Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Cancerversary

“The moment my doctor told me, I went silent. My mum and dad were with me. Then we all fell to pieces.” Kylie Minogue, On being diagnosed with breast cancer.

This week has a very busy and tiring one for me so far and it marks the anniversary of one of the biggest moments in my life. Now I have wrestled with how I should acknowledge this date and I thought perhaps I shouldn’t put any special significance on it as it was a truly horrific day. But on the other hand, it happened and it proceeded to change me in so many different ways over the next 12 months and this metamorphosis , in my opinion, worth mentioning.

One year ago in a hospital exam room in Oslo,Norway:

Me: So I just wanted to come in to make sure everything was healing ok – you know me worry worry worry about everything.

Nurse: I see you are alone today. You usually always come with your husband but he isn’t with you today.

Me: No – I didn’t want to bother him with a routine appointment.

Nurse: Hmmm…

Doctor: Well everything looks to be healing fine but I think you should sit down. (She stares blankly at me, looks at her computer screen and takes a breath). I have some bad news.

Me: What do you mean?

Doctor: We have found malignant cells in your biopsy. You have breast cancer.

Me: What does that mean?

Doctor: You have cancer.

The shock took over and I was trembling with fear. I handed my phone to the nurse and told her to call my husband and tell him to come now. There was no way I could get the words out to him. There was no way I could tell him what had just happened. The next minutes that ticked by felt surreal as they told me what I would need to be ready for and that so many women survive breast cancer these days.

Me: I am sorry but I am not listening to a word you are saying. I am somewhere else.
Doctor: Ok. I am sure this all very upsetting for you.

Truth be told I was using every ounce of energy to hold the pieces of myself together and not fall apart…not yet. A million questions zoomed around my brain – none of them good. It was just so hard to believe it was happening to me. The moment my husband arrived in the room, I felt more secure. I wasn’t alone. He was so strong and just sat down beside me, held my head and asked the right questions. He didn’t flinch, he didn’t cry – he kept it together for me which gave me so much strength. That is the type of person you want beside you when your world crumbles – a sturdy stable refuge when everything is spinning out of control around you.

When we walked out into the corridor, the tsunami that had been growing in strength and momentum finally crashed. I ran into the washroom and dialed my mother’s number. She was the first person I told those three words to (amidst uncontrollable sobs of the deepest pain I have ever felt) – I have cancer.

Those three words changed my life. They changed how I looked, how I felt and how I see. Of course it was predominantly a nightmare but I have gained such deep insight into myself and life. An insight that would have taken a lifetime to learn. So it is not all bad.

So one year on, I am happy to be able to call myself a survivor. I am here, I am breathing, I am living. And in the words of my husband in those dark early days, “ We will beat this, no matter what.” And we did.

Love, OBB

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wading through the Deep

A quick check in from OBB. It is a gorgeous sunny day with bright blue skies, however we are housebound looking after a very unwell little monkey. I had gone to bed early last night as I have been seriously exhausted all week and less then 30 minutes later, I heard a bump. I then found a very shaken and upset little lady who had fallen down in her own vomit (yes this might be too much info!). It is moments like these that I am just a mother again - juggling hosing her off, comforting her and trying to clean up the mess. Of course my husband was out at the movies at the time though came home early to help clean up the chaos. Though I could have thought of better experiences to bring me back to the banal sides of life, it does make me feel normal again.

This week has been hard for me. I have tried to sit down and write a blog entry but kept starting and not feeling focused enough to finish it. None of it seemed blog worthy. I am not sure if it is my high level of fatigue, missing my mom and friends, anxiety over the next few weeks or my upcoming "cancerversary" next Saturday. It is most likely a combination of it all made worse by some persistent pain that has developed in my chest that it apparently a delayed radiation reaction. I of course immediately think any pain that is "weird" has to be the cancer returning and I am sure I drive everyone around me crazy with my obsessions. I often feel for my husband as he is usually the one who hears all my crap and I often forget to filter! The last year has been eye opening for me in terms of knowing how to make a relationship work especially when you are dealing with stress and boy have we dealt with our share of stress. We moved to another country, had a baby and had cancer all within a 2 year time period. During this time, I would put so much energy and effort into being positive, happy and upbeat for everyone else in my life that I would often have only the worst of me left by the end of the day. The isnt fair for anyone and I am fortunate to have been made aware of this at 32. It isnt just about having an illness, I think it is very easy for anyone to do this. Life gets in the way, our children take our time and energy, jobs distract us, and days, months, years pass. There is always something going on but it is important to be aware of what is really important to you and to know where you want to focus your energy. So in light of prioritising what is important my husband and I are taking a child free weekend break this week. We wanted to do something nice before surgery and recovery takes over our lives again. I am looking forward to it and being able to spend time together away from the stresses and toils of our daily life. I see how important it is to nurture our relationship - marriages are hard and you just cant ever take each other for granted - ever.

So I have been trying to beat away this dark cloud over my head and finding it tougher then usual. I think it always goes back to the same thing - I just want my life to be normal. I want to worry about things any 32 year old woman would. I want to do the things I had planned to do. I want to live without this little voice in my head terrorising me. I read a book this weekend about how to live after breast cancer treatment and i could relate to so many things the author said. The author kept reinterating that once you have breast cancer, you will always live in fear of it returning. It isnt like other illnesses that once it has been treated it is gone for good. This one is crafty and has far too many tricks up its sleeve. You of course want to be positive and imagine that it wont ever come back but that fear is now a real part of your life. It makes you think differently about things and contemplate the "what ifs". I try so hard to quiet these voices in my head but sometimes they scream for attention. There is a quote from one of the survivors interviewed in the book who says this:

" Those of us who have had cancer have been to the end of the precipice, looked down, faced the fear of falling, and have returned. Those people who havent had cancer dont know that you dont have to fall when you are at the edge."

I even wrote a letter to the cancer (apparently it is more mentally empowering to call it "the" rather then "my") this week to get out some of my anger at the things it has done to me and taken away from me. If I could I would lock it up in a box made of the toughest metal, wrap it in titanium chains and drop it in the deepest part of the ocean where it would never be seen again. Unfortunately we dont have that kind of power, even though I am in fact a superhero, so I will have to settle with saying F@%$ cancer!

So that is a mish mash of my headspace this week - very up and down. I hope some of this makes sense and perhaps some of you can read between the lines.

I will be writing a special entry later this week to mark my "Cancerversary" so stay tuned.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

OBB Update

I am back in the land of the living…well sorta anyways. It has been a rough week since we returned from our big trip and we have been suffering from bad jetlag. I am actually surprised how functional I have remained despite my prolonged state of sleep deprivation. However my body is giving me signs this week that it cant do what it used to and some pains and strains are coming out of the woodwork. And I was just starting to feel normal again.

The hardships were well worth it though as we did have a great time away. My daughter got to so many amazing things including not having to put on 5 layers every time we went out. We went swimming (first time for me since my diagnosis), went to the aquariam, visited a tropical bird sanctuary, sat and sipped Starbucks hot chocolates, ate sushi as many times as we could and most importantly spent some QT with Captain AC. Since I left Canada many years ago, whenever I visit there I am of course happy to see everyone and everything but I am also happy to come home again. I don’t leave with a heavy heart and desire to go back to that life. However for the first time I really miss it and I miss my mom. She is doing so well but of course her long struggle has affected her and I so want to be closer to her. Our relationship is different – stronger. Our relationship shifted when I became a mother but it again shifted when we both got cancer together. We are connected in such a deep way that it is hard to even explain. It was also so comforting to say “Oh my big toe is numb again” and to know that yes she truly understood how that felt. We also talked about the scary things that keep me up at night and nothing I say scares her. It was so comforting for me but also made me see how difficult it is for us to be so far apart during such a difficult time. She is after all my mom and moms make everything better don’t they?

So now that we are back, I am also back to reality in terms of continuing on this reluctant journey. I was greeted by a number of letters detailing various appointments with specialists etc… and the dreaded MRI next week. So little time to regroup before I board the crazy train again. I did meet with a specialist in Canada who gave me a slightly different view on things and how I should proceed. It is so hard to make an informed decision when the medical people involved in your case aren’t in a consensus. I guess I will have to go with gut feel on this one. I am definitely having my operation in a few weeks time just to get some of it out of the way but we will see about everything else. I am really dreading being thrown back into a weakened state after working so hard these last few months to build my strength both physically and mentally. I also just don’t want to be in pain and frankly I don’t feel like being brave right now. But of course I will do what I have done for the last year and reluctantly put on my superhero cape and mask and do what I must do. It isn’t always easy being a superhero…

That is all for me today. More to come later as there will be lots to discuss as the story unfolds further…


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 things I learnt in the last week

Hi Everyone,

It feels like a long time since I have blogged and have definitely lived a full week since I last wrote. I am coming to you from rainy though beautiful Vancouver and sitting here finally with a few delicious moments to myself while my daughter and mother sleep. Things have been busy and in light of being time efficient and also getting down the most information in the shortest amount of time I am going for the listicle format (I don't know if I am breaking blog protocol here as most of my friends who do this tend to do it on Mondays but hey ho here we go!).

10 Things I learnt in the last week

10. Airtravel with a toddler remains a test in human endurance. I know my daughter is a pretty good traveller but the combination of a 2 flights, total abandonment of any routine, too many sugar products, confinement and a 2 year old who really doesn't see the point of sleeping during a 19 hour time period with a mommy who only finished a year of cancer treatment 6 weeks earlier is a very tough thing to do. We made it of course though not without a few tantrums and stand offs along the way. Ipads help too.

9. Reunions - reunions are well... simply wonderful. I always think to the opening scene in one of my all time favourite movies "Love Actually" where they show the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. I always tear up when I see it - children and their parents, long lost friends, mothers and daughters…Well I was reunited with my mother after a very long difficult year and it was wonderful. We both bore the scars and strains of our journeys though still pretty much looked like the same women we were before. Just with cooler and edgier hair dos!

8. Escape is bliss. Since I have been here I have often totally forgotten my status as a cancer patient and now a survivor. Here I am more anonymous and no one could tell what I have been through. I also have no visual reminders of my experience. Vancouver is a cancer free place to me. I was never sick when I was here so things feel fresh and new being here now. It feels good and I find i am not thinking or obsessing about it for the first time in a very long time. It feels good.

7. Kombucha tea though highly nutritious and full of good things to heal me is pretty much unpalatable. It looks like green scum and tastes like juice you left out in the sun for like a month. I am all for drinking and eating things that will make me healthy but this is where I draw the line!

6. Solo 24/7 parenting is hard. Since I got sick, my daughter went into full time daycare and her father took over a lot of responsibilities - most notably the nighttime wake ups. After a week of looking after a jet-lagged totter who has been thrown out of her sacred routine, I am exhausted. She is definitely going through separation anxiety and if I am in the vicinity then no one can get in there! It makes it hard for my mom to help and I definitely need it. I again give kudos to all those single parents out there as it is hard work. This is hard and I have to push through the exhaustion barriers which actually makes me feel just like a normal parent again. Though I am wiped out it strangely comforts me as I am just being a mom to her and nothing else. But I do need to remember that I need to rest and my body isn't what it used to be. Hmm…when to do that? I am looking forward to going home again and seeing my husband! We work much better as a team. :)

5. Being with old friends is the best medicine. I have been able to see some of my friends (though it has been a tight squeeze) and it has been great. I have one friend in particular who is so near and dear to my heart. She has made an appearance in this blog before as she was the one who flew across the world to come and shave my head for me. It is so nice to just be together doing normal things like going to lunch, taking our daughters to the park to play, hitting the Gap Kids section and relaxing over a latte. I feel privileged to have someone with such an open heart in my life who just understands without me having to say anything and whom I can tell pretty much anything to.

4. You don't need to know people forever or even have ever met them in person for them to be a tower of strength and support to you when you need it most. The internet builds bridges that never existed before. I had the chance to meet someone who has been a regular commentator on this blog in person for the first time this week. Though I had never met her I felt like she knew me and she understand my emotions and my experience. She took so much time to write long and detailed responses to my entries giving me numerous pearls of cancer wisdom that were so helpful. She came laden with gifts of healing for me and a treat for my daughter. I was so touched by her kindness and generosity and feel we are bonded by our parallel cancer journeys forever. I guess the world of internet media and social networking allows us to transcend the traditional routes for connecting with people. I am happy to have met this woman who lightened my load. Thank you and thank you to everyone else who have been a permanent fixture on my virtual OBB team. Though I don't always get to respond to your comments please know I read them all and appreciate every single one.

3. Norway is expensive. Yes I know I live in the most expensive country in the world but boy does that country look after you. However whenever I come to Canada it always feels like everything is "free." When you think it is normal for a beer to cost $20 and a haircut $150 suddenly $2 for toothpaste, $8 for a bottle of tylenol, $14 for a dinner out is a very exciting thing! I could go on and on. I am like a kid in a candy store walking around and it is far too easy to justify purchases! Maybe I could stock up just alittle bit…

2. Now this might contradict point 6 but whatever it's my list people. I am also relishing my time with my daughter. Though I sometimes want to wring her neck when she pushes the limits for like the 100th time, I also love how much time we are getting together. I am seeing how important I am in her life and how much I love her. After the year I have been through and the fears over things going wrong, my time with my family has been priceless. I appreciate every moment and the time I am getting with her while she is so little goes by so fast so that fact I am with her all day and not at work all day is pretty special. I just don't take anything for granted most importantly time.

1. Love. All you need it love. Lots of it.

(Oh I hear the familiar call of “Mama mine” coming from the bedroom now so that is my cue to whip off my OBB superhero cape and swtich back into mom!).