Sunday, February 7, 2010
..... the other day when I was en route to the college, I decided to circumvent the city by taking the 401. Despite the fact that most days I am inclined to drive my car like it is stolen, today was no exception and noted that I was going 117 km as I came off the on ramp.... the guy behind me thought I was not going fast enough and so rode my bumper. His impatience was obvious as he pulled away then drove up fast enough to intimidate - clearly dangerous behavior as I was passing a semi on my right and signaled politely as I pulled in once I safely cleared it. He zoomed past like he was late for something and I pulled in behind as I came up to the next semi..... he was looking back when I pulled off my hat. I got a double take and had to smirk.... far better than showing any 'sign' of displeasure.... not that I would have given him the finger anyway but took great satisfaction in getting his attention! :)
Ever since I can remember, I never liked being stared at - it always made me feel uncomfortable and singled out.... I would have been easily mistaken for a wall flower in my earlier days... felt like an ugly duckling really with my clumsy feet, my buck teeth and hair that always seemed to be stringy and hung over my eyes regardless of what I did with it. That was during my formative years and although I had my teeth somewhat straightened and my skin maintained a healthy glow through the teen years (sans pimples), the feeling of being on the outskirts never really left me. Today I am outgoing, confident and bald!!! I still do not like being stared at but do not mind as much. I am easy to approach and will start a smile as fast as I will return one given these days and I do not mind if someone asks about my lack of hair. I appreciate the candid conversations that I have with friends and strangers. I am an open book these days. I also do not leave the house without drawing on some eyebrows and putting on make-up... what would have taken me years to finish in the make-up drawer is now being used up. I can put on my face from start to finish in about 7 minutes!!
Sunday 7th February
For the past few days I have noted some swelling in my eyelids and of course the exodus of most of the eyelashes that adorned them just weeks ago. My face feels swollen and uncomfortable and I realize when I come to full wakefulness at 4 am that my chest, spine and legs are also out of sorts. My legs and rear are swollen and I cannot see or feel my ankle bones. My gut feeling tells me that I am suffering from dehydration and I get up to go and drink as much water as I can manage. The skin is tight and I pray it is not edema. Walking is difficult at best and sitting just makes it worse. I have spent the previous days painting the boxes Max made for the build-ins on either side of the fireplace and some small plaster work and touch ups on the wall after outlets were changed or items removed from walls. Just these simple tasks have exhausted me and I became too pre-occupied and busy to remember to re-hydrate. I was not listening to the cues my body was giving me ..... the recipe for trouble!! The swelling has reduced by half just before bedtime.
Monday 8th February
I have to take the double dose of steroids this morning in prep for my last round of chemo and I am hoping that it will aid in getting rid of the fluid still causing swelling in my limbs and face. I will find relief later on in the afternoon when I have drunk about 3 litres of water... which is difficult to get down at the best of times - by the time I take Mitchel to the theatre in the early evening, there is a minor swelling remaining - not edema, thank god but just dehydration.... the pamphlet I pick up from my bedside table indicates that leg swelling is a 'need to drop by and be seen' event.
I meet up with Eileen and daughter Beth at the theatre just a few blocks from my house and it is all hugs and kisses. We have been friends for 20 years - Beth would have been a little younger than my daughter is now when Eileen and I first met. I am out of breath just walking to the theater and my strained voice gives me away.... I struggle to catch it as I slip into the seat next to her. She has her oxygen tank with her and I note that I have some idea now of what she might experience at her lightest days. Mitchel enjoys the movie thoroughly and is totally engrossed in AVATAR. What a spectacular film (this is my second time seeing it) - the politics of the film is obvious and it brings with it a two-sided look at a conflict. It is eye-candy through and through and the experience is awe inspiring. This is truly the best film ever made in this genre and a proud project of a famous Canadian director/writer... James Cameron. OK, I really liked the film and have only ever gone twice to the movie theater to see a film... the other one was Pirates of the Caribbean.
Tuesday 9 February
Today is chemo day... it is my last one and I couldn't be more anxious or excited to finally get this part of my journey over and done with. It is taking almost the entire 3 weeks to feel any kind of normal and now I am about to do it over again and thankfully just one more time. I will get to ring the bell and I know Eileen who will accompany me will tear up - that makes two of us. I grabbed the paper out of the mail box at 6 am and something told me to look inside - I found an envelope marked with a message 'Marita, open only after your last chemo' I think I recognize the handwriting and I am looking forward to opening it up... I will take it with me to my chemo appointment.
It is 1:30 when Eileen and I arrive.. I head downstairs to buy us a cafe mocha while she finds herself a seat in front of the chemo suite. I arrive back on the 2nd floor and find myself face-to-face with an elderly neighbor from my last neighborhood and his partner Sharon. I say hello to Rudy and realize that he is introducing himself - I have known him for 15 years and now realize that his mind has been steadily declining since his lung surgery 3 years ago.... now as I look at Sharon she stands up and we hug - the knowing looks are exchange and I turn to Rudy - I would have hugged him but being a stranger now would likely upset him if I did. He now has liver cancer at both ends and the duct in the lower quadrant is now compromised - it is his first trip in to see the Oncologist and is hoping to get treatments started soon.... later I will receive a call from another close neighbor who lets me know that he is beyond treatment and has only 6 months to live. He has feared his own demise since his first major surgery to clear blockages in the arteries leaving his heart.... it worsened with the lung surgery and he became withdrawn and fearful. I remember having to track him down after his heart surgery when he disappeared out of his hospital room - I had notified the nurses who were doubtful that he had left the premises. I worked as a security supervisor at the age of 17 and had tracked down many runners from the Civic Hospital in Ottawa with great success and 30 minutes later, I found my quarry on the front lawn of a residence just south of Oxford street. I managed to convince the very beligerent and angry Rudy back into my van and informed him we were returning to the hospital - we compromised after he began beating the back of my seat with his feet. I returned him home for a cup of tea and to visit with his dog before getting his son to contact the nurses at the nursing station. Looking into his blank eyes and lack of recognition after all the years I have helped this aging man had deeply affected me and I help him as he staggers over his cane and promise Sharon that I will call.
I run into Megan and hugs, kisses and a quick chat before she gets called to her appointment - tomorrow will be her first dose of Docetaxel. I wish her well when she comes out just before I get paged to the chemo suite. The suite is busy but not overly so today. I am hooked up to the benedryl which quickly runs through my veins making me sleepy within minutes. The 67 year old woman next to me looks so much like my mother did at her age and we instantly spark up a conversation. She is also on the same regime as I am and just minutes before me - it is her last day and is looking forward to ringing the last call bell on the intake desk. She is not finished her journey yet either and will have her breast surgery after her chemo is done and before her radiation begins.... she comes all the way from Goderich to London. I wish her and her husband safe journey. The clinician who called earlier in the morning shows up to inform me that the trial I have agreed to do for Radiation therapy has me in the group that will be doing the 1 week, twice a day radiation as opposed to the standard 25 treatments given over a 5 week period of time. It is the same healing time as the standard but the convenience of 1 week is a great relief. Individuals in trials will be closely monitored and the outcome serves to help others about to embark on their own journey.
I leave the chemo suit as one of the last patients for the afternoon and find that the waiting room is completely empty at 4:35 p.m. The bell is on the ledge at the chemo kiosk and as the remaining nurses and a male PSA worker come to the door as witnesses, I hammer the gong like bell and receive warm hugs and best wishes from each of them. How fitting that I start my chemo journey quietly and leave with a clang witnessed by some of the most important people in this journey.
Later in the evening I get a message from Megan - there are proposed cuts to the Oncology nursing staff at LRCC and a full cut to nurses at the breast screening clinic - WHAT!!!????? Who in their right mind would ever think that this is OK? These nurses are incredible and are our first line defense. They are a valuable source of information, support and usually the only ones we see as patients after the initial Oncologist consultation. They produce valuable information booklets for the patients to take home and they keep the wait times down by a considerable amount. This unit gives educational classes using nurses.... and the list goes on. Perhaps the administrators have too much time on their hands and need to take a well earned pay cut.
Thank you to Sue S. for dropping off a lovely hand made card which I opened right after my last chemo - it was like a warm hug after a really long day... thank you girl!! xoxo Thank you to Eileen for coming with me to my last treatment!! You are so wonderful and I love you to pieces. Thank you to my husband for bringing me beautiful flowers at lunch to celebrate my last chemo - you are my soul mate and my best friend.... I love you so much. xoxo
Wednesday 10th February
I have produced my first group in facebook 'LRCC proposed job cuts to Cancer support nurses' and have emailed Jack Layton (who is currently going through prostrate cancer and Ed Holden who is my local MP) to get the word out. I have also agreed to do an interview to help get the word out. I am very concerned that this is a poor and ill-thought out decision by administrators who clearly do not understand the critical impact that this will have on patients now and into the future. I would like to see some pay cuts from administrators who seem to know little about the workings in their own domain. One can only hope that there is enough uproar to get attention and to revoke this proposal...... To all my cancer friends, I will not let this go!!