Friday, July 31, 2015

SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE


When I arrived at my appointment I really had no idea what to expect so of course I was feeling a bit anxious.  The genetic counsellor that I met was so nice and really put me at ease.  She reviewed my personal and family history that I had previously submitted and noted that it was suggestive of a hereditary type of cancer.  She explained to me about hereditary cancer and genetic testing.

What I learned is that there are genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 (breast cancer 1 and 2) that are part of a class of genes that are considered tumor suppressors.  These genes help to prevent uncontrolled cell growth.  Sometimes these genes could have a mutation and these mutations have been linked to the development of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.  They are identified as being the cause of a proportion of the inherited cases of cancer.  The inherited gene only accounts for 5-10% of all breast and ovarian cancer.  So, contrary to popular belief, the majority of cancer cases are not hereditary.


Once all of this was explained to me I had to make a decision whether I would go ahead with the testing or not.  I chose to do it.  For my part, all that was involved was the lab taking several vials of blood.  The blood samples would then be sent for testing to the molecular diagnostic laboratory.  The counsellor explained to me that the folks in the lab would be looking for a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA 2 gene.  To make it easier, she said it was kind of like looking for a typo in a rather large book.  This was a lot of tedious work and the results would not be available for about three months.  All I could think about was some poor dude in a lab coat looking at my blood under his microscope.  For three months.  Yikes.


So this appointment turned out to be a crash course in molecular genetics with talk of genes, chromosomes and cells.  I had flashbacks to biology in high school.   My brain was trying to take in all of the information and I was feeling a bit like a total idiot.  I asked questions though and surprisingly I retained some of what was explained to me.  The genetic testing has three possible results including 1) mutation detected; 2) no mutation detected; and 3) an uncertain variant.  That last one is that a gene mutation is identified but that it has not yet been described and additional studies would be required.

In September I went back to the genetics department to find out the results of the testing.  I found out that I did NOT have a mutation in my BRCA 1 or BRCA2 genes.  Great news!  Okay on one had it was great news because I did not have to worry about being the one to pass this on to my children.  However, it would have explained the “why me?” question somewhat.  Top priority is my kids so I could not have asked for a better result.

My Sisters-In-Law - Easter 2015
I was told that there is still a possibility that I could carry a mutation in these genes that the current testing is not able to identify.  Or I could carry a mutation in another gene that is yet undiscovered but that has a role in the development of cancer.  Also I was told that the breast cancer I had could be simply random and not genetically related (no pun intended) at all.  Some cancers are familial rather than hereditary.  This means that perhaps an entire family could develop cancer simply by virtue of their place of residence and proximity to one another.  Maybe there was something in the soil where their home was built that caused it.  Who knows?  Most cancer is caused by a combination of factors which could be environmental or any number of other influences that we are exposed to in our lifetimes.  I was warned that there is still an increased risk of breast cancer for Tasza and that screening will always be important including monthly self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms.  These should start at 10 years before the earliest diagnosis in the family but not usually before 30 is the recommendation.  Obviously as time goes on and technology advances, this will be adapted.

Just before the session was over I was asked about participating in a research study.  My reaction was of course!  Why not?  Anything to help future generations and anything to work towards a world with no breast cancer.  No cancer at all.  After all, I had this for a reason and if that reason is to help others then for sure sign me up!  I left the appointment with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

She Blinded Me With Science - Thomas Dolby

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

FAMILY AFFAIR

At one of my oncology appointments I asked about genetic testing out of concern for my daughter and possibly for myself to try to figure out the answer to the big “why me?” question.  She told me that she would most certainly recommend me for the testing which I was very happy about.  In the past I had been told that if your mother, sister or aunts had a history of cancer then it would be recommended but nobody had ever asked about my Dad’s family.  Funny because it took two parents to make me.

My Mom did not have cancer but my Grandma did develop uterine cancer in her eighties and I have a few second cousins that also had various types of cancer.  However, my own father had prostate cancer and he has four sisters of which three had a combination of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.  I guess that set off some alarm bells for the oncologist and the referral for the testing was submitted.  Hereditary cancer is normally found in families where several members from different generations develop cancer or where it happens at a young age (less than 50).

Tarnowski Family - Fall 2014
The main purpose of the genetic testing was to determine if there might be an inherited predisposition to cancer in my family.  It is such a common disease now but only a minority is due to an inherited predisposition.  I received the information that I needed in the mail and the first step involved a great deal of paperwork.  I had to complete a questionnaire with detailed questions about my family members.  This was information that I did not know so I had to seek help from my Dad and from my Mom’s sister, my Aunt Georgeanne.  I even had to get consent forms signed by my aunts to allow their health records to be disclosed.  It took some time and some research but I finally got all of the information together.  Holy crap!  I could not believe how much cancer was in my family history!  I knew about a few of my relatives but not all of them.  I guess it was something that I never paid attention to when I was younger or maybe it was just never talked about.
Tarnowski Family - Summer 2004
It turns out that in addition to my Dad, I also had cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles that had suffered with cancer.  The types of cancer included breast, prostate, uterine, skin, colon, pancreatic, brain and throat.  I couldn’t believe it!  How could I have not known about all of this?  I had thought that cancer was not really in my family. Boy was I wrong!!  I finally got all of the paperwork submitted and got a call for my appointment.

Now I just had to wait for a few weeks.

Family Affair - Mary J. Blige

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

THE CLIMB

Partway through the summer of 2011 I made a decision to join my friend, Dawn, and her husband and do a triathlon.  I was not sure about it but after a couple of glasses of wine I went online and signed up!  The race was a “try-a-tri” which is a short version of each of the swimming, cycling and running.  Basically just to try out a triathlon to see if it was something I would enjoy doing.  I decided I better get my old bike out and take it for a spin.  So I continued running, swimming and biking whenever I had time.

I wasn’t sure about this but I knew that it was something that I had always wanted to try.  Encouragement from Dawn to sign up really helped because I am not sure if I would have gone on my own.  Before I knew it the race day had come and I found myself in the St. Lawrence River waiting for the gun to go off to start the race!  What the hell was I thinking?  It was a cold and rainy day and I was so nervous on the drive to the race.

I finished the swimming portion and climbed out of the river out of breath and with shaky legs and arms.  We had quite a way to run to our bikes and then had to get shoes on in the rain.  I hopped on my bike and away I went.  I am not very fast on my bike but I was determined to stay steady and finish.   After the cycling portion I hit the road running and although I was tired I knew I could finish and that I wouldn’t be the last one!  Doing that race was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done!  It was hard at the time but afterwards it felt amazing!  I did a freakin’ triathlon!  Woohoo!  I crossed that off the bucket list.

Later on near the end of the summer I had the opportunity to go out to Vancouver for work. It was fantastic because I got to spend some time with my dear friend Vicky.  We had an absolutely amazing time together and I tried two more new things.  Sea kayaking was something I had never done before and I just loved it.


The other thing we did is called the Grouse Grind.  It is a 3 km trail that goes up the face of Grouse Mountain.  Some refer to this as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”.  It certainly was challenging and takes on average about one and a half hours to complete the hike.  Beginners about two hours.  Although it was pure hell I enjoyed it.  I kept thinking back to the times that I couldn’t climb the stairs in my own house because of the chemo and that was more than enough encouragement to keep me going.  The feeling of coming out on top of the mountain was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced.  Later as Vicky and I sat on the mountain top patio drinking beer and munching on chicken wings we watched people arriving by gondola and we looked at each other and said at the same time, “What a bunch of slackers!”


These experiences are things that make me feel so proud of myself and so thankful for my health and for my friends.  Sharing these moments with dear friends just adds so much to the memories and makes the climb so incredibly rewarding. 





The Climb - Miley Cyrus

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

IT'S MY LIFE

My Friends - Manitoulin Island - 2011

There is something I love about every season.  Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. In the late spring of 2011 I got to spend a long weekend with my FPU besties!  We went to a friends cottage and had an absolutely fantastic time.  It was pretty cold but we bundled up and still sat outside and had a few cocktails.  We ate and sang and laughed so much.  One afternoon we sat in the hot tub and drank champagne and then decided to run and jump in the lake.  It was freezing cold and I seriously think there was still ice on the lake.  But then of course we did it a second time anyway!  Such a fun weekend.  I love our get togethers. Plus it was so wonderful to feel normal again!

Summer is another favorite time of year for most Canadians.  We tend to soak up every
Family Reunion - St.Sauveur - 2011
ounce of sunshine we possibly can.  I love to be outside and especially near a lake, a pool or the ocean.  I love spending this time with my family and friends but I am also very content to enjoy some solitude with a good book.  The summer of 2011 was one full of all sorts of adventures.  We kicked it off with our annual Tarnowski family weekend which was in Saint Sauveur in Quebec that year.  It was amazing!


We also made a few road trips to the U.S. and to my Dad’s place on Manitoulin Island.  One trip we made was down to Buffalo, N.Y. for my daughter to attend a hockey training camp at the university. For the week she was there Mike and I rented a cottage on Lake Erie and had some time alone for the first time in many, many years.  We went golfing, swimming, cycling, shopping, and visited wineries too.  At night we watched old movies that we picked up at Target and laughed and played cards.  It was amazing to just be the two of us and find out that we still really like to be together, just us two.

Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania - 2011
Later in the summer we went to Manitoulin and had some more cottage adventures.  This time it was four couples and the weather was very, very hot.  Perfect to be at the beach by the lake with good friends.  I will never forget that night.  We had a great day in the sun followed by a fantastic dinner and lots of wine.  We made a campfire on the beach and the stars were all out and we had music playing and somehow somebody had glow sticks and we all had some and we sang and danced barefoot in the sand like a bunch of crazy kids.  I felt completely content and young and carefree that night.  The next morning I felt pretty awful but hey, it was worth it.


All of this to say that life is full of adventures! It doesn’t always have to be an expensive month-long African safari in the Serengeti. It can be a day trip to a local park to do a hike and have a swim. Or it could be a walk around the block or a trip to the grocery store.  Whatever it is just soak it all in and take the time to notice all the little sights and sounds and smells along the way. Sharing your adventures with people you enjoy being with adds another element to the adventure but don't be afraid to venture out on your own either.

It's My Life - Bon Jovi




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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SHAKE IT OFF

Summer 2011 - Lake Erie, Pennsylvania
Early in the summer of 2011 I made a trip to the cancer centre for a check up.  I finally got up the guts to ask my oncologist some questions that often pop into my mind but then I push them away.  I am never sure if I want the answer or not.  One question I had was about the medication I was on.  I needed to know how much longer I would have to take it.  The oncologist reminded me that when I first came to them I had a very aggressive cancer that they treated first with chemo.  It was probably far worse than I knew at the time.  Anyway, he was not comfortable with me going off the medication for at least another five years and then we would revisit things.  To hear someone say it out loud and remind me of how aggressive the cancer was kind of threw me off and shook me up.

Summer 2011 - Lake Huron, Ontario
Then I asked that since I could no longer have a mammogram because I did not have my “real” breasts anymore and since I had had a hysterectomy, what things should I be looking for to check if the cancer had come back?  I was told to look for things that were out of the ordinary or a cough that wouldn’t go away or just a feeling I might get that something was not right.  Also, I asked that for breast cancer survivors, if the cancer was to come back, where would it likely occur?  I was told lungs, liver and bones.  Holy crap!  That was pretty scary.

By the time I left the cancer centre I was a mess.  I managed to get out of the building and to the parking garage and as soon as I got in the stairwell I totally lost it.  I could hardly see I was crying so hard.  I was shaking uncontrollably and somehow made it to my car.  Finally I called Mike and could not stop crying.  I had just had the most incredible realization hit me and it hit me hard.  This f*cking cancer was never going to be completely gone!!  No matter how much I ran, or swam or laughed or travelled or whatever – it was always going to be there.  Always hanging over my head.  Always possibly just around the corner.  When I finally got it together I just decided that I would not let this get to me.  I was going to continue living my life and enjoying each day to the max and trying new things and loving my husband and my kids and spending as much time with my family and friends as possible.  I would be healthy and strong and push that dark cloud away until it was nothing but a tiny little speck.  I choose not to live my life worrying about dying. I just had to shake it off.

Shake It Off - Taylor Swift


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Saturday, January 31, 2015

I LIKE TO MOVE IT!

2011 started out with all good things.  I was feeling good and ready to take on the world!  After the switch from Arimidex to Tamoxifen my body just seemed more able to take on new things.  Plus my mind was clearer and I felt that I could now do so much more.  My new mantra became “sure I’ll try it!”  I was also feeling much better about my appearance.  The weight and puffiness was gone and my hair was long again!  I could feel it blowing in the wind and I could tie it back into a ponytail and I could use a straightener or a curling iron and I could feel it brushing against my back.  I had brand new hair which was a nice change from bald.  Much more work but I was not going to complain!
Ready for hockey - 2011

Since my whole family was playing hockey, I figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So I did.  I took a few more hockey lessons and then was asked if I was ready for the ladies league in our town.  I wasn’t ready but I thought what the hell.  No time like the present.  So I away I went.  I was really nervous the first night but I knew most of the ladies so they made me feel comfortable.  Every time I would get all the gear on I would check if my hockey bag was empty to be sure I had everything on somewhere.  I might not have it on in the right spot but I was wearing it somewhere!  I hoped that my skating would improve since I had never used hockey skates before.  I could skate okay with figure skates but this was a whole new ball game.  I also tried to get out to public skating once in a while to practice a bit.  Anyway, it was so much fun playing and I laughed so much that it really didn’t matter how crappy I was.  I just did my best and had a blast.

Swimming in Lake Huron - Summer 2011
Then I decided to get back into swimming.  I was a competitive swimmer when I was in elementary and high school and have always loved the water.  There was a swimming pool near my office so I was able to start going a few times a week and it felt incredible!  I had forgotten how much I loved, loved the feeling of gliding through the water.  I had tried to swim a couple of years before and I could not do it.  I had no strength in my arms and upper body.  I remember getting out of the pool and crying because I just could not hold myself above the water to swim.  It seemed I would never be back to the point where I could swim.  But now I was stronger and before too long I was swimming about 70 lengths of a 25m pool each time I went.  The first time I attempted to swim butterfly I could manage only half of a length and then I built up to being able to do four lengths in a row.  One day, the day that I finally did a full length, I got to the other end of the pool and when I touched the wall I let out a loud whoop because I was so happy that I had done it!  I didn’t realize how loud I had whooped until I saw that the lifeguard had jumped up and was ready to pounce and make sure I was okay.

5 km run with Tasza - Spring 2011
When the weather started to warm up I turned to running again.  I have always enjoyed running.  All you need are some good shoes, some music and away you go.  Running was my time to just zone out and enjoy my surroundings or clear my head or think about something I needed to sort out.  Whatever my mood was I always felt better after a run.  I might be in pain the next day but that was okay.  My power song is of course, “Run for Life”.

Golfing in Pennsylvania - Summer 2011
My next challenge was going to be the golf course.  I decided that I wanted to take a few lessons and get out to the driving range and the golf course as much as I could.  Golfing was something that I had only done a handful of times and I wasn’t very good at it.  I wanted to feel more comfortable and less like the worst player in the world.  I took a few lessons with a friend from work and we also went to the driving range a time or two during our lunch break.  So after that we were pros of course!  Ok so I will never be a pro but I do try to get out a few times in the summer and I now feel comfortable enough to get out to the driving range on my own to hit a bucket or two. 

So yeah you could say “I like to move it”!


I Like To Move It - Madagascar


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