Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Best Things We Forget To Thank Our Highschool Friends For

It all started with an email via Facebook. Who's up for a girls weekend getaway? I had recently learned the great news that my cancer was in remission, a getaway certainly seemed like exactly what I needed. I called a BFF from highschool whom I have kept in constant touch with, had babies together, camped at Macgregor Point and Grundy, travelled to Mexico with our husbands, Michelle #1 are you in? Quickly our plans fell into place and four of us would meet up in Miami. Four women who share common memories, friendships that came and went with the tides of university, marriage, distance and work. A common bond remained, we spent five years at Grand River together, lived in close proximity to one another growing up, know all of the same people, come back most years for Oktoberfest, and shared some hilarious memories of our formative years together. Years that have shaped the strong, successful, amazing women we have become today.

 I have been reflecting on our weekend and have
caught myself smiling. Cab rides with Jeff Bridges, underground bars with skating rinks and bowling alleys, Young Presidents, lush spa massages, Coronas beachside, discovering Mojitos, expensive Clevelander drinks, fresh meat, cheesy girl bands, 7th floor pools, amazing dinners, perfect patio tables with a view. A weekend of reacquaintance, catching up, laughter of memories past, sharing tears of heartache of loved ones and friends whom we have lost. I realized that despite our distance and time, some things haven't changed. I realized that highschool friends hold a special place in our hearts. We share something that our new mom friends, sports team acquaintances and neighbours don't have. We were apart of the best and worst decisions of our lives, learning about failure, resilience and having goals. Realizing that our parents did something right with all of us, and that we can learn from our highschool years and become better parents for our own children.

Thank you Michelle, Kate and Heather. Thank for a great weekend, supporting me and celebrating with me. Raising our glasses to us. Thank you for reminding me about how lucky we were to have the memories of highschool that we do. Thank you for memories of prom dresses and big hair, mixed cassette tapes, driving in Jettas and Pickup trucks, curling irons and getting ready at each other's houses, playing violas, driver's ed, first boyfriends, boyfriends from other schools, wing-mans, air bands drunk, the V, sneaking behind our parent's backs, tanning on the roof, drinking swamp water, 16th birthday parties, moving out to attend university, our "bad boys", Forest Heights trips at lunch, pool synchro routines, chasing boys on the playground, coke can comparisons, Mr. Hughes and English papers, skipping class, convenience store mishaps, the cafe, french fries and gravy and chocolate chip cookies, homeroom in music, coming late, playing asshole, Daytona Beach, writing notes in class, New Order, Depeche Mode, ACDC, long skirts and tight jeans, St Mary's dances, the Spoons, orchestra, student council, hockey games and hockey players and Renegade blue and gold. I look forward to continued friendship, upcoming highschool reunions and more Oktoberfests to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bucket List - Check

As some of you know, when Jason and I were married, he had the chicken pox. We spent alot of time in our beautiful room at the Couples Resort just outside of Algonquin Park. (Formerly Bear Trail Inn Resort). We were lying in bed and decided to start to write our bucket list. What did we want to do in our life together? The only paper we had was an envelope from the stationary at the resort, we unfolded the envelope and filled every square inch of the paper. We have added to the bucket list over the years, we still have the tattered envelope and take such great pleasure in checking our dreams off.

After a cancer diagnosis, bucket list items take on a whole new meaning. Life is short. Don't waste opportunities. Jason and I are so grateful that our future continues to shine bright ahead of us. I also want to take every chance to honour and recognize bucket list items of my loved ones. My mom since her retirement has grown to love the Marilyn Denis Show, I would hedge a guess that she was a CityLine fan back in the Marilyn days as well. I knew that my Mom was staying in Kitchener in February, so I took a chance and submitted a request for Marilyn Denis Show tickets. We had to write a short paragraph about why we wanted the tickets and I shared that I was recovering from cancer treatment and had been given this gift of time that I was able to take my mother to the show. And we got the tickets!!! What a treat. Quite a cool experience. We went home with a whole bag of giveaways as well! I didn't expect that at all. (Stella Dot gift card, Shoppers gift card, post-it notes, nail polish set, ballroom dancing lessons, etc!) Pretty cool! Mom and I enjoyed a nice night in Toronto, stayed at the Hyatt on King, dinner out at Fred's Not Here, lunch at Hush during TO's Winterlicious. A great two days and another bucket list item checked off for Mom!!

I also was able to get myself to our 10th anniversary of Winter Yurting. A huge accomplishment that would not be possible if not for my husband Jason, Jordan and our wonderful friends who helped me out so much. I was determined to make it. The weather was perfect, the company full of laughter, kids who are like family making forts and tobogganing. I was able to go to bed early on Saturday night and sleep knowing that I was able to reach this goal of making it winter yurting. It was only a year ago during the same weekend that I was fretting over
the lumps on my neck and waking up in night sweats. How much one's life can change in 365 days. But I'm here and I'm cancer free. Thank god.

Great news and meet my new friend the Z pack

I received some great news from Dr Stevens my oncologist today. My bloodwork continues to improve and return to normal levels in almost all categories. He is so pleased that my white blood cell count is now in the normal range as well as my hemoglobin and platelets. In his words, it's quite amazing! Another test that they use is called an ESR or erythrocyte sedimentation rate test. It is often referred to as the sedimentation rate or the sed rate. An ESR blood test is usually done to check and understand the degree of inflammation in the body and is related to cancers such as lymphoma, various kinds of infections as well as autoimmune disorders and diseases. When I was first diagnosed my ESR rate was well over 60 he recalled. The normal range is between 0-20. My new ESR rate is now 4. This is often used as a "soft predictor" for lymphoma so as long as these numbers stay low, this indicates that there is most likely no inflammation in my lymph nodes, which is what we are continuing to watch for. I will see Dr Stevens again in two months for additional bloodwork and if necessary another follow-up CT scan.

Unfortunately, the downside to my visit is that I have acquired my first respiratory infection. I came down with a cold last weekend and quickly it was clear that it had migrated to my chest. I am quite wheezy, particularly in the morning and there were minor crackling sounds. He prescribed Zithromax which is used to treat many different types of respiratory infections caused by bacteria. It is 5 pills given over the course of several days, but it is fast-acting and stays in your system for around 10 days. It is likely I will need antibiotics each time I contract a cold over this first year, post-chemotherapy. One of the chemotherapy drugs in ABVD called Bleomycin can cause lung damage and make your lungs more susceptible to infection. This is the drug that is also connected to another side effects I am dealing with peripheral neuropathy of my fingers and Raynaud's disease - discoloration of fingers and toes.

I am grateful that I had the appointment with Dr Stevens this week or I would have been making a trek to our family physician instead. It was great to check-in with Dr Stevens and feel re-assured that all is going according to plan. I wasn't sure about attending the appointment at the Cancer Centre with me coughing so much but they did not want me to miss the appointment and wanted to investigate the cold. I was masked up and sanitized down. This cold has definitely reminded me that my body is continuing to recover and that I am still not 100% Michelle.

A girls getaway weekend is on my horizon. Sun, spa, massages, dinners, beach, reading and relaxation. All in the company of 3 amazing ladies whom I share great memories of highschool at GRCI. What a great way to celebrate life, soak up the sun and reconnect. Bucket list - check!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Don't Stop 
Fleetwood Mac

If you wake up and don't want to smile
If it take just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You'll see things in a different way

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

Why not think about times to come
And not about the things that you've done
If your life was bad to you
Just think what tomorrow will do

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

All I want is to see you smile
If it takes just a little while
I know you don't believe that it's true
I never meant any harm to you

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone

Ooh, don't you look back

The past month while I have been greatly struggling with anxiety and the emotional aspects of cancer, I have enjoyed increased strength and energy levels. I am beginning to be able to live a "new" normal kind of life and have started checking off some bucket list items and things I am looking forward to once again be able to do from the  I Can't Wait (from September blog post) . Last night we checked off another bucket list item by going to the Fleetwood Mac concert. Songbird was fittingly the last song of the evening and was Jason and my first dance song at our wedding 18 years ago. Even more appropriate to my life right now is one of my favourite all time songs. Don't Stop. Looking at the lyrics I am able to see the relevance to what I have been going through emotionally. Cancer is behind me and I am trying to not look back. Some days are better than others but I have to truly believe that yesterday's gone. I am recovering today. I am so tired, climbing up to our seats in the true nosebleeds while worth every step took a lot out of me today and today I can feel it. Nevertheless, I did it!! Check!!!

World Cancer Day - Cancer. It's Not Beyond Us.

February 4, 2015 is World Cancer Day. This year’s campaign will be articulated around four key areas of focus:
  • Choosing healthy lives
  • Delivering early detection
  • Achieving treatment for all
  • Maximising quality of life
This year the focus will be on a proactive approach to cancer treatment and that solutions and cures are within our reach, particularly with the new early detection screening programs and gains made in chemotherapy/radiation treatments. "World Cancer Day is a unique opportunity to raise awareness that there is much that can be done at an individual, community and governmental level, to harness and mobilize these solutions and bring about positive change." By moving forward together we have the potential to show: Cancer. It is not beyond us.

I have personal direct experience with the gains made in cancer treatment. Hodgkins Lymphoma is now a highly treatable, cureable form of cancer with proven standards of treatment. For that I am grateful. The survival rates continue to increase for Lymphoma and many other cancers on the continuum.

One of the events related to World Cancer Day is a movement that our family chose to donate towards as a way of paying it forward after my Kicking Cancer party is the No Hair Selfie. A former teacher and his brothers are participating in the campaign and we made a donation to their team. Princess Margaret Hospital is also connected to the Cancer Care Path service which I have been fortunate to be apart of since my diagnosis. In the spirit of the #NoHairSelfie movement, I remember my last day of chemotherapy. It symbolizes how far I have come in the past few months. I am gaining confidence and strength that I am moving past this and that I will continue to re-vitalize and become a stronger person now that I am a survivor.

I researched where the funds raised will go? "Funds raised from the #NoHairSelfie campaign will support the Princess Margaret Hospital's vision of Personalized Cancer Medicine, a multi-faceted, integrated approach to cancer care that focuses on the unique nature of each patient: "Finding the right treatment for the right patient, at the right time." Key Investments and Research Priorities include:
  • Cancer Stem Cells - Erasing cancer’s blueprint
  • Epigenetics - Looking for a genetic on/off switch
  • Guided Therapeutics Program - Superhero vision in one of the world’s best operating rooms
  • Immune Therapy - Helping the body to heal itself
  • Molecular Imaging - The next frontier in diagnostics
  • Nanotechnology - A new field with the potential to revolutionize the way cancer is treated
  • Precision Genomics - Decoding genetic fingerprints
  • Personalized Radiation Therapy – Adaptive, Stereotactic, Regenerative
  • Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care - Caring for the body, mind and soul
  • Survivorship Programming - Putting patients in the driver’s seat"