Tuesday, September 30, 2008

drops in the water

Today, is the Jewish New Year.

My spouse is Jewish but I am not.

Neither of us is even remotely religious.

But I love the idea of fall renewal, of having the chance to start a brand new year, in this time of harvest and change.

Nonlinear Girl has a post on this subject today and on having the chance to "cast off" the things that hold us back:

"In the Jewish religion, today is the ceremony Tashlich, which is Hebrew for "casting off." As part of the start of a new year, this is a chance to symbolically cast off the sins of the past year. Jews go to a natural body of flowing water and throw in pieces of bread to symbolize the shedding of these old errors. The idea is to get rid of things you do not want to take with you into the new year. While traditionalists focus on specific errors made in the past year, right now I am thinking more about the ways I make life unnecessarily harder for myself. By tossing away some of these I hope I will feel lighter about whatever happens in the next year."

You can read more of this post here and leave a comment, if you like, about the things you would toss away to help you move forward.

I wrote:
Toss in my insecurities about my inability to be an artist, my shame about having cancer and the fears that keep me from 'doing.'

writing my way through breast cancer

I have a new post up at MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com:

"When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, in January 2006, I was given an envelope full of information, pamphlets about available resources, a calendar (to track all the appointments) and a journal for chronicling, “my breast cancer journey.”

While I had kept a journal for brief periods of my life in the past (and most actively while travelling), I set this one aside. I was far too overwhelmed with absorbing information and trying not to feel overwhelmed to contemplate keeping a personal diary of my feelings.

I did however, choose to start a blog. For most of my professional life, I did some form of communications or public relations work. I was strongly motivated to control the “message” around my breast cancer. I wanted to be the one to determine the Who, What, Where and When (if not the Why) of my cancer and its treatment. I also saw writing, as a way to process my experiences, as an important side benefit.

I could never have predicted how important my blog would come to my survival. I thrived on the connections I made, the community to whom I connected and, in opening myself up to others, I began to feel much stronger and more confident."

You can read the rest of this post here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

so many lovely people

I left for Toronto early Thursday morning and got back late last night.

I spent time with friends and family that I love very much.

I didn't get enough time with anyone but I enjoyed every moment.

And I ate. And ate. And ate.

I am tired today.

But I am happy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

5 minute fantasy

A couple of Sundays ago, I participated in a writing workshop with my breast cancer survivor/former co-worker support/writing group. It was a fantastic, inspiring energizing experience.

I wanted to share one of my more light-hearted pieces from that day.

The exercise: Choose an object that is important to you (I brought in a necklace, designed by my friend Jacqueline (who also designs clothing for women who have had mastectomies). The necklace has a pendant that says “Rebel” (it’s a beer cap) and eight beads. Four are red and one is white, representing the one woman in eight who will get breast cancer.

We were asked to write a description, a memory, a fantasy and a monologue in the object’s voice. Each exercise lasted five minutes.

This is my fantasy:

I am not a rebel by nature. Perhaps it’s my birth order but I have always been a good girl, even through my teenage rebellion and even when breaking the law.

But in my fantasies I am superhero in a beer cap necklace. A one-breasted warrior, wearing big boots and a really cool scarf (you can’t be a superhero without the right accessories. That’s where the confidence comes from when it lacks more internal origins).

I am a superhero who can command a room with my presence and make CEOs tremble with a furious glance from my piercing blue eyes.

I know how to right wrongs and rid the world of injustice and I pull it off – with time left over to finish the queen-sized blanket that’s been languishing in its basket for more than a year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

well, that's a relief

My ten year old son, to my spouse:

"You guys did a good job of bringing me up."

Friday, September 19, 2008

nothing new going on here

Just got my CT results from a very up-beat sounding nurse.

No change.

I have not begun to appreciate how relieved I am.

Updated: I have a new post, The Metastatic Cancer Patient's Guide to the CT Scan in 16 Easy Steps up at MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

telling it like it is

My youngest son had an appointment with the allergist yesterday. It had been two years since his last visit and it was time to check whether he had outgrown any of his allergies (as we hoped) or whether he had acquired any new ones (two years ago we learned that he had developed an allergy to nuts).

The results were pretty much the same as last time. He is allergic to peanuts, nuts, sesame and poorly cooked eggs (this one doesn't matter much, since he won't eat eggs at all, even well-cooked ones). His environmental allergies include cats and feathers. Elm trees have been added to the list (we suspected a tree allergy since he does seem to react in the spring).

The test involves a scratch test on the arm. Lots of little scratches at the same time. My spouse says that D. cried when the test was being done but recovered quickly when he was offered a little prize.
After the test, D. and his dad went out to the waiting room to await results (or while D.'s arm "lit up like a Christmas tree" according to my spouse).

While they sat there, a mother was trying to comfort her daughter, who was obviously very nervous. "It doesn't hurt," the mom said.
This prompted D. to get out of his chair, walk up to the girl and look her in the eye. "Oh, no," he said. "It hurts."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the waiting game

I am waiting for results from yesterday's CT scan. My oncologist said that I should call him for results after five days, so I am going to start calling on Friday (it's only four days post-test but what have I got to lose by calling?).

I did have bloodwork done yesterday and was very relieved to see that all my liver functions are well within the range of normal. I actually startled the nurse who was hooking me up for chemo by giving a little yelp of pleasure.

It is still possible to have tumours on the liver (or nearby) and have normal liver functions. However, abnormally high liver functions can be a sign of a problem.

And I will embrace every indication that all is well.

I have a new post up (I wrote it on Monday) at MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com. It's about how hard it is to play the waiting game:

"I have no real reason to expect anything but good results this time, yet I can’t escape the feeling that something is wrong. My digestion feels a little off and I can’t decide if the pain in my side is a phantom one.

The truth is, I am scared. I am trying to reassure myself with the fact that I have been feeling pretty good, that I have been biking and running But I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was feeling the healthiest and most fit that I had in years. And I was diagnosed with liver mets three weeks after I returned to work, at a time when I was feeling strong, energetic and (so I thought) on the road to reclaiming my life from cancer.

I have been fairly racked with anxiety these last few days and yet today I feel calmer. Perhaps I have had the time to come to terms with the fact that I have no choice but to meet whatever challenge lies ahead. Perhaps it has helped to keep myself really busy. Or maybe I am in denial."

I also wrote in the same post about how I how I cope with the anxiety. I was a little
crazy on the week end but there are definitely things that help, when I can remind myself to do them:

"My advice to women awaiting test results or doctor’s appointments remains the same.

Try not to torture yourself with worst case scenarios.

Go out and play (I went to the National Art Gallery with my family yesterday).

Get together with friends (I had a great time at last night’s book club meeting).

Get some exercise (I am going running with my son after school today).

Write it all down (I procrastinated over doing this but I can’t tell you how much it helped."

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

have you ever? (a stolen meme)

I stole this meme from Average Jane. It's originally from Sunday Stealing.

It felt like the perfect distraction for a lazy, rainy Sunday morning.

Have you ever....

1. gone on a blind date?

Once. More than twenty years ago. His entire family came along (including grandparents) and he didn't make eye contact with me once. Very strange experience.

2. skipped school?

There are two answers to this question.

For my mom and my kids: "Never."

For everyone else: Fairly regularly, in high school.

3. watched someone die?


4. been on a plane?

Many times.

5. been on the opposite side of your country?

I have been to west and east coasts (born in New Brunswick!) and to two of the three northern territories.

6. swam in the ocean?


7. had your booze taken away by the cops?

I have never been caught.

8. lettered in high school sport?

Do we letter in sports in Canada? No sports teams for me, anyway. I did theatre and band...

9. cried yourself to sleep?

Yes. But not lately.

10. played cops and robbers?

My friend B., my sister and I used to pretend we were Charlie's Angels. Were they cops?

11. sung karaoke?

Once. Under duress.

12. paid for a meal with coins only?

Of course.

13. done something you told yourself you wouldn’t?

Almost every day.

14. cheated on an exam?


15. made prank phone calls?

"Is your refrigerator running?"

16. laughed until some sort of beverage came out of your nose?


17. caught a snowflake on your tongue?

I live in Ottawa, in Canada! What do you think?

18. written a letter to Santa Claus?

I think I did.

19. watched the sunrise with someone you care about?

I've been up all night...can't remember watching the sun come up.

20. been kissed under the mistletoe?

My parents had the plastic kind.

21. ever been arrested?

Yes. Occupying my MPs office, as part of a demonstration against the first Gulf War.

22. gone ice skating?

See above re Canada.

23. been skinny dipping outdoors?

Lots of times as a kid. As an adult, in the dark only. One time, a couple of years ago, my spouse and I were about to dive into the lake at his dad's cottage when a little boat we hadn't noticed flashed a bright light on us (most likely one of the neighbours out fishing). I hid behind T. The light went off and the boat went away.

24. had a nickname?

Not really. A grade school friend tried to nick name me "Wombat" but it never really stuck.

25. been on TV?

I have acted as a spokesperson for several advocacy organizations. It used to be my job.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Am I freaked out because I can feel a stitch or am I feeling a stitch because I am freaked out anxious about my CT next week and what it might reveal?

Inside my head is not a fun place to be, today.

These are the facts:

  • Scarring causes tightness which can make me feel a bit of a stitch.
  • I have been exercising hard and felt nothing.
  • But as I type this, I feel a dull ache.
  • I cannot tell if my liver is swollen because I a have too much belly fat (and lymphedema) and an inadequate sense of my own anatomy.
  • If I press really hard, the area where I think my liver is, hurts. But if you press hard enough on any part of the body, it hurts.
CT scan and blood tests on September 16, right before chemo. I will have the blood tests back on the same day but must wait a few days for the CT results.

Until then, deep breaths, lots of positive distractions and more exercise (if the rain ever lets up).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

more randomness

1. I forgot to mention that my new-found commitment to riding my bike (spent a couple of hours on it again, today, although some of that was getting lost) was inspired in part by Rebecca. She trained on her bike (and kick-boxed!) right through breast cancer treatment.

2. It was also inspired by the fact that I dropped a whack of money (in violation of our current austerity measures) on a fancy lap-top bag that attaches to my bike rack. I have to ride instead of taking the bus or a taxi, in order to justify it. The first time I used the bag, it flew off while I was riding on a busy street (now lap top in it, thank goodness). I have since figured out how to secure it properly (don't you love instructions that read like they have been put through a universal translator?).
I spent almost two hours on my bike today. Some of that was getting lost. I have absolutely no sense of direction. I had to pull out my bike map many, many times and I still took a few wrong turns.

3. I had a routine echocardiogram today. The woman who did the test explained what we saw on the screen in response to my questions (she compared the mitral valve to a fish). We also chatted about a bunch of stuff. I have never felt so relaxed while being tested or had an echo go by so quickly. She also told me that all is well. This experience was in such stark contrast to others I have had that I found her before I left to thank her for treating me "like a person." I told her that it meant a lot.

4. My father in law pointed out to me the other day that the Amazon.ca link to my book had it classified under "astrology." That has been fixed.

5. Yesterday, I had to chase the puppy around to cut out something that was matted in her fur (don't ask). My 10 year old stopped me, patiently turned the scissors around and said, firmly but calmly, "Could you please hold the scissors properly, if you are going to run with them?" I know that sometimes children and their parents reverse roles. I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

6. As I was riding to the hospital today, a car pulled up beside me at an intersection. The car's window was open and the guy inside was snapping his fingers and bopping along with a big smile on his face (it was "Dancing Cheek to Cheek." I think it was Ella singing but I'm not sure). He must have felt my glance , because he turned to me and asked, "Are we going to have a good day?"

"I am now," I replied, with a big smile on my face.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

a random kind of day

I'm sitting on the couch with a coffee as both dogs snore beside me. I seem unable to focus on any one thing today so it seems like a good time for another "random" post.

1. I pressed send on the latest round of changes to my book on Monday afternoon. That felt pretty good, I can tell you. And I have only had to send three different versions of the acknowledgments as I keep finding mistakes.

2. When I went to pull together the photos that I want to include in the book, I discovered that they are gone. Apparently, when we backed up "My Documents" to a hard drive before re-formatting my computer, it copied everything but the "My Pictures" folder. Many are on Flickr and the blog but the resolution is not so good. And, what's more, there were hundreds of photos that I have never posted anywhere. I am heartbroken.

3. I forgot to tell you about this post, called 'The Empowered Cancer Patient' that I wrote for MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com. I need to start remembering to link back to this blog in those posts.

4. I rode my bike to an appointment yesterday (30 minutes) and home again. This involved what felt like an enormous hill (up Carling, just before the Civic Hospital, if know Ottawa). And aside from my bag flying off the carrier twice (I have since figured out a better way to secure it), I did pretty well. I feel pretty proud of myself. And my ass is only a little sore today.

5. On the ride home, the skies opened up and it started to pour. One of those weird rains with really big, cold drops and the sun still out. As I cut through a park, pedalling furiously, I passed a young guy, dressed all in black (including his hat) who had stopped his bike just off the path to enjoy a smoke. He seemed oblivious to the torrential rain. Some day, I am going to incorporate him as a character into a short story, I think.

6. My poor little puppy has a cold. Her nose is runny and she is sneezing a lot. Otherwise, she seems more or less unaffected. The vet has put her on a course of antibiotics, in case this viral infection puts her at risk of something bacterial (given her developing immune system).

It doesn't seem to have affected her energy level. She still sleeps all morning and then revs up later in the day. She likes to pick things up and carry them around the house, especially stuffed animals and shoes.

She hasn't destroyed anything (both the late lovely Emma and J-Dog chewed their way through many a shoe and other items when they were puppies. J-Dog ate a camera) but she likes to take the shoes and boots out of the closet (no, I didn't put them away in the spring) and leaving them strewn around the house. As I type this, my slipper is sitting in the middle of the living room. I have no idea where to find its mate.

I have also really fallen down on the grooming and she's looking pretty scruffy. Although not as ratty as these photos, taken at my in-law's cottage last month, would suggest.

This is Stella, Lucy's litter-mate. Don't let her diminutive size fool you. She is the alpha in this equation.

The puppies' breeder captioned this one, "Whatcha wanna do now?"

Note how my pup appears to be a hulking monster beside her sister.

I will try and take a pic of her looking her best, if I ever get around to bathing and brushing.

7. Have you noticed that my photos have been a little washed out of late? I am not sure if it has been handled too roughly or dropped too many times but I find that my pics all look like they were taken in the 1960's. Any thoughts on how to fix this?

8. I have been seeing a 'Life Coach' since January and the process has been transformative. I had a great meeting with her yesterday. And she suggested that I give myself some time before jumping into the next project. I need to create a little space to breathe for a while.

We agreed that this is not so easy. I do have kids, dogs, an elderly cat and a sink full of dirty dishes. She challenged me to do what I need to do but do one thing at a time and do it well. I also need to spend time less time in "avoidance" activities ( You know what I mean - when you stay in bed with the covers over your head when you're really not sleepy or when you engage in junk internet surfing, googling obscure terms or reading celebrity gossip blogs. Or maybe that's just me) and make the time to do the things that fill me up and inspire creativity.

I need to report back to her in two weeks about how I've managed to achieve this.

I'll let you know how I do, as well.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

philly bound!

Thanks to all of you who contributed your thoughts as to whether I should attend Living Beyond Breast Cancer's annual conference in Philadelphia. Every comment and opinion was helpful. You gave me much to think about.

Yesterday, though, I had the following conversation with my ten year old son.

Me: So...I have been offered a scholarship to attend a breast cancer conference in Philadelphia.

S. (lighting up): That's great!

Me: But the thing is, it's on November 1st, which means I would have to leave on October 31st and miss Hallowe'en.

S.: But this is a great opportunity! We can take lots of pictures. And there will be many other Hallowe'ens.

Me: OK. If you're sure...

S.: You should go!

Me: Wow. It's almost like you're proud of your mom...

S.: What do you mean 'almost'? I am proud.

Me: [Too moved to speak]

S.: And besides, you can trust Papa not to cut himself when he's carving the pumpkin. And I'm pretty sure we won't burn the house down....

So, my family has spoken and I have booked my trip.

It feels like I made the right decision.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.

Friday, September 05, 2008

pregnancy and cancer treatment: more questions than answers

This past weekend, the New York Times published an article by Pamela Paul called “With Child, With Cancer.” I had to set it aside for several days before I could bring myself to read it. When I finally did, I was very moved, equally surprised and left with many unanswered questions.

I did not enjoy being pregnant. I was plagued with constant, low level nausea, heartburn and crushing fatigue for the duration of my pregnancies. I was also affected by what I later learned was ante-natal depression (this lifted almost immediately upon giving birth. My spouse swears that my first post-partum words were, “I’m so happy not to be pregnant anymore!” He exaggerates only slightly). I also found myself to be in a constant fog (not unlike the effects of chemotherapy) and that coherent thought was often just beyond my reach.

During those periods, deciding what to eat for breakfast was a challenge. I cannot imagine having to deal with the kind of life and death decisions faced by a woman dealing with a diagnosis of breast cancer while pregnant.

You can read the rest of this post at MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

the very definition of a "thankless task"

An evening conversation in my kitchen:

Father (opening lunch bag): "You didn't eat your peach!"

Five year old Son: "I didn't see it was a peach."

Father: "What did you think it was?"

Son: "Something gross."

And that is why I hate making school lunches.

fixing insomnia

I have been suffering from insomnia of late.

I have no trouble falling asleep but I wake up, at least once, and have trouble falling back asleep.

And then, during the day, I am having real trouble focusing. I have a list of writing I need to get done but the last two hours have been frittered away doing who knows what.

I think that I am doing all the right things to encourage a good night's sleep but I think I'm a little stressed. Perhaps I will sleep better once my latest blook deadline is past (next Monday) and I have another CT under my belt.


Perhaps I should have this guy come over to my house and sing me to sleep?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

the internets have spoken

Last night, when I went to bed, I was pretty convinced by you all that I should go to the conference. Then, when I woke up this morning I found that a bunch of you had made equally compelling arguments for staying home. Now, I'm thinking on it.

Some of your comments, though, prompted me to write the following Tweet last night:
"I need to clarify that T. makes the Hallowe'en costumes. And does 95% of the cooking. I'm pretty much just a trophy wife."
While the truth is that I do pull my weight around the house (most of the time), the idea that I am hesitating about going away because my spouse couldn't cope without me is laughable in the extreme.

The costumes will get made without me (as they would even if I were here). The kids probably wouldn't even notice my absence. I just like to watch it all unfold.

And take photos that I can embarrass them with, later in life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

what to do? your input needed.

Today finds me faced with a dilemma.

I just found out today that I have been awarded a scholarship to attend this conference in Philadelphia. It is being organized by Living Beyond Breast Cancer (don't know a whole lot about them but I do love that name). My air fare and half of my hotel will be covered.

The content looks interesting.

And I would love the chance to meet some other interesting women living with cancer.

It will be almost exactly a year since I attended this conference, which rejuvenated and inspired me.

However, the Philadelphia conference is on Saturday, November 1st. It starts at 9:00am.

This means I would miss Hallowe'en in Ottawa.

I love helping my kids get ready and sending them off to trick or treat. I love giving out candy (I love eating it, too, which is not as good for me).

I need your help. What should I do?

Oh, and if I go to the conference, I get to stay here for two nights.