Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Banana Pancakes

June 4 is National Cancer Survivor Day. I ask myself, what does it mean to me now - almost 3 years post-cancer treatment and continued remission to be a SURVIVOR? To finish treatment, to hear those two words "cancer free", no evidence of disesase. To be a cancer survivor has different meaning to me on different days. It changes all the time.

 On the day when I am singing at the top of my lungs at a Jack Johnson concert with the love of my life and our best friends, the sunset, open air concert on June 4, National Cancer Survivor day, being a survivor means, I am brought back to my when my kids were babies. Jack Johnson, Curious George CD, playing on a weekend morning, on an afternoon where I worked part-time and we slept for three hours everyday. I dream back of sleepovers at the Lago house, champagne breakfasts with Jack Johnson, staying another night and never wanting to come home and go back to work.  Banana pancakes. Wanting to sleep in and pretend that we didn't have any worries or anywhere to go or be. That song will always stay with me. That care-free feeling we had before cancer changed our lives.

On the day when the oncologist at the Juravinski Centre in Hamilton informed me that I was in remission and the PET scan showed no evidence of disease, being a survivor meant tremendous relief. The month of November that year was the most stressful few weeks that I have ever experienced in my life, waiting for those results.

On the day where I returned to work for the first time in 18 months, being a survivor meant feeling an enormous sense of accomplishment that I was returning to a career that I love and a new role as an Itinerant Developmental Support Teacher, being a survivor felt like a new beginning.

On the day where my daughter tells me she has a lump on her neck, which turned out to be mononucleosis, being a survivor meant having a wave of fear go through me that flashed me back to when I first felt the hard, round olive size lump on my neck. The lump that rolled around, was painful to touch and felt like a marble. Being a survivor that day, was the worry of something happening to one of my children.

On the day where I interviewed and was offered the position for my current role as Special Education Consultant, being a survivor meant realizing a dream and goal that I had been working for. It was a job that I had watched be posted while I was off on sick leave and was unable to apply for. A position that I often wondered when I was in the darkest days of treatment, will I ever return to work? What if I will never get that opportunity?

On the day when I come home from work after a long 12 hour day, emails to answer, my body tired, work stress overcoming me, being a survivor means, a realization that I need to find a better balance, a reminder that there is more to life than our work and careers. A reminder to put away the computer and phone and take care of myself and my family.

On the day where I am sitting on the dock at the cottage, watching our friends and kids jump off the dock at sunset, celebrating MOTY weekend with my best friends, a clink of a glass, a kayak ride, a feeling that "life is pretty damn good", being a survivor means a gratefulness that I am able to enjoy the sweet things in life once again.

"Banana Pancakes"

Can't you see that it's just raining?
Ain't no need to go outside...

But, baby, you hardly even notice
When I try to show you this
Song is meant to keep you
From doing what you're supposed to.
Waking up too early
Maybe we can sleep in
Make you banana pancakes
Pretend like it's the weekend now

And we could pretend it all the time
Can't you see that it's just raining?
There ain't no need to go outside

But just maybe, like a ukulele
Momma made a baby
Really don't mind the practice
'cause you're my little lady
Lady, lady, love me
'cause I love to lay here lazy
We could close the curtains
Pretend like there's no world outside

And we could pretend it all the time
Can't you see that it's just raining?
There ain't no need to go outside

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Fight Song

This is my fight song Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

Yesterday I went to the Cancer Centre for my six month check-up with a nurse practitioner Marg. I have graduated from the care of Dr Stevens my primary oncologist. I continue to anticipate these appointments with mostly comfort in knowing that I will hear that I continue to be in remission mixed with a a tiny amount of guarded worry that I don't want to be caught off guard by bloodwork results that are unexpected. I am happy to report that I continue to be in remission and am nearing that two year mark where the chance of relapse begins to diminish. I came home happy and cheerful, looking forward to a celebratory steak dinner with my family. I also arrived home to an emotional video of a fellow cancer survivor singing "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten. I really can't listen to that song without tearing up. Whenever it plays I envision myself needing to play that song over and over again should I be faced with a re-occurrence of Hodgkins Lymphoma. I continue to fight the battle of anxiety and worry, and move forward everyday. I have almost completed my first full year of work in three years. I can't wait for the summer to rejuvenate, relax and enjoy my friends and family. I am grateful for the opportunities that are before us and am confident that in three years time I will be celebrating a cure!

Monday, February 15, 2016

New Wishes

I remember a time where we measured milestones in terms of our kids walking, moving out cribs, first bike, first day of school, staying alone for the first time, losing a tooth, first goal, grade eight graduation, first boyfriend, first girlfriend, driver's license. Now the word milestone takes on such a new meaning to me. Every milestone I am grateful that I get to be here. Living and celebrating. I celebrate milestones in terms of months now. 6 months of chemotherapy, one year of recovery, 6 months of remission, the first two years with fear of relapse, and five years to a cure. Last January, we hosted an evening to celebrate 6 months in remission.
Fast forward one year and I am looking at 18 months since I was found to be in remission.
Another marker to a cure. It's amazing to me how quickly life has returned back to normal. I am loving work and we had a busy Christmas season, hosting our family here on Boxing Day. I invited some close friends to join me for an evening at SocialArt KW to paint a picture titled "New Wishes". I felt that the name was appropriate to symbolize my hopes for the next year to come. The ladies who joined me have all played a huge role in my life and recovery. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to celebrate with me. Your friendship
means the world to me. Two years ago this weekend, I was facing the scariest test I would face. The waiting between appointments knowing that I had growing lumps in my neck of an unknown origin, was one of the most difficult things I have ever faced. Jason, knowing that I needed to fill the empty space of the weekend, so that I wouldn't be researching the internet to find every worse case scenario suggested that we go for a drive to find the elusive snowy owl. After a short drive outside the city, we were rewarded with two snowy owls in a snow-covered field. This past weekend on Family Day, Jason and I again ventured out and again were treated to a sighting of a snowy owl perched high on a post. My friends have said that they feel that us finding the snowy owls two years ago was a sign that everything was going to be ok. I fully believe that again, our snowy owl is assuring us that I will continue to enjoy remission and will look forward to the next milestone. Two years in remission in July. A symbol and a great milestone to reach. Love you all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The bells are ringing!

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?"
 The tree is sparkling, the gifts are wrapped, lists are made, we enjoy lazy mornings of sleeping in and running last minute errands. It is the end of 2015, my year of recovery. My year of returning to work, my year of putting my journey with cancer farther and farther behind me. I have enjoyed incredibly good health this fall, a minor cold which I was able to withstand better than my family members. 15 months from my last chemotherapy treatment, my energy levels are good, my spirits are high - there have been some difficult times for people in our lives who have lost loved ones and I struggle at times to keep my anxiety levels manageable. The smallest of worries can still affect me quite strongly as I fear "something bad" happening. I know that this is normal for those who have gone through a cancer diagnosis and thankfully it passes fairly quickly. We have such a full busy life that I am able to jump back into my hectic new role as Developmental Support Teacher, juggling a large caseload, driving the kids to work, friends, gymnastics training, hockey games. Our world is back to the way we knew it and the worries take a back seat to our front view of LIFE!

Today I return to the Grand River Cancer Centre, it is my regular 4 month check-up time. In retrospect, scheduling it on December 23, was to avoid missing work but in my heart, I know it will be the best early Christmas present for me, I fully believe that I will be in continued remission. But there is a tiny tiny part of me that wonders, now that my guard is down, will they find something in my bloodwork that is cause for concern? Will it change our Christmas? I also know that returning to the Cancer Centre is a reminder of all the patients who are facing Christmas while in treatment, I see the faces lined up to register at the front desk, every chair taken waiting for bloodwork, the uncertainty about where they are headed. For those people, I pray for healing and respite from treatment for them. I wonder if they could see the smile on my face and know that I am at the end of this long path. They certainly knew when that gong rang out in the foyer. I was pleased to hear those bells three times while I waited to see Dr. Stevens.

I am so excited to share that my blood counts continue to be perfect! My ESR rate is 4, which means the level of inflammation in my body is low. A soft predictor for a return of lymphoma. What does this mean for me? This was my last visit with Dr. Stevens, I will now see an oncology nurse practitioner every 6 months. What a huge milestone for me! It really has to be the best Christmas present ever!

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.