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Cancer Daily Dispatches

A personal daily diary of successful cancer treatment.

Welcome to the story of my cancer journey

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2014 and had chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. I originally wrote these dispatches to help me sort out the impact that cancer diagnosis and treatment had on my feelings of mortality and my sense of myself. Mostly I was just trying to keep it together. Along the way I transformed from a normal middle-aged woman into Furiosa. Not necessarily what I was going for, but I'm okay with it.

Hopefully these stories from my experience will help you feel less alone in yours. 

June 15, Saturday

Epilogue


  • 6 Sep 2018 5:37 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    I was going to die of breast cancer, but now they're going to try and save me. Aren't I lucky!



    I spent a long time in fear.  I was all alone there. I have stepped out of the everyday and spent time with my death. Now I am back in it, everyday life. Gonna try to not die quite so soon.

    It's reasonably cool right now, and I have the door open, it's humid though and it's supposed to be beastly today. Really beastly hot and humid, it will feel like +40. But these days it cools off at night, every night, no matter what, and it's dark when I wake up at 5:00am, so it's not so bad. 

    Yesterday I had my consult with the oncologist. My oncologist. I have an oncologist and a cancer team. Yesterday’s cubicle woman is his assistant and my go-to person if I have any questions, she will always know where he is and can always get in touch with him. The receptionist is actually my bookings assistant. She will book all of my tests.

    He was mad that nobody did anything about the MRI recommendations three years ago. He has emotions. Mad is one of them. His face turns red. None of the follow up tests were done. This lump was identified back then. He was impressed that I decided it was a problem myself, and then lied and cheated my way back in for a mammogram on my own. "Good for you”. He was proud of me. "Keep it up" He's going to do all the tests that should have been done before. The ultra sound, the bone scan, and also additional tests. He read where the radiologist said it looked like cancer to her, the doctor did a physical exam with expert hands and said it looks like cancer to him too, so they are proceeding as if it's cancer even if I haven't had the biopsy yet. I have two full weeks of tests ahead of me, including a genetics consultation.  

    The tumour itself proclaimed the accuracy of her touch, for it had felt something too. Only a patient can judge whether the doctor understands a tumour correctly with his fingers.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward,1966

    This doctor is young and bright.  He's intense. Already a success in his career. You can feel it just being in the room with him. This is his thing. He's too aggressive for me. I get why the other doctor didn't order the extra tests (sort of) I fell through the cracks, he was just a normal person doing his job, just missed one file of many stacked up on his desk. I should've pursued it on my own, made those doctors do the tests. But also MRIs are famous for false positive results. And if I had done that then, would I be here at this good hospital now? Would I be sitting in this room with this superstar cancer doctor? No. 

    That is the thing. I would've been still mucking about with the private clinic who did not do the follow up, or I'd be at the other hospital which is okay, but not that great. Not like this place. 

    The hospital atmosphere is different on the cancer floor. It's less crowded. I'm not part of the masses getting routine tests anymore. I am somebody special. I'm in a different place, apart from the herd. I see the effects of the pink ribbon campaigns. There is more money here. Not just money for all these tests, and not just how specific the tests are, and how much more advanced the treatment has become, but also money for more comfortable waiting room chairs, electronic ipads attached to every third chair to keep you from getting bored. You don't see that sort of stuff until you get onto the cancer ward, and especially the breast cancer clinic. I am in a whole new medical world.  

    Here is the thing, it's so weird. Here is the so weird thing. 

    I've been feeling just happy. Ever since I walked into the clinic, they're treating me like a cancer patient already, I have the full team and I haven't even had the biopsy yet. This is bad news. This is scary news. My husband was more scared. I am comforting him, reminding him that people have cancer and they get treated and they recover. Look at yourself, look at our cameraman, look at your cousin, look at my brother. And I am happy inside. 


    They think I have a bad one. I know that. But not hopelessly bad. That's what they think right now. I feel like I am below fifty fifty in their minds, but that I could still make it. 

    He found a lump on my lymph node, in my armpit on that side. They are going to biopsy that too. Additional test. 

    His face, his tone of voice, his attitude, all shouted that, negative mammogram or not, his fingers told him a mastectomy wold be needed. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    It's growing, and it might have spread, probably spread, and he's calling it at four centimeters.  At five centimeters thirty percent are alive at five years. So by the numbers that's where I am. I think I was at seventy percent by my own guesses and the mammogram results at the beginning of the week. Down to fifty fifty now.

    This week has been up and down. 

    So why do I feel so happy? It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when I talked to the doctor yesterday. I was relieved. I was happy. I just had this irrational happiness inside me. 

    The best seem to have a sixth sense about disease. They feel its presence, know it to be there, perceive its gravity before any intellectual process can define, catalog, and put it into words. Patients sense this about such a physician as well: that he is attentive, alert, ready; that he cares. No student of medicine should miss observing such an encounter. Of all the moments in medicine, this one is most filled with drama, with feeling, with history.  

    Annals of Internal Medicine, Michael LaCombe, 1993

    This was my first, you probably have cancer talk. This was the first person who said, this is probably cancer, we're so certain that we're going to proceed as if it is cancer. I should have been sitting formally on the other side of a desk, fully dressed, getting the news in a well rehearsed speech, instead of sitting on the examining table in a hospital gown and sock feet. I should been shocked and devastated. Instead I was happy when he caught my eye, stopped writing down all the tests, stopped being so excited about going into battle with the cancer enemy, acknowledged that this probably wasn't what I was expecting and this wasn't the ideal way to find out and then said, "I'm never going to lie to you. I'm always going to be upfront and just tell you stuff." I can trust him. I am happy. 

    Why? Because I already knew it. I already knew that this is some kind of cancer. And I know it's on the move. It might've been this super slow growing thing for a long time, but things have been happening in the past six months and it's on the move. Time to do something about it. I would die for sure if we don't. I knew that. I knew that already. I knew that this summer. I knew that when we were camping and I was having my shower at Rushing River campsite. I knew that when we put Moose's ashes in Lake Superior. This tumour is growing now. I will die if it's not stopped. I knew that part already. 

    So, no he didn't shock me when he said it. I was happy and relieved. We're going to try and stop it. There is this whole medical world out there that's on it, and they're going to try and help me stop this. I'm not alone anymore. I'm not for sure going to die anymore.  It’s only maybe now. Only fifty/fifty. And that's why I was so happy. That's why I was so relieved. 

    Because for me it wasn't news that I have cancer and was on the path to dying. The news is that I have cancer, and I also now have this whole team that's going to try get rid of it. 

    This is like when my tooth got infected. You suffer alone, you have pain and then you say, okay this is it, my body can't fix this itself, I need help. And the dentist gives you serious antibiotics, and he pulls the infected tooth and that's it, that's the kick start your body needs to get over that hump. And then your body can take over from there and save itself. 

    It's like that but on a really big scale. 

    So I'm really happy. I'm happy and relieved. I'm not alone in my dark and growing fear. My secret is out. And I have a whole team of smart professionals that are on my side. And yes, I am benefiting from that entire pink ribbon campaign and all the money that's gone into that. This is not your mother's breast cancer - even if it turns out that it is your mother's breast cancer. It's not going to be treated the way they treated your mother's breast cancer. 

    It's crazy, I can't wait to tell everybody. I was going to die of breast cancer, but now they're going to try and save me. Aren't I lucky! It'll be a crap six months, maybe even a whole crap year. But then I might live! I might live for a long time after that. And they'll know, and I'll have this team and I'm really happy with them. I like this hospital. I feel good about it. 


    I think I was going to die. In a year or two. I think that's what would've happened. I think I have started to die already. And maybe we can turn it around. And maybe, when he said they have new, targeted treatments these days, that they don't always do that full chemo make your hair fall out thing, and they don't always do radical surgeries. Who knows, even if it's an aggressive one, if it's the right kind of aggressive it still might only be removing the cancer itself and then targeted treatment. And maybe even only targeted treatment and no surgery at all. That made me feel hopeful and happy. 

    I'm relieved that it's not those days, my mother's days when you went in for a biopsy and didn't know if you would wake up just fine, or with one boob or even both boobs gone. Barbaric. And those days are gone. That's what I know, that's what I know of breast cancer and I was happy and relieved to discover that, that's not what's going on now.  Thank you to all the women who fought for this change.

    Perhaps we will soon see the day when the good old American practice of combining surgical biopsy in a single stage with mastectomy will join the Halsted on the dusty museum shelf. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    My husband and I went out for dinner. We had a nice dinner together. I had fish and chips. It was okay, I introduced my husband to mushy peas as a side for fish and chips and he liked them. I had a glass of cider. But I didn't stop to get wine or booze on my way home. I almost did. But then I didn't. 

    Here is the crazy thing, I'm back to wanting to take better care of my health again now too. Do my bit. Saving this body that is my temple. For me, yes, but also for my husband, kids and grandkids. My sister. My brother. My friends who love me. 

    So I feel happy, unreasonably happy. And I understand it because I was mentally adjusting to dying. I felt it, and I felt like I was going to die from it. And now I'm not so sure. I may get a really big reprieve out of this in the end. I might actually get that alternate life that I can almost taste just on the other side of this, and enough time to have that life too. So I'm happy. 

    My other choice was to continue this life for the next year or two and then be done. And that would not have been the end of the world either. I've had a good life. And it still might turn out that way. But now I have a chance at something else. I might have this big second chance. 

    And it's a bit like when I had all those back problems and had that life, almost an old woman's life when I could hardly get around, when I couldn't ride in a car from Calgary to Banff, when I couldn't really travel anymore, where I could barely get down the block, barely drive a car, it was hard work getting from the couch where I watch in total envy when people simply stood up from their chairs on All in the Family. I had that life. I was dying from that life, and then I quit it. It was a big trauma. But I got this whole new, other life out of it. 

    I got interesting work, I traveled the world, I had good lovers and big romances, and I met my husband and I have had a whole life here with him. I lived in the Arctic. I saw Shakespeare at Stratfford, the real Stratford in Britain. I lived in the Philippines. I traveled to Norway. I travelled to Germany for work and all the men sang love songs from their countries on my birthday at the back of the conference bus. I would never have had that if my old life had not been destroyed I would never had had that new one. I feel like something like this could happen now. 

    I kept the best of my old life. My kids. My family. My good, real friends. 

    The historical conditions that once allowed a doctor to declare that the truly happy never get cancer have shifted such that we are now asked to think about breast cancer as a route to happiness. 

    Pink Ribbons, Inc. Samantha King, 2006

    And what else? Yesterday I went and got my eyebrows done. At the spa at the end of the street, just past the laundromat. I felt proud of myself for doing that. Just doing it, on the spur of the moment, doing my eyebrows. And the irony. Here I am doing my hair and eyebrows, spending good money on that when it's very possible that I could go onto chemo and they'll all fall out. Human nature, eh man? 

    I booked the ticket to take care of the grandkids as soon as I got the first bad mammogram. No, that was the good one, where the technician said, "you have a gland, do not be alarmed." Before the recall. Now we are alarmed. 

    I will meet with this doctor in two weeks after all the tests are done. We'll know then, we'll have the information and we'll talk about a treatment plan. That will be the week before I'm scheduled to leave.  I'm worried about having big stuff happen right away and leaving them in the lurch, and also hitting them with sudden bad news all at once. Think about how to soften that. Maybe simply tell them that I had a bad mammogram and they're doing tests and we'll know the week before. Leave my ticket as is until then. 

    That's probably okay. Just a bit of a heads up. 

    And I have personal disability insurance. And government insurance as well. I could qualify for some kind of employment insurance for this too. You'd think I knew this was coming all along, all those years that I've been paying into this insurance, no matter how broke I was I still scraped together the money for disability insurance. I hope it works out. 

    I think my life will change. For sure. 

    And partly - I admit it. I like being the centre of attention. I like all these hospital people being nice to me for a change. I like my husband feeling like he has to be nice to me. That makes me happy too. 

    I spent a long time in fear. I have stepped out of the everyday and spent time with my death. I stepped out on my own and went into the dark place where I could die, was going to die. I mentally spent time there and was okay with it. I was all alone there. I was the only one who knew what was happening. I stepped out of the everyday then. Now I am back in it, everyday, life. Gonna try to not die quite so soon. And I have a whole medical team on my side. 

    So I am happy and I want to call everyone and tell them this great news. 

    But none of them have been through the, dark part, she could die phase yet. It will be bad news for them. And that will bring me down too. It will take me back to the sadness of death. Death itself, that notion that we all die and it sucks. So I need to manage the way I handle that, the way I give them the information. I need to let them know how to take it too. 

    In the meantime, I have today. And things to do, but not really. Basically I'm leaving the next two weeks free, free to drop everything and run out and get a test when they ask for me. That's my schedule for the next two weeks. Starting today. Things will only start up today. I suspect that there won't be any tests for today, but you never know. But it could start as soon as tomorrow. I would be surprised if I don't have any tests tomorrow. Next week for sure. This is a window, a chance to catch up on some of the my office work while my husband is off on a shoot for the day, while my oncology team is setting up my testing regime. 

    I have an oncology team.




  • 5 Sep 2018 6:07 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    When I showed my referral to the receptionists they sent me off to an "authorized personnel only" section right away. You know it's bad when -  you skip all the queues, and you get sent straight to a person behind the "authorized personnel" door.  

    Got to your room and wait there. Proceedings have been instituted against you, and you will be informed of everything in due course. Franz Kafka, The Trial, 1925


    Everything is back to school. My job has come to life, people are exchanging emails. Summer is officially over and the mood is all fall, and back to school, and getting going. But I am still on pause. I am still waiting to find out what is going to happen to me in the next few months - and the rest of my life and maybe how long that rest of my life might be. 

    But it's seems pretty concrete in some ways already. Yesterday I had two projects - get myself into the hospital breast clinic. And get a haircut. I had to push for the breast clinic, I had to call and leave messages for my family doctor trying to get my referral document several times before I finally got through. And then I had to push them to send a fax and not just another attempt at an email. The referral came through. It was also marked "urgent". 

    So we go back to the original image. The technician didn't think it was much, the doctor was alarmed. The technician led me to believe that the doctor is an alarmist. I know that my family doctor’s "urgent" is a result of that mammogram doctor's urgent. My family doctor has not looked at the images, they never even get them, he is going completely by that one other doctor's report. But he adds his urgent to her urgent and away we go. It gets even more urgent. 

    I took all my stuff over to the hospital. This was my first time at this hospital. I took a new bus, which I see all the time downtown and sometimes ride as far as our neighborhood. Basically the hospital is along that street, the bus runs up and down that street. It goes through wealthy residential areas until it gets to close to the hospital and around there it turns into an interesting multi-cultural part of the city. I like it around there. I've discovered that I feel happier in a more multi-cultural neighborhood.  

    Like all hospitals it was basically a maze. And it took me a while to find the right Pavilion and then to get myself  to the correct elevators that could get me to the right floor. Luckily I didn’t have a scheduled appointment. It's a newer hospital.  It was just cleaner and brighter and more friendly. 

    When I showed my referral to the receptionists they sent me off into an "authorized personnel only" section. You know it's bad when -  you skip all the queues, and you get sent straight to a person behind the "authorized personnel" door.  The woman dressed in a skirt and sweater works in a cubicle. Who knew they had cubicles back there? She has pictures of her kids smiling and laughing on her desk. She looks worried and overworked. She is kind to me. She booked me a consult with a surgeon for the very next day - today, at 4:00pm. Just like that, me standing by the edge of her cubicle while she typed it in. Took ten minutes. I have jumped the queue. I'm at the front of the line. And even though nothing is official yet, I'm going to see a surgeon. Clearly everybody expects that there will be surgery, I have my own oncology team forming around me, and I haven't even had the biopsy yet, just the mammogram report, just the opinion of that one doctor, that I know was in dispute with her technician.  

    I'm glad I've made it to a good place. I'm glad that I've made it to the breast clinic. It’s one of the best in the world. I’m glad I'll have this whole oncology team around me. It makes me feel secure. It makes me feel like this is going to be handled as best it can be handled. So that's good. I am trying not to be alarmed at the same time. That too. Not too alarmed, not until it turns real anyway. We don't know yet. I keep reminding myself that we don't know yet. And that we won't know until the biopsy happens and the results come back. There needs to be some kind of real look before we know. So I try to stay calm. And I try to stay busy. I try to accomplish something every day, so I can feel like, what? - that I'm getting ready, being prepared, it's the mood of bringing in the harvest in the fall, getting ready for winter. Getting ready for when the treatment part actually hits and then I'm in it, and won't necessarily be able to do these things for myself  - for a while, and if it goes badly, maybe forever. 

    Because I know that too. Sometimes it does happen like that, you start the cancer treatment, it disables you, but it doesn't really stop the cancer and then you are not able to do anything right up until you die, you don't have full function and you can't do any of those last wish things at all. You are just sick and disabled from when you go for your first tests until you die. Not often, not always. Look at my brother, he went through this twice and he got better enough to go back to having his life, to go back to work afterwards, both times. But it doesn't hurt to be prepared. 

    My little motto, manage your life as if you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and at the same time, as if you will live to ninety is holding up. Every big decision. Answer both questions. If I do it this way what will I think of myself if I die tomorrow. If I do it that way what will ninety year old me think of it. I try to keep both versions of me as happy as I can. That motto applies now too. 

     I was done in time to get my haircut. Both things were accomplished yesterday. 


    It felt good to be there, in that hospital neighborhood. It felt right. I've been feeling like I'll make new friends, oddly, like this is a place where I'll make new friends. Like it is a place that will become familiar and I'll feel safe and at home there. Odd. Unexpected. But that's my instinct. 

    And it doesn't mean that I'm sure I'll be cured there and I won't die of this breast cancer. That may happen, but it will be okay if it does. That's what it felt like. Like I will be treated well and I'll make new friends on the way and it will be okay. I'll feel good about myself. Whatever it is about my life coming up next, it will be good. Somehow it will be good. Strange. Like it's right, it's a fate and it's right. Meeting a major turning point, but a good one in my life. 

    So, maybe it is only that dying of cancer sooner will save me from the dreaded dying of slow brain melt and getting fragile later on. Maybe that is all. Maybe that's why it's good. And that's fine too. 

    It was alarming to get fast tracked like that. I know what that means in a hospital setting. Not good. But it also felt secure and good and things were going the right way.  

    Did I mention I got my haircut yesterday? I'm all set for a life of having tests, no time to wash your hair between tests. Avoiding the homeless look that I get when my hair gets too long and straggly. I have ‘homeless look’ stories to tell. There was this time when I was taking my laundry in a garbage bag to the laundry mat down the street. I admit I needed a haircut that day. A nun in full habit walked up to me, so serious, and offered to help carry my burden. She thought I was a homeless women dragging all my worldly possessions across the street. I love to tell that story. And there was the time I fell asleep on a bench in Stanley Park and my friend J walked by with her boyfriend and she said, that’s so sad, sad to see homeless women, and he replied - Actually I think it’s Janice. I love those stories. But not today. I clean up good too. My hair is now fairly short in a nice, expensive looking cut. I'm thinking of getting my eyebrows done again too. That way I'll have six weeks of looking good without any big effort. Six weeks where my hair can get greasy and I have no makeup and I'll still look okay. Maybe I can just try that spa at the end of the street. Just walk up there and see if they'll take me in today. It’s been there for years and I’ve never gone in. 

    I have today until 4:00pm. Until 3:00pm. I'll leave here at 3:00pm. 4:00pm is when I see the surgeon. After that I don't really have control over my schedule. It will just be one day at a time. Finding out as I go, so I can't really make any other appointments. But I could try and sneak in the eyebrows this afternoon before I go. Or maybe tomorrow morning. I could try for that. 

    I don't plan to even try to work while I'm in treatment. But that's not the same thing as saying that I'm planning to retire and quit working all together. And who am I kidding, while I won't have the same work responsibilities, I will still have to do some work while I'm in treatment. I am the only one who can do it - in both my jobs. I’m it. I work alone.  I can't just stop. But for now I'm still in weird pause. 

    Once I know things, then I can start to make better, more concrete plans. That too. How fast, how much and how fast. I gave it this week for the biopsy. And then a week or two for results. It's Wednesday, and today is an assessment meeting, not any real thing. So it might not even be the biopsy this week. That might not happen until next week. I figure I have this weekend probably for sure. And maybe even next week and weekend. And then I'll start to be in it. And I'll know next week, or the week after, or maybe even the week after that, that's when we'll have real results. 

    What days were lying in wait for him? Would he ever find the right path through all these difficulties?

    Franz Kafka, The Trial, 1925

    We shall see how that plays out. And also how it plays out around the trip to take care of the grandchildren.  My decision now is to let it play out basically the way the doctors say, because for now it could also be an aggressive fast moving cancer that we have to catch before it starts to spread. I get that. But, if it turns out to be benign and just a pre-cancer type lump, or one of the slow moving ones like mom and my brother had then perhaps we can fit the treatment around the trip. Right now we don't know. 

    We are all on a push to know. That's the big thing, get me in to someplace good (check- done) and then find out what this is. That's the big thing for now. 

    And I feel good now about doing my bit to move that along, showing up where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to do. Even if it is a hospital and I’m scared of hospitals.

    It was, of course, understood that he must appear without fail; he did not need to be reminded of that. 

    Franz Kafka, The Trial, 1925

    In the dark last night my boob became bigger, and painful, and it seemed like growing pains, that it was growing and trying to consume me. But now it's back to looking basically harmless. Just a bit wonky, that's all. If you didn’t know about early detection you would not notice it. And I am fine. And I tell myself that no one has said anything about lymph nodes in any of the reports, or even anything about additional masses. It's just this one, and it doesn't seem to have spread anywhere. And I console myself with looking at it, and thinking yes, it does look like mom's when she showed it too me before she went in for surgery, and told me how her doctor told her it was normal, and not cancer for months and years until one day - it was cancer. And also how she had the surgery, full on Halstead radical mastectomy, and she got better and lived for another 10 or 15 years after that. And that the breast cancer never killed her - it was the melanoma that did it in the end. 

    Who - including the doctors - could say whether those deadly cells, those landing craft, had floated past in the dark, and where they had landed their murderous crews? 

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward,1966

    But I am not thinking about all those other tumors, the brain tumor and the chest tumor that got so big. I choose not to think about them. Why didn't they find those? No ct scans in those days. Perhaps there will be a ct scan in my future. Probably. 

    Laundry. That is the big mission for today. Holding off on starting any big office projects while I wait to get a sense of how big and disruptive this toxic/killer boob adventure is going to be. 

    But already I know my life will change. Already I can feel my life changing around me. 

    Yes it is like when I knew I was pregnant with my first son. And yes it is also like when Dad killed himself and we knew that was the start of a new phase then too. It was a fall just like this. That was thirty years ago. I was thirty-two. I'm sixty-two now. I was sixteen when I got pregnant the first time. Those were times when you knew things were changing, that your life was going to fundamentally change. Birth of a child, death of a parent. 

    Jobs change your life, friends change your life, men change your life. But birth and death those are the real biggies. 






  • 4 Sep 2018 5:54 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    Is that a lie? Okay, maybe I indulged in too much cheese. Had a glass of wine. Ate a strawberry that wasn't bio. Breathed air downwind of manufacturing plants. Drank water downstream from millions of women on the pill. Used deodorant. Talked on a cellphone. 


    Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual tends to be awash in significance.Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag, 1976


    Today is a back to medical stuff day. After this weekend break I'm going to get my referral from my family doctors and take all the stuff over to the hospital with the best breast cancer clinic and try to get into that hospital with that breast cancer team. I had a break to think about other things, be myself in my real life, and now I have to get back into me being this cancer person, potential cancer. Lot's of people have gone through this, lot's of people I know have gone through this. But still - it's a thing. 

    I remember when I first got glasses. My Dad was very resistant to the idea, he didn't want to pay for them because up until then all of us kids were perfect. Once I got glasses we weren't all perfect anymore. I had a flaw. Perfection was gone forever. He even wanted me to pretend that I could see without my glasses rather than admit that one of his kids needed glasses. A weird side to my Dad.  

    This prospect of cancer is a bit like that in my brain. With all other kinds of suffering I accept it, and I even say, "you are only as deep as you've been carved" and I expect to come out the other end as a better person, but I do feel like cancer is some kind of fail, like weak eyes and glasses. 

    This guilt trip which many cancer patients have been led into (you see, it is a shameful thing because you could have prevented it if only you had been more…) is an extension of the blame-the-victim syndrome.

    Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals,1980

    And now that I think of it, from this perspective, how the hell did mom feel as dad went on about the imperfection of needing glasses when she was sitting at the table beside me wearing all her cancer scars? I know she was ashamed of them. After she had the melanoma removed when I was eight years old there was a big 'bite' scar that cut into the calf on her leg. She wouldn't go to the beach with us after that. She stayed in the car, in long pants and did her nails. She thought people would stare at her leg. Dad tried to tease her out of it and said 'only teenagers think everyone is looking at them. Nobody is looking at you.' But it didn't work. She still stayed in the car. 

    In the nineteenth century, the notion that the disease fits the patients’ character, as the punishment fits the sinner, was replaced by the notion that it expresses character. Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag, 1978

    And the attitude from my society now is that cancer does have this 'moral' quality to it.  You eat the right cancer fighting foods, you take all the right early detection tests, go to the gym to exercise; and be a good person, pay your bills on time, never get divorced, never get pregnant if you're not married, and then you won't get cancer. 

    Moralistic judgement sits in the air if you do get cancer. I remember the time a woman ahead of me in the imaging centre had something suspicious on her mammogram, and the technician said, 'that's what you get for missing your screening last year.' As if the screening itself somehow prevented cancer. And most people believe it that way.  Magical thinking. People are surprised when I say the technician should have been fired over that remark. I don't blame people who want to believe that. I wish that were true too, I wish that all you had to do to prevent breast cancer was get screened faithfully every year and eat your super foods.

    At best the evidence for the salutary effects of routine mammograms - as opposed to breast self-examination - is equivocal, with many respectable large-scale studies showing a vanishingly small impact on overall breast-cancer immortality. 

    Welcome to Cancerland: A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch, 

    Barbara Ehrenreich, Harper's Magazine, 2001

    When my brother was diagnosed with colon cancer the specialist sat me down and explained very seriously that colon cancer is 90% genetic. He said that the things they recommend to prevent colon cancer - avoid eating red meat, get lot's of fibre - only makes up 10% of the risk. 90% is of the risk is genetic. I will have to get a colonoscopy every five years for the rest of my life. And I can't get out of it by giving up red meat and eating salads instead. There isn't enough kale in the world to significantly change my risk. Kale won't turn me into a different - colon cancer immune person. The specialist made a point of warning me about that because I guess most people prefer to go the kale route and forego the colonoscopy. And then they're sorry. 

    Feelings about evil are projected into a disease. 

    Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag, 1978

    I've been getting a mammogram every two years for the last ten years. As proscribed by the new regulations here. And I listened to my mother and even got myself an MRI two years ago. And when it seemed like this boob was going killer then I pulled an old mammogram form from my files and cheated my way into a test last week. But I didn't follow up myself on the MRI. I'm leaving that part out of the story. A small white lie in my thoughts about how I will explain this cancer. And I have not told anyone that I read the mammogram recall report - 95% sure it's cancer.  A small secret for the moment. 

    I've seen that once you get into these lies and secrets with your family they can mess up your own thinking, and if you live long enough they turn into their own kind of dementia. You're always trying to keep the build up of lies straight, you're never sure who knows what, you start avoiding people, you start slipping up once in a while and a mild dementia turns into a much larger personality problem. If you didn't have the lies to protect the whole social, paranoid, misinformation thing would not start happening, it would just be forgetful. But being forgetful and trying to cover big lies at the same time, especially if you have a lot of them, that's a bad combination. I watched my mother go down that road. She told all her friends and family that my Dad died of a heart attack. I know what that trip looks like. So there is that. 

    I think once there is that one moment of that discussion. How did this happen, how did you get cancer? Then it will be done and we'll move onto the whole next stage of simply having cancer and dealing with it. 

    I have spent many hours wondering what I have done or taken or been exposed to that might have caused the cancer. My suspects have ranged from estrogens to our microwave oven and the colour TV. One of the psychiatrists who was helping me said his patients usually blamed people, not things. They often blamed themselves and felt that cancer was a retribution for past sins. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    Notice there is no part of my brain saying it won't be cancer. And that's still on the table. It might not be cancer. I did everything right. Is that a lie? 

    Okay, maybe I indulged in too much cheese. Had a glass of wine or two. Ate a strawberry that wasn't bio and probably had pesticide residue. Painted the walls in my house. Breathed the air downwind of hundreds of manufacturing plants. Drank the water downstream from millions of women on the pill. Used deoderant. Talked on a cellphone. 

    I lived to be this old in spite of it all. That's a big risk factor. Life, just living your life for a long time. Lot's of cell division just means more chance of error over time. 

    Their continual cyclical change of function is accompanied by changes in the tissues and cells, and this is the main reason the female breast is especially vulnerable to cellular damage. 

    Any routine that is constantly being upset by one interruption or another - even if it is perfectly natural for it to be upset - is subject to a greater risk of errors. 

    The overworked breast cell is always being bathed in some hormone that orders ‘Stop doing that. Start doing this.” No wonder so many of the daughter cells go haywire. 

    The largest number of breast cancers occurs in the milk ducts, where the cells are most subject to being annoyed by hormonal or chemical agitators. Relatively few start in the fat cells that have considerably less work to do. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    Yesterday I did every thing on my list. It wasn't housework anymore. But it was a kind of clean up of stuff I haven't looked at for a long time. I looked at my will, and I looked at my life insurance policy, and I looked at my disability policy too. I got those last two in 1995. I keep both policies paid up. But I don't believe that either one will keep me from death or from disability.  It's more than I thought. The amount that it pays that has increased yearly, I didn't know that. I can probably activate it and use it if I do need to stop work and go through these cancer treatments, and if I am disabled by the treatments and unable to work afterwards. So. I feel better about that. And I've been working for a regular company, paying into government insurance for the past three years too. So there is government insurance that I could get. All with the doctors notice. 

    Not now. Not until I get a diagnosis. 

    First I have to get into the breast clinic at the hospital. Then I have to get that biopsy. Then I have to wait for results. Then I have to talk to the doctors and find out the treatment plan. Then I'll know what insurance is worth pursuing. But even if it turns into a bad one with a long chemo treatment, then I'm covered. So it could be okay. I'm insured for just such an outcome as this, if it is cancer. 

    And I know that one of the reasons I got that insurance and paid into it for all these years was because I knew this was a genetic possibility. Cancer runs in my family. Odds were I'd have at least one cancer bout in my lifetime. I'm lucky that it took this long to start up and be scary. And it may not be cancer, or it may be the really slow lazy cancer that mom had. If so, then it's not so bad. Her cancers were mostly slow growing, they took 20 years to get big enough to interfere with her bodily functions. They didn't have the imaging technology we have now. But I still don't understand how her cancers got so big without being detected. A tumor the size of a baseball in her brain, one the size of a basket ball in her chest. I  don't know. Probably never will. Not unless I turn into a research subject and some doctor scientist wants to look into it. 

    So there is all that practical stuff. Looked at. Hard core money stuff. 

    And I walked away from that mentally, feeling better, feeling okay. Then I realized that I am also covered personally. I have my husband. I have this home that I share with my husband. The rent will be paid, food will be bought. Floors will be washed. Food will be cooked. I can be in really bad shape, and I'll be taken care of here. I'm not single like my brother. I have somebody in my life. I've made those choices too. And so has my husband. We were both looking for this kind of relationship when we met. This is the silent agreement between us. We'll watch out for each other. We'll take care of each other in our old age. There is that. We're not officially married but we do have the in sickness and in health thing going on anyway. Neither of us is the type to leave anybody in the lurch. We like that about each other. We admire it. No matter what else might be going on between us. We are both better people than that. So I have that too. That human level of insurance going on for me as well. 

    I won't be a burden to my children. Not any time soon. And if I'm a burden to my husband? If I make it through this and he becomes a burden to me? I feel that between people living together you can never count out the personal debt and add it up. You just give as much as you can. It's a shared burden and a shared benefit. 

    So basically these things are all more or less in place. Nothing to panic over. Even if they gave me seven weeks to live and a death sentence. I can still manage it. Practically speaking. Worst case scenerio planning. 


    My day today - It's a terrible day for me to be out. Let's say that first. The sun came out. It's 23 degrees already at 7:30 am, and worse than that. It feels like 30 degrees with the humidity - already. Not a great day for a cold weather girl like me to be out and about doing things. But none-the-less. It has to happen today. 

    This is my today:

    Get that referral from my family doctor. By fax, by email and print it out. Or go down to his office and get it in person if I have to. Big Priority Number One. 

    Go to the hospital. Take me, myself, my referral and all my images and try to get in to the breast cancer clinic there. Wait as long as I have to wait. Drop everything and do whatever I have to do. If they want me to sit there all day and wait for a doctor to have time to talk to me, then I'll do that. Take my knitting and my book. Be prepared for it to take all day if necessary. For them to grab me and give me the biopsy on the spot. Whatever. Do it. Do what they want. Do what I can. Worst case scenario planning. 

    But realistically I think it will be paper work today, somebody looks at it, and then schedules a biopsy for later this week. And then we wait several weeks until we get results and a doctor consult. 

    In the meantime. I have also booked myself a hair appointment, keeping the same mid-length style. I'll feel better going through all of this if I have a good haircut. And people will probably treat me better too if I don't look too shaggy and unkept. 

    If it's cancer, if it's chemo that will make my hair fall out, then I'll go back again before treatment starts. I'll go get a really short haircut. A short haircut for a change, I might even like it, then let the short hair fall out and go bald. 

    I've been afraid of short hair-cuts because they look cute when you get them, but shitty as they grow out. And I'm too impatient to sit in the hairdressers chair every few weeks. But what the heck. If it's going to fall out, may as well try a short cut. See what I look like with short hair. May as well show it on the outside - those big inner changes. And then it will also be less of a shock having short hair on the other side of treatment as it grows back in again too. And short hair is better for being in a hospital and not getting to wash your hair as often as you like. I'm almost tempted to get it cut short right now. But maybe it won't be necessary. If it's  not chemo, if it's just surgery, or surgery and radiation, then no reason to get the short hair cut. 

    So it could be medical, and then be nice to me with a haircut kind of day, even if I don't really like haircuts. Beauty parlour days are supposed to make you feel better. I'm not planning for anything else. I have the phone number and can cancel my hair appt if necessary, if I'm stuck in the hospital for a long time. 

    It's funny how you make these mental adjustments. First I let go of attachment to the killer boob. I let go of the idea of having boobs. Swimming pool. Bathing suits. All of that. I remember us playing with mom's fake boob inserts. They were pretty good. We never noticed that her boob was gone. I'm used to that concept already. 

    It did not occur to me that anyone who really loved me would love me any less because I had one breast instead of two. 

    Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals,1980

    Then it's the idea of dying. And I'm gradually getting used to that too. Luckily I'm someone who believes in death anyway. Death is the certainty. Life is full of surprises. But death is not one of the surprises of life. It's a certainty. 

    Now I'm getting used to the idea of being disabled. Going through a period of disability that may last, however, long. I'm adjusting to that idea too. Letting go of my Executive Director work, letting go of my script writer work. Doing some reduced work for each of them as necessary. 

    Disability is harder. 

    I never imagined a life of not working. Of being disabled. Of not being able to work. But I remember from just being plain old sick, you don't get bored. You need distraction because you can get depressed. But you don't really get bored if you have a physical reason for not doing things. 

    In a way it's like planning for a conference, or a film shoot. You are imaging what can/will happen and getting things ready, moving things into place so that it can all happen more smoothly, and effectively. Being the contractor of my own life. I'm doing it now because I know that this is the slow part. And then it will happen fast, I'll be in it, not in control and whatever I have put  in place already will work, or it won't. 

    This week, and maybe even the next few weeks will be a period of finding out. Then the steps after that will be just going through it, getting through it. My brother and colon cancer, his colon-cancer-metastasized-to-his-lung cancer. Mom and her cancers. My closest examples. What have I learned from those two? 


    There is a mental trauma associated with this. You can't just suck it up and get through it. Even though you do have to suck it up and get through it. 

    You have to do all the mental work too. Your body will understand this as some kind of torture. Your body doesn't understand that it's for your own long term good. Your body is like a dog or a cat getting medical treatment. It doesn't understand. And you can't really explain it to your body. But if you just ignore that side of it, then it can cause all kinds of other mental issues. You do have to keep your body with you somehow through all of this, better not to react as if it's rape or abuse and put your mind elsewhere as it happens, wait for it to be over, and then pretend it never happened. You need to bring your mind back into your body at some point and understand it on a physical level too, get yourself over the torture-like aspects. Get over the trauma, even if it all goes well. Even if there is a happy ending you will need to be dealing with it a lot of physical trauma and the mental effects of that. 

    Crap. 

  • 3 Sep 2018 6:09 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    Suddenly I was afraid of the medical process; the doctors and nurses, smells and needles, the pain and loneliness of being in a hospital.  But I kept on cooking. I kept on cleaning. The house started to smell good, the pantry came together again, clean and organized. And I calmed down. 

    Ships don't sink because of the water that's around them. 

    They sink because of the water that gets in them.

    Don't let what's around you get inside you and weigh you down. 

    Stay Up. 


    Yesterday I spent the morning playing World of Warcraft online with my two sons. I didn't tell them about the cancer 'scare' that we're in right now. We just had our usual WOW play for a few hours, we played low level characters, so it was like the old days when we first discovered we could play together, hanging out, each in our own different city talking and playing as if it were a Sunday afternoon all together at the cottage. It was like we could all just teleport into this alternate universe and play and have fun together for a few hours in our busy days and our busy lives. I didn't expect to like World Of Warcraft. I'm a pacifist. But visually it's an amazing, magical world, and you play as a team together against the bad guys generated by the computer so we're not competing with each other. We're cooperating. Nobody loses. We all win together. And there are simple quests in the game play. My grandson and I generally just go fishing together when we play. 


    And then I got busy. I made three blueberry pies with the wild blueberries that my husband brought home from the market. And then I made a peach pie with the basket of peaches from the grocery store. And heirloom tomato tarts too. 


    At the same time as I was making all those pies I started cleaning out the pantry. So it was a big mess in the kitchen. Pie making, and at the pie-factory level of pie making, plus a big kitchen housecleaning job. It was mayhem in the kitchen for most of the day. But it did smell like home and pies when my husband came back from his bike ride. It felt like home because I was in the kitchen baking.  I don't do it much anymore, just for the two of us, but I still like it. And I'm still good at it. 


    In order to keep them from falling apart , the woman tries to keep her chin up and a smile plastered on her face - at a time when she herself is most defenceless and in need of support.

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    We had a quiet night of television and books. I went to bed early, he came to read in bed as I nodded off. We keep touching, while we can, while we are still sleeping in the same bed and nobody is in the hospital. We keep being good to each other. I slept deeply and woke up with his arms around me. 

    This morning I watched a video about pets interupting yoga. It made me smile and feel sad for Frodo the cat and Moose the dog, who both interuppted my yoga over the years of their lives in the exactly the same way that the pets in the video did. Cute. Sad. Cute. Memories. 

    There is nothing stopping us from getting another animal. Even a cat plus a dog. Two pets. There is nothing stopping us. It can all start up again. We're just in this little pause right now. One day it will be time to stop having pets all together. But we're still only in our sixties. In our eighties it'll probably be too late, but now we could still care for pets. We can rescue a animal and give it a better life, and give ourselves a better life too. We're just in a pause for the moment while we see which way all this is going to go. It depends on what happens with my biopsy. Our lives might change dramatically. But we don't know for sure yet. 

    Yesterday afternoon I was feeling like I did know, I was feeling like I knew, and I knew that this was it - it was cancer and I am in the dying process now. And it felt just like it did when we drove away from the farm that Christmas when I was barely pregnant, and I didn't know for sure yet, I'd just missed my first period. We were driving home from the farm after Christmas, I remember looking back and knowing, just knowing that it was all going to change. Knowing inside that I was pregnant and my life was going to change for sure, but not knowing how. I was only sixteen and not married, so it was going to be hard. I hadn't been to the doctor yet. Didn't know it officially, hadn't told anybody. Nothing had started to happen yet. That's how I was feeling yesterday. That I have cancer, this is it. I know it in my body. And I've actually known for a while. Now is only when we start knowing publicly, but really I know that this is cancer. This is the start of my ending. 


    That was yesterday.  I don't feel that way today. It might be cancer. It might not be. And even if it is cancer I might be at the start of dying. But I might not be. It's not like being pregnant. It's not an either or situation. I am in grey area here. There is no such thing as being halfway pregnant. But talking to L yesterday reminded me that there is such a thing as being partly halfway into cancer,  pre-cancer, benign tumour, lot's of grey area. And thinking of my brother and his experience, even if it is cancer, and even if it is big, that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm dying either. This could go on for a long time yet. So chill. Go back to just living one day at a time. Not knowing. Not pretending to know. 

    Yes, I'm feeling like this was a fate that was waiting for me, but feeling like it's okay, that I've come to this fate in the best way possible. If you've got to come to a fate like this, this is okay. I'm in a good spot to deal with it now. So. Calm. Mostly I am calm. But I did have a sad moment yesterday. And while I was cooking and cleaning, in the middle of the big mess I also had a panic moment. I was afraid. I was afraid of the whole medical process; the doctors and nurses, and smells and needles, and pain and loneliness of being in a hospital. It took my breath away. My heart started racing. But then I kept on cooking, I kept on cleaning, and the house smelled good, and the pantry came together again, clean and organized. And I calmed down.

    I still long for a simple orderly life with a hunger sharp as that sudden vegetarian hunger for meat. 

    Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals,1980


    That was yesterday. 


    I'm ahead today. I feel ahead in the big picture. A big work deadline is well behind me now. A long trip across the country, sending Moose's ashes into Lake Superior, visiting our families, hanging out at the ranch, bringing our granddaughter back for a visit in the city. My sister and neice coming to the city for a visit. Distracted by this killer boob the whole time. Lightly distracted. Playing it out. And then I did jump on the boob as soon as they all left. I did it the next day. And since then my life has been boob focused with the tests and running around gathering the results. Reacting to the results. And this idea of cleaning the pantry stuck in my mind. That was big on my to do list. I did it. My back got tired last night. My back is sore today. It was a lot of bending and standing. But it's all done now. I know it's not rational, but I still feel like I am now more ready for whatever will happen. Crossed that off my to do list. Be prepared.

    Each woman responds to the crisis that breast cancer brings to her life out of a whole pattern, which is the design of who she is and how her life has been lived. 

    Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals,1980

    I feel ready to go back to work now too. I like my job. It's been enough break, and too much break and I'm ready for a routine life and more work again. And of course that's not happening. Even in the best scenerio, it's a biopsy, it's dealing with whatever that lump is, fast or slow, big deal or not. We have plans for me to go across the country and babysit the grandkids for two weeks. So it's still going to be crazy for a while yet, even in the best case scenario of some kind of benign, pre-cancer, not cancer growth. 

    The biopsy and then waiting for the report. This uncertain stage can last past that scheduled trip. 

    I would like to do the biopsy, get the report and recommendations, and perhaps even have a surgery scheduled before I leave, and then I will deal with it when I get back. That's what I would like. But of course we don't get to order our lives like that. 

    Today. I have this extra day off. The regular housework is done. The pantry is done. 

    I can do some clean up in my office. I could store the toddler toys and books in the plastic playbox in the guest room. It will be years before we have toddlers in this apartment again. All the grandkids are hitting puberty. It will be a big pause before they have kids, and we won't be involved with those kids, great grandkids, in the same way. May as well pack those old favourite toys away. Make room in the office, that's what I want to do. That's one of the next projects. 

    My back is sore from all that pantry work. I think I shall do paper work now. Have a look at my disabiltiy insurance. It could probably give me some income during the actual treatment. Have another look at my will? Do morbid stuff for today. Perhaps. 

    Let's start with a nice hot bath and big soak in the old claw foot tub. My back will like that. Let's do the next finishing step on my knitting project. Find a new book to read, some real page turner that I can take around with me while sitting in all those medicial waiting rooms. I'm thinking something to distract me while I wait, some way to be somewhere else in my head while I'm there in body. 

    Today, here's the todo list: (I know - this is supposed to be a day off)

    look through will, make changes to the handwritten part

    look through my disabilty insurance, see if it will work for me for this situation, and what I'll need to do to activate it.

    finish the knitting project

    start a new hat project with the yarn that I have, pack it into a little travel sized project bag that I can take around with me for all the medical appointments and tests.

    get cash from the ATM for haircut.


    How World of Warcraft Might Help Head off the Next Pandemic


    http://nautil.us/blog/how-world-of-warcraft-might-help-head-off-the-next-pandemic


  • 2 Sep 2018 6:34 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    Sixty has been a big change. Thirty, forty, fifty, they all went by pretty gradually. But sixty is different. It is more like cruising through all those years of childhood's steady change and growth, and then hitting puberty. Your body starts going through real changes at sixty.


    No matter how much I struggle and strive I'll never get out of this world alive.

    I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, Hank Williams, 1952

     

    Start of another perfect late summer/fall day today. Yesterday I had a Skype with L. He's waiting on the pathology report from his latest tests and is expecting the same answer. No cancer. But the growths keep growing, and they are painful and interfere with his bodily function, so, even if it's not cancer, the problem is not solved. He can't be having surgery every six months, he can't be in pain for months up to the surgery and for weeks afterwards, he can't live like that. My dear friend. He's not dying from cancer. But he can't live like that either. 

    I went swimming without my granddaughter for the first time since she went back home, back to school. I missed her. I had a good sauna and a crappy swim where I was stuck in a lane with two other people who were all over the lane at inconsistent speeds. I did a few lanes, but not my full swim routine, got out and had a nice whirlpool massage, good for my feet, ankles and legs as well as my back, and my mind. And I showered up and came home on the bus. My Saturday morning routine. 

    Here is a funny thing, I started noticing handsome young men yesterday, they were everywhere, sitting in restaurants, walking down the street, riding the bus. There was this one guy on the bus home who stood out, not because of his looks, but because of the way he was looking at a young woman. I was sitting, they were both standing. She stood between us and I was in his line of sight as he talked to her, I caught the overflow of all the looks and charm that he was pouring onto her. I felt it. Romantic. Me looking at this young man, getting a sense of all that romantic attention he was lavishing on her. Interesting experience. She was not responding at all. She turned around and walked towards the back of the bus. I saw that she was beautiful. But that wasn't the part that struck me most, it was the change on his face, with her back turned it reflected his real thoughts, he wasn't bending the charm on her anymore - and it was a frustrated, predatory look that followed her to the back of bus. It put me off. But it also gave me a hint about why she had been not responding to his charm, just saying, "whatever” and "yeah, so?" to all his overtures. She was onto him in some fundamental way that I had not caught myself - at first. Interesting.  

    - to be deprived of the capacity of awareness of male and female, isn’t this price too much to ask? 

    Cancer Ward, Alexander Solzhenitsyn,1966

    Back before I went for the mammogram I went through all this stuff about boobs in my mind.  There was the thought of losing my boobs, becoming disfigured in that way. It was a self image thing, I was mentally adjusting. Sex wasn't a big part of that. I wasn't thinking, oh I won't be sexy anymore. I wasn’t afraid that it would affect our sex life. Sex is more than that. We have been together for a long time. We have a long, deep intimacy. 

    He probably misses my left breast just as I sometimes miss his once thick head of curly hair.

    Neither of us is the same as we were twenty-four years ago.

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975 

    Last night as I rested my cheek against my husband's back in the middle of the night I thought about my mom and dad. I remember her telling me that he didn't kill himself because of lack of sex, that her breast cancer had not affected their sex life at all, that they had just continued as they had done before her breast was removed. That they had even had sex together the night before he killed himself. They were just two years older than my husband and I are now when this happened to them.

    Today many people believe that cancer is a disease of insufficient passion, afflicting those who are sexually repressed, inhibited, incapable of expressing anger. 

    Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag, 1978

    There were stretches of time yesterday when I forgot all about the pause and was simply living my usual routine life. And there were stretches of time when I was completely adjusting to being this other person, living this other life. Adjusting to the changes and what that means going forward. For example, the assumption between me and my husband has always been that I would outlive him, that with me he is set for life for companionship. He’d just been treated for cancer when we met nearly twenty years ago. Assumptions come with that fact. But now that is not so certain. He may very well outlive me. 

    I thought about it while walking down the mountain on Friday too. I walked that last part of the path where we had walked together, the three of us, me and Moose, and my husband. And then Moose got too old to walk so far and it was just me and my husband. And then my husband's knees too bad to walk so far and it was just me. I felt like I was the last survivor of our little family. I felt like that was my story, and I was sad about it, but I still did those walks anyway. As I walked alone on Friday I realized that may not be the case. Maybe I won't be the survivor. Maybe my husband will be the one who is left. The last survivor. 

    How do I feel about that? 

    I do not want a long frail old age. I don't want to live past healthy independence for very long. And I don't want to lose my marbles. I don't want to risk living long enough for that to happen. And I don't know that I want to have long years of taking care of him if he loses his marbles. I don’t want that future for either of us. 

    So in the realistic options for the next twenty years of my life. There are actually worse scenarios than dying of cancer in the next two or three years - or seven weeks. 

    I looked at my hands yesterday evening when I was sitting on my balcony reading my book just before supper, they are not my mother's hands. I admired her old age hands and thought they would be mine one day. They are my father's hands as they were when he died. That's how old I am now. I shrugged my shoulders and I accepted it. I am getting into that zone. Whether it's cancer or not, I am getting into that zone where death and decrepitude are going to be more of a sure thing, death at this age is not necessarily a shocking, tragic thing.

    Sixty has been a big change. Thirty, forty, fifty, they all went by pretty gradually. But sixty is different. It is more like cruising through all those years of childhood's steady change and growth, and then hitting puberty. Your body starts going through real changes at sixty. I think eighty is the next big turn. If I make it through the sixty's I am expecting a fairly calm run from here through the seventies up to the eighties. I think it could be twenty years of slow decline if I dodge the cancer bullet, and I could still have a good time and do interesting things. Or I could be okay but get caught up in a nightmare of my husband’s decline, and death, and friends decline's and deaths. And probably it would be a bit of both scenarios.  

    My ideas of life won't ever mean the same thing since this morning, since I considered that actually there are worse futures, worse futures than dying of breast cancer this year. And that's the worse breast cancer death scenario. There are things that could still be worse. That, if I were given a choice, a knowledge of the future I would choose this breast cancer option instead of other worse endings.  I would say, okay, let's do this breast cancer thing - do it now, die soon from this. It's so much better than that other option three years down the road. Because an extra three years is not long enough to make up for the difference in pain and suffering that could be one of my other fates.

    I am not doing the socially approved cancer thing of preparing to fight it, be a solider fighting off those cancer cells in my body. I am first off, preparing myself for the worst. Preparing to deal with that first. Then, once that is okay with me, then I will do the fight thing. Or not. Up to me.

    He had to analyze death as a sudden new factor of his life. Having analyzed it, he noticed that he already seemed to be growing accustomed to it and had even assimilated the idea. Cancer Ward, Alexander Solzhenitsyn,1966

    Today I'm going to make pies. Two small blueberry pies, one to eat now and one to freeze, and a peach pie too. And I'm going to clean the pantry.  My husband bought a new smarter TV and a new fridge yesterday. 

    This is the other layer to how we are reacting. 

    And it's the long weekend. We'll have one more entirely free day tomorrow, on top of this bonus weekend. Whee, are we having fun yet, or what? My idea of fun anyways. This is exactly how I would spend these days if I had been able to know about it, and plan for it, this would've been the plan. Me and him together in the lull before the storm.

    Just now, in this moment. Let's just be here, where the storm might be coming, but right now I feel good. Nothing hurts. Make a pie. Have the house smell good. The two of us, together at home, bracing for the storm that may not come. Even so - 

    No matter how much I struggle and strive I'll never get out of this world alive.

    I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, Hank Williams, 1952

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tx5WyroXx8




  • 1 Sep 2018 5:53 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    All of my life up until now is feeling like my before-I-had-cancer life. It feels like I'm on a teeter-totter and the balance is tipped. The before side is solidly on the ground, heavy with all of my life up until now. The after side is me, stranded up in the air, feet dangling,unable to get back down.


    Without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. 

    The Trial, Franz Kafka, 1925


    The start of another perfect fall day. Sunny, a fall chill in the 6:30 morning air, a slight breeze, it will be warm but not too hot in the afternoon, then it will cool down for the evening. Another perfect fall day. Ironic.

    Early September is when my Dad went down into the basement of our old family home and killed himself. My usual trips back home were always in the spring or summer. Never in the fall when my own kids were heading back to school and my job got crazy. I remember walking down the street where I grew up, feeling that full-of-promise, back-to-school, a new chance feeling that I used to get walking those same streets in early fall when I was going back to school myself. It was a moment when the weather took me out of the shock and grief of his death. And here I am, another perfect fall day. Trying to ignore what's been set in motion, trying to give myself this weekend of peace. Trying to enjoy this season of harvest and plenty that I love so much.

    Of course I have been worrying about this killer boob for a while now, starting in the spring, through the trip out west and back,putting off the cheating to get an extra mammogram until our holiday together was done. It's been there on my mind for a while. So, it's not a complete shock to have it actually happening now. And also, I've lived my life a certain way because I expected it. I did not expect to get away with never having cancer. It's too prevelant in my family. I knew if I got old enough cancer would be part of my story. I expected it. I expected it sooner though, in my forties. So that's the only real surprise. I expected it sooner than this. 

    I feel like my life is splitting in two now. Before and after. I feel like this split is as big as the getting pregnant split. Before that first baby. After that first baby.

    "Cancer is a demonic pregnancy." Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag, 1978

    All of my life up until now, even until today is feeling like the before-I-had cancer life. It feels like I'm on a teeter-toter and the balence is tipped. The before side is solidly on the ground, heavy with all of my life up until now. The after side is me, stranded up in the air, feet dangling,unable to get back down to what was, but also up there with a better view, looking out and all around me. Stopped, up there. Paused. For a moment? Will it all start up again? The normal ups and downs of life.

    Will my life just start up again and I'll be back to teeter-tottering up and down. Always trying to find that balence, always sailing right past it. Enjoying the experience of highs, and lows, experiencing kicking off from the bottom and flying up into the sky, and ready to go down again before I even get all the way to the top. For me that moment has always been the most frightening, in real life,to be at the top of a teeter totter, paused there. As I am now. Waiting for whatever/whoever is holding down the other side to let me go. Waiting for the crash.  

    We all die. The death I feared most was the slow mental deterioration. Or even the fast mental deterioration, and then the long slow body decline. Esther's death. Erna's death. Six years, ten, or fifteen years. I think my Dad's sister Auntie Erna went on for almost twenty years after she stopped being Erna. Basically she took the life of two of her kids with her too, those kids who became her fulltime caregivers. 

    I was hoping for  the sudden heart attack when I'm in my early eighty's. Preferably on the dance floor at someone's wedding - maybe even my own? I put my order in. I even joked about eating more sour cream and bacon just to help nudge my fates in that direction. 

    But maybe it will be cancer in my early sixty's instead. And that's still better than the long mental decline. Even if this goes south, I won't feel cheated. I have had a good, vigorous life. 


    I'm glad I had that time when my back crippled me in my thirties, that experience shot me forward on a different trajectory. I felt like I had a choice to go into permanent slow decline back then but I fought my way back to health and a full life. And then I lived it. Perhaps that will be the case again with this cancer thing, maybe it will be a bad turn, but then I'll get that bonus extra bit of life afterwards. My friends Gerri sat down and wrote three children's books - finally- when she found out she had her cancer. Stage 4. They kept her alive for three years, long enough to write those three books. They are good books too. 

    Gerri didn't tell any of us that she had cancer until late in her story when she started to get quite sick. And she was still sending emails from her hospital bed, mentoring up and coming filmmakers on the day before her death.

    Conventions of treating cancer as no mere disease but a demonic enemy make cancer not just a lethal disease but a shameful one. Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag, 

    It will be hard to tell everyone. It will be hard to become that person. Cancer. There will be this patina in all my relationships after this. Mom must have told me at some point, there must have been that moment when I found out, she didn't always have cancer. 

    All I could think of was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward; I don’t belong with these people. 

    Rose Kushner,Breast Cancer, 1975

    She pulled me into the bathroom with her. "Psst. Come here I want to show you something." And locked the door behind her. What she showed me was her left breast. "See that, how the nipple is inverted. That means I have cancer. I'll be getting the surgery. It's been like this for a few years and I kept telling the doctor there was something wrong. But he said that this is normal. It's normal for the nipple to fall inward when you get older. But it's not normal. It's cancer. And I wasted at least a whole year because he wouldn't send me to see anyone. He didn't believe me. You won't get cancer now, you are too young. But if this happens to you when you are my age, don't listen to your doctor. Do whatever you can to get it fixed. I just wanted to show you what it looks like. So that if it happens to you, you will remember." 

    Show and tell. But it worked, I remembered. And that's why I demanded the MRI. And I got it. And still nothing happened. And now I'm in the same cursed boat anyway. 

    Having breast cancer is bad enough. To know the cancer grew because of the arrogance, ignorance, or inexperience of a doctor must be unbearable. In the many lists of danger signals and instructions we are given, no one warns us about this obstacle to early detection of breast cancer: the inexperienced or incompetent physician who is confident that a lump ‘is nothing’ and ‘let’s just watch it a couple of months’. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

     

  • 31 Aug 2018 5:17 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    My fate by the numbers. BI RAD 5. That means 95% chance it will be cancer. Significant abnormality in bold letters. 3.8 cm lesion. That means 71% chance of survival at 5 years. Only 5% chance this thing is not cancer. 29% chance that I will die in the next five years. More than 50% chance that I will still be alive. Better to look at it that way. 

    A patient, long before he becomes the subject of medical scrutiny, is, at first, simply a storyteller, a narrator of suffering - a traveler who has visited the kingdom of the ill. To relieve an illness, one must begin, then by unburdening it’s story. 

    Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies,  2010


    The cold air came in abruptly yesterday.  The temperature went down and big dark clouds rolled in. It was like living in Calgary and having a reverse Chinook. By mid-afternoon I was wearing a hoodie and long pants, the sky was dark, the light was dim and you really felt winter on the wind. 

    "Winter is Coming" Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, 1996

    But this morning it's the start of a sunny fall day. Let's not think about winter. 

     I did not have to wait for a doctors appointment to start the next steps of this medical process. It was not a case of trying to get in in the next week or two. His receptionist called yesterday and said she was going to email a prescription for a specialist to give me treatment. She told me to collect all my past mammograms and other related medical records and then just take the whole physical package with the emailed prescription in person into any of the hospitals in town that have breast cancer clinics. Just try to get myself into one of the cancer clinics as fast as I can. 

    So.  

    Suddenly that is my project for today. Drop everything else. Run  around town and collect all those medical records. That's the schedule. Collect all the records today. Present them the hospital on Tuesday morning, first thing. Why? Tuesday and not today? It's Friday. It's Friday the start of a long weekend. 

    I have seen hospitals and clinics on the Friday afternoon of a long weekend. It's mayhem. I think it's just wiser to wait until all that commotion is over and life has settled down and all those other long weekend - this minute - medical panics are cleared away. That's my plan. 

    Three days difference. I don't think three days will make that much difference at this stage.  I already waited three weeks to accommodate our summer holiday. Three months to accommodate a work deadline. Three years to accommodate this new job. Let's not get our knickers in a knot over three days at this stage of the game. 

    Often a person with cancer will say, “I just had a checkup a couple of months ago, and then the lump was only a little thing to keep an eye on. It is the size of a marble now.” The reason is doubling time. 

    One cell becomes two, two become four, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on, until after some twenty generations there are about 1 million cells, weighing approximately one milligram. The tumour is still in its ‘pre-clinical’ stage, invisible to the human eye and not palpable by even very sensitive and experienced fingers. 

    Doubling is not haphazard, but is a steady exponential growth.

    Doubling times for human breast cancers vary widely too, ranging from twenty-three days to 209 days. Depending on the kind it can take anywhere from two years, to seventeen years for the cancer to reach a size that can be felt. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    Today it's gather all the records this morning. Get that done. 

    Tuesday morning I will take them to the hospital, and Tuesday afternoon I'll get my hair cut. I want a good haircut to help me get through this, a wash and wear cut that I don't have to worry about as I go through all these tests. Even if in the end they give me chemo and my new haircut will all fall out. If they start me on chemo soon I think it will be better to have short hair fall out of my head instead of long hair. I think that will be less traumatic. Get it cut short first, on purpose, try a short hair cut that I like. And then let it fall out from there. 

    Listen to me. 

    Know it all. 

    I have had long hair all my life. 

    Last night I woke up around two a.m. I felt bad that I didn't have the ultra sound three years ago. I felt bad that I didn't push harder to get the results of the MRI myself and so discover that recommendation for an ultra sound. Nobody told me they saw a problem. I  just fell through the cracks. And I didn't need to do that. I could've saved myself - then. I trusted the specialist who ordered the MRI to contact me or my family doctor if it showed a problem. I trusted my family doctor. I didn't follow up. I thought no news was good news. 

    "The family doctor is a figure without whom the family cannot exist in a developed society. He knows the needs of each member of the family, just as the mother knows their tastes. There’s no shame in taking to him some trivial complaint you’d never take to the outpatients’ clinic, which entails getting an appointment card and waiting your turn, and where there’s a quota of nine patients an hour. And yet all neglected illnesses arise out of these trifling complaints." 

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward, 1966

    I know why I didn't follow up at three years ago. First it was Christmas. And then I started my new job at the beginning of January. And it was an extremely busy and traumatic start to a new job that I really needed. And that I really wanted. 

    I think of who I was before I started this job and who I am now. All the confidence that I've gained. How I've come back into myself as a result. I would not have been able to handle both cancer and a new job back then. I would have had to give up the job to deal with the MRI follow-up and all those implications. So it makes more sense to me now why I let the follow-up slide. I wasn't ready to handle bad news. And by the time the three month probation period was over and I got settled into the job, I'd probably forgotten about it. Nothing was happening, and it was easy to go along with the idea that the breast cancer specialist doctor had seen the report, considered everything and decided that I didn't need that follow up ultrasound. 

    And to my credit, I only noticed things happening with this boob after I started losing weight this year. So that is only a few months. Not years. So, although I woke up in the middle of the night filled with anxiety and guilt, feeling the worst coming towards me, a long terrible treatment period ending in death. And that this was all my fault for not doing that follow up myself and getting that ultra sound, because clearly - it's three years later - if they had gone after it then, early detection, I would be more okay now. 

    To put doubling in another time frame, a tumour having a 100 day cycle, which took nine years to grow from a single cell to a one-gram lump- the size at which it can be felt- would take only about fifteen months longer to become a tumour weighing about 16 grams-about half an ounce. In just another fifteen months it would weight about a pound. Thus, in exactly the same length of time the size of the tumour would increase thirty-two times. 

    Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer, 1975

    But I would be a different person. 

    I would have been that could-have-been-a-contender, failed-at-my-career, broke, demoralized person I was before I got this job. In that moment of my life I wasn't strong and confident the way I am now. The cancer would have taken me down yet another notch. It might've been a longer life that way, but would it have been a better one? 

    "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, by the moments that take your breath away." 

    These three years have been good to me. I am stronger now. I can take it now. 

    I've been with this job long enough that I can take a sick leave if I have to do that. And it's a real job, they can't fire me over this. They have to hold the job for me to come back to after a sick leave. 

    So. 

    I forgive myself. 

    I forgave myself last night too. 

    Last night I reached out to my husband, and he was there for me. I think we both feel better for that long night of constant skin on skin. Mammals. Touch. We mammals just do better when we have another being to touch. Heartbeats. The sound of breath. Those life rhythms. Comfort that even works across species. And yes a cat in the house would be a good distraction. This could be the next steps, the cat for me and the dog for him. Sometime after this early testing and diagnosis stage is over. When we get into the just hunker down and survive the treatment phase. If/when it comes to that. 


    And however this ends, or however it goes. It has begun. I'm not putting it off any longer. These are my days of actually experiencing life with an ending. 

    Mortality. This could be my last weekend of not knowing bad stuff. It's a tension to not know, but also, it's this sweet moment, this extra sweet bonus moment - like Indian Summer in the fall. Like the weather right now. I really felt it yesterday, this spectacular fall, smelling winter on the wind. 

    And so, in an odd way, these are especially good days. I share them with my husband and there is an added intimacy between us now. It does remind me of our dog's last days, the sensibility between us now. Gravitas. Days of gravitas. But doing the simple, daily things - both at the same time. That's what's going on now. That's what it will be this weekend. The long weekend.  All weekend. 

    2:00 p.m.

    It was two different hospitals - trying to find the records departments. Three clinics. Two metro lines. One bus ride. One long walk. I picked up a pocketful of CD images this morning. These records are mine by right but sometimes they cost a small fee. I picked up the mammogram images and the report from this week's clinic. A report came with those images. I now have all the images together and the two most recent reports. The alarming full mammogram report. I knew it was going to be alarming. I knew that from the way everybody was acting. But still. I am shocked. 

    My life by the numbers; my potential life. My fate by the numbers. BI RAD 5. That means 95% chance it will be cancer. Significant abnormality in bold letters. 3.8 cm lesion. That means 71% chance of survival at 5 years. Only 5% chance this thing is not cancer. 29% chance that I will die in the next five years. More than 50% chance that I will still be alive. Better to look at it that way. And in the end that's only the odds. Each of us is an individual. Who knows what my actual story will be. 

    “I thought over and over again about my chances of surviving through all this. Thirty percent. I would repeat that number to myself at night. Not even a third. I would stay up looking at the ceiling and thinking, What isthirty percent? What happens thirty percent of the time? I am thirty years old - about thirty percent of ninety. If someone gave me thirty percent odds in a game, would I take the odds?” 

    The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2010

    I haven't told my husband yet. He isn't expecting to know anything different from what we already know. He couldn't know that there would be a written report. 

    He might have known that of course I would open it and read it, figure it out, looking up the terms on my phone before I even left the building. I sat down on a bench in the entrance, right there, opened the report and read it. Knowing that the receptionist had said 3cm on the phone, knowing that 3 cm is some kind of boundary where you go from 80% survival to 71% survival and then I was reading 3.8cm, almost 4cm. A shock right there. Looking up neoplasma on the spot. Then continuing my day. Continuing on to get my MRI image from the old hospital.

    I was right to hold off on trying to get myself into  the breast cancer clinic at the hospital today, it is crazy in the hospitals and clinics, this Friday of a long weekend. 

    The quiet, nice imaging centre I visited earlier in the week was all a fluster, too busy to show common sense, too busy too deal with the woman next to me who showed up to make an appointment in person. They told her to go home and phone them. They had trouble dealing with my request for the image CD until I reminded them that they'd already told me to just come in to pick it up. Urgent. 

    And it was just as bad at the old hospital, picking up my MRI. They were all a fluster there too. So. Yes, I am glad I didn't try to get everything done and get into the breast cancer clinic at the hospital today. And also fate helped me. The referral from my family doctor's office didn't come through to my email. And they take Friday's off. I actually can't do anything further until Tuesday morning. Hopefully it will be a new shift, and they'll be in better shape after a long weekend holiday.

    "How many adult human beings are there, now, at this minute, rushing about in mute panic wishing they could find a doctor, the kind of person to whom they can pour out the fears they have deeply concealed or even found shameful?"  

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn,Cancer Ward,1966

    95% probability that it's cancer. It's just a number. Not a truth. And I guess the main thing for me is that so far this is not sign of things moving to the lymph nodes, no indication of it spreading elsewhere. That is good at least. That is better than mom's breast cancer. Her cancer had spread to the lymph nodes and they removed all of those, and they removed muscle under the breast, which was a bad idea because then her skin stuck to the bone and it was painful. And she had to have skin grafts. And her arm got swollen until it looked like an elephant leg. But she didn't die from breast cancer. She lived like that for years. Disabled, disfigured and in constant pain. For a while she drank. It was a problem but she kept it hidden.

    I am not telling my husband. I want to have this weekend with him not knowing. It won't matter. We are doing all the right things and taking the next steps.  I don't want to share this worry. No point in telling my sister either, not until I know the results of the biopsy. Then we'll start telling people. If there is anything to tell. Then we'll start making plans. In the meantime I am in limbo. Yes I will get my hair cut on Tuesday - should I get take the gamble that it is cancer, and that I will need chemo, and go short right away? 

    95% sure how much of a gamble is that? 

    Mammogram Theatre: A Visual Aid For Medical Decision-Making : Shots - Health News : NPR

    Lazris & Rifkin's Risk-Benefit Characterization Theater



     

  • 30 Aug 2018 5:00 AM | Janice (Administrator)


    This life changing drama moment - it's artificial to say that because actually it's only the moment of other people knowing what I've been suspecting for a while now. The actual life changing part started sometime earlier, far earlier, even before the old mammogram four years ago that found that 'suspicious' but then 'it's only a gland, don't worry about it' gland the first time. 
    "But in the end, something visceral arose inside her - a seventh sense - that told Carla something acute and catastrophic was brewing inside her body." 

    Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies, 2010


    It's Thursday morning on the balcony and I'm wearing my big red house coat and fuzzy red slippers. I have different looks for my morning coffee. This look is in-between my beige hoodie and grey sweats frumpy look and my multi-colored satin robe and clown slippers crazy diva look.  My granddaughter says all I need to complete the crazy diva look is to lean over the balcony railing with a cigarette stuck to my lip and a long dangling ash. 

    I am stalling. 

    I'm getting ready to talk about yesterday. Think I need another cup of coffee before I start in on that. 

    It was a quiet morning yesterday. I had a bath, I shaved my armpits for the mammogram recall. But no deodorant. I tied my hair back. And I headed out to the imaging centre pretty calm. I know the way now. There was no stress this time about getting lost. 

    I walked across the park. I did my breathing meditation as I walked. I lost thirty five pounds last year. The walk was easy. Did you know what happens to all that fat when you lose weight? Not what you think. You breathe it out. In the end it leaves your body as molecules in your breath. 

    When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go?

    Responses of a sample of doctors, dieticians, and personal trainers to the question “When somebody loses weight, where does it go?” (Correct answer CO2)

    When I got there they put me into a group of two with a blind old lady who also coming back for her recall. She had a sweet smile on her face. As we walked down the hall together I imagined how much worse it would be to be doing this blind, a permanent empty dent on her ring finger, a widow. She was there for a bad mammogram recall. The same as me. I appreciated having my husband back at home to worry about me. I appreciated being able to see where I was going. I was in a better starting position for whatever might come next. 

    The same technician did the focused compression. It is basically the same two shots that they did on the regular mammogram, just as painful, but the image is closer on the gland/mass/area in question. I don't know what to call it, the terminology seems to be in question. Right away she showed me how much better this second image was, how you can see everything so much clearer. 

    She went to get the doctor. 

    And I had time alone to look at my earlier mammogram, and to read the chart while she was out of the room. My name was there on the recall list. It was all recalls yesterday, and mine was the only one marked urgent. Not a good sign. 

    The doctor came in. What can I say? She was in a tizzy. Also not a good sign. She did a manual exam. She said I needed a biopsy. A needle biopsy, that's the only way to know if it's cancer or not. She told me that she would send a report to my family doctor and that I should go see him right away, next week. She said that I could go back to the private clinic, that they do everything fast, but that it costs a lot of money. Then she said they do all the same things at the public hospital, they have a special unit for that at the public hospital, and that's where I'll end up going for surgery anyway. She was jumping ahead of herself into questions about surgery, then throwing her hands up in the air, "I don't know if it is cancer, you can't know without the biopsy. " 

    So, my gland has become a lesion. That is the term that stuck after the doctor came into the room. My lesion has little calcifications that it didn't have before back when it was just a gland, that is the justification for all this excitement now. I took it as a pretty good sign of cancer, in the room with the doctor and the technician, I took that to mean something fairly certain. 

    I made a point of thanking the technician for the really good pictures. I thanked her on the way out. And she was surprised. Nobody thanks the technician. I knew she was in trouble for thinking it was something routine and not doing the close-ups yesterday while I was in the clinic already. And pleased that I thanked her.  

    He had always been inclined to take things easily, to believe in the worst only when the worst happened, to take no care for the morrow even when the outlook was threatening. But that struck him as not being the right policy here.

    Franz Kafka, The Trial, 1925

    What do I think myself? I think something is going on alright. That's why I was worried, that's why I cheated and went in for that unscheduled mammogram in the first place. So, there is that. I didn't really believe in the reprieve when the technician sent me home yesterday. And even if it is the gland, and even if the gland is merely on the move and it's building a benign tumour in there, something is happening and it should get checked out.

    I felt restless after that whole experience so I walked the up the street to the library. 

    I've gone there alone as a writer and I wrote my play at one of the tables in there. I've gone there often with my grandchildren when they came to visit. They'd take out books or movies. We'd have a picnic lunch in the park. The librarian recognizes me. I'm one of the regulars. I was in a safe and happy place, only fifteen minutes' walk from the imaging centre.

    That life changing drama moment. It's artificial to say that because actually it's only the moment of other people knowing what I've been suspecting for a while now. It's only the moment of starting this whole process of dealing with it. The actual life changing part started sometime earlier, maybe far earlier, even before the old mammogram four years ago that found that 'gland' the first time.

    I followed my usual route home, after the library get on the bus, listen to the other passengers tell each other that it was a beautiful day. Get off the bus, walk across the park and stop to pick up a bottle of wine. Yes, I'm broke but this process is going to require a drink or two. Self-medication. 

    And here is a tangent. I've been thinking about Robin Williams and his wife talking about how he'd been clean when he killed himself. And me thinking maybe that wasn't such a good thing, maybe it would've been better if he'd gotten drunk instead, taken the edge off, fallen off the wagon, and then had to sober up again. Not great, but maybe that was better than staying clean but couldn't bear it and killed himself. Maybe drunk would've been a better, only temporary oblivion.  And I say that knowing how awful it is when my close friends fall off the wagon. I have two close friends with drinking problems and it's hell for everyone around them when they are drinking. Me included. I miss them even though they are standing right in front of me. But it's still better than them killing themselves. 

    I thought about dying. I thought about me dying. What if this is me dying, what if this is what will happen, aside from all the process, and the tests, and the treatments. What if this is the start of that? I felt deeply sad, I felt the same sadness that I felt as our old dog was dying. And it was the same sadness that I'd felt many years ago when my cat was old and dying too, as I took her to the vet to be put down, put to sleep, finally killed, as she was dying. It was the same sadness. It was the sadness of death. The necessity and the sadness of it. Both together. Yes I cried. Not big sobby crying, just tears going down my face. Quietly. And I was okay by the time I got to the liquor store and bought my wine. 

    And my husband was there sitting outside on the step watching and waiting for me to get home. Asking to know, right there on the step. And me telling him right there on the step, practically on the street. And me seeing the sadness start up in him. And me saying it's a process, we don't know yet, it's too soon to be sad, it might not be anything, lots of people have biopsies that turn out to be nothing. 

    Me bringing him back around from the death sadness. He was a bit grumpy about me being stoic. I'm not being stoic. It is too much of a long and uncertain process to get all dramatic over each little step. I know that from my mother's cancer story.  Her cancer had spread to the lymph nodes and they removed all of those, and they removed muscle under the breast, which was a bad idea because then there was nothing between her skin and the bones and her skin stuck to the bone and it was painful. And she had to have skin grafts. And that was more painful. And she didn't believe in pills, painkillers. So she started drinking. Too much. And the arm on her surgery side ballooned into an 'elephant leg' too. But she didn't die from breast cancer, she lived like that for more than 15 years. Mom and Dad lived together like that for more than 15 years.

    She died less than a year after my Dad killed himself. You could say that even though she was the one with cancer, it actually killed him before it killed her. I still believe it was that never ending, uncertain process that killed him. Partly. 

    “The verdict does not come suddenly, the process gradually transforms into the verdict.” 

    Franz Kafka, The Trial, 1925

    My husband went to the farmers market to get corn. He was restless too. Perhaps he cried his death sadness a bit, not sobby, on the way across the park just like I did.

    I poured myself a drink. I got out my book, headphones and music. The sky was perfectly blue, it was warm but a slight breeze came up. I was sitting in the shade on my balcony. I was going to read on the balcony. But the music took me away. Carmen Burana.

    It took me into the sky, that deep blue sky, that could-be anywhere-in-the world sky that comforts me when I travel, the breeze bringing stories to my cheeks. Each breath of air filling my lungs with molecules from the universe, molecules from inside me going back out into the universe with each exhale. The amazing process that keeps this body alive. When it stops I will die. I fell into the music, looking at the sky, feeling the breeze, and I cried. I was grateful for the sky and the breeze and I thought about how I would miss it. I cried a whole lot. Big sobby crying this time. 

    And how crazy is that? I don't believe in that kind of life after death. What makes me think I will miss the sky and the breeze? That music, all those ups and downs, all those moments. Big loud ones, quiet intense whispers, it feels life and death-ish. I don't know the words. I just listened to the passion of the music and the singers and I let them take me away into a whole story of life and death.  It felt really satisfying to live  that whole experience compressed and vicarious and have a good cry over it. 

    “Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don't you feel that?” 

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward, 1966

    Helped by the wine, helped by the sky, helped by the breeze and the music. It was a good moment. All by myself out there on the balcony. Whatever this is, in the end I will be going through it on my own. I know that. It's like being born, having kids, getting hit by a car. You will have people around you, doing things, helping you with it, getting in your way, making it better, making it worse. But in the end you are the one who actually has to go through it yourself by yourself. It's your body. And yours alone.

    "But in a few days this whole close-knit, ideal Rusanov family - with two older and two younger children, with their completely well-ordered life and their spotless apartment, unstintingly furnished - had receded until it vanished on the other side of the tumour. No matter what happened to the father, they were alive and would go on living. No matter how they might worry, exhibit concern, or weep now, the tumour had divided him from them like a wall, and he remained alone on his side of it." 

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward,  1966

    Last night my husband kissed me and said, 'And they all lived happily ever after. They lived.' That's a good new motto for us. It's his take on what I always say as a joke, 'and they all lived happily ever after'. I say that whenever a bunch of bad stuff is happening or simply if a movie gets boring. I didn't think he especially noticed that I always make that joke. It was a good moment for us, this new motto of ours. I slept deeply last night. 


    So here we are, in today already. The phone call from the receptionist will come today. She's very good. She might even get me in to see our family doctor right away, or tomorrow. I might not have to wait until next week. The next steps will begin. 

    I'll work today. I have a job and a project. A good distraction. Back to the coal mines for me.  And I can drop everything to go see the doctor when he calls. Killing time.  

    The Kafkaesque Process of Cancer Diagnosis: Why reading Kafka's "The Trial" might comfort patients and enrich the work of oncologists by Paul Martin Putora and Jan Oldenburg, Nautilus Magazine, 2017


  • 5 Jun 2018 9:58 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    Spoiler alert: The following blog posts are samples of life from the future. They will show up again at their regularly scheduled time in the normal course of events. 

  • 4 Jun 2018 11:23 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)


    It was like all the stuffing had been knocked out of me, invisibly, I was all beat up inside but without bruises. I gave myself permission to procrastinate. I gave myself a day off. But I wanted to work instead, I wanted to give myself a day off cancer, not work. That's really what I wanted.  

    "To Tell the truth I'm not hanging onto life so very hard."

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward, 1966

    Yesterday was a down day. Yesterday was a day when I felt like I couldn't do this. I didn't feel like I had the strength to go through with this. I felt like, really I would rather lie down and die than have to go through all of that again. 

     

    Now I get it. My playboy brother's worst chemo day came when he was watching his favourite Star Trek re-runs on TV, comfortable lying on the couch quoting the dialogue word for word as it played out. And his cat walked across the coffee table, stepped on the remote control and changed the channel to Oprah Winfrey. He still talks about how he had to watch the whole Oprah Winfrey show to the end because he didn't have the strength to simply reach over and change the channel. I laughed then. But I get it now. Blindsided by this strange weakness that takes over your body out of nowhere for no reason. 

     

     

    I had a small list of things to do. Just a couple of emails for work, some tweaking on the website. I actually got that started, so far so good, and then I took a little break to just pop downstairs to water the plants on the lower balcony. Carrying the full watering can down the stairs, and then an empty can back up the stairs wiped me out completely. I barely made it back up the stairs. And that discouraged me. After all the other crap, that is what sent me into gloom. Not being able to water the plants. That is the moment when I felt like I just can't do this. Can't even reach over to change the channel. 

     

    I felt myself sliding downward from there, physically I was sliding down. Also I didn't want to write those emails. I didn't want to explain about my cancer. I didn't feel strong enough to tell people I work with that I have cancer. I just didn't have it in me yesterday. It was like all the stuffing had been knocked out of me, invisibly, I was all beat up inside but without bruises. I gave myself permission to procrastinate. I gave myself a day off. But I wanted to work instead, I wanted to give myself a day off cancer, not work. That's really what I wanted. 

     

    "Vadim had always considered his life good whenever he was so busy that the days were too short. Now he found he had enough time, even some left over; what he lacked was life. He capacity for work and study had become like a limp bow-string." Cancer Ward, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1966

    I used to enjoy my days off, so I started my gonna-have-a-lot-of-days-off-going through-cancer knitting project. The granddaughter sweater is an easy project. I put on Carmina Burana and settled in to knit. If I can't climb stairs, if I can't water plants, at least I can still knit and listen to music. 

     

    Carmina Burana was too heavy and dramatic for my mood yesterday. Yes, it worked for me once before, sitting on the balcony, first knowing I had cancer. But back then I was in good physical health and energy, and it was a perfect, sunny fall day with all the leaves in their fabulous colours. It didn't work yesterday when I was feeling physically, weirdly weak and down. Lifeless. It felt like I had lost all my plain old breath in, breath out, physical joy of life. 

     

    And then I got diarrhoea, so I had to try and call the nurse - again I didn't even get through, again the pharmacy department of the cancer clinic came through for me. 

     

    Talking to their pharmacist reminded me of the time I helped my brother fill his prescription for pain killers after he'd had two-thirds of a lung removed. We were at the pharmacy at the back of his neighbourhood grocery store. They knew him from his other cancer surgeries. The heavy-duty painkiller prescription included medication for constipation. The pharmacist said, "I'll fill this for you, but this stuff is addictive, and has side effects, and is expensive. That stuff works even better without all the problems. Really you should just take that stuff instead." and the pharmacist pointed to a bag of prunes at the end of the grocery isle. Home cures. Complimentary approaches, not alternative medicine. There is a grey area around the side effects that could be open to home remedies without interfering with the main treatment. Prunes for constipation. Cheese for diarrhoea. Pretty basic. 

     

    I was pissed at the nurse for not calling back. That actually gave me a bit of energy. 

     

    My sister sent me a text message. The ring of it startled me. That gave me a bit of energy. 

     

    She asked how I was, if I was in the crash yet. Oh, that's right, yesterday was supposed to be the crash day. And look, I was right on schedule. And that cheered me up, just exchanging messages with her. Joking about it. Me being right on schedule. 

     

    And I switched to toe tapping music. That was better too. I almost felt like dancing, except it made me dizzy, and dizzy made me a bit nauseous, so I contented myself with foot taps. 

     

    I felt better. And I did go outside. It was weird to be so foggy and outside in public. I used to have back problems when I was in my thirties. I remember when the world got small. I remember when it used to take a long time to walk one block with my back all bent out of shape. My really old doctor laughed at me barely creeping out the door of his office and said, "I sure hope a dog doesn't chase you." 

     

     

    I went to the pharmacy just across the street to get the prescribed Imodium. Our long-time pharmacist came out from behind the counter and gave me a hug. I almost cried.  

     

    I still have hair. I still look 'normal'. 

     

    My husband took pictures of me sleeping on the couch after my excursion, me being too pooped to do anything, me having an afternoon nap. Me with my new short hair style. Me with shaped eyebrows. This new version of me. Afterwards I scrolled back on his camera and saw pictures of me at our usual campsite at Rushing River last summer, the one by the rock where I took the good picture of our dog Moose in his prime. Pictures of me laughing and playing with the fire, smoke in my eyes. 

    Already that happy, clueless me seems so far away. And it's interesting because I never thought of myself as that clueless. And I can see the bigger boob. It's there in the picture. The seeds of this me were already there then, that me was ending whether I took the chemo or not. 

     

    That was part of yesterday too. I am saying goodbye to someone that I used to be. To someone that I will never be again. She is gone, and as dead as Moose. However this turns out, that me is gone now. She won't come back. There is a new me forming, there is a new me being forged through this experience. So that was part of yesterday too. Beyond the drug level and recovery level, there was that mental thing that happened too. 

     

    I am less certain now. What do I need to do to take care of myself through this and come out the other end with a life worth living? No amount of being nice to myself with new haircuts, make up and new clothes will make up for what is physically happening to me. It's damage. It's real damage and some of this will be permanent. 

     

    I know how it is when the world gets small. I've been there. And I was lucky to have the world get big again after my back problems ended. I took advantage of it, I appreciated life in a way that would not have happened if I had not lived through those few painful, restricted years. I travelled. I had adventures. I made new friends. I did new work. I fell in love. I lived a life worth living.

     

    "But even though I was prepared to die. I just wasn’t ready. " Left for Dead, Beck Weathers, 2000

     

    I feel my world getting smaller now, but I feel it will probably get big again after this too. For a while. For a reprieve, for a remission. That is not uncommon. But the truth of the matter is that for sure my world will also get small again after that. Whether it's cancer or old age fragility, at some point my world will start to get smaller again, and eventually it will start to stay that way.

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