Saturday, December 06, 2014

please read and remember

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

Monday, December 01, 2014

i've never liked rollercoasters

Are you sitting comfortably? This is going to be a long one.

In late August, during a regular appointment with my medical oncologist, I was informed that my latest brain scan revealed a tiny spot on my cerebellum, exactly where mytumour was in 2012. I was going to write that I was blind-sided but I really wasn't. There had been lots of little signs over the course of the summer that my balance was compromised. At one point, while I was with my family in New York City, I had stood up and almost fallen over, catching myself against a wall. I'll never forget the very quick glance I exchanged with Tim, before carrying on with my day. A new tumour was something I didn't want to think about and I had fairly successfully succeeded.

“I'm never going to lie to you,” Dr. G. said during our regular phone appointment, before delivering the news. He also reassured me that the spot was tiny and the situation was “fixable.”

I told family via email, as well as close friends that I had a new tumour. We told our kids at dinner that night. I was outwardly calm but inside, I felt devastated. Although I had been reassured that this tumour could be easily disposed of, I felt like it was the begin of the end. If some stray cells had escaped treatment and metastasized so quickly, then others would surely follow. This new spot might be treatable but the next could easily – even likely – be some place treatment couldn't access. I'm so afraid of this possibility that I've never been able to put it into words (I have notes for a blog post entitled “my worst fear” that I've never been able to publish).

A week after this phone call, Tim and I went to the cancer centre for a brief appointment with my medical oncologist, followed by the radiation oncologist who'd treated mewith the Cyber Knife after conventional surgery (we refer to him as the Gallic Shrugger because of his eloquent non-responses when we were planning treatment in 2012). This time, Dr. GS dropped a bombshell: It was possible that the new spot was not a tumour but necrotic (dead) tissue caused by radiation. He told us that necrotic tissue can grow and tends to appear 3-18 months after treatment. He explained that even my wonky balance could be explained away by scar tissue building on my cerebellum.

We were stunned.

And giddy.

I might have had a glass of wine with lunch.

A week after that, we met with Dr. S., the neurosurgeon I liked and trusted so much in 2012. It was hisadvice that we eventually followed for treatment and he performed my nine hour brain surgery. We always wait for hours to see him but it's worth it. This time, he'd shown my scans to several other doctors. He said that while my case was “perplexing” (not something you want to hear from a medical professional), they were fairly confident that the spot would turn out to be necrotic tissue or easily removed by surgery. He suggested that we wait a few more weeks and do another, more precise scan that would also measure activity (which might identify a growing tumour, versus inactive, dead tissue).

Four weeks later, I had the brain MRI. A week after that, I received the good news: my surgeon was prepared to say that the new spot on my brain was very likely necrotic tissue. No treatment is necessary at this point, unless I start to feel unwell. We'll just make sure to monitor for any changes. I heard the good news from all three doctors in separate appointments. Each, endearingly, was practically jubilant.

Oddly, I was not. I was definitely relieved but it all felt anti-climactic. We didn't even celebrate. I felt embarrassed to have to go back and tell everyone that I didn't in fact have a tumour (I know this is ridiculous. This news was extremely well received). Surprisingly (or perhaps not), I mostly felt tired and angry that we'd been put through this trauma.

I'm mostly over that now (but not entirely) and I've trying to immerse myself in the things in my life over which I have some control. Until today, I have not felt able to share this story in this space. I haven't felt much like writing at all. I've finally just decided to spew it all onto the page because it feels somehow dishonest not to have blogged about it.

It's done now.

Time to exhale and move on to the next thing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I don't write in this space very often these days and I don't know how many people still read my words. I'm not sure if I've done a good job of expressing myself. My friend made me realize last night that I have a responsibility to use the platform I have, to say something to anyone who might be willing to listen.

Yesterday evening, I sat down at the computer to check Twitter, as a stalling tactic before cleaning the kitchen. It was well past midnight when I stood up again.

I was reminded as soon as I logged in that the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri - about whether or not to indict the police officer who killed a young unarmed black man - was due to come down shortly. In the end, it took a couple of hours for the announcement to be made. Though most people commenting in my Twitter feed were not surprised by the outcome (the delay in announcing had made many suspect that the result was a foregone conclusion), they were outraged. This was exacerbated by the terrible way in which the grand jury handled the release of the verdict: at night, with many hours of anticipation during which the world saw heavily armed soldiers and military tanks line the streets of the town. The lengthy speech made by the prosecutor seemed designed to fan the flames, as he first blamed social media and then further trashed the reputation of a young man who is no longer alive to defend himself.

Last night, I didn't comment much, choosing instead to share the words of others, mostly black women and men directly affected by this decision and overt and systemic racism. I felt it was my place to listen and to share their words. You can read all the Tweets I chose to share on my Twitter feed. There was so much more and I could not look away.

Eventually, though I had to go to bed. One of the last things I saw were the words of a black friend, saying that it's not enough for those of us with loads of white privilege to express solidarity. We need to do more.

She's right.

We need to do more because of what happened in Ferguson.

We need to do more because a 12 yearold black boy with a toy gun was shot by police officers in a neighbourhood park.

We need to do more because there are so many more stories like those I've just mentioned that don't even make the news.

We need to do more because racism is alive and well at home and around the world. And yes, that applies to those of us in Canada, too.

I'm still figuring out what “doing more” means for me. Here, to begin, are my own personal guidelines for dealing with racism in my world. I don't always succeed in adhering to them but I'm working on it:

Speak up when I see racism in my own community, city, country. Every time, even when it makes those around me uncomfortable.

Talk to my kids about what happened in Ferguson and about racism. Often. And not just when it results in someone's death.

Listen when others share their experiences. Ask how I can be supportive. Follow through.

Never be defensive or fearful when others raise the subject of race. Accept that when a person of colour says, “racism exists here”, “that is racist” or even “what you did was racist”, they are stating a fact that hopefully can be fixed and not saying that I'm an irredeemably horrible person.

I'm sure there's more. Like I said, I'm still figuring it out.

Every year, the adults on my spouse's side of the family make donations in each others' names instead of giving Christmas presents. In past years, we've donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, EGALE,  the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, the Ottawa Hospital Foundation and the Ottawa Food Bank. This year, I'd like to propose that my family direct our donations to those working to bring an end to racist inequality and injustice. I'd suggest that those of you who can, consider doing the same.

And if you have advice, as to where donations should be focused, please share. 

Further reading:

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

my living legacy

On October 1st (still playing catch up, bear with me), I had the privilege of being part of a lobby day organized by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network. Along with Niya Chari (CBCN's Government Relations Manager) and CBCN President Cathy Amandolea, I met with  Members of Parliament for the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives.

Specifically, we spoke of the need for greater awareness of metastatic breast cancer and funding and research needs, such as steering the focus away from early detection towards finding a cure. We addressed the fact that there is no centralized database of Canadian cancer statistics (we rely heavily on American data) and the need for a Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

We ended the day with a reception on Parliament Hill that was attended by representatives of all political parties, despite being a very busy evening on the Hill. Daniel and Tim came too, which made me happiest of all.

A highlight of the evening was the video "Living Legacy" (pasted below). It's pretty powerful.

I was supposed to be a part of the video but I had to cancel at the last minute (I'll explain why another day). I think it's pretty complete without me. These women are incredible and just as impressive and lovely in person as they are on screen.

It was really hard to tell my story over and over. I wanted to do it though, because I know how much more effective it is to generate interests when people can attach a real person to an issue. For the most part, I really felt heard though. Cathy and Niya were brilliant and I think we did a good job getting our message across.

Metastatic breast cancer is often invisible, especially in October. This day meant a long way to making us be seen and heard.

Monday, November 03, 2014

late to the party

My last post was called, "just under the wire." I sense a theme developing here. Perhaps it's better to get things up at the last minute or even late, rather than not at all.

Last Friday was Halloween and it was a milestone for my family - the first time in 16 years that my spouse and I were home together all evening. So weird.

Sacha dressed up for school, then helped a friend with his haunted house and watched Shaun of the Dead. He ended the evening with a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. We didn't actually see him from the time he left for school in the morning until we heard him and his friends come in after the show. We got some of the details over bagels the next morning (a few of the boys slept over). It sounds like it was a great evening.

Bob from Bob's Burgers

"Best Group Costume"

For the first year ever, Daniel went Trick or Treating without an adult. Two of his friends came over after dinner and they went to collect two other friends in the neighbourhood. They trick-or-treated for a while and then went to one boy's house to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice. Daniel came home tired and euphoric, with the smallest bag of candy I have ever seen on Halloween. Clearly far more time was spent walking and talking then actually trick or treating. It sounds like a great evening.

Space Cowboy, inspired by Sparks Nevada

The division of labour in our house was always such that I stayed home and gave out candy and Tim went out with the boys. This was my choice. Perversely, now that I will never get the chance, I wish I had gone out trick-or-treating with my kids at least once.

It wasn't a relaxing evening in our house. Toby, the dog we adopted in May, barks when the doorbell rings or someone knocks. This happens when he thinks he hears knocking (the other dog might just be scratching herself) or when he hears the doorbell on TV. Sometimes, he even barks when he hears somebody come down the stairs in the house. So Halloween? Drove him crazy. And he whipped Lucy into a frenzy. By the end of the evening my nerves were raw but the dogs seemed pretty happy. I think they had a great evening.

Gratuitous photo of Lucy (the co-barker) from last Halloween. The dogs wouldn't sit still
long enough for a photo in this year's Halloween hats.

I'm pleased to announce that I didn't eat any Halloween candy this year. But I might have had a whiskey. And some cheezies. They go surprisingly well together

Friday, October 31, 2014

just under the wire

It's the very last day of "breast cancer awareness" month and I have a post up at Mom 2.0 Summit, "Pinkwashing won't cure breast cancer":

"I care about bringing an end to breast cancer. As someone who has lived with the illness since first being diagnosed in 2006, I care very much. However, I don’t think buying fried chicken in a pink bucket or a pink screwdriver is going to change very much at all."

“Women with metastatic breast cancer never really fit in with others in the breast cancer community. To those who finish treatment, embrace the word “survivor," talk about “winning their battle" and never looking back, we represent the worst that can happen. Who wouldn't want to believe that if you stay strong through treatment, stay positive and do everything right, you will get to leave cancer behind?”

I hate pink ribbons and pinktober for a whole host of reasons that I realize I can now rattle off in a two minute rant. Ask me some time. It could be my new party trick.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

some good news for a change

Something good was announced last week and I nearly missed it.

A news release from the Canadian Breast Cancer Network landed in my inbox last Wednesday. It contained the fantastic news that Kadcyla (formerly known as TDM-1) has been approved "on a time limited basis" for "HER-2 positive, metastatic breast cancer patients who have initiated or completed at least two lines of HER-2 targeted therapy and who have not received Kadcyla in previous lines of therapy."

This is very positive news. As I wrote in back in June, the drug was initially only approved for women in their "second line" of treatment which would exclude me. This despite the fact the many women in later phases of treatment have responded enormously well to the drug (each stage of chemotherapy/targeted therapy treatment is a "line." If one line fails or stops working, a patient is moved on to the next. I have been in my second line of treatment since being diagnosed with metastasis in November 2007.)

In other words, this announcement means that I, a woman with Her2+ metastatic breast cancer, will potentially be eligible for Kadcyla when if Herceptin fails.

This has been a rough week in Canada. The events of last Wednesday completely eclipsed this news, even for those of us who care deeply. I live in Ottawa. My kids' schools and my husbands office were locked down all day. My brother-in-law works at the House of Commons and was very close to where bullets were fired. I spent the day glued to my computer screen, watching the news and refreshing Twitter. Despite a host of rumours, it was a great relief to learn at the end of the day that there had only been one gunman but for much of the day, we just didn't know. It was harrowing. And such a tragedy.

I decided to wait for the dust to settle to post this little bit of news but then another big, sad story erupted on the weekend and I once again found myself glued to social media. Last night, there were some I follow posting pictures of kittens and puppies on Twitter, just to have something more positive to in their news streams. 

My contribution to adding #somethingnice to my Twitter stream. A dog in  Hallowe'en costume!

So while the dust hasn't settled, I wanted to share my own little bit of something positive. I'm just left wondering what "for a limited time" means. Will the province then withdraw coverage? Or is this like a trial to see if it makes sense to continue?

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network calls this "a step in the right direction." Let's hope the province takes more and more permanent steps soon. Let's keep the good news coming.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

so i voted

Yesterday, municipal elections were held across Ontario. We elected our mayors, city councillors and school trustees. And I almost didn't vote.

I had a few friends ask me, in the days before the election, "Who are the progressive candidates? How are you voting?" I was at a loss to answer.

The truth is that our mayor, while not running unopposed, might as well have been. And while I acknowledge that he's very hardworking, I'm not a big fan.

My city councillor seems like a decent enough guy but I have not found him to be very responsive, the couple of times I've had to contact his office. I've also heard interviews with him, where he seems to arguing both sides of any given scenario. I'm not sure that makes him very effective at city hall. At any rate, he too seemed to running without any real opposition.

The candidate for school trustee was literally running without opposition, as he was acclaimed.

In my corner of Ottawa, the election was not very exciting and participation didn't seem compelling.

Then my kids overheard my spouse and I talking about the election and asked why I was considering not going to the polls on voting day. I had a hard time coming up with an answer that didn't sound apathetic and lazy to my own ears.

In 1988, I was part of an exchange program, that took me first to Alberta and then India. While we were overseas, a federal election was going to take place. At that time, people out of the country for an exchange program could not vote in advance polls or cast a special ballot (this loophole has long been changed). I was bitterly disappointed, as this would have been the first election since I had come of age.

The other thing I remember is that in my group of 7 Canadians (and seven Indians who looked on with interest), I was the only one who cared that we couldn't vote. As someone who bitterly opposed the sitting government, I wanted to have my say.

I have come to understand the perspective of some of my friends. We are not going to affect great change solely through the ballot box. I guess I've just decided that the ballot box is still important.

My kids are interested and engaged with the world around them. I don't want to send the message that their mother is apathetic or so jaded that she couldn't be bothered to walk three blocks to the polling station.

So I picked up my youngest from school yesterday and took him with me to vote. He watched me fill in my ballot and submit it for tabulation (electronic! Can anyone explain to me why we don't have this at the federal level?). In the end, I filled out my choice for councillor on the single ballot but didn't vote for any mayoral candidate. On the way home, we discussed how I had filled in my ballot and my reasons for making the choices that I did.

All over the world there are those who are denied the right to vote. As a woman, I have only had that right for a short part of my country's history. Showing up at the polls may not change much but I'm glad I have the chance to do so. And I want my kids to understand the range of options they can use to make their voices heard, even in a tiny way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

hold the duct tape

"Women with disabilities often experience health disparity. For instance, in a 2010 study of the barriers preventing women with disabilities from getting screened for breast cancer as often as is recommended, is, believe it or not, lack of physician recommendation. In other words, doctors don’t talk to women with disabilities about getting screened for breast cancer. This is often also the case for pap tests. In a Canadian study (PDF), women with disabilities reported often only receiving healthcare in the narrow area of what is directly related to their disability."

Did you know that women with disabilities often face huge barriers when it comes to breast cancer screening? A conversation with my friend Lene left my jaw on the floor (and I truly thought I'd heard it all). She's written about it on her blog, The Seated View. And be prepared, the duct tape reference is not a joke.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

just skip the anesthesia. he's tough.

My oldest son had his wisdom teeth out today. While I worried and waited, I got to thinking about managing his pain and remembering the aftermath of my brain surgery two years ago. I made a bunch of notes for a blog post about this and then thought to do a search of this blog. It turns out I wrote a post on exactly this subject almost a year ago. 


Can I blame these lapses in memory on the brain surgery or just on aging? Or stress?

My son's procedure went well and he is now very stoned and asleep in his room. To pay for all this we had to put 1800.00 on our credit card.

This is mind-boggling to me. Why is this not covered by public health care?I know the historical reason why (the first wave of Medicare was supposed to be followed by dental care and a Pharmacare program. That never happened.) but doesn't it cost the province much more to hospitalize someone whose wisdom teeth have become impacted?

Dental care is a real "don't get me started." Ask anyone who knows me.

Fortunately, my private insurance will cover most of the cost. However, it only covers part of the cost of anesthesia. What would have happened if we had been unwilling to pay the difference? Our 16 year old son would only have been partially anesthetized while they yanked out his wisdom teeth? 

This mystifies me.

And it's only a small taste of what we'd experience if we didn't have socialized medicine.

Gratuitous photo of my handsome son, with all wisdom teeth still in his mouth

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

happy new year!

Today is the first day of school in these parts. We all had mixed feelings about it. Summer went by way too fast for me and I think we all revelled in the things we did (a week at the cottage, an overnight in Montreal, a few days in New York) and the things we didn't (lots of sleeping in, watching movies, reading books and hanging out). I'm very conscious these days of how quickly time is passing.

Last year, I wrote a post called "new beginnings" and here I am again. For me (and I suspect for many people), the first day of school will always mark the new year, way more than that first day in January.

Daniel is in Grade 6.

Sacha is in Grade 11.

This is obviously not a first day of school photo. But that was never going to happen.
Summer is over.

It's time to get begin the new year.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


The random number generator has spoken and Shari and Jo will get copies of "Getting Past the Fear. A Guide to Help you Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy." I just need your contact info! You can send me an email by clicking on the photo of my book (Not Done Yet) in the right sidebar. Congratulations!

Friday, June 20, 2014

bloggers who live with mets and write about that and other things

The other day, Katherine O'Brien shared a Pinterest board called "Metastatic Breast Cancer: Stage 4 People and their Stories." I'm not on Pinterest but I clicked through and was floored by all the beautiful and interesting people from so many different walks of life. So many are so young. So many of little kids, as I did when I was first diagnosed.

It got me thinking how much connections with others has mattered to me over the last 8 years. I looked back at some of my own lists. I looked at the blogrolls of others. And I realized that far too many of these amazing women are no longer with us.

Today's post is not about the sadness and anger I feel when I think about how many wonderful women have been lost to metastatic breast cancer and how little is actually being done to address our needs. 

Today's post is about our voices. About making a new list of women who are living with metastatic breast cancer and writing about that - and so many other things.

In no particular order:

Katherine O'Brien  I Hate Breast Cancer 


Catherine Brunelle Bumpyboobs 


Anna Craig 


Lisa Bonchek Adams 


The Sarcastic Boob 


Ann Silberman Breast Cancer? But Doctor...I hate pink! 


Jen at Booby and the Beast 


Carolyn Frayn Art of Breast Cancer 


Lulu Change Living Life Furiously 


Uppity Cancer Patient 


Telling Knots 


Kate Kate Has Cancer


Jill Dancing with Cancer

Vicki, Inspiring Breast Metatastatic Breast Cancer Advocacy


Susan Rahn, StickIt2Stage4


Sarah Illingworth 

Victory Over BC




Jude Callirgos



Chantelle Chantelle's blog

Nicole Jasien Walk By Faith Not Sight

Honorary club member: 

Nancy Stordahl at Nancy's Point


Nancy doesn't have metastatic breast cancer and I hope she never joins us but she supported her mother through mets, has been through treatment herself and is a "staunch advocate" for metastatic breast cancer.

The organizations that don't ignore us:

Metastatic Breast Cancer Network




Canadian Breast Cancer Network


ReThink Breast Cancer


This isn't the end. For our stories or for this list. I welcome additions from Twitter or the blogosphere. Just let me know.

Last winter, there was a bit of shitstorm about whether those of us living with mets had the right to be talking about it publicly. It was aimed at Lisa Bonchek Adams but lots of us took it very personally. For me, it brought a re-newed commitment to keep telling all of my story, including the parts about cancer, as honestly and openly as I can (as Lisa so consistently does, with grace, patience and clarity).

I struggled with what to call this post. I personally hate being called a "cancer blogger" because that's not all that I am. I don't even write about cancer in every post. I settled for the rather unwieldy title, above, because I think that's who we are: women, all different from each other, with interesting lives, who write about living with mets and whatever else is of interest to them. I hope to write more about each of them, in the next few months.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

book review: Getting Past the Fear. A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy

Nancy Stordahl is an outspoken breast cancer advocate. She's been through treatment herself and lived through her mother's illness and death from metastatic disease. She started her blog, Nancy's Point, when she was still in treatment and continues to write there today. Nancy is generous with her experience and supportive of others living through breast cancer. Who better, then, to write a guide to conquering the fear of chemotherapy?

Not just another advice manual, Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help you Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy is full of advice and personal observations. It's not a long book, only 60 pages, but to my mind that's a serious advantage. I couldn't concentrate on very much at all when I was first facing treatment. I was given many books that ended up being helpful and interesting but I couldn't read any of them during the weeks leading up to chemotherapy. Nancy understands this and wastes no time getting right to the point (get it? Just like her blog?)

Getting Past the Fear is full of practical tips, many of which I have never read anywhere else. For example, if I had known that you can get a head cap to fit under your wig "to help keep cooler and minimize itching", I might have actually tried to wear one! And it would have been very helpful to know before my first treatment that it's perfectly OK to unplug the IV (from the wall, not your arm!) and wheel everything to the bathroom. Treatment involves a lot of liquid. No one needs a bladder infection added to their list of chemo side effects.

Nancy is very clear that her experience is just that, and that yours might differ and so might your choices. I do think though that most cancer patients will benefit from considering her advice -  to keep a journal, ask for help when you need it, do your research and bring your list of questions to appointments with your oncologist.

Nancy also suggests planning a getaway, to give yourself a break before, during and/or after treatment. In a passage that I especially loved, she writes of her trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior with her husband:
"During that time away, we spent precious moments sitting on our private balcony marveling at the vastness and beauty of the ever-changing water, reveling in leisurely meals...and enjoying each others' company...One afternoon, there was even a brief, lovely wedding ceremony that took place directly below our balcony. The bride and groom and all their guests never once looked up, so they never realized they had two more unannounced wedding guests. Observing an intimate occasion...was a nice reminder of the fact that life was carrying on."
If reading all of Getting Past the Fear seems too daunting right now, you can dip in and out. Read the chapter headings and the conclusions in bold that Nancy has inserted at the end of each chapter. Check out the list of questions for your oncologist. Read the parts that speak to you, then stick the book in your purse for when you next need Nancy's advice. She's even left you a few pages at the end to add your own questions and observations. And if digital media is more your thing, download the ebook for your tablet, phone or ereader.

Nancy ends her book with the following quote: "What lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." (author unknown) 

That sums up the book's message rather nicely: You will get through this. You are not alone.

For more information on how to buy Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy is its various formats, visit Nancy's Point. The blog is also a great resource for anyone facing breast cancer at any stage.

Nancy's offered two copies of her book, one ebook and one physical copy. Let me know in the comments, if you would like either. If more than one person is interested, I'll choose recipients at random.

The author, with some friends.

Update: Would Jo Bucktin and Alene contact me, please? I need to get the info to send you you book!

Monday, June 16, 2014

not just about breast cancer

Today's post is a guest post from the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. This is the first guest post ever on this blog but I wanted to share this issue and felt it would be best if someone from MCA explained the issue in their own words.

Here are some facts provided by Cameron Von St. James, whose wife Heather is a mesothelioma survivor. Note that while Cameron is in the US and writes about that country, asbestos is not banned in Canada, either (Update: This is the June 16 editorial from the Globe and Mail: "Ottawa's sunny outlook on asbestos is out of step with the facts."). In fact, Canada's Mesothelioma Center says our country's "mesothelioma cancer rate is now one of the highest in the world."

Have you ever heard of mesothelioma? Most people have no idea how serious this disease can be unless they’ve been personally affected or have seen the never ending commercials. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer and unfortunately, the only way to develop this cancer is exposure to asbestos. Sadly, there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, so any individual who has been exposed has a high risk for developing mesothelioma. 
There are many eye-opening facts about this disease such as:
•    “Asbestos” means inextinguishable in Greek.
•    Inhaled or ingested broken asbestos fibers may cause an inflammation of internal tissue and disrupt organ function, which leads to the development of mesothelioma. 
•    Asbestos was used extensively in the mid 1900s and is still not banned in the United States today. 30 million pounds of asbestos are still used each year.
•    Symptoms usually don’t show up for 20 to 60 years after you’ve been exposed to asbestos.
•    Once diagnosed, mesothelioma patients have many options for treatment. Conventional treatment options for mesothelioma include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance has dedicated a significant amount of time in making their site the best resource for patients, families, and individuals who are interested in learning more about the disease. Their mission is to spread awareness in hopes they can prevent this from happening to another family.

Update, June 19: The Globe and Mail "Debate" section has a new article, 

Asbestos exposure: We’re just at the beginning of a health crisis and a longer piece in the Report on Business, called "No Safe Use" .It's a scathing indictment of the ongoing refusal of the Canadian government to even acknowledge the problem, let alone take measures to protect it's people. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

health care is an election issue

I heard on the radio this morning that health care has not been a key issue during this provincial election. I disagree. Maybe the media hasn't picked it up, but health care has been very much on the radar for several groups and the people who support them.

The Fair Cancer Care campaign asks that everyone sign a petition and get their candidates to support access to the best chemotherapies regardless of cost or ability to pay.

Cancertainty has pulled together more than 40 organizations to get the province to pay for oral chemotherapy. The majority of new chemotherapies will be oral and are not currently paid for by OHIP, as they are not administered in the hospital.

Prostate Cancer Canada has been lobbying hard for OHIP to pay for PSA tests, so prostate cancer can be diagnosed and treated earlier.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network asked all the major parties if they would:

  • Take measures to shorten the approval times for reimbursement decisions on drugs for metastatic breast cancer patients?
  • Put in place a timely review mechanism for the applications of cancer drugs on compassionate grounds?
  • They only heard back from the Liberals and the Conservatives (who provided a form letter that didn't address the question at all).

    I'm certain that health care is a major issue for all who live in Ontario, particularly as our population ages. Tomorrow, vote for health care. 

    After the election, let's make sure that equitable access to excellent, high quality health care remains an issue that must be addressed.

    Tuesday, June 03, 2014

    please be kind on election day

    Three years ago, I took a job as a Deputy Returning Officer for Elections Ontario. I'd read a post by Zoom about how she worked during one election and it intrigued me. At that time, I was mostly pushing myself to step outside my comfort zone

    Fast forward to June 2014. It turns out that while it feels like much too soon for another election, three years is enough to forget - much like childbirth - the agony of 18 hours of pain, anxiety and boredom.

    So I'm doing it again.

    Last week I went to the mandatory training session. It turns out that only some of the candidates and the Returning Office have changed. We were given the same materials, shown the same videos and the training was delivered by the same people. The only difference was that since the last viewing, I have coincidentally met some of the actors (all from Ottawa) used in the video.

    The Deputy Returning Officer is responsible for setting up the poll, handing out and keeping track of ballots, monitoring the vote and counting the ballots at the end of the evening. There are many, many details involved and quite a bit of responsibility (including determining the validity of ballots at the end of the evening) and yet almost anyone can get hired to do the job. They don't ask for any information from applicants except address, contact information and confirmation that you are over 18.

    I imagine it's possible that someone from Elections Ontario does a quick background check but that's really it. If you've ever marvelled at the incompetence of election day staff, it's because there is absolutely nothing done to weed anyone out. And they still have a hard time attracting enough people.

    Part of the problem could be the amount of work relative to the wages. The Information Assistants (the only workers who don't have to be of legal voting age) are paid $13/hour just for greeting people at the door. I worked it out and I think I'll only be getting a few cents more than that. There are no breaks and the whole poll has to close every time I go to the bathroom (I'd better time my bladder to need tending during the quiet hours).

    The thing I'm the most concerned about is spending the great bulk of my time (14 hours or so) sitting by the Poll Clerk (the person who finds voters on the lists of electors and crosses them off). This person might be perfectly innocuous or even lovely but if makes for an even longer day. Last time, I worked with a university student who was nice enough but kept taking longer and longer "bathroom breaks." At what point do you take someone on about less than acceptable behaviour when you have to keep working with them?

    You might well be asking yourself why I'm bothering to do this at all. Consider it my contribution to the electoral process. I've complained enough over the years that it feels good to be doing my part. I did enjoy getting glimpses of friends and neighbours on voting day. And, if I'm not too tired to remember anything, it can be great inspiration for writing.

    Tim thinks that people are so irritated about going to the polls that voter turnout will be low. I worry that voters will show up to the polls and take out the irritation on elections staff. Either way (and even if things go well), I'll likely regret my decision some time during the day.

    And on June 13 and likely for a few days after that, I plan on being exhausted.

    Monday, June 02, 2014

    not as simple as it would seem

    As someone living with metastatic breast cancer, I pay keen attention to the development of new cancer drugs. And of course I pay particular attention to the drugs that are likely to one day benefit me.

    I have been on Herceptin for 7.5 years. My response was rapid and complete and there is no sign that the drug has stopped working. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't worry about the future and how I will proceed once I come to the end of the line with this miracle drug.

    Enter trastuzumab emtansine, or TDM-1, as it was more commonly known. Over the last couple of years, I watched with great interest as clinical trials occurred all over North America. I have been personally in touch with several women who had as thorough a response to TDM-1 as I did to Herceptin. It was very exciting.

    Then the trials ended and we had to wait for Health Canada to grant their approval. When that hurdle was cleared, I breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the sigh was a little premature.

    The time between Health Canada approval and provincial funding can be long and complicated. Once Health Canada grants its approval, a body called the Pan Oncology Drug Review (pCODR) assesses the drug, a process that can take up to 149 days. After pCODR makes a recommendation, each province decides if it will fund it. And while this is happening, Ontario, unlike some other provinces "...does not have a mechanism in place that would grant cancer patients access on compassionate grounds to a drug that has been approved by Health Canada."

    I heard last week from the Canadian Breast Cancer Network that TDM-1, now known as Kadcyla, has been approved for funding "for the treatment of patients with HER2-positive, unresectable locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer who have received prior treatment with trastuzumab (Herceptin)and taxane". Phew.

    [Update: I learned from Delaney (see the comments and the Toronto Star interview) that OHIP funding will only be granted for "second line treatment." Should I need Kadcyla, it will be for third line treatment, as I will already have done my first 6 rounds of TAC (first line) and then the vinorelbine and Herceptin combo (second line). I'm only on Herceptin now but the treatment that follows will be third line. That means I'll only get Kadcyla if my private insurance will cover it. This despite the fact that I have known women who've had Kadcyla as a third line treatment, with great success.]

    CBCN is urging voters to contact "local candidates and ask them their stance on improving access to breast cancer treatments." Improving access to cancer drugs is also a goal of If you haven't already signed our petition, please do so today. You can also ask your local candidates to sign our pledge to advocate for fair cancer care in Ontario. This is super easy to do and takes almost no time at all via the website.

    Meanwhile, I've also heard from CBCN that a drug that crosses the brain-blood barrier is in a phase 2 clinical trial. Will this drug be as effective as it promises to be? Will it be available by the time I need it? 

    I'm holding my breath a little.

    snarky brilliance credit: Andrea Ross

    Monday, May 26, 2014

    only love

    A couple of weekends ago, my family spent the day in Prince Edward County, celebrating my father-in-law's 75 birthday. It was a wonderful day and we were all pretty tired on the long drive home. 

    Since the kids both had there headphones on, I started looking through my ipod for music I hadn't heard in a while. I decided I was in the mood for PEI's Lennie Gallant (did you know that practically every second person on the East side of PEI is named Gallant? It really is the name on every other mailbox).

    As we listened, Tim and I remembered that one of our first dates was a Lennie Gallant concert at Artspace in Peterborough. I will never forget that evening. Lennie definitely has a special place in my heart.

    As we listened, I remembered that, after I quit a job many years ago, I played a song of his over and over in my office. I even had the lyrics taped to my computer. For my last three weeks in the office, I listened to it many times a day.

    I thought it was an angry song that I used to bolster myself through a difficult time. I couldn't recall what it was but as the first notes came through the speakers, I remembered.

    And it went like this: 

    "Only love will guide us through this time
    As long as there's one flame
    We have a lifeline"

    I was so surprised and pleased to be reminded that, at at time when I was very angry, I was affirming to myself that love would get me through.

    I wrote this post in my head that Saturday night in the car and then kind of forgot about it. But now, as emotions are running high around the Ontario election, I feel the need to remind myself what matters.

    Love isn't the only thing we need to effect real change but it is the most necessary ingredient. We can't get anywhere without it.