Saturday, November 14, 2015

Appreciating Life

This past month has been a mix of relief that our lives have returned back to a sense of normalcy. Homework, our careers, kids jobs, sports, learning to drive, boyfriends and girlfriends, friendships and new colleagues. I am feeling absolutely wonderful and strong. My new role has come at the perfect time and I am feeling such a sense of accomplishment and being right where I should be. Cancer has fast become a distant memory, only to be brought forward when faced with loss and the fragility of life. Life returning back to normal also means putting my own family's past struggles aside to support and recognize that for unknown, unfair reasons, life can end far soon. This realization causes me to pause and really acknowledge that I have been given a gift, the gift of life. Why God did choose me to face a battle and come out victorious while others are chosen to be called to Heaven? In a two week span, our Lackner hearts were broken by the loss of two young men, really they are boys. Two special boys who both crossed my path and touched my heart. One facing a cancer diagnosis with such bravery and courage that he became a teacher to his classmates, teachers and family as they watched him fulfill his dreams, facing a battle that sadly he wasn't meant to win. His short life taught us so much. The other dear boy was a student who touched me in ways that few have. I wrote a tribute to him that I posted to the funeral website that really sums up my feelings.
"To say the words heartbroken is an understatement. There are no words I can say to you to provide comfort or make sense of this tragic loss. You are well aware of the impact that your son left on my heart during the three years I supported his learning at Lackner Woods. Without a doubt, he knew he had found his way into my heart, and played that to his advantage many times. Even when I wanted to be firm with him, I could hardly keep a straight face when he would say “Sorry Mrs Low” in his little voice, ready to take off out the door to play with his many friends. You could say I had a soft spot for him. Your son persevered, never gave up, accepted help and as a result made astounding gains as a young boy. This carried him far and he was destined for continued greatness in his field where he had found passion. I take comfort that when we ran into each other recently, I got that hug from him and he could see several years later that the look in my eye was still there. He knew “this teacher is still cheering me on”. May you gather strength to endure from all the people who have been touched in some way by Cameron and allow them to shoulder some of your grief and lift you up with the many stories and memories that they will want to share with you."
To see their parents mourning the loss of their boys broke my heart. Another parent burying their son, the third time we have supported our friends in one month. How precious life is. How often we take it for granted. A gift given to me that I will never find myself taking anything for granted again, because how quickly can things change. To E.G and C.B rest in peace. Thank you for what you both brought to my career as teacher. Another month past, another month closer to what will be considered a cure. So incredibly blessed.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

It Takes a Village....

I was ready to write a post on my first month back at work but then life happened and my focus shifted. We received the sad news of our neighbour Andrew's death this past weekend. We lived for just over 10 years on Misty Street with 4 sets of neighbours whom we share so many memories with. Backyard parties, garage hanging out, standing outside watching the kids play, walks around the block, baseball on the path, birthdays, lobster dinners, New Year's, theme dinners and kids running back and forth on the sidewalk. Andrew was a brother to Spencer and the two of them were inseparable. It was Andrew and Spencer, a package deal to Cam and Matthew, they were road hockey buddies, babysitters and the older boys going off to highschool, with their first cars, loud music and new friends. To Andrew and Spencer, we were the crazy neighbours who had their Mom calling in sick to work on Monday mornings and the reason for never having ice in the freezer from the margarita afternoons. I said today, it takes a village to raise a child. Our kids realize now how special those memories are. Watching Cody and Spencer and their friends mourning the loss of their protector and partner in crime was heartbreaking to us. It is hard to fathom losing a child, a husband, a daddy to his princess. It was a beautiful service today, just the right amount of humour, sadness, memories and exactly what Andrew would have wanted. It made us smile and made us cry. Even though many years have gone by, no one can replace those ten years. The first ten years of my kids lives. I'm not sure we will have an experience of having neighbours like that again. My most recent memory of Andrew is two years ago when I ran into him at Concordia Club. He was so excited to see me. He ran and got shooters for us to toast each other. I kept saying "you're all grown up, you're a man! How did that happen?" In the blink of an eye. We shared a few drinks and many memories. The pride he was telling his friends about his neighbours and how crazy we were when we lived on Misty Street, didn't mean much back then but now I look at that moment and feel great happiness knowing that he saw us in that light. That we were important people in his life and for that I am grateful. We raise a glass to Andrew tonight. Catch you on the flip side....

Jason showing Andrew the tricks to garage parties.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Return

I have been thinking and reflecting on the day I return to work for many months. To me it symbolizes so much for me. I have said to my friends, returning to work means "everything is back to normal". Unfortunately for me, normal means something very different because being a cancer survivor has greatly changed me. I am embarking on a new position, a challenging, rewarding, difficult, exciting role. Tuesday morning when I turn out of the driveway, I will have a smile on my face because getting back to work really does mean that I am strong, healthy and ready for full-time work. There were many times over the past nineteen months where I truly questioned whether it would ever happen. My new normal will reflect a different Mrs Low. I am much more aware of the importance of taking care of myself. It is so easy for me to fall into the routine of putting myself last, working long hours, coming home after my family has had dinner. I made a promise to myself that I would be kinder to me. Continue to make time for yoga and my family. Worry less about the small stuff. Eat healthy, not skip lunch. Stay off work if I am sick instead of pushing through and making myself go in when I really should be in bed. Remember that colleagues, children and parents often have hidden challenges in their personal lives that we should not make assumptions or speculations about. Life is hard. And my role is to help make it a bit easier for students, teachers, parents and professionals. But I will not solve all problems. I won't be able to fix everything. I will try my best.

Returning to work now in September rather than earlier in April was one of the best decisions I have made. Having this extra time means I am really ready. Without a doubt, completely ready. After this past week, I realized that I would not have been able to have the stamina in the Spring to be able to be on the go, make quick decisions, read, communicate, organize, multi-task - wouldn't have happened. To those who are currently in treatment or in recovery who are reading this, please take the time your body needs. Do not rush back to your "new normal life", it will always be there. I really did think that I was going to be ready to return to work six months after I completed treatment, I was nowhere close. That was a surprise, I know everyone is different but emotionally I wasn't ready and physically I would have been able to manage it for a short time but not for the long haul. With these extra months, I was able to continue to grow stronger not just physically but mentally. That is where I seemed to struggle the most. I have read and been told that it is very normal to experience anxiety and survivor worries, I didn't expect it to be on the level that it was. I have made great gains overcoming the worry of the cancer returning, I have learned what my triggers are and continue to get better at pushing the worry aside and focusing on how great I feel.

The last weekend before Labour Day, our family was able to get away to Darien Lake for a mini-vacation. When I was in the middle of treatment, I asked the kids, "what's your bucket list item that you would like to do when Mom is all better?" Jordan wanted to go to a Luke Bryan concert, Check! Cam wanted to go to Darien Lake. So off to Darien Lake we went. Jason and I quickly realized that our 40 something year old bodies cannot tolerate rollercoasters like we used to. We had an amazing time and some hilarious laughs with the kids. Not many people can say that they have lied on a hotel bed with their two teenagers, the four of us laughing so hard that we are wiping away tears. We have amazing kids. Truly amazing.  I also had a wonderful night with my forever friends, the 4 women who know me when I made terrible decisions, some of our best nights, marriages and children. I love them. Thank you for taking the time so that we could all be together. It means more to me than you know. I also hosted a party to celebrate my dear friend Penny, who will soon be marrying the love of her life. Our Lackner friends all came together to buy some amazing pieces of jewellery from Silpada with the hostess rewards all going to Penny. More importantly, we realized that although some of us are no longer colleagues, we are definitely friends. Lackner Woods is truly a very special place to work and learn. It is not easy to describe what it is like to have been apart of that community. I can only say that I think moving to an Itinerant position will save me from comparing life at Lackner to another school environment, because truly there is no comparison.

and so.... here we go. School starts. Both kids are working. Cam will play volleyball in highschool (hopefully), Jordan is training for track and field, math and science homework for hours will begin. And the kids will have the pressures of success on their shoulders again. Dad will have to adjust to Mom not having quite the same amount of time to make this household run smoothly like clockwork. Mom will also have the pressure of success on her shoulders. I know the learning curve is steep, but I am up for the CLIMB.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


In my yoga practice, I have learned to appreciate and embrace the beginning and the ending pose of "Shavasana" - it is the allowing of your body to regroup and reset itself. Lying in stillness is one of the most challenging poses. I read in a yoga magazine that it is recommended to practice life shavasanas, an opportunity for you to retreat and look within yourself to restore light, energy, perspective.

Every day take off 1 hour for yourself.
 No cell phones, emails or messages. Just you with yourself.

Every week, take 1 day to spend in nature, off grid

Every month take off 1 weekend to go someplace new and spend

Every quarter to half a year, take a long weekend 
or 1 whole week to travel and clear your mind completely from the daily clutter.

Every year, take 1 month to deepen understandings 
and practice or experience a different culture.

Every decade, take 1 year off, a sabbatical, 
to rethink your direction in life, your priorities,
goals and purpose.

This past year has been a forced "shavasana" for me, a necessary time for my body to reset and restore. Chemotherapy has cleansed my systems, I have brand new hair growth - it's like starting over from scratch. It has resulted in my having this chance to live a quieter pace of life, to spend a great deal of time within myself, alone in my home. I remember when our children were very young and Jason was working shift work. I would have paid to have a day alone in my house, to do nothing or to be able to enjoy time doing what I want to do. I have been given this gift during the past year. Yes - just like yoga, I have faced challenging poses, I have been poked, prodded, twisted, turned, with some pain - but I have had the opportunity to return to Shavasana on many days and stillness has healed me.

Shavasana is very much like returning home to me. I often can't wait for this posture at the end of yoga practice. I use this analogy to describe this past month. July was a wonderful, busy month in our household. Jordan and I travelled to our dear friends the Somers-Crisp family in Calgary for a few weeks. Jordan is like sisters with M and R. Jenn and I went on an amazing road trip to Jasper and Field BC. It felt so great to be able to hike Johnston Canyon, bike in the mountains, lounge at the Jasper Park Lodge, attend the Stampede, dance at Nashville North and Stoli Lounge, laugh in the field of dreams at the Palisades Centre - so many amazing memories.

But, despite my heart-warming "check one off the - I'm done with cancer bucket list", flying into Breslau airport and walking down the stairs off the plane and seeing the faces of people waiting for their loved ones to return HOME brought tears to my eyes. There waiting for me was Jason. HOME to me. My shavasana, There is no better feeling than returning to one's mat at the end of practice and there is no feeling like returning HOME from being away to the arms of your loved ones.

My year long Shavasana is fast approaching an end, a new beginning. A new role in my career to look forward to. I am anxious to get started. I continue to enjoy good health and do not have any lasting side effects from treatment. Aside from some mild neuropathy in my fingers and toes. Last month,  I had a productive appointment with my family doctor. Being proactive, I requested bloodwork to check all the levels that the Oncologist doesn't include. I am happy to report that my thyroid levels are all normal, cholestrol, glucose, everything completely normal. A great feeling. I have my next three month checkup with Dr Stevens next week and fully believe that I will continue to have normal blood readings i.e. white blood cell, ERS etc. and no cancer markers. I know that I am not considered CURED for 5 long years but 13 months in remission is a wonderful feeling and I will take it!!

I am grateful for a mini-shavasana with Jason to the cottage where we enjoyed blazing sunshine, much reading, dinners and dock sitting. Thank you to Jason for the purchase of a hot tub for our family to enjoy some quiet times together, free of social media and distractions. I congratulate Cam on his successful four weeks as an LIT at Camp Kintail. Warms my heart to see him enjoy and love camp life so much, making such great friendships and life-changing experiences. A quiet month of August awaits us before the craziness of school and work schedules greet us.

Stay tuned for a hilarious update on the highs and lows of my hair re-growth. What an experience!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


LUCK "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual, group or cause" Another author has described LUCK  as "events that influence one's life and are seemingly beyond one's control".

I have caught myself saying many times, "I feel so lucky." Lucky that I have been in remission for one year. Lucky that I was able to get through twelve chemotherapy treatments without major complications. Lucky that our kids are such amazing teenagers. Lucky to have such wonderful friends and family in our lives to support us, celebrate our happiness and care for us in times of need. Lucky to be able to have the time away from the pressures of work, to have solid benefits and long-term disability,  to travel with highschool friends, go away to an island with Jason, spend time with my mother, visit my best friend in Calgary. I question whether it is really truly about luck or whether it is more making decisions, a mind-set we have. A decision to choose happiness, to choose to make things happen. To live in the moment. Another quote about luck is "where preparation meets opportunity." How do we use the times of struggles in our lives to turn them around to be hidden blessings? Opportunities for us?

I was able to have a small celebration last night with a group of friends who have surrounded me with laughter, love and support in many ways. Some a constant fixture in our lives, others we met as aquaintances and now they have become friends. As I looked around the table, I am amazed at the connections and six degrees of separation between the friends in our life. Seemingly random friendships at first, yet soon we realize the commonalities between groups of people.  A shared history of memories.  I feel lucky. I feel fortunate and blessed to celebrate one year in remission. To celebrate the power of friendship. We can create our own luck. We can choose happiness.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Huether to raise a glass to pause for a moment and make a realization that we are incredibly fortunate, and pretty darn LUCKY.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

525 600 minutes

RENT - Seasons of Love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, oh dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned or the way that she died
It's time now, to sing out
Though the story never ends

Let's celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends

What an amazing feeling to be able to look back and realize that I am soon able to measure my remission from Hodgkins Lymphoma in years. As I approach July 2015, it will be one year that I arrived back in Wiarton with K and K - bottle of champagne in hand to celebrate a PET scan that showed I was in remission 3 months into chemotherapy.  This past week there were many reasons to celebrate. I received a letter from Long Term Disability confirming that my official return to work date is September 1, 2015. I enjoyed a very full week orientating myself to my new position for next year, participating in several meetings, signing for my laptop/cell phone. A tour of my new office. A very emotional send-off party with my staff at Lackner. I felt like a young girl in university who was leaving home for the first time. While I would be in new surroundings, I still do feel like I will be able to call Lackner Woods home and return for support and solitude in my new position. Our extended yurting family enjoyed our traditional celebration of the End of Year Foo Fah Party.  A celebration of our children's successes. And the ever favourite tradition of burning their notes from the previous year. A symbol of the amount of work and pressure our kids today in the classroom. How amazing is it to learn how many of our children were recognized for Citizenship awards, Art awards, Honours distinction,  Valedictorian, Athletic and Music awards. A testament to the wonderful adults our kids are supported by. We are so very blessed for our extended chosen family. As I reflect on the past year and the challenges our family has so humbly and successfully met, I am in wonder of what we are able to rise above. We have much to look forward to this summer. A quick trip to Grand Bend, Tragically Hip concert, Huether patio remission celebration, a month of leadership camp for Cam, a long-awaited trip to Calgary for Jordan and I, the Stampede, girls horse camp, road trip to Jasper, massage/spa day, cottage weekends, Darien Lake, Southampton family weekend. Before we know it, 8 weeks will have passed and we will be ready to embark on new adventures of Itinerant DST role and Grade 10-11. How quickly the days, months and years pass. Those 525 600 minutes fly by, thankfully bringing me minutes, days and weeks closer to what the medical profession considers a cure.

I had a good appointment with my family doctor this week. Thyroid testing comes next. As well, I do continue to have complications of mild Lymphedema from the lymph node surgery I had on my right arm. I have swelling and tightness in my hand/wrist from lymph node fluid not properly draining. A very common side effect from that surgery. Unfortunately, according to my doctor there isn't much that can be done outside of elevation, Ibuprofen, exercise. I will see what Dr Stevens recommends in August when I have my next appointment. Word of caution for those with a similar diagnosis to myself reading this, I have found that having bloodwork done or blood pressure taken from that arm to be a trigger for increased swelling, I have been told to avoid this to assist with minimizing the swelling. Something I wasn't immediately told.  

Aside from that mild annoyance. I feel absolutely great. We enjoy much joy and gratefulness in our life. Thank you to everyone from my Lackner staff to my new Developmental Ed team. I appreciate the varied caring, friendship, wisdom, guidance and support you bring to our lives.

Monday, June 8, 2015

3 More Months

Here's my advice, "Have a little faith and if that doesn't work, have alot of mimosas."

I had my follow up appointment with Dr Stevens last week, I continue to see him every 3 months for bloodwork and a check in. I find these appointments both comforting and a tiny bit anxiety provoking. The days leading up to the appointment, I find myself beginning to imagine all the negative things that could happen, not wanting to let myself believe that I will continue to have good health and increasing energy. Life really is so much back to normal that entering those wooden doors at the Cancer Centre bring so many emotions back for me of those long months of treatment that a nauseous feeling truly overcomes me just walking towards the doors.

I am thrilled to share that all of my bloodwork tests are now within the normal range. It has taken 8 months since my last chemotherapy treatment for every test to return to normal. We have been watching the ALT and AST liver counts that were a bit elevated but those are now well within normal levels. My white blood cell count is healthy and perfect!!! All aspects of my bloodwork and the absence of any physical symptoms point to nothing but continued remission - in fact I would say a great improvement in overall energy and emotional and physical well-being! I feel a turning point from my last visit in February. I have another appointment in August before I return to school.

Dr. Stevens has written a letter indicating that a full time return to work will happen in September 2015, I am so beyond excited to get back to my career!!! The last piece of the puzzle will fall into place. How appropriate that yesterday June 7, 2015 was National Cancer Survivor's Day. I am certainly a SURVIVOR. What an amazing feeling celebrating with a group of cherished girlfriends at our cottage in Wiarton this past weekend. Life is good. Cancer can be overcome. Thank you to all of our friends and acquaintances who continue to devote their own time to supporting research and fundraising for many causes, including the Canadian Cancer Society. Our family looks forward to taking part in a Light the Night Walk in October 2015 to support the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society of Ontario. Stay tuned on how you can help Light the Night.