Friday, March 29, 2013

IT TAKES TWO


Me and my youngest nephew - Fall 2006
On September 28 I set off for chemo treatment #2.  Blood work always had to be done first though.  If for any reason my blood counts were not up to par then my treatment could be refused and I would have to wait until my counts were better.  So far I hadn’t had any issues with that.  Anyway, I had my quilt with me and Mike wrapped it around me as soon as I was settled in to my chair in the treatment room.  It took about two hours for the treatment again and oddly, even though it was only the second time at the treatment room at the cancer centre, we had sort of slipped into a routine with it already.  I felt nervous a bit and I always hated to see the elderly people that were there and those others that looked very ill.  I prayed that I would stay relatively good throughout this but I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that each treatment would compound with the one before and I would most likely feel a bit worse with each one.  I was ready for that, I thought.  As much as I could be anyway.

I had recently received a call that my name was next on the list for the day surgery to have the port-a-cath inserted.  That was a big surprise because I thought it would be a much longer wait.  This was great news because I was able to have the port put in so that I could start using it for treatment #2.  While I was waiting for the surgeon to do the port, there was a woman that was just on her way out of the waiting room that stopped and asked me if I was getting one inserted.  She then said, “I have one too and it was the best thing I could have done.  You are making a good decision.”  That was a comfort and I really wasn’t worried about a thing when I went into the room with the surgeon.  There was no pain at all and I left feeling so good about this.  I wasn’t going to have marks all over my arms now but the bump on my chest near my collarbone would take a bit of getting used to.  After awhile I didn’t notice it so much but others would and often asked me what the bump was.

My Kids with
Grandpa & Grandma - Summer 2006
So for this second treatment, the nurses used the port and it was really so much better than stabbing at my arm.  Mike was with me and he worked on his laptop and I read my book and the time passed fairly quickly.  After the treatment we went for breakfast together even though it was nearly lunchtime.  It was, in an odd way, nice to have this time to just be together with my husband.  Just the two of us.  My Dad and Sheila had made the long drive from Manitoulin Island yet again and I knew they were at our house looking after the kids.  That was such a comfort to both of us to know that our two kids were so well looked after by their two wonderful grandparents.

We were trying to adjust to the outpouring of kindness and concern from family, friends, and colleagues.  Although it was most welcome, it was also hard to know how to accept it all and respond to it appropriately.  This was uncharted territory for us and many others around us.  What was appropriate anyway?  Mike and I sometimes felt like shutting out everyone in the world and just staying to ourselves in our home with our little family and keeping others at a distance.  I think we thought if we closed ourselves away that we could deal with this cancer and get rid of it and then re-emerge into the world when it was over.  We were also trying to deal with the regular things in our life plus the emotions that we were experiencing with the cancer and it really was a lot to take.  Don’t get me wrong though, we really did appreciate all of the support but sometimes we just wanted to hide away.

At this point all of my hair was gone and Mike could finally say that his hair was longer than mine.  The rest of our life did not stop in the fall of 2006 just because cancer had knocked on the door.  Our kids were back to a regular hockey schedule, music lessons had started and Mike was in the thick of his MBA studies.  I now had treatment #2 behind me and I could relax at home for the next three weeks until the next treatment.  I was doing a lot of reading, watching movies and scrapbooking.

So it was now two down and six to go.

It Takes Two - Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

HOME


One day shortly before my second chemo treatment, Mike called me from his office to let me know that one of his colleagues at work had put my name forward to an organization that makes handmade quilts for people with cancer.  I was really touched by this since I had never even met this particular colleague before.  I also had never heard of this quilting organization so I looked it up online.  It is called Victoria’s Quilts.
 
My Blankie - Fall 2006
It was started in the U.S.by Deborah Rogers and named for Victoria Ann Morrison who was her best friend.  Victoria was a quilter and also a cancer patient.  She had commented to her friend that she often got cold during her chemo treatments.  After Victoria passed away, Deborah decided to start Victoria’s Quilts.  In 1998, Betty Giffin from Ottawa brought the concept to Canada.  In that first year they distributed 16 quilts to cancer patients and now there are more than 800 volunteers, with 20 groups in Ottawa, close to 30 branches across Canada with a distribution of about 400 quilts per month.  With the help of so many volunteers, community members and others, the organization provides comfort both physical and spiritual to people struggling with cancer so that they know they are not alone in their struggle.  This truly amazed me.  There is such kindness in the human spirit that can touch your heart and make it soar.

One day not too long afterwards, there was a knock at my door and an elderly lady was smiling at me and then she handed me a big bag.  Inside were a beautiful quilt and a handmade carry bag for it.  She explained that she was from the United Church and she was delivering it for me and then she gave me the name of the person that had requested it for me.  I thanked her and immediately wrote to the organizers on the website to express my sincere appreciation and fascination that so much work had gone into this quilt for me.  Handmade by complete strangers.  On their own time.  How incredible was that?!?
 
A favorite spot near HOME - Fall 2012
I called Mike and told him but when I gave him the name it wasn’t the same as the lady he works with that had put my name in.  It was actually the name of one of the people that he was doing his MBA with.  So now it seems that two people had thought about me and requested a quilt.  I felt kind of bad for the first lady but she was happy that I had received a quilt.  Instead, she ended up knitting me a big, warm pair of socks and sent that off in the mail.  I wrote to both of these thoughtful ladies to thank them for their kindness.  I was just so thankful.  Those socks were on my feet and that quilt was with me for every treatment, every hospital stay, every afternoon nap and any other time that I might be cold or need comfort.  That quilt has become like a good friend.  A shoulder to lean on.  A symbol of home and comfort. Maybe I’ve turned into Linus dragging my blankie around like on the old Charlie Brown cartoons.  Anyway, I love my quilt and it is never far away from me.  A little piece of home wherever I go.

Not long after I started my treatments, my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer as well.  Now she has a Victoria’s Quilt too.

On the reverse side of my quilt (and I believe in every quilt they make) there is this verse sewn into the fabric:

Be strong and of good courage
 do not be afraid,
nor dismayed,
for the Lord is with you wherever you go.
-Joshua 1:9

To learn more about Victoria’s Quilts, visit:

Home - Phillip Phillips

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

BRINGING SEXY BACK



The Bald & the Balder - Fall 2006
As you might imagine, cancer and the treatments for it affect your entire body inside and out.  Your outward appearance can change in so many ways and for many people this can be difficult on self-esteem and confidence.  I had heard about a program called “Look Good Feel Better” and I decided to find out more about it.  Someone I know had gone to this during her treatments and had really enjoyed it the program.  It’s a national non-profit program that “is committed to helping women manage the appearance related effects of cancer and its treatment.”  The premise is that if you can control how you look it empowers you and provides a positive and strong attitude.  Feeling better about yourself is so important during this time and when you look good you usually do feel better. 

The program is free and includes a two-hour step by step workshop with make-up tips, hair alternatives and other beauty tips.  It’s offered by industry trained cosmeticians and other specialists and each participant receives a complimentary cosmetic kit and personal care products.  I signed up and was looking forward to the session.  Unfortunately, the only one I could attend was during the day and since all of my friends were at work during the day I had to go alone.  I had no problem with that but it would have been much more fun to bring a friend along.  Anyway, I went to the workshop and totally enjoyed it. 

There were women there of all different ages and I think we all learned something, we had a few laughs, and we all took something away with us.  The most important thing I took away with me was all the free stuff!  Just kidding.  No I’m not – who doesn’t love a gift bag full of free cosmetics to try out.  It was very generous that the cosmetics companies and others donated the products for us to use and to try and it really was appreciated.  Seriously though, the main thing I took away with me was that I discovered that I really wasn’t alone.  There were so many other women that were going through this and there were so many others that supported us and wanted to help in any way they could.  Women are incredible that way.  We can really pull together, even with women we’ve never met, in times when we need to find strength and support.

I was so inspired by the women that were going through this stupid cancer thing but I was equally inspired by those that were there to support us. One young twenty-something girl that was there showed us her wig she had just got for going out clubbing with her friends.  She said that when she felt good she wanted to go out and dance and forget about the cancer world for a little while and just do what everyone else her age was doing.  I loved that attitude!  I felt the same way except I was not dancing the club scene – just in my own living room.  Dance like nobody is watching.  One of my favorite sayings.

So after that Look Good Feel Better session we were all bringing sexy back.  Even if it was just a little bit of sexy.

If you or someone you know would like to find out more about the Look Good Feel Better programs in about 25 countries worldwide please visit: http://lookgoodfeelbetter.org/programs/international-programs 


Bringing Sexy Back - Justin Timberlake


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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I GOTTA BE ME

Me as Madonna - Halloween 2007

When I first realized that I would be bald at some point, I decided to see what other options there were for me.  It was going to be winter when I was bald, so I couldn’t run around with nothing on my head.  Not with the kind of winters we have here in Ottawa (apparently the second coldest capital in the world after Moscow).

I wasn’t crazy about some of the scarves I’d seen.  They didn’t really seem like they would suit me very well.  I did plan on getting as many hats as I could since I’d be wearing them a lot.  Except for Halloween or parties where a costume was required, I had never worn a wig.  So, I made an appointment at a salon for a fitting and one of my friends came with me.  What a day!  I tried on so many wigs.  Blond, black, brunette, redhead and even some with lots of colours.  Some were short and some were long and some were curly and some were straight.  Each new wig brought a completely different look and a whole new personality.  I could be whoever I wanted to be and it certainly was a lot of fun.  I didn’t buy any wigs that day but I did go to another salon a week later with Mike and I picked out three different wigs.  There was a long brunette sort of everyday wig that was similar to how my own hair had been, there was another longer one that was more blond and a bit more for “going out”, and then there was a black wig similar to the style Uma Thurman had in Pulp Fiction.  That one would be more for “staying in” if you know what I mean.  Wink wink.

Me as Wilma - Halloween 2011
However, the funny thing was that I never, ever wore any of them.  Not once.  I didn’t quite feel right wearing them out in public or even at home for that matter.  I wasn’t comfortable.  Besides being itchy and hot and just a bit uncomfortable, they weren’t me and I gotta be me.  One day I realized that the reasons I had for wearing them were not to actually make myself feel better about being bald but to make everyone else feel better and more comfortable around me.  To hell with that and if anyone was uncomfortable with my baldness, too damn bad for them.  Plus it just wasn’t natural for me and I didn’t like the way it made me feel.  I ended up donating them to the Cancer Center in hopes that someone else might make good use of them.

Me as a Disco Queen - Disco Party 2012
We all must find ways to deal with the unplanned situations we find ourselves in at certain times in our lives.  Those of us that have experienced hair loss due to chemo have all had to find a way to deal with it.  Every one of us is unique and we all have our own personal sense of style regardless of whether we have hair or not.  We also have comfort levels that help to define our selection of head wear and accessories for out in public and for around our own homes.  Some of us might wear a scarf or a wig or a hat and some of us might just embrace our baldness.  My husband believes that challenging times draw out our true personalities and that it is not in my nature to pretend or to cover anything up.

So I chose bald.  Oh yeah and a lot of warm hats for our Canadian winters, eh.

I Gotta Be Me - Sammy Davis Jr.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

SHE'S GOT THE LOOK

Well I knew I was going to lose my hair but when it started to happen I was wondering how I would handle it.  It was bizarre.  My hair started to come out in huge chunks.  If it was windy you could be sure that sections of hair would be blowing in the wind.  When I started to notice a big mess of hair on my pillow in the morning and in my car I knew it was time to do something about it.  I was going to have to get a new look.  So, I asked Mike to shave it off.  I think that must have been a very difficult thing for him to do now that I think about it.  I mean how many men have to shave off their wife’s hair?  It was really hard for me to ask him but I didn’t want anyone else to do it.

The Look - Fall 2006
This was one of the first moments that I have tucked away into my dark moments memory file.  There would be several low points along this journey and this was one of them.  I was kneeling beside the bathtub so that Mike could shave what was left of my hair off and into the tub.  That way it would be easier to clean up afterwards.  He was pretty cool about it and did everything he could to make me feel comfortable.  He said all the right things.  However, I could see the chunks of hair falling and I cried the entire time.  I tried not to but I couldn’t help it.  I did try to be as quiet and still as I could.  First we tried a brush cut but then there were these big bald patches on my head.  Mike ended up using the shortest length of the shaver and got off as much hair as he could.

When I eventually looked in the mirror it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I would of course keep wearing make-up and bigger earrings would soon become a key accessory.  As long as I could still do whatever I could to look as good as possible then that would make me feel better.  I tried to keep in mind how beautiful Demi Moore and Nathalie Portman still looked when they had their heads shaved for movie roles.

The next day I had to go to the arena for Alex’s hockey practice.  This would be the first time I ventured out into the public domain with no hair.  I was feeling very nervous.  I don’t know why because I knew that nobody would outright laugh at me or anything but I also knew that people would stare or feel uncomfortable or not know what to say.  However, I was determined to go about my life as normally as possible.  The arena is just down the street so Tasza and I walked over together to get some fresh air.
Rock Star - Fall 2006

When we arrived at the arena I reached out to pull open the door and I just froze.  I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.  I was hesitating on going in because there were people on the other side of the door that I knew or that I didn’t really know but recognized and I was going to have to walk in with no hair.  Ok I wasn’t shiny bald yet but I did have that very short brush cut or whatever it is called.  So as I was working up the courage to go in, my smart and beautiful and wonderfully perceptive daughter (who was only eight years old at the time) put her hand on mine and looked up at me with an encouraging smile and said, “It’s okay Mommy, you look like a rock star.  We’ll go in together.”  I smiled at her sweet face and thought how lucky I was.  And how strong she was.  Then I choked back the tears, took a deep breath and decided that I could do this, with some help from my daughter.

We pulled open the door together.

She's Got the Look - Roxette


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Friday, March 15, 2013

I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS


My Friends - Fall 2006, Mont Tremblant, Quebec
So there I was away for a weekend with 8 of my old friends (group name FPU) from high school.  We were at a chalet in Mont Tremblant, Quebec which is a beautiful spot any time of the year.  The first night at the chalet was really special and one that I will always remember.  Of course as it usually goes with a group of women going out, we all went through our beauty rituals and changes of clothes until we looked as good as we could.  Just like back in high school.  Everyone looked fantastic and I must say that the FPU is one fine looking bunch of ladies!  Anyway, after we were all ready we hung out by the gorgeous fireplace in the living room and had some wine.  We had a dinner reservation for later but we needed our pre-dinner cocktail hour first and foremost.  At one point our FPU president (yes we have a president) called for everyone to pay attention and then she addressed me and on behalf of all the girls she presented me with some wonderful gifts.  I was totally surprised and very touched.

It was completely out of character for me but I just started to cry and I didn’t know what to say.  I just kept looking around the room at my old friends.  I was thinking to myself, “There are nine of us here”.  Statistics say that one in nine women will get breast cancer – I guess I’m the one in this nine.  I certainly wouldn’t wish it on anyone else and I guess I could be asking “why me?” but maybe a better question is “why not me?”  I figured I could handle this and I was ready to fight this with everything in me.  I am strong and I am woman hear me roar!!!  Okay a bit over the top there but you get my drift right?  I was feeling so blessed at what wonderful friends I have had for so many years.  The rest of the weekend was an absolute blast and of course what happens in Tremblant, stays in Tremblant.  Wink wink.
Enjoying Tremblant - Fall 2006
When I returned back home after that fantastic fall weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about our conversations.  I wondered how I would have felt as part of the FPU if it wasn’t me that this cancer was happening too but one of them.  How did it make them feel?  Did it scare them or would it make them feel differently about me?  I guess I always have this feeling that you should tell people that are important to you that they are indeed important to you.  That they matter.  I did the same thing after my Mom died.  I wrote a letter to the FPU girls that were sharing a big house in Toronto at the time and told them how I felt.  I think losing someone so close to you really makes you realize how quickly life can change.  I just never want to regret not telling people how I felt about them but at the same time you don’t just call up your friends and say “I love you and you are an important part of my life.”  They would probably think you were going off the deep end.  Of course there is always the drunken “I love ya man!” but who remembers that the next day anyway?

I took some deep breaths, swallowed that lump in my throat and made a decision.  I decided to write to everyone to let them know that they mattered to me and that I although I was being as strong as I could, I still needed to know my friends were there and were contributing to my optimistic outlook on life.  Plus I wanted to say thank you for the gifts.  So I sat down and composed an email.  Here is part of that message:
 
Hey Ladies - I had a fantastic time this past weekend.  I am so blessed and lucky to be part of such an amazing group of women.  Friendships like ours are lasting and meaningful.  Although some of us are geographically challenged when it comes to getting together, I always feel that we can pick up where we left off with no problems.  The weekend to me was about friendships and women and how we can all come together to discuss an issue, laugh at an embarrassing story or just feel comfortable enough to cry together.  In her book, Dr. Marla Shapiro refers to her female friends as her "board of directors" and that they can come together for meetings when the need arises.  I guess that's kind of like the FPU.  I also learned so much from you all this weekend.  I learned that.............

  1. It doesn't matter whether you've adopted or given birth to your child or babysat a niece or nephew, we have all had poop issues.
  2. Eating blueberries daily may just add some years to your life. 
  3. Even Italians buy sauces already made. 
  4. You can be a lady and still dance like a ho when the mood strikes you. 
  5. Unselfish acts like growing your hair for cancer patients is just so totally amazing. 
  6. White leather and high heels can survive an unexpected ditch without too much damage. 
  7. You can still get dragged out of a bar at closing time at the age of 40 and survive the hangover the next day. 
  8. Even when you think it's not a good time to be away from home you do it anyway in the name of friendship. 
  9. When you are overcome with fear, sadness, hope, uncertainty, thankfulness, love, optimism and the closeness of a group of female friends that have known each other many years, it's okay to cry and not have any words and feel your heart about to explode.
  10. Friends are unique, always there no matter what, accept your faults, applaud your successes, feel your pain, acknowledge your difficult times and stand by your side to offer support when you need it the most.  They do this individually and as a group.  Sometimes they listen and sometimes they ask questions.  Sometimes they don't shut up and sometimes they let you be.
I was heading towards chemo treatment #2 feeling stronger than ever, with a little help from my friends.


With A Little Help From My Friends - Joe Cocker

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GUEST BLOG: CANCER THROUGH A CAREGIVER'S EYES

Today I am very happy to introduce Cameron Von St. James as my very first guest blogger!  Cameron and his family have been through quite the journey.  Please read and share his compelling story.




The day you face a cancer diagnosis is one that you never forget. On November 21, 2005, our family got devastating news. My wife Heather had malignant pleural mesothelioma. It was my first day on a job that I was never prepared for; I became a caregiver. The news came only three months after we celebrated our daughter Lily’s birth. We were supposed to be preparing for her first Christmas. Instead, cancer shattered our plans and our lives. 

After explaining the disease, the doctor outlined our treatment options. One option was the local university hospital; another was a regional hospital that was highly rated but didn’t have a mesothelioma program. The third choice was Dr. David Sugarbaker, a mesothelioma specialist in Boston. I could tell by her face that Heather felt overwhelmed, and her eyes pleaded for help. Without hesitation, I made the first of many decisions we would have to face. We were heading for Boston.  This was the best treatment available, and I just had to pray that it would help my wife.

Heather was unable to work after the diagnosis. Between caring for Heather and Lily and making travel plans for treatments, I could only work part-time. There were so many things to do and I quickly became overwhelmed.  However, I was careful not to let Heather see me when I felt weak. I was determined to be strong for her, but I often battled thoughts of losing my wife to cancer and becoming a widower with a young child and no money.  The stress and pressure were exhausting.

I’ll never be able to show enough appreciation for the family, friends and total strangers who helped us by offering their emotional support and even financial help. I would advise everyone who faces cancer to accept whatever help is offered. I learned that there is no room for stubborn pride in a cancer fight, and each offer of help was a weight lifted from my shoulders. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. It’s stressful, confusing and exhausting, and you can’t just walk away. You’ll have bad days, but don’t let negative emotions take over.

After Heather’s surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, she beat the odds and survived this 
horrifying disease. Seven years after her mesothelioma diagnosis, she is still cancer-free. The battle against cancer taught me a few good lessons. I learned that time is precious. I also learned to manage time and cope with stress. 

While working and caring for my wife and daughter, I went back to school to study information technology and graduated with honors, even being selected to be the student speaker at graduation. During my graduation speech, I mentioned that at the time of Heather’s diagnosis, I would never have believed that I would one day be giving such a speech. If we have faith in ourselves and never give up hope, we can accomplish things that we could never imagine. Now, I hope that by sharing our story with others, we can help inspire them in their own battles today.


Cameron Von St. James
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance
http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/cameron/

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Monday, March 11, 2013

WHIP MY HAIR

Me With  Short Hair - Tremblant, Fall 2006

A couple of weeks after my first chemo treatment was the trip to Mont Tremblant with the FPU (my girlfriends from high school) that I had been looking forward to for weeks.  The planning for this had started months ago and as you might imagine it took quite awhile to nail down a date that all nine girls were available and then to decide where we would go.  In the past we have done some fun weekends away including a trip to New York City where we stayed in the youth hostel (all in one room), a houseboat on the Rideau Lakes that we all slept on for four days and trips to various cottages.  This was a big year however because it was 2006 and most of us turned the big 4-0 this year.  We really wanted to celebrate this and mark it with something fun so we had rented a beautiful chalet that we would all share.  After the cancer diagnosis, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip but the timing actually worked out very well.

My friend Trish flew to Ottawa and her and I drove together to Mont Tremblant in Quebec.  Along the way we talked about the stupid cancer and then she told me that she felt helpless and that she wanted to do something for me.  She felt like she was so far away (geographically) and wanted to know what I needed.  I told her that I just needed her to be my friend.  I told her that I might need to call her more often.  I told her that I might need her to listen more often.  I told her that I really didn’t even know what I needed but that her friendship was something that I needed to be able to count on.  It occurred to me that many people were feeling like that.  They didn’t know what to do or say or how to act or anything.  Plus I’m not the type to ask for help.  I’m told that I can be very stubborn but I guess I just don’t want to bother anyone with my problems and I just deal with things myself.  And I have Mike.  Perhaps I needed to think about how to let others in a little bit more.

Trish & I - Tremblant, Fall 2006
On the second day of our little getaway I was in the bathroom with one of the girls and we were getting ready in the morning.  I put some gel in my now very short hair and when I took my hands away from my head they were covered in hair!  My friend just stared at my hands.  I pulled at my hair and it just came out without the usual pulling feeling.  It simply came out.  I couldn’t even feel it coming out.  The first thing I thought was, “Wow – the chemo is working!!!”  The first thing my friend thought was, “Holy shit your hair is falling out!!!”  So I guess that was my second thought.  I knew it was going to happen but until I saw it with my own eyes it was hard to imagine. 

That day we all went to the Scandinavian Spa and had massages.  I was really enjoying my massage until the end when the masseur started to massage my head.  I freaked and sat up and just yelled at the poor guy, “Oh my God don’t touch my head!”  I was sure he was going to be covered in hair and I was feeling pretty wierded out by that.  I imagine he was kinda freaked out by my reaction too.  Must have thought I was a lunatic.  Anyway, he was really good about it and in fact invited me to come back for a complete head massage once I was totally bald.  That sounded pretty good.
Spa Scandinave - Mont Tremblant, Quebec
 After the massages, we all went outside to enjoy the hot tubs and other relaxation facilities like the saunas and steam rooms.  One of the hot tub pools had a waterfall that you could sit under.  That made me feel kind of self conscious about my hair as well.  I could see that any pressure (like the water falling on me) would take out some more hair.  I was sure that the pool and drains were going to be completely clogged up with my hair and they’d have to shut everything down.  How embarrassing.  I was imagining all the bathers pointing at me accusingly, “It’s HER fault!” they would say and I would be sitting there all alone with one half of my head all bald and the other just kind of patchy and strange looking.  Sometimes my imagination goes a bit off on its own.  I know that. After all it’s my imagination and I’ve had it my whole life.  I was glad to get out of there.

It started hitting me that I was actually going to go bald.  Very soon.

Whip My Hair - Willow Smith

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Friday, March 8, 2013

THE HEALER

Gore Bay, ON - Summer 2005

Although I was sort of enjoying being at home, I did miss work.  Probably more so because I was not at home by choice nor was I on vacation.  One September afternoon, work snuck back into my life for a little while and it was all good.  Very good in fact and quite heartwarming.
  
My boss at the time came over to see me at my house.  She had this huge “chemo survival kit” with her that my co-workers had put together for me.  It was full of all kinds of interesting stuff.  There were t-shirts, a yoga mat and DVD, foot soaks and body baths, movies from Audrey Hepburn to Monty Python, jam, tea, chocolate, flowers, photo frames, a checkers game, scrapbooking stuff, magazines, and a gift card for a spa.  Someone even slipped in a special “prescription” for me to light up if need be.  I’m sure you know what I’m referring to people.  Don’t act so shocked.  You can actually get it from the doctor for medicinal purposes you know.  Haha!  The thought that went in to all of these things was touching.  The other thing the people I work with did was to send out a call to all staff to see if anyone wanted to make a team to do the Run for the Cure that happens in October all across Canada to raise funds for breast cancer research, education and awareness.

AFN Staff Runners - Spring 2005
I was so thankful for all of the wonderful gifts from my co-workers.  They made me smile and they made me laugh.  It warms my heart to know that there are so many giving and caring people in the world.  You know we go to work each and every day never knowing what the day will bring.  Sometimes we may take each other for granted or maybe not treat each other with the kindness and respect that we ought to.  It is very special when people can come together in the times of crisis.  I resisted the urge to tear into the basket of goodies until my children came home from school so that we could do it together.

Now I suppose the next thing that happened to me that very same day is somewhat unique to most of you reading this.  As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, I am of First Nations descent and at the time of the cancer diagnosis I worked at the Assembly of First Nations.  The National Chief has an Elder that advises him and is also available for staff and others to talk to if need be.  This Elder is a wonderful man that has been many places in the world and in very distinguished company.  He came to see little old me at my house.  Since he had requested to come to see me I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

After he arrived, he explained that before a person can be healed they must be cleansed of any negative thoughts, bad feelings, negative energy or bad spirits.  This cleansing is a spiritual and physical thing.  It helps the healing to happen without distraction.  He took sweet grass, sage and cedar taken from our own hedge and burned them in a large shell.  An eagle feather was used to fan it and then he “smudged” me with the smoke.  Basically he covered my entire body from head to toe by fanning the smoke with the feather and also offering prayers.  It really was a very moving experience and afterwards he presented me with an eagle feather.  I kept the feather, sweet grass, cedar and the sage wrapped together by my bedside.  I also had three angel figurines on my bedside table that were given to me as gifts by three different people.  All of these items stayed by my bedside because I was afraid that if I moved anything I might jinx myself.

It’s not often that a First Nations Elder comes to your home to perform such a meaningful ceremony and I was very overwhelmed by it all.  I was glad that Mike was at home to share this with me.  It really was quite moving.  This was a day to remember and one that I hold in my heart and will cherish forever.

Little did I know how often I would draw strength and comfort from the events of that day.

The Healer - John Lee Hooker & Carlos Santana


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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

WORKING 9 TO 5


Hard Workers
(Tasza & Mike) - Summer 2005
It started to hit me that I wasn’t going to be going back to work anytime soon.  At first I guess it felt like I was just on holidays but after a while life at home without going into the office each day seemed more permanent – so to speak.  I was really grappling with the fact that I didn’t have to go to work and that I didn’t have to feel any stress and that all I needed to do was focus on taking care of me.  When you’ve worked pretty much your entire adult life this is a strange place to find yourself.

Except for two maternity leaves, I have always worked.  So to get my head around the fact that the laundry could wait one more day because I was going to be home was odd.  To realize that I didn’t have to rush to cram everything into the weekends and evenings was also odd.  I was in a position where I totally had to change my entire way of being and my complete mindset needed a major overhaul.  Think about it.  It was actually okay if I sat down with a cup of tea and a magazine at 11:00 am and not feel like “something needed to be done.”  I could lie down on the couch and take a nap.  I could watch a movie in the middle of the afternoon.  I could go to the grocery store in the daytime.  Wow.  A freaky turn of events that I would indeed need to get used to.  My job now, I suppose, was to work on me.  Take care of me.  That’s what everyone kept telling me but it made me feel kind of selfish and spoiled.  However, I do know that it was the right thing to do to feel good and stay healthy and as strong as possible with NO STRESS to cause any problems or setbacks.
Another Hard Worker
(Alex) - Summer 2004

I was lucky to be feeling good so I decided to walk every day from the first day of chemo until maybe one day I couldn’t anymore.  While I was able you could be damn sure that I was going to get out there and move around and pull in as much fresh fall air as I could get.  I was even able to run for about 5 kms as well.  I could take walks for as long as I wanted.  I made a decision to stop wearing a watch.  Why?  There was really nowhere I had to be at any given time so I could walk as long as I wanted to.  I so enjoyed these walks and I always took Bailey, our Portuguese Water Dog, with me.
Bailey & Me - Summer 2005

The first day that I started running was less than a week after treatment #1.  I was running along in the morning and I realized that I was laughing.  I was running and laughing like a crazy person.  I was just so amazed that I could run.  I looked to the left and saw the bright sun shining and then I looked to the right and saw that the moon was still out and then I just started to laugh out loud!  It felt so great!  People must have thought I was a lunatic.  I didn’t care.  I felt like screaming, “look at me I have cancer and I’m in chemo and I’m still running!!”

Here’s another thing that changed.   I cooked.  I actually started to cook more often.  I cooked dinner and shocked the crap out of my family.  It was Shepherd’s Pie.  I know it was an easy start but it was quite edible.  Everyone gobbled it up.  I planned to continue wowing my family with new culinary delights every night.  I was loving being at home. 

I was feeling guilty about it.  Just a little tiny bit.

Working 9 To 5 - Dolly Parton


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Friday, March 1, 2013

THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN'

Jennifer, Julie & Me - Fall 2003

You might have heard about the Weekend to End Breast Cancer which is a 60 kms walk held in various cities in Canada.  I think there is a similar walk in the U.S. as well.  In 2006 I had planned to join my friend Julie to do the walk in support of our friend Jennifer who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early thirties.  I had felt this strong need to do something for Jennifer to show my support.  I had checked out the website in the spring and had planned to sign up later.  I thought I had lots of time to do so since I knew the walk was not until the Labour Day weekend in September.  However, when I went back on the website to register a few weeks later I discovered that there were no spaces left and the registration was closed.  That really sucked but there was nothing I could do about it.

In an ironic twist of fate, shortly after that I found out that I too had breast cancer.  Now here I was having chemo treatments starting the very weekend of the walk I had planned to be in!  How weird is that?  My friend Julie did the walk and I was so proud of her that she raised the required amount of money and really worked hard to do it.  So many people give so much of their time and energy in support of breast cancer research and it is really inspiring.  Julie sent me a message after the weekend walk and she really made me feel like I was right there with her.  I was so happy for her that she was able to experience the many aspects of this incredible journey.  The fact that she included Jennifer and me in her purpose and her thoughts was very touching.

Walking Path - Ottawa, Ontario
With her permission, I would like to share part of Julie’s message with you.

 “ I have been asked by everyone "how was the weekend?" and if I could sum it up with one word, I would say OVERWHELMING.  It was incredible.  It was inspiring, it was sad, it was hopeful and it was courageous.  It was an emotional overload and I don't think my eyes were dry all weekend but it was amazing.  The walkers shared stories of past events and personal reasons for doing the walk.  When I was asked why I was doing it, I gave some thought to my own personal reasons and wanted to share them with you and will also share them with all my supporters when I send a thank you email to everyone tonight.

I walked so that Jenn will never have to see another oncologist other than to get thumbs up that she's healthy and cancer-free.  I walked so that you will be in Jenn's position a year from now and will have a very long and healthy life with your children and with Mike.  I walked for all the women in my life who will hopefully never find a lump.  I walked for my daughter’s future and the future of all the women she will come to know in her lifetime.  But most of all, I walked because I could.  Because I am healthy and able and incredibly fortunate for everything I have.”

Thank you to everyone everywhere that has participated in walks, runs, bike rides, motorcycle rallies and a great many other events that raise funds and awareness for various cancers.  I am so very grateful.

These Boots Are Made For Walkin' - Nancy Sinatra



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