Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Just Keep Swimming

5 down, 3 to go. Lord does it feel good to be on the back 9.

It seems like forever since my last post. A lot has happened in the last 2 weeks, some great, some not so great. Let's start off with the great, shall we? I'm still amazed at how many people are reaching out to me. Every week I'm getting cards in the mail and friends are dropping off books and bath salts. One of our closest friend's mom even invited us up to her cabin for the weekend because she knew we needed a break. It was so thoughtful to offer us a chance to get out of the city. We spent the weekend in the most idyllic setting. This cabin isn't so much a cabin as it is a 4 bedroom house right on a lake. And it's not exactly roughing it when you're traveling with 2 honest to goodness Chefs. Also, our friend's older daughters were with us so we had live in babysitters for Lyla all weekend long. I can honestly say it was the first time I've felt really relaxed since all of this started. I treated myself to some wine and had good long chats with one of my closest girlfriends, hung out in the sun with all the kids, sat in the shade and read my book. It was such a nice break to be outside of the walls that more and more remind me of being sick.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I'd had a rough week news-wise at the cancer agency. First it started with my consultation with my radiation oncologist. He was a perfectly nice man, spent a generous amount of time with me, and answered all of my questions. He was also dire. There's no other way to describe it. It felt like such a long time since I'd met a new doctor who was reviewing my file for the first time. There were too many sad looks, too many sympathetic nods. At one point when we were going over all the side effects he told me that although some are potentially quite serious (another cancer for example) that in my case I simply didn't have a choice. Radiation is "necessary for my survival" were his exact words.

Now I'm not sure if this falls into "Am I not taking this seriously enough?" category, but the term "survival" seemed a bit drastic to me. Was that in question?? And by the way, I didn't need the hard sell. I know there are a lot of people who, for very different reasons, refuse treatments. I'm not one of them. Can someone please update my chart with "Patient believes in modern medicine - no need for scare tactics"?!?! I was still busy absorbing this sentence when we got to the physical exam. More serious eyes and nods. He honed in right on the thing that still worries me the most and reminded me that we're still dealing with something over 5cm and that we're halfway through chemo. So he tells me that he's ordering not 4 weeks of radiation, but 6 and a half weeks instead. That's all the way through December...

Dear Cancer,

Apparently you don't respond well to polite letters. F.U. then.


So needless to say, I was already bummed out when I went back to my medical oncologist the very next day for my regularly scheduled check up. He brought out his fancy measuring device and there was no more shrinkage. He reassured me that's why it was already planned to switch things up. Often times people can plateau on one kind of chemo or another. Ok fine. But could I please plateau with maybe just 1 cm left, not 5?

Don't get me wrong. I know no one's handed me a death sentence or anything. And like I keep telling myself, things could be a lot worse. But I have to say, I was getting used to the good news. I handled the first four rounds of chemo like a champ. I was, and still am, encouraged by how much progress we'd made. Then suddenly, I'm right back at the beginning. Back in the office of a doctor that doesn't know me, and hearing all the information of my case that reminds me that my diagnosis was serious - serious as cancer.

So off I went for my first round of the new cocktail today, feeling nervous yet resigned. The only other woman in the room with me still had all her hair and her shiny new folder stuffed with dozens of pamphlets. It instantly reminded me of that moment you get at work after being in a new job for a while. That conference call when all of a sudden you realize that the balance of experience has shifted. I love it when I go from being the person with all of the questions to the person who can answer them. I looked at this woman who, to her credit, looked like she was taking this all in stride, and felt like saying, "Ask away". Instead I just smiled and wished her luck when she left. She was alone in the room and I didn't want to run the risk of upsetting her. And then, once again, I felt so lucky to have Corey with me. I've felt a lot of things during the last few months. Alone isn't one of them.

So thanks again to everyone for coming on this ride with me. It makes it a lot easier to fight the lows and the bad news when I know I've got so many people in my corner.It's because of all this support that I find the energy to swim upstream. I'm feeling hopeful about the new plateau fighting chemo I've just started. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes.

Much love,


Monday, 11 July 2011

Twas The Night Before Chemo

I never sleep well before Chemo Day. So instead of lying in bed and tossing and turning I thought I would just get up and write about all of the things keeping me awake.

When I was diagnosed I had to compartmentalize in a big way. The things I couldn't deal with at the time got locked away. Today one of the biggest things got unlocked. I spent the day with some of my favourite girl friends. All of them started as work friends but they've all become forever friends. Two of them are in town from Toronto so I hadn't seen them since I started treatment. There's something so comforting about friends that you can just slip into a conversation with like they've never left. They're the people who don't look at you any different because you're sick and you can still get to the important stuff - like admiring Michaela's new purse - out of the way before getting to the cancer talk. To them, I'm still Ash, not Cancer Girl.

We had a great lunch at Sandbar over some great girl talk. At one point in the conversation we start talking about the big C and I mentioned that one of the hardest things I had to face was telling my best friends. Susan, who was there, retold the story of how I told her and our other BFF Alyssa. We were all a crying mess that day and then found ourselves at Cactus Club ordering wine. See? I told you, with good friends, some things not even cancer can change. Anyhow, like I said, telling those two girls was unspeakably hard. I had so much anxiety over it. There was still so much I was unsure of. I was terrified and at the same time didn't want to worry anyone. I was so stressed that I wasn't eating or sleeping. So I compartmentalized. When they asked what they could do to help I asked them to tell the rest of our friends. It was too much for me and I just couldn't go through it over and over again. With that off my plate, I locked away all those worries away and let them deal with it.

I knew it was a lot to ask, but it wasn't until today that I really appreciated it. After Susan retold our story, Michaela talked about having to hear it from Susan. And then how Tiff had to hear it from Michaela. And how everyone cried. Why was I surprised to hear that? It's bad news. Of course my friends were going to be upset. But it genuinely did shock me. And then I realized just how good of a job I'd done at locking those thoughts away. Everything I couldn't bare to put myself through, my friends had to go through anyways. I spent the rest of my afternoon sort of baffled at the realization of just how many people are being affected by this. Don't get me wrong, it's so nice to know that people care, but it's also so hard to know that you are the cause of their worry.

What else have I not been considering? When I started this blog I made the decision to stay positive, update my loved ones here when I had some spare time, and the rest of my focus was going to Lyla. She has been the best distraction for me. There are days where I'm so busy with her that I don't give cancer a second thought. I'm now wondering if that was the right thing to do. Is staying positive enough? Is distracting myself the same thing as ignoring the problem? I've done a little research on diet and complimentary therapies, but I know I've barely scratched the surface. Am I taking this seriously enough? I know I'm just supposed to sit tight and let the chemo do its thing for now, but shouldn't I be doing more?? I know that cancer has changed my life forever. But what have I changed? To be honest, not much.

And now that those floodgates have opened, I find I'm right back in those early days again where I'm frightened and not sure exactly what to do about it. I had my check up on Friday and even though this thing has shrunk to 4.5cm x 5.5cm (that's half!), all I'm thinking about at this very moment, is "shit, that's still huge". This thing started off HUGE. And here I am, all of a sudden actually looking forward to tomorrow's chemo session.

Why does to the urge to spring into action have to come after midnight?? I actually can't help but laugh at myself right now. I don't know how many times I've said "Diet starts on Monday", but this time I swear I mean it! See ya later sugar. Beating cancer is a way better motivator than wanting to squeeze into an old pair of jeans, so I'm feeling pretty good about getting things started tomorrow. And yoga too! I'm starting yoga (again). Hold me to it people. Peer pressure me on facebook. I thrive on encouragement. You've all asked how you can help. That's how. Bring on the healthy living advice!

And to the first people who asked how they could help, let me take this moment to thank you. Thank you so much to my girls who were given the job of having to spread this crappy news. Thank you so much to all my friends that didn't take it personally when I just couldn't deal with calling you all personally to deliver this crappy news. And thank you so much to everyone who continues to understand that it takes me forever to return a phone call or email.

Ah. I already feel better having that off my chest and a rough plan in place. I know that No Sugar/Do Yoga may not seem like much, but hey it's a start. Wish me luck.

Much love,

Friday, 1 July 2011

No Strongbow, eh?

Happy Canada Day! Wouldn't it be nice if I could start every blog with a "Happy Somethingorother"? We'll see...

Well I've made it to the end of the week of round 3 and, again, it wasn't so totally heinous. The anti-nausea pills seems to work really well for me so I'm grateful for that. I've had lots of help from friends and family this week too, which made managing the days with Lyla much easier. And I no longer think twice about taking the sleeping pills during chemo week. The steroids they put me on make my body too hyper to sleep otherwise. It's a strange feeling wanting to curl up under the fog of nausea pills but not be able to stop flailing your arms and legs in bed. Corey must feel like he's sleeping next to a spastic chicken by now. With the weekend here now though, I can tell things are settling down. Or maybe I'm just getting the hang of this chemo business. Either way, I'm happy to say today is a good day.  

My big complaint (and why have a blog if you can't complain on it, right??) is about food. My taste buds have gone all wonky. I thought maybe there was something wrong with my appetite. Turns out, not so much. The problem is nothing tastes right! Sourdough toast (which was my pregnancy life saver) tastes like cardboard. My tea tastes extra bitter. Even cheese is off. Oh dairy! Is this the end of our love affair? The cancer agency told me not to eat my favourite foods because I'd start to associate them with chemo. Ummmm, that's a problem because I. Love. Food. Period. We're about to head out to the Village Taphouse in Park Royal for lunch and I'm already stressing because I don't know what food I'm about to ruin for myself forever. And whatever food that is I'd like to wash it down with a Strongbow. But I can't. I can't run the risk of tainting my favourite drink on top of this all. Hmmm I feel another letter coming on...

Dear Strongbow,

You've most likely noticed an unexplained decrease in sales in the North Burnaby area in recent months. Please accept my appologies. It's just for a little while. We've been through these tough times before when I was waiting on Lyla. You know I'll be back. Not even cancer can keep us apart for too long. In the meantime, please start being sold in Hawaii so I can enjoy you there on my family trip in the New Year.


I suppose I should just count my blessings. A little food aversion isn't the end of the world. And it's not as though I'll give up. You know I'll find something to eat. Most likely potatoes. Mmmmm potatoes. Ya that should do it.

Much love,