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 jlow202@rogers.com 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?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I am a Survivor!

"Worry doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."

The worrying is over. We are celebrating and rejoicing here at the Low house today. I had an appointment in Hamilton today to have a consultation with a radiation oncologist. I was relieved and happy to learn that my PET scan results from last week indicate that there is no active disease and the scan is negative for cancer cells! In Dr Sagar's opinion, the costs definitely outweigh the benefits in my treatment plan to proceed with a course of radiation, and he feels with close monitoring that I am on the road to recovery. With my stage 2 diagnosis, a lack of risk factors and how well I have responded to chemotherapy he also feels I have a very slim chance of relapse! We could not be more happy, relieved, over-joyed and blessed.

I kept looking at Jason and saying "it's over". This chapter of my cancer journey is truly over and for that I am grateful. I have an appointment on Friday with Dr. Stevens as there are still counts in my bloodwork that need close monitoring, and I will need to see him every 3-4 weeks for a few months. I am looking forward to focusing on my recovery now instead of worrying about all the negative possibilities.

Thank you for all the support from my beloved friends and family, particularly this past week.  I have really relied on you to lift me up, cheer me on and reassure me. Thank you for your patience. Stay tuned for Celebration details!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reflections Post Chemotherapy

This weekend I was skimming through my husband Jason's phone looking for a picture he took of my friend Kristen and I to email to her. I came across this picture and immediately choked back tears. I had no idea that Jason had taken this picture on my last treatment in September as I was sleeping. That one picture brings back so many memories and even though it is now 7 weeks ago since my last treatment, it also seems like yesterday. Jason came with me to almost every treatment and I can't imagine what it must have been like for him to see his wife so sick, so tired and at times in pain. I asked him why he took the picture and he said, I just looked so peaceful and really couldn't explain the why. We both blinked back tears looking at each other because words didn't need to be spoken that describe what we have been through together. 7 weeks later, I am so happy to share that I am feeling really great. I am beginning to see a change in my energy levels and stamina. The days of nausea, aches and severe fatigue are in a thing of the past. Much like the pains of labour that we have stories to tell about, the actual feelings fade away thankfully. While I am nowhere near back to "normal", I have many moments where I can forget what I have been through and find myself laughing and smiling and enjoying my family and life.

I live with constant anxiety that I am getting better at pushing to the back of my mind and not letting it overtake my everyday thoughts. Since I am still waiting for the results of the PET scan last week, my anxiety is running rather high these days. I jump when the phone rings, check for messages and feel that I am living a bit on edge - waiting. I have my appointment Wednesday in Hamilton with the radiation oncologist and perhaps I will have to wait until then to hear that I am still in remission and cancer-free as that is the outcome to expect and hope for.

In looking at this picture, I see how far I have come in 7 weeks. My hair is starting to grow back, I am feeling better every day and I know that I will be able to get through the next phase whether it includes radiation or not. As I said before, my track record of getting through hard times is pretty good, 100%.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fortunate to be a Canadian

As I watch the funeral service for Corporal Nathan Cirillo, I am reminded how fortunate we are to live in this great country of Canada. How quickly life can change, in the blink of an eye, a family and nation's feeling of safety and comfort is gone. It is a reminder of the fragility of life, and that we live life in a balance. There are events that are out of our control and we seek ways to respond.

I did not ask for this diagnosis of cancer. That was out of my control. I am blessed to have had excellent health care and access to an abundance of resources and treatment available in our country of Canada. Because of our health care system, Hodgkins Lymphoma is a cancer with a high cure rate and one that has many lines of treatment that have been proven to be highly successful. How blessed and fortunate am I.

I talk much of being grateful. It is a feeling that I feel very strongly about instilling in my own children and I share freely with our friends and family. I am grateful that my oncologist Dr Stevens is being thorough and taking no chances in my treatment. While I would have preferred to hear last week that my appointments will lessen and my treatment is complete, I know that in ensuring the best chance of a cure we need to seek consultation and opinions of specialists in the field of radiation.

I will be having a follow-up PET scan on November 4 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton, ironically this is the hospital where I was born. I will then meet with Dr Steven Sagar on November 12, a radiation oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton. My case will be reviewed by the Haematology team and recommendations will be made based on the PET scan and CT scan results to determine whether a course of radiation is a necessary. Having to endure radiation treatments are not something I look forward to, particularly after beginning to gain my strength and feel so much better in the past few weeks however, I know that I need to do everything I can to be cured of Hodgkins Lymphoma so I can continue to be a survivor.

In the meantime, I look forward to beginning physiotherapy treatments again and will continue to build my strength. I will soldier forward and meet whatever comes my way. Thank you for the ongoing support of my close friends who accompany me to tests, phone calls and emails saying hello and visits during the week to fill my sometimes long and lonely days as I recuperate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Icing on my Cake - Not just Remisson, Going for a Cure

The blog has been quiet during the past few weeks and that's a good thing. While I love sharing all of the wonderful happenings in our life and updates about my journey, normalcy is something I have craved and the lack of updates mean life is slowly returning back to a "new normal".  Each day I spend time regaining strength and I take enjoyment in simple tasks that have been absent the past six months. While I have considerable strides to make in terms of my energy, strength, fatigue and endurance, I see small improvements daily.

I have been learning to live as a survivor. Anxiety and worry are new feelings that I am learning strategies to manage and keep at a distance with assistance from counselling support and the nurse from Cancer Care Path. The worry of the cancer returning will be at a peak in the coming months and will lessen with each week and positive test result. But it still remains.

I recently had a CT scan of my neck, chest, pelvis and abdomen. I saw Dr Stevens yesterday for the results and an update on my bloodwork and recovery from chemotherapy. The CT scan results showed that there continue to be improvement in my cervical lymph nodes (neck) with "sub-centimetre shoddy nodes" which I have been assured means scar tissue left over from the enlargement. The lymph nodes in my armpit continue to be resolved. There is no indication of any lymph node involvement in my pelvis or abdomen and all organs appear to be normal. The mass that is in the mediastinum area of my chest has decreased. I was a bit disappointed to hear that it's size is still 7.5 cm x 2.9 cm - 3 months prior it was 7.5 cm x 4.4 cm. Dr Stevens said in the medical world particularly when we are talking about tumours in the chest area, a decrease of 2 cm is significant. He was pleased with the results and said we are moving in the right direction and in his words "it's all good".

Dr Stevens, (being the thorough doctor that he is) explained that he would like to refer me to see a Radiation Oncologist who specializes in blood cancers and has a vast experience with lymphoma and treating it via radiation. Dr Steven Sagar works out of the Juravinski Cancer Centre and is going to give Dr Stevens his opinion on the costs/benefits of radiation therapy as an additional treatment to ensure me the best chance of an eventual cure. Dr Sagar would like me to have a follow-up PET scan in the next couple of weeks before my appointment so that he has confirmation that I continue to be in remission or whether there are lurking cancer cells (which is unlikely) that have surfaced since the end of my chemotherapy; we need to know that definitely before we can proceed. Dr Stevens said he doesn't feel that there will be active cancer cells based on the CT scan and my lack of symptoms however we need to be exactly sure. Of course, this will continue to cause me anxiety and worry leading up to the PET scan. If there is any indication of active cancer cells, radiation will be a certainty and we will "zap" those cells!!

My bloodwork results were fantastic! My white blood cell count, specifically my neutrophils have already returned to normal range! This is quite remarkable considering they were 0.1 - they are at the low end of the normal range but they have revived. A great sign. My immune system is still compromised and I need to continue hand washing, sanitizing and staying away from illness where I can. My other blood counts were all within normal range except for three liver counts that continue to be elevated. This is very normal after the type of chemotherapy I have endured and Dr Stevens expects that they will come down in the coming weeks/months. I have a follow up appointment with him on November 14, 2014 to check in on the bloodwork and hopefully by then the PET scan will have been completed.

I am realizing that being a cancer survivor is almost more difficult than being a cancer patient. I have been struggling with the emotional/mental aspect of my recovery and while I know this is very normal for cancer survivors, I have been surprised at how much the worrying thoughts occupy my mind. Having the PET scan will bring peace of mind but the worrying of the "what ifs" leading up to the scan will be difficult. The good part is that I recognize my worries and have many avenues to voice them and talk my way through the scenarios.

I know that whatever comes my way in the next few weeks and down the road,  I will be able to face and overcome it. As the quote says, my track record for getting through difficult times is 100% so far. I can make it through anything. In the meantime, I am so enjoying life, my family and getting back into a routine where I can be apart of my kids lives, driving them to their sports, going to Cam's hockey tournament in Cleveland, watching gymnastics training, I am on my way back to being the "hands on mom" I have always loved being. This weekend we will celebrate my birthday and I will take joy in all the amazing blessings we have and am grateful to feel as strong as I do. I will continue to kick cancer's ass and work to regain my strength and endurance. I take comfort in knowing that I am in good hands and have doctors who are being thorough and paying attention to the icing on my cake - not just remission, a cure.