Thursday, February 27, 2014
When the pain seared up along the right spine, scapula and into the neck hours after testing, I realized how much high tension and stress I was really experiencing. Despite the calm exterior, the storm within has been brewing for days and the spasms in the muscles send sharp pains when I turn my neck. Tuesday has me seeing the chiropractor. The pain has made it difficult to sleep and the cycle begins. I refuse to take any medications to reduce the pain, only a natural pain rub. It helps to ease me into a somewhat restless slumber. My mind refuses to release and it continues to play out my life......
.....my mind recollects an incident years ago while in the service of the armed forces .... one night I was preparing to take a shower in the common washroom in the barracks. The shiny concrete floor was wet. I stepped into the invisable puddle and before I knew it, my feet were pointing straight up to the ceiling and I was frantically grasping at the elusive curtain which slipped through my grasp and I landed with a thunk on the hard pavement with enough force to cause me to momentarily black out. I never forgot that frantic panic with the realization that there was nothing in my power to stop what had begun or the girls who found me wandering confused down the hallway naked. They had heard my head hit the concrete floor and had come looking for the source of the noise. I was not scared when they took me by the hand and led me to a chair and dressed me while they waited for the medics to arrive.....
In this journey right now, I am sitting in the chair waiting for the medics to arrive. I have no control over the disease, only faith. I am here and there are reasons for everything that has happened in my life. I am at peace with my decision to go ahead with the radiation trial and whatever may come my way. It is not a resignation but an acceptance of my life journey and all that makes it what it is. I am truly grateful for all that I have and my life is richer for those that have made my life journey truly happy and meaningful.
Yesterday I went back to Wellspring for the Yoga classes after a few years of being away. Valerie is amazing as she leads us through gentle stretches. I wasn't going to come out today because the weather was cold and the high winds were wrecking havoc with visibility throughout the region.....at least that was my excuse. I have become reclusive during this study week from the college.... I am working on some projects for a girls group coming to visit the college in May as part of their introduction to technology in post secondary. I am glad I went out and participated because the pain in the neck and shoulders has subsided tremendously. As always in this Yoga class, the sun always manages to peek through the clouds and shine through the windows. The sun is becoming stronger in the sky and as I peer out the window, the warmth kisses my cheeks and makes me smile. I close my eyes and take in the warmth. I am alone with my thoughts. I can no longer hear the other participants talking around me as they gather their belongings. I am truly grateful for this day.
I arrive back in the office and see a woman sitting in the chair near the coffee service. I ask if she is new and she responds that she is. That was me all those years ago and it takes me back in a flash. I introduce myself and ask if she is there to take Art Therapy? She is and so I introduce her to Wanda who has just arrived and who has been doing this class for about 12 years. I am careful to keep my voice lighthearted.
I decide to attend Art Therapy. I miss the group I started with in my first journey. I really connected with each of them and we were a close group. I miss Ruth. Ruth passed a few years ago and about the time that a number of our group members returned to work or moved on in their journey. I create a project using drywall compound coloured with acrylic paints onto a picture frame and glass. I think I will scrape off a little bit of the mud on the glass to expose some kind of art beneath it. I feel like I want to cover myself in warm soothing soul cleansing mud. The lady next to me is using a gold acrylic and offers a dollop of it on my plate. I incorporate the glimmering goo to the mud colour and like the result. The ladies are all chatting as they create their own masterpieces. Later, I help Wanda prepare a number of plates for the group who were supposed to be in attendance this week but the weather kept away. It will take a few days to dry anyway and should be ready to finish when we return next week.
I return to the office to retrieve my coat and boots and spy Bunty at the table next to the coffee service. She is wonderful and I run up to give her a squeeze and a kiss. She has been on this earth for over 80 years and is still so spry despite her quadruple bypass. She has volunteered for years and continues to do so despite cancer taking her husband a decade ago. I take the seat offered to me by the woman across from Bunty. When I am comfortable and look to her, she studies me and her brow furrows. She tells me that she knows from a distance, most people would see that I am handling my situation with calm, grace and strength but she knows that I have days that are anything but graceful. I love that about her... she is intuitive and cuts to the point without the fluff. So when she asks me "How are you doing?" ..... she wants the God's honest truth and not a scripted "yah, wonderful!" She looks me in the eyes and says she is glad I am going to do the radiation and she has a really good feeling about the outcome. I do too Bunty.... which is why I cannot understand the funk I am in this week.
Perhaps its the weather.... which seems to go on forever in this cold and wintery 2014. Perhaps its the wait before the radiation added to the weather. Today I thought of Ruth again and of the statement she made about not wanting to die because she felt she had so much more living to do. I have read the obituaries every day since her death over 2 years ago. I look at the ages and consider what took them in their prime... cancer, heart attack, cancer, car accident, cancer, stroke, cancer. The content of the obit reveals who that person was to the people who truly loved them.... they usually open with.... how much they are already missed and a listing of all who will miss them. Depending on the author of the obit, they will often times incorporate a synapsis of the lives they lived and of their accomplishments. The pictures are often of them on their very best day ever and the smiles encourage you to know them, if only for the minute it takes to read about them. I consider what I like about what is written of this stranger...... I read through their relative names just to see if there is anyone who I know and who might like a note left on the online obituary supporting them in their time of mourning. There have been a handful so far in the past six months whom I have left a note for.... today will be another one for the 90 year old man who visited his wife every day for hours at the Alzheimers ward where my father used to reside. She is restricted to a wheel chair and is unable to communicate..... I think of how much she will miss him but nowhere in his obit does it say how he supported her and others who visited the ward. He was always kind to me and offered hugs each time we met. He and his cronies had a little repair business on the side and would fix wheelchairs and walkers to donate to anyone who needed them.... the obit did not speak to this kindness either. Rest in Peace Ted.
I often believe that our lives should be celebrated and not forgotten but in reality, despite all our good intentions, life continues as if nothing has happened. Some of my friends will visit their relatives in the place where they lay for eternity in the local cemetaries while others have moved away and are unable to. I drive past one of our city's largest cemetaries in the west end of the city. They have begun to remove more trees to make room for future 'residents'. I have mixed feelings about cemetaries. I like looking at the stones.... or at least I used to before my cancer diagnosis.... and imagining who these people were. The large catholic cemetary on Huron St. was next door to my apartment building and I would stroll through the large expanse and always end up in the children's section... Some of the stones here are ancient and speak to a time in our history when children dying was a part of every day life. A photographer in Montreal documented life in the turn of our last century by photographing the children in positions that made them look alive despite the fact that they had passed. Life and especially death was looked at differently and an accepted part of our short time on earth. Do I still like cemetaries.... the one in Havana, Cuba was the best cemetary I have ever been in... the woman still encased in a sarcophagus way past the time she was to be exhumed and relocated, is a draw to all the locals and a statue is errected in her honor at the foot of it. As the years have passed, this woman and the local legend of her bestowing their heart's wishes have accumulated hundreds of etched stone plates thanking her for bringing them their deepest desire. The statue is of her holding her child. They both passed in childbirth and were interred in the marble above ground coffin. The child was laid on her thighs but when the year marking their internment was up and the lid was removed, the legend says that she was holding her child and they had not disintegrated. According to the locals.... they looked as if they were sleeping. They simply reseated the lid of the coffin and soon there were visitors from far and wide praying to her for the things they desired... health, babies, success etc. The statue of Mommy and baby is made of marble and errected in their honor and is surrounded by these amazing stone thank you's piled and stacked in rows upon rows around it. The statue is an unpolished powdery white for the exception of the smooth green heel of the baby.... I reached out and touched it despite Max's warning to be careful. We were on our honeymoon and I desired another baby which Max wanted to wait for a few more years. We returned from our honeymoon pregnant. I lost that one and miraculously became pregnant weeks later with Lydia. I have often wanted to return and leave our own thank you to her.
I think cemetaries hold a rich history of our society. So why do I not want to be buried? Why do I consider to be cremated instead and have my ashes spread instead of contained..... because it appeals to the practical side of who I am. I am not steeped in tradition, although I deeply appreciate and admire it. I am pragmatic, practical and simply put... only a tiny link in the generations before me and those that will follow me. The parts that pass on long after I go should be the values and principals I live by and in whose children will pass along to the next generation. I will be long forgotten even into the next generation. I feel that I should leave this earth as I arrived - without taking up space and leaving the land to those who will use it while they are alive. We are technological and ever changing in this society and our populations are growing exponentially.
I found a photo of my Great Grandfather a few weeks ago. I never knew him and by all standards I do not look like him. I did say hello to the picture and imagined what life was like for him but I will never visit his grave and I am sure no one has for the better part of 50 years. His grave, like the one in Cuba (unless it is a mausoleum or this special grave) have a time limit of occupancy in order for the next generation to utilize the same space. The cemetaries are not sprawling and eating up valuable property but are well managed. The bones are removed, boxed and then relocated. I like this approach and it becomes the cemetary for the living.
I do not want to have a casket...it makes no sense to cut down a beautiful tree, carve it, polish it and then simply plant it into the ground to protect my body from what it is supposed to do naturally - to decay and return to the earth that created it.....or the stone that gets planted at the head to announce who is in residence. I didn't pay to be born and I am not willing to pay to leave. I have considered donating my body to science, which is free but the jury is still out on this one. Dying is a lucrative business. A basic cremation in a carboard box will cost over $3,000. A memorial hosted in the funeral home is crazy expensive when you add eats to the event.... every aspect of the funeral costs the family money. I was advised to purchase a plan while I am still alive so that the family doesn't get lured into guilt purchases. I do however want my ashes spread into my garden and then have a lovely backyard party... about $3000 ought to do it!!! My friend Ameeta has already offered to be the MC for the event and knowing her, the crowd will laugh... and then likely join in with their own stories. Life is to celebrate and our passing is just the end of our physical earth-bound journey. Knowing that I have met so many incredible people and have been given the opportunity in this particular space and time to create a life that I am truly proud of.
I am looking forward to the spring and the beginning of our urban gardens. There is still planning to do and the time frame we need to do it in. Thank you to Sarah for your Home Depot gift card for this purpose. Of course we will take any donations from anyone to put towards this life giving project. Max and Uncle Paul are on board and will be 'breaking ground' as soon as the earth softens in the spring. The greenhouse in the kitchen is doing well as are the tomato plants in the spare bedroom. The asparagus is now looking feathery and according to the seed package.... it will be two years before we can harvest this luscious vegetable. The vertical growing surface on the garage has to be designed and created for herbs. Again, we will accept rooted herbs to put into our vertical garden... I can even put the donor's name on whatever they donate...so they will be a part of our living garden. That's my blog for this week.... next week we begin my treatments. xoxoxo
Monday, February 24, 2014
..... is booked for today at 1:30 but first, I have a divisional meeting at the Windermere Manor to start this Monday morning off. Coffee with breakfast to begin the day, but my stomach is reflective of the anxiety I am feeling about this afternoon. I sip on black coffee and touch base with my favourite colleagues around the table. The laughter is infectious and I am feeling better within a few hours. I will leave for the LRCP (London Regional Cancer Program) and meet with the team that will be documenting and planning out the radiation applications.
I arrive around 1:15 in the afternoon and walk through the main entrance and head down the stairs to the Radiation department reception desk. I am booked in, given the all too familiar pager and sent down the hallway to patient intake reception. My assigned nurse comes out to the small waiting vestibule and leads me to one of the interior cubicle examination rooms. I look back at the lady who was sitting beside me and I shake her hand and wish her luck. I look past her shoulder and note the summer garden under newly fallen snow. I have seen that garden in all the seasons now.... a few years ago, I sat there sunning my face in the afternoon with Kim whose picture of her mastectomy is showcased on the third floor of the main building. Down the hall is the conference room where I spoke with the Chief of the LRCP with Carol...he left his position and Carol passed away 18 months ago..... it seems like a lifetime ago.
The knock at the door and the nurse pops her head in. I need to change into a gown while she prepares to give me an IV. I have had enough of IV's and now is no different as she puts the IV in and shoves it the rest of the way. The funny feeling in my elbow tells me she has missed and now she has to try again.... I suggest using a saline syringe to help convince it past the valve that constricts and refuses entry without this help. I feel faint and the clammy sweat breaking out above my brow announces that I will vomit if I am not careful. The nurse looks up and notes that I have paled to a pasty white. She asks if I am OK? I need a drink of cold water and remain quiet and calm while she finishes taping up and grabbing a cup in the cupboard above the sink. Minutes later she brings me a cold towel for my forehead. I take some deep breaths and can feel the warmth return into my face. The nurse's concerned face pops back into the room a few more times to see how I am doing. I am good to go.
A knock on the opposite door and Abby walks in and introduce herself. Her thick accent reminds me of my Kiwi neighbor and I ask if she is an Aussie or Kiwi? She smiles and says "Kiwi". I tell her my sister is there right now and just recently visited Hobbiton. She looks at me again and lets me know that she lived right near there. It really is a small world. We enter the specialized CT room. All patients receiving treatments here will be charted, usually tattooed and CT'd for pin point accuracy. Our margins are exceedingly narrow and care must be taken to tattoo the markers on the skin that will be used for positioning of the equipment for radiating the sites. Another radiation technologist enters and she looks familiar to me. "Your name is Lisa, right?" It is and she smiles up at me. Lisa and Abby will be working tandem to set up for the lesion in the liver. My head end is bolstered with what appears to be a beanbag pillow. I put my arms above my head while laying my head down on this pillow. The women form the pillow around my arms to support them. My legs are put into a foam rubber form to keep my legs still. They move me around until they are happy with the positiion. They are putting stickers on me, marking me with permanent marker and using laser beams strategically placed in the room to find the exact crosshairs they use for the tattoo marks. They will use some of the tattoo marks that they used in the first radiation treatment in March 2010 and add 3 more to the compliment of 3 to make 6 total 'tattoos'. The girls tell me they like my tattoos better!!. A wipe with an isopropyl pad, a q-tip leaving a small drop of Indian ink and a sharp tack operated by Lisa to the exact location of the crosshairs and voila.... I am polka dotted. We joke around between scans. when they have to re-position and set-up again.
The first scan will have me holding my breath part way on the exhale. The liver moves when I breath and they need to find out how it moves and the range of movement. This will help guide the beam when I am in radiation and breathing through the procedures. Dr. Lock's intern arrives to administer to contrast to begin the scan and to see exactly what happens when the lesion 'blooms' with the absorption of contrast. It is a headless voice behind my head as he explains what he is doing and what will happen next. This only takes about 30 seconds after administration and I can hear them booting it in the control room within seconds of administering. it. The warm flush through the veins and the warmth in the bladder (feels like you have to go pee) diminishes as quickly as it arrives. This part is completed. The next step will involve the neck lesion.
The next team arrives after Lisa and Abby say bye. Claire pops her head in and introduces herself. Next to pass through the door is Dr. Locke, the intern who now has a face to go with the voice and Claire's partner. He walks up to me and introduces himself as Keith..... unless of course I don't do a good job and then its 'Mark'. His quick grin and wink as he looks over at Claire... she feels sorry for Mark who is their colleague and smiles over at me. Dr. Locke will be in the control room preciding over the next procedure and will come to speak to me afterwards. This one involves the neck lesion and its tenuous position amongst the architecture of the nerve and artery. My chest is bare while the two technologists marker, sticker and add tattoos. Kevin is measuring for the tattoo dots that will need to be placed at the top of the clavical and left chest. Claire is adjusting the beam and then walks around the CT to do the tattoos. Kevin is joking with me and we spend moments in between just laughing. Connecting to the techs and being cooperative and easy going is really key to taking everything that comes your way in stride. We are almost 1.5 hours in the suite when we complete the final scan.
Dr. Locke comes back into the room with his intern. The intern has discovered a document that supports a much lower risk approach with this neck lesion that has gotten larger since the CT scan last month. We both acknowledge the good work done by this keen intern and I am grateful for this news. I am feeling far more optimistic and am looking forward to getting started. With that, it is time for Keith to leave the suite. He comes over to me and gently grasps my right hand between his and bows down. He looks into my eyes and wishes me the best of luck. He then crosses the room and stands with the group and blows a kiss my way and I blow one back. The group leaves the suite and now it is just Claire left to finish up the paperwork. Before I get up from the table, the door opens again, the man makes his way over to me and smiles down at me...."ah, you must be Mark?" I look back up at him. I smile back up. He didn't say a word as he spun around and left. She realizes I still have my IV in place and gets the nurse to come in to remove it. Claire wishes me luck and leaves me to dress and exit on my own. Connections with people who really care has made my journey with cancer bearable.
The radiation procedures will be done on the Tomotherapy machine. It is specialized for the future of radiation and is specifically used for radiation trials. It combines the use of a CT scan and the administration of radiation as an all-in-one. It is specific to the tumor with minimal involvement of healthy tissue. Before each dose, a CT scan will be done to ensure accuracy. The radiation will follow. They will then move me into the next position and again, another CT scan followed by radiation. This is my only chance and it might be a cure..... I am holding my breath and hoping for a success that will ensure others in my position that there are options. This is my only option right now and on March 10th I will, with my specialized team, venture forth into the future. My doctor, the chief of Medical Oncology will be there for all my appointments to oversee the administration of radiation. I want to thank the team for caring enough to take the time with me today to ready me for the big day. I will go every other day for 6 doses.
So, why do I choose to be so open, candid and approachable? It might have something to do with raising my children. I made a promise that I would always teach my children to be comfortable in their own skin and to accept whatever life throws their way.... to find the shiny side of the coin. Lydia announces this evening that she wants to have 'Live, Love and Laugh' on her wall above her vanity..... a truly wonderful moment.
I am an open book with my students and the college supports the positive impact I have on them. I explain the basics to my students, much like I do with my own children in order to encourage them to ask me if they do not understand. It has created connections with our next generation.
This is my blog. Everything that is written has been carefully considered before posting it. I make no apology for what I write. It is candid, real and honest and there are lessons to be learned through my own mistakes and those of others and to learn from my personal experiences. It in no way is an invitation for drama. Sometimes the truth hurts and in my journey, I have learned to own who I am, what I say, what I do and to know where I belong. Thank you to my soul mate, my family, my closest friends and my colleagues for being there!!! Here's to a future success!!! xoxoxoxoxo
Thursday, February 20, 2014
..... and looking back at almost 5 years in this journey....
A few weeks ago I am greeted at the door of a friend's house. It is a gathering of people I have known for a number of years. Our host nudges me and quietly lets me know that we won't be talking about my cancer at her gathering. I am known to be quite candid with my illness but also respectful of our host who chooses not to focus on my illness when we are all supposed to be enjoying ourselves. A friend shouts across the room over the din when I seat myself nearby and says "so what's this about your neck?" "I thought your cancer was gone?" She goes on to explain to those around that if she had cancer, no one would know because she wouldn't tell anyone..... she says she wouldn't want anyone to know. She is confused by my openess. That's you but not me she states as she sits back in the couch and continues a conversation with the woman beside her. Then a few more voices chime in and want to know where I am at in my illness. I just explain briefly and smile that I am good, feeling good..... even if I am not..... I don't want to upset our host especially when she doesn't want it to bring anyone down. I brush off any more questions with a smile and find myself withdrawing consciously, stuffing my face to avoid conversation and then minutes later decide that it is time to leave. Smiles and hugs all around and I walk quickly home. I will join my daughter on the couch and take in a movie. Max will stay for a few more hours and return as I am crawling into bed.
Every day I committ myself to being positive and lighthearted about my journey... it is never my desire to inconvenience or make anyone uncomfortable. I tend to stay to myself and especially now when I am about to enter into another chapter of this journey.... for those tired of hearing that I still have cancer... you can never imagine how tired I am of getting endlessly poked, prodded, tested, scheduled and treated.... and all in the hopes of living my life as normal as possible. It is not something I can conveniently forget about but I do and blog as positively as possible. So what goes through my mind some days?
A day in the life of me...... I apologize for the candidness......
I am getting ready for the shower and I catch a glimpse of my naked body in the mirror... like most women, I see someone older looking back at me and wonder how that happened? I always picture myself much younger but the face tells me otherwise. The chemo ravaged the skin and the deeper wrinkles have aged me by a decade. The chemo thrust me into menopause which I now treat using a special anti-depressant with beneficial side effects that stop the pouring sweat. The scars and concave depression in the left breast and underarm is a daily reminder of that shower almost 5 years ago when I first found the lump that began this journey. The skin between the breasts and up to the bottom of the collar bone is slightly coloured and a bit leathery after the radiation. My gaze past my reflection to the top of the bathroom shelf above the toilet focuses on that decorative bottle that once held the vanilla infuser oil. My stomache rolls whenever I catch the slightest whiff.... it reminds me of the nausea of chemo. I enter the shower and my chest turns bright red in the pattern of the radiation coverage when the hot water hits it. The same pattern that showed up when I had that airport xray.....I wash all my parts, even the ones I have long since lost the feeling of.
Stepping out and towelling off, I have no choice but to notice the wonky hair that is no longer silky smooth and long. The eyes still look a bit hollow and the dark rings below will need to be covered up. I use the barest minimum of make-up.... too many chemicals. I search with my numb fingers and find the lump in my neck just hiding below the clavical. I will check it throughout the day to see if it has enlarged. My chest aches as I stretch my arm. The scar tissue needs to be stretched in the arm and chest from the two surgeries. My nails continue to snap off with the slightest pressure and I have begun to chew my thumbs again. They used to look so beautiful when I would often have my nails done at the salon but the danger of infection to the left arm that has few lymph nodes left means that I cannot do this anymore.... the loss of a full time job has also dictated many things I can no longer afford.
I rifle through my closet looking for something to wear. I have decided not to purchase any more clothes despite the fact that I could really use a wardrobe makeover that includes a really big bonfire and some good friends to help out. I used to like shopping but the past 5 years have seen my weight fluctuate incredibly with the use of steroids to help with the side effects of chemo. Menopause makes it nearly impossible to take it off until I began to radically change my diet. I watch everything I eat and avoid anything in a box. I have lost weight and look better.... but I am doing it to kill the cancer and no longer to fit into a bikini. I can't remember the last time I wore a bikini.
The jeans I choose are clearly sizes larger than what I am now. Sara will mention that when I arrive at work. Ah work..... I love what I do and I find being there the very best of my day (outside of being with my family). Sara and I work well together and our friendship is close. We have found our pace together. She will watch me while leaning against the door jamb of her office and marvel at the positive, high energy me interacting with the students. My passion for teaching in motion!!! The department I work for and those I work amongst should be truly the standard for all workplaces. The love, affection and support is amazing and I am deeply grateful. I am amongst those that are not afraid to discuss my illness, ask how I am doing and show emotional support. My life is richer for knowing these truly wonderful people.
The end of the day brings with it the usual fatigue and a call to slow down and spend time just blogging, eating dinner with the family or just quietly working on something.... I am doing a project for a girls group for May. It is another moment in my day when I am checking the lump in my neck and reflecting on my days past and what is to come. Some days I feel like I am in a rush to accomplish a gazillion things I always wanted to do and that fear I will miss something to other days like today when I am spinning my wheels just blogging and being deeply reflective. I remember my friend Ruth telling me she wasn't ready to die because she had so much more living to do..... those words have haunted me since her death mere weeks after telling me this. I know how she feels. I want to do so much and worry that I will not have the time to do it all. This year I am starting new projects mostly because of my many passions and partly because I need to strive towards future goals... its what gives me the drive to get out of bed and not submit to the isolation this illness brings.
At night, I hold my children tighter and tell them how much I love them. Lydia has decided to change the way she eats and to be more mindful of the sweets in her cache.... I see she is now giving her brother her most prized chocolate. Mitch is happy to juice greens and start his day with nutrition that most kids his age will not hear about until they get to my age and begin to consider their health. My wonderful Max who worries endlessly about how I am doing and where my head is at. He holds my hand through the night if I need him to and is my rock. He takes breaks to visit with friends around us to just get away for that little bit of time to recharge his batteries. The stress of my illness has made him a patient, caring husband and best friend. He needs the support as much as I do. He sees me at my lowest moments and these past few days.... he is just there for me. The middle of the night is the time I get up and quietly move downstairs to blog or just contemplate life where I can just cry or think or just sip a cup of tea.
I look at my sister's photos of her trip and rejoice in the fact that she is living her dreams!! We could all rip a page out of her book. I love and adore her and I am so darn happy for her and her husband that they are in a warm climate investigating every nook and crany of New Zealand. Her sunkissed beautiful smile as she beams into a camera and poof, there it is on FB seconds later. Social networking has saved my sanity these past 5 years!!!
So, I guess if you don't want to hear about my cancer journey.... it's not a problem because that makes both of us..... only I live it each and every day from the time I get up to way past when I go to bed at night and many moments in-between. I try to make it my lowest priority in the thoughts of the day but every once in a while it slips in, unannounced and disrupts my train of thought. I have come to accept that it is only part of who I am and not what defines me. Just right now.... it happens to be on my mind more than ever because I am facing yet another challenge and an unknown outcome. So allow me to apologize while I am putting on my coat to leave..... A cancer journey can be very lonely for those going through it and for their loved ones standing by.... so to my friends who are brave enough to call or just drop by to support me or to write lovely notes on social networking.... thank you. You cannot ever know how your words of support can pull me through the occassional funk. For those that want to know about my journey... I encourage you to ask me whatever you want. For those that don't - that's OK too. We all have our journeys to live, live them well and surround yourself with those who love you.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
...... is radiation. There is a trial, which I do not qualify for but which the Medical Oncologist wants to do. There are only 4 hospitals in Canada which are running these trials. The whole idea is to blast the neck and liver lesion at the same time every second day for about 6 weeks. While there are no other lesions presenting at this time, there is nothing to say that the metastasis is spreading, one microscopic cell after another.
I sit perched at the end of the examining chair with Dr. Locke pulling his chair across from me so we can have this candid conversation. I look into his friendly face and I can sense the excitement as he unveils the game plan. If and only if these are the only two lesions with no metastis anywhere else, then we have a chance to eradicate this illness from you. Living with this metastasis may mean it can and will spread with widespread involvement at any given time. Knowing what we know about your CT scan.... this may be your only chance. "You can take your time to consider this... it is a big decision" he says while looking into my eyes. "You look great Marita and you have really been taking good care of yourself". I cross my legs and perch my feet in the crease of the examination chair. "What is your gut about this?" I ask him. "I want to try this for you and my gut tells me this is the right time and opportunity for this procedure.... know that there are risks for having this done". "OK, I'm listening, I'm an engineer so give me the details".
He relays to me that the neck lesion is in a predictably tenuous position attached to the nerve and next to the artery.... so, there is a possibility that the nerve gets damaged causing problems with your left arm - swelling, loss of feeling and at the extreme - loss of use. The lesion on the liver can cause further damage and quite possibly - fatality at the extreme end. What happens if we do nothing? There is a possibility that the body will be affected by an unpredictable metastasis in organs. The lump in the neck may grow and cause bleeding and quite likely a metastasis into the brain and other complications. It may just stay like it is for years and then begin to grow.... its an educated guess based on those before me. This is the best optimal time for this treatment but once started, we cannot stop. Would I like to think about it?
I am a practical girl and know I am living on borrowed time... Dr. Locke agrees. I have had all the time I need to think about this and have decided that we will go ahead with this proceedure. I will be blasted at twice the strength as I was in my first radiation 4 years ago. It has to be aligned exactly with the lesions... if not, things won't go well. The specialists will be involved with another CT scan and to pinpoint the exact location of the lesions... the liver moves and they want to witness the lesion 'bloom' when the contrast hits it from the IV infusion. They will map out exact locations and they will then be able to use radiation in just those areas. The lesion in the liver is just at the duct that connects the liver to the gallbladder. Both lesions have very tight margins and this will take time each dose to properly set up and administer.
I am hoping that we can get the schedule so it works with my work schedule.... it is important to be able to continue to work in this semester while going through treatments. It makes it easier for me when I can continue as normal a life as possible. Radiation does not affect me as it does chemo but this one is the big guns and so only time will tell...... With logistics and signatures on paperwork, I am done for now. The calls will come in with appointments scheduled.... yay me!!!
I step out into the sunshine and climb into my car. I call Max to tell him what is going on. He agrees I made the right decision.... "yes babe, I support you.... you made the right decision". The tears start when I tell him that I had to choose that route for my family.... he knows just what I mean. He also knows that I am scared. This is a big deal but so is living with a cancer that can trigger and grow unchecked and metastasize further....I trust my doctor and coupled that with my healthy habits... I hope for a good outcome. There are no guarantees in life and in this procedure as well but at least it is an opportunity. I got home, explained what was going on to the kids and then called my coordinator to give him a heads up and of course spoke to my in-laws.
In other news..... I am continuing to plant and transplant seedlings and they are growing well. I am in the process of planning an urban garden in my front yard. The planning will include a small front deck and raised veggie beds to make it easy to weed and dissuade the bunnies from munching!!! We are also planning on a vertical herb garden against the sunny side of the garage.... this will be a lot of fun to create and watch grow. With the terrible drought in the states, our imported foods will be costly.
Keep well and eat to live a great life!!!!
Saturday, February 8, 2014
..... even if it means a family member. While I have written on this subject a few times over the years and I often reflect on how I grew up, I have struggled with trying to rid myself of a lifelong bully who has continued to be relentless in her need to control, humiliate, slander and undermine me. It is becoming clear to those of us looking at the situation that it is time she sought out a mental health care professional to help her sort out her deep seated issues. GG has played out her last card. My illness has taught me to not waste time with people who do not support and care for me and especially when I have been at my lowest. It is true that bullies are opportunistic parasites that sense weakness and strike to their advantage. I am strong and resiliant and am back on my game... like the cancer within, this bully has been given notice..... never again. Now if you'll excuse me, I have the rest of my life to live without the two of you......
.......I am spring cleaning my house and getting rid of items of clutter that I do not use or do not need anymore. With t-shirts that I do not wear, I can alter them as sleeveless with V-necks or reuse them as dogbed covers... I think that is what I will do with the ones that are piling up in my 'I don't know what to do with you pile'. There are clothes we keep that do not fit and I will try to repurpose those items so that they are used until they wear out or donate them if they are in good shape. I look around and I notice that we have so much 'stuff'. How did we end up with so much stuff???? I remember a time when we first moved into this house and it was barren. My children are growing up fast and then there will be just Max and myself.... while I want my children to be independant, I am not looking forward to seeing the last one leave the nest.
My little greenhouse seedlings are starting to pop up through the earth!!! How exciting after only 1 week of being in the moist warm soil. The sliding doors that the greenhouse is positioned in front of are SE facing and the sun is setting later in the day. I have added plant food to the water to help give them a good head start. The first ones to peek up are the Swiss Chard and the tomatoes. I am looking forward to planting them around the garden in the spring amongst the flowers. I also have a few asparagus poking up in the shallow tray. I need more trays to accommodate the mass amount of seeds I have bought. Max is excited to help build potato boxes and plan out a vertical garden where we will be able to maximize the small garden patch we have in the back yard. I will soon be planning out some boxes in the front yard to grow veggies in a creative and attractive way. We have so much front yard that is hosting bad lawn when it could in fact be hosting a productive food source. The rabbits are bad in our neighborhood so the creativity will have to include anti bunny blockades.
This Tuesday I will be seeing both my oncologists to see where we are at. With the proactive attitudes in my illness of helping my body to heal itself with what is known to help clean the body at a cellular level and to support the immune system by choosing foods wisely. Healthy attitudes, healthy mind can only create a healthy body. I have now dropped below the 180 pound mark!!!! Wow, I have not seen this weight since before I was first diagnosed over 4 years ago. As my co-worker and friend Sara said on Friday... I have not seen you this energetic or this good since before you were diagnosed.... 2 months ago, she said, Ihad given up and now she sees such an incredible change. I am happy to announce that she has decided to create a healthier her with the purchase of a juicer and a desire to start her own healthy garden. Cheers to a fantastic start to 2014!!!!
Thursday, February 6, 2014
.... is really coming along well.
Our juicer arrived and we couldn't wait to try it out minutes after it arrived!! I read through operating instructions and threw in a few apples. I was amazed how quickly it juiced and how dry the pulp was. I am relieved I did not purchase a second hand juicer or one that would cause too much frustration to use. This unit was about $200 dollars with shipping and taxes from Amazon.ca. I noted that Costco was selling one for about half the cost and its one that my brother owns. Either way, you should look for a unit that is well constructed, has a fine mesh metal screen and has various speed controls... nothing like having only a lightening speed motor that ends up whipping your leafy greens into the outtake without juicing it first. Slow speed for soft leaves and higher speeds for harder fruits and veggies.
Planning ahead will reduce mess, tedius tasks and frustration. Here's what I did that helped get us started and got the kids on track right away:
1. There are a number of parts that need to be rinsed off after each use. We juice next to the sink so that it is a quick breeze to rinse off the parts using hot water. Each part should be properly rinsed and the screen should be washed with the brush they provide in the kit (some do not, so you will need to purchase one so that your fingers never get close to the blades).
2. I have used a woven reed basket lined with a towel to store the parts while they are air drying. It fits nicely on top of the microwave oven underneath the cupboards. It is easily accessible and always ready for the next juicing.
3. The collection cup used for the pulp is a snap to clean up if you use the plastic bags the veggies came in to line it. I store the extra veggie bags inside the collection cup under the bag I am using to line the cup with. This pulp 'waste' is full of fiber and can be used to add to soups to thicken or used in muffins etc. but must be used the same day you are juicing. If you only want specific veggies in your soup, then use a separate bag to catch only what you want to add to your soup/muffin/cake. I leave the bag in the collection cup on the counter and use it to put in other organic veggie/fruit leavings for the compost in the backyard. In the winter, I just tie the bag and toss it on the back deck until the weekend when we dump them into the half buried composter. This will provide us with nutrient rich earth in the spring.
Collection Cup brimming with the days juicing and veggie prep
WOVEN BASKET WITH ALL THE PARTS FROM JUICER
WOVEN BASKET FITS NICELY UNDER THE CUPBOARDS DRYING
Prepping your food to juice or just eat
1. Plan out what you want to buy and note what is in season. A trip to the local grocery store today was scary...a lot of very sad veggies that will see a trash can before too long. Veggies and fruits should always be bright colors and feel firm to the touch. I score huge today by finding apples on sale. Apples are considered in-season in the winter and should be well priced. We also purchased Swiss chard, carrots, celery and red peppers. All looked amazing.
2. Once home, you should be washing and air drying your fruits and veggies and removing any dirt or bad parts. The woody stems need to be removed from Apples and Pears. I cleaned out both the crispers in the fridge and while I was doing that, I had the fruit sitting in a sink full of cold water and a few tablespoons of vinegar. I put them in the drying rack in the next sink over to dry. Again, you can use a basket with a towel and just put them in there to dry. I then took all the carrots out of the bags and washed all the dirt off with a brush and cut the ends off. I then lined both crisper bins with paper towel and then cut the carrots into the bin along with the celery etc. I covered these with paper towel and layered on the next group of veggies.
Veggies draining in the dish rack in the adjacent sink
Crisper filled with layers of prepped veggies
Meal planning while using a juicer
We use the juicer now daily. My 17 year old son uses it for breakfast every day!!! This coming from a kid who refuses to eat breakfast!!!!
1. I roasted 2 organic chickens for dinner this evening and needed to plan for meals ahead while prepping veggies for the weekend. The one chicken was used for dinner. The remains of this carcass and leftovers was put into a large dutch oven with the drippings, potatoes, carrots and a handful of juice pulp thrown in to make a soup. Swiss Char was added along with salt and pepper. The other chicken was separated from its carcass and will be used for sandwiches tomorrow and through the weekend. The soup goes into the beer fridge and I am taking some to work. Prep time in the evening is easiest because I can create lunches for the next day while getting everything ready for a fast juice in the morning. It is so true - we will always look to snacking on readily available foods when we are hungry so make sure your prep work includes healthy bite sized snacks. We purchase Apple Chips from Costco (only ingredient is apples) and the kids will grab those first.
2. We noted that we were wasting a lot of food in between grocery shopping. We are learning to shop for what we need and to understand what is seasonal. A bag of apples used to last us weeks... now they last days and they are always fresh and crisp instead of withered and old.... I admit, we weren't exactly eating the way we should have!!! Macintosh apples are great for juicing and cooking but not my faves for eating.
3. Look for local producers and determine what they offer and when. Know when things are in season. Shop around for Organic where possible and involve your children in the shopping and preparation process. Teach them to recognize what a healthy meal is. Get them involved in what they want to see in their meals and let them experiment.
4. I can now add my Barley Life to my juice every morning and have an energetic start to my day.
While I wait for the mini greenhouse veggies to start growing from the newly planted seeds, I am experimenting with as many veggies as possible to get them to sprout and grow it the vases and glasses on the counter top. This is a fun way to learn how veggies can propogate while providing an additional food source from one already purchased!! Saving money any way we can. Next month's project will be building a potato box and trying to find pots for all the seedling plants.
Next Blog entry..... results from the CT scan and a very painful Wednesday this weeks.....
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
...... and I'm sitting on the fence as to how I feel about today....
.... and only because we are still having to recognize a world cancer day. In today's paper it clearly says that to prevent cancer you should eat well, exercise and donate?? to the cause. I understand the first two all too clearly after having my eyes opened wide in the past 2 months of dietary research, but donate??
BUYING PINK and DONATING
For those of you who know me, you know that I do not support the 'buy pink' movement that has created greedy business models of selling pink items to raise money for the cause. In fact the majority of that money just ends up lining the pockets of manufacturers and most notably any organization selling them to support themselves. A fraction of a fraction of the proceeds MAY get where they are supposed to. Read the small print on the packaging if you don't believe me as to how little actually gets donated. I will often encourage those wishing to donate to please donate directly to research and forgo the middle man. Unfortunately, most people want something in return for the money they spend or they believe that by buying pink products that they are somehow helping out.
I have metastatic cancer. With all the technology, surgery, chemo (after two diagnosis) and radiation I have been on, you would think that I would have improved my chances of living a long and uneventful life.....after all, billions of dollars have gone towards 'finding a cure'. It is a business that employs thousands of people.... from the clinics to the pharmaceuticals and beyond. It's BIG business and I am just one small statistic - a mom with metastatic triple negative breast cancer trying to improve my own odds - not by researching my cancer (that is scary and depressing) but by researching and investigating what I can do to support my immune system to allow it to do the job it was designed to do.
I am not against western medicine and the advances it has made but I am often perplexed at how they address just the cancer itself. There is no push to create a better diet or exercise regime to support the body fighting the disease, only the poison administered on a regular basis that depresses and destroys the immune system, healthy cells and only a fraction of the cancer cells. I said fraction. Not all cells are erradicated hence the reason for a high return in cancers in a metastatic form such as mine. The chemo they use is just to keep the cancer in check because they know it will not eradicate it.... its called 'buying time' and for some patients, this purchase comes as a high price. Statistics are a science unto itself and the numbers can be crunched and massaged to reflect a more supportive data. The radiation trial I was on would note somewhere that in my case, I failed to remain cancer free. The up side.... I was 3 years out when I was re-diagnosed. Uh, what about the fact that the cancer is the exact same DNA? That information alone would mean that the radiation was ineffective and the chemo managed to kill most but not all of the cancerous cells and was agressive enough to migrate to areas it was not in previous to this. So what are my chances? What will be my prognosis next week once all the information is in? We already know that the chemo will just reduce it and according to what I have read... eventually even that will not prevent the inevitable spread.... only increase the time it takes. This is 2014.
I think it is a difficult choice faced by a patient to say one day...."listen, I've decided that chemo is just not for me, got alternatives?" The fear here is always one of - If I say no today and then change my mind later, will they still treat me or put me at the back of the line? Will it be too late? What if I choose holistic measures and that just isn't working either? What if my doctor doesn't support my bid to go with a mixed approach? Would they be willing to continue care if it is not completely under their mandate of chemo/radiation regime? What if the illness has progressed to the point where pallative care is required and they want to use chemo to reduce symptoms? Is there quality of life in dying whle on chemo? Does this drag out your final days? I remember reading a blog from a woman, who, right to her last breath was still trying out different cocktails on what might finally work. I have seen pictures of healthy looking women succumb to the disease while on chemo... they look like they are in a concentration camp. The patient rolled past me a few weeks ago in a gurney while I was in the cancer clinic had that same pallour and vacant stare as they made their way back up to the pallative care unit on the 7th floor. I'll be honest.... that part truly scares the heck out of me. You can look in their face and imagine yours in their place and shake off that feeling as you walk away. What is the right choice for you? Only you can answer that. Me, I am still sitting on the fence and being pro-active while doing so. There is a lot to be said about a system that has survived virtually unchanged in their approach in 30 years.....
We are each different from the next - a walking chemistry set dictated by genetics, where you live, what you eat and how you live. So how is it that my cancer is treated the same way as most breast cancers when I have a triple negative cancer? There are no receptors in my cancer that we can effectively bait.... but wait.... there was a scientist who discovered that cancer has insulin receptors that attract sugar in order to feed itself.... those trials are years away, if at all - using chemo baited sugar. Knowing this, I have eradicated processed foods and refined sugars from my diet.
I am learning that there are a few of my relatives that have cancer. Am I more suseptable? If I knew cancer ran through my family, would I have ever smoked? Eaten junkfood? Drank like an idiot when I was young and invincible? Worked amongst transmitters for the past 30 years? Was there something I could have done differently? My mother had a lump in her breast years ago but did not do a follow up. Instead she just continued to eat properly and keep active. She is still alive at almost 81. When I asked her why she did not do the follow up she merely replied that she didn't believe it was a problem. The lump eventually went away. My eldest sister claims she cured her own cancer after becoming a holistic healer but was quick to point out how stupid I was not to not want to place my life in her hands.... I think most healers would understand that a patient should consider all choices and frankly the stress she causes me could have helped to grow it over the past 2 years of constant emotional and mental harrassment from her. Of all my extensive research on holistic healing, I have yet to find my sister's name on any list... which is likely why I went with western medicine. All her tinctures couldn't stop our father's steady decline into full-blown Alzheimer's or our Mother's dementia. The lists of things to take were extensive, expensive and made little sense to me.... because I was still eating the Western diet of fast food and other sugary treats.
For me, it required a complete re-think of what I felt I needed to do to help me. I work in a field of logical thought and problem solving. I have learned to diagnose equipment merely by asking a number of questions.
What should my body be doing that it currently is not doing?
My body should know when there is a virus, bacteria or cancer invading and be able to call upon the immune system to work at erradicating the invader. With cancer that is detectable through CT scans and chronic sinusitus, I assume that the immune system is either not functioning or is unable to recognize the invader. Why not?
How do we address the immune system when it is not functioning properly?
Through research and documentation of responses to changes introduced into the body. Through food, document how you feel after eating? Are you tired or energized? Look at your skin. Are you excreting urine and bowels properly? Do you have aches, pains, bumps, lumps? Are you on medications? Are you overweight?
What measures are you taking to support your immune system?
What are you eating? When is the last time you ate a raw vegetable? What is in your fridge? What is in your cupboards? Do you eat a lot of mucous producing milk products? How often do you eat out? Do you eat refined sugar found in cakes, sweets, lattes etc? Do you reach for pain pills for mild to moderate headache and pain? Have you done a full cleanse? Have you ever done a fast? Do you take fiber? Do you walk every day? Do you laugh or sing daily? Do you get enough sleep?
Keep a log of everything you do and how you are feeling that day. This will let you know if you are on the right track to feeling good. Be honest and write down everything!!! You will be surprised at the end of the day how much goes into your mouth. Write down your exercise program. Start by measuring and weighing yourself..... your clothes are a much better guide to how you are doing.
Where to start?
See your doctor and ask them to give you a physical so that you know what your starting base line is. Have your blood sugar, hormones and general health tested. Have a list of questions ready so you do not forget what you wanted to ask. Weigh and measure yourself. Write it down into a log book and state what your goals are. Take pictures of yourself wearing your bathingsuit from the front and side. (I have pics from the summer and boy do I look way better today, only 6 months later). Write down any and all symptoms you have including your sleep patterns ie do I get up multiple times to urinate or I toss and turn).
Create a routine
Create a predictable routine for getting up and going to bed. Ensure you start your day with a meal and try to reduce your caffeine intake. After meals, write down if you are tired or energized?
So what do I eat/drink?
Look for food only on the outside aisles of the grocery store....stay away from the packaged goods in the middle of the store. Buy fresh and eat as fresh as possible - choose organic when you can. Find a good butcher who sells grain fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals... check your local directory. Drink fresh squeezed (not bottled) lemons into your filtered (not bottled) water every morning. Check your PH level often to know if you are heading towards a healthy PH of 7.5. Cancer and other illnesses love acidic bodies and sugar. Do not eat out and if you do, try to stay as close to fresh - salad with no dressing or extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar and meat without breading. Reduce the amount of meat you eat. No pop or sugar free products (there is a link for other diseases). Try to drink pure water.... fluoride and chlorine in your drinking water are not good. Use natural products on your skin.... your skin is the biggest organ and will absorb what you put on it. I do not use underarm deodorant from the drugstore or shampoos (I purchase from HeavenScent). Hair dyes should not touch your scalp so instead do foil wraps if you need to colour (I no longer color my hair or put on acrylic nails).
I use Barley Life (my site to order: http://myaimstore.com/maritad/2014/01/09/feeling-pro-active/ every morning and order it through my own company as well as their brand of fiber. Juice your veggies for a boost in your day or eat a fresh piece of fruit or vegetable. 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead' filmaker Joe Cross can step you through proper eating on his website: http://www.rebootwithjoe.com
I am doing all the above and with the recent release of Joe Cross's film, I am now eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new juicer. We all needed to hear this information and for many of you, it has come at just the right time. I will leave you with a few pics of my newly seeded indoor greenhouse and the potatoes we purchased that do not have bud nip on them.
Here is my indoor green house which has a number of veggies that will take a few weeks to sprout. I will keep uploading pictures as we go!! We as a family are making these necessary changes and we encourage you to just start today... it is never too late.
Monday, February 3, 2014
... the less inclined to want to eat anything manufactured!!!
My household is eagerly anticipating our new juicer... it will be here tomorrow. We spent the weekend going through the cupboards and emptying out what we would not be eating. Our goal is to completely rid our pantries of anything we have not made ourselves or have purchased from organic sources. I spent a small fortune on seeds from a local big box hardware store which will save hundreds of dollars in food bills when we begin harvesting in the summer and fall. I will also be collecting the seeds of the veggies we will be growing in order to reduce the cost for next year. We purchased: swiss char, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, celery, leak.. and the list goes on.... My kitchen is now host to our mini green house. I will start to also grow my own broccoli sprouts for the juicer - they only take 2-5 days.
My research has expanded into iodine and a link to cancer through a depleted iodine intake. Back when I was a kid, breads, pastries etc contained added iodine but a change in the industry to bromine has left what the holistic industry believes to be an epidemic in cancers and Thyroid problems. Goiters in people were almost completely eliminated until iodine was no longer used in highly consumable breads and pastries. Iodine, according to what information I have gathered is responsible in helping cells to die when they are supposed to (apoptosis) source: http://www.health-science-spirit.com/iodine.html I am currently adding 1 drop of iodine to a small glass of water at the end of the day. Caution must always be used when taking any supplement.
Too many people go overboard in desperation in hopes of a quick fix for what ails them. Keep a journal of what you are taking and when. Note how you are feeling generally and if you have any specifics i.e pain, swelling etc. Note the colour of your skin - are you too pale? Are you sleeping well or are wakeful? Are you eliminating daily? Keep a journal of your daily intake and any observations. Your body will react strongly to a detox making you feel worse in the days after starting and you will want to write that down. How long did it take to start feeling better? This will help you to identify foods that make you feel tired and worn out and others that make you feel amazing. Are you hydrating using a freshly squeezed lemon in good filtered water? This will help to turn your body's PH to an alkaline. Cancer not only loves sugar, it loves an acidic body chemistry. Using a simple PH detector strip first thing in the morning will help you to easily determine this.
I suffer from chronic sinusitus, which often threatens to cause discomfort and painful headaches. I use a neti pot to flush the nasal passages 3 times per day. I am no longer using cold and sinus remedies and the pain is gone. This flushing will allow my immune system to handle what is left.
Helping your immune system to strengthen through food and nutrient intake, reducing infections and inflammation with minimal use of antibiotics (only when necessary), keeping your personal hygiene up, dental care (it is said to avoid root canals and just have the tooth pulled), hydrating with herbal teas, water and lemon water, drinking pure water (not bottled or unfiltered tap), exercising daily and taking time to relax and reflect on you, finding work that inspires your passions (not a JOB), having positive goals and removing negative people and influences from your life.... Laugh every day and connect with others that bring you joy.
See the good in everything around you.... the guy who cuts you off isn't trying to make you angry so don't react... just think that he needs to get to his destination at least one car length ahead of you. Eat at a restaurant with people who treat the waitstaff with respect and share with you the funny moments of the week. Try to be kind and patient with those who lack both. Make plans with your family that everyone wants to do, even if it is only a day trip. Do something every day that proves you are committed to improving your health, spiritual life and emotional/mental well being. Do one act of kindness to improve someone else's day.... it will have a positive impact on more than that person's day. Smile and wave. Grow something green. Call someone out of the blue to say hello. Be genuine when you compliment someone.
Please continue to pray and send positive vibes to Melina and her family as she fights the cancer that has metastasized into her brain.