Milestones big and small

"In pursuit of magic," snapped on a walk in NYC

“In pursuit of magic,” snapped on a walk in NYC

I’ve been meaning to update the blog for a little while, but things have been busy. I started to write a post a few weeks ago and it went like this:

I am feeling awesome. That is the brief update in one sentence.

Here is the longer version: My skin is much better, my energy is almost normal, and I am able to complete everyday tasks like it is nobody’s business. It is strange to feel so great about the littlest things. I did the dishes! I can go grocery shopping! I can pick up Nate and give him a bath!  Some days, I can do all these things, one right after another. Amazing, yes? I feel like all these little tasks have been so difficult over the last many months that the return of the ability to do these things is such a huge gift.

I hope you are smiling as you read this. Because I am smiling as I write this. So, we are sharing a smile, you and I.

But then last week I had a bit of a crash. My energy dipped really low and I knew something seemed wrong. I dropped Nate off at daycare and was so exhausted that I had to sit down. With no bench in sight, I sat down on the ground and called my nurse at Princess Margaret. She suggested I come in and get blood work done, just to be safe. I was disappointed. After only a couple weeks of feeling so great, it felt especially cruel to suddenly have to go back to the hospital.

I sat in the chair in the blood lab, the same lab where I had to get my pre-chemo tests done, and the memory of the last many months flooded over me. I remember closing my eyes tightly as the nurse drew blood. I hoped and wished that all was well and I was simply experiencing a momentary, although extreme, dip in energy.

A few hours later, the blood tests showed that everything seemed okay. The doctor suggested that I might simply have a run of the mill virus. I suppose that it’ll take a little while for me to get used to reading the cues and signals from my body, and get used to the idea that not every glitch or stumble in health will be one that’s life-threatening. I think that’s one of the hard things after a cancer diagnosis – trusting your body again.

The next day, I left for New York. Throughout this whole thing, I’ve continued to work towards completing my dissertation and PhD. I defended my dissertation on Thursday and am happy to report that it went well. New York was great. Mitchell joined me for a couple days and we ate and napped and walked around the city. I was still a little low-energy, but made the best of it.

And now we’re back. I’m trying to adjust to a new life – no more treatment, and no more dissertation! Two really big milestones. I’m starting a new job in just a couple weeks and am preparing for a new beginning.

My energy is still low, but I’m trying not to be too impatient. My body’s been through a lot these past few months, and I know it’ll take time to re-adjust.

And although there will be some tired days in my future, the long update is still pretty similar to the short update: I am feeling awesome.

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Hiding from the Sun…

…but not from life!

Nate and I, creating some shade.

Nate and I, creating some shade.

I have been happily unplugged from the Internet for the last couple of weeks. Treatment ended on July 18th and we promptly left for a little rest and relaxation. My skin is on the mend, thank goodness, but I still have to stay out of the sun for a bit longer. I will post a proper update soon, but in the meantime, here are a few pics.

At a celebratory dinner.

At a celebratory dinner.

Nate and Mitchell catching some rays.

Nate and Mitchell catching some rays.

Big fruit. Big fun.

Big fruit. Big fun.

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Fifty Shades of Red

Me and my umbrella.

Me and my umbrella.

So, friends, I knew radiation seemed to be going along too smoothly. What seemed like a mild sunburn before has progressed to an itchy, uncomfortable, hot stretch of skin. It’s yuck. Plus, it is boiling outside, and I still have to keep covered up, which makes things more uncomfortable. I have to do saline soaks two times a day and slather on a goopy cream given to me by the doctors to protect the skin. Today I ventured out with an umbrella to make sure the sun didn’t touch the sensitive skin around my neck and chest.

The skin is all sorts of red: parts are a deep shade of magenta, others are a darker, leathery brown, and then others are a faint pink. The area around the scar looks a little intense. And, as usual, I am tired.

After my session today, I have three left. Thank goodness. I AM VERY READY TO BE DONE. (YES, I AM YELLING.)

In less exciting news, I am wearing red lipstick to match my skin.

Yes, friends, two shameless selfies in this blog post.

Yes, friends, two shameless selfies in this blog post.

Because it’s hard for me to be outside right now, my training regiment for the walk to end women’s cancers has shrunk considerably. My doctors have warned me that my skin may get worse for a few weeks before it gets better. So, it looks like August is going to be my month for training. August,  I am so ready for you.

Bonus photos:

Nate looking for bunny.

Nate looking for bunny.

Nate finding bunny.

Nate finding bunny.

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What radiation feels like

I have had 15 radiation treatments so far, 10 more to go.

Compared to chemo, radiation feels like nothing. Chemo involved needles and IVs and a whole lot of drugs injected into my bloodstream. Chemo was unpredictable and frightening. Sessions started late, and took hours.

Radiation is predictable.  The sessions are almost always on time, quick and orderly. If chemo was like hell, then radiation is like purgatory. It feels a lot like nothing, like I am simply waiting for something to happen.

Here is the basic rundown of how a session goes:

Change into a hospital gown. Lie down on a steel platform. Radiation technicians position my left arm high above my head, and discuss alignment and breathing. “She is a belly-breather,” they often say. Or, “she tends to inhale slowly.” They bring out a ruler and measure. “2cm from scar.” My scars are like a roadmap, as are the four little tattoos I now have to mark the radiation zone.  The lights go off for a moment but I can see my reflection in the metal and glass machine above me. The image of a ruler is projected onto my chest, and the thin lines of green lasers cut across my body. They put the snorkel-type device into my mouth and put on the nose plug (so that they are able to control my breathing.) The technicians leave the room. The machine whirs and moves around me. The voice of the technicians come on over the loud speaker: “First breath in.” “Now second deep inhale in.” The snorkel kicks in and I can’t exhale for about 30 seconds. I can hear a slight ringing sound. There is no pain. The voice comes on again: “Breathe normally please.” The technician comes back in.  More measuring, more lasers. (They are making sure I’m aligned properly for the next portion.) Then they leave again. More holding my breath. The machine whirs and moves around me.

The whole thing takes about 15 minutes. It’s short. I feel a bit tired afterwards. My skin is red now, like a sunburn.

The worst part is that it is everyday. Going to and from the hospital is a constant reminder of illness. Because I’m training for the walk(!), I try to walk to and from the hospital (about 30-40 minutes each way).  I have to keep the radiated part of my body out of the sun. So even on hot days I often have to wear a scarf or jacket and hop from shade to shade, avoiding the sun and lingering in the shadows. And I am tired. But otherwise, it is okay.

On most days, I fee like this:

Happy!

Happy!

Because I get to hang out with this:

Love!

Love!

And I believe this:

You know it!

You know it!

Only 1o more sessions to go. The countdown continues.

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Walking the walk

Taken this weekend at Brickworks.

Taken this weekend at Brickworks.

On all my visits to Princess Margaret hospital, and over the last several months there have been many, I’ve noticed this big, huge banner  over the entrance. It says “I believe we will conquer cancer in our lifetime.” Every time I see that sign, I feel a surge of hope and think, Yes, please let that be true.

“I believe we will conquer cancer in our lifetime.” On September 7th, we are planning to walk 32km to help Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s raise money to fund research to help make this come true. Over the course of the last several months, all of you have been so generous with your offers to help. You sent food, drink, cards, flowers and well-wishes and it has all been amazing. Now, I’m asking if you can support us on this walk. There are several different ways you can help:

1) Walk with us! We’d love to have as many people as possible walking with us that day. It raises awareness and it raises money.

2) Donate – Donations big or small are welcome! A tax receipt is issued for donations over $20.

3) Babysit – We’ll need some friends/family to watch Nate on days we’d like to train and on the actual walk day.

4) Share this page, to raise awareness and encourage donations.

Thank you so much for any help/support you can give. Just a few months ago, I could barely walk 30 minutes without my feet breaking out in a chemo-induced rash. Now, I’m training to do a 32 km walk. It makes me so happy to be coming out of the toughest fight of my life. I hope you’ll join us in raising money so other women, sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, and friends will not have to go through what I did.

Princess Margaret is one of the top cancer centers in North America. Just a couple weeks ago, they made a breakthrough announcement about a potentially revolutionary new drug they are developing. The drug would more successfully target cancer cells and could potentially be used to treat breast, ovarian, lung, pancreas and colon cancers. Much of the research has been funded by money raised by the walk to end women’s cancers.

“I truly believe in this important discovery and its therapeutic potential for cancer patients,” stated Dr. Slamon, best known for his discovery and development of the cancer drug Herceptin. “I am also astounded by the philanthropic generosity of Princess Margaret donors who believe in this project just as much as our teams working in the labs here in Toronto at The Princess Margaret and at UCLA. This milestone could never have been achieved without their support and belief in our collaborative team. I have had the pleasure of attending several events for The Shoppers Drug Mart Weekend To End Women’s Cancers. While addressing the crowds, I have witnessed the passion of the walker community.”

I believe we will conquer cancer in our lifetime. 

Please contribute if you can. Click here. 

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This Blog is a Love Letter

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father’s Day!

In the past, I’ve worried about the publicness of writing about illness. This concern with publicness is a common theme in a lot of blogs written by moms of young children. Will my child grow up and be embarrassed by such a public account of their early lives? I certainly hope not. Some people think of a blog as a very public diary, a way to share their daily experiences with their family, friends and perhaps a wider circle, as a way to make people follow along on their adventures, to commiserate when they are having a hard time. It’s for getting support and making new connections.

This blog is about those things too, but I don’t really see this blog as a diary; I see it as a love letter.

It’s a love letter for my family and friends and for life in general. And really it is for Mitchell, who makes me happy even in the saddest, scariest times. And it is for Nate, because everything is.

I hope everyone had a Happy Father’s Day! And I’m sending a special batch of love to my dad, my dad-in-law and Mitchell.

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Thank you, arm.

I am happy to report that my arm performed well at the next CT scan and I was able to get it into the right position. Phew. They put four teeny-tiny tattoos (that look like birthmarks) to mark out the section that will be radiated (basically from the bottom of my neck to my lower ribs on the left side).

I am also happy to report that I will be starting radiation therapy this afternoon. Okay, maybe happy is not the right word, but I am certainly glad that this last phase of treatment is getting underway.

Here are the basics about radiation therapy:

The side effects are not nearly as bad as chemo. They mostly involve localized skin irritations (rashy/sunburny feelings, and the affected skin may turn reddish/darker during treatment), and of course, fatigue.

I will have 25 sessions. That’s a lot. It’s every day (aside from weekends and holidays) until mid-July.

The sessions are quite short. Each appointment is booked for roughly 30 minutes but most of it is positioning to make sure that I’m aligned properly and consistently from session to session. The radiation part shouldn’t take long.

Everything else is going okay right now. I feel much, much better from the surgery. My energy is okay. I’m doing some work and playing with Nate. And here is some photographic proof: me and Nate in a fort!

We can't believe we are in a fort!

We can’t believe we are in a fort!

Nate looking down on the little people.

Nate looking down on the little people.

 

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