Wednesday, February 27, 2008

beautiful prose

"There continues to be no evidence of recurrent metastatic disease on images of the abdomen."

This means that I will continue to go for only one treatment a month, indefinitely.

As for the long run, who knows? As my oncologist said today, 16 years ago women with liver metastases were dead within a few months. Given that this is my third CT in remission (the first was in June and the next in November), he is, in his words, "amazingly optimistic."

We are travelling in uncharted waters, my oncologist and I (the drug combination I am on, herceptin and vinorelbine, is not even a recognized treatment yet in Ontario). Given the alternative, however, I am more than happy to keep paddling.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

what i did on my winter vacation

I can't seem to string two sentences together today (believe me, I've been trying) so instead of a more substantive post, I will provide you with more photos of one of the world's most photogenic children.

These were taken in Sarasota, Florida, on the rare occasions when I remembered to bring my camera.

I need to figure out how to work the zoom on my little camera. Watching my little man paddle away in the kayak with Grandpa, really turned my insides to mush.

While Grandpa and Bubbie went for a little paddle (I went out, too, although I didn't do much paddling, just glided along while my father-in-law did all the work), D. and I played on the beach (just the over the hill from the bay where we went paddling):

D. asked me to lie down, so he could trace my shape in the sand. I was impressed that I had the agility to get up without blurring his work. I was less impressed with my shape in the sand which was distinctly, um, bottom heavy. The hour glass has been replaced with a pear, it seems.

D. especially loved the palm trees, which he insisted on calling "coco-palms" even though we explained that we were too far north for coconuts. He said the ones bearing fruit would be coconut trees and that these were called coco-palm trees.

The child has an uncanny ability to insist on his own version of reality, even when presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. If he decides that up is down (or that he was wide awake on the plane and the trip was just really, really short), it is often easier to just let it go then to try and convince him otherwise.

We also went to the circus, saw some alligators (I took pictures but the 'gators look like logs. See above re the zoom) and tasted alligator stew, saw many beautiful birds (although not as many as last year), went to the aquarium and spent lots of time on, in and near the water. Two of my nieces (both really nice people - one is almost 12 and the other will turn 10 this year) were there for part of the time and my father-in-law and his wife are both warm, funny, generous people.

I really lucked out with my spouse's family (so much so that they were a part of my 41 things about T.).

Speaking of my spouse, I think he was a little chagrined with the beautiful weather we had. It was one thing to say, "It's OK, honey, you go to Florida without me. I really need to stay and work," when he thought the weather would be cool and perhaps even rainy. However, it turned out to unseasonably hot and gorgeous every day.

He and my older son S. had a pretty good time, though. They rented a wii, played games with friends on the big screen in T.'s office, went skating on the canal and watched lots of movies. They probably sat around eating junk food in their underwear, too.

As for little D. and I, it was wonderful to be able to spend so much time together. He is growing up so quickly. I don't really have the words to explain how cool it is to watch him grow and learn, hear his observations on the world (absolutely nothing gets by him, even when you think he's not listening). He is one sharp kid.

One night when I was getting him ready for bed, he said, "Mama, I love you as much as all the days." He has said this before.

"I love you as much as all the lives of everyone in the world. That's forever."

And then came the kicker.

"I love you even when I'm mad at you."

Monday, February 25, 2008

happy and home

And exhausted.

We had such a wonderful time.

And it will only be winter for a few more weeks, right? Right?

Friday, February 15, 2008

to warmer climes

I took this picture of the front of my house yesterday morning. We have had another dump of snow since.

The shot below, of my 55lb dog sitting on my front walk, gives you an idea of the height of the snowbanks.

It's -21 Celsius (-6 Fahrenheit) today with the windchill. In other words, it's bloody cold.

I am off to Florida with my four year old tomorrow. We need to leave for the airport at 4:30am.

We are flying via Cleveland and it will take us forever to get there.

I don't care. It's going up to 24 Celsius (75 Fahrenheit) in Sarasota tomorrow. By this time tomorrow, I will hopefully have dipped my toes in the ocean.

And the only white powdery stuff around will be the sand on the beach.

I'll be back online on February 25th.

I also have a short post up at Mommybloggers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

bloodbath (not for the squeamish)

I had a CT scan yesterday.

Since my life as a cancer patient began, I have had many, many tests and medical appointments. And I have had my share of bizarre experiences.

But yesterday I experienced something new.

I was very pleased that the nurse managed to get the IV needle into a vein on the first try (I had been really dreading that part, after the trauma of last time), albeit in the side of my wrist, right by the bone.

I barely had time to register my relief, though, before I felt a warm liquid on my hand and looked over to see a jet of blood spurting from my wrist onto my hand and the floor.

"I dropped the locking clip!" exclaimed the nurse. "Could you grab me a new one, please?"

What followed was more spurting and a great deal of confused fumbling. The nurse kept thanking the co-worker who was ineptly trying to help (it was only later, when I was told that he was a doctor that I understood that the man probably didn't have the remotest idea what a locking clip was, where to find one or what to do with it when he did).

Eventually (it felt like a long time but was likely only a minute or two. A lot of blood can spurt out of a vein in a very short period of time), the locking clip (which is really a stopper-thingie) was popped on, the nurse cleaned me up and mopped up the floor, all the while apologizing profusely.

"Sorry for the blood-letting," she said.

The rest of the test proceeded pretty uneventfully.

I'll have the results on the 27th.
I have no reason to expect anything but good news (the last two CT scans in June and November showed no sign of cancer at all) but I will hate the waiting, anyway.

The test was very early yesterday morning. My spouse was still home when I returned.

"You're a little pale," he said.

Go figure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

reading deprived

I am still doing the Artist's Way.

Last week, I was supposed to do something called "reading deprivation."

I felt that it was asking way too much of myself to forego reading during a chemo week.

This week, I am taking a crack at it. I am allowed to answer emails, read to my son and read the comments on my blog (and, of course, to re-read my own writing).

I've been on starvation diets that are easier than this.

And cheated less.

Monday, February 11, 2008

pavlov revisited

One morning, as I was making school lunches, I dropped a bunch of cheese on my dog's head (I had been slicing it onto sandwiches and had turned to talk to my older son. Multi-tasking before sufficient caffeine intake has never been my strong suit).

Now, whenever I am making lunches, the dog dances with excitement, his eyes sparkling with hope and joyful anticipation.

I want to live my life like that. Life is good. And you never know when cheese might fall from the sky.

Friday, February 08, 2008

two finished objects and a felted bag

I have several almost finished knitting projects kicking around the house. Yesterday, and the day before, I bit the bullet and finished two of them.

This is the "Heartbreakingly Cute Baby Kimono" from Mason-Dixon Knitting. For months all it needed was for me to sew the little cords on for the tie.

The lighting is not great in this shot but it really is heart-breakingly cute (how could a new-born sized kimono, not be?). This one's going to the Warm Hands Network.

These socks have been languishing for a few weeks, needing only one toe to be finished. The photo really does not do justice to the Fleece Artist yarn. The socks are REALLY thick but very comfortable. I just haven't been brave enough to check how comfortable they'll be with shoes on.

The bag below is from a free pattern from Black Sheep Bags. It's called a Booga Bag and I stumbled on it when I was yearning for a felted bag (seriously, I was. They're strong and light. And I think they're cool).

Since I first stumbled on the pattern, it's become a bit of a knitting craze.
If you feel like it, go to Flickr and do a search for 'Booga' you get 2,563 results and the overwhelming majority are pictures of this bag.

This is what it looked like before I felted it:

And this is what it looks like, after being machine washed in hot water and rinsed in cold:

I had been warned that this is not a big bag, but the thing is tiny. It looks like I'll be able to fit my wallet, keys (if I can find them), a lipstick and maybe a tiny notebook and a pen.

Maybe I shouldn't have run the bag through the whole wash cycle. Thoughts?

I like how it looks, though and the way the colours blended together. And it will be a nice light purse.

I'll post more pics once I make the holes for the straps and add them on.

You have no idea how much clutter I had to move out of the way to take EACH of these pictures.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

a woman undone

Cross-posted to

It was not my finest moment as a parent.

But before I tell you about it, allow me to relate the day that led up to screaming.

I try to protect the Mondays before chemo as days to get myself ready, emotionally and physically for the slog ahead. I go to yoga, go for a walk, try and do some writing, get the house cleaned up a little, do some cooking. Actually, I always tend to start the day with to-do list that is longer than the number of hours in the day.

But the best laid plans, as they say can easily go awry when you are dealing with a bunch of variables that are mostly outside your control (OK, so maybe they don't say that, exactly, but you know what I mean).

It all started when my oldest son, nine year old S., came downstairs clutching his stomach.

My spouse had been sick on the week end (during our night away from the kids, something I was none too pleased about, I can tell you) and I hadn't been feeling too well myself so I knew right away that he would need to stay home. I called the school and said I would have him home at least for the morning.

The morning turned into a full day, and while he's really very good at occupying himself (and the gravol and tylenol kept him really quiet), I did have to shelve plans for getting much done in the way of writing.

And yoga was out.

I did a pretty good job of telling myself "it is what it is." And then I called my spouse to advise him that I would be heading out for a dog walk after he was home in the evening.

In the afternoon, I had a dental appointment. I set myself back when I lost track of time while writing my blog post, updating my new year's resolutions (one of these was called 'get organized.' The irony is not lost on me).

When my spouse came home I was still in my pajamas, with only minutes to go until the bus was due to come by. I got ready and out the door in record time and raced down my driveway to see the bus (two minutes ahead of schedule, by my calculations) sitting at the stop just south of my house. I took off at a sprint for the next stop, a couple of blocks north of my house and made it by the skin of my teeth.

I boarded the bus wallet.

The driver, impressed with my athleticism my complete lack of grace my dogged determination, took pity on me and told me that I could stay on the bus.

With great relief, I plopped myself down, still panting heavily.

Only to realize a few minutes later that with no wallet, I had no way of paying the dentist and no way to get home.

There was nothing I could do about it right then (I still have not got around to activating my new cell phone) so I took out my book. And became engrossed (it's Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life. Very good). When I looked up I was five stops past my dentist's office.

I hopped off the bus and broke into a quick waddle (running again was completely out of the question), stopping along the way to call my spouse from a pay phone and ask him to deliver my wallet.

I endured the dentist (a man who does not stop talking the entire time you are in the chair. It's excruciating. He is however, very gentle and genuinely concerned about causing his patients as little discomfort as possible. That makes up for a lot).

My spouse, sick son and I then proceeded to run a couple of errands and pick up my youngest from day care. At some point, my spouse informs me that he will need to go back to work to finish a proposal that is due the next day. When I grit my teeth and ask him how late he thinks he'll be, he replies, "I don't know" (now to be fair, to him, this is the first time that he has done this without advanced notice in the seventeen years of our relationship. And I should also admit that, when I was working I did that to him at least a couple of times. But this did nothing to mitigate the effect on my already frayed nerves).

By the time we arrived home, the kids were hungry, cranky and enormously demanding. And they were fighting continously with each other and bringing their complaints to me.

I rushed to change my socks (the slush had soaked through my shoes and I'd been running around cold wet feet), feed the yowling cat, make dinner (OK, so I was only up to heating up chicken fingers and throwing some salad greens on plates) while the crescendo of laments, yelling and tears built around me.

As I was on the phone, checking in with my spouse, I could hear my youngest in the next room, yelling, "S., stop looking at me that way! S., stop looking at me, like that!" After a couple of minutes of this, my four year old came running into the kitchen in tears, yelling that S. was looking at him and he didn't like it. S. followed on his heels, yelling over him, "I don't know what's wrong with him. I was just making faces!" And proceeded to demonstrate.

He had been scaring his little brother.

I lost it. I forget exactly what I said but it was along the lines, of, "I have had it!" (repeated several times) and "I have had enough of the fighting, complaining and the yelling. You are both behaving very badly."

Except that it was all screamed at a decibel level that makes me glad we live in an old detached house with very thick walls. The kind of screaming that I would have been embarrassed to have anyone witness, even those folks who know me very, very well.

The children were shocked into silence.

We ate dinner very quietly, plates were cleared without asking and my oldest even helped with his younger brother's homework (I forgot to mention that my four year old had reminded me that he had overdue homework that needed to be handed in the next day).

Together, we brainstormed ideas for how to decorate a paper snowman. The boys decided that we should make a snow-spider, with yarn for legs (D. told me where to put them but I had to glue them on. Heaven forfend he should have to get his fingers dirty) and buttons for eyes (our research revealed that spiders have either six or eight eyes. Ours had seven). D. added bright orange paint-spots.

When we were done, D. turned to me and asked, "Mama, are you still sad?"

I sighed and said, "No, I was just frustrated that you and your brother were doing bad listening and fighting so much."

"I'm sorry, Mama. Do you need a hug?"

We hugged, I put him to bed and then collapsed on the sofa.

My spouse came home at 10:30 and the poor dog didn't get his walk (and neither did I).

Some days don't go as planned.

But they do make good blog fodder.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

a post called "Pluck"

As I was getting my daily fix of the Yarn Harlot yesterday, I came across this post by Lene, of "The Seated View." You should really go read the whole thing (she raises some very interesting questions about how we view people with disabilities). This paragraph in particular, though, really resonated with me:
"There is no overcoming of disability. Because a chronic condition doesn't improve, you cannot conquer it, you cannot defeat it. Arthritis doesn't go away. Neither does MS, ALS, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, many types of blindness and deafness. There is only living with it, coexisting - sometimes uneasily, sometimes not. Having a disability is part of what you are, what you do. Sometimes it's a small part and sometimes, it overwhelms the rest. But what remains is this: you live your life anyway."
I am not disabled but I do have a chronic illness (and it's ongoing side effects) that has forever changed my relationship to the world and permanently altered my body. I wear these physical changes quite publicly, as lymphedema makes a prosthesis unwearable. And I need to work constantly to mitigate the post-surgical stiffness and the uncomfortable side effects of lymphedema.
The cancer will never go away completely (although we are doing a pretty good job of beating it back) but life goes on. There are many, many days when I feel wonderful, optimistic and healthy. But on the days that I don't, I keep living anyway. Because really, what other choice do I have?

And really, do go read Lene's post. I found it incredibly thought provoking and beautifully written.

Monday, February 04, 2008

resolutions 2008: the month in review

Seeing as how we are now well into February, I thought I should give you an update on my BlogHer inspired resolutions for this year.


"I will go into my older son's classroom at least once a week."

I am heading up a knitting club in nine year old S.'s class. I was supposed to be working with seven kids but I have consistently had around fifteen in attendance. And it's so much fun! S. also loves having me there and is clearly proud of his mother. A side-benefit is seeing how much the kids are loving learning how to knit. Two weeks ago, I taught them how to finger knit. I left the classroom at 10:45. When I returned at 1:00 for a class play, many of the kids in the wings were finger-knitting as they waited to go on. One boy even had his costume cinched with a belt that his classmate had knit during lunch!

"On the weeks that I don't have chemo I will start sharing pick ups and drop offs for my younger son (to and from school/day care). I will begin with doing at least one pick up and one drop off each week that I am off in January."

I did only one pick up and one drop off. This is one area which clearly needs improvement, especially as the success of my knitting classes has young D. clamouring for me to come to his school, too.

"I will go out with my spouse, at least once a month."

Done and done (in spectacular fashion, I might add). In March, I think we'll go and play Scrabble in a pub one night.

"I will help plan at least one family activity every month."

We all went on a dog walk at least once January (remember, I am taking small steps). This is a good reminder to start planning an activity for February. I just asked my older son what we should do and he suggested skating! A great idea.

"I will have my sister and brother in-law over for morning coffee at least one week end morning a month."

We had a lovely date in January and they're going to come by this week end (they also took my kids overnight on Saturday so that my spouse could go celebrate his birthday). They are both lovely (and busy!) people and I really enjoy spending time with them.

"I will reinstate Sunday family dinners with my dear friend, DD."

We've done that twice and I am hoping that she will be free to come over this Sunday (she has had a very good reason to otherwise engaged, of late).

"I will call my niece to see if she wants to resume knitting lessons."

We have had one knitting date and I have made plans for another one.


I have been making small changes to my diet, and adding new ones every week. All in all, this has been working well. It seems so much easier to create new habits when changes are made gradually.

Some interesting observations:

I noticed about three weeks into the month that I feel much better. I have more energy and I just feel really well (aside from the stomach bug which has been plaguing me for the last couple of days, but even that is milder than it should be for someone with a suppressed immune system).

I have lost four pounds (a bonus, since I haven't really been trying).

When I go "off the wagon", as I did this week end (fatty, salty cheeses, no veggies and about a pound of nut brittle), I don't feel well. At the brunch at our hotel this week end, the rich desserts did not appeal to me at all. Truly odd.

This week, I am going to go easy on myself and just add a second fish meal and avoiding salty foods (salt really aggravates the lymphedema).

On the fitness front:

I committed to four yoga classes, made it to three. Not bad. I am now addicted (and trying to be all "live in the moment" about missing today, as my son is home sick from school).

I easily met my goal of walking an average of 60 minutes, five times a week. This month I will add an additional 30 minute walk per week to the mix.

In February I will do the ab exercises prescribed by my physiotherapist, five times per week.


I cleaned my fridge. Once. It needs it again. I'll take another crack at organizing my kitchen in February.

As for writing/creating (which I will fold into a common set of resolutions) and re-connecting with friends, I didn't even get around to making those in January. I'll write about them later this week.

Thanks for helping to keep me honest.

Off to chemo tomorrow. I may not post until Wednesday.

Friday, February 01, 2008


I saw the doctor who works with my oncologist on Wednesday. I had decided, as I showered that morning, that I would ask to skip another chemo appointment, to give myself a break in February. It turns out she was a step ahead of me.

She was ebullient when she saw me. Dr. B. is the doctor who examined me when I first went in with my abdomen looking like I had swallowed a large watermelon and when a cough or a poke caused me to be wracked with pain.

We've come a long way since that day, a little over a year ago. Dr. B. told me that she is "not worried about me." I loved hearing this. She reminded me again how very worried about me they had been and said that I have been given "a reprieve."

A very apt choice of words, I think, and reflective of the stark contrast in my prognosis in late 2006 versus how I am doing now.

And, while she was very clear that I am "not out of the woods for good," she, like Dr. G. my oncologist, is hopeful that I will continue to do well for a long time.

Dr. B. also said that my liver felt "amazing," all tucked up under my rib cage, where a liver is supposed to be.

So my doctors are ready for me to ease up a bit on chemo, at least for the next two cycles. This means that in February and March, instead of going for chemo two weeks in a row and then having two weeks off, I will go for treatment one week and then have THREE weeks off.

And then, if my CT scan is good (and my doctors have both said that they anticipate it will be), we will continue in this fashion for a while (the scan is set for February 13th. I'll get the results on February 27th).

I am giddy. The chemo and herceptin, drugs that have surely saved my life, have also been grinding me down. Now I have a chance to heal and get strong again, physically and emotionally (and perhaps even mentally. Maybe I'll even win a Scrabble game).

It's good to feel hopeful. I wrote in my journal this evening that I am starting to get greedy, imagining myself seeing my kids graduate from high school and perhaps even becoming a grandma some day.

But I try not to get ahead of myself, stay in the here and now (not my strong suit but I am working on it). And be grateful for the fact that right now, today, I am doing very well, indeed.