really well (today, I roasted a chicken, an experience that gave new meaning to the phrase, 'It takes a village' - or in this case, a good friend on the phone and an internet search). Some days, nary a vegetable crosses my lips.

Some days I manage a long, vigorous walk and my strength training exercises (key to strengthening my arm and relieving the pain in my shoulder). Some days, the end of the day rolls around and I have barely left the couch.

My return to work has felt a little bumpy as well. Today, I worked on an assignment I was asked to do last week. I had it almost finished when I left (I am working three hours, two mornings a week for the first month). Later this afternoon, I found out that a colleague had started work on the same little project. And I realized that what I had done was WRONG.

This totally bummed me out.

But I roasted a chicken today ('Do I need to do anything to the vegetables before I throw them in?' 'Which end of the chicken is the neck?' 'What do the innards look like?' 'Will the house burn down if I take a walk while it's cooking?' Thank goodness for my friend H., even if she couldn't stop laughing). That's something.

And I haven't missed a walk in more than a week.

When I finish this post, I'll clean up the kitchen and, then, I will do my exercises.

I don't really have the choice of giving up, or, to beat a metaphor to death, of leaving the path I'm on (though some days I need to just plop myself down in the dirt and have a good vent about how hard this can be). I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and hopefully, as time goes on, those hills will feel a little less steep.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Today's post is brought to you by:and the Flying Spaghetti Monster (if you're looking for cancer recovery/survivor content, scroll down to Friday's entry).

Somehow, the American elections got me thinking about the good old FSM.

Pirates are the root cause of global warming (for proof, see chart at the top of this entry)?

Makes about as much sense as supporting Proposition 85 or the war in Iraq.

The world is going nuts.

Thank goodness for Pastafarians.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

sunday afternoon endeavours

This is my niece.

I had been teaching her to knit before I started treatment but we hadn't picked up the needles in a while. This afternoon she did several rows in record time. The kid is a natural.

I cannot tell you how proud this makes me feel.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I had way too much fun last night.

A group of friends and co-workers took part in World Trivia Night, an annual event that is always a blast.

Chemo brain was not too much in evidence, although I am not convinced there were any questions to which I was the only one from my team to have the answer.

However, it's not the trivia that is causing my hangover.

I like wine. A lot. However, it is highly unusual for me to have more than a glass or two with dinner (and that, only a couple of times a week). Last night, I had this tiny little plastic wine glass and it just kept getting refilled (note my use of the passive tense here).

I was thirsty. The wine tasted good. I had a really good time.

Today, however, I have my very first hangover in a very long time.

Funny thing, the same spouse who was unbelievably sweet, caring and sympathetic during chemo was most decidely unsympathetic when I was dragging my ass around this morning (OK, so it was noon and he was making french toast and cleaning up the kitchen at the same time).

Go figure.

Friday, November 03, 2006

back to work

As reported in this space a couple of weeks ago, I have begun to ease back into work. This is how it's been going:

October 16, meeting 1:30-4:30
Spend morning on computer.
Take dog out for abbreviated walk.
Realize I am running late. Run through shower.
Take taxi to meeting, arrive late, sweaty, dishevelled, prosthesis askew.
Realize I have forgotten to eat, spend meeting fighting to concentrate.
My friend H. comments on how energized I seem. I wasn't energized, I was hysterical.
Spend next day in bed.

October 24, meeting 2:00-4:00
Spend morning on computer.
Take dog out for abbreviated walk.
Call boss to say that I will be late. Find out that meeting is a half hour later than I thought it was.
Run through shower.
Take taxi to meeting, arrive just in time, looking slightly more pulled together than on previous occasion.
Actually pay attention in meeting.
Spend next day in bed.

October 31, 9:30-12:30
Get kids off to school and day care. Run around trying to find various things I need to bring to work.
Spouse drives me to work, arrive five minutes late.
Dump stuff in office, spend morning feeling completely overwhelmed, not sure what to do first.
Go home, sleep for two hours.

November 2, 9:30-12:30
Drop off son on the way into work.
Arrive fifteen minutes early.
Attend meeting, manage to pay attention AND participate.
Meet with occupational therapist, sent by the insurance company to assess my work space.
Spend last half hour sorting through files, go home, do homework for writing class and walk dog.

I'd call that progress, wouldn't you?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

getting creative

I've been taking this creative writing course.

This week's assignment was to think of someone very different from myself, create a list of adjectives to describe that person and then create a life history. All this was a warm-up for the piece we are to submit this evening (and I admit to only doing this first bit in my head), a scene involving this character at a pivotal moment in his life.

So the text below is where all my imaginings took me. It's more than a little cliched but I am into new territory here. I write a lot, but it is either in the first person (my blog writing) or in the form of a report or other professional document.

This is the result of my attempt to move outside my writing comfort zone:


Bill wasn’t sure how long he’d been staring at the bathroom mirror. Beads of sweat had collected on his forehead and the eyes that looked back at him were riddled with little red lines.

How many drinks had he had? He’d lost track. Again. The heavy drinking would have to stop. He wasn’t getting any younger, and sooner or later, the drink would take its toll. Or he would do or say something from which his reputation would never recover.

Perhaps he already had.

On nights like this one, though, drinking seemed the only way to get through the evening.

It was much harder than he had anticipated having both women in the same room.

He knew when he entered into the marriage, that being with Liz would be no picnic. But marrying the boss’s daughter brought with it many advantages (or so he had thought). And Liz had been so different from the girls he’d gone out with. So together. So sure of herself and her rightful place in the world. He’d wanted to be a part of that world and all the privilege it afforded.

Daddy’s little girl. There was no denying the fact that he held his position in the company because of her, in part (she would no doubt say that this was entirely the case). Her infatuation with him had soon turned to contempt. Now every evening brought with it a litany of his failures and the ways in which he would never measure up to her father.

It had become much easier to remain late at the office, if not working, then at least away from Liz and her unrelenting scorn.

He’d more or less fallen into the affair with Mary. She was the first person he saw every day when he walked into the office. Unlike his wife, she always seemed happy to see him, remembered how he liked his coffee and laughed at all his jokes. She’d made it clear she admired him.

One night, when he’d had to work late, he’d asked her to stay and help him. They had ended up going out for a drink. That had been all, until the next time, when one drink became two and then three. They’d ended up at a motel.

This was a sequence of events that had repeated themselves several times since that night.

It had been heady and fun at first. He’d felt powerful. And attractive. Now he was definitely feeling the heat.

Mary had begun to drop hints that the status quo was no longer enough for her. He knew it was only a matter of time before she would start to demand more from him. More of his time, his attention and a more public – and permanent – role in his life.

He needed to break it off with her before it was too late.

If it wasn’t already.

He looked at his watch.

Just a few more hours and he could go home, take off his tie, pour himself a stiff drink and get ready to spend another night on the couch.

Just a few more hours to keep Mary and Liz away from each other. A few more hours of the false cameraderie, the backslaps and forced laughter.

He could do it. He’d faced much tougher challenges in his life. But not many.

With one last glance in the mirror, Bill straightened his tie. He turned and put his hand on the bathroom door. It was time to re-join the party.

I'll let you know if I get any interesting feedback. And yes, I'd be happy for yours as well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

the here and now

It's not that cancer has turned me into a happier person. It is true, however, that I now experience joy differently. I have a renewed sense of the pleasure in the little things and, to my great surprise, a much greater ability to live in the moment.

I just spent a near-perfect week end attending the theatre and tasting wine. I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast with my sweetie (pictured above at Stratus, an eco-friendly winery with some great product). We had so much fun.

Speaking of living in the moment, nothing is as entertaining as helping four frenzied children get ready for Hallowe'en (photos will be posted when I can get the technology to cooperate). My sister-in-law was also a spectacular witch (one of the best costumes I saw all night). I wore a 'Happy Hallowe'en t-shirt and red light-up horns (sent as World Cup souvenirs by my brother-in-law who is teaching in Korea).

The older children (my niece Z. and my son, S.), especially took my breath away. Confident in their costumes (a fortune-teller and Wolverine, respectively), you could see flashes of the adults they will become. They will both be breathtaking beauties.

Finally, this month, I will be participating in NABPLOPOMO, so expect to see a little something here every day. I was turned on to NABLOPOMO by Amanda, who writes in several fora, including BlogHer (on Health and Wellness) and her personal blog, The Cat Lady ('Stability is higly overrated'). Amanda is a beautiful writer and a young widow, whose writing has made me laugh and cry (sometimes in the same few seconds). I've really got to figure out the technology, so I can put her and a couple of others on a blogroll.

Life is full of so many interesting people and fun things to do.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

hot stuff

Yesterday's post received the most hits of any I have written so far. I can't help but think that more than a few people landed on my blog after googling 'sexy' and ended up with a totally different kind of eyeful.

I'll be away from the computer for a few days (yikes!). My spouse and I are delivering the kids to Grandma and then heading off for a week end get away.

If you miss the blog, you can always check out BlogHer. I'm completely addicted. So much good, smart writing by women in one place!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

why breast cancer isn't sexy

I loathe my prosthesis. I have entertained fantasies about attacking it with a knife and watching its silicone innards ooze all over the floor.

I hate how it feels, I hate the way that it never looks quite right. I hate that I have to wear it (actually, mostly I don't wear it). And I know I need to work at a solution, as I don't want the first thing that people notice to be my missing breast and all it represents.

There has been much good feminist writing about the hype surrounding Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I have referenced some of the more interesting pieces in this blog. I join these women in their condemnation of the commercialization of breast cancer. And I certainly don't believe that one form of cancer is more worthy of support than another.

But a couple of writers have referred to breast cancer as 'sexy'.

It wasn't so long ago that breast cancer was considered shameful, a secret to be protected. For many women, this is still the case. After all, breasts are still not something we talk about at the dinner table, in the boardroom or in most day-to-day situations.

My breasts have variously been a source of embarassment, shame, confusion, pleasure and pride. Now I only have one, and a big scar where the other one used to be.

I thought long and hard about going public about my mastectomy but I decided that if I am to write honestly about my experience, this enormous source of discomfort, frustration and sadness must be included.

Breast cancer mutilates a highly sexualized, commercialized and central part of women's bodies. It is also a major cause of lymphedema, a further strain on our bodies, emotions and sexual selves.

I hate my prosthesis. I hate what it represents.

Self-confidence is sexy. So is love. Power can be a turn-on. So are broad shoulders, a quick wit and a sense of humour. Sometimes, I am sexy.

Breast cancer will never be 'sexy.'

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

not bloody likely

My radiation oncologist always treats me as if I am about to burst into hysterical tears. It makes me crazy.

When I start to show annoyance, he seems to take this as further evidence of potential instability and it only makes him worse. I am trying to learn to keep my mouth shut, get the information I need and get out of there.

But it' s not easy.

On the other hand, yesterday's appointment held no nasty surprises. My skin is healing well and so is the rest of me, slowly but surely.

Still working on patience, though.

Monday, October 23, 2006

where i'm at

In mid-September I had a heart scan. This is the test where they inject you with radioactive material, wait twenty minutes, then take video of your heart, pumping away. I got to watch a little bit of it and, as far as I could tell, my heart seemed to be doing a very good job.

I found it to be a pretty reassuring experience (and slightly less bizarre then I did back in January when I first had this test done).

A week or so later, I went to see my medical oncologist, expecting to be given a date to start Herceptin. Instead, I was told that my heart had not sufficiently recovered from chemo.

The chemo I had was pretty aggressive. And that there is always a 1-2% chance that chemo will permanently damage your heart. There is also a 1-2% chance that Herceptin will damage the heart. Taken too close together, there is a thirty per cent chance of the heart being permanently damaged.

Chemo is very, very toxic. And Herceptin, which I will be taking every three weeks for a year, is pretty toxic, too.

My next heart scan is scheduled for November 10th and I expect to start Herceptin shortly thereafter. My heart and head should both be ready by then.

I have an appointment with my radiation oncologist this morning. My skin seems to have recovered really well and that I am working hard at regaining strength and mobility in my shoulder and arm. I expect to be told that I am doing well but I admit that I'm nervous.

I am making good progress, though, and as my hair grows, I look more like a hedgehog than a cancer patient.

I think I have reached the point where it is not immediately obvious that I've been in chemotherapy. A highlight of the staff retreat I attended a couple of weeks ago was the moment a colleague from Vancouver (who doesn't know me well) inquired as to what kind of leave I'd been on.

That made me feel really good.

Friday, October 20, 2006

not much left

I just crawled out of bed, where I was reading Cancer Vixen, a beautiful graphic novel written by Marisa Acocella Marchetto (and a testament to the fact that each cancer story is so different, yet we do share much common ground). My favourite moment is when the author yells, "Cancer, I am going to kick your ass! And I'm going to do it in killer five-inch heels!"

It's a rainy day in Ottawa and I am fighting off the cold my young son brought into the house. I feel like fixing myself a nice comforting, healthy snack. But the question of what to eat is not one that is easily answered.

I've been reading (or rather skimming the chapter summaries of) Foods that Fight Cancer: Preventing Cancer Through Diet. It is, all in all, a positive book, full of beautiful pictures of leafy greens, bright citrus and even lovely dark chocolate and red wine. However, the author's list of foods to avoid leaves me cold:
  • Fried foods (fair enough)
  • Processed foods (makes sense)
  • Red meat (in excess)
  • Alcohol (in excess)
  • Smoked foods (ack!!!)
  • Marinated foods (double-ack!!!)
I understand that this is not so terribly restrictive but add to this the 'foods to avoid' one from the (very helpful) information session that I attended this week on lymphedema management and prevention:
  • Processed and refined foods
  • Coffee (oh no!!)
  • Alcohol (bye, bye red wine)
  • Sugar
  • Saturated fats
  • Red meat
  • Dairy
  • Chocolate (so much for my daily guilt-free fix)
  • Salty foods (no more Vietnamese noodle soup?)
  • Spicy foods (might as well eat Pablum for the rest of my life).
'What's left?', I ask you. Fruit, vegetables, water....flax seed.

OK. Going to make vegetable soup now. I'm going to use broth with salt, though. Because it's all I've got and, as the lymphedema trainer said, "You've still got to live your life."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

gifts that cancer gave me

Cancer is not a gift. It is an evil scourge and I am still really pissed off that I got it.

But someone asked me this evening if I write every day and I said, "Yes. That's the gift that cancer gave me."

Here, in fairness to Cancer, are some other things it gave me (which doesn't mean I'm not still working on kicking its ass):
  1. The knowledge that humour can be found in the darkest places.
  2. A renewed appreciation for the people who love me.
  3. A sense of confidence in myself and my ability to face new and tough challenges.
  4. Perspective.
  5. An abiding love for a good pedicure.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

not enough to think pink

Pink is not my new favourite colour (unless it's hot pink, then maybe we can talk).

I will never, ever buy a pastel pink sweater with pink ribbons on the buttons just because "a portion of the proceeds" goes to breast cancer research.

Lots of good writing has appeared in the blogging world on this subject in the last couple of weeks. You can read lots more about this on BlogHer, my new favourite thing (in particular, you should check out posts by Suzanne Reisman (Breast Cancer is Sexy, or Pink Ribbons, Advertising, Class and Race) and Liz Thompson (The Bad Business of Buying for a Good Cause).

I resent large corporations benefiting from breast cancer and find the small donations made by some to be tantamount to fraud.

But I knew there was more to my extreme annoyance than this (and the fact that very many breast cancer baubles are hideously ugly).

And then I had a conversation that had nothing to do with breast cancer.

I was in my local fair trade coffee shop the other day buying beans. I ordered Brazilian, their very darkest roast and was informed that it would not be available for several months. "Do you want to know why, asked the clerk?"

She told me that Wal-Mart decided they wanted to start a fair trade line of coffee and had bought out all the beans from the co-op in Brazil. Shortly after they had cancelled these plans, leaving the co-op farmers to reach out again to their smaller distributors.

That Wal-Mart wants in is a testament to the power of the fair trade consumer. But that this low-wage, anti-union, sweat shop-supporting behemoth should hop on the fair trade bandwagon is beyond hypocritical.

And that, I realized, is what bugs me about breast cancer product promotions. Too often the products sold are full of carcinogens or are made under conditions that are highly toxic to the environment. I don't want any part of that.

Let's make our donations directly to organizations that are working to prevent, treat and cure breast cancer.

I'm off to a lymphedema workshop at Breast Cancer Action, one of those great organizations. I'll make a donation while I'm there.

Monday, October 16, 2006

'a kinder season'

I can't get enough of this new CD, by my friend Eve Goldberg.

Eve has the most beautiful voice and her songs get right under my skin. I was fortunate to have been given an advance copy, right after my diagnosis, and her album was one of the things that got me through some of my darkest moments.

Eve's mother passed away from breast cancer in June 2005, Eve's music is infused with heartbreak and love. In her words:
"'A Kinder Season' was recorded in months following my mother's death. Although none of the songs are directly about my mom, the album is permeated with the emotion of that time - a time of great sadness but also of extreme clarity, beauty, even joy. If I learned anything from my mom's death, it is that sweetness can be found in the bitterest season."

Amen to that.

And this time, right now, is my 'Kinder Season.'

You can find out more by visiting Eve's web site or through her record label, Borealis Records.

Friday, October 13, 2006

seeking balance

Apparently, people on long term disability don't often call their insurance company to say, "Can I go back to work now?" (At least that's what my insurance rep told me when I spoke with her).

"What's the rush?" asked my oncologist when I mentioned a return to work.

And there certainly are many other things with which I could fill my time and not get bored (aside from physiotherapy and trying to find my house under all the rubble).

I know how lucky I am to have a supportive employer with a good insurance plan. I am also very grateful that I live in Canada where we have socialized medicine (women without health insurance face alarmingly high death rates) and a terrific oncologist who supports whatever choice I need to make (as long as I promise to take things slowly).

In part, I want to return to work slowly so I can build up my stamina gradually and not feel overwhelmed by the shock of trying to get up to speed.

But that's not all. I attended a staff retreat last week (at the Chateau Montebello, in a village near where I grew up. I'd always dreamed of staying there) and the truth is, I felt energized by the experience, and, in fact, have continued to have more energy since my return. It was so good to be around people and to have my thoughts be consumed by something other than cancer for a while.

I love my work (and my co-workers were an enormous source of support during treatment). And a significant part of my identity has always come from my work life.

I am a mother, lover, friend, trade unionist and now, irrevocably(but not primarily), a cancer patient. Each of these identities is important to me and I need to give voice to each of them in order to feel whole.

I know that I need to be careful. The last thing I want is to end up on sick leave again (and labour movement jobs are famous for being demanding and stressful). I am going to have to set clear boundaries and figure out how to pace myself.

But I feel ready to start re-claiming the life I had before cancer.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

more than skin deep

The stages of recovery from radiation:

1- Burned, blistered, raw, achy and sore.

2-Fragile and sensitive.

3-Renewal. Still very tender but on the road to healing.

4-Better. Not as new, but strong, healthy and fit.

I am hovering somewhere between stages three and four, sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back. I am making progress, though.

And my skin is healing, too.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

the last time

Today, I will go to radiation for the last time.

I'll enter the cancer centre and turn right at the door marked radiotherapy, scan my card to get in the queue, go and change into my robes (one backwards and one open at the front) and sit in the waiting room.

When my name is called, I will go and lie on a table that has been set up just for me. I'll slip out of my robe, lift my knees so they can put a cushion under them and tuck my left hand under hip. My right arm will go over my head and into a special brace. I won't move again until the end of treatment.

The therapists will spend some time making sure I am aligned perfectly, with the help of lasers, lines they have drawn on me (with permanent marker) and the five little tattoos I was given before I started treatment. When they are satisfied that everything is set up the way it should be, they will drape something called a bolus (pliable plastic-like material that draws the rays to the skins surface. Treatment will be interrupted part way through to remove it) across my chest.

Then they will turn off the lights and leave the room.

The door will close with an audible click, a green light will turn to red and treatment will begin.

The machine they used looks like a giant lamp, with jaws at it's centre that open and close to control the amount of radiation emitted. As it moves around me, it makes a whirring noise and a high-pitched buzzing with each dose.

It will take only a few minutes to treat my back, chest, axilla (under arm) and clavicle (this felt like so much longer during the first week of treatment when I was still freaked out about being treated with radiation).

Then the therapists will come in, I'll say 'thank you' and be on my way.

I might cry.

Radiation was a pretty dehumanizing process. As a coping mechanism, I deliberately engaged the radiation therapists, asking questions or making observations. I am very grateful to the therapists and nurses who took the time to respond and who treated me as a whole person and not just body parts to be treated. I hope they realize what an enormous difference this made.