Sunday, July 31, 2011

I choose Life

It has again been a bit of a blog hiatus for me. July is summer time for Norway so the cities are generally quiet of actual Norwegians and buzzing with tourists and the sun is hopefully shining for at least 20% of the time! We have also been on holiday and spent some lovely days by the sea following my recovery from the last FEC treatment. I now realize why I could never start a blog before – my daughter is not in daycare right now and having her home all day makes starting and completing an entire blog entry next to impossible. Instead of feeling guilty about not keeping up to date, I relished in my time with my little family.

I am sure that many of you around the world also have learnt much more about Norway in the last few weeks – for reasons no one wants. The horrific massacres in Oslo were truly heartbreaking and my hearts and condolences go out to all the victims and their families. I was in awe of how this little country stood together at a time of such horror and promised to maintain its core values of cultural openness, democracy and peace. Events such as this again put my life and situation in perspective. You really do not know what tomorrow brings so there is not point worrying or dwelling on what has happened - living life to the fullest is the way forward for me.
What things have been buzzing around in my cerebellum the last few weeks? Well apparently lots of things as the sleep fairies have been lacking from their post on my pillow and I have been struggling to get a good night’s sleep. It is a vicious circle as the more I struggle to sleep the more anxiety I have over the fact that I am not sleeping and getting the rest I need and the less I sleep! Eek! I have never been one of those people who the moment their head hits the pillow they are snoring away in an instant. I actually secretly hate those people – well maybe not hate as my husband is one of those lucky ones – but perhaps envy is a more appropriate word choice. I have been finding my mind really drifting across all sorts of thoughts when I finally settle in bed and some of these thoughts are not what we would call “happy thoughts.” I did figure out a few things while tossing and turning especially when it came to my daughter. I have found myself wanting to be included in everything she is doing and wanting to see all the new things she is discovering like swimming, new words, new dance moves, new food tastings etc…I t is almost to the point of obsessive and I couldn’t quite understand where this need to be there essentially 24/7 was coming from.

When you have a child, you think of the all the big events that will happen in their lives – the first steps, first words, first day of school, graduation, marriage, and eventually their own children. Of course you want to be there every step of the way but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I know this first hand from being on the other end and not having my dear father ever get to meet and love my husband or my daughter. He would have loved them so much and it makes my heart ache that he wasn’t able to see me so happy. After being diagnosed with the Big C, I now am all too aware of my own mortality and still fight to suppress my fears that my time will be cut short. So this fear of being robbed of a long and fulfilling life is what is making me want to see everything and insert myself into every moment. In the words of Aerosmith – “I don’t want to miss a thing.” Again I know now that I am aware of the motives behind it, I may relax a little but at the same time why not be there for everything if I can. How lucky am I to have the gift of time right now where I don’t have a demanding job to keep me away from home or other life demands other than being healthy. I know many of my friends do not have this opportunity so I will take it and savor it. I did get to see my daughter swim this past week and it was wonderful. Her loud shrieks of laughter as her father launched her in the air then back down into the cool blue water – emerging again with the biggest smile and eyes gleaming with pure joy. These are the moments I want to be a part of.
So as summer has finally arrived in Norway this week, I will continue to enjoy my moments and also look forward to my brother and his family arriving in town this week. I can’t wait to see all our little girls get to know each other for the first time as my daughter is finally able to hold her own with them. I will savor these moments but maybe try not to worry as much about missing out on things because I do not plan on going anywhere soon. Life is much too precious and I am just getting started.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Thornton Wilder
Happy summer,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Cancer Curse

I think this is the first time I have managed to write a blog entry so soon after the C-spa trip and it feels good. Yesterday went better on the whole anxiety front surrounding the IV which was very relieving for me. It also felt good that this would be my last FEC round which is the worst one you can get. The rest of the day was not a walk in the park and I spent my time in bed with a cold facecloth on my head from about 2pm to 630am this morning. However I am doing well today and hoping my trip to the acupuncturist shortly will sort me out. I also have my last nasty injection today which is also a reason to celebrate. Lots of goodbyes to lots of unpleasant things for me today so it is a reason to smile.

I did decide after talking to my oncologist yesterday that a VAP would be a good option for me. What the hell is a VAP you ask? Well it is a venous arterial port that they implant under your skin just below your collar bone that makes putting IVs in considerably easier. I am not thrilled with the idea of getting something implanted under my skin (think the Matrix) but if it means reducing anxiety I am all for it. It also makes sense seeing as I am getting my next chemo cycle weekly. I was also relieved to hear my doctor tell me that I would no longer get nausea from my new drug nor would I need the white blood cell booster shot. I told him I would come looking for him if it wasn’t the case and he laughed and said he would be on holiday anyways! :) Yes even oncologists can make jokes.

Our discussion did take a more serious turn however as given some recent news within my family, the very real fear of a genetic link for breast and ovarian cancer has suddenly become too much of a reality. Upon hearing of my news, he felt that it was necessary for me to get the BRCA 1 genetic test. Now until I had cancer I really knew nothing of this gene and it isn’t a gene you want to get to know. This gene is essentially like a misspelling in your genetic coding which results in your body not being able to read or understand it. It is not that common and usually only account for less than 10% of all breast and ovarian cancers. However if you are unfortunate enough to have it, you carry an 80% chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime and a 40-60% chance with ovarian cancer. This is considerably higher than the general population and often prompts women with the gene to remove all those affected organs before the cancer develops. All very scary facts to digest when one is already facing cancer. And the other equally scary part of this cancer curse is how it is inherited within families. If one of your parents carries the gene, the children have a 50/50 chance of having the gene themselves. It is really like a sick version of Russian roulette. So not only do I have to worry about myself, but I must worry about my siblings, my nieces and my daughter. It is a lot to process and my doctor agreed that something as major as this could wait till I had made it through my treatment. He also echoed my hopes that for the little ones in 20 or so years, cancer would be curable and prognoses miles ahead of where it was now. We seek comfort wherever we can. So it was a bit of a blow for me yesterday hearing of this cancer curse. However as my husband always reminds me – you can’t react to something that hasn’t yet been confirmed and to wait till you know all the facts. Then you can make your game plan, so that is precisely what I am doing. Task 1 – get healthy Task 2 – be happy Task 3- Find out everything.

So I am going to enjoy the next 3 weeks and really live it up (well as much as one can do when there is no alcohol or exotic travel involved!). I also have a wonderful visit from my brother and his family in the next few weeks which is a real treat as I am homebound. Family and friends are truly the best medicine for the mind and it is so lovely to have things to look forward to at a time like this.

Happy Wednesday Everyone!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ding, ding, ding - It's nearly time for Round 4

Well I am less than two days away from my fourth round of FEC! You would think I would be relieved in a way as it is my last FEC round however I am anxious. I think my anxiety over the IV process is outweighing the actual c-spa experience. I also am still hanging onto to this cold and don’t really feel like throwing chemo and injection side effects into the mix. So you could say I am really not in the mood for chemo this week. Now if I only I had a choice in the matter! I think a big part of cancer is continually having to do things you genuinely don’t want to do.

For those of you not in the Big C Club, the process following on from Tuesday’s round is another cycle of a totally different drug. This time I will get my toxic cocktail every week for 12 weeks instead of every 21 days. On paper it sounds way worse but in reality it is supposed to be much easier on your body and the side effects do not include nausea. Yippeee!! I am handing in my lifejacket and getting off this boat! But I will have to make a weekly trip to the C-Spa and struggle with my IV anxiety much more often. Hmm….But seeing as the last 12 weeks have literally flown by, I am hopeful the next 12 will continue at the same pace and I will be finished my C-spa reservation before I know it. How amazing will that be?
Probably the most dramatic effect of my upcoming drug is hair loss which I have already dealt with. Funny fact though - I would say 50% of my hair is still hanging on and the spots where it has gone have already started growing back. Unfortunately all those bad boys will be on the cutting room floor again and my eyebrows and lashes will most likely join in the mass exodus with my next happy cocktail. I wonder how I will look without eyebrows as I am totally unbothered by my bald head and often forget how different I must look. I guess we adjust in order to cope with tough situations and my period of transition has been relatively painless so bring on the eyebrows!

This week I have been fortunate enough to have one of dearest friends visit me all the way from Australia this week. My lovely husband was given a break to visit his friends in England and France for the week on the condition that I had someone to help me with our daughter. And how lucky am I to have friends who don’t even need to be asked to jump on a plane and help a girl out. She even left her own toddler at home in order to focus on helping me out which us mothers know is not an easy thing to do. My energy levels have been good this week so we have actually had a great week of sunshine, laughter and lots of girly chats about everything and anything including the Big C. I often think that my cancer experience has really brought me closer to many of my friends around the world. As I have often mentioned in this blog – when your mortality is put into question, you realize what is truly important and also who in your life really has your back. Not everyone can handle disease which I can understand but I am blown away on a daily basis by the strength, warmth and generosity of my peeps. You all make such a difference in my journey and I again want to thank you all for it.

So as I sit here typing away next to my angelic sleeping daughter, I think about how I am getting closer and closer to the finish line. Every struggle, every emotion, every moment moves me further along the board of life to the gorgeous paradise waiting at the end that I call health and happiness.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

What are you afraid of?

I have been notably absent from the world of my blog and I wish I could give you some exciting reason like I was on safari or was sunning myself on some tropical beach. However the real reasons are far less interesting. While enjoying some rest and relaxation (and babysitting help) at the cabin, I caught my daughter’s cold and six days later I still have it! Never have I feared a cold more in my life then while going through chemo as it can really wear you down and you don’t exactly have the same strength to fight it as you did before. It is also made me quite angry as this was precisely the time of my cycle where I was actually supposed to feel good and I felt robbed of that by this common cold. It got me thinking about fear though and how that emotion is affecting me and my Big C experience these days.

Most of the time I have my emotions in check however when the lights go off and the quiet of the night takes over, sometimes my brain goes into overdrive. Now fear is nothing new to me. I know I have mentioned in an earlier blog that there is little that scares me now after facing cancer however that might not exactly be the case. There is still plenty to be afraid like losing my daughter in a playground, snakes! criminals looking for trouble, big dogs…I could go on. And this has been the case since I was a little girl. I still remember making my father go outside at 3am on a -30 degree night in January in Montreal to check for an intruder as I claimed I heard someone climbing the TV antennae and could make out footsteps in the snow. I must have made a compelling argument because he did go and reported back that there was in fact no one crazy enough to break into a house in sub zero temps and the footsteps were mine from playing in the snow earlier that day. Yes my fear bordered on the obsessive and sometimes hysterical. I used to chalk it up to the fact I was a writer and had a very active imagination. But then again what normal 10 year old would plan her escape route depending on where danger presented itself while trying to fall asleep! So the fact that I have been relatively calm through this experience is a testament to the fact that I have clearly grown as a person and rational human being.

One thing I have been struggling with though is the fear of the cancer returning. I am sure this is something every Big C survivor encounters and must learn to manage as the years go by. I could see how if not careful, this could begin to take control of your life. Going through a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment is the definition of hell and the thought of having to go through it all over again is almost unfathomable. And of course now that I am in this special club I am privy to stories of people facing this very real fear and it really terrifies me. I sometimes think that I was unlucky enough to get cancer young and for it to be a bad kind so what makes me different from others who deal with a relapse? I know these are unconstructive negative thoughts but in my circumstance I also think they are completely normal. I figure it is a good thing that I want to get this fear under control now so that I won’t be a prisoner to cancer in the coming years. But how does one conquer one’s fear? I can’t really face it head on but I guess I can learn to understand where it comes from, why it is a normal response and also when to check it at the door! I have already given one year of my life to this disease so there is no way it is entitled to any more time. And like my treatment, it is a process, a long one albeit, but a process and I look forward to a time when all of this will be over and a new beginning starts.

So there is nothing wrong with fear – it makes us human just as long as it doesn’t inhibit your progress on taking the next step forward. Because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life afraid of what could be, I want to just live it.

And next Tuesday is my last C-spa round of the nasty stuff! It will be a major milestone and I am so looking forward to bidding adieu to my dear friend FEC. I will begin a new drug in August that is apparently a lot friendlier then this one! The last 12 weeks flew by so I hope the next 12 go at the same pace!

Happy summer!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Round 3: Done and Dusted

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it”, Moliere

Well seeing as I have been awake since 330am (thank you cortisone for that welcome wakeup call), and tossed and turned for the last 2 hours, I have thrown in the towel and gotten up. I will make up for my lost winks later this morning which is one the perks of the Big C – guilt free napping whenever you feel you need it.

I am now 2 days post my third treatment round and feeling better then yesterday which is always a good thing. I am a big fan of forward progression. How did round 3 go? Well strangely I had a bit of a panic attack over the actual IV process versus actual getting the chemo. Seeing as we had two botched vein attempts under our belts the last two times, I gently asked if another nurse could give it a go as I felt like both myself and my regular nurse had become quite anxious over it all by now. I also discovered that my dear little friend – Mr. White Blood cell injection was not just a one time visitor. He would be joining my little C-spa get together every time now to regulate my blood counts – as you can imagine I was thrilled to bits with this news. Seeing how terrible it had gone last time, I was hoping maybe my body would react in a gentler manner this time as it had done with the chemo. You could say I was looking for a break…any break for the matter.

So as the happy poison hit my veins, my anxiety levels went through the roof and it was my nurse’s suggestion that perhaps I needed a little more valium. I definitely did not argue with her. I told her an awful story my physio had told me the previous day about a very busy and quite young nurse forgetting entirely to run saline through her patients veins before the medicine came which resulted in the patients veins being burned. Like seriously does this guy not know by now how neurotic and suggestive I am? Sufficed to say the story did not help me find my inner peace at all. I think the nurse checked my line about 50x times to ensure it was flowing correctly.

Well once we made it home, I was happy to have ticked off round 3 of 4 of this cycle (which apparently is the worst one) and waited to see what would happen. Unfortunately I think perhaps my flip out may have been counterproductive on the sound effect front as a few hours later I was in bed, cold facecloth on my head, killer headache and on and off tsunami waves rippling through my belly. It was a bit of a low point to say the least. I actually managed to sleep most of the night and woke up feeling fragile but distinctly much improved. It was also the first time we had our daughter home for this treatment round which can be tough for me as it makes me feel so guilty not being able to do all the things I usually do for her every day. I think in some ways she understands when I am unwell and knows papa is her go to person for most things but it is still hard as any mother would know to not be able to look after your child. So after a trip to the acupuncturist, my headache was nearly gone and I actually felt like eating something – sweet potatoes! My go to food through this whole process so far. Next up was another trip to the hospital to get my lovely injection again. I actually got abit nauseous walking through those halls again and felt a bit wobbly when my nurse brought me into the same room as the day before. I definitely can recognize the smells – the sterility, the cold yet re-circulated air, the medicinal notes…Not nice at all really. Anyways shot was done and it was time to go home again.

Once home, I was doing better despite constant flu like aching in my legs that brought me back to my earlier years of struggling with growing pains. I managed some dinner of one of my personal favs – chicken noodle soup. Warms the soul and belly really. And stayed up till 9pm! What a party animal I am peeps!

So how do I feel now? I feel proud of myself for getting through three of these hell sessions but I do have to say this is by far the most difficult thing I have ever had to do (and I have given birth!). I also have really come to terms with my temporary identity as cancer superhero because as I realized a few weeks back I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I actually have stopped wearing my wig entirely and don’t care what anyone thinks. When I run into people I haven’t seen in awhile they don’t even realize I am ill until I blurt out “I have cancer.” You should really see their faces when i say it so flippantly! But I take it as a huge compliment because that is the image I want to project – that of a strong, healthy and tough as nails woman just going through a big blip along a very long life line.

Hope you enjoy my new profile pic!