Saturday, March 28, 2015

We'll Be Singing...

I Get Knocked Down - Chumbawamba

 We'll be singing
When we're winning
We'll be singing
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down
Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away
He drinks a whiskey drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the better times
Oh, Danny boy, Danny boy, Danny boy
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down
Don't cry for me
Next door neighbor
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down
We'll be singing
When we're winning
We'll be singing

My mentor and friend Paul Chambers passed away one year ago today after a brave, determined, kick ass fight against ALS. There have been so many moments, so many times this past year where I have asked myself, "What would Paul do?" or "What would Paul say to me?" I would get the thumbs up or thumbs down, the stare and shake of his head. The fatherly advice that he so loved to bestow on the group of ladies who came to visit him each month. I have taken so much of watching his fight with me in my own journey, I thank him for never letting ALS get him down, for continuing every day to get up again and keep going. Never asking for pity, as the song says, "don't cry for me." Despite what he faced, he always seemed to find the good in every day. A poker game with his buddies, tea party with his grand-daughter, reliving Courtland days and behaviour logs with me, NHL pool drafts, Netflix tv show marathons, Bridge with his afternoon group, hilarious golf tournament speeches, rigged up drink glasses and jokes on the i-pad. Calling ML - his beloved Millilitre. He always managed to make us laugh even when we watched him, wanting to cry. Thank you so much Paul for showing me how to see the good in even the darkest days. He told me one day how much he loved this song and that back when he could still drive, he would go out on a Sunday afternoon with the windows down and drive on the back country roads to this song. I also remember a conversation I had with him where he wondered aloud whether after he died whether people would remember him. I recently came across a letter I wrote to him in 2011 after he said that to me where I listed all the memories I had of the 14+ years I knew him, I am so grateful that I shared that with him, of course we will remember you. How can we forget? 

I will be singing today Paul, when I get knocked down, I will keep getting back up. Thank you for watching over us on the other side. I believe that you found heaven. We miss you dearly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What is Friendship?, One Year Later

356 days later...March 18, 2014 was the day that it was confirmed that I had lymphoma. One year ago today.  Today I went to the mailbox and found a card in the mail. Out of nowhere, a dear friend wanted me to know she was thinking of me. In our age of technology and texting, bbming, facebook, tweets and emails, I still value and appreciate the time it takes to send a card in the mail. There were many days where I was feeling lonely or struggling that Jordan came in with the mail and there was a card for me. A simple, "I am thinking about you card". The card I received today was the 100th card that has come for me. 100 times someone thought of me and wanted me to know. How grateful I am. This simple act of kindness means so much. Something that I have strived to do more of. Let the people in my life know I care.

I started to read through the cards, tears in my eyes, looking back and realizing the strength I received from the prayers and thoughts coming my way. One in particular was sent by my wonderful friends Kristen and Karsten, it pretty much sums it up.

What is Friendship?

It's sharing your greatest joys
and deepest hurts.
It's revealing your
wildest dreams and secrets of the soul.

It's expressing yourself with heartfelt words
and understood silences.
It's counting on each other when
times are tough and decisions are difficult.

It's sharing the stories of your past
and your hopes for tomorrow.
It's experiencing the tears, the laughter,
and the craziness of life with
someone who understands 
and it means so much to share it with someone like you.

"How do I tell you in this little space how much it means to me everyday that you are in my life. You bring joy, comfort, balance, laughter and love to my world. We are here for you. 
Love K and K.
In the past 365 days, I have walked a road I never dreamed I would. And I would not have been able to do it without the support of our friends and family. Thank you for your words of encouragement and being my cheerleader. I am enjoying renewed strength now that I have recovered from the chest infection. I am enjoying Yoga Thrive at Hopesprings and looking forward to continued healing - both physically and emotionally. I recently treated myself to a spa day with my friend Penny and had my growing hair colored and cut. Feeling great!!! xoxo

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Winning is All About Perspective Part 2

"Mistakes are proof that you are trying." This weekend we travelled to Niagara Falls for our daughter Jordan's first gymnastics competition of the season. Most likely this will be her last year competing before she begins taking her coaching qualifications. Once again, I am using the term "winning" to describe how gymnastics has changed Jordan's life. This sport has not only pushed her physically and given her wonderful friendships, it has taught her so much about resilience and learning that it's ok to make mistakes.

Jordan had a strong bars routine, she scored a 9.3 and won the gold medal, she followed that with a equally strong beam performance, sticking her back walk-over and full turn and won the bronze medal. She was off to a very strong start. Opening with bars, gives her confidence because it is her strongest event. Beam is always nerve-wracking because one tiny wrong move can result in a fall and will affect the score drastically. Jordan has fallen off the beam in competition a few times and it is with such pride that I watch her hop right back on, no sign of disappointment at all on her face. Falling is part of the sport. Falling and making mistakes is also part of life.

Next came the floor event which is also a strong event for Jordan. She has a dance background and loves the floor. Unfortunately, this time, the bounce in the floor did not work in her favour and she fell on her front tuck, it happened so quickly and she got back up so fast that you hardly even notice the fall - but she did. But the important thing is that she kept right on going. To me, that ability to bounce back means far more than any gold medal. We are so proud of the young lady Jordan is becoming. There are going to be many disappointments and struggles in life. How we view them and meet those challenges is what we are trying to prepare our kids for. Having resiliency is a major determining factor in success and I fully believe is also very closely connected to my experience with a cancer diagnosis. Another gift our family has been given... the realization for Cam and Jordan that Mom can have cancer and have the worst of days and still be able to find reasons to smile and get back up again. Jordan can fall on the floor and still smile from ear to ear and say "Mom maybe I'm not ready to stop competing next year" or Cam can walk out of a hockey game, missing a pass or a shot on goal and know that he played 100% and stayed positive.

Sports is so much more than winning. We are grateful for the lessons that it has taught our kids and know it will prepare them for meeting all the challenges life will bring them down the road.

Winning is all about Perspective

"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" Not in this case. I am bringing so much more home with me. Recently, my mom and I set out on our first mother/daughter trip together to the bright lights, big city of Las Vegas. It was a trip we planned to celebrate my finishing cancer treatment and getting ready to return to "a new normal". As I explained in an earlier post, my bucket list has taken on a whole new meaning. Adventures that I have spoken or dreamed of doing for many years are becoming reality for me. Cancer can do that to a person. As we are reminded everyday, life is short, things can change in an instant.

It was my second time ever in a casino, I have never been a gambler, and don't expect that I will be. However for four days, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the thrill of the penny slots, being up a few dollars and taking a chance to win the jackpot. I need to take more chances, take more risks, maybe not play things so safe. Cancer will do that for you. Mom and I had a blast, laughing at the free drinks, people watching, winning big, losing some, hitting the Triple 7's, getting lost in the casino and not finding our way to our room,
laughing in elevators, meeting new friends, adventures to Treasure Island and finding our way back to our favourite machines by the Stack restaurant. We ate amazing dinners and drank free wine and expensive coffee. We searched out the highlights of Vegas, walked way more than my sore feet could manage. Browsed in expensive, "out of our league" shopping malls. And we checked some items off on the bucket list.

Mom treated us to a Cirque de Soleil show called Michael Jackson "One". What an amazing show. Loved the music, danced in our seats and marvelled at the acrobatics. We also went on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Quite amazing. Three for one bucket list items, check check, check!

And above all I realized how much fun my Mom and I can have together. It really should not have taken a cancer diagnosis to plan this trip. But it did and for that I am thankful. I continue to find so many silver linings to the darkness of the past two years. I have won far more than I have lost. I have been given the gift of time and the gift of the realization that we should not let so many years and things we dream of doing take a back seat to the rush of our busy lives. Life is not all about work, "to-do lists, cleaning, organizing, filling our home with items. Life should also be about experiences and spending time with those who love us. Money can't always buy that.

Cancer has given me the gift of realizing how loved our family is. Cancer has reminded me how important it is to make the time. Cancer has revealed just how much we have to be grateful for. I have won far more than I have lost.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Best Things We Forget To Thank Our Highschool Friends For

It all started with an email via Facebook. Who's up for a girls weekend getaway? I had recently learned the great news that my cancer was in remission, a getaway certainly seemed like exactly what I needed. I called a BFF from highschool whom I have kept in constant touch with, had babies together, camped at Macgregor Point and Grundy, travelled to Mexico with our husbands, Michelle #1 are you in? Quickly our plans fell into place and four of us would meet up in Miami. Four women who share common memories, friendships that came and went with the tides of university, marriage, distance and work. A common bond remained, we spent five years at Grand River together, lived in close proximity to one another growing up, know all of the same people, come back most years for Oktoberfest, and shared some hilarious memories of our formative years together. Years that have shaped the strong, successful, amazing women we have become today.

 I have been reflecting on our weekend and have
caught myself smiling. Cab rides with Jeff Bridges, underground bars with skating rinks and bowling alleys, Young Presidents, lush spa massages, Coronas beachside, discovering Mojitos, expensive Clevelander drinks, fresh meat, cheesy girl bands, 7th floor pools, amazing dinners, perfect patio tables with a view. A weekend of reacquaintance, catching up, laughter of memories past, sharing tears of heartache of loved ones and friends whom we have lost. I realized that despite our distance and time, some things haven't changed. I realized that highschool friends hold a special place in our hearts. We share something that our new mom friends, sports team acquaintances and neighbours don't have. We were apart of the best and worst decisions of our lives, learning about failure, resilience and having goals. Realizing that our parents did something right with all of us, and that we can learn from our highschool years and become better parents for our own children.

Thank you Michelle, Kate and Heather. Thank for a great weekend, supporting me and celebrating with me. Raising our glasses to us. Thank you for reminding me about how lucky we were to have the memories of highschool that we do. Thank you for memories of prom dresses and big hair, mixed cassette tapes, driving in Jettas and Pickup trucks, curling irons and getting ready at each other's houses, playing violas, driver's ed, first boyfriends, boyfriends from other schools, wing-mans, air bands drunk, the V, sneaking behind our parent's backs, tanning on the roof, drinking swamp water, 16th birthday parties, moving out to attend university, our "bad boys", Forest Heights trips at lunch, pool synchro routines, chasing boys on the playground, coke can comparisons, Mr. Hughes and English papers, skipping class, convenience store mishaps, the cafe, french fries and gravy and chocolate chip cookies, homeroom in music, coming late, playing asshole, Daytona Beach, writing notes in class, New Order, Depeche Mode, ACDC, long skirts and tight jeans, St Mary's dances, the Spoons, orchestra, student council, hockey games and hockey players and Renegade blue and gold. I look forward to continued friendship, upcoming highschool reunions and more Oktoberfests to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bucket List - Check

As some of you know, when Jason and I were married, he had the chicken pox. We spent alot of time in our beautiful room at the Couples Resort just outside of Algonquin Park. (Formerly Bear Trail Inn Resort). We were lying in bed and decided to start to write our bucket list. What did we want to do in our life together? The only paper we had was an envelope from the stationary at the resort, we unfolded the envelope and filled every square inch of the paper. We have added to the bucket list over the years, we still have the tattered envelope and take such great pleasure in checking our dreams off.

After a cancer diagnosis, bucket list items take on a whole new meaning. Life is short. Don't waste opportunities. Jason and I are so grateful that our future continues to shine bright ahead of us. I also want to take every chance to honour and recognize bucket list items of my loved ones. My mom since her retirement has grown to love the Marilyn Denis Show, I would hedge a guess that she was a CityLine fan back in the Marilyn days as well. I knew that my Mom was staying in Kitchener in February, so I took a chance and submitted a request for Marilyn Denis Show tickets. We had to write a short paragraph about why we wanted the tickets and I shared that I was recovering from cancer treatment and had been given this gift of time that I was able to take my mother to the show. And we got the tickets!!! What a treat. Quite a cool experience. We went home with a whole bag of giveaways as well! I didn't expect that at all. (Stella Dot gift card, Shoppers gift card, post-it notes, nail polish set, ballroom dancing lessons, etc!) Pretty cool! Mom and I enjoyed a nice night in Toronto, stayed at the Hyatt on King, dinner out at Fred's Not Here, lunch at Hush during TO's Winterlicious. A great two days and another bucket list item checked off for Mom!!

I also was able to get myself to our 10th anniversary of Winter Yurting. A huge accomplishment that would not be possible if not for my husband Jason, Jordan and our wonderful friends who helped me out so much. I was determined to make it. The weather was perfect, the company full of laughter, kids who are like family making forts and tobogganing. I was able to go to bed early on Saturday night and sleep knowing that I was able to reach this goal of making it winter yurting. It was only a year ago during the same weekend that I was fretting over
the lumps on my neck and waking up in night sweats. How much one's life can change in 365 days. But I'm here and I'm cancer free. Thank god.

Great news and meet my new friend the Z pack

I received some great news from Dr Stevens my oncologist today. My bloodwork continues to improve and return to normal levels in almost all categories. He is so pleased that my white blood cell count is now in the normal range as well as my hemoglobin and platelets. In his words, it's quite amazing! Another test that they use is called an ESR or erythrocyte sedimentation rate test. It is often referred to as the sedimentation rate or the sed rate. An ESR blood test is usually done to check and understand the degree of inflammation in the body and is related to cancers such as lymphoma, various kinds of infections as well as autoimmune disorders and diseases. When I was first diagnosed my ESR rate was well over 60 he recalled. The normal range is between 0-20. My new ESR rate is now 4. This is often used as a "soft predictor" for lymphoma so as long as these numbers stay low, this indicates that there is most likely no inflammation in my lymph nodes, which is what we are continuing to watch for. I will see Dr Stevens again in two months for additional bloodwork and if necessary another follow-up CT scan. We will most likely schedule a PET scan in early summer 2015.

Unfortunately, the downside to my visit is that I have acquired my first respiratory infection. I came down with a cold last weekend and quickly it was clear that it had migrated to my chest. I am quite wheezy, particularly in the morning and there were minor crackling sounds. He prescribed Zithromax which is used to treat many different types of respiratory infections caused by bacteria. It is 5 pills given over the course of several days, but it is fast-acting and stays in your system for around 10 days. It is likely I will need antibiotics each time I contract a cold over this first year, post-chemotherapy. One of the chemotherapy drugs in ABVD called Bleomycin can cause lung damage and make your lungs more susceptible to infection. This is the drug that is also connected to another side effects I am dealing with peripheral neuropathy of my fingers and Raynaud's disease - discoloration of fingers and toes.

I am grateful that I had the appointment with Dr Stevens this week or I would have been making a trek to our family physician instead. It was great to check-in with Dr Stevens and feel re-assured that all is going according to plan. I wasn't sure about attending the appointment at the Cancer Centre with me coughing so much but they did not want me to miss the appointment and wanted to investigate the cold. I was masked up and sanitized down. This cold has definitely reminded me that my body is continuing to recover and that I am still not 100% Michelle.

A girls getaway weekend is on my horizon. Sun, spa, massages, dinners, beach, reading and relaxation. All in the company of 3 amazing ladies whom I share great memories of highschool at GRCI. What a great way to celebrate life, soak up the sun and reconnect. Bucket list - check!