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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cheers to the beginning of Cycle #3

CHEERS - "Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name."

How very different 3 months can make. I am now part of the Cancer family at the Grand River Cancer Centre. A place that I never envisioned I would visit so often. A part of a group that I never thought I would be apart of. I so vividly remember the fear I felt walking through the large wooden doors and lining up to register back on that cold March day. No clue where to go, or what to do. I was spinning and lost. 

Fast forward to this week. I am greeted with "Michelle!" and a huge smile. Joking with the familiar faces, "I'm back again." Up the stairs, check in with my on-line symptom reporting kiosk, wave to the nurses at the registration desk in the chemo suites, back to the PICC line blood draw, sign in, wait for the time it takes to process my bloodwork. Waves to my favourite nurses, a hug from one in particular. We bonded the day that I wasn't able to receive treatment and she held my hand as the tears of disappointment came. It is such apart of my life right now, this special place. The place that is healing me. I need them. There are usually the same amazing volunteers who work in the chemo suites, never stopping, always checking in with us, do we need juice, water, icechips, gingerale. Offers of hard candies or crackers are always there, let me get you a heated blanket, tucking it around my feet. I have learned the comforts from home to pack. A larger cup so that the volunteers don't have to get ice for me quite so often, a pair of cozy socks to keep my feet warm, healthy snacks, change for parking, my stack of magazines, my i-pad and of course my phone. Texting back to my friends who are all checking in on me knowing that it is treatment day. 

Monday I was at the Cancer Centre for my bloodwork and my appointment with Dr. Stevens. Tuesday, was my 5th chemotherapy treatment, technically called Cycle 3A. My appointment with the oncologist went very well. Dr Stevens, exclaimed, "look at how slim your neck is!" The lumps in my neck are barely palitpable, they have shrunk significantly. We go through my side effects, how I am feeling. He continues to say how great I am doing. I can tell he is quite shocked that I still have a pretty full head of hair, he assured me that it does not indicate whether the treatment is working or not.  Everyone responds differently to chemotherapy and in time I will most likely lose all my hair or most of it. I can atest that it is coming out all over my bathroom floor on a daily basis, but not in clumps like I envisioned. I will ride this out as long as I can. We discussed my blood results and most tests are in the normal range. My neutrophils continue to hover around zero but his plan is to continue status quo as I am feeling well and do not have a fever. He said that recent studies indicate that putting me on Neuprogen (the injections for white blood cells) is not advisable with the type of Chemo drugs I am receiving (ABVD) - the B drug can cause lung and breathing issues (which I don't have) but the chance of problems increases x20 with the Neuprogen shots. I was thankful for this, as the daily Heparin injections are enough for me. There are two other tests that indicate that my liver is slightly inflamed but this is also normal for my type of chemotherapy. Platelets and red blood cells are perfect in the normal range.

I have two appointments coming up that I am looking forward to but also cause me a little bit of "scanxiety". I have a CAT scan of my chest and neck on June 30. This test is a repeat of the CT scan I had before I started treatment so they can compare the size and swelling of the lymph nodes in my neck and the mass in my chest. Then on July 8, I go to St Joseph's in Hamilton for a PET scan. You will remember back that I had a Gallium scan, this is a similar test but thankfully doesn't take as long (holding arms above my head for 45 minutes) This scanner is more up-to-date, Grand River doesn't yet have a PET scan machine. This test will show with a radioactive tracer, where cancer cells still appear in my body. I see Dr. Stevens on July 11, for the results of these tests. I am excited to hear that the cancer is leaving me but understandably anxious. 

So while I realize that my new "normal" involves being on a first name basis with the staff of the cancer centre, it has become my new family. The rooms in the chemo suite are filled with others whose "troubles are all the same". I look forward to the day down the road where my visits become less and less but I will be forever changed by this experience. 

Thank you to my amazing staff who continue to check in with me and send me pampering treats in the mail, the Straus family for cooking for us, they inspired Jason and I to bake our own rhubarb loaf, with rhubarb from the cottage. My dad and my mom who is recovering from a cold and will hopefully be able to take me to a chemotherapy treatment in July.  Jason's parents for taking care of us this past weekend at the cottage and giving so much love to the kids. Jordan got to spend the weekend with Grandma, they both needed some grandma love this weekend. Angie from Hopespring who calls to check in with me to see how I am doing. I also need to give a shout-out to our ETFO representatives, I am so grateful for the support and immediate assistance I have received with every question. Stay tuned for my wonderful experience with Cancer Care Path. A service available to ETFO members that is unbelieveable.

Michelle 5 Hodgkins 0 - almost half way there!! Love to you all. xoxo 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Celebrating the Fathers in our Lives

"Be more than a father, be a dad. Be more of a figure, be an example."

Since being diagnosed with cancer, I have certainly had many opportunities to acknowledge what a truly amazing husband I am blessed with. Not only has he been there with me every doctor's appointment, every long night, every fear, and giving me every hope, he has been the example and measuring stick of love for Cam and Jordan. 

The cries of "Daddy!" and patter of feet running towards the door has always filled my heart, seeing Cam and Jordan run for Daddy when he arrives home. The joy on their faces and his willingness to play, Daddy bedtime routines, camping trips,  face flumpers, bike rides, building of igloos, backyard pools, sandboxes even after working shift work has set the bar high for many dads in our lives. These past few months, Jason has been blessed with the gift of time to focus on our family rather than his career. Somehow we have been given this chance to have Jason at home, to not only take care of me but to nurture and support our kids. Jason has become the gymnastics cheerleader, chauffeuring to competitions in Ontario, watching long hours of routines, now in charge of videos and picture taking honours. He has made many many trips to the arena on his own, late night practices, 4 on 4 games, playoff hockey. He is counted on to provide play-by-play updates via bbm to me at home while I am in bed, too tired to make it to a game. He has attended parent interview nights, drives to school in the rain, orthodontist appointments, doctor and dentist appointments, nighttime bike rides, provided computer programming advice to Cam, building laptops for the kids, studying for exams and tests. The kids know that their Mom is not able to do everything she usually does but without question their Dad is there to take on the Mom roles and still be the "Daddio". He has embraced this struggle in our lives to have an ultimate opportunity to be there for his kids. He is not just a figure, how he handles my cancer diagnosis provide our kids with someone to look to for comfort and knowledge that everything is going to be ok.

Thank you Jason for taking on so many opportunities to be there for our kids when I physically can't. You never ever act show you are tired, or scared or frustrated. I have been working to refrain from saying "I'm sorry can you...." because I know you will just do it because that's what husbands and dads do. We will one day look back on this time in our lives and smile at the time we have been able to spend not only together but with our kids who are at an age where as teenagers they will be drifting away from our home and beginning to make their own lives. How fortunate we are.

Jason and I are also incredibly blessed with having our own Dads in our lives. Grandbob and Grandpa are such important figures in our kids lives. They have set the bar high for us as parents in seeing them continue to care for our families as parents do. We couldn't do it without their support and love. 
This coming weekend, celebrate all the fathers in your lives. Embrace the chance to spend time with your families as we are going to do up at the cottage in Wiarton. I am continuing to seek out the positive ways that cancer is changing our lives. As I have said before the gift of TIME is one of the biggest revelations I have made. We only have so much time, allow yourself more time for your family and less time for the other stuff. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

What is Neutropenia?

This week I completed my second cycle of chemotherapy, each cycle being 2 treatments. The treatment went smoothly and I have been recuperating up at my Aunt's schoolhouse near Collingwood. The country fresh air, relaxed atmosphere here and how beautiful it is,  nurtures my soul.

While at the hospital for treatment, I have bloodwork done each time and I did learn from the oncology nurse that I have severe neutropenia.  "Neutropenia is an abnormally low count of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that helps fight off infections, particularly those caused by bacteria and fungi." My neutrophils are at zero! So you can't go much lower that that.

If you have severe neutropenia — fewer than about 500 cells per microliter of blood — bacteria normally present in your mouth and digestive tract can cause infections. So being that I have zero cells in my blood, I am greatly at risk for infection. I will need to be extremely careful with hygiene, hand-washing, hand sanitizer and choosing to go to functions where there are larger crowds. I have been instructed to take my temperature twice a day and if my temperature is above 38F then I need to go directly to emergency. I got the message that there no messing around with this as it can be life-threatening if I have an infection that is not immediately treated.

Since I have been feeling well and have not had any signs of infection, Dr. Stevens allowed my chemotherapy to proceed despite the neutrophil levels. They will continue to monitor my bloodwork and there is a possibility I may need to have daily injections of Neupogen in addition to the Heparin shots I am already giving myself. I will see the Oncologist on June 16 and will find out the next steps in terms of how they are going to treat the Neutropenia, or whether they will just monitor me.

All things considered, I am coping with the side effects and taking each day as it comes. I am grateful for the time I am spending here at the schoolhouse. We have had walks, lunch at Lora Bay, a trip into Collingwood and patio time at the Firehall Pizza, one of our favourite places to go in town. I have been sleeping great and while I am tired, I feel ready and prepared for the next few days that I know will be difficult.

Jordan has had a busy few days, she competed at the County Track Meet last night and came in 3rd place in the High Jump. Today, Jason and Jordan left early to drive to Oshawa to the Reach for the Top Invitational Competition. Jordan came in first place on the Bars and second place on the Beam. She was also awarded a special award for "Best Free Hips" on the Bars. It is not recommended for me to be surrounded by such large crowds with my current bloodwork standing, I am sad to miss the chance to see Jordan and cheer her on. She knows and understands that I am her biggest fan and am there in spirit. I need to limit my contact where I am able to and while it is hard and I am disappointed that cancer is getting in my way, I know that it is only temporary and will be worth it in the end.