Sunday, June 30, 2013

I WANNA BE SEDATED

East Coast Trip 2010
Well surgery day arrived.  March 8, 2007.  The day of the bilateral mastectomy.  I woke up and it was so dark outside.  I had to be at the hospital by 6:00 am.  I was not allowed to eat anything so I tried not to think about how awesome an egg McMuffin and a coffee would be.  Mike drove me in to the hospital and we both felt oddly at ease.


After arriving at the hospital and realizing that this must be the only time of day with ample parking, we went straight away to check in.  We waited a few minutes with some other people that were already there and then I got called in.  I had to change into a hospital gown (open in back – lovely) and then a robe over top that closes in the front.  The only other thing that I was allowed to keep on were my socks.  Then I had to give all of my stuff in a bag to Mike to take care of.  That made me feel so strangely sad.  Just standing there in a stupid robe and my socks.

The nurse then got me into a bed and went about the usual stuff including blood work, temperature, blood pressure, etc…She explained that I was the first surgery of the day for Dr. Surgeon so everything should be on time and anyone else coming in afterwards would have to wait for me to be finished.  She then went through the process with me and told me that I would be taken by the porter to see the anaesthesiologist and then on to the operating room.
Poland Summer 2012

Mike was able to go with me to just outside the doors to where the operating rooms are and then there was an assigned waiting room for him to go to so that the Dr. could find him after the surgery.  The operation was expected to take about 5 hours in all and then I would have a couple of hours in the recovery room before going to my room in the hospital.  Mike would get an update from the surgeon immediately following the operation and he would also be given my room number in the hospital.  After the porter (who was so nice and very friendly and warm) brought us up as far as Mike was allowed, he gave us a few minutes alone together.  I felt a big lump in my throat before Mike and I parted ways and we hugged really hard and the last thing we said to each other was how much we loved each other and I asked him to give the kids big hugs and kisses and tell them how much I loved them.  I felt really scared all of a sudden.  For some reason, and I never said it to him, I had in the back of my mind some of those stories you hear where a person goes in for routine surgery and by some fluke something goes wrong and they die on the operating table.  That would really suck.

St. Sauveur Summer 2011
After we parted and the porter took me through the doors he parked me in the area where they would do the “block” with the anaesthesiologist.  He wished me luck and left me parked there.  I felt very much alone but since I was already pretty tired from the early morning, I ended up falling asleep and woke up to a masked face introducing herself to me as the Dr. that would be performing the block and participating in the surgery.  There was a nurse assisting her and they explained the block procedure to me.  It’s like an epidural when you have a baby except that it is high up on your back just below your neck.  They also went through all of the risks but I pretty much tuned them out because they are nothing compared to the risks of not having this operation done.  I’ll deal with whatever happens but I trusted that they knew what they were doing.  Next they had me sit up on the edge of the bed so that they could mark on my back where the needles would go in.



The Dr. said that the medication would soon take effect and I would start to feel pretty darn good.  Then she asked me if I was feeling good and where would I like to be?  I chose a nice sunny beach with palm trees and the sound of the ocean.  She asked if I preferred a pina coloda or a margarita and then all of a sudden I was feeling so good that it was sort of like I was floating.  After that things kind of blurred.  I know that I was then lying down again and being transported into the operation room.  I remember looking up and seeing Dr. Surgeon and a bunch of other people that I didn’t know.  They were moving in slow motion it seemed.  Then the anaesthesiologist put the mask over my face and that was all she wrote.

I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramones


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Sunday, June 23, 2013

POOR POOR PITIFUL ME

Poor Poor Pitiful Me - New York State, Summer 2011

All of a sudden it was March 7, 2007.  The day before the bilateral mastectomy surgery.  At this point I just wanted to get it over with.  I wanted to get the cancer the hell out of my body.  The date of March 8 had been hanging over me for so long now and it was finally almost there.  I spent most of the day getting ready.  Getting ready for what I’m not sure.  It’s kind of like “nesting” I guess just before you have a baby.  I was trying to clean the house, change bed linens, do laundry, etc…and also my Dad and Sheila were expected that afternoon.  The other thing on my mind was that I wouldn’t be able to do anything once I got home from the hospital because I wouldn’t be able to lift anything.  I just wanted to be sure that everything was done and I think it was also keeping my mind busy so that I didn't get too freaked out about the operation.

My friends and family were calling to wish me well but the telephone was ringing off the hook and it was really starting to get to me.  I do know that people had good intentions but the more the phone rang the farther I got behind in the things I was trying to get done and also the more it made me think about the surgery.  I was really just trying to put it out of my head for the time being and I figured I would just show up the next day at the required time and take it from there.  No point worrying about the unknown and all the “what ifs”.

Poor Poor Pitiful Alex-
Paris, Spring 2010
Finally the hospital called to tell me that the surgery was scheduled from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.  This is the moment when my next low point happened.  I think this is the fourth one I have described to you now.  The lady that I was speaking to on the phone was going over the requirements that I had to meet before the surgery.  She said I could not be wearing any makeup, nail polish or jewellery. I said to her, “Except my wedding ring.”  Then she asked me if I had read the info that I was given where it stated “no jewellery” and I said yes but that it always said that and I’d never had to remove my wedding ring before.  In fact, I couldn’t actually get my wedding ring off and I never do take it off.  I was so puffy from the chemo I knew for sure that ring was not going to come off my fat little fingers.  I think the only time I ever took it off in all these years was when I was pregnant and I really don’t know how I got it off even then.

Anyway, she told me I had to take it off or they either wouldn’t do the surgery or they would cut it off.  She said I should go to a jeweller because they’d do a better job than at the hospital.  But she was so cold and matter of fact and uncaring (well that was what I thought at the time).  She even said that I had lots of time to do it that afternoon.  I felt like smacking her!  Did she not realize how many other things I was trying to get done?  Did she not realize how many other things were on my mind?  Did I really need to have this to worry about now?  I was crying so hard at this point that I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t talk so I just wrote down the rest of the info and hung up.

For some reason this really upset me.  It was like not only did I have to get my breasts hacked off, I also had to delete anything else that was any part feminine or made me feel like a woman.  No lipstick, no nail polish, not even that which makes me feel the most special – my wedding and engagement rings.  I just felt so ripped off and like I was literally stripped of everything.  I supposed all the emotions I had been holding inside and the fear of the surgery and me trying to brave all just exploded with this phone call that had turned me into a weepy crazy lady.

Poor Poor Pitiful Tasz -
Lake Louise, AB Summer 2009
Of course I called Mike right away and cried like a baby on the phone until I got it out of my system.  Poor him.  He looked up some hints on the net right away on how to get off a too-tight ring.  I tried ice water, soap, lotion and even wrapped my finger in dental floss (like a mummy) and the ring was supposed to slide right over and off.  Yeah right.  That didn’t work at all except that by this time my finger was swollen and red.  I even stuck my finger in the margarine container and that didn’t work either.  Stupid tricks.  I ended up calling the local jewellery store and they told me they could cut it off and then fix it for me a few weeks after my surgery when my fingers were back at the usual size.  Mike took me as soon as he got home from work.  The older couple that runs the jewellery store were very nice and they cut my wedding ring off for me and reassured me that they would fix it up for me when I was ready.


That evening we had a nice family dinner and I figured it would be my last good meal for a few days.  Afterwards I packed myself a bag for the hospital and resigned myself to the fact that when I woke up the next day I would be off on yet another journey.  I fell asleep thinking about the photos I have tucked away from the summer I spent backpacking in Europe and lounging on the topless/nude beaches in Greece.  I was glad I had that crossed off my bucket list when I was in my twenties.

Poor Poor Pitiful Me - Terri Clark


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Thursday, June 20, 2013

CELEBRATION


My birthday rolled around on February 21st.  It was also my daughter’s birthday.  In 2007 I was turning 41 and she was turning 9.  How amazing is it that we share a birthday?  Best gift ever.
Birthday Girls - 2007

The things that can happen in your life from birthday to birthday in the course of a year are quite incredible when you really think about it.  When I turned 40 in 2006 we were on top of the world!  Mike had a surprise birthday party for me with a 60s theme for my birth year (1966) and it was so much fun!  Until the next morning that is.  It took me a full day and then some to recover from that party.  Never again.  Yeah right.

Birthday Girls - 2006
Now here I was a year later with cancer.  Did I have cancer on my 40th birthday and I just didn’t know it yet?  How long might it have been there?  I could never have imagined that I would turn 40 and all hell would break loose as it did.  However it did happen and it reinforced to me that each and every day is a gift to enjoy.  It is also a reminder to be sure to not take anything or anyone for granted.  So here I was with cancer but it was not going to stop me from celebrating another birthday with my beautiful little girl.  Plus chemo was finished which was worth celebrating as well.

To have been blessed with two healthy and amazing children and a husband who loves us all, makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.  Knowing this certainly helped me on this crazy cancer journey.  My family was my strength and my source of inspiration each step of the way.

Birthday Girls - 2013
If you can look beyond the negative things happening at certain times in your life you can always find something to celebrate.  No matter how small those things may be.  I believe that it is a good practice to focus on the positive and let that become front and centre in your life.  Some days it will be very hard to find something positive but on other days you might find many things to celebrate and be grateful for.

There are so many sayings about celebrating life that I happen to love and would like to share with you.  No doubt you have also seen these many times but seeing them again certainly won’t hurt.

Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. - Hilary Cooper

Always try and be a better person than you were yesterday, cause we aren't guaranteed tomorrow. - Tina A. Morgan

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. - Herm Albright

Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time. - Leo Buscaglia

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf. - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. – Ashley Smith

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet. - Mahatma Gandhi

My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde

You've gotta' dance like there's nobody watching, love like you'll never be hurt, sing like there's nobody listening, and live like it's heaven on earth. (And speak from the heart to be heard.) - William W. Purkey

Some days there won’t be a song in your heart.  Sing anyway. - Emory Austin

I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains. - Anne Frank

Let your life mean something. Become an inspiration to others so that they may try to do more and to become more than they are today. - Thomas D. Willhite

One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching. - Gerard Way

For every day that there is sunshine, there will be days of rain, it’s how we dance within them both that shows our love and pain. - Joey Tolbert

Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine. - Anthony J. D’Angelo

Wag more.  Bark less. -  Author Unknown

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. - Robert Brault

So there you go!  Have a wonderful day and enjoy every little moment!


Celebration - Kool & The Gang

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NEXT TO ME


Next to Me - Banff, AB 2009
I had about three weeks to rest and prepare mentally and emotionally for the bilateral mastectomy that was quickly approaching.  How exactly does one prepare for that?  I had no idea but I did know that I really wanted to just get away for a night with Mike.

So when I was feeling better my Mother-in-law came from Montreal to stay with the kids.  Mike and I and my boobs went away on a little getaway weekend.  Although it was just for a couple of days it felt like we were gone for so much longer.  I had not gone anywhere or done anything for months.  We had been trapped on Planet Cancer.

We decided to go to a Nordik spa.  If you have never been to one you really should try it sometime.  They are amazing!  Especially here in Canada during the fall and winter months.  I went to one for the first time when I went to Mont Tremblant with the FPU.  Remember when I thought my hair was going to all come out in the pool?  I didn’t have to worry about that now.  It already was out.  Plus it was just Mike and I and we went to a smaller spa that also had a lodge where we booked a room with a fireplace and a Jacuzzi.  It was so nice.

Next to Me - Poland 2012
We drove to the Laurentians (mountains in Quebec north of Montreal) in one of the worst snowstorms I have ever travelled in but we were determined to have this time alone together.  Mike got us there safe and sound.  It was so worth it.  We spent the afternoon at the spa in the outdoor hot pools, the sauna and steam room and relaxing by the fire with tea.  After a relaxing day we got ready for dinner and enjoyed a bottle of wine together.  I was able to taste things a bit better so that made such a difference for me. 


Anyway, I will never forget after dinner going back to the spa and sitting there in the hot tub with my wonderful husband, it was dark and the snow was falling and we could look up and see the lights from the ski hill off in the distance.  It was very romantic and such a relaxing escape from our cancer world for those precious hours we were away just the two of us.  I felt strong and confident and able to take on the rest of this journey.  Scared too but whatever was going to happen was going to happen.  I knew with Mike by my side I could do pretty much anything. 

Next to Me - Emeli Sandé



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Sunday, June 16, 2013

SIGN OF A VICTORY

Rox & Me - Fall 2007
It was February 2007 and I was so glad to be done with chemo.  I know I told you already about the victory bell but I want to reiterate how amazing that felt to ring that bell!  For my friend Roxanne to understand the significance of this victory, completing the chemo, she must really have seen something in the way I described the ringing of the bell to her.  She really must have “got it” to go out and find this beautiful bell for me and for my family to have in our home for all of our future victories.  I mean how often do you see bells at the mall?  I don’t know where she went to shop for it in the first place and I’ve never asked.  I simply was just so touched by this offering.

Family Pic - Fall 2012
There were little victories that did happen during this chemo experience.  I remember going for Sunday brunch with my family once when my Dad was visiting.  We met my brother, Trevor, and his family at the restaurant.  When we arrived the staff at the restaurant told us it was very busy and there was no way they could seat us all together and we were going to have to split up.  Well that kind of defeated the purpose of a family brunch right?  There were 10 of us.  Trevor was kind of arguing with the host and then he whispered to me to take my hat off.  So I did.  I guess when the host saw my bald head it shocked him maybe or maybe he felt sorry for me or whatever he felt it doesn’t really matter to me.  We were given a table together right away.  Little victory.

Tasza & Me - February 2007
Another time, the week after I got out of isolation from my time in the hospital, Tasza got some weird rash thing and her skin was peeling off from her hands and feet so badly that we thought she had flesh-eating disease.  It was getting bad and she had a fever so I had to take her to emergency at the hospital.  Alex was at school.  Mike was at work.  I had no choice.  When we arrived at emergency there was a huge line-up, we waited for a bit until we were able to see the admitting staff.  As soon as she saw me she asked me if I was in treatment and when I said yes she said that we had to come with her right away.  She gave us our own private waiting room complete with a TV, a couple of chairs and an examination bed.  I was not allowed to be around anyone else that was in the main waiting room due to the germs and other things that could seriously affect me due to my low ability to fight infections.  Since I had just started to build up my blood counts again this was a huge consideration that I hadn’t thought of since my concern was for my daughter.  They ended up checking her for Kawasaki disease but it turned out that she had a strep virus of some kind.  Thank goodness.  And thank goodness for the private room.  Little victory.


The next little victory was in process, my hair was growing back!  I was starting to look like a Chia pet (some of you will know what those are but if not then Google it!) but I was quite pleased to realize that I was not going to stay bald forever.  Now I was just waiting for the next big step on this journey.  Next stop....bilateral mastectomy.

Sign of a Victory - R.Kelly

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

GUEST BLOG VIDEO: Heather Von St. James

Cancer Through a Caregiver's Eyes (video)

Back in March I had a guest blog post that I shared with you from Cameron Von St. James.  Cameron and his family have been through quite the journey.

He and his wife Heather participated in a short video about her cancer experience with mesothelioma.  I am sharing this video as a follow-up.  It is their hope that this video will help to spread hope and awareness to those who need it.

For more information please contact:

Cameron Von St. James
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Please view and share the video.  Thank you!






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Friday, June 7, 2013

I WILL WALK 500 MILES

Bench Pose - Banff, AB 2009
As I started to slowly recover from the last chemo treatment, I started to think that I was able to begin doing more physical exercise.  I was kind of anxious to get moving again.  Since my car was due for an oil change, I decided to take it in to be serviced one nice sunny day.  I thought I could drop it off at the garage and then walk home as I had done many times in the past.  It is about a 2 kilometre walk. 

Alex Enjoying a Bench Rest - Fairmont
Hot Springs, BC 2009
I dropped off my car and started walking home.  I didn’t get too far before I realized that I had seriously overestimated my abilities.  I had to sit down at every bench along the way.  After I rested on the last bench before I got home I was really not too sure if I was going to make it or not.  There were no more benches left.  I was afraid to sit down on the ground for fear I wouldn’t be able to get up.  It was like walking through mud again.  My legs were so heavy and I couldn’t breathe very well.  I took a short cut through some backyards and finally fell through the hedge into my backyard and got into the house and collapsed on the floor.  Finally I had made it home.   It was like I had finished a marathon.

Broken Arm - Feb.2007
I had just started to recover from the walk when I got a call from the school.  Alex had been in a school yard accident and they thought his arm was broken and told me that he seemed to be in a bit of shock.  I said I would be there right away to get him.  As soon as I hung up I realized that I had no car!  Of all the days!  I called everyone I could think of that might have been home on a weekday.  Finally I got a hold of Amy and through my panicked voice and tears I was able to tell her what was going on.  She went to the school and got him and then came to get me and went straight to the doctor’s office.  I said they won’t see us because we don’t have an appointment and Amy said “they damn well better see him”.  We were able to get in for an x-ray right away and waited for the results.  His arm was broken in two places and poor Alex was really in a lot of pain.  By this time I had called Mike and he was on his way home.  I stayed with Alex at the doctor’s office while Amy walked to the garage and picked up my car and paid for it for me and drove it back to the doctor’s office.

When Mike arrived he took off with Alex to the hospital for a cast to be put on and I went home and Amy went back to whatever she was doing when I called her in such a panic.  Friends like that are awesome.  Everything worked out but I can assure you that I waited quite some time before attempting a big walk like that again!

I Will Walk 500 Miles - The Proclaimers



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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

MY FUNNY VALENTINE

After that 8th and final treatment was over it took a couple of weeks to feel human again. 

Looking my worst and showing off
my Valentine's cards - Feb.2007
On Valentine’s Day 2007 for the first time in a long time I felt more a part of my family than I had in months.  However this was when I looked my absolute worst.  I mean really, really bad.  I was big, white, puffy and hairless.  But it was Valentine’s Day and my family loved me regardless.

There was a big snowstorm on that day so the buses were cancelled and the kids stayed home.  We got to have a nice breakfast together and exchanged cards and gifts.  I was scheduled to have an MRI, so we all braved the winter roads and went into Ottawa to the hospital.  The MRI was to see how things had changed since the first one I had prior to the chemotherapy. After the appointment we went out for lunch and then went home and rented a movie.  The kids spent some time outside enjoying the new snow and I was able to send out another update to family and friends.

During this week I also received a confirmation that the mastectomy would be on March 8th.  I went to a pre-surgery session and got a bit more information about what to expect.  It was kind of scary but I know it was necessary.  I had no choice in the matter.  I also had an appointment with a Radiation Oncologist and was informed about radiation treatments. 

The oncologist explained that the radiation treatments were not mandatory but were highly recommended.  Of course I said that I would do them.  I would do anything to be sure this stupid cancer was gone forever.  So I would have 25 treatments altogether.  I would have to go to the cancer centre every day, five days a week for five weeks.  Some of the side effects would most likely include fatigue and possible burning of the skin in the area that was to be radiated.  There were no medications to take this time so that was good.

This journey was obviously far from over!


My Funny Valentine - Frank Sinatra

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

RING MY BELL


Final Treatment for Puffy Bald Ole Me - February 2007
 On February 1st, 2007 I had my final chemotherapy treatment!  Mike was with me as he was for each and every treatment.  I was so happy to finally be done with it.  It really was a rough time with each treatment getting worse than the one before.  The last treatment really threw me off for quite a number of days.  I was extremely fatigued with plenty of aches and pains in my arms, legs and back.  Not to mention a number of other wacky side effects.  I spent most days sleeping and missed out on so many every day things that might not seem important but when you miss a number of them it becomes very important.  Just day to day family life but I often felt like I wasn't a part of my own family anymore because I was not present and not participating in anything.  Again I had to remind myself, “It’s not forever, it’s just for now.” 
Ringing the Victory Bell!
 - February 2007

After that last chemo treatment I finally got to ring the "Victory Bell".  There is a large bell in the chemo room that is reserved for those that complete their treatments.  Each person would go to the bell and ring it loud and proud.  Everyone cheers and claps and it really is a very emotional moment.  I heard that bell ring a number of times and kept waiting for my turn.  When I finally did get to ring it WOW was it ever loud when you are standing directly underneath it!  I can’t explain how great that felt!

My dear friend Roxanne and her family actually bought me my very own beautiful victory bell to put up at home.  It is reserved for all the special victories that we will share as a family and with friends over the years.  This was such a touching and meaningful gift and I am ever so grateful for it!

I was now finished with chemo but the chemo wasn’t finished with me.  By that I mean that people assumed that after my last treatment on February 1 that I was done.  That all of a sudden I was going to be back to normal.  That is not how it works.  I still had the usual weeks of recovery compounded by all of the side effects that I had that I didn’t even know would ever go away.  So I think people just assumed that I was done but did not realize the after affects or how long they would last.  So now I was done with chemo but I wasn’t really done.  Not yet.

My Very Own Victory Bell
I also had side effects from the many medications I had to take.  I had to take tons of different drugs since this all started.  They prescribe a medication to help but then that drug might have side effects so then I would get another prescription for something to combat that one and before you know it you could get completely screwed up in what you were taking, how often and how much of it.  I could give you a list of them all and how much they cost because it’s pretty outrageous when you add it all up.  Up to this point I had a stack of over 20 prescriptions totalling over $1200.  That doesn’t include the Neulasta™ shots that I had to get for the last four treatments that cost $2500 each time.  I was pretty lucky that I had health insurance.  It must be so hard to deal with all of the cancer crap and then to add financial stress on top of that is just sickening.

Now I was in recovery mode and getting ready to find out about the next part of the journey.
Ring My Bell - Anita Ward

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