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!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Don't Stop 
Fleetwood Mac

If you wake up and don't want to smile
If it take just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You'll see things in a different way

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

Why not think about times to come
And not about the things that you've done
If your life was bad to you
Just think what tomorrow will do

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

All I want is to see you smile
If it takes just a little while
I know you don't believe that it's true
I never meant any harm to you

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

Ooh, don't you look back

The past month while I have been greatly struggling with anxiety and the emotional aspects of cancer, I have enjoyed increased strength and energy levels. I am beginning to be able to live a "new" normal kind of life and have started checking off some bucket list items and things I am looking forward to once again be able to do from the  I Can't Wait (from September blog post) . Last night we checked off another bucket list item by going to the Fleetwood Mac concert. Songbird was fittingly the last song of the evening and was Jason and my first dance song at our wedding 18 years ago. Even more appropriate to my life right now is one of my favourite all time songs. Don't Stop. Looking at the lyrics I am able to see the relevance to what I have been going through emotionally. Cancer is behind me and I am trying to not look back. Some days are better than others but I have to truly believe that yesterday's gone. I am recovering today. I am so tired, climbing up to our seats in the true nosebleeds while worth every step took a lot out of me today and today I can feel it. Nevertheless, I did it!! Check!!!

World Cancer Day - Cancer. It's Not Beyond Us.

February 4, 2015 is World Cancer Day. This year’s campaign will be articulated around four key areas of focus:
  • Choosing healthy lives
  • Delivering early detection
  • Achieving treatment for all
  • Maximising quality of life
This year the focus will be on a proactive approach to cancer treatment and that solutions and cures are within our reach, particularly with the new early detection screening programs and gains made in chemotherapy/radiation treatments. "World Cancer Day is a unique opportunity to raise awareness that there is much that can be done at an individual, community and governmental level, to harness and mobilize these solutions and bring about positive change." By moving forward together we have the potential to show: Cancer. It is not beyond us.

I have personal direct experience with the gains made in cancer treatment. Hodgkins Lymphoma is now a highly treatable, cureable form of cancer with proven standards of treatment. For that I am grateful. The survival rates continue to increase for Lymphoma and many other cancers on the continuum.

One of the events related to World Cancer Day is a movement that our family chose to donate towards as a way of paying it forward after my Kicking Cancer party is the No Hair Selfie. A former teacher and his brothers are participating in the campaign and we made a donation to their team. Princess Margaret Hospital is also connected to the Cancer Care Path service which I have been fortunate to be apart of since my diagnosis. In the spirit of the #NoHairSelfie movement, I remember my last day of chemotherapy. It symbolizes how far I have come in the past few months. I am gaining confidence and strength that I am moving past this and that I will continue to re-vitalize and become a stronger person now that I am a survivor.

I researched where the funds raised will go? "Funds raised from the #NoHairSelfie campaign will support the Princess Margaret Hospital's vision of Personalized Cancer Medicine, a multi-faceted, integrated approach to cancer care that focuses on the unique nature of each patient: "Finding the right treatment for the right patient, at the right time." Key Investments and Research Priorities include:
  • Cancer Stem Cells - Erasing cancer’s blueprint
  • Epigenetics - Looking for a genetic on/off switch
  • Guided Therapeutics Program - Superhero vision in one of the world’s best operating rooms
  • Immune Therapy - Helping the body to heal itself
  • Molecular Imaging - The next frontier in diagnostics
  • Nanotechnology - A new field with the potential to revolutionize the way cancer is treated
  • Precision Genomics - Decoding genetic fingerprints
  • Personalized Radiation Therapy – Adaptive, Stereotactic, Regenerative
  • Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care - Caring for the body, mind and soul
  • Survivorship Programming - Putting patients in the driver’s seat"

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chemotherapy Secrets

Recently, a former high-school classmate asked if I had any words of wisdom in terms of what my husband did to support me in my cancer treatments. The role of the care-giver is such an important one. I owe so much of my recovery to my husband and I am forever grateful for him. I began to think of all the amazing ways he just knew how to help or what I needed.  But I also began to think about everything I learned about chemotherapy and living with cancer that the nurses/doctors don't always tell you or that you read about but don't really know first hand if they work or not. I have heard many times that everyone responds to chemotherapy and treatments differently, and that what helped one person may not necessarily help someone else. When I was first diagnosed I went searching online and read many cancer blogs of others just like me, writing their stories. I was looking for the magic insight or answers on how to make it better.

These are just some of the discoveries I made during my 12 treatments of ABVD chemotherapy treatments. The side effects vary depending on the drugs that you are given, the side effects manifest in varying degrees individually. I am not a doctor and am only sharing this as a cancer survivor, these are just a few of the things that I found worked for me. These are listed as they come to mind, in no order of importance or significance.

1. Favourite food and drink no more! : I was warned not to eat some of my favourite foods or drink during and immediately after I started my first chemotherapy treatment. At the time of my first treatment, gingerale was my go-to drink of choice. After my first treatment, I began to associate the taste of gingerale with the nauseous feeling and to this day, I have not been able to drink gingerale again. I also craved salt because of the steroids I had to take before each session, I would eat salted almonds or mixed nuts. The sight of them makes my stomach turn, it was only recently that I tried them again and I have to say they taste good once again!

2. Mouth sores be gone: After my first treatment, I had terrible mouth sores, terrible sore gums and achy jaw. I read online that you can suck or chew on ice chips to reduce the blood flow to your mouth. I decided to try it the next time. I mentioned it to one of the nurses and she immediately agreed and said "oh yes!" - why don't they tell you that? So I chewed ice, sucked on Iced Cappucino's from Tim Horton's and what a major improvement. I don't know if it was all in my head but I faithfully did it. It did not make them go away but they didn't seem as bad. Leading us to #3!

3. Magic mouthwash: As soon as I experienced the first mouth-soreness, I did call my oncology nurse and she immediately called a prescription in to the pharmacy for "magic mouthwash". It is amazing. Not covered by my medical benefits but so worth it. It coats the inside of your mouth, tastes alot like cherry Vicks. I highly recommend it if you are dealing with mouth soreness.

4. Anticipatory nausea: About half way through my treatments, I realized that I was beginning to get very nauseous a day or two before my treatment. It was explained to me that it is a real thing and cognitively I was beginning to associate the approach of my treatment with the feeling of nausea. I encourage you to recognize that it is a very real feeling, it is not in your head. I was prescribed Ativan for this and it really helped. I suggest you speak to your oncologist about this as you are not imagining it!

5. Fatigue and sleep: Once I gave myself permission that I needed to sleep and rest whenever my body told me to, I found it was much easier to accept that it is very much apart of treatment. I tried to make sure I had a shower and got up in the morning, which helped me feel better. But as the day progressed even by mid-morning I often needed to go back to bed and sometimes I needed to be told this. This is where my husband was so supportive, he at times, "made" me go back to bed and reassured me that it was ok to allow myself the time to rest and sleep.

6. Losing my hair: Losing my hair took a lot longer than I envisioned it would. I am glad that I didn't shave my head right away. One of the best things I did was to have a good friend cut it in a short layered look, which let me stretch it out a few more weeks and enjoy the most awesome haircut! Everyone feels differently about this, once we realized that my hair was coming out fast and furious and I was finished with finding hair all over the house, my husband shaved it in our garage. I was shocked that I lost all my eyelashes, nose hair and hair elsewhere. I think I found losing all my eyelashes the hardest. I managed to keep the shape of my eyebrows which I was thankful for. I highly recommend a trip to the wig boutique at Hopesprings Cancer Centre - they provide a free wig and were very helpful in guiding me through this journey.

7. Drinking water: When they tell you to drink a lot of water, you don't really realize how much water you need to drink. I kept a measured amount (3 litres) on my counter and I had to really work to drink it all by the end of the day. My husband really helped by constantly bringing water up to the bedroom so I didn't have to go looking for it, leaving water bottles piled beside the bed. I firmly believe that drinking the water helped with the side effects

8. Medication: At one point, my bathroom looked like a pharmacy. I have never been one for "over the counter" medication and at first was reluctant to take more than the least amount of medication both prescribed for me and over the counter. Once I gave myself permission to take what I needed (of course staying within the daily dosages) I was better able to manage the side effects. I religiously took the anti-nausea meds and am thankful at how well they worked. One of the nurses told me, don't let the nausea get ahead of you, take the meds every four hours the first few days, don't wait until you feel terrible. I also underestimated what I needed in terms of medication to regulate my bowels and constipation was a huge challenge for me until I followed the nurse's orders and went with the maximum allowed which was obviously what my body needed. I was honest with my oncologist and they were very willing to give me what I needed to get through the treatments. I am happy to say that I have been on very little medication since my last treatment, so it really is only temporary.

9. Benadryl: Part of my ABVD chemotherapy required me to have a 50 mg bag of Benadryl drip between two of the drugs. I soon realized that my body responded with "restless legs" from the Benadryl. Honestly it was awful. They couldn't do anything about the groggy feeling that I had after the Benadryl but they could slow down the drip and that really helped with the jumpy legs. It took a bit longer for the drip to finish but I am really glad that one of the nurses told me about this.

10.Warm blankets! The one thing I looked forward to was knowing that there were warm blankets in the chemo suite. Accept them, replenish them so you have a fresh one. Use them. They provided me with comfort. Jason soon where to just help himself and he would tuck me in for a nice little nap after the Benadryl drip. Such a nice touch.

As I said, these are just a few of the things I learned in my journey thought chemotherapy. I hope it can be of help to someone searching the internet for others experiences just as I did back in April.

Note: I just returned from the dentist to learn that I have a mouthful of cavities. I have been fortunate to not have many cavity issues and have learned that due to chemotherapy I believe it is 7 or 8 that I now have. Chemotherapy causes dry mouth and depletes your body of its natural flouride, hence your teeth erode greatly. I could have possibly reduced the issues by using a non-alcohol based flouride rinse. Lesson learned.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A great night

I'm braver because I fought a giant and won.
I'm strong because I had to be.
I'm happier because I learned what matters.
I stand taller because I'm a survivor.

January 10, 2015 is almost six months to the day that I learned that my Hodgkins Lymphoma was in remission. Seemed like a perfect time to host a party to thank our friends and gather together to celebrate that I have kicked cancer to the curb! I can't explain how heartwarming it is to look around a crowded room and see all of the friends and family from all different parts of our lives together in one room. Colleagues from every school I have taught at, neighbours, hockey moms, yurting group, best friends from university and highschool, Jason's buddies. The room was full of music, dancing, laughter and a few tears. It was exactly what I wanted. While some dear, key important people were missing from the mix, they were there in spirit and sent me along their love or dropped by quickly for a hug. The most important thing is that we know exactly who is in our lives and we know without a doubt who loves us. Cancer does that for a family. We can't think of a better reason to celebrate. To raise a glass to friendship, supporting each other, saying what you mean and living in the moment. 2015 holds great promise for a renewal of spirit and a return to many new adventures. Thank you to everyone who came to the celebration, thank you for your gifts - which are completely unnecessary. Cards with words that bring tears to my eyes, flowers, and champagne, let there be many more reasons to toast and celebrate all life has to offer!

We intend to pay it forward and have made donations to a former teacher's #nohairselfie fundraiser which takes place on World Cancer Day as well as a donation to Hopesprings Cancer Support Centre, a wonderful resource in our city supporting those affected by cancer