Thursday, January 31, 2013

EVERYBODY TALKS

My life with cancer was beginning.  It seemed to me that things were happening rather quickly but the sooner I could get started then the sooner I would be rid of this cancer.  I was putting on a good front but I was a bit scared.  However, the more people I told then the more optimistic and hopeful I felt.  This was a bump in the road for us and not the end of the road.

Hockey Parents - Fall 2006
I suppose that everyone who is diagnosed with cancer has to figure out how to deal with it in their own way.  For me, I decided that I wanted to tell as many people as possible about the cancer and the upcoming chemo.  I didn’t want to show up in places around town like the arena for my kids hockey, the grocery store, or the school and be bald or not looking like myself and have people talking about me behind my back and wondering what was wrong with me.  I also didn’t want to hide away until it was over.  I wanted to live my life as normally as possible.  I would go to my kids hockey practices and games, I would attend social functions and parties, I would go to school meetings with teachers, I would go shopping and all those other things that I love to do.  This cancer was not going to shut me down and stop me from living my life.  I was going to carry on and fight this with everything I had in me.  I needed to do this for me.  For my husband and for my children.  They especially needed to see me doing all the things I usually did as often as possible.

I think I’m a pretty positive person most of the time so I really needed to draw on this now more than ever.  I believe there is power in being positive and it certainly doesn’t help to sit around feeling sorry for myself.  What good would that do?  It wouldn’t make me feel better and it would most definitely not make my family feel very good.  So I would be using that positive energy each and every day.  I might have down days and that is to be expected.  However, I would try to minimize those as best as I could.


Dr.Evil & Mini-Me
The main reason I was going to have to tell people soon was that if I was going to lose my hair it would be obvious that something was up.  Mike is already bald so we were going to be a bit of an odd-looking pair.  I’m only 4’11” and he is 6’2” so with the bald heads we had the potential to look like “Me” and “Mini-Me” (for those fans of Austin Powers you will know what I’m talking about).

As I did when I told my girlfriends about the cancer, I turned to my computer and composed another series of emails to send out to friends, family, hockey acquaintances, etc.  Soon we had told mostly everyone.  We made a decision to tell the parents of our kids friends in person.  I didn’t want their children seeing me and finding out about the cancer and getting scared that if it happened to me then it could happen to their Mom too.  I wanted their own parents to explain this in a way that they knew their kids would understand.  Most people aren’t ready for this kind of thing and they don’t teach about cancer in elementary school.

I suppose I just wanted everyone around me and my family to feel comfortable.  Feeling comfortable is good.

Everybody Talks - Neon Trees

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

We had the diagnosis and the treatment plan.  This was now life “during” cancer.  So much for life “before cancer”.  We had to merge this new reality into our everyday lives which, for the moment, was going to change drastically.

Gore Bay - Summer 2006
I had to start with my work.  Do I just call them up and say, “Sorry but I won’t be in for few months.  I kinda have cancer.”  I had to find a way to tell them.  It’s funny how your job can be so all-consuming and you spend hours there every day and then come home and maybe do more work or check your emails or your blackberry or just think about work and all that has yet to be done and your deadlines and meetings and then all of a sudden – none of that matters. 

It seemed that work had just disappeared from the priorities in my life and completely dropped off the table.  Once I’d received this latest information on the treatment plan I realized that I had to advise my office what was going on.  I really wasn’t too sure how to do this.  How do you just announce something like this and then leave the place you’ve been for the past seven years?  To my knowledge there had never been anyone at my workplace that had left because of cancer.  How could that be when the statistics are so high for people getting cancer?  Was I the first one?  Maybe I was.  That kind of felt like a big responsibility to me to be able to get through this and come back as some kind of role model for others.  Could I be that person for my colleagues?  I hoped that I could someday help someone else based on the experiences that I was going to be having.

Me & My Sweet Godson - Summer 2006
When I went in to work that last part of August 2006, my boss came in to see me.  She wanted to know if I was okay because she’d received a message that I had some health issues.  She had no idea what those health issues were.  I was thankful that my boss was a woman.  I would not have been as comfortable telling a male boss about the whole breast cancer thing.  No offense to the guys but I just felt more comfortable with a female coworker.  So, I did that thing that I was getting good at.  I took a few deep breaths, swallowed back the lump in my throat, and made some decisions.  I asked if we could talk in her office.  Then we sat down and I just blurted it out.  I mean I had gone over this in my mind a million times as to how I would say it and what I would do but then I just said it.  I felt bad after because I think my boss was a bit taken aback by my announcement.  However she was so amazing with everything.  She wanted to know what she could do.  The only thing that I asked for was that she tell the CEO and the rest of our department and all the staff.  I didn’t really want to do that but I wanted everyone to know why I had disappeared.  I didn’t want any office gossip that I had checked into rehab or something.  I wanted the truth out there. 

I can’t remember all that clearly but I think I came back to work for another day or so to finish some things up before leaving for an indefinite period of time.  I was very lucky that we had a good health plan at work.  That was a great relief and of course reduced the stress somewhat.

When the message got out to all the staff that I would be leaving and the reason why, I received an onslaught of emails and phone calls almost immediately.  On the last day I had a line-up outside my door of colleagues and friends that wanted to come and see me.  Some of them spoke a lot and others simply said that they didn’t know what to say.  I completely understood but I was just touched by how many people genuinely cared.  Either that or they were just scared because if it happened to me it could happen to anyone right?  Even them.

The enormity of how many people could be affected directly and indirectly by my diagnosis was starting to hit me.  I needed to say goodbye to my co-workers but I knew I’d be back.  I just didn’t know when.  I needed to pack up some of my personal things and tie up a few loose ends and then slip out quietly.

On to the next part of my life.

Taking Care of Business - Bachman & Turner


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Sunday, January 27, 2013

I WANT A NEW DRUG


We had just been informed of the chemotherapy treatment plan and what that would involve.  It was a ton of information to take in and try to understand.  It was also really hard to grasp the fact that Dr. Oncologist was actually talking about ME and not someone else.

My Kids & I - Animal Kingdom, Summer 2006
My oncologist confirmed that I was going to lose my hair and it could start as soon as a couple of weeks after the first treatment.  I was going to be at high risk for infections because my white blood cells would be considerably reduced and I would have a weakened ability to fight infections.  If I got a fever I was going to have to go to emergency at the hospital right away.  I was going to be prone to bruising and bleeding because I would have fewer platelets than normal.  I was going to have my sense of taste and appetite affected.  I was going to have to rethink everyday things and really pay attention to things that I normally wouldn’t have.  If I heard someone coughing for example, I’d have to move away from them right away.  If it was one of my children then I couldn’t be around them.  Who would look after them?  How could I not hug them and snuggle up when they got sick and try to make them feel better?  I couldn’t floss my teeth or go to the dentist because of the potential bleeding.  I would have to constantly wash my hands.  I couldn’t take anything with ASA but only Tylenol.  I was going to have to avoid certain foods and drinks.  I was going to have to drink lots of water.  So many things to think about.

I was given some fact sheets on the two different chemo drugs that I would be getting for the first four rounds.  Basically this was the scoop on the ingredients in the “cocktail” that I would be served.  The first one was called Doxorubicon (Docs-oh-RUBE-i-sin) which is also known as Adriamycin.  Some people also call it “the red devil”.  Besides the side effects that I already mentioned, this one could cause irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, swelling of the feet, diarrhea, itching, and skin rash.  Just lovely.  The second drug that I would take in combination with that one for these first four rounds of chemo was called Cyclophosphamide (sigh-clo-FOS-fa-mide) which is also known as Cytoxan or Procytox.  This one had the usual side effects and also included dizziness, confusion, agitation, missed menstrual period (hey a bonus!), weakness, swelling of legs, bladder pain, hives, and yellow skin or eyes.  Wonderful.  Even the names of these drugs just screamed “chemicals” and I know they are to help but couldn’t they come up with some better sounding names?!?

Mike & I - Epcot Centre, Summer 2006
A different cocktail would be served for the last four rounds of chemo.  You’d think with words like “cocktail” and “rounds” that this would be a lot more fun right?  I wasn’t having any fun at all and I probably would have quite enjoyed disappearing to the closest pub for a round and then on to the bar for some cocktails.  Anyway, the next drug combo lined up for me was going to include Docetaxel (doe-she-TAX-ell), also known as Taxotere, instead of the red devil.

Well that was fun wasn’t it?  I was also given a time to go to a teaching session at the Cancer Centre about chemotherapy.  Great.  I was going to learn a whole lot more of this fun stuff.  Dr. Oncologist answered whatever questions we could muster up at the time and then promised that we’d get a call soon to set up the dates for the first chemo session.  Then we wished each other a good weekend and we left.  I think he had a much better weekend than we did.

We got a call right after the weekend.  I would begin my first treatment on September 7.  Lucky number 7.  That was only a few weeks away.  I had to prepare.  Where would I start?

I Want A New Drug - Huey Lewis & the News



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Friday, January 25, 2013

DOWN WITH THE SICKNESS

Carter Bay - Summer 2005
After the longest two days ever, we were finally able to see Dr. Oncologist.  We didn’t have to wait too long and as promised he fit us in at the end of the afternoon.  He too was a very nice man and we both felt comfortable with him.  Mike actually thought that under different circumstances he was the kind of guy you could just sit down with and have a beer and chat about pretty much anything.  Dr. Oncologist was in agreement with Dr. Surgeon that chemotherapy was the first step in this process.  After that there would be surgery and most likely that would be a mastectomy.  Radiation might follow if that was deemed necessary.

Me in BC - Summer 2006
Dr. Oncologist recommended that I have eight rounds of chemotherapy.  Once every three weeks.  I was doing the math in my head and that was going to bring us into next year.  He went on to explain that I would be receiving four rounds of one combination of chemotherapy drugs and then four more rounds with a different combination.  I didn’t know anything about chemotherapy except for the pictures I’d seen of bald, pale and sickly looking people and I knew that many people indeed got very, very sick while on chemotherapy.  The word “chemotherapy” was scary.  I had always thought it was something that was a last ditch effort to save people’s lives.  I thought it was something that in itself could nearly kill a person or at a minimum cause severe illness and horrible side effects.  I needed to learn more and find out exactly what chemotherapy was.

So I asked some questions and did some more reading.  I found out that chemotherapy is simply the treatment of cancer involving the use of various drugs.  The drugs, in my case, would be injected into a vein (intravenously) using an IV drip.  There are other ways to administer chemo drugs and some people can take them orally in a tablet form.  The chemo drugs are designed to kill fast-growing cells.  Cancer cells are fast-growing and they also reproduce rather quickly.  However, there are also good cells in the body that are fast growing and these ones can get damaged by the chemo and cause many side effects for the person undergoing the chemo treatment.
Mike & I - Spring 2005

Some of the normal good cell activities that can be affected include the cells that multiply in the hair follicles, the ones in your mouth, nose, nails and the ones in your bone marrow.  This is where the components of your blood are produced including red blood cells, white blood cells, and the platelets (blood cells needed for clotting).  Chemo would affect these cells and in addition to these possible side effects, there were a whole bunch of other things that could happen too.  Some of the more common side effects include vomiting, nausea, hair loss, bruising, anemia, low blood counts, susceptibility to infections, mouth sores, fatigue, and each of the two different drugs had its own list.  On top of that, there were medications to help combat things such as nausea but then these medications had side effects too.

This was crazy and just so much information to figure out.  Was my body going to be able to handle all of this? 

Down With The Sickness - Disturbed





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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I'M GONNA LOVE YOU THROUGH IT



Mike & I - Niagara Falls, Summer 2005
We had had just received the results from the MRI.  Mike and I were sitting, a little bit taken aback, in that pastel-colored room with this new revelation that there was going to be a lot more to this than we had thought.  Or that we had hoped for.  Mike was holding my hand and his eyes were all watery.  Maybe it was just my eyes that were all watery but everything was kind of a blur.  Literally and also figuratively.

We were trying to absorb everything we had just been told and were so stunned that we didn’t even know what questions to ask.  Finally I asked one.  It seemed to me to be the only one to ask at that moment.  “What do we need to do to get rid of this?”  I was actually starting to get a bit angry and I just wanted to get going on whatever I needed to do now to kill this cancer.  Dr. Surgeon felt that we should start with chemotherapy first in order to kill any cancer cells that might be in my body.  This would prevent anything from growing or spreading and it would also help to shrink the tumor so that the surgery might be less invasive.  Apparently this cancer was quite aggressive.

Happy Couple - Manitoulin Island,
Summer 2006
He called the oncologist (I will refer to him as Dr. Oncologist), at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre.  The two doctors spoke on the phone about me while we waited.  When he left the room to make this phone call we just looked at each other.  My tall, strong, handsome husband looked like he was about to cry and it was breaking my heart.  I hated that he was so sad and hurting so much.  Mike told me that he was sorry because he was supposed to be the one that was being strong for me but that he just couldn’t help it and here he was the one that was falling apart.  We just held on to each other and I knew that he would love me through this and beyond.  This was happening to both of us and we would need to lean on each other.  I could understand how he felt because if it was the other way around I would be feeling the same way.  I knew that he was feeling helpless and just not too sure what to do or what to say.  He had convinced himself that we were going to come to see the doctor today and find out that the lumpectomy would be scheduled and maybe some radiation and then I’d be through it all in a matter of weeks.  He wasn’t prepared for what we had just found out.  I had the worst case scenario in my mind so I suppose that eased the news a bit for me.  Either way we were moving ahead now with the next step in the process.  Whatever that might be.

Mike & I - Montreal, Easter 2012
Dr. Surgeon finished his call with Dr. Oncologist.  They had decided that I needed to see the oncologist as soon as possible and together a decision on next steps would be made.  Neither of them wanted to delay this and did not want to wait for an available appointment.  Dr. Oncologist asked me to come in on Friday and he would see me as soon as he was done with his regular appointments.  The fact that they were rushing this scared me because it made me feel like my time was running out but it also comforted me to know that there were specialists looking out for me.  Since it was Wednesday I had two days to wait.  Again we were leaving with more answers but a whole new batch of questions.  Everything was happening awfully quickly.  I had heard the word “oncologist” before but I never really knew exactly what it meant.  Now I know that an oncologist is a doctor that specializes in the treatment of patients with cancer.  I would be seeing a few of them over the coming months.

We drove home with our hearts heavy and our heads pounding.  We were both on information and emotional overload.

NOTE:  Listen to this song.  Really listen to the words. 
It is amazing.  I cry every time I hear it.

I'm Gonna Love You Through It - Martina McBride



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Saturday, January 19, 2013

A CHANGE WILL DO YOU GOOD

My Father's Garden - Summer 2006

On the 23 of August we went to the Women’s Breast Health Centre again to meet with Dr. Surgeon (obviously not his real name) about the MRI results.  This was my Mom’s birthday.  She would have been 67 on that day.  It’s kind of weird that so many dates have been significant ones for me.  Finding the lump on June 3 was the day that Louis had died.  I had the mammogram on my wedding anniversary on July 4.  I was getting the MRI results on my Mom’s birthday.  Dates have always been something that I remember well and there have always been important things that seem to happen around them in my life.  Maybe I just notice those things more than other people might or maybe its coincidence but I believe there is something more to it than that.  Here’s two more noteworthy dates.  My Mom died on Good Friday and the day before Mike’s birthday.  I had a miscarriage between my two kids and the due date had been August 23 for that pregnancy – my Mom’s birthday.  I went on to have Tasza and she was born on my birthday on February 21.  Life and death seem to be intertwined in these dates.  Weird.  But I digress.
  
Manitoulin Island - Summer 2006
Anyway, we were waiting in the pastel colored room for Dr. Surgeon to come in and go over the MRI results.  I’m still not a fan of the pastel colors.  I doubt I ever will be.  When he arrived he got right to the point and told us that the results were not what he had hoped.  What?  Apparently I was the perfect example of why he likes to do MRIs before making any decisions on surgery procedures.  The MRI showed quite a bit more than the mammogram had.  Huh?  Now what?  Change of plans.

Dr. Surgeon drew some diagrams for us so that we could try to visualize what he was going to tell us about.  We were getting into some technical stuff here.  So, basically you need to imagine the breast as a circle divided into four quadrants like a clock. The MRI showed the cancer to be mainly in the left upper-outer quadrant of the breast.  The results had words like “well visualized” and “rapidly enhancing”.  It measured quite a bit bigger than the size that the mammogram showed.  The MRI noted that the mass extended higher into the upper-outer quadrant and also lower into the lower-outer quadrant.  The mass was bridging the two quadrants.  Holy crap!

Below this dominant mass there was a second pattern that was very suggestive of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).  DCIS is when the cancer cells are confined to the ducts in the breast.  They have not yet spread to other tissue in the breast or other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes.  I mentioned this on an earlier post in the description of the biopsy results as intraductal carcinoma.  It’s the same thing.  “In situ” means “in the original place” so in other words it means that the cancer was not outside the ducts.  That was a good thing.  There were also a couple of lymph nodes that looked a bit bigger than normal.  Not good.

Gore Bay Marina - Summer 2006
So the overall findings strongly suggested multicentric disease involving both the upper-outer and lower-outer quadrants of my left breast.  Multicentric means that there is more than one centre so with multicentric breast cancer there are two or more tumours in different quadrants of the breast.  It is also sometimes called multifocal.  Additionally, there were enlarged lymph nodes that could represent metastatic involvement.  This means the possibility of the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body.  I had now changed to a BI-RADS 6 category which simply means that I had a biopsy-proven malignancy of the breast and that appropriate action was to be taken.

My right breast was fine.  Well that was good news.

All of this medical stuff was really a lot for us to take in at one sitting.  Dr. Surgeon kept checking to make sure we were okay and understanding everything he was saying.  He didn’t want us to have an information overload and not get all that he was explaining.  I think at the time we kind of understood but we were also somewhat in a daze.  He told us how sorry he was that we were now going to have to take treatment and surgery in a different direction than originally planned. 

I was so glad that we had done the MRI.  Now we knew what we were dealing with.  If Dr. Surgeon had gone ahead with the lumpectomy then there would have been cancer left in the breast in the other quadrant.  That would mean it could have spread throughout my body and I would be sitting back in his office in a few months or years or maybe I would be dead.  Now we knew.  I was also very thankful that the right breast was fine.  At least it was confined to my left breast.  Well I hoped so anyway because that mention in the MRI report about metastatic involvement really scared the crap out of me.

I will forever be grateful to Dr. Surgeon for ordering the MRI as that decision most certainly saved my life.

A Change Will Do You Good - Cheryl Crowe


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Thursday, January 17, 2013

YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME

FPU at Joana's Wedding - Summer 1991

As the news of this cancer diagnosis slowly started to sink in and become our new reality, we knew that we would have to eventually tell other people.  I was trying to wait as long as possible so that I would be armed with more information and be able to answer questions.  However, within a couple of weeks I decided to tell a very special group of girlfriends – the FPU.  (Don’t even ask what that stands for by the way.  There is a bad four-letter word involved.)

Anyway, these are my dear friends from high school and we have been friends forever it seems.  Well at least since grade nine anyway.  We try to get together whenever it’s possible but over the years due to university, marriages, pregnancies, kids, jobs, etc…we are lucky if we can all see each other for a visit even once a year.  No matter how much time passes between visits we always seem to just pick up where we left off.  I guess that is how it is with friends that have known each other since the age of 14 and have seen each other at our best and at our worst.  It is just comfortable and it feels like home.  Whenever we do finally manage to get together we have so much fun!

FPU in New York City - Fall 1991
In 2006 we were all (most of us) turning 40.  Not sure how that happened because I am pretty sure in our minds we are still 25 and fabulous!  Anyway, since this was a big year for us we were in the process of planning a long weekend getaway.  We had finally nailed down a weekend and booked a chalet for 10 of us in Mont Tremblant, Quebec for September.  Now that I had this stupid cancer, I was so hoping that I wouldn’t have to miss the trip.  I really wanted it to work out.  This group of friends was one piece of my past and my present and my future that I wasn’t willing to give up.  These ladies have known me for years.  We met as teenagers and grew into adults so that we could get together once in a while and act like kids.  I couldn’t imagine not having them in my life.  They say that one in nine women gets breast cancer.  I guess I’m the one in our group.

FPU on a Houseboat in the
Rideau Lakes - Summer 1993
I couldn’t bear to call them all one by one.  I called my dear friend Trish and then decided that I was not going to repeat myself on the phone again.  So I opted to write to them and explain what was going on with me.  That’s when I started to use email as my method of choice to communicate with friends and family and provide updates throughout the journey.

I realized that whenever I tried to tell people about the fact that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, it always felt like I was talking about someone else.  This could not possibly be happening to me because these things only happen to other people right?  WRONG!

You've Got a Friend in Me - Randy Newman


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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

WE ARE FAMILY

Thibault Clan including Marie - Disney 2006

After we had told our children and our parents about the breast cancer diagnosis, we had to turn our attention to telling the rest of our family.  Since my brother and his family were away on a camping trip I was able to put that off for a few more weeks until they came home.  I didn’t want to call them and ruin their vacation and I really wanted to tell them in person.  Trevor is my only brother and we had already lost our Mom.  On top of that our Dad had gone through surgery for prostate cancer in October of 1999.  I was really glad to have some time before I had to tell my brother because I was kind of dreading it.

Louis Hynes - Winter 2003
Also, my brother’s wife, Deidra, had just lost her Dad around this time.  Cancer again.  In fact it was when Trevor had called to tell me that Louis had passed away that I found the lump.  When my daughter found out that I had discovered the lump in my breast by accident while I was on the phone with Trevor that night, she said, “Mommy, it’s kind of like Louis saved your life”.  I suppose he did.  That is quite remarkable.  Deidra’s Mom, Marie, was also going through her own breast cancer journey at the time.  Anyway, Trevor and Deidra had more than their fair share of tragedy that year and I was not looking forward to adding more to it.  Damn cancer is everywhere.

I had to call my sisters-in-law.  First I called Mike’s sister, Christine, in Boston to tell her.  She cried so much and I felt so bad.  I just hated telling people and having them cry because I didn’t want to make anyone feel sad.  It was just a crappy thing to have to do but I knew that once I told her then I could move on to the next person and maybe it would get easier.  When you love someone, especially family, it really is hard to tell them things that you know will upset them.  Mike’s family has always been so good to me over all these years and Christine has really been like my own sister.  I never had sisters growing up but now as an adult I had four sisters-in-law and two step-sisters.

Although my brothers-in-law are great guys, it seemed more natural to me to call their wives.  Anyway, I made it through the first phone call and then I had to call my other two sisters-in-law in Montreal.  I love these amazing ladies dearly and I was not looking forward to these calls.  Although Mike had told his Mom and Dad, I called them anyway.   After all those calls I was emotionally drained. 
Tarnowski Clan - Spring 2006
All of our brothers and sisters wanted to know what they could do.  I asked them to keep making sure that Mike was okay.  This was going to be very hard for him and he already had so much on his plate.  I needed to know that the family would watch out for him.  He would pretend he was okay so that I wouldn't worry.  But I was going to worry about him regardless so I was thankful for the support from our brothers and sisters.

So that about did it then for our siblings.  Now almost all of our family knew and we would inform some friends when we had more information.  It was just a matter of time and readiness.

We Are Family - Sister Sledge
(joined by Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Pat Benatar,
Salt-N-Pepa, Avril Lavigne, Miley Cyrus)



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Saturday, January 12, 2013

SWEET CHILD O' MINE


As soon as we told our sweet, innocent children that I had cancer we all knew that our lives were forever changed.  This was a scary place we were heading towards.

Tasza & I - Spring 2006
Tasza cried right away.  Then she asked me if I was going to die.  I told her that I would die someday like everyone but that I certainly wasn’t ready to do that yet.  I couldn’t make any promises but the chances were pretty good that the treatments and medicines would do their job and kill the cancer.  Her next question was whether I was going to wear a wig or a scarf on my head.  That made me smile and I told her I hoped she’d help me decide when the time came for that if that was even going to be necessary.

Alex was very quiet.  His eyes were watery but he didn’t say a word.  So, I hugged Tasza very tight and then I asked Mike to take her and talk to her so that I could be alone with my son.

Alex & I - Spring 2006
As soon as they left Alex let his tears come and just held on to me like he would never let go.  What he said next was so heart-wrenching.  He said, “Mommy I’ve been praying every night that you wouldn’t have cancer so how could God let this happen when I’ve been praying so hard?”  That’s a pretty tough one to answer so I just asked him to keep on praying.  We sat there together just hugging each other for a long, long time.  Afterwards we talked a bit more about it and then I told him we’d all need some time for this news to sink in but that we would do whatever it took to make sure we got rid of this cancer.

We reassured both kids that we would keep them informed on everything that we learned at every step of the way.  We also made sure they knew how much we loved them both.  We told them that this wasn’t anyone’s fault and that cancer can just happen to people.  We needed them to know that they could talk to us about this at any time.  If they had questions or if they were scared or if they just wanted to talk about it then we were going to be there for them.  Always.  We were going to get through this together.  As a family.  Plus my Dad and Sheila would be there for them to talk to if they needed to.  They always were anyway – cancer or no cancer.

Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns & Roses


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Thursday, January 10, 2013

MOTHER & CHILD REUNION


Alex & Tasza - March Break 2006
So all I knew was that I had breast cancer.  I was waiting on further tests to determine what the next steps were going to be.  In the meantime, the hardest part was coming next.  We had to tell our kids the news and it was killing both of us.  The time had come to let them know that their mother had breast cancer.  We just couldn’t keep it inside anymore.  Alex was 11 and Tasza was only 8. 

Mike and I had decided that we would be completely honest with our children throughout this process but only tell them as much as they needed to know as the information became available.  It was very overwhelming for us and we simply didn’t want the kids to become overloaded and frightened.  Since it was so overwhelming for us I just couldn’t imagine how it would be for them.  I kept thinking about how I might have felt if something like this had happened to my Mom when I was their age.  I’m not sure what I would have done and I’m glad I never had to find out. 

Since Alex knew that I had been to see a doctor and Mike had explained to him that they were doing a test to see if I had breast cancer, he came running to me with his eyes full of hope.  I will never forget the way his sweet face looked when he whispered the questions that seemed like he had been waiting forever to ask, “So did you find out?  Do you have cancer?”  I asked him to wait a few minutes so that we could all talk about it together.

We called both kids up to our room and we all sat on the bed.  Mike acknowledged that they might have noticed that Mommy had been to lots of appointments lately.  This was more for Tasza’s sake as she didn’t know what was going on at all.  He then said that Mommy would explain to them what was going on.
Me & My Babies - Disney Summer 2006

So, I did that thing that I seemed to be happening to me a lot.  I took a few deep breaths, tried to swallow back the lump in my throat, and attempted to talk.  I tried to keep the tears from coming but the lump in my throat wouldn’t go away and it was blocking out my words.  Then I could hear myself starting to speak.  It was like I was outside of my body and watching myself talk about this with my children.  I mean how do you tell the ones that you are supposed to be looking after and caring for that you have this horrible disease?  The “C” word?  How do you explain why I have it and what happens next when you’re still trying to figure that out for yourself?  I somehow was able to talk but I don’t even know exactly what I said except that watching their little faces just ripped my heart out.  I think that I explained it okay and tried so hard not to scare them but my God what a nasty, awful, and downright gut-wrenching thing to have to do.

I hated every second of it.

Mother & Child Reunion - Paul Simon


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Monday, January 7, 2013

EMOTIONS

 A few days after my appointment with Dr. Surgeon at the Women’s Breast Health Centre, I was contacted by a healthcare worker.  She was calling to give me the date and time for the MRI.  I thought that was it so I thanked her and was about to hang up.  However, she suggested I get a pen and paper because there was a whole list of other appointments that she was going to give me that were all a part of the staging.  This sort of freaked me out a little bit.  I really had no idea what was going to be involved in this cancer business and this was just the beginning!
Manitoulin Island - Summer 2006

The appointments were set for a two week period between August 11 and 26 and included a chest x-ray, bone scan, cardiac scan, abdominal ultrasound, the MRI and a follow up to go over all of the results with Dr. Surgeon.  I hung up the phone and just thought – whew!  What the hell am I getting into here?  I guess I didn’t really have a choice in the matter but since I had always been very healthy I really had limited experience when it came to doctors and medical appointments.  That was changing quickly.  I felt like a tourist in a foreign land.

I also got another call that day but this time it was from a social worker.  Apparently this service is offered to all newly diagnosed patients through the Women’s Breast Health Centre.  I am not sure why but I felt totally offended by this call.  Why on earth would I need the services of a social worker?  There was nothing wrong with me except that I had this stupid cancer.  I mean I was strong and young and stubborn and I didn’t need anyone’s help outside of my family and close friends.  Perhaps I was being a tad defensive and ungrateful and I realize that many people probably really appreciate this service but I wasn’t one of them.   My reaction sort of took me by surprise.  I was nice to the lady on the phone though and thanked her very much and told her I’d call if I felt that I needed to.  I never did call back.
My Father's Garden - Summer 2006

So I guess this was the start of many new emotions, reactions, thoughts, feelings and general chaos in my brain and heart.  Not to mention the physical experiences that would be coming my way.  The only thing I could do was to take a deep breath, swallow the lump in my throat, ignore the fear in my chest and gather strength and positive vibes and hold on.  And maybe say a little prayer.




Emotions - Mariah Carey


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Saturday, January 5, 2013

STEP BY STEP

Alex & Tasza - Florida, Summer 2006

Sitting there in the surgeon’s office going through all of the results was a lot to take in.  Dr. Surgeon kept stopping during his explanation to make sure that we were following him and not getting too overloaded with information.  Next we went through the results from the surgical pathology report of the biopsy.  The diagnosis was “focal infiltrating duct carcinoma and extensive area of intraductal carcinoma.”  Okay this was a whole new language.  I was going to have to really start doing my research and reading a lot more to learn this stuff.  Dr. Surgeon explained it but there was so much to absorb that I knew I was going to have to get into my book and on the internet when I got home.

To break down the diagnosis so that most of us regular people can understand it would be something like this:

Focal infiltrating duct carcinoma – Carcinoma is another word for cancer.  Infiltrating cancer can grow beyond its original site in the ducts into neighbouring areas.  Sometimes you hear the word invasive to mean the same as infiltrating.  It doesn’t mean that it has spread outside of the breast but just to neighbouring tissue within the breast.

Extensive area of intraductal carcinoma - Intraductal means that the cancer cells are within the milk ducts of the breast.  So in regular people terms the translation is that I had a large area of cancer within the ducts of my left breast.

Dr. Surgeon said that from the looks of the results it seemed that a lumpectomy followed by some type of treatment (either radiation or chemotherapy) might be possible.  A lumpectomy is the removal of the lump and surrounding tissue from the breast while conserving as much of the breast as possible.  That didn’t sound too bad.  He told us that usually a lumpectomy followed by radiation would produce excellent results.  I started to feel a little bit better.

However, Dr. Surgeon was not comfortable just leaving it at that.  Since I was so young and since most young women have very dense breasts, he felt that the mammogram might not be showing the whole picture.  Dr. Surgeon recommended that we do an MRI as our next step.  An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a body scan that uses magnetic fields to look at the internal structures of the body.  Dr. Surgeon told us that he wanted to be sure that we were doing the right thing as far as surgery was concerned and he didn’t want to see me again in a few years.

My Mother-in-law, Elizabeth, completed the Saint Jacques de Compostelle 800 km walk through  the Pyrenees mountains in France and Spain during the fall of 2006. She completed the journey step by step in 31 days.
The MRI should be able to tell us if the lumpectomy would be the best option or if we needed another strategy.  The MRI would show much more than the mammogram did and would give us a better picture of the situation.  In addition, as is standard practice I guess, I was going to have to go through various other tests called “staging”.  I was told that the nurse would contact me with the appointment dates and times for the MRI and the staging.  Staging is a series of tests that are done after the cancer diagnosis that help to determine the extent of cancer that could be in the body. 

We both really liked Dr. Surgeon and he explained things very well.  He also made us feel very comfortable and that we were in good hands.  Literally.  We thanked him and then left the office.  So we had some new information but still had to wait for more.  I guess that would be the way it was going to be with this cancer.  It seemed that each appointment brought some answers but then a whole new series of questions.

Step By Step - Whitney Houston

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