Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cancer Holiday Required

Hi everyone,

Well this week has been a bit of a non event for me as I still suffering at the hands of this annoying cold which has now settled in my lungs and shows little sign of moving on. As a result, I am forced to actually take it easy and not do any of things I normally do to fill my week up. No cancercise, no Norwegian class and minimal socializing. It is so frustrating because I find nothing more boring than resting!!! Yet there is no choice now as my body needs it so I comply.

Over the past few weeks, I (and my family) have been feeling slightly suffocated by “cancer” and I think my idleness could be one part to blame. It is also nearly October which means Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I am starting to see that little pink ribbon everywhere I go. Of course I am totally behind this effort and have my own little ribbon to wear, but it does serve to constantly remind me of my current situation. This combined with my lack of activity has allowed me to stew in my own “cancerness” and possibly become slightly too self involved with every ache, pain, worry, anxiety…And as we get closer and closer to the end, all of these feelings are magnified simply by my body’s sheer mental and physical exhaustion. I am drowning in this cancer business right now and have decided I need to do something about it. I mean frankly in a few months there won’t be the weekly trips to the C-spa, the endless blood tests, or cancercise groups to attend so I might as well start thinking like a normal person again. So how exactly do I do that?

Well the first thing I have done is join a book club. It is not a book club for cancer patients and we are not reading about cancer. It is for other mothers from abroad with young children and we just read fun and interesting books to discuss. I am looking forward to it and don’t plan on letting anyone know my story until I feel it is the right time. And the right time may never come. I want to feel normal for awhile and just be a mom who complains about the elevating tantrums or the fact my child has decided she is a vegetarian at 21 months of age! Normal feels good.
The other thing I want to do is impose a Cancer free time each day. I can’t take credit for this idea as it was the brainchild of my sister. She has been so great at giving me advice throughout this process and she is much better than me at keeping the crazies at bay! Not to mention the fact I can call her with any medical question and she has the answer plus five more things I didn’t know. So I have done it already one night this week and the mood in our house was distinctly cheerier. It is good for everyone including myself to stop self narrating my cancer experience to those around me. We don’t need to know every ugly detail nor do I need to obsess about them. I am not cancer nor is it me so I must remember that and this practice may help me redefine myself as OBB – post cancer.

So that is all from me today. I am back to the C-spa tomorrow for round 8 and the only thing on my mind is the vein hunting. My doctor joked to me this week when I expressed to him my concerns over viable veins left – well they haven’t even tried your legs or feet yet, he said! Nice! Then we will be down to 4 weeks which sounds completely manageable and those weeks will be broken up with two visits from some lovely friends. I remember when I sat in the doctor’s office all those months ago and heard him say “24 months of chemo” and remember being in total shock and having no idea how I would get through it. So fast forward nearly 20 weeks later and here I am – eyebrows and eyelashes somewhat intact, peach fuzz growing at rocket speed on my head and still having the ability to see that tiny sliver of light breaking through over yonder where I can just make out the finish line. Glorious!!


Monday, September 26, 2011

A Very Busy Round 7

Hello Everyone!

It has been over a week since my last entry and I have lots to catch up on. Oh where to begin? Well I was fortunate enough to have another visitor with me last week who came over from London. She came at the perfect time as I was experiencing abnormal bouts of exhaustion and fighting a cold and provided a much needed helping hand. Friends can really be the best medicine and it was nice to catch up and chat about the old days. When you are having cancer treatment, your life can easily become drowned with this cancer business and it becomes all you think about it, all you feel, and all you know. So these visits from the outside world really help break up the monotony of treatments and also bring back some of the normal again.

I had to have my C-spa one day early last week as I was attending this National Breast Cancer Gathering over the weekend. Considering I was hanging onto this nasty cold and was getting light headed from small walks, I really thought there was no way my white counts would be strong enough to get treatment. And to be honest I again had absolutely no desire to have it either. So you can imagine my surprise when the nurse came to me and said that my blood work was absolutely fine and had actually gone up from the week before. Our bodies truly surprise us sometimes! I met with the doctor to double check my cold was just a cold and ensure I was physically strong enough to manage chemo. Again she told me it was nothing to worry about and that the best thing is to keep going and stay on schedule. So I pushed my reluctance and fear to one side and grabbed a chair in the C-Spa! Things went ok – we did miss a vein this time and it is hard not to hit a vein that hasn’t already been used. Because chemo is so toxic, it can be tough on your veins and often they can grow hard as a result and be tougher to get with a needle. One nurse told me the veins recoil back when a needle comes a looking for them after chemo. Oh great – like I need more vein anxiety! Well we managed to get a vein going and the process began. It was round 7 and I was getting closer to the end but to be honest 5 more treatments still sounded long to me. I am now in my 19th week of chemo and I am feeling it from my head all the way down to my toes. Every treatment now feels like a throttling and can be related to being thrown around in the sea repeatedly by giant waves just coming down over and over…I am not losing sight of my finish line of course but instead of running towards it, I may be adopting more of a crawling style. I have already starting planning my last day of chemo and plan to have a cake, sparkling cider and a true celebration with me and my nurses! Let them eat cake I say!

So instead of taking the weekend easy as I tend to do after the C-spa, I got in the car with two of my friends and we drove south to the old fortress town of Frederikstad for Landssamlingen. Now for those non Norwegians this roughly translates to a country gathering as in people from all over the country coming together – in this case it was young breast cancer survivors. I didn’t know what to expect and was worried about whether I would understand anything or whether anyone would talk to me. However my fears were unnecessary as it was a truly wonderful weekend. Women of all shapes and sizes, some with both breasts, some with one breast or others with none at all in wigs, scarves or with their own hair – came together to laugh, learn and share over the one thing that united us all – breast cancer. It was so comforting to talk to women my age who had been through this and who could understand everything I was feeling. There is such comfort in knowing one is not alone in a battle like this and it also inspired me towards recovery as there were so many women there who were now healthy and living normal lives. My Norwegian also got quite a workout and I think I managed alright and definitely expanded my vocabulary.

Now I am back to reality today and still trying to shake this stubborn cold. Two week colds tend to be standard in chemo town so such is life. So it is another week, another treatment and another x to mark off on my calendar. And then there will be cake!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

OBB 1.0

So I had round 6 this past Friday and as you were all aware from my recent entries – I have been finding things a wee bit more challenging the last week or so. I had been feeling much more tired and worn out and sky high with anxiety. My fatigue was soon explained when my bloodwork came back. 1.0! WTF! I was literally on the edge of what was an acceptable white blood count (WBC) to get chemo and was in shock. How could this have happened and how could I change it? The nurses didn’t seem that concerned as I could still get my treatment this week but as my numbers had been consistently sliding downwards the last few weeks and I was relying purely on my own body’s function to produce new white cells - things might not go in my direction next week. I was also getting my treatment one day early next week because I was attending the National Breast Cancer Gathering for young women. I took my low WBC personally and couldn’t understand how my little guys could be halting production when I was young, strong and sorta looking after myself. The anxiety fairies then arrived and I started questioning why this was happening, what does it mean, is the medicine not working, is my body breaking down, how do I stay healthy with such little immunity and a child in daycare (AKA Germ Town USA)??? I think it’s time I sign up for that relaxation course eh? The annoying thing about WBC is that there is really nothing you can do to alter them (besides the shots I had to do earlier on in my treatment). Of course I googled my query and found lots of discussions on the matter. People talked about eating your body weight in strawberries, garlic, chicken livers, coconut water, etc….but doctors will tell you what your body needs its time and rest and nothing else can really work. How boring and equally frustrating. BTW – I did go out and buy coconut water today! 

So once the disappointment over the whole WBC situation cleared it was time to get down to business. My husband and daughter had joined me before my treatment as my daughter had her own appointment at the hospital that morning for her earlier peanut allergy attack, so once they were gone, it was just me flying this mission solo Maverick. I also had a new nurse whom I knew but didn’t know on an intimate -shove the needle in my vein - kind of way. She was a bit more by the book but was nice and was well aware of the crazy English girl’s anxiety over IVs. She managed to get the bugger in but she picked my poor little baby vein which we had used once before during the FEC days. It hurt and I could feel the salt water dripping in. It stung. I didn’t like it but had to channel my superhero powers and just deal with it. I was also the first patient in the room and once I was set up, I was left alone for a few minutes in silence before the real poison hit my bloodstream. I blame it on Adele and her love ballad, Someone Like You, because the strangest thing happened next. I cried. It wasn’t the pain of the needle but I think it was just the sum total of everything that caused those salty tears to flow. I was a bit embarrassed to be honest and explained to the nurses that I rarely cry and that I was indeed fine but having “a moment.” They were so nice about it and gently placed some Kleenex into my hands. I am definitely not the first to cry in the chemo chair. So after a few tears, I breathed in deeply and settled into the moment.

So a day after the C-Spa, I am battling a cold and wonder if I mentally tricked myself into getting it given my worries over my lack of a competent immune system. I am so frickin’ unbelievably impressionable! But I am trying to rest more, drink lots of tea and even guzzle that coconut water which let me tell you is not easy to locate in Norway! This week it is so important to put myself first and rest. My body clearly sent me a message this week. Time to slow things down and get myself to that finish line on time.

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.
OBB 1.0

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad days and moment of mad jealousy

It seems that the cloud that had been following me around during my last entry refuses to budge! I am just really feeling worn out and dreading Friday which just seems to come around faster and faster each week. I really wish I didn’t have to go but of course there is nothing optional about this journey and I must simply suck it up and keep going. I do feel my body speaking out more and more - voicing its pain, its tiredness…its fight. I have been having pain in my arm and chest where they operated lately too, made worse by an unfortunate fall down the stairs while holding my daughter a few weeks ago. I just want a pain free day to be honest. And I want to get out of this pity party for one!!! I mean seriously there is only so much complaining one can do before it gets old. But I find myself droning on about this and that. How chemo sucks. How cancer sucks? How exhausted I am? How hard it is to do this while bringing up an active toddler? These “why me” moments are brief of course and I hate them but they go with the territory unfortunately.

I have not forgotten all the good things in life but I think I have just accepted that this is going to be an off week for OBB. And if anyone’s asking – I took my superhero threads to get dry-cleaned!

Some other things I have been mulling about might only make sense if you are a member of the exclusive C-club. As a result of my membership in this club, I have gotten to know many people with the same cancer, different cancer, cancer no longer, cancer that has returned – all types. Sometimes I pinch myself when I introduce myself as … Hi, I have breast cancer and start rattling off my full diagnosis to people who genuinely are interested and understand what cell grading means or a Ki percentage. We become known by these alter-egos in the cancer world. Hello my name is testicular cancer – Oh nice to meet you, I am lymphoma, enchante. It is weird to imagine how different my world has become in less than a year. I am of course very grateful for these people as they normalize the whole experience and everyone has great advice about this and that. And at the end of the day these people understand the fear of the first c-spa experience, the loss you feel when you go bald, and all the other million things and emotions in between. I remember one of my new cancer friends telling me early on that we would probably tell each other things we wouldn’t tell our closest friends because we are bonded by the Big C. It is true. We discuss the good, the bad and the very very ugly!

So when you are in the cancer circle – you learn about many different cancers. And like people and experiences – they are good ones and bad ones. That is when I sometimes experience cancer jealousy. Yes you heard me correct – I am jealous of people with nicer cancers then me. How I would long to have a cell grade of 1 or an in situ tumour… Yes I am heading into weirdo territory I know but they do warn you about chemo brain. :) Now of course I don’t have a medical degree so I could be talking crazy here and am sure my sister would contest this (she is literally my medical encyclopedia Britannica) but there seems to be some cancers that are much more treatable, tend to reoccur less and even when they are advanced – have good survival rates. It seems like breast cancer, though highly treatable in most cases, tends to be an annoying bitch sometimes. I just hope I don’t meet that bitch again because I will seriously go Oklahoma on her butt. I know I cant change what has happened and the fact that my cancer is not what we could consider “the shy and docile type.” What I must remember every day is that I am the master of my destiny, captain of this ship, and it is how I see things that can affect outcomes. So I may not have the nicest cancer (who am I kidding – cancer and nice just don’t seem appropriate to use in the same sentence), but luckily it was caught early and I am fighting the fight every day to get closer to a clean bill of health. Thank god I have the chance to fight. Some don’t. So I will make myself and those around me proud of the pink soldier I have become. And how amazing will it feel to introduce myself as – Cancer Free.

“Every soldier must know, before he goes into battle, how the little battle he is to fight fits into the larger picture, and how the success of his fighting will influence the battle as a whole.” Bernard Law Montgomery


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Round 5 - Time for a Rest

So I have now crossed round 5 off my calendar and it went ok. I definitely didn’t have as positive an experience as the week prior but I think my week had more to do with that then anything else. I woke up C-spa morning to the sound of my alarm (the real one this time and not my human one – AKA my daughter). It was still dark out which was a sure sign of winter coming and I just felt off. I was tired and had a headache and just really didn’t want to go anywhere. I was short with my husband, felt rushed and irritated which are not normal emotions for me as I pride myself on being the least moody person I know.

When I got outside and put my usual C-spa mix on, I anxiously flipped through every song as I couldn’t find one I liked. Once at C-Town, things didn’t really improve. I went in for my blood test and the silly tech missed my vein but still proceeded to stab me hard with the needle until I yelped out. We tried the other arm and had success but I left with a sour taste in my mouth as I muttered “silly cow” under my breath holding my aching arm. When the nurse called me in for my check in she asked how I was. Hmm…interesting question – how am I? Well I am exhausted, I am frustrated, my bones ache, my arm and scar hurt and I feel at full capacity in terms of what I can manage. I told her about our drama with our daughter and that as a result I felt like I never got a break since my last C-spa treatment and therefore felt like I truly didn’t want to be here today. She said she understood and that what we went through with our daughter was terrifying enough let alone going through it while dealing with cancer and chemo as well. She also said that as you get closer to the end of treatment patients grow more frustrated and are of course more and more tired by the long process so my emotions were normal. I guess after 17 weeks of chemo (and 8 more weeks to go) anyone would feel a bit annoyed, angry, irate…FED UP at this point!! I guess that was me and it was completely reasonable under the circumstances. So I embraced my inner bitch if not for an hour or so. 

So while the little cancer eating Pacmans were released into my veins, I was anxious to just get it over with and get out of there. I did finish round 5 and it is another x off my calendar and I am one step closer to the finish line. I did treat myself to a fabulous French fruit tart on the way home because heck I deserved it. So even though I didn’t come out of this round smiling and brimming over with positive thoughts, I did get through it and that is something to be proud of.
I woke up this morning feeling better though. Some new side effects that creeped up yesterday were gone today. The sun was shining, my daughter was laughing and my husband was by my side. It is amazing how your perspective on things can shift so fast day to day. I am going to try extra hard this week to take time for myself, to listen more to my body and just allow myself quiet moments. This is the biggest fight of my life and it is far from over so for once in my life, I must listen to my limits, understand my weaknesses and embrace my humanity.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Run for Life

It is that time of year again. Facebook is flooded with women raising money for the Cure and the run/walk for breast cancer is fast approaching. I have never participated in this event and ironically I think it was only last year that I first bought a pink ribbon in support of the cause. Fast forward a year later and I have a very very different view on this event and the people who bring it to life. This pink army who marches through rain and shine, for their mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins and friends, are suddenly this year marching for me. I have never been passionate about any cause which I attributed to the fact that I had never been touched directly by tragedy or illness. But when the cancer fairy dive bombed me earlier this year and then Captain AC a few months later, I (and my family) became a part of this cause. Having been through such a challenging ordeal, all I want is for others to be fortunate enough to avoid this vicious disease. I really want my daughter to grow up and not have to worry about this. So I want to commend all those women dusting off those trainers and running for a cure. My cure! I will be running alongside all of you next year and taking my spot amongst all the other pink warriors. Cancer – consider this your warning. Your time on this earth is fast expiring.

Excerpt from Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run for Life” (herself a breast cancer survivor)
I run for hope
I run to feel
I run for the truth
For all that is real
I run for your mother, your sister, your wife
I run for you and me, my friend

Keep running,

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Weekend Recap

Well this is literally the first time in nearly a week that I have actually had some quiet time to whip out a blog entry. I realized I possibly had a bit too much on when I found my brief solo trip to the grocery store earlier today relaxing! I lingered through the exotic fruits and vegetable section, become engrossed with chip (crisp) selection and scouted out my beloved OK! Magazine. So what has been filling my days lately? Here is a recap.

So Friday was round 4 and it went brilliantly. I have started to have a bit of a routine on C-spa mornings and I quite enjoy it. I have always been a big fan of my morning routine and have always woken earlier then I needed to in order to never rush and enjoy my cup of coffee, shower, spot of morning news, beauty regime, etc… My C-Spa routine is decidedly different but I think it calms me down and gets me in the right mode. I always head to the hospital alone while my husband drops our daughter off at daycare. I pop on my C-spa mix on my phone (yes I have actually made a music mix for chemo day!) and try to relax on the 5 minute bus ride there. Once there I grab a number and wait for the blood test. Once done – instead of lingering in the waiting room which can have quite a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere, I now head off to the cancer gym – put my music on speaker, do some yoga, stretch, and just be in the moment. Any little thing I can do to make this huge ordeal I am happy to do and this definitely does. So after getting the good news on my blood counts and being cleared for treatment, I was all set for my favorite nurse and usual chair. But oh the horror! I am told they are under-staffed and I must go upstairs to the 4th floor for my chemo. I really freaked out for a moment as the people upstairs didn’t know me, didn’t understand my anxieties or my story. This was not my plan! My worries quickly abatted as I immediately ran into Nurse Flo (from one my earlier post-surgery blogs) and another wonderful nurse who was there the moment I found out the dreaded news all those months ago. They hugged me like old friends and they quickly got caught up on my news. I was then introduced to my new nurse who was very friendly and I proceeded to start briefing her on my “difficult veins”. She reassured me my veins looked fine and told me she had her own way of doing it which was different from downstairs. Different how I wondered? Well her way of doing things was BRILLIANT! I honestly was lost for words as the IV process was like getting a blood test and gushed to her about how amazing she was. It really took all my anxiety away and I think it was one of my nicest C-spa experiences to date. She sat by me most of the time and we talked about my story, Captain AC, my daughter, life, perspective…Obviously my blog came up and she wanted to read it for herself so if you are reading this now – please know you are a C-spa rock star and made round 4 memorable for all the right reasons. 

Nurse Flo also paid me a visit mid-treatment and we talked about my blog which she had been following over the past few months. She was touched by my tribute to her and also wanted to pass my blog onto other young breast cancer patients like myself that she has treated. That made me feel good as this is one of the main reasons I am writing this. Aside from keeping team OBB informed and down with the 411 (only Canadians will get that reference!), I also want to be open and honest about this experience in the hope it will help others out and make this journey abit easier for those walking this long often scary road. So a few short hours later, despite being weighed down by my heavy cocktail coursing through my veins, I felt quite light and happy and boy did it feel good.

My weekend continued on with minimal side effects, aside from the usual fatigue and dreary rain! Things heated up Sunday night but unfortunately not for the right reasons. I decided to give my daughter a Reese pieces (only one itty bitty candy) after dinner – little did I know I was playing with fire. It started as hives around her mouth and suddenly turned into a full on anaphylactic reaction. We rushed her to the Emergency and she was taken in immediately. As things become more serious, the doctors and nurses rushed around her with needles here and monitors there and speaking words I didn’t understand. Now I am getting better at Norwegian but the moment I am tired or stressed my ability to understand goes completely out the window. Watching your child go through something as scary as this is hard enough but then not knowing what anyone is saying around you just adds to the nightmare. It was hard and any parent knows how awful it is to see your child suffer. Maybe it is all the things I have been through recently or my weakened body from chemo but I do feel that my ability to cope is not what is used to be. This was plain hard.

I am happy to report that my darling monkey has made a full recovery and we are now a nut free family equipped with an Epi Pen. At least we know now about it (knowledge is power!) and it happened when we were there and could respond accordingly. I guess it is again taking the good out of a bad situation which is what I do best.

So maybe this is why I am feeling so exhausted this week. But everything that happens continues to give me perspective on what is important and I appreciate every good thing in my life. The rain may be pouring, my hair may look like a chia pet and my bones may feel 30 years older than they are but then again I am alive and kicking and surrounded by people I love. What more can you ask for?

Good night all,