Thursday, October 31, 2013

WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE


Vicky & Me - Collingwood, ON - Fall 2007
It was halfway through October in 2007.  The day started out like most other days.  I slept late, had breakfast, showered and got ready to go into the city.  I had to make a couple of stops and then I had an appointment at the Cancer Centre.

When I arrived I found out that there was a 30 minute delay.  I hate when that happens but I can deal with that.  I had gotten used to that over the past several months and I usually expected to wait about 20 minutes or so.  Then they changed the wait time to 45 minutes.  I was really starting to get antsy because I still had errands to do and the kids were going to be getting home from school soon.  Finally they called me and put me into the little room.  You know that little room I’m talking about.  The one where they move you from the main waiting room to the room where you will eventually see the doctor.  I said eventually.  They deceive you into thinking that the doctor will be right in.  Wrong.

Alex - Carter Bay, ON - Summer 2007
I waited another 45 minutes once I got in that little room.  I found myself feeling very frustrated and angry.  I almost couldn’t contain the frustration I felt about waiting for so long and I was actually pacing.  I don’t think I’ve ever paced before but I went back and forth for what seemed an eternity.  One thing that I had noticed about myself since this journey began is that I had grown to HATE waiting for things.  It would drive me crazy.  Maybe it’s because I spent so much time in waiting rooms at the cancer centre, hospitals, and clinics or maybe it’s because I felt that my time could have been better spent doing something else like living or maybe it’s because I resented the fact that I had to go to these appointments in the first place.  Whatever it was I knew that I was going to have to keep my patience and try very hard to make it through these types of waiting times without losing it and turning into a raving lunatic.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of the health care workers out there and I know that they are all doing the best they can.  I didn’t like the person I was when I was freaking out about having to wait.  It made me feel selfish and ungrateful but at the same time I just couldn’t help it.

Tasza & Me - Top of the CN Tower,
Toronto, ON - Summer 2007
Anyway, once I finally got to see the doctor I got a few answers to some questions.  I was told to get my Arimidex prescription filled and start taking the pills every second day for a few weeks and then switching to daily doses.  This was because there are potential side effects from the Arimidex that could cause me to have severe aches and pains in my bones.  Another side effect is osteoporosis.  That just sounds peachy doesn’t it?  I was also advised to start taking Vitamin D and calcium everyday to keep my bones strong and healthy.  The doctor also told me that I should continue weight bearing exercises for the rest of my life.

I was starting to see how this cancer thing was changing me in so very many ways.

Waiting on the World to Change - John Mayer

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

MAN I FEEL LIKE A WOMAN

Me & My Coffee - Bromont, Quebec, Winter 2011
I was glad that this next surgery was happening.  It made me feel like I was doing everything I could possibly do to ensure that this cancer did not develop anywhere else.  I ended up having a total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oopherectomy.  Basically this means that the uterus, cervix, ovaries and tubes were all removed abdominally.  This was not a surgery that I had to have but it was highly recommended because the cancer that I had was hormone (estrogen) receptor positive.  This means that the cancer cell growth was fueled by estrogen.  So this surgery would ensure that estrogen production would be reduced significantly therefore reducing the chance of cancer cell growth.

Four days after I had the operation I was back at home.  The anesthetic really took a toll on me.  I was also covered in bruises from blood work, IV, blood thinner shots that I received every eight hours, etc…Although I was sore and moving much slower than usual, I did know that with each day things would get better and I would get stronger.  So, it’s not forever but just for now.  The recovery period was several weeks and I was doing my best to try to slow down and enjoy this time at home. 

So, the next step was that I would visit with my oncologist on the 17th of October to find out what would happen next in terms of follow-up.  I did know that I would be starting on a drug called Arimidex that I was going to have to take for several years.  This drug blocks aromatase which is an enzyme that changes androgen into estrogen.  Therefore, this further reduces the amount of estrogen in the body and is a preventative measure for cancer cell growth.  Are you still with me?
Tarnowski Ladies - Bethel, Maine, Summer 2011

Needless to say the Arimidex has a whole set of side effects of its own that I may or may not experience.  The worst of which is osteoporosis so I was going to be having bone scans on a regular basis and was also going to need to begin other vitamins to help combat this.  Oh yeah around this time my hair was growing back a nice rich dark brown and it was really curly.

When I left the hospital after the hysterectomy, I remember saying to my Dad that I’d had enough.  No more hospitals, surgeries, etc….for a while.  I was now awaiting the pathology report that I was supposed to get in early November when I next saw the surgeon.  I really, really, needed a break.

Man I Feel Like a Woman - Shania Twain

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

RAISE YOUR GLASS


FPU - Blue Mountain - Fall 2007
The summer of 2007 passed in a lazy blur of beach time, visits with friends and family and much reading and relaxing.  It is my absolute favorite time of year and it was so incredible to spend so much time with Mike and our kids.  Raise your glass for summer!

Cheers! - Blue Mountain 2007
My hair slowly started to fill in during the summer but was still a bit patchy and curly.  My eyebrows were taking a long time to fill in but my eyelashes were coming back nicely.  The bonus was that I still had smooth legs with no razor needed yet.

I survived the Zoladex shot in July and by August my skin that was damaged from the radiation was healed and nearly back to normal.  Or I guess a new normal.  The neuropathy was still hanging around but had lessened in my feet and legs and was worse in my hands and fingers.  The really odd thing was that the middle finger on both of my hands would tend to get stuck down sometimes.  That really created a loss of impact whenever I felt it necessary to use that middle finger to flip off those crazy drivers out there.  Lol!!
Pink Scarf Hike - Fall 2007

In the fall, nine of the FPU (my gang of high school girlfriends) reunited at Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario for a weekend of reminiscing, eating, drinking wine, going out dancing, eating some more, and falling in muddy ditches and laughing until we almost peed!  The usual shenanigans and obnoxious behavior.  Since I was going to miss the Run for the Cure which was that same weekend, my thoughtful friend Trish bought pink scarves for all of us and we all wore them on a hike one day.  Okay we kinda took the gondola up the mountain and walked halfway down the mountain where we proceeded to sit on the grass and unpack our snacks of various cheeses and several wines and other goodies and just had a grand time on the mountainside.  We did make it down the hill eventually, pink scarves intact for the most part, and on to our next adventure.

Amazing Ladies - Blue Mountain 2007

I will always remember that weekend and how amazing it felt to be a part of a group of women that really have your back and that you can feel comfortable with all the time.  Although many miles may be between us and visits are rare due to our busy lives, I know that we would be there for each other anytime.  That is what friends do.  Especially ones that you have known since grade 9!  Raise your glass to old friends!  Thanks to the FPU for that wonderful weekend and great memories.


My next stop was more surgery!  The hysterectomy I told you about was scheduled for the following week.

Raise Your Glass - Pink

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

LIFE IS A HIGHWAY



My Kids & I - Manitoulin Island, ON
Summer 2007
So after the radiation was finally over at the end of June, we promptly packed up our stuff and headed up to Manitoulin Island for a much needed vacation.  We were long overdue for a road trip and a visit to see my family and the island that we all love so much.  It is about an eight hour drive but totally worth it.

I was finally done with radiation!  Although the radiation itself didn't bother me too much, the traveling back and forth to the city each day really wore me down.  I also had some tiredness and fatigue and my skin was pretty burned.  However, it wasn't as painful as I thought it would be.  It was more just really uncomfortable.  

Enroute to Manitoulin Island
I was still experiencing post-chemo effects including the neuropathy.  Although I was starting to just live with it and sort of got used to it, I decided to try some acupuncture to see what positive effects that might have.  I went for a few sessions and it did help.

Later in the summer I knew that I was going to get a shot of Zoladex.  This medical treatment (translation: big scary needle in the stomach!) was going to be administered because the breast cancer I had was hormone receptor positive.  The Zoladex causes "ovarian shutdown" (sounds like a code word for some kind of covert military operation).   This shot was going to shut down production of estrogen and is very effective in stopping cancer cell growth.  It was going to make me become post-menopausal and perhaps turn me into some kind of psycho lunatic monster due to side effects from that.  I was hopeful that my husband and children would stick around though.

There were a series of doctor appointments scheduled over the summer and I was also going to find out some more information and confirm details for the surgery.   Having had breast cancer I was in a high-risk category for possible development of cancer in the ovaries and/or uterus.  So we were going to get rid of those.  I asked my oncologist if they could also take my appendix and tonsils since I didn’t need those either.  He offered to take my gallbladder too.  This was my weight loss plan – removal of body parts!

Once the surgery was done I knew that I would need to have some sort of medication for a number of years.  Also, the side effect of this medication is osteoporosis so I was going to need to have bone density testing done frequently and take calcium and other vitamins to combat that for the rest of my life.  Whew!  Did you get all that??  It's a lot to take in but I had some time to think about it and I was okay with all of it.  Whatever it was going to take to ensure the cancer never comes back was okay with me. That summer the focus for me was on rest, recovery, recuperation and relaxation until the next surgery was to come up in the fall.  Although the journey was not over quite yet, the worst was now behind me.
Carter Bay, ON - Summer 2007

Throughout all of this, I was so very thankful to my friends and family and colleagues for reading my email updates.  Their many kind prayers, positive thoughts, and encouraging words were always appreciated.  At that point I knew that I was truly blessed with the best friends, family, and co-workers that anyone could ask for.

So now I was just going to sit back and enjoy this road trip and soak up some summer.




Life Is A Highway - Tom Cochrane


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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

GOOD VIBRATIONS


Summer 2007 - Lac Simon, QC
It was June 3, 2007 and I found myself thinking that it was only one year to the day that I had discovered the lump in the first place.  I could not believe how much had happened to us over the past year!

Radiation was going to be finished soon.  Chemo was finished.  Mastectomy was done.  Summer to me was sort of the light at the end of the tunnel.  It was getting close to those beautiful summer sunshine days and the thought of a few months with no cancer treatments was really a welcome relief.  The kids and Mike and I were going to be able to use the summer to be together and really relax, heal, enjoy our time and be grateful that things were going to get better each day.

I was more relaxed than I had been in years because I knew I could just take each and every day as it came.  I was not going to have to go to work every day.  I was simply starting each day with a blank slate.  No plans.  No expectations.  Just living.  Just being.  Just loving every moment with my family and revelling in each and every wonderful day.  What an amazing feeling to feel so free.  To feel so grateful and happy to be alive.  To strangely start feeling so incredibly blessed.  I mean who really feels like that after such a horrible year and scary experience with cancer?  But that is how I started to feel.  I was having a hard time figuring it out and accepting this feeling but I knew it was real.
Summer 2007 - Kagawong, ON

Geez what was wrong with me?  Then I told Mike and he was feeling the same way.  Not that we would want to go through this again nor would we ever say that we are happy that cancer happened to us, but we were looking at the bright side.  The silver lining.  The glass half-full.  The upside.  There were so very many positives that came out of this negative.

I even signed up to play ball hockey with the local ladies group.  I am not sure what I was thinking but perhaps I felt like I had to move and feel alive and healthy again.  I had never played ball hockey before.  Man it was hard!  After my first shift I got on to the bench and really had no idea how I was possibly going to make it through this game.  After my second shift I looked at the bright-eyed energetic girl beside me and said “how old are you?” and when she sweetly said “18” I just about smacked her!  Then I just thought, okay I can do this, one shift at a time.  And you know what?  I did.  Our team even won the whole shebang that year.

Summer 2007 -  Barrie, ON
So here we were with a whole summer ahead of us to travel and visit friends and family and go to the beach and swim in the pool and soak up every day.  It was time to pack up and take a long overdue road trip. 

Good Vibrations - Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch


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Thursday, October 3, 2013

CANADA'S NEXT TOP MODELS?


Getting set up for the photoshoot
Toronto, ON - June 2013






Today’s blog is all about something new!  So it is a bit of a diversion from my blog story but it wouldn’t have happened without the rest of the breast cancer story.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people for allowing me to cross “becoming a model” off my bucket list!  This includes the amazing folks at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Kruger Products (maker of Cashmere bathroom tissue among other products) and Totem Brand Stories Agency (a leading branded content agency).

Back in the spring of this year, I was invited by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) to participate in an exciting social media campaign that their national sponsor, Kruger Products, was working on.  Kruger has been a proud supporter of CBCF since 2005 with funds going towards “relevant and innovative research supporting early diagnosis, effective treatment and a positive quality of life for those living with breast cancer.”

In 2013 Kruger is celebrating their 10th anniversary of their White Cashmere Collection which has become an annual event.  Canadian designers are challenged to create garments and accessories from – you guessed it – Cashmere bathroom tissue!  All of this is to raise awareness and funds for CBCF.

Since this is their 10th anniversary they decided to share the creations, designers and the stories of women from across Canada who have experienced breast cancer and build a campaign around it.  It is hoped that this will inspire others with hope and joy and strength.  Every design is unique and so is every breast cancer story.  I was going to be a part of this!

Getting set up for the interview
So, in June my kids and I were contacted by Totem Brand Stories and arrangements were made for us to travel to Toronto for a photo/video shoot!  Sadly Mike was left out in the cold but I do think he will get over it.  Lol!  Needless to say we were pretty excited about the trip but had no idea what to expect.  It turned out to be a day we will never forget!

From the time we arrived until the time we left we were treated like, well – models!  We had our make-up and hair done and we had a stylist to select our outfits.  Then we got onto the set and the photographer and everyone had us posing and smiling until our faces were sore.  After the photos were done then next came the videotaped interview with me by myself and then another with Alex and Tasza doing all the talking.  All in all it was just an incredible experience.  In fact, when we were done I don’t know what came over me but I just started to cry!  I was so thankful that I am healthy and able to be a part of this and grateful for the opportunity for my kids and for others to see that there is hope.  I guess I just got a bit overwhelmed.

THE FINAL PRODUCT OF OUR PAGE!
Quote is from Tasza.  Just to be clear, I haven't really  "taken up" sea kayaking but
simply tried it for the first time.  However, I would most definitely do it again!
The booklet with all of the stories and photos was distributed in late September at the 10th Annual White Cashmere Collection Gala at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.  The gala showcased 20 top Canadian designers that created some pretty amazing fashions.  You can also view the photos, stories and some video clips at https://www.facebook.com/CashmereElle Canada magazine is running the Cashmere ad in their October issue with one tiny pic of yours truly in the printed version (the one in the quote page below) and the full booklet with the above photo is available on the iPad version of Elle Canada and Elle Quebec.


So thanks again to everyone involved for giving me and my children an experience to remember for a lifetime!  Thanks also to my kids, Alex and Tasza, for supporting me on this journey.  You two are my everything.

Please remember that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month so I am just making you aware!  There is no doubt that you will be seeing a lot of pink this month and many promotional campaigns to help keep this in the forefront.  Some hate the pink and some like it but no matter what your pinkpinion is I know that we all look forward to a world with no breast cancer or any type of cancer!

Also, the CIBC Run for the Cure is coming up this weekend and I certainly plan to be there!


Page from the booklet.  This is the small pic that is in Elle paper edition Cashmere ad.
The pink boxed quote on the left in the middle is from Alex.


Check out the video - the kids and I are near the end (around 2:05).


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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT


My Family - Christmas 2007
You may or may not know how radiation happens but I thought I might explain it a little bit.  At least this is what I experienced.

When I arrived at the cancer centre each day the first thing I did was drive around for an eternity looking for a parking spot.  Believe me this is really exhausting when you have to do it every day for five weeks.  So when I finally actually entered the building, I scanned my pre-assigned card in the computer and that tells the technicians that I was there and in the waiting room.

Once I would get into the radiation room, I would lie on my back with my left arm over my head.  I always got my marks on my body "touched up", the technicians would make sure I was lined up and adjusted to the exact right position, and then the technicians (usually 3 of them) left the room and started up the machine.  It took about 10 minutes to zap me and I never really felt anything at all.  Except most times I was cold.  So just had to stay still and wait for it to finish.

Apparently it doesn't happen often that the radiation machine breaks down but twice in five treatments I had to wait in position while they rebooted the computer to try again.  Hmmmm, maybe it's me?!?  Perhaps I was crashing the computer system with some kind of strange virus because it happens to me at home on our computer all the time!

My Family - Summer 2013
I was anticipating the side effects from the radiation and they include fatigue and very badly damaged skin in the radiation area only.  It is supposed to be like an extremely bad sunburn complete with blistering, etc...Sounds lovely.  I was told that these things might start anytime or might not hit me until the end or even after I'm done.  The one good thing was that I didn’t need to take any sort of medications at this point so I was feeling pretty good.  My plan was to park about 2 kms away from the cancer centre and run/walk to my treatments and then run/walk back to the car afterwards just to get some exercise.  I think I actually only did that twice due to rain and other circumstances like the fact that it was really hard to keep up with it.

The neuropathy was getting a bit worse.  I still had it happening in my hands and feet and soon it started on my legs as well.  If I stopped moving for a while and then tried to walk it was like I was 100 years old.  The first four or five steps were very slow, mechanical and painful but then once I was moving it would be okay again.  It didn’t stop me from walking and riding my bike a little bit though.

This Is How We Do It - Montell Jordan

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