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.