Monday, June 27, 2011

Stranded on Cancer Island

So it is summer time and that means holidays and vacation time. Unfortunately for me I am stranded on Cancer Island! I have never been grounded before (aside from my last 2 months of pregnancy) and I have always gone somewhere wonderful and fun ever since I was a little girl. However as I am in treatment my plans will consist of a visit to Kitchen Island (AKA my house) with some little trips to the cabin here and there. It also really irritates me that I can’t jump on a plane to go and provide some much needed emotional support to Captain AC. I am happy to report that the Captain is doing very well but it is always nice to have someone to laugh with, share a glass of wine or talk about those fears that always seem to creep up when you are on your own in the dark of night. And I wish I could be that person to sit there, hold her hand and just listen.

So seeing as this bird ain’t doing any flying anytime soon, I must live vicariously through my past summers and the memories that really stand out for me.
For many years as a child, my family would pack up our station wagon to the brim and do the days long drive down to Maine on the east coast of the States. We always stayed at the same hotel by Wells Beach and it was a truly idealic time. As soon as the car was parked and the bags taken upstairs, I would run straight for the pool and spend hours perfecting my hands stands, showing off my syncro moves and doing laps until I was truly water-logged. It was also the only few weeks of the year I was allowed to eat sugary cereal and would eat giant bowls of Lucky Charms and Captain Crunch all day. It was also the time I discovered my entrepreneurial side as I began an avid can collecting business along the beach which I used to buy candy and ice cream at the beach shop. I think it made it all taste even sweeter knowing I had earned it all myself. And my last favorite holiday memory? Fresh lobster sandwiches sold in stalls by the beach – fresh, warm and fluffy white rolls stuffed to the brim with lobster meat and smothered in melted butter and lemon. Does it get any better than this??

As inspired by the National Lampoons European Vacation, my family also embarked on our first European summer vacation when I was 6 and it was an adventure. Five people crammed into a small car over a few weeks could test anyone’s patience but we did have a good time. The highlights – eating shoebox lunches on a freezing cold beach in Northern England and tasting Bacon crisps for the first time; the Remus and Romulus sculpture in the Louvre; my dad bribing us kids to try a mussel in the South of France (I don’t think any of us were brave enough to try); the Punks in London with the Mohawks and safety pin t-shirts; and watching a man fish out an octopus from the docks in Nice. It was a real experience of a lifetime for a little six year old and there are many things that I still remember like they happened yesterday. And what it made so special was that we did it all together.

More recently, my husband and I went on a baby-moon a few months before our daughter was born. We jetted off to the Canary Islands for a week of sun, sand and good food. It an amazing time and we really used the time to do things we would struggle to do on later holidays. Eating dinner past 7pm, playing mini golf, going for walks late at night by the sea, and enjoying the silence! It was a wonderful adieu to our old life of being just the two of us and also allowed us to find some solace to plan for our new life with our little monkey.

Though I have been lucky enough to have travelled to many places throughout my 31 years of life and had some truly amazing summers, I do think some of the best ones I have had were at home. Be it biking to the local pool every day and being the definition of a “pool rat” or having marathon monopoly sessions in the basement when the rain came down with my best friends. I guess it is the people around you that make the difference and maybe not so much the surroundings at the end of the day. So even though I am stuck at home this summer, I am fortunate to have some amazing people around me to make it memorable. So now that I have leant to never take time for granted again, I am living in the moment and rockin’ it in Kitchen Island this year – bald head and all!

What are your favorite memories of summer past and present?

“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” Celia Thaxter

Happy summer everyone,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ode to My Cancierge*

* Wish I could take credit for this clever term but I am borrowing it from the wonderful Showtime tv show called "The Big C."

This is probably the most personal thing I have written on my blog and I am very self conscious about putting it out there. I hope this isn't too cheesy. And to my cancierge - you know who you are.

Ode to My Cancierge

When my world went dark,
You were the spark.
That brought the light back,
Turning me from victim to warrior set to attack.
It has already been a journey of ups and downs,
However I can always rely on you to get a smile out of any frown.
And who else could say I was beautiful with hair or not,
I now realize how lucky we are to have what we have got.
So this is an open message to you to tell you that I care,
And that I appreciate the loving armor you have given me to wear.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let's Get Physical

Well I am happy to report that things are still going swimmingly for me this week. I have added a new responsibility to my job description as full time cancer patient. I was asked to participate in a new pilot project for 18 to 35 year olds currently undergoing treatment for cancer. The whole concept is around getting people with similar life circumstances together to exercise, discuss their anxieties, formulate healthy eating plans and get relationship/career advice. I am always up for some socializing and I have needed a reason to start getting more physically fit so I wanted to sign myself right up.

Today was my first day and probably the first time I have broken a sweat since I gave birth! No joke! It was really good and I felt so proud of how fit I still was despite going through physical and emotional hell the last few months. And the good news is that my white blood cell count is normal! Yes that is right – I have just as many white cells as all of you and that is something to be very happy about. Never have I loved “normal” more than now. Funny how my definition of what constitutes good has changed so dramatically. I remember Elle Woods in Legally Blonde using as her defense that exercise makes endorphins, endorphins make you happy and happy people don’t commit murder. Well I don’t think there is any danger of me committing a violent crime anytime soon (except maybe murdering a container of Ben and Jerry’s) yet I am feeling very uplifted by the whole experience. The time I have right now when my only responsibility is getting myself better also provides me with a golden opportunity and enough personal time to improve all aspects of my life. So I am determined to become the healthiest, happiest and best version of myself. And it starts now!

An Exuberant OBB

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When I grow up

Hello all and greetings from OBB. I am doing very well and feeling energized and the strongest I have been in weeks. Yesterday I managed to do all the things I used to do pre-C without being keeled over by exhaustion by the end of day. It really gave me a boost at a time when I really needed one. I actually cannot believe my standing reservation at the C-Spa is already coming around next week. Those 3 weeks are really flying by which I guess is a good thing because the faster time goes, the faster I am through all of this crap. I feel much less fear about it though and feel confident I will manage it all again. And that whole bit about losing the shame of cancer in my last entry – well I am really embracing my new self and as a result I no longer feel like people are looking at me. I am just a passerby like everyone else. I never imagined anonymity would be a comfort to me.

So today I have been thinking about finding one’s true calling. I have wanted to be so many different things throughout my life – judge, marine archaeologist, journalist, high powered corporate bitch; writer…the list goes on. Up until this whole cancer malarkey happened, I was pretty focused on my career and often equated success with money. However like the many other epiphanies I have had as of late, I now see things on the job front also with different eyes. When faced with a reality of the clock stopping for you forever, you really analyze everything in your life. And what I now see is that life really is too short to spend in a job that doesn’t make me happy, challenge me or takes me away from spending time with the people I love. There is no pause or rewind button and once that time goes, it is gone. So I have been thinking about what I want to do when I finish my treatment because I do really want to work. But I want to work at something that enriches my life – yes not an easy thing to find I know.

Now I have never been one to jump on the old’ soapbox and wax lyrical about different causes nor have I been a person to participate in charity events. I never had a real cause to get behind until now. Going through what I have been through and now with Captain AC on board, I feel that I want to do something. Be it telling my story to help others or getting young women like myself to be more aware of their health and not just think naively “I am too young to worry about this.” I have come up with some good ideas and am trying to put them out there so maybe I can help some people cope with their own sets of challenges. I think having cancer has really allowed me to focus and block out all that other noise that had previously distracted me. It also has eliminated the fear of trying something new. I mean I have looked cancer in the face so a major career cliff jump really isn’t much to be afraid of. Almost nothing scares me now…well maybe snakes and spiders still. But I now know I can pretty much handle most things and still keep it together.

So for those of you who haven’t yet had the chance to see life through the magical lens (and honestly I don’t want any of you to brush with mortality anytime soon), what have you always wanted to do but were too afraid to try? Maybe go wild and close your eyes and just jump? Because time stands still for no one and heck, it might just be fun and who knows where you might land?


Friday, June 17, 2011

C Spa Round 2 Recap

So it has been a full week since my last entry and lots has happened. It was round 2 of the C-Spa experience and they again refused to offer me a manicure and facial! I mean didn’t I get the full package deal or what? Things did get better overall but there were some other bumps in the road that have prevented me from writing until now. Main reasons being – I actually would get nauseous whenever I would sit down and try to relive the experience and I have been literally too tired to type or string together an idea that made any sense.
Today has been the first day I didn’t feel like I was walking around with a suit of armor on or had my head stuffed with stray which all in all makes it a damn good day.

So how did round 2 go? Well it started out promising as I woke up energetic and calm, did some yoga, listened to relaxing music, played with my daughter and took a valium! When I walked into C-Town for the first time sporting my new “Cancer do”, I finally looked like I was meant to be there which was weird for me. Given that I was no longer a C-spa virgin, I was seated with everyone else awaiting our blood results. There were all sorts of people there – some my age, some older – everyone looking a little on edge yet trying desperately to look relaxed. Now blood tests are to me now what massages were to me a few years ago – mandatory and weekly! One little vial is what stands between you and your magic cocktail because if your white blood count is too low, you’re outta here. I really wasn’t that worried as I wasn’t on the most toxic stuff and I had done all the right things – slept a lot, stayed active, eaten healthy foods, no alcohol, no coffee, lots of green tea and even started acupuncture! It is actually funny that this is probably the healthiest I have been in years yet here I am getting treatment for cancer! Little ironic no? So anyways – I was quite shocked when they told me I was 0.1 below what they considered adequate yet they were going to go ahead anyways and give me a special injection to help the process. Is it strange that I took it as a personal defeat that my white blood cells had retreated in such mass amounts? Hello little guys – can’t you help a girl out? Unfortunately much like cancer, this is another thing that is completely beyond my control. So after another botched vein by the same nurse and a few tears from myself, I was hooked up and ready for my magic cocktail. It went okay however I have discovered that any food I eat on game day, basically makes me want to vomit when I get near it anytime after. My foods to avoid so far…red pepper, multicolored pasta and vanilla shakes oh my!

Once I got home I was watching the clock like a hawk, waiting to feel the rush of the tsunami flipping me over and over, thrashing me around like a ragdoll. However there was a strange calmness and I even managed to eat. By 5pm I was so excited that I phoned my mom and sister and shouted “I’m alive!” Things had definitely improved and I was really pleased. The next morning, I even made it to acupuncture to jump start my appetite and really felt in control. Now unfortunately that little injection I mentioned earlier joined the party that evening and was thankfully administered by a friend of ours who was a nurse as there was no way in hell I or my husband was jabbing that giant thing into my belly. So for those not in the C-club, this injection which costs a hefty 10,000Kronor a shot (roughly 1200 Sterling) stimulates white blood cell production in your bone marrow. Very interesting concept yes but unfortunately the side effects made me feel less then peachy. By Sunday evening every bone in my body hurt from my jaw to my rib to my shin. It even hurt to lean against a pillow for Pete’s sake. And Monday was even worse. I could barely get out of bed and I never struggle to get of bed when I hear my gorgeous daughter calling for me from her bedroom. It was so demoralizing to hit such a low when things had been going so well. I guess this is the price you pay for staying healthy and alive! So here I am 3 days later and I am good people. My energy levels are returning, my spirits are rising and my taste for chocolate has returned! Hurrah for me!

I am now spending a few restful and well earned days by the sea with the people I love. And I am now walking around in public with my head bare and doing it proudly. I even went shopping today and didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. I think I have realized that there is no reason for me to hide who I am and what I am going through. There is no shame in cancer. My head is a testament to the warrior I am and what I am going through. And there is no absolutely no shame in that.
Special thoughts go out to my Captain AC today who is beginning her own journey through the great big C. My strength, my grace, my courage, and my ability to love have been taught to me by you. Be strong warrior.

Goodnight and good day wherever you are,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Permission to Board the Vessel

Well since I began this blog I have focused around the superhero angle (seeing as I am OBB) and also around water/boat imagery. And now as I am one day away from the second round of the C-spa, I want to introduce someone new to the mix. I like to call them Captain AC – as in Captain Anti Cancer. Now I am all for company and have struggled for years to entertain myself when alone so I never say to guests but when it comes to cancer I draw the line. It is really a party for one type of thing as I wouldn’t wish this on anyone really as it is tough, gritty and intense. Yet here is Captain AC asking for permission to board the vessel.

Reluctantly I must say yes and make room on my boat.

I guess there is always strength in numbers but I find it so hard when someone else is called to this special club. Especially someone I know and love. Of course I have been incredibly positive through my journey so far and have found the humor in many elements of my situation, however at the end of the day it is still the Big C and in the words of Samantha from SATC – “Maybe cancer isn’t that funny.”

So as we both launch our boat into the sunshine and search for the peace of the endless blue ahead, I hope you will all wish us an eventful and successful journey.

"To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping” Chinese Proverb


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tempting Fate

Today the rain is coming down, the clouds are out and the mood is decidedly somber. While lying in my Acupuncturist’s office with tiny needles all over, I reflected on recent events and also on some not so good news I heard today about someone I care about. For so many years, I had so much “noise” in my life and rarely could I relax and just let my mind wander. There was always something else happening like the endless sirens of London outside my window, a deadline I needed to meet, a hangover to nurse or a boy to swoon over. My mind was a minefield! However now most of my days are spent in quiet peace where I can really listen to my mind and let my thoughts dance around me.

Up until my recent diagnosis and the sudden death of my father four years ago, I really thought I had lucked out in the life department. I had grown up in a wonderful neighborhood, had amazing supportive parents who gave me every opportunity, I made friends easily, always had a boyfriend and excelled at most things I did. It was idyllic really. I remember watching movies, talk shows or opening the papers and reading about all these awful stories. People who lost a loved one before it was their rightful time, children being mistreated, natural disasters, war, disease…And I felt so fortunate that I had never experienced any of those sorts of things and the extent of my “trauma” pretty much pertained to sudden breakouts, breakups or not getting my mom to buy me the right jeans that everybody had! It was all very surface as you can see and maybe that is why I was a bit immature and self involved back then. I had never experienced tragedy, loss or consequence. Sometimes I wondered whether by even thinking these things that I was tempting fate to change its mind and deal me something harsh. Well I feel like the universe has recently been throwing a few too many boulders my way and I am struggling at times to dodge them.

Losing my father was my first experience with real genuine loss and it was earth shattering. I still think about him every day and often have an instinctive urge to want to call him when something big happens in my life or I need his advice on something tricky. He always had the answer or a warm soy latte to cheer me up! It actually took me years to finally remove his number from my phone as I wanted to cling to the little parts of him that still existed. Though the process was painful, I did get through it and it made me realize that the world didn’t revolve around me. Oh the horror!

I remember so many friends apologizing for complaining about things in their life as I was going through father’s death. However what I realized was that sure I was grieving but life doesn’t just stop. Everyone has their own burdens or aches and there are big and real because we own them. So it is not a matter of one trumping another. It was definitely a time of growth for me when I realized this. The same goes for now as people again feel bad complaining about their jobs, in-laws, moving house, unruly kids, etc… while I go through this. But I tell them to talk away because they are their problems and they are important to them so as a friend who cares, they are also important to me too!

So in a roundabout way I am a bit miffed at the fates’ as they have clearly been weaving me some real crappy things as of late. It isn’t fair and I do get angry about it at least once every day. But the world still ticks on and there are people worse off them me so there is no choice but to soldier on and take whatever hits come your way. Everyone has problems, everyone has pain but it is how we deal and cope with it that makes a difference. But I do have to say – if there is some master of the universe out there: Can I have a please catch a break in 2012?


Monday, June 6, 2011

My Hair Story

Well everyone it is day 19 post first treatment and it was D-day for me yesterday.
I haven’t posted anything since last week as I was lucky enough to have a very dear friend of mine visiting from Canada. She specifically came over to hold my hand through the hair loss experience and actually ended up wielding the clippers. I felt so fortunate to have such a wonderful friend like her who has seen me at my best and worst over the years and made the trek to be here at a very scary time. And she filled my tummy with yummy healthy food and made a hard time actually quite fun.

The last few days I have been watching my hair follicles pick up momentum as they started to all jump ship. I would hold my breath in the shower as I washed my hair with the softest of touches then quickly put it up in a tight bun and pop a hat on. Ignorance was bliss right? I kept hanging on as each day went by until I woke up yesterday morning and realized I was in a losing battle. Let me tell you that you cannot quite comprehend the feeling of a huge clump of your hair literally falling into your hands. I let mine out on the balcony as I felt like maybe some birds could use it for a new home and my hair could live on…

So once I had cleared my husband and daughter out of the house (like I wanted witnesses), we turned on the Black Eyed Peas, poured some sparkling water and got down to business. I really had thought I would be a huge mess of tears for this experience but interestingly enough I did not shed a single tear. I actually enjoyed cutting my ponytail off and moving onto to more dramatic styles along the way like a bob, the mullet, a mini Mohawk and the Joan of Arc look. I mean when else can you do this without fear of the repercussions or being sectioned by the Mental Health Act? I felt like a little girl locked in her bedroom with a pair of forbidden scissors just snipping away because it was fun and exciting.

When I was mulling over what to do with the whole hair situation in the last week, many women who had been through this advised me to shave it. They said it gives you power over an otherwise powerless situation and they were right. I felt like instead of lying down and letting my hair decide what to do, I took control and faced my fear head on. And you know what? I actually can rock the Sinead look and am lucky to have a perfectly shaped head. Who knew? My husband even remarked how good I looked as he had of course had his anxieties over it. And my daughter only gave me a half second glance before running into my arms and since hasn’t acted any differently. So as I said in earlier entries, I am still me with or without hair and nothing can ever change that. I think I am channeling Sigourney Weaver in Alien as she was one tough bitch and seems a much more fitting role model then the eternally winging Sinead.

So there is another mountain that I have conquered this weekend and can cross of my list. I really am stronger than I thought. Now I must get myself ready to board the ship to the C-spa again this week and am praying for a better weather report this time. Blue skies and sunshine ahead please!

A slightly lighter OBB