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!