Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT YOU

Flowers Received From Somebody Thinking About Me
When this whole cancer thing reared its ugly head and word began to spread around, I started receiving cards, letters, emails, gifts, flowers and all kinds of things.  Good wishes were all around me and apparently friends and family all over the world were praying for me too.  The phone was also ringing off the hook.  It was just amazing to me that so many people wanted to find out how I was or let me know that they were thinking about me or maybe they just felt obligated to call.  I don’t know.

Anyway it was starting to get to be too much for me.  Don’t get me wrong because God knows I appreciated every single call but it was really difficult to take the calls and repeat myself over and over about how I was feeling and how things were going and so on.  It was draining.  Plus I wasn’t sure that people were actually comfortable calling or that maybe they just didn’t quite know what to say or do.  So I turned to technology for help.  I decided to send out an email update to everyone in my address book including family, friends and colleagues.  I thought that this way I could say it once and be done with it.  If people chose to write back that was great because I could reply on my own time and when I felt up to it.  If they chose not to reply then that was okay too and it gave them an “out” so they did not have to feel obligated to call.

So the first update I sent out was on September 8, the day after the first treatment.  It went something like this:

Celebrating with Friends - 2005
Sent: Fri Sep 08 2006
Subject: Update - First Chemo Treatment

Good Afternoon All - I thought I would pass on an update as I know some
of you are waiting to find out how my first treatment went yesterday.
Although it was a bit scary on the drive to the Cancer Centre because
the unknown usually causes a bit of apprehension, it was also a time to
realize that this is not the end of something but rather the beginning
of something.  We are on the way to taking the steps needed to get rid
of this cancer so the drive to the hospital went from one of sadness to
one of being pumped up for a fight.  So fight we will....

The treatment started at 2:00 pm and I was finished shortly after 4:00
and home in time for dinner.  I felt great!!  I had dinner, took the dog
for a short walk and then I played Yahtzee with Tasza and Grandma.
Afterwards we watched a movie.  So, although everyone kept telling me I
was very pale, I felt really good.  Today I feel pretty much like
normal.  I sort of keep waiting for something to happen but I will go
one day at a time throughout this next year or so.  Anyway, that's one
chemo treatment down and 7 to go!

Thanks to all of you for your many messages, phone calls, cards,
etc....They are all much appreciated and it warms my heart to know that
there are such wonderful friends and family members that care.  I am
truly blessed.

So that's it and the next treatment will be September 28 - so until then
take care and enjoy this beautiful fall weather!

TT

This whole email thing was such a relief and gave me a connection to so many people in an uncomplicated way that worked for me.

I've Been Thinking About You - London Beat

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Monday, February 25, 2013

TOXIC

Me with My Bailey Girl - Fall 2005

When I got home from that first chemo treatment there were some extra things I had to think about.  Things that were not normal to me.  For the next 48 hours after the treatment, my body was somewhat toxic.  That means that some of the medication that was killing the cancer cells might leave my body “un-used”.  I had to wash any towels and sheets I used twice in the washing machine and separate from everything else.  I had to flush the toilet twice after each use.  I had to make sure dishes and cutlery went through the dishwasher.   I was a freakish science experiment that could contaminate everything and everyone around me I guess.  That’s what it felt like.  Was I going to glow a greenish colour at night after dark?  It was a horrible feeling knowing that there were these potent chemicals inside my body.  I know they were there to help but it still didn’t feel good.  Oh yeah, the nurses in the chemo room wear gloves and a gown (not the kind you’d wear to a ball) but I know this is for their own protection but it is a bit scary to see them coming at you dressed like they just walked out of a sci-fi movie set.

The other stuff to think about was all of the other drugs I had to take to combat the effects of the chemo.  I was given a schedule to follow that included Zofran (ondansetron) and Decadron (dexamethasone) for the nausea and then Colace and Senokot to combat the side effects of the nausea medications.  Every drug seemed to have another drug to help with the side effects and then it was just a domino effect all the way down the line.  This was the beginning of a huge list of drugs that I would take over the coming weeks, months and years.

Port-a-Cath
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had to have blood work done prior to each treatment.  The treatment itself is inserted with an IV so there was going to be a lot of abuse to my veins.  I hadn’t thought much about this but during the first treatment one of the nurses asked if I had a port-a-cath or if I would be getting one.  My response, of course, was “a port-a-what?!”  She explained that a port is a small medical appliance, about the size of a penny, only thicker, that is inserted underneath the skin.  It usually goes in the upper chest wall in the space between the breast and the collarbone.  The port surgery is done in a same-day, simple procedure that doesn’t require any general anesthesia.  First you need to have an X-ray to confirm that the port is positioned in the right spot.   An incision about 3 cms long is made on the chest wall for the port pocket.  There is a catheter that connects the port to a large vein and a septum through which blood can be drawn or chemo can be injected.

The main purpose is to save your veins from potentially collapsing at some point and to avoid looking for a vein each time you need to do blood work or have chemo.  Sometimes when the nurses are trying to find a good vein you may end up getting poked, prodded and stuck with a needle several times until a suitable one is found.  However, once a port is inserted, you don’t need to worry about that.  Before each treatment I would use a special cream to numb the area around the port.  The nurse would then fit a needle right into the port.  I really never feel much of anything at that point.  The chemo medication would then travel right into the main blood supply and be dispersed quickly throughout my body.  It seemed like a good option but it was kind of scary to know that this foreign object was going to be in my chest for an indefinite period of time.
Me with Scout (my friend Vicky's puppy)
in Vancouver - Spring 2005

After hearing about this from the nurse, I decided to make an appointment for this procedure.  There was a big waiting list so I didn’t know how long it would be until I got in.  My veins were pretty good at this point so I wasn’t too worried if I had to wait for a few weeks.  I was thankful to have found out about this and I recommend it to anyone if you are in the unfortunate position to have to undergo chemotherapy.

So that was one treatment down and seven to go.




Toxic - Britney Spears


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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

DEVIL INSIDE

Ready to Fight - Fall 2004

The chemo room at the Cancer Centre where I was hanging out might not be the same as the way it is set up in other places.  Here, fortunately, children were treated next door at the Children’s Hospital.  I was very thankful for that because that would just break my heart I think.  The chemo room was one great big room with large lazy boy-type chairs and beds all around the outside of the room.  There were big windows also all around the outside of the room too.  I don’t actually know if it is a rounded room or not but that is how it seemed.  There were nurses everywhere and they were all so very wonderful.

A nurse took me to my spot in this circle.  It was one of the lazy boy chairs because my treatment was only going to take a few hours.  The beds were for others that would be there much longer or that were weak, sick, tired, etc.  I got settled into the chair and there was a normal, smaller chair for Mike.  The nurse explained everything to us about how the medications were to be administered.  She was hooking me up to an IV system in my arm.  Then she also gave me the anti-nausea medicine that was prescribed.  There was a schedule to follow that noted all of the medications I would have to take when I got home and when I was supposed to take them.  There were two different medications to battle the nausea that I might get from the chemo.  There was also a third medication to help with constipation.  Nice.


Having a Cocktail - Fall 2005
Now, I was ready to get the chemo drugs.  The cocktail.  I remember seeing the bag with the medicine in it and there was a huge skull and cross bones warning on it.  I was more used to seeing that on my cleaning products and not on something that was going to go into my body.  The nurse that was administering this one had a bit of an accent.  So when she kept referring to the Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) as “the Red Devil” it rolled off her tongue in a very ominous sort of way.  The RRRRRed DEVIIIILL.  I think I will hear that forever in my head.  It actually is red in colour.  She told me that I would feel it moving through my body.  She was right.  It was a very strange sensation and I really could feel it entering my system and spreading through my body.  It was kind of a yucky and unreal feeling.  The Red Devil.  It was all so evil sounding and so unnatural.

Once the chemo drugs were going through the IV drip, I started to feel extremely cold.  They covered me up in some blankets, Mike adjusted the chair so that I could lean back, and then I tried to relax and took out my book.  Mike did some work on his laptop and wandered around and spoke to the nurses and kept getting me water.  It was important to keep drinking lots of water to ensure that my system would get flushed out as quickly as possible.  After the first drug was finished they started the second one and then when that was done there was a final flush of saline.  During this time I had a visit from the oncologist as well as the lady in charge of the home care nursing that I would receive.  That was quite comforting to know that I would have a connection to someone that would come to my home.  We live about a 45 minute drive from the Cancer Centre and the home care nurse is from my community.

At one point during my first treatment session, a lady made her way to this large bell that was firmly attached to the wall with a rope hanging down.  She grabbed that rope and rang the bell.  It scared me at first because it was so loud and then I thought that maybe we were getting dinner but then I saw the sign above the bell and it simply said, “VICTORY BELL”.  This lady had just finished her last treatment and had earned the opportunity to ring the bell.  Everyone clapped and cheered and she left the room with a smile on her face.  A victory smile.  It was so special and I really looked forward to the day when it would be my turn to ring that bell.  I suppose all of us in that room were looking forward to that day.

Anyway, the entire treatment went by faster than I thought it would.  It took a just over two hours and I was back home by 5:00 pm.  And guess what?  I didn’t have to drag myself up the driveway and collapse in a heap on the floor just inside the front door.  I actually felt quite good.  A bit odd but not bad at all.  When I walked in the house my Dad, Sheila, Alex and Tasza were all standing there (I think they were all holding their breath and had their fingers crossed) and they were staring at me and not knowing what to expect.  When they saw me they all breathed a sigh of relief.  Although they all thought I was very pale I really didn’t feel too bad at all.  In fact I was hungry and glad that Shelia had dinner all ready for us.  She had made lasagna, garlic bread, caesar salad and these are some of my favorites.  (Little did I know that I would not be able to eat those favourite things again for a long, long time.)  After dinner I decided that I needed some fresh air so we took the dog for a walk.  When I got back I had a challenging game of Yahtzee with Tasza and Sheila and then we watched a movie.

Everything seemed somewhat normal.

Devil Inside - INXS

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WANNA BE STARTIN' SOMETHIN'

My Father's Garden - Summer 2006

Here I was on the eve before starting my first chemo treatment.  Clearly this was something I’d never imagined happening in my life.  However, it was here and it was now and I had to deal with it.

My Dad and Sheila arrived a day early so that they would be there for my first treatment and to help out with the kids and around the house.  They are an amazing couple and you couldn’t ask for better grandparents!  My kids will certainly vouch for that!  My Dad wanted to be there for every treatment.  I told him he didn’t have to but he refused to hear about it.  I must tell you that my Dad and Sheila live about an eight hour drive from our house!  Not a big deal for him though it seems.  Mike had made arrangements at work to be with me in the chemo room for every treatment and to be at home with me the day after. 

So, the day of the treatment, 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 decided to move one foot in front of the other and get myself out the door, down the driveway and into the truck.  But first I had to say goodbye to my Dad.  I had no idea what to expect when I got home that day.  None of us did.  All I could envision was me all weak and white and dragging myself up the driveway and into the house with Mike half-carrying me.  Oh yeah and in my mind I was wearing all black and looking like death warmed over.  I would make it in the front door and then collapse in a heap on the floor.  Okay so maybe that’s a bit dramatic but that is really what was going through my head at the time.


Me & My Dad - Summer 2011
I said goodbye to my Dad and he gave me a big hug and then I cried like a baby and got myself into the truck.  When Mike and I left for the hospital I couldn’t stop crying but I finally pulled myself together.  On the way there Mike and I talked about how although it felt like we were on our way to the end of something (life before cancer/chemo) it was actually the start of something.  It was the first steps on the road to get rid of the cancer and that is a good thing.  We were on our way.

You will notice, by the way, that I will NEVER refer to it as “my cancer”.  It is always “the cancer” because it is not mine.  I didn’t ask for it and it wasn’t invited.  It is not mine because I feel no sense of ownership nor do I wish to keep it.  It is “the”.  Period. 

When I got to the Cancer Centre I first had to get the required blood work done.  They took a few vials from my arm.  I knew that this would happen before every treatment.  Then I headed down to the chemo room.  I sat in the waiting room for what seemed an eternity and sneaked a few glances at the other people that were there.  I couldn’t just outright stare at them but I wanted to see what they looked like.  I guess I still didn’t think that I was “one of them”.  I mean one of those sick people you see sometimes here and there or on TV or something.  Actually, they looked fairly normal.  Some more pale than others.  Some bald, some with thinning hair, some not.  Others looked very tired and worn down and others were still smiling.  Everyone had someone with them though.  Nobody was there alone.  Not that day anyway. 

Finally I got called to go into the chemo room.  Not that I was in a rush.  Well I kinda was because I knew the sooner I started then the sooner I would be finished.  I couldn’t pretend it would just go away by itself.

Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' - Michael Jackson



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Saturday, February 16, 2013

BAD BLOOD



Gore Bay, ON - Summer 2006
So let us continue with the Chemo 101.  There is so much to learn about blood cells.  It is quite amazing how our bodies function and continue to function despite chemotherapy and other harsh treatments.  Human beings really are quite incredible.  We now know that chemo kills fast dividing cells and in the process it also ends up killing fast dividing healthy normal cells.  This includes blood cells produced in the bone marrow.

Ready for some more info?  Again, keep in mind that this is just what I learned and in no way do I profess to be giving medical advice.  Here we go...

Bone Marrow Suppression
Bone marrow makes red and white blood cells and platelets.  White blood cells protect the body against infection and red blood cells provide the body with oxygen.  Platelets are what help your blood to clot to stop bleeding.  The job of the white blood cells is to attack different viruses, bacteria and allergens in your body.

White Blood Cells / Neutrophils
The most common kind of white blood cells are the neutrophils.  I didn’t know it at the time but I was to become very familiar with the importance of neutrophils.  They protect you from bacterial infection and the level of neutrophils in your body can be significantly lowered by chemotherapy.  This causes a high risk for infection because you basically have a limited ability to fight against infection.  It is not always possible to prevent infection but it can be helped by frequent hand washing, good oral hygiene, avoiding people that are sick, and staying away from litter boxes, bird cages and that sort of thing.  A good thing to avoid at anytime anyway I think.  We have a dog so chemo got me off “poop pick-up duty” for awhile.  (I had to find the perks where I could.)

Red Blood Cells
These can also drop due to chemo and it is usually a slow and gradual drop that can cause you to become anemic.  This means you could suffer weakness, tiredness, dizziness, headaches and shortness of breath.

Low Platelets
If your blood as unable to clot as it usually does, you can have nose bleeds, gums could bleed, blood could show up in your urine, and/or small red spots might be seen on your skin.  You need to be careful brushing and flossing your teeth, be careful with sharp objects (like we wouldn’t already be doing that anyway) and also keep an eye on bruising and other bumps and scrapes.
British Columbia - Summer 2006

Ready for more?  How about some side effects?  These are numerous and depend on the type of treatment and on each person.  Everyone reacts differently.  The most common side effects can be managed fairly easily but others are more difficult.

  • Hair loss is the most obvious and visible change for most people.  It can start as early as 2 to 3 weeks after the first treatment.
  • Mouth sores are also quite common with certain medications so we were told to try to get in to see a dentist prior to starting treatment.  Thankfully I had just seen the dentist so I was covered on that front.  Of course you have to avoid certain foods that might cause irritation as well as alcohol, tobacco, mouthwashes, etc.
  • Nausea and vomiting is another big side effect that can be assisted with anti-nausea medications, eating small meals and drinking lots of water.
  • The other two common side effects are at opposite ends of the spectrum as one is constipation and the other is diarrhea.  Again, these really aren’t the most pleasant things to experience or to talk about but can really cause major discomfort.
  • Sex drive can be reduced and your hormonal system can go completely out of whack.  Not only is sexual desire affected by the treatment but the other side effects really don’t sound like they’d leave you feeling particularly sexy either.
  • Fatigue is probably the most common side effect.  In order to prevent this or to relieve it we were recommended to take short rest periods for about 20 to 30 minutes each.  Oddly the one thing that can help the fatigue is exercise.  Light physical activity can boost your energy levels.  Allowing friends and family to help you and prioritizing the things you need to get done are good places to start.  Do what you need to do but also within your limits.
  • Photo sensitivity is something to really watch out for.  You can burn really quickly while in the sun so using a sunscreen of SPF 30 or more and covering up while outside are good preventative measures.  I was glad the summer was just finishing because I love being outside and it would have been difficult to stay in the house all the time.  I can’t imagine sitting outside all covered up either.  Again, an upside.
  • Other 911 things to watch for are anemia, memory loss, menopause, neuropathy (hands and feet), back pain, bleeding, chest pain, shortness of breath, swelling of legs or arms, and again – fever.
                                                          
Whew!  Got it?

Finally, at the end of the teaching session, we were all assigned a Patient Designated Nurse (PDN) that we could call during office hours if we had any weird side effects going on that we needed to ask about.  This was reassuring to know that there was a direct link if it was needed.  After hours of course we could always go to Emergency.

So, that was a very informative session right?  Now we are all up to speed on the ins and outs of chemo.  Does that mean I was ready to get on with treatment #1?  Well I was as ready as I could be I suppose.  Two more days to go.

Bad Blood - Neil Sedaka

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

WE ARE ALL ON DRUGS


In early September 2006 I went to the hospital for a chemo teaching session and a tour of the cancer facility that I would soon be visiting on a regular basis.  I was really nervous but also happy that I would have some more information and time to mentally prepare myself a bit more for this.

Tasza, Bailey & I - Fall Walk 2005
Although I learned a lot more about chemo at this session, what struck me the most was the other people that were in the classroom.  I was by far the youngest person in the room (besides the person doing the teaching session) and most of the elderly people that were there had their spouse or grown son or daughter with them.  All of us had cancer but we all had different kinds of cancer.  I felt pretty lucky that I only had one disease.  Many of the people that were there had other medical conditions.  Most were wondering how chemo was going to affect these other conditions they already had such as heart problems, respiratory ailments, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.  My heart went out to these people and to their loved ones that were there to care for them.  There were many questions and the concern on their faces was deep.  However, for some strange reason, most of us seemed to have a sense of humour about things as we listened to the teaching session.

Although I had done plenty of reading I guess there is always something to learn.  We went through how cancer is treated, how chemotherapy works, how chemo is given, side effects, bone marrow suppression, white and red blood cells, infection prevention, signs of infection (fever), going to emergency, pre-treatment blood tests, hair loss, photo sensitivity, emotional challenges and other issues.

Vicky & I - Summer 2006
I think I’ll go a little bit into detail for your information, because you never know when it might be useful to have this knowledge of chemo.  Keep in mind that things change over time and it also depends on your geographic location and access to services.  There is so much to learn and absorb as I suppose there is with any illness.  Here is part one of your Chemo 101 lesson for those of you that are as uneducated on the subject as I was.  This is only some of the terminology and other things I learned and should in no way be considered as solid medical advice.

Treatment
The treatment depends on the stage and the type of the cancer.  Treatment can include various methods that are done individually or in combination including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.

How Chemo Works
Chemotherapy is drug therapy.  It works by going through the bloodstream to reach all parts of the body and interfering with the way the cancer cells divide.  It works to kill fast growing cells.  There are combinations of treatments with different medications used together either orally and/or intravenously and chemo may also be combined with radiation therapy.  Since the chemo affects rapidly dividing cells, this includes both cancerous cells and healthy cells.  Chemo can take anywhere from 15 minutes or up to six hours to administer depending on the type of medication prescribed.

Fever / Infection
If fever develops (38° C/100.4° F or higher) at anytime during chemo treatment the instructions are to go to emergency at once.  Fever could be accompanied with shaking and chills.  Also, you are not supposed to take Tylenol or Aspirin or anything else until after you are seen by a nurse or doctor.  The emergency department physician must be made aware that you are a cancer patient, that you have recently received chemotherapy, and what medications you have had.  An assessment will be done based on your blood tests and then treatment will be determined.  In some cases you may be kept at the hospital and in others sent home with further medication.  Aside from the fever, other signs of infection include rash, tenderness, sore throat or mouth, and other unpleasant things.

Blood Testing Pre-Treatment
Before each chemo treatment it is necessary to get a blood test.  The oncologist needs to be sure that your blood counts are good otherwise treatment may be delayed.  These blood tests need to be done within 48 hours of each treatment so that the results are back before the scheduled chemo time.

Emotional / Social
This is one area that is really difficult to treat.  Everyone has their own experience and will deal with it in their own way.  Everyone at the chemo teaching session was encouraged to continue our regular daily activities as much as we felt able to do.  If there were things we were unable to do as normal then we should focus on what we could do rather than dwelling on what we couldn’t do.  I think we all realized that it is important to learn to ask for help and to try maintaining a sense of humour as laughter really can be great medicine.

Enough for today.  Part two of Chemo 101 to come in the next blog post.  So much information to process.  It can be very overwhelming.

We Are All On Drugs - Weezer

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

PAUSE FOR A PLAYLIST


Grandpa Rockin' the Dre Beats
with Alex - May 2012
Well here we are at post #31.  There have been 30 posts so far on my blog and we are at the point where I am just about to start chemo.  It really is quite a journey when you break it down into short pieces like this.  I decided for today to take a break from the story and write a little note about the music I have been including.


Every journey needs music.  A road trip is synonymous with music from 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs to iPod and Bluetooth.  I love music.  All kinds of music.  You may have noticed that the title of every post is actually a song title.  Searching for the right title is fun because I find myself listening to a wide variety of songs that I haven’t heard in ages or that I might be hearing for the first time.  There is something about a song that might remind you of a certain person, or a time in your life or a place you have visited.  Music is simply special.
Rising Stars - Fall 2010


It was my son Alex’s idea to use the song titles as a blog title and to add the video clips of that song at the end of each post.  He is very musical as well and has played piano, electric and acoustic guitar over the years.  I understand he is a pretty good dancer as well (must take after his Dad).


Anyway, I thought I would recap all of the titles here for you.  It makes for an interesting playlist!


Start Me Up (Rolling Stones)
No Sugar Tonight (The Guess Who)
I Need A Doctor (Eminem)
Sitting Waiting Wishing (Jack Johnson)
Keep Holding On (Avril Lavigne)
A Whole New World (Alladin & Jasmine)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
The Waiting is the Hardest Part (Tom Petty)
Crazy (Gnarls Barclay)
Doctor Doctor Gimme the News (Robert Palmer)
I Fall to Pieces (Patsy Cline)
I Need to Know (Marc Anthony)
ow How Can I Tell You ( Cat Stevens)
ow Lean On Me (Club Nouveau)
ow Listen to What the Man Said (Paul McCartney & Wings)
ow Step by Step (Whitney Houston)
ow Emotions (Mariah Carey)
ow Mother & Child Reunion (Paul Simon)
ow Sweet Child O Mine (Guns & Roses)
ow We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
ow You’ve Got a Friend in Me (Randy Newman)
ow A Change Will Do You Good (Cheryl Crowe)
ow I’m Gonna Love You Through It (Martina McBride)
ow Down With the Sickness (Disturbed)
ow I Want a New Drug (Huey Lewis)
ow Taking Care of Business (BTO)
ow Everybody Talks (Neon Trees)
ow Get a Haircut (George Thorogood)
Ain’t No Other Man (Christina Aguilera)
You Don’t Learn That in School (Nat King Cole Trio)



I really hope that you are enjoying my blog and that you might be learning something or gaining some perspective as to what others may experience after a breast cancer diagnosis.  If you or someone you know has a personal connection to cancer I hope that my story might be helpful.

Please don’t be shy to leave a comment or ask a question or just say hi!  Even song suggestions would be most welcome!

Thanks to you all for your support and for continuing to read and to  share my story.




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Saturday, February 9, 2013

YOU DON'T LEARN THAT IN SCHOOL

Hockey School - Fall 2006
Near the end of August my kids attended a one week hockey camp. They really enjoyed it and I think it was good for them to have their minds and bodies busy. I was worried about them and seeing them enjoying themselves was heartwarming and encouraging. The following week summer was officially over and it was back to school. Alex was going into 6th grade and Tasza into 3rd grade.

Mike and I decided to tell our kids’ teachers about the cancer.  We wanted to make sure that they were aware of our situation so that they could alert us if the kids seemed to be having a hard time.  I was afraid that they might act fine in front of me at home and then let their emotions out at school somehow.  Maybe they might be sad or scared or maybe it might be reflected in their behaviour, attitude or their focus on academics.  We had no idea how they might be feeling or what might be going on in their young minds.

Back to School - Fall 2006
So, Mike went to the school and spoke with the teachers.  Living in a small town allowed us the opportunity of knowing many of the teachers socially as well and through hockey, soccer and other activities.  It was comforting to know that if there were to be any problems at school, we would be made aware of it immediately.  People were looking out for our kids.  I was glad we had chosen this community to live in.

While my family was getting on with school and work, I was now finished with work and on disability leave.  This was not a stay-at-home vacation to be sure.  I was spending my time “nesting” for lack of a better word.  I know this is what they say expectant mothers do near the end of their pregnancies before the baby arrives and that is what I was doing I suppose.  I had no idea how I was going to feel or react to the chemo so I was doing everything I could to get my house in order.  Especially if I was going to feel like crap after the treatments.  I wanted to be sure that everything I could possibly do was done.  I wanted to be as relaxed as possible and I did not want to leave anything for Mike to have to have to look after.  He was going to have enough to worry about.

My Sweethearts on the 1st Day of School - Fall 2006
It’s rather funny the feeling of not knowing what to expect.  Each day we go about our lives following routines and schedules and not really thinking too much about anything changing.  Then all of a sudden something in your life might indeed change for better or worse and it can affect everything.  It could be a new baby, a job in another city, a cheating spouse, a broken leg, a death in the family or it could be a cancer diagnosis.  This is all part of life and whether you like it or not the only thing you can do is embrace it and accept it and deal with it.  Sitting around screaming “why me?” is not going to make it go away or make it change.  Plus it does not help you or anyone around you.  Nobody knows the answer to that question.  You also can’t just pretend it is not happening either.  You have to call on your support systems and draw strength and positive vibes and anything else you can grab on to and face each day with its challenges as best as possible.

You Don't Learn That in School - Nat King Cole Trio


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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

AIN'T NO OTHER MAN

Mike & the Kids - Winter 2004
While we were waiting for the first chemo date, somehow life was still carrying on.  Although life was never going to be the same, it was still moving on.  I mean the world doesn’t just stop because there is a crisis or something unusual going on in your life.  The world keeps turning.  School was starting back, hockey was gearing up and summer was winding down.

  
Mike & his Mom - Poland 2012
Mike started back to work at the college in the middle of August but fortunately for us this particular year he didn’t have any classes to teach as he was doing more research and project work at the college.  This really turned out to be a fluke and a blessing in disguise that this change in his work just happened to be this particular year.  It really is difficult to reschedule classes and try to balance all of that with his MBA studies let alone add in the upcoming chemo treatments and other unexpected things.  The college was very understanding and Mike was able to work at home the days I would be having my treatments as well as the following day.  All treatments were to be on Thursdays every three weeks.  Mike had a lot of support from his colleagues and management and this was something that we were very grateful for.

With our goddaughter - Easter 2005
I really wasn’t sure how my husband was going to be able to deal with work, his MBA and me.  I mean dealing with me and my health issues was also going to mean that he might be doing pretty much everything around the house as well as handling the kids and their activities.  I felt so horrible about him having to be in this position but what else could I do?  I tried to make sure that our friends and family kept an eye on him because I knew he would pretend he was fine in front of me even if he wasn’t.  That’s just the way he is.  This was going to be a huge strain on him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  He was going to have to manage his time well, stay strong and keep his mindset as positive as possible.

Training Bailey - Spring 2005
Working full-time can be tough.  Doing an MBA is tough.  Raising kids and looking after your house is tough.  Caring for a spouse with cancer is tough.  Dealing with all of these things individually is tough but Mike was going to be taking them on all at once.  My heart was aching for him and I hated that I was causing this burden and that his plate was not just full but overflowing.  It was like he was at the all-you-can-handle buffet from hell and had piled stuff on his plate until it was heaped so high it was falling off onto the floor.  I hoped he wouldn’t keep things inside if he was feeling like he might crack but chances were that he wouldn’t want to bother me so he’d just keep everything inside and do his best to get through each day.

Ain’t no other man I would want to have by my side through this journey.

Ain’t No Other Man - Christina Aguilera

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Monday, February 4, 2013

GET A HAIRCUT

Just a pre-blog entry note that today is WORLD CANCER DAY 2013!!
World Cancer Day (4 February) is an annual event initiated by the Union for International Cancer Control that calls on people, organizations and government agencies around the world to unite in the fight against the global cancer epidemic. This year, the campaign focuses on improving general knowledge around cancer and dispelling misconceptions about the disease. Please visit the Union for International Cancer Control at www.uicc.org to find out more about myths and facts. You can also visit the World Health Organization at www.who.int/en/ for additional information.

Winter 2006 - Minden, Ontario
So, on with the blog....

The next thing I needed to do was to address the issue of my hair.  It was all going to come out completely eventually so I figured why not experiment with some different hairstyles in the meantime?  I went out and bought a magazine and flipped through the pages looking for different styles to try.  I went for my first haircut on August 30.  I even did some before and after photos of every cut on my way to total baldness.  I kept looking in the mirror and trying to imagine how I would look bald but I just couldn’t picture it.  Was my head going to be all weird shaped?  Did I have any creepy birthmarks on my head that I’d never seen before?  My hair was long, past my shoulders and although it was a light brown colour I also had highlights.  It usually lightened a lot during the summer months because I was outside as much as possible.  The first cut took my hair to just below my ears in a shaggy kind of style.  It was cute but a bit too much styling involved.  I knew it was only for a couple of weeks so it didn’t really matter.

It also occurred to me that if the hair on my head was going to fall out then probably all of the hair on my body was going to fall out too.  That was a bit of a bonus to not have to shave.  However, my concern was my face.  How would I look bald and with no eyebrows or eyelashes?  That would be strange.  I was not sure how it would make me feel to see myself that way.  I figured I could get wigs and false eyelashes if I decided too.  So at least that was an option.  There were hats and scarves and wigs and things that you could also get for your head.  I hated some of these things though because they didn’t have much style and were sort of ugly.  I guess I would have to decide what I’d do when that time came.

Haircut #1 - Fall 2006
It was really hard to grasp the fact that I was going to be bald.  How many days did I have in my life where I had a “bad hair day”?  We always take things for granted until they are gone.  Then we wonder how we could have been so stupid.  I was not sure how it would make me feel to lose my hair.  I mean I was not defined by my hair.  It is not the hair on my head that makes me who I am.  But for anyone, especially a woman, this was going to be a big adjustment.  I told myself it was not forever, it was just for now.  That would keep me going through these next few months and beyond.  One day at a time.  I reminded myself that no matter what I looked like my family and friends would still love me.  I just had to remember to love me too.

Aside from the going bald thing, I also kept reading and thinking about how I might feel after the chemo started.  My life was changing every day and until the chemo started it was still relatively the same – physically I mean.  I didn’t feel any different than I did before I found the lump.  Nothing hurt anywhere on my body and I was still running and doing all kinds of things that I always did.  Except now my brain kept trying to figure out how these things were going to be affected.  What was going to change?  What was it going to feel like?  The fear of the unknown is such a strong feeling.  This was a bit unsettling for me and for my family because none of us knew what to expect.

I think the natural thing is to expect the worst but hope for the best.

Get A Haircut - George Thorogood




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