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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye to 2014

"Tomorrow is the first page of a 365 page blank book. Make it a good one." Brad Paisley

As we get ready to say goodbye to 2014,
we reflect not on the difficulties we faced but the realization that we are so incredibly blessed with wonderful friends and family who have shown us every day how much we are loved. Thank you. We look forward to 2015. We are a changed family. For the better.

In the spirit of New Year's, we wish that you.....

Listen to the words you always wanted to hear,
Turn the phrases that one day you wished to repeat,
Feel the emotion that always waited feel.
Walk by the rails that one day you wished to follow,
Divide the way with whom you have always wanted to share,
Embrace all the friends you have always wanted to meet.
I wish from the bottom of my heart:
That every time that your dreams flow away, they come back.
To a life overflowing with achievements,
' fly in the journey of love '
In this New Year be happy in your dreams
And have the good fortune to get them.

Thank you to Nicole, my oldest friend for the inspiration behind these words.

2015 will be the year of the bucket list, of living life to the fullest and taking advantage of every moment. Stay tuned for the first page of our 365 day book. ABC New Years!! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Low Family

And the Grinch with his Grinch feet, ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore, Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 

"What if Christmas, he thought doesn't come from a store?, What if Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more?"

We feel incredibly blessed and grateful to have all of you in our life. We look forward to celebrating with many of you at our January 10, 2015 Celebration. Please email for details We would like to wish you all a wonderful holiday season. We have much to look forward to. An ugly sweater Xmas Eve, Christmas with both families in Southampton, Spence family appetizer extravaganza Boxing Day, hockey tournament in Brantford, lazy mornings filled with fireplaces and coffee, the opening of the Gratitude Jar and the grand finale of the ABC New Years on Blucher.

Remember the Simple Life

 Miss somebody - Call them
Want to see someone - Invite them
Want to be understood? - Explain
Have questions - Ask
Want something - Seek it out
Don't like? - Be honest
Stressed - Let it go
Love someone - Say it

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All I Want for Christmas Is...

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes, the whole world around you. Because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.. Those who don't believe in magic, will never find it." Roald Dahl

I truly believe that our experience with cancer has created a more softer and beautiful Low family. We have a new appreciation for each other and have been reminded how fragile life is. We have learned to not take simple things for granted and to reach out to those we love and make the most of each moment.

I have great hope that 2015 will bring my continued remission, a renewal of energy, increased strength and a return to my beloved career in teaching. I look forward to the beginning of volunteering once a week at my school with my amazingly supportive administrator who has been a constant source of strength, resilience and support for me.  I have follow-up doctor/oncologist appointments in February, with the hope that positive bloodwork and test results will lead to a return to teaching half-time after March Break.

This is my wish.

My best case scenario. A gradual introduction back to the other part of my identity. I need to be prepared and realistic that this may not unfold as my Christmas wishes have planned out in my mind. But I have hope and believe that the best possible outcome will come my way. Cancer has changed me, changed me for the better. It has taught me that I am much stronger than I realized and that maintaining a positive outlook is such a key part of one's recovery. While I come to the end of this chapter of my journey, I send love, thoughts, prayers and hope to several colleagues who are facing the beginning of their own chapters. I have to believe that part of my own experience is to be a source of inspiration and support to them, to give back and pay forward the kindness and love our family received over the past year. This is not the end of our story. Only a new beginning, xoxo

Appreciating Our Glass

It's not about whether the glass is half empty or half full, it's about making the most of whatever is in our glass.

What our glass looks like doesn't matter, it's about being grateful that we have something in it. That we continue to have hope and faith. As I reflect and look back at 2014, I am reminded that although our family faced many struggles, we also created many great memories and shared many smiles with our loved ones. Even in the face of cancer, we found reasons to celebrate. As I chose pictures that portrayed some of our months in 2014 for our Christmas card that we sent out to family, I am reminded that despite the fear and hardship we faced, there were far more smiles than tears. The good definitely outshines the "not so good".

We celebrated birthdays, went bowling, watched hockey games and gymnastics competitions. We had family pictures taken and went to a beautiful wedding. We had several amazing weeks at the cottage in Wiarton, backyard foo fahs, visits to and from Calgary, two annual yurting trips, first days of school, Halloween parties, end of school year foo fahs, grade eight graduation, euchre nights, dinners on the deck, birdwatching in the backyard, Southampton beach, trips to the schoolhouse, Collingwood, wineries, awesome music and food at Ben Miller Spa, tryouts, Thanksgiving dinner dance parties, many mornings drinking coffee on the deck and ice cream desserts.

The end of cancer treatments and my remission has brought a re-newed energy to the end of 2014. The holiday season has brought a sense of normal back to our lives. We have enjoyed Christmas parties, the Book of Mormon, live bands at the Duke of Wellington and Too Much Clutch, hockey tournaments in Cleveland, a Detroit Red Wings game, Christmas shopping, Jordan's semi-formal, our annual Taco Tuesday at Ethel's and dinners out to Martinis and Del's.

We can't wait for 2015 and know that there are many more amazing opportunities coming our way. The first event is that we are hosting a drop-in "Kicking Cancer Celebration" on January 10 at our place, please email us at if you are interested in the details. We would like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Love Michelle, Jason, Cam and Jordan

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Do you believe in Angels?

"The guardian angels of life sometimes fly so high as to be beyond our sight, but they are always looking down upon us." ~ Jean Paul Richter 
The spirit of the holidays gives us an opportunity to believe in the magic of Christmas and the stories of Jesus that we as children grew up hearing in church and storybooks. 

I recently had a dear colleague ask to speak to me about something that happened to her that really wasn't about her, it was about me. 

I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. After being diagnosed with cancer, I experienced anger towards God in allowing this to happen to me. Why was I being made to struggle yet again? I struggled with believing in a higher power.
I will do my best to re-tell the story that my friend told me this week. It begins when C went to a Reiki session who also claims to have Psychic powers.
Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by "laying on hands" and is based on the idea that an unseen "life force energy" flows through us and is what causes us to be alive.
My friend C and her friend participated in their sessions and were told revelations and asked questions about a variety of topics (unrelated to my story). Towards the end, the Reiki master stopped  C as she was getting ready to leave and asked whether the name "Michelle" meant anything to her. They had been instructed to answer yes or no to any questions. C said "yes". She asked if Michelle was sick. C responded "yes".  She told C that she had a message for Michelle. The message was that 
"There are many people on the other side watching over her. There are also many people here who are supporting her and that everything is going to be ok."
This was unexpected for C, there would is really no explanation for how this Reiki master would know this information about my journey or C and I working together. What I am left with is that I truly have to believe that there are angels on the other side watching over me. In the past several months, we have been through the passing of my Great Aunt Lil - who was a true healer and Jason's grandfather. A very important individual in my life, Paul Chambers passed away at the beginning of my diagnosis. He was a skeptical believer of heaven and the afterlife. I have to wonder if this is a message to me that he found out that there is a heaven and is watching over us. 

 Most importantly, I remember my grandfather who died when I was just becoming a teacher, he has never been able to meet Jason and my children. How wonderful it is to believe that he is keeping watch over us. It's easy to be skeptical....but so much more comforting to believe that we do have angels watching over us in heaven.  Believing gives us all hope. I would have never been able to get through the past few months without hope, faith and resilience. Many wonderful things have come from believing in something more powerful than medicine and more powerful than science. There are just some things that can't be easily explained and I choose to stop searching for explanations but rather believe that this message was meant to be communicated to me. Thank you for sharing your story C, it has had a powerful impact on me.

Do you believe?