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 jlow202@rogers.com. 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 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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Our Yurting Weekend of Gratitude

February 2005 a group of families came together to embark on a new adventure, winter camping in a yurt. Organized by my dear friend Jenn Somers, with our children ages 1-5 we had our first yurting weekend in a snowstorm, with no power. Of course, we stuck it out in the freezing cold conditions, shoveling our way out and making the best of our conditions. The Pinery offered us a free night of yurting between September and November to compensate us for the lack of power, this is how the fall yurting tradition started. Fast forward 10 years, there are two of the original families still apart of the group along with new friends who have joined our yurting family over the years. Once you have been apart of this special weekend, it becomes part of your family's traditions. Now there are 6 steady families who make September and February weekends a non-negotiable part of our year. I am so grateful for the support of these amazing people.

We all knew that this fall yurting weekend would be an extra special one. My last chemotherapy treatment took place on Monday, when we booked our yurting weekend, the timing was going to be a little bit better for me but some delays etc took place over the course of the six months of treatment. Hence, I knew that I was not going to be feeling my best but we as a family decided that I might as well be surrounded by friends and sunshine even if I am not well. I am so thankful that over the course of the weekend, I had the energy to sit on the deck with my best friends, laugh, celebrate and watch our kids having the time of their lives. With Jason's help I made it to the beach for a short time on Saturday and was able to enjoy Lake Huron and bask in the sunshine. Everyone was so amazing with their support, taking care of our kids, feeding us and realizing that I was going to need frequent naps and early bed times.  The weekend could not have gone better.


What made the weekend most special was something my daughter Jordan organized. This 14 year old girl, is wise beyond her years, empathetic, thoughtful, caring and above all has learned how important it is to be grateful for all we have. Jordan created a "yurting grateful jar" decorated with pictures of our group from all our yurting years, ribbons to symbolize the cancer cells leaving my body and pictures for everyone from our yurting group to write down how they are grateful for me, thankful for what we are blessed with and appreciation for my journey. It brought tears to all of our eyes that this 14 year old girl would put this together on her own, she has shown unbelieveable maturity in supporting me in my cancer fight and I couldn't be prouder.

My wonderful friends Kristen, Trish and Karen arranged for the kids to make me a banner posted on the side of our yurt congratulating me on finishing treatment and beating cancer. The best part was a t-shirt proclaiming "I kicked Lymphoma's a**!" Everyone signed the back of the shirt and I wore it proudly all weekend. I am so priviledged to call these women my closest friends. As I have said before, these friends have shown our kids that friends really are part of our family. All of them love our kids like their own and have shown our family such unconditional love and support through this journey. Thank you.

Our 10th annual yurting weekend approaches in February 2015, I look forward to enjoying the winter experience stronger, full of energy and on a healthy path to wellness.





Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Will I Return to Work?

This picture symbolizes the heartbreak that I feel when I think of Cameron and Jordan and their perspective of what having a Mom go through cancer treatment must be like for them. Each and every day when they come home from school they are greeted by our closed bedroom door. This closed door means many things to them. Mom is sleeping again, Mom is too tired to get up and make us dinner. Mom is having a nap. Mom is having a hard time. I lie in bed behind that closed door and have cried many tears as I hear life going on in our household in my absence. Dinners appear from loving friends or get made by Jason, homework gets done, hockey practices have happened and sleepovers have continued.

Almost as soon as I was nearing my last treatment the questions began. Innocent questions from well-meaning friends, acquaintances, colleagues, relatives. "So now that your treatments are over when are you going back to work?" My career as all of you know has been my passion, my identity and so much apart of me. I would love nothing more than to be able to finish my treatments on September 22 and return to work full of energy and cognitive capacity the very next day on September 23,  ready to go non-stop from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, working through my nutrition breaks, driving my kids to practices, getting home, making dinner and then leaving to go pick the kids up, sitting down to craft letters, IEPs, lesson plans, professional development day presentations, assembly videos. Unfortunately, this is not how recovering from cancer treatment works.

When Jason and I sat down with Dr Stevens on April 17, 2014 to discuss my treatment plans and he learned I was a Special Education Teacher working full time in a school setting, immediately he looked me in the eye and said, "Michelle, you need to treat this exactly like a maternity leave, but without the baby in the end. In the end you will have your life and health." What a shock to hear, a year off work? That can't be true. He explained that typically on average, it takes about one month of recovery time for every month of chemotherapy that your body endures. One month per treatment cycle for your body to process the toxins that continue to circulate throughout my body. Add to that, the fact that Hodgkins Lymphoma is cancer of your immune system and that currently my white blood cell count or my neutrophils which are what fight infections are 0.1. My immune system has been essentially wiped out and I am now starting over. Now this being an average and everyone knowing that I strive to push myself to be better than average, I feel that this timeline has some room. Room for my own feelings, re-building and that statement I have heard time and time again in the cancer world "Everyone responds differently to chemotherapy."

So I have a guideline. A guideline from my doctor and a belief inside of me that my body will guide me in making the decision when I am ready to return to work. Right now, I can't get through one day without sleeping for several hours in the afternoon. Driving Jordan to gymnastics is a task that I don't feel some days I can do safely due to my reduced cognitive functioning (Google the term chemo brain) Walking up the stairs or a simple walk around the block leaves me out of breath. I am at constant great risk of contracting an infection. I don't even know for sure that I won't be also facing radiation therapy in the coming months. Returning to work is actually far from my mind. Learning to live as a cancer survivor and getting through each day feeling stronger and stronger is my main focus right now.

And a true sign of when my body will be ready for the rigors of a full time job and full time mother will be the open door when my kids come home and Mom greeting Cam and Jordan enthusiastically at the door with energy and brightness that right now just isn't there. I realize that returning to work is a symbol that I am healed and well enough to return to the real world. It will come and I can't wait!

What Comes Next?

My last chemotherapy treatment!
Here I am one week past my LAST chemotherapy treatment. It is still hard to believe that I have finished 6 cycles, or 12 treatments of chemotherapy. I remember Easter weekend so vividly going for dinner at Kristen's right after my first treatment. The number 12 seemed so overwhelming and unattainable and here I am. Many of you have asked what happens next for me?

I had my PICC line removed from my arm the same day as my last treatment. It was a very quick procedure, painless and over quickly. It is so great not having to worry about having my line travel with me with every pull and stretch. The other reason it was so important to have the Picc line removed right away is that I have been diagnosed with "deep vein thrombosis" as I have a blood clot formed in my vein around the picc line. I have been taking daily Heparin injections in my stomach to prevent the clot from moving, more from forming and to manage it while the Picc line remains in my arm.

Yesterday, I had an ultrasound of my arm to check on the blood clot and determine next steps. The technician informed me that she was not able to locate a blood clot in my arm!! I am not sure whether she was supposed to tell me this, but she said it was good news. So I am waiting to hear from my oncologist to find out if this means that I can start weaning off the heparin injections. As I hate them!! I cannot wait to stop them!

During the next few weeks I will continue to recover from my last chemotherapy treatment. As I have mentioned previously, the treatments have been harder and harder to recover from. Knowing that next Monday I won't be having to go to the hospital for another treatment will really symbolize a new beginning of recovery for me. I return to the hospital on October 16th for a CT scan of my chest, neck, pelvis and abdomen to compare the CT scans taken before I started chemotherapy and the ones I had at 3 months. While I am nervous of the findings, I have to feel confident that they will show progress and improvement in the mass in my chest. I will also have a full bloodwork done as a major goal is for my blood levels to begin to return to normal. Particularly my white blood cell neutrophils which continue to hover around 0.1. My liver counts were also slightly elevated as well. I see Dr Stevens on October 22, and we will discuss what comes next. It has not been 100% confirmed that I won't need radiation therapy. While I try not to think about this possibility, I have to trust his judgement in making this final decision.

The beginning of my true recovery begins. My strength and energy levels are so weak right now. I continue to deal with mouth soreness, peeling gums, mild neuropathy in my toes (numbness and cold) and the feeling of achiness and fatigue. I long for increased strength and more days where I can begin to focus on my physical and mental recovery from chemotherapy and a cancer diagnosis. Learning how to live as a survivor is also going to be a huge journey ahead for me.

More amazing blog posts coming!! Our weekend of gratitude with our yurting friends at the Pinery and the question that everyone seems to want to know, When will I return to work?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Can't Wait!

Hummingbird today in our backyard
As I sat in my backyard today in the sunshine, watching the birds and the butterflies. The breeze was blowing and the temperature was perfect. If I closed my eyes I could imagine and pretend just for a second that I was completely without pain, fatigue or worry.

Today is a good day.

I am beginning to gain some strength back from this second to last treatment. Typically around the Wednesday I start to feel not quite so flu-like and although I continue to deal with the fatigue, I able to face each day with a bit more energy. As I sat outside today I began to dream and envision all the amazing things that we will be able to do again once I am back on the road to recovery and I can't wait.

It is so easy to take small little things for granted. Very simple chores, outings, errands, visits. Something I would accomplish one hundred times a year ago now is such a big big deal. Tonight, feeling buoyed and energized after my nap I proclaimed to Jason, Cam and Jordan. It's half price burger night at Casey's we're going out for dinner! Do you know how long it has been since the four of us have gone out for dinner together? I am not even sure if we have since I have started treatment. Jordan was so excited, she put her arm through mine in the parking lot and said "Mommy is back!" We laughed and joked together, no phones out at the table. Just enjoying each other. Jordan drew a pie graph on the table, and said this small slice was Mommy feeling good and the rest of the pie I am normally in bed. We all talked about how the piece of the pie is just going to keep getting bigger where I am feeling good. there are so many things we can't wait to be able to do again. Here are a few that we talked about tonight, I am adding some of my own personal goals that I can't wait to do!

I can't wait to.....
- go canoe camping in Algonquin Park in August, possibly going back to High Falls, the kids favourite part of the park
- winter camping in February Check! Feb 6-8
- camping with our friends in the summer - try Arrowhead Park, back to Grundy Lake
- dancing at Abstract on Fridays with the girls again Check! April 29
- hiking a trail at one of the parks we camp at - Check! June 11-13
- going for more than just a walk around the block - Check! December 7
- riding our bikes together around Macgregor Point - Check! June 11-13
- cross country skiing up in Southampton
- camping at Cyprus Lake and hiking the Grotto
- birdwatching at Point Pelee, Lake Erie
- ziplining at Lake Erie
- running up the stairs without having to hold the bannister Check!
- dance parties with the yurting group out on our deck at midnight
- getting through more than one day without having to have a nap - Check - some days
- sleeping through the night without waking up Check!
- grocery shopping or shopping at a mall - Check!
- walk around NYC or Chicago all day long, two of my favourite cities
- return to work at school with such a great staff
- be able to work all day, drive the kids to their sports and not think about being tired
- watching all of Cam's hockey games and going to tournaments with our hockey parent families! Check!
- many more trips to the schoolhouse, to shop, eat, drink and be merry!!! (Dancing in the kitchen?)

One treatment left, several important appointments coming up in October. A whole lot of rest and recovery ahead of me. But I am getting there, one day at a time. I wouldn't have been able to do it without all of you.

I can't wait!






Monday, September 15, 2014

Celebrating the Life of Lilian Hadsley 1920-2014

Our dear Great Aunt Lil was promoted to Glory this past weekend in her 94th year. Great Aunt Lil has been such a wonderful connection to the legacy of our Spence family. She is a gifted story-teller, having served missions overseas with the Salvation Army, it has been so inspiring to hear of her experiences and gratefulness for what life has had to offer her. Never one to shy away from opportunity and travel, I so cherish the visits and stories she shared when I was able to visit with her at Albright Manor. Often finding her at the "horse races", or yoga or bible study. She seemed to know everyone and loved introducing us to the nurses. She jokingly referred to Albright as the Taj Mahal. Knowing how fortunate she was to be able to live there comfortably and be taken care of. Aunt Lil loved to write me letters back and forth and hear about all the children's new skills, sports and academics. She loves hockey and loved watching Cam play hockey when I would bring my laptop for her to watch him in action. I smile fondly hearing her say "A bonnie lass" and a "bonny bonny boy". There have been several news articles written in Niagara and Grimsby about her travels and life. (http://www.chathamdailynews.ca/2010/07/17/look-at-all-these-posters) 

I proudly repeat them as in my eyes, she was an amazing woman, who gave her time and love to others. Rest in Peace and be promoted with Glory, Aunt Lil. You lived a full and wonderful life.

I am saddened that I will not be able to attend the Celebration of Aunt Lil's life as it takes place on the same day as my last chemotherapy treatment. I take solace in knowing that I have made the most of my opportunities to visit with Aunt Lil and that she knows how dear she is to me and how much we love her.  It is important that I stay with my chemotherapy plan and while I am upset that I will not have an opportunity to say the goodbye I would like, I will remember her in my own way.  


A Jumble

These past few days have been such a mixture of ups and downs, good and not so good. I have been processing and turning around this blog post in my head trying to figure out what I want to say. I knew that I had this need to write. As I have said before, this blog is more of an outlet for me to write and express myself and my own feelings as I continue through this journey that I have before me. I am just a jumble of what I want to say. I am torn between not wanting to sound as though I am re-stating the obvious once again, that I am finding these past few treatments incredibly hard and the fatigue crippling or on the other hand, how I am going to kick cancer's ass and how strong I have been. I am somewhere a jumble in between.

As I sit here today, I am one week away from my LAST chemotherapy treatment. My 12th treatment. A feat that back on April 22 seemed so unsurmountable and overwhelming. And I did it! Yes it has been hard, and yes I do not wish anyone to have to go through this. But I am facing my final chemotherapy treatment knowing that I am in remission and presently cancer-free.

How blessed am I?

So in the dark moments of loneliness during the months of September when everyone has returned to their lives of school and work, I am trying to remind myself that this is a temporary state of mind. I cannot let it get me down. I am almost there. One more treatment to endure, one more jumble of days where I am sleeping constantly, in pain, nauseous and unable to walk up the stairs without help. The sun continues to shine behind those clouds and little by little, day by day I am going to get stronger again. I cannot lose my faith. It will get better.

I also have to say thank you. (See I told you I was a jumble, I'm all over the place here.) Thank you to everyone who takes the time out of their busy lives to send me a text, a card in the mail, bake sweet treats for my family, an extra meal for us, a phone call, a well-placed visit even for a few minutes. Every single one of those special choices makes my day go by a little faster and reminds me that I am not alone in this. There are so many of you who have helped love our kids, make them feel like part of your family, provided drives to gymnastics and hockey. Cancer has shown my kids to be extra grateful to all the people in our lives who love us. It has given them a whole new appreciation of friendship and family. I think both Cam and Jordan are so much more aware of helping others and doing things for other families because we care, because that's what we do. So thank you for being such a wonderful example of love to Cam and Jordan. It has not gone unnoticed. They are very aware of all the wonderful things that have come our way.

Thank you for listening, for reading and for helping me sort through this jumble of feelings, fears and struggles that cancer has brought to our lives.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

To That Level

There is a poster that I read on the wall of the Chemotherapy suite where I sit to wait for my bloodwork to be done. Today I hold on to that quote.

"It is important to remember that no matter what our situation, no matter what our circumstance, above the storm - above the clouds, the sun is always shining. We just have to elevate ourselves to that level." Tony H. Ward

Monday, September 1, 2014

Brave Face

"The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about."

Many of you see the strong side of Michelle, the outside portrayal of my strength. I put a very brave face on for most. Hiding away in the safety of my bedroom and home during my moments of struggle. Immediately after my chemotherapy treatments, the week following, I often do not have the strength for visits, outings or much contact outside my family. Jay and the kids unfortunately have grown quite accustomed to seeing me curled up in a ball in bed most of the day, some days crying from the discomfort and pain of what the chemotherapy drugs are doing to my body. As my treatments have progressed, there have been more days of difficulty and fewer days where I can put my brave face on and smile, laugh and face the world. The cumulative effects of the chemotherapy are building on each other, making the recovery time longer and my good days fewer. Have no fear, my spirit still remains,  even in moments of weakness,  my resolve and strength to fight this disease remain. I guess the point of this blog post is that there are many battles that many people face that we know nothing about. To some, on the outside, with my wig on, makeup, smiles on my selfies, I don't even appear sick. To a select few, the reality is that the chemotherapy treatments are kicking me in the a**.

This past weekend, several of my close friends, girls who have known me since highschool and university saw an inside glimpse of how sick I really am. The "Michelle" Jason sees at home, crossed over into the outside world where I try so hard to be strong and appear in control. Friday night, I so wanted to be normal and have a night out with my three close friends and Jacquie's sweet new baby girl, Summer.  It had been so long since we were all together and I was determined to join them even for a short time. This unfortunately did not go well for me. It soon became clear that I was struggling and I had told Jason it was time to go. I told the girls that I would be needing to leave. Surprise on their faces, what do you mean? We wanted to get one picture of the four of us together, during us getting our picture taken, I began to see spots, blackness and almost fainted. Very quickly my loved ones clicked into gear and I found myself being swept up in their love and caring, lying down with ice on my neck, my feet up, as waves of nausea swept over me. The Michelle I so vehemently try to hide was front and center and it was ok. There was no apologies just acceptance. That is how you know that you are in the company of true friends. Thank you Jacquie, Donna and Sharleen and your significant others, my body was reminding me that there will be times that I can't put that brave face on and that I need to let my friends see what's really happening to me and take care of me.

And so my 10th treatment and the end of Cycle 5 has passed. I am in recovery mode once again. Everyone keeps reminding me that I am so close to the end but to be honest, the last two treatments seem overwhelming and they just seem to be getting harder on me each time. I am on my second round of antibiotics for the urinary tract infection as it has not yet cleared up, so the discomfort from that continues to cause difficulties for me. Strangely, I am also dealing with increased nausea through this weekend which has not been typical for me. But I am learning that I need to adjust my sails continually and that predictability has not been the case for the past few treatments.

Thank you to our dear friends Jim and Cory who hosted a great dinner on their beautiful deck, something that was much needed for me. I thank God and am grateful that our son Cam was not more seriously hurt when he had a mishap on his bike this weekend. Everyday we are reminded how we take simple things for granted. Our two kids are both in highschool this year, I am so proud of the individuals they have become and look forward to getting up tomorrow morning to see them off on their first day. I look forward this week to an oncologist appointment to learn more about my next steps and hopefully a visit with some dear friends, one of whom is facing her own inward battle of true strength.



Friday, August 22, 2014

Timing is everything

I knew that this day was coming. I have endured nine chemotherapy treatments and up until the past few weeks, I have had quite a bit of my hair still. Being blessed with a full head of thick, dark hair and alot of it, my hair loss has been a slower process than many other patients who have ABVD chemotherapy. This week on Tuesday after a wonderful visit with an old friend, I gathered the strength and courage to admit to Jason that it was TIME. Time to take control and shave my head. We set out to the garage and after we both shed a few emotional tears, we just made it happen. No pictures, no documentation. It was over quickly and I have to admit, I felt great and so glad that it was finally done. It was something I felt like I was waiting for to happen for months now. Waking each morning to see more and more hair on my pillow and less on my head has been a difficult process. I almost wish that it had happened more quickly but I was able to creatively deal with my hair with hats and scarves while still having some hair peeking out beneath. It is still a shock to me to see myself in the mirror, having no hair. Getting ready to go out is a quick process, scarf or wig and we are done!

This past week Carole and I had the opportunity to have a retreat to my Aunt's schoolhouse near Collingwood for a few days. It is such a relaxing place to be and Carole and I got some much needed girlfriend time together. I was also nominated this week to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by my teaching partner Cailin. How appropriate to be able to do the challenge with Carole and Marilyn at the Osprey Schoolhouse. My dear friend Paul Chambers as many of you know passed away from ALS this past year. I think he would have enjoyed all of the ice bucket videos, my two friend Pam and Tracey are also participating in the challenge. I would have liked to do it with them. What a way to raise awareness for such a debilitating disease. I made the decision quite quickly that I would do the challenge proudly sporting my new "do", really there wouldn't be any other way. I am on my own journey with a disease that is thankfully temporary, quite different from ALS which is permanent. This is a symbol of the battle that I have faced and continue to face each day. So challenge done, posted on facebook and donation to ALS made. I honour and dedicate my ice bucket challenge to Paul Chambers in his memory and I continue to be inspired by the spirit in which he faced his illness as I navigate through the next weeks of my remaining treatments.
Here is a screenshot of my ALS Icebucket Challenge video.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Trust Your Instincts

Watching the ducks at the cottage reminds me of instincts. This duck knew that other ducks were nearby and automatically protected her young.  I have learned in this journey that my instincts and my gut feeling has carried me far. As I mentioned, the previous treatment I struggled with back pain near my kidneys right after receiving my chemotherapy dosages. I spoke to the oncologist about this and this treatment we decided to have me take Tylenol #3 as a preventative measure as well as another medication that is supposed to help with reactions to one of the chemo drugs in my ABVD regime. As well, he has ordered urine testing and possibly a kidney ultrasound (depending on the findings). While the back pain was considerably less, it wast still present, I worked through it with painkillers but this nagging feeling remained. I had also shared that I felt that I was using the washroom constantly. My sleep was interrupted at night because I was awoken with the urge to go. I know I am drinking alot of water but something just didn't seem right to me.

I received a call from Dr Stevens Tuesday night, confirming my worries. Bacteria was present in the urine sample when they started growing the culture in the petri dish. It is a bacteria normally present in healthy people but because my immune system is non-existent I am not able to fight off the bacteria like a regular healthy person. They will continue to culture the sample as they can pin point the exact type of antibiotic needed to fight the infection. 9 times out of 10 amoxicillin is a penicillin that they will prescribe but one person out of 10 may need a different drug. He has started me on 10 days of amoxicillin until they know the results for sure and if they need to change it they will. I noticed a difference quite quickly after starting just two doses of the medication. I slept virtually through the night for the first time in a very long time. What a difference it makes to actually sleep!! I am thankful that I advocated for myself and listened to my gut, I knew something wasn't right. I am so grateful that Dr Stevens continues to listen to me, and responds so quickly to my descriptions of the symptoms I am dealing with. I am fortunate to have him on my team. Jason continues to amaze me with his care for me. From hot rice packs for my back, back rubs, warming my feet, preparing my Heparin injections, making meals and driving to pharmacies half way across the city, he never ever once complains or makes me feel guilty. I love you Jason, thank you.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pereseverance and Hope...Continuing to move forward

"Those at the top of the mountain, didn't fall there."

As I stand at the base of the mountain called "Treatment #9" I am reminded that to overcome and climb this mountain I once again face alot of hardship, struggles and difficult days. As I near the end of the treatment cycle of two weeks, I see a glimpse of "Michelle before cancer" lurking beneath the surface of the fatigue and lack of energy. I begin to feel a little bit like my old self, just enough to give me the strength and perseverance to keep moving forward.

The past few weeks have been a mixture of difficult realizations and wonderful experiences.

Difficult because I am reminded on a daily basis that my levels are fatigue are increasing and cumulating as they told me would happen. Simple tasks are so draining, only someone who has lived through this could possibly understand. I start my day feeling relatively strong, and able, as the day continues if I don't make sure to recharge my battery as I talked about in my last blog post, I will crumble into tears and require twice as much time to function. I have said this so many times to Jason "I am so tired of being tired." Difficult because my hair has continued to thin and fall out, I can be found in a variety of head scarves, funky hats and wigs. While on the outside, I can be often found smiling and poking fun of my new look, it takes a toll on my self-esteem and when I face the mirror I see such a different Michelle, it is my new reality for some months to come. Difficult because right after the last treatment I had considerable back pain near my kidneys. It scared me and I required some heavy-duty pain killers. We were almost back in emergency and was significant enough that my oncologist's nurse phoned me daily to check on my symptoms. We did not find the cause and I worry about it happening again tomorrow at my next treatment. It is causing me some anxiety, another struggle I am coping with every day.

Fast forward gears to the wonderful. The past few weeks have had many moments where the sun was shining down on us and the Low family were enjoying life. We were fortunate enough to spend a week at the cottage. This was made possible by CCAC and the Red Cross Care Partners. A simple request resulted in a nurse coming directly to our cottage in Wiarton on Colpoy's Bay to change my PICC line dressing (as it needs to be done once a week). Due to my white blood cell counts continuing to be significantly non-existent, the nurse comes directly to me rather than me going to a clinic or hospital. This was carried through with no issues at all. We had a wonderful family week at the cottage, sitting on the dock, reading books, watching the kids in the water, archery, ATVing, playing games. We were able to visit my parents in Southampton and have some time with my sweet niece and nephew. Our days this past weekend were very busy and although I made it through I did have a reminder that I just can't keep up to our schedule as I used to. We celebrated my dear friend's birthday with dinner al fresco and fireworks. And the highlight of my weekend was a visit on our 17th wedding anniversary to my best friend Jacquie's to meet her new baby Summer. Summer is a true miracle and an example for Jacquie and her husband Jeff that miracles can happen and that believing and never giving up hope will result in greatness. Despite the odds, Jacquie and Jeff have their beautiful little girl and I have the utmost respect and admiration for what they have been through. They are an inspiration to me as I need to instill the same perseverance and hope to believe in myself when the days are dark and I don't feel like I can go on.

So I move forward, after tomorrow 3 treatments left. I have an appointment with my oncologist tomorrow so it will be a long day at the hospital. Thank you to my friends for their visits the past few weeks, your support helps me in more ways than I can describe. Even the shortest of visits breaks up my days and makes me feel some resemblance of a "normal existence" outside of bed or the couch. This next week, short visits are about all I am able to conquer. I welcome your contact and please know that despite the difficulties I have described, I know in my heart, I am doing incredibly well and that there are other people who face far greater battles than I.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

"Fatigue associated with chemotherapy is like a bad battery for your device... it takes a long time to charge, it depletes for seemingly no reason and no matter how long you charge it at night it just can't hold its charge all day. About mid-day you must power it down to re-charge it, if even for a little bit or it will slow down, freeze up, crash and power itself down on its own."

Fatigue is a very different beast than simply being tired. I cannot describe the feeling of fatigue that I feel on varying degrees every day. When they warned me and I read about the fatigue associated with chemotherapy in all the reading material provided to me on my first visit to the cancer centre, it does nothing to prepare you for how it actually feels. Many people exclaim to me "how good I look" often in surprise. While on the outside, I can function and carry on with simple tasks for short periods of time, only those who truly live with me have seen how quickly fatigue can come on and overtake me. It can come on so suddenly that I could be out enjoying myself one moment and then this deadweight feeling comes that is like trying to walk under water and I need to sit, and go home NOW. There are times where the simple act of climbing the stairs fills me with dread.

I have been relatively fortunate with the side effects I am facing with each treatment, annoyances continue i.e. metallic taste, mild nausea, mouth sores, dry skin, hair loss, but the fatigue seems to be increasing and lasting longer during my off week between treatments. I am trying to rest and sleep when my body dictates and am exercising in small amounts going for walks with Jason, often at times dragging myself around the block. I haven been cautioned that the fatigue will accumulate with each treatment and will continue for months after my chemotherapy treatment is completed.

In my moments of darkness, I become quite emotional, mourning the loss of my energy levels, remembering what Michelle used to be able to accomplish in a day. Our busy busy lives often had us driving each night, rushing to complete errands, going to hockey games, working until 5:30 often many nights. I am sad for the Michelle before cancer and hate the changes that cancer has forced me to accept. I know that my strength will come back, but it is hard not to be frustrated with what I used to be able to do, compared to how hard it is to accomplish small tasks now. One cannot possibly understand this unless you have lived this similar journey. Thank you to those who understand how fatigue is affecting me daily. While I may look "amazing" on the outside, there are days where I am struggling and I certainly have a long way to go in my recovery still.

There are so many wonderful beautiful moments to share with you from this past week.


After some considerable prayers and rest, I was so grateful that I was able to attend the full day festivities for my cousin Darcy's wedding. Darcy was born a decade+ after me and she was my first experience "babysitting" and taking care of a little baby. I loved carrying Darcy around, playing with her and taking care of her. One of my favourite pictures is Darcy and I sound asleep cuddled on the couch after a full afternoon of Cabbage Patch kids and babies. This would be the last wedding of our cousins and it was so important to me that I was able to attend and see my relatives. Particularly since I had not seen many of them face to face since my diagnosis, there were quite a few tears and hugs, relief of my good news and seeing that I am doing "ok". I am so happy I was there. Words can't describe it. I can only hope and wish that I am as blessed as my grandma, Gigi who has been able to attend and see all 6 of her grandchildren marry and find happiness. We had a great time at the wedding, and I was able to stay right until the dance floor was packed and the cousins were having a great time.

Sunday afternoon, my best friend Jenn and her daughter Rosie were home from Calgary and we had a bbq at K and K's reuniting not only a close knit group of adult friends but a group of "yurting" kids who have known each other their whole lives. Heart warming to see them pick up where they left off, Jenn and I were able to have a great visit Sunday night, Monday hanging out and a market trip Tuesday. How I have missed her so. I am so happy to she has found true happiness as well and her blended family is together and complete. Despite the distance, our friendship will stand the test of time. Jordan is looking forward to a 10 day trip to Calgary in August with her "sisters" Maggie and Rosie. 

I am able to travel up to Southampton beach for a stay with my parents this week, Jason will be joining me and we can't wait to have a short getaway at Ben Miller Inn this weekend. A fantastic musician Matthew Hussey is playing at Ben Miller again Saturday night, we loved seeing him a few years back. A great way to spend the weekend before treatment #8, the end of cycle 4 this coming Monday. 

Love to you all, thank you for the visits, had a great catch up with a wonderful hockey mom this week. The week of July 28, there are no kids at the Low house and I would love a chance to catch up with anyone is around. Call or text me, I welcome the company with Jason working now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Believe

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new doorway for the human spirit" ~Helen Keller

Positivity and believing is said to be related to recovery and the human spirit. While I have definitely had moments of fear, doubt and darkness I have truly believed that I am going to be ok. I received the wonderful confirmation of this last week.

I received the results from my oncologist from my CT scan of my neck and chest as well as the PET scan results. A PET scan is used to detect cancerous cells in my body. The CT scan measures any enlargement of lymph nodes through my chest and neck area. I am thrilled to share that the PET scan shows "No abnormal hypermetabolic activity demonstrated post 3 cycles of ABVD to suggest active residual disease specifically no abnormal hypermetabolic activity at the anterior mediastinal mass."

The CT scan shows that there remains a mass in the medistinum area which lies in the middle of my chest between my heart and lungs. It has reduced to  2.8 x 4.6 x 7.4 cm. There has been significant improvement in the reduction of the mass size but more importantly is that the PET scan shows that there is no longer cancer cells in the mass. I loved the analogy used by Dr. Stevens, my oncologist.

He said the mass in my chest is like an apartment building that everyone has moved out of. We got rid of all the"riff raff", the mass is like a frame with nothing inside of it. Our job is now to burn that building down and make sure that no "riff raff" can move back in (cancer cells)

The plan is to complete all 12 treatments of chemotherapy to best ensure no chance of relapse and an eventual cure. Technically I am said to be in remission and this term will be used for the next five years as that is how long I will need to be cancer-free to be considered cured from Hodgkins Lymphoma.

So I soldier forward with my treatments. The beginning of Cycle 4 was yesterday, so 5 treatments remaining which will take me to the end of September. The side effects continue to be manageable. The fatigue is the most crippling issue that I am dealing with and the effects will be cumulative, gradually increasing as the treatments continue. I do have a considerable number of "good days" thankfully, and I am enjoying them to the fullest.

Thank you to Jason's parents for their unwavering support, and enabling us to enjoy the cottage life, being by the water has been such a rejuvenation for me. Having our dear friends Kristen and Karsten there with their boys made for the best celebration weekend after we received the news of my remission. I look forward to a week of rest, as we have my cousin Darcy's wedding this coming weekend which I aim to attend even for a small portion of the festivities. I have learned to take one day at a time, not put a lot of pressure on myself, rest when I need to and take it as it comes. The good with the bad. Knowing there is an end to this part of my journey and new ones waiting for me down the road. xoxo Love to you all.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Part 3

The Good - "Hope is beautiful." 

I am quickly leaving Cycle #3 behind me. The half-way mark of my 6 month chemotherapy treatment. It seems hard to believe,  as when I first started this journey I have to admit 12 treatments certainly seemed unattainable and overwhelming. Approaching it one treatment at a time, one week, one day has made the mountain seem much smaller as I look back. Of course, the forward horizon of six more treatments to go seems insurmountable but I know that I have the strength and perseverance to get it done. 

Wonderful experiences like I had today make facing these treatments a little bit easier. The good in the world shines through on a daily basis when facing a cancer diagnosis. My best friend Carole and I attended a Look Good, Feel Better Workshop at the Grand River Cancer Centre today. There were two other brave women at the workshop and it wasn't long before we were laughing and comparing chemotherapy stories as we tried on makeup products, wigs and scarves. It made the scary process a little less so, when you know that there are others going through the exact same thing as you are. We were blessed to have an army of volunteers with tips and tricks to use to help us feel beautiful and attractive despite the annoying side effects that come along with cancer treatment. Thank you to those women who give their time to provide this wonderful program, once again we are so fortunate to have these resources available to us so that we don't feel alone in this journey. Thank you to Carole for coming with me, our shared life experiences of eyebrows, zits, makeup expiry dates and lack of knowledge made me laugh and your tears of empathy made me cry. It was exactly what I needed today.

I also wanted to share a resource available to us through our OTIP teacher's pension plan and our ETFO union. It is called Cancer Care Path. After a phone interview and consent forms were signed, I have been matched with an oncology nurse, MF who has 27 years experience at Princess Margaret Hospital with lymphoma/hematology patients. She arranges weekly or bi-weekly phone sessions with me to answer any questions I have, help me prepare questions for the oncologist, review symptom management with me, provide emotional support and counselling. She has access to all my records at the Cancer Centre and has presented my case to an Oncologist who will help make recommendations on treatment, follow-up and will stay connected with me during my recovery once treatment is completed. I find myself looking forward to her phone calls and have quickly established a rapport with her that I am finding so comforting and helpful. She is a voice to me that I can ask questions that I may forget to ask at my oncology appointments, or feel silly asking. She has given me strength and helped me with those "what if" questions by reviewing all the positive outcomes I am experiencing with my treatment. One more cheerleader for me who just happens to be a qualified professional, once again, how fortunate I am to have such a great support system.

The Bad - "Scan-xiety"

June 30 was not only my 6th treatment but was also a repeat CT scan of my chest and neck. The CT scan will show the whether there are lymph nodes that continue to be enlarged, the oncologist will compare the lymph nodes to the scan done back in March when I was first diagnosed with lymphoma. As well, it will show progress on shrinking (eliminating) the 8 cm mass in my chest in the mediastinum area. Understandably, I am trying to not let my anxiety come through in worrying about the results of the CT scan. In my heart, I know this to be true. 

I have not had one night sweat since I started treatment. I have not had any fevers, my itchy skin has disappeared and I can no longer feel any swollen lymph nodes in my neck. None. These are all wonderful signs that I am responding to chemotherapy. My heart knows this to be true. I know that there will only be positive news. My heart knows this. Sometimes my head gets the better of me and I ask those "what if?" questions. The what-if questions are unfortunately what I am going to have to live with for many years to come. The conflict between my head and my heart, and my gut will be my greatest struggle.  Next week, the PET scan will provide further confirmation of where the cancer cells still lurk in my body, the knowledge of exactly how much of the battle is left for me. I will have scans done every three months and then every six months once I complete treatment so this "scan-xiety" is not going to go away. Please be patient with me as I work through this. I will let all of you my loved ones and army of supporters know the results of these tests when I am able to. Thank you for your continued words of support, encouragement and positive thoughts. It means more to me than I am able to adequately express to you.

The Ugly - Anticipatory Nausea

I am going to share with you one of the most difficult side effects that I have been dealing with recently. It is a lesson in Psychology 101, remember back to university days friends. Classical conditioning and Pavlov. As my next treatment day approaches, I am beginning to become more nauseous and unconsciously anxious about having to face side effects all over again just when I start to feel back to my normal self. Since I have had a few experiences with chemotherapy my brain has established the pattern that goes along with it, knowing what's coming understandably I want to avoid this pattern. The negative stimuli being the nausea, groggy feeling, saline taste in my mouth when they flush my picc line... these are all triggers for me. What I have learned is anticipatory nausea is very very real. I am actually feeling real nausea based on my previous experience. I really had a taste for it this week and it was not pretty. It was downright something I need and want to avoid. We are going to try some new tactics next time. I have been doing my research and I am going to be better prepared after a great talk with the wonderful chemotherapy suite nurses. I have realized that you need to speak up, ask for help and advice and not be afraid to "do whatever it takes to get yourself through it" as Sandra (oncology nurse) says.

Thank you to Jason and a compassionate company by the name of Hoerbiger.  We have wonderful news to share that Jason will be starting a new position in two weeks time as an ERP Specialist. An amazing company who agreed to Jason working part-time for July and August to allow him to continue to focus on my recovery. He will begin full-time in September. This change may result in our having to call upon those of you who have offered to help us out with driving kids etc. We will be sending an email out with some dates where we may need some assistance picking up Jordan from her gymnastics training. Thank you in advance for your friendship. Thank you to my aunts and uncles and extended family who continue to send cards, emails and phone calls. Even though we don't see each other as often as our friends in daily life, we love you and feel your support and positive thoughts. It takes a village to raise a child and somewhere along the line, you helped raise me up and provided a role model for me growing up. Thank you.

Thank you! Half-way, couldn't have done it without you!

Sporting a new scarf, hair is slowly thinning out.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Celebrating the Life of Frank Low 1918-2014

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

 Jason's grandfather, Frank Low lived a long, prosperous life and passed away on June 24, 2014 at the age of 96. We have been blessed to have Great Grandpa in our lives and to share his stories from years past with our own children. We have lived with four generations of Low gentlemen and Great Grandpa has created a legacy for Cam and Jordan to remember. 

We will remember Great Grandpa for his long-winded stories of coming to Canada from England. His days of youth playing football or soccer. Always interested in sports, he enjoyed watching videos of Cam playing hockey and in recent years, loved watching soccer, baseball or hockey on his large screen tv. When prompted to spend his money on a new tv, he finally went to Owen Sound and got a nice 54 inch television to prop up on his mantel in the living room, way to go Grandpa! He could be counted on to share his life experiences running Low's Fruit Market, the trailer park, mini-putt course and other businesses he put together in the town of Sauble Beach. Interested and knowledgeable about the stock exchange, he would sit in front of the same large screen tv looking over the stock market. We appreciate his large laugh, stories of growing up, stories about "Ronnie" to share with our kids about their Grandpa. He loved Grandma's baking and loved pouring cream on any dessert, English style. One of the funniest stories about Great Grandpa is when on a visit, he asked us to go to the basement to check on his wine. He ordered home-made wine by the large pail and when Jason went down to the basement to find the pail leaking on the floor, one has never seen Grandpa move quite so quickly down to the basement to inspect the damages. Oh how we laughed! 

We will remember and cherish two gifts from Great Grandpa that he made sure to give us quite a number of years ago to remember him when he is gone, A true piece of the London Bridge that he acquired in England and a special gold coin passed down through generations of men in the Low family to be given to Cam. We will cherish and hold these pieces dear to our hearts for many years to come.

We celebrate a life long-lived today. A life full of prosperity and success. A hard-working man who provided for his family right up until the end of his days. Jason had a wonderful visit with his grandparents a few weeks ago, and Great Grandpa recognized him as "Ronny's boy", a visit Jason is grateful for. We take comfort in Cam and Jordan having the amazing opportunity to not only remember their great grandparents but hold stories and memories dear in their hearts of the legacy left behind. We take comfort in knowing that Grandpa died exactly the way he wanted to, in his own home, on his own terms. We are saddened for the loss of the head of our Low family, sympathetic for Great Grandma who is mourning the loss of her life-long love of her life. A void in her home that she will feel everyday. But we celebrate a great life and contribution to our memories and lives of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Thank you Frank Low. We will miss you.