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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


  • 16 May 2019 6:10 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    I wish “it” to be either all dead, or that the living bits were reduced to the centre of the tumour with wide margins removed around them, or that any living bits that might have escaped into my lymph system are still slow growing. That is what I wish. I want my wish to be true. I believe it to be true. But I am afraid that’s just wishful thinking. 

    Thursday morning. Bright and sunny. Another perfect early summer day. I love this kind of weather. 7:00 am. Another good night sleeping in my bed, I'm moving more normally every time, I even rolled over onto my regular right side last night, did not feel any particular pain over it, but did wake up enough to realize it and roll back onto the other side again, you are not supposed to sleep on the surgery side while it’s still healing, and fall asleep. Yesterday I forgot that I wasn't supposed to put my arm up over my head and rubbed the top of my peach fuzz head with both hands equally, comfortably before I realized what I was doing. So, yes I am improving, and yes I think I'm good and ready for the physiotherapy this morning. And I'm looking forward to it. 

    And I'm recovering over all physically and mentally too. It's not just my breast, armpit and arm. Perhaps it's the weather, perhaps it's the bright sunny weather that I love the most that set up the echoes of well being, or maybe it is only my state of healing. But yesterday for the first time I felt more like I did in the early days when I was first being diagnosed. I felt a bit like I did in those days in the midst of the tests, after the biopsy when my boob was sore, and I was traumatized, but before treatment started, when I was still basically healthy (except for the cancer part) before treatment started. I felt like that. But not quite. I'm stronger, but I'm also damaged. I feel that too. But yesterday was the first time that I felt anything like my old me again, me at the beginning of all this. It was a sweet feeling. It was like having an old friend come to visit and spend the day with me. I couldn't quite keep up, I was the sick friend, but it was still great to have that visit and be out of myself, this present self for a little while. 

    I did finally pick up my knitting again. I did it. I am sitting here with knitting all around me, pattern on one side, finished front and back on the other. Sleeves on the double pointed needles getting their fresh start. It was fine. I didn't feel sick, my fingers weren't numb, my brain was working making calculations and decisions. All good. And the bright, cool day, with my old me sitting beside me as I knit. My old me saying remember how we sat out on the balcony and first thought about the possibility of death, and of what was to come, and the uncertainty. I knew it was cancer. I knew that before the PET scan came back, before the biopsy results. That's why I went in and had that off schedule mammogram in the first place. I knew it then as we did the tests and waited for results. My husband was still hoping. But I knew. Yesterday was another day like that. 

    And now, thinking about it I realized that it was more than just the weather that brought back the ghost of old me, waiting for test results. In fact that is what is happening now. I have  done what I could. The doctors and I have done what we could together. All of us are waiting for the results. This time I do not know the result. I don't feel like I know. I don't feel cancer. But now we are talking about things happening at a microscopic level, in small amounts. I would not necessarily know. Even during the chemo when it was microscopic stuff happening I still sensed it because it was happening on a large scale throughout my body. Blood, hair follicles, guts. Lot's of cells were involved. Now we are talking about just a few cells, if that. Just a few cells inside a tumour. Or escaped. We are also talking about the nature of this cancer. That too. Each cancer is different. Each cancer had become it's own entity, and it mutates. So for me now there are really two questions. Did it all die? And if not, did the cancer that remained mutate into something different than the cancer we started with? And is that mutation more aggressive? And is that mutation now more able to survive chemo? We don't know. I don't know. 

    My knowing is clouded by my wishing. I wish it to be either all dead, or the living bits reduced to the centre of the tumour with wide margins removed around them, or the living that might have escaped being slow growing, must erect a whole complex world in each new location cancer instead of wild warrior cancer that only moves in to take over and conquer and then moves onto the next territory because it has no way to sustain itself otherwise. That is what I wish. My wish clouds what I know. I want my wish to be true. I believe it to be true. But I am afraid that it's just wishful thinking. 

    I spent time yesterday looking on the internet and trying to find out about lymph node surgery. I wanted a cheater short, easy way of confirming that my sentinel nodes, however many were revealed by the dye, were the only ones that were removed for testing and they came out negative. I looked at pictures on the internet. I looked a photos and diagrams of nodes. Sentinel nodes and auxiliary nodes. I learned that when they do the auxiliary nodes they lift them up as a clump, similar to a clump of grapes and do them all at once. Makes sense. When they do the auxiliary nodes they always put in a drain. So. I didn't have a drain. I only had the sentinel nodes done, and they were negative. No reason to do the auxiliary nodes. That is what I believe happened in surgery. Just as Dr. B said might happen. And he did say he might do between 3 and 6 'sentinel nodes' depending. And I was twice lucky with my surgeons. Dr. B is one of not that many surgeons who can do that kind of sentinel node surgery. And I can feel that he did a good job of it too. Nothing feels nicked or damaged by surgery. Nothing feels 'wrong' just injured and recovering nicely. That's what I feel. 

    I was exceptionally lucky to have both those outstanding surgeons working on me, and they turned it into a straightforward, successful day surgery, no matter what happens in the next cancer wise, they did that for me. That reduced the amount of trauma I had to go through, speeded up my recovery time and puts me in better shape to endure whatever comes next. I am super grateful. And I'm glad I trusted them instead of demanding the big, and common/usual procedures. I'm glad I took advantage of their skills. 

    And here I am, only 13 days later, barely two weeks later, feeling not much different than after I had the biopsy and those other tests. Walking around in public without a bra and nobody notices. Going to the breast cancer meeting without a bra, telling them I'd had surgery only a couple of weeks ago, and they didn't notice either. It was a good day yesterday. 

    And then I went to the support group. 

    Sheesh what a mess. This was an even worse mess than the first session. The oncology nurse was there, and I was hoping for an organized session like the dietician presented, something controlled, where even if some of the women did dominate the discussion at least there was some control and the discussion stayed on topic and revealed interesting, useful information that I didn't already know. No such luck. 

    This nurse was weak. Maybe all nurses are weak like that, their job is not to be the boss their job is to carry out orders. They are foot soldiers. But this was a high up nurse. Still she could not control the aggressive women at all, and neither could the volunteer group leaders. We started with the round table of each of us talking about our cancer and where we were on our treatment plans. What can I say, the interesting thing about that was that five weeks after the first meeting we are all in a different place. I had finished chemo and was waiting for surgery. Now I have finished surgery and am waiting for radiation. The big, warm, retired lady that I like most was finished surgery and waiting for chemo to start. Now she is three weeks into chemo and her hair just started to fall out. The pretty Spanish girl who was four weeks into chemo with 0 side effects, was wearing a long wig. All her hair fell out since the last meeting. The young mother who first said she didn't need any follow up treatment at all after surgery was asking about Tamoxifen, she needs that. But she still thinks it's only an option for her to consider. And the woman who had a lumpectomy and was just waiting for the reconstruction at the first meeting then tested positive for the BRAC gene and had prophylactic hysterectomy after they found out about the gene. She had pain in her shoulder, and demanded more tests, and turns out she has a lot of positive lymph nodes, she was scheduled for a total bilateral mastectomy. Tomorrow at 6:30 am. That is right now. It's 7:30 am. That woman is in surgery right now. She came to the group meeting, late, on the night before this surgery. This big right turn in her life. This big right turn in just those five weeks since our last meeting. 

    And yes, of course she dominated the conversation. She was completely stressed out. Afraid. And not listening. The solution to her question from our group and the oncology nurse was 'ask your doctor' ask him tomorrow before the surgery. But she kept asking us, over and over again, and then discounting everybody's answers. She argued with the people who tried to answer her. She argued with the nurse, the volunteers and the woman sitting next to her. It was frightening and frustrating to have to be a witness to that. I had empathy, but there was nothing I could do for her. Except wonder why she wasn't with her loved ones. Why come to us the night before surgery, why not spend that time with the people who love her. We barely know her. And we don't know anything at all about the medical details of her cancer. There were 15 other people in the room. A couple of them were quite up front and also demanded attention. One of them wanted to know when all this would end. So of course, the poor woman who has been through the most and thought it was finally ending and now has to start up all over again - with this new, big surgery, to be followed by more chemo - of course she did say, ‘how can you be asking when it will end when you know nothing, here I am a year later, thinking I was done and now I'm starting up all over again’. Of course that happened. It was all just awful. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I was the first person putting on my coat and getting my ass out of there. My husband was waiting for me at the door. I had a good excuse. 

    And I did have a nice time in the moments before the meeting started when we were saying hello, how are you, you are looking good, and I told them about my wig flying off, and they had good empathy and laughed, and then I got to say it was lucky that I'd taken the laughter workshop just the day before. It was a good start. It didn't go bad until the actual meeting started. I liked it when it was only four of five of us women hanging out at the beginning. 15 women is too many for me. I was intimidated into silence. 

    But I did learn few good things. People did talk about their arms, and cording on their arms and how the physiotherapy people really helped with that part. That was good. I learned from that. And the retired woman that I liked said she does her exercises three times a day, every day and she's never had a problem. So that is good to know too. 

    But it was also a nightmare, that again set me back on my own mental recovery. 

    The day started off so well. The weather was perfect. I did my mountain walk and I walked up further, did a second loop. I met police on horseback and they let me take their picture. I saw babies in strollers. The light was dappled. The air was new green with leaves that weren't there a couple of days ago, fresh baby green leaves everywhere, cleaning the air. And I felt good that whole walk, once I got going and slipped into the rhythm, I felt good and like I could walk forever. Excellent. Gradually getting into better shape for the radiation part of the story. Stronger every day. Ready to be knocked down again. Enjoying this little moment in time, as I enjoyed the between tests and treatment moment last fall. Saviour it. That's what I'm doing.

    And a nice nap. I'm still sleeping good. I'm still having a good nap. And sometimes even an after supper nap. There is no reason for me to let this support group get me so down. I'm am doing fine. As fine as can be expected anyways. And I have a lot of real love and support all around me. There is no way that I would be spending the evening before surgery with a bunch of strangers in a support group. I would be spending it with the people I love. Reassuring them if nothing else. And getting loaded up on their strength and love for me. That's what I did. I was taking care of myself, but I was also taking care of them. Being with them. 

    But I haven’t had to go through the same trauma as that poor woman either, whatever you have to do to get yourself through, I say go ahead and do that. 

    Dispatched: May 16

  • 15 May 2019 6:51 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    It makes no difference to the cancer if I know if it's dead or not. My knowledge at this point has zero effect on the cancer. Zero. Perhaps happy ignorance in the way to go for the moment? 

    Wednesday morning. Yesterday we were on the edge of hurricane, downgraded to tropical storm, and had this odd cycle of sunny skies, then big wind, big black clouds, torrential rain - then sunny skies again. There were three or four cycles like that all day long. Life on the edge of a hurricane, downgraded to a tropical storm is like that. It all seems to have settled out today though and we seem to have a perfect blue sky kind of day ahead of us. Yippee! I will take it. 

    Yesterday my sister and I did a few texts, she finally ordered those shoes she was thinking about the whole time she was here, and I had to go off to the store, pick them up, bring them home, package them for shipping, and then back to the post office to mail them. It wasn't a big deal. Yes, I did have a moment of thinking how much more sensible to have just bought the shoes while she was here and take them home with her instead of waiting until the day after she got home to phone in an order and have me mail them. Sheesh. Offends my whole producer, production manager, executive director career personality and sense of efficiency. But, it's my sister and this is not work, it's life. Life is the big story, work is just one part of it. Keep those proportions straight. 

    Yesterday I did my own laundry for the first time since the surgery. It is interesting. Doing the exact same chore as I did all winter on chemo I am experiencing disability in a different way. When it was chemo the problem was getting there, carrying the weight of the laundry bag. I had to walk slowly to make it. I had to move slowly to get everything from one machine to the other so I wouldn't get dizzy or out of breath. There were times when I couldn't do it at all. My husband had to carry the weight of the laundry for me. I couldn't walk that far, I couldn't even walk to the end of the block if I had to carry a load of laundry too. But so long as I moved slowly and didn't add too much weight, I could do things, I could move smoothly and do things. I was over all weak. I was blurry and chronically nauseous. But I still could move normally. And the pain I had was intense, but brief and moved around. No I am much stronger. I can carry that load of laundry all by myself. But I felt it. I felt the extra pull on the surgery side of my body even though I had the laundry bag over the other shoulder.  I had lot's of energy to get there and back. But I had to be careful about how I moved as I loaded the machine. The surgery side of my body is stiff and less flexible. I prayed that the lower dryer would be free so I wouldn't have to lift the clothes over my head to a top dryer. It was like that. I was still disabled, but in a completely different way. It was a different work around to get the laundry done. I could do it. But it's a whole new kind of disability. 

    Here is how it feels now. There are times when I'm sitting writing, or reading, or lying sleeping or watching tv and I forget about it completely. It's like it always was and I am like me. I'm feeling good enough now that I forget I'm bald, I forget I'm puffy from steroids, I forget that I ever had surgery and I am simply being me, at rest. Me from any time of my life, relaxing and being at rest. Then there are times when this new boob is this monstrosity on my chest, when I have pain in my arm and armpit, when I'm sick of it because it's the same old pain in the same old place. I'm just done. I want it to be over and healed and I'm just done that the stitches haven't all fallen off, that the tape hasn't all fallen off, that my movements are still restricted and my arm is not as strong as it was, and I still have to be careful with it, on account of those lymph nodes. I guess it's the coming back from those moments when I can forget it all, forget it all happened at all, that makes me so discouraged when I get reminded that it's not done yet. It is not even two weeks of a four to six weeks recovery. It simply takes more time than this. 

    I am continuing to take extra strength painkillers as I need them. I took a couple yesterday. I'm staying away from the prescribed heavy dose ones, but I do take over the counter ones. I find that I appreciate the break from pain, and I do move more normally, and I think that's better. Though I pay attention to what my sister said about how hard they are on your liver. Though I also am reminded of all the chemo drugs that were injected into me, how much more deadly than any kind of over the counter painkiller they were - what an after thought regular painkiller liver damage must be after what my poor body has just been through. 

    My hair is growing back at a great rate now. It is getting longer and thicker every day. Still snow white, still curly peach fuzz texture. I'm growing eyelashes. The top ones seem to be coming in straight, and even the lower ones are not too bad so far. I do use a bit of that gel to keep them down, but so far none of them are growing so that they poke straight into my eye like they did before they fell out. I feel stronger every single day. I didn't realize how weak I truly was until I started to come back and see the difference. I had given up on being able to walk at my old speed. But my son and sister both gave me that little push to do better, and it helped. I am doing better. I've continued it on my own. 

    Today I'll do the mountain walk. And today I think I'll take it up that one extra notch. I'll walk up a little further before I take the path back down again. I'm going to go beyond the benches. Past where I can just sit down anytime I have to because there is always a bench nearby. I've done the old route so many times comfortably that I'm ready to move on a bit more. Slowly, gently. But still going forward all the time. That's the plan. 

    I have done all the practical things for this week. I even sent off my sister’s shoes, that last minute, extra chore. All I have for the rest of the week is those two appointments. The cancer support group tonight, and the physiotherapist tomorrow. Other than that I can do whatever I like. I am comfortable. I am getting stronger every day. My finances are okay, I don't have to worry about them. I don't have extra money after nearly a year without a job, but I have enough money to do the things I really need to do. The plants are all okay for now. My husband is taking good care of the cooking, cleaning and garbage/recycling. All I have to do is keep on healing and getting better. Radiation coming up. I need to get as healed and strong as I can before that starts. That is really all I have to do. 

    Yesterday was carrying weight, walking up and down those stairs, a lot. Both for laundry and for my sister’s shoe errands. Shorter more intense exercise. Today is going to be the longer mountain walk. That's a good balance. 

    I had a good, but shorter nap yesterday. My naps have started to move down from being two hour naps to twenty minute naps. But then later in the evening I did have another nap on the couch after supper, and then I fell asleep on the couch before bed too. I am sleeping better at night. Another night in the same bed all night. I still sleep only on my left side, and on my back, but I'm moving around comfortably enough, and often enough that my back doesn't get so sore and I don't have to get up and walk around to stretch it out, and I don't have to sleep on the couch for the on-my-back part of the sleeping. That's a milestone. Day two of that milestone. 

    Drinking plenty of fluids, walking and mild exercise every day, gradually building up my range of motion in my arm and chest, then gradually building up my strength, napping and sleeping and relaxing mentally and physically. Eating those proteins. That's the plan. That's my schedule for the next few weeks. And really enjoy these free, unscheduled, basically nothing to do days as much as I can. They won't last too much longer. Radiation will change all that. Even an easy radiation will be a daily chore, back and forth to the hospital. Every day. Not forever but everyday while it lasts. 

    I started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks yesterday. It is better written than The Year of Magical Thinking. But it hurts me more to read it. Because it is closer. I am reading about her life, and about her cancer treatment, knowing that she has really aggressive cancer cells that will become immortal themselves even as they kill her. I'm at the beginning days of her treatment. And it seems familiar. She knows something is wrong herself long before the doctors catch up with her in that knowledge. She is the one who finds the tumour with a bit of self examination in the bathtub, and then goes to get it confirmed. Sounds familiar, eh? 13 of 15 of us in the breast cancer group went through that type of diagnosis process ourselves. The radium treatment they gave her at the beginning sounds barbaric, but no more barbaric than my chemo treatment. And it seemed to be working at the beginning too. It's the radiation to make sure it doesn’t come back that is really making her sick. She starts off the radiation treatments being able to walk the couple of blocks to her cousins house and play cards with her until her husband picks her up at night, then she can't walk it any more, she gets too weak, she takes a cab those couple of blocks and when she gets there all she can do is sleep. She shows her cousin what's happening, her skin is burned from her breasts to her pelvis. That's what the radiation is doing to her. That's where I stopped reading last night. Of course it's depressing. Of course it sends a dark shadow over me, I am at that same magic moment after the first round of treatment, when it seemed like it was working, before the radiation starts. I feel terrible that she had the same moment as me when it seemed to all be working. And it wasn't. We know how her story ends. This cancer will kill her. And all that terrible radiation will be for nothing. I had to stop there. 

    This was in 1951. This was my mother's cancer era. This was the same time that they did those radical masectemies and removed muscle as well as breasts. This was the same time that the technition failed to cover my mother properly and she got a double dose of radiation down the middle of her body. She had a tumours later on, big and slow growing, local, but still destructive tumours because they grew so big. A baseball in her brain, it took away her sense of smell and it gave her black outs where she became a child again. A basketball in her chest, left a hole there that would not heal, a wick coming out of her chest, a restrictive life with a nurse coming in every other day to change the dressing. My Dad killed himself one day when the nurse was upstairs with mom, changing that dressing. He did it then so she wouldn't be alone when it happened. The nurse said that when it happened it sounded like a door had fallen down, she didn't know it was a gunshot. Sawed off shotgun. The police confiscated it. Sawed off shot guns are illegal. You have to saw it off if you're going to shoot yourself in the head, otherwise your arms aren't long enough to reach the trigger. This Henrietta Lacks story takes me back to that time. Those times. I was born in 1952. 

    Looking back I do wonder, where was their family support? Their friend support? None of us kids helped her full time after her surgery. Her sister never showed up either. On the other hand, Mom stepped out of the hospital and took the bus to work. How do you step in to help in that situation? How do you do it if you are the child of that kind of woman? But what about my Aunt? Where was she? And my father's sisters? Where were they? Mom's friends? Did she have any? The girls at work that she never saw outside of work? Do they count? Who were my mom's friends? She seems to have lost them over the years, she had cousins and friends when they were first married but they all fell away over time. They all started families of their own and that became their world. Dad had friends, but again they were his work friends, they were his canoe club friends. They were not friends who got involved with the rest of his life. They would not have showed up at the house offering to help. And those were different days too. Cancer was a shameful, secret, hidden disease. That too. 

    Look at me now a generation later. A house full of flowers, a house full of cards, gifts of food and clothing. Emails, phone calls, and my son comes for a week, my sister comes for nearly two weeks, my brother will be coming. My other son will be coming. My grandkids will be coming. The Wellness Centre offers help to the point of annoyance. Of course in the end you still have to do it yourself, you are still alone in your own body, nobody can suffer for you, nobody can die for you. But it's still nice to feel the love. You still have to take that last step into death alone, but it doesn't mean you have to die unloved. 

    Whence come these feeling of doom? Why am I so sure this is all just going to go south and I am going to start dying and that all that I've been through so far is just the beginning of something much worse. That I’ll look back on this moment and think it was the easy part, the last good days before it started to get really bad. Crap, I don't want to think that. I don't want to be there in my thinking. And there is no real reason for me to be there either. Stage 3. I guess that's one reason. That part is still sinking in. I flip between, just a lumpectomy and stage 3. And the reason that it's just a lumpectomy instead of the double mastectomies that all the celebrities are getting these days is that the horse is already out of the barn. No sense trying to lock those doors now. It's a whole body game now. That is why it was only a lumpectomy. Surgery doesn't really matter so much, except to take out the whole original mass and be able to really see what it is, was. Get that pathology. That was the real purpose of the surgery, not to stop the spread, the spread had already started. That is where I am at. 

    That is the story of the ‘aggressive’ chemo. That is the story of the small surgery. And that is the story of the radiation. And the story of the daily pill that I'll start taking after all these other things quit killing my healthy cells along with the cancer cells. It will be another systemic treatment. It will affect my whole body. Enjoy this break while I have it. This is why I have this darkness in me. This is why I don't feel so optimistic as I present myself to friends and family. This is serious. And it could start going south, badly at any time. The cancer can quit responding. The cancer can be something much different from what they thought at the beginning. This is a time of suspense. We don't know yet. We won’t know until the pathology comes through. The lab is working on it right now. It's happening. 

    And some things I could know right away. I could probably go to the hospital after my physiotherapy tomorrow. I could probably ask for my blood tests, and I could ask for the biopsy of the lymph nodes report. That is there. I am entitled to have those reports. I could get them right now. Well tomorrow. I could plan to go and get them tomorrow. Something to think about. I have to go to the real, actual source. I should probably also pick up the original biopsy and ultra sound too while I'm at it. Or I can continue to just heal, and enjoy my time off cancer - mostly. Just pretend I'm free from worry for the moment. Pretend it really is all working just as expected until they tell me it's  not. That is another option. 

    It makes no difference to the cancer if I know if it's dead or not. My knowledge at this point has zero effect. Zero. Perhaps happy ignorance in the way to go for the moment? 

    Dispatched: May 15

  • 14 May 2019 6:20 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    I was so proud of myself for getting off the painkillers. And then yesterday afternoon I caught myself thinking of white wine spritzers, thinking of Baileys, not being able to wait for them, and I was reminded of mom. After her surgery she refused to take the painkillers. She thought that pills were a sign of weakness and a source of possible addiction. She started drinking instead. 

    Tuesday morning. I spent the whole night deep asleep in my own bed last night. And I woke up feeling 'normal' as if none of this had ever happened. I wasn't sick from the chemo, I had no pain or discomfort from the surgery. I was just me - normal, waking up in bed. It could've been last year, it could've been next year. It wasn't now. 

    And it's interesting the first thing I noticed as I drifted to consciousness was the ‘knot’, a hard core that I haven't felt since I was 'normal'. A competitive, surviving, fighting core that makes hard decisions and sees them through, the does the right thing even if it's hard or painful to myself or to others. It's a judgemental core too. What is right and wrong? I let go of that core when I started to get real sick and needed other people to take care of me. It didn't help my survival one bit to be demanding and judgemental. These are qualities that have their purpose if you're the boss, or the parent. Not so much when you are the patient. When you are the patient, and you are depending on other people to take care of you, then it pays to be sweet and accepting. That is the first thing I noticed after I woke up from my first real night in my own bed, and the chemo is getting far enough behind me that I feel much less sick from that too. The first thing I noticed is the return of the hard core. And here is the thing. I rejected it. I let it go. I said no. I no longer want to be that person. Even if I get fully well, I no longer want to be that person. I want to let go more. I want to let go of that side even more. I want to stay more placid and accepting. 

    I'm not a middle-aged person with a middle aged career and middle aged-aspirations any more. That is for my kids. I'm moving on to becoming the older person. I really am going there now. In my mind, I'm ready for this change in my life. I feel like I've achieved all my middle-aged aspirations. I've been successful enough, I've gone to international conferences and presented my work, I've won awards, I've done interesting work that let me travel the world and meet a big range of compelling charismatic people and go to places off the beaten path where few of us ever get to go. I've done all that. I feel good about all that. 

    My kids are fully functioning adults with kids of their own that they're doing a good job of raising. And they are good people too. I like them. I would like them even if they weren't my kids. I am proud of them but I don't take credit for who they've become, only for launching them, they are both flying free now. I feel good about all that. And the grandkids are pure bonus, pure joy and bonus and yes they are the first step along this road that taught me the value of letting go of demands and judgement. I wouldn't say that I spoiled them, because I think that type of "spoiling" with gifts or privileges is just a way of demanding affection, but I did accept them, as they were more than I did with my own kids, than I did when I was the parent trying to raise kids who knew the social norms and would survive and be successful in the world. With my grandkids I was more just fascinated by who they were naturally, and left all the training, judgemental jobs to their parents. I feel good about that. I made adult friends, I had adult fun, we went on exotic vacations with interesting people, we went scuba diving every winter for a while. We went to places like Bonaire and the Caymans that have a higher standard of living than Canada. I felt good about that too. I didn't feel like a hated/needed tourist. We went to plays, we went to museums, I wrote plays, I hung out with playwrights and artists and all flavours of talented accomplished peers. And I still do. I feel good about that too. 

    But that can all start to be kinda done for me now. I would like to move into a new, more settled phase, where I work on different things, where I stay put more and let the world come to me. Family, friends, colleagues. I don't feel like I need to go on any more exotic trips. Doesn't mean that I won't do that if the opportunity arises, but I don't feel like my life would be short changed if I didn't do more trips. Been there. 

    Now I'd like to keep pursuing this internal journey. And I realize now that will require a couple of things. One is to keep rejecting my judgemental, demanding ‘knot’ the same way I would reject a cancer mass. It was useful once, but it's not useful and it's even a hinderance for where I want to go next. And the other thing is time. I will have to find and make time for this internal journey. It will take sheer, sitting still, uninterrupted, quiet time.  

    I'm still in treatment. I don't have to do this right away. I still keep puttering through my days, but I'm also simply giving myself recovery time. Soon life will come back to me and I will have to start making and finding that kind of quiet time. Later on, later this summer. And no big decisions will happen around here until we know the results of the pathology. Not until after that.  

    It's not like this new, sweeter me doesn't know how to take care of herself and survive, it's just different. It's just treating myself more like one of my grandkids, not even the love and acceptance that I would give to my children, even more than that now, more like the love and acceptance I would give to my grandkids. 

    I am on this other track now. Switched tracks already. Switching tracks already. 

    I took a plain old extra strength over the counter painkiller yesterday evening, around supper time, after my husband left to go pick up the director. I was so proud of myself for getting off the heavy duty painkillers that I quit paying attention to pain, I quit trying to control it. And I was having pain. Pain in my armpit, some throbbing pain on and off there, pain along my breast stitches, surface pain there. And I was just living with it. 

    I was so proud of myself for getting off the painkillers. And then yesterday afternoon I caught myself thinking of white wine spritzers, thinking of baileys, not being able to wait for them, and I was reminded of mom. After her surgery she refused to take the painkillers. She took it as a sign of weakness and possible addiction. She started drinking instead. It happened gradually. Just really enjoyed her wine with dad on the weekends on a special evening. It relieved the pain, it made her feel better. They probably had sex then too, so an extra endorphin reward with that too. And then a year or two later it was hidden vodka and Diet Coke. Drinking all day long, grumpy between drinks. An alcoholic. And that went on for a few years before she realized and stopped. She stopped drinking cold turkey, one New Years at our place. She said, this will be my last drink, and it was. I looked at the second Bailey's and ice cream that I made myself, in secret, after my husband left to get the director from the airport and saw my mother happening in me. I went and got out a plain old extra strength painkiller and took it. That's what got me through the biopsy pain in Baltimore. It helped me be functional when I was taking care of the kids. And yes, it worked way better than the booze. And although I took it around 6:30 and didn't take anymore after that, it was just enough to break the feedback loop. Those pains are still gone. And I had my first really good sleep last night too. So.

     Yes. I am back to being able to take care of myself again, and I am taking care of myself again. And I realize that is more important than letting other people take care of you. It was great having my sister here, but I did need to step up and start taking better care of me, myself. And I am the one that knows what works, and how much to use. So that was a lesson. Even after only a short visit and intense caregiving, even after only that much, it is still a journey back to taking better care of myself. I'm glad she was here for the part when I truly couldn't care for myself, and I'm glad she left again when I was more able to do it too. And I’m glad I learned from her that I deserve better care than I was giving myself before.

    So, here I am. Had a minor accomplished day yesterday. Got stuff done. Had my bath, did my walk, had a good nap. Ate too much sweets. Drank too much booze. Corrected with a plain old over the counter painkiller. Gonna keep that in mind over the next few weeks. Whenever this whole weird boob, armpit thing gets to me, I remind myself that four to six weeks is the recovery time. It's only been ten days. I expect too much. 

    And Rob Ford, who was diagnosed with his cancer around the same time as me, he's been through all his chemo and radiation and he had his surgery yesterday. It was a ten hour surgery. His recovery will be three to four months. But he is done with the chemo and radiation now. They figure they got it all. Two inch tumour. Seems so small when you think of it. The plastic surgeon said that Dr. B took an apple sized, fist sized mass of tissue out of my body. I hope that means he got really good margins. I hope that does not mean they saw active cancer in there when they opened me up. That is what I hope. Weird that I know more about Rob Ford's cancer than I do about my own. I know more about the results of his surgery than my own. 

    I have a little plan to go get my pathology results myself and read them myself before I go in for the June 3rd meetings. Brace myself. Be thinking in the right terms before I go in. In case. In case it's bad news. 

    What is bad news? What is the worst news? Anything that sends me back into chemo, that will be bad news. That will be the worst news. I don't ever want to go back there if I can possibly avoid it. 

    What else? I finished my book, the Year of Magical Thinking. There was very little magical thinking in that book. And I did look up her daughter and learned that she had mental health issues and a drinking problem that contributed to her illness and death. So. The lack of honesty even in the account of her husbands death bugged me. I wasn't so bugged about her bragging about her lifestyle, it was kinda interesting to peek into that lifestyle, and I was surprised to see a photo of her and see both how ugly she was, and how old she was. She did not come across as an ugly old lady. I think that is because she was well loved by a man, and simply never saw herself that way. Nice, I liked that. My husband thinks I'm cute, he thinks my peach fuzz hair is cute. He never looked at my long silky beautiful hair like that, he never felt my long silky hair and enjoyed it. I did. But he didn't. He is however getting a huge kick out of my peach fuzz hair. And he likes to feel the top of my head and look at me with glowing, charmed eyes. Yes, it does make me feel better about the lack of hair. You can't fake that look. You can't fake the real delight he gets from it. He genuinely thinks I'm adorable as this little, white haired gnome person. How we internalize the way others see us. I feel adorable now too. I see it. When I look in the mirror I see the adorable gnome person that he sees, I'm internalizing that person. Soon I will have the courage to walk around bareheaded with just the adorable peach fuzz. 

    In the meantime,  I will remember to use the plain old over the counter painkillers as needed. Stay on top of the pain that way. Don't drift off into booze and sleeplessness. Learn from what happened to mom. 

    Surgery wasn't the end for her. It was only the beginning of a long story of disability and pain. I want to try to avoid that if I can. We don't have to go down that road. These are different times. 

    Dispatched: May 14

  • 13 May 2019 5:56 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    I painted my nails again yesterday. You can hardly see all the damage. I feel better. They no longer hurt, they are regrowing, and I have a pretty ring to wear to remind me. Regrowth, strength and peace. Can't ask for much more than that. I feel better when I can’t see the nail damage. Going forward. Sometimes it does help if you simply decide to refuse to see the truth. 

    Monday morning, it's a lot cooler now, but I don't care. I'm wearing my traveling sweater over top my pjs this morning and it is heaven.  I hate the summer  heat, the humidity and the pollution in the city. I hate that we close all the windows and sit in the dark with the air conditioners on. But I hate it even more if we don't them on and have to suffer the sweltering heat and can't sleep. I hate the pollution. I hate being in this hot, humid, concrete, car fumes, bus fumes world. And it can go on like that for weeks, weeks and weeks. Usually we go away for part of the summer and I don't have to suffer all that much. But this year we are stuck here. Even when my immune preclusions lift on June 1 I will still have to stay here on account of the radiation treatments. Not only that I will have to go out into the heat every day, ride the bus in the heat, go for my treatments every single day, or five days a week anyways. Two days of heat and I was in near tears, just miserable. I got my husband to leave the air conditioners out for a while because the weather forecast was for two weeks of more normal temperatures. So we suffered for those two days. But now we have a reprieve. Yipee! 

    I understand how people who hate winter feel. I get it. I personally like winter. I like skiing, skating, the pretty snow falling on my face. I don't have any problems with winter. But I hate the summer in Montreal. And so now I understand how the people who hate winter and just have to get away must feel. Luckily it is easier and cheaper to find a summer getaway from the heat than a winter getaway from the cold. I can just go back to the prairies and stay with friends and relatives. I can just head out to a remote park somewhere and camp the whole time. But not this year. This year we are stuck here. This year is my immersion into the best and worst of city life. On the one hand we have not only the really good doctors, but the really good support services with physiotherapy, and group support, and a personal trainer and dietician and massage and laughter workshops. On the other hand I will be forced to stay here through the heat and humidity. I will be here for the worst of city weather this year. The best and worst. 

    My sister is back home. I am off drugs and pooping perfectly. Still a bit sore and limited range of motion, still stitches and tape but heading into that long, slow steady recovery phase. The acute part is over, the acute pain, the acute risk of infection, the acute risk of ripping out fresh stitches and causing fresh injury. That phase is pretty much over now. Ten days later. Risk of pretty well all the infections is done by the tenth day. Today. So far so good. No sign of infection. And then it's fourteen days before the skin rebuilds it's water barrier, so that's when I can start having a bath again, and start swimming. Next Friday. Moving right along here. Day by day, this relentless passage of time. Going forward. First I was waiting for my sister to come, and then she was here and we were in it, being swept through time like going through rapids on the river, swirled around surgery day, and then out into the calm waters again. 

    Time going forward. If it didn't go forward I would be still caught up in chemo. I would be still waiting for chemo to end. Or I would be still in last summer, slim, healthy except for the cancer growing in me that I didn't know about, and reasonably happy with my life, but not as happy as I should have been, looking back now I say, not as happy as I should've been if I realized how much I had, how lucky I was be to well and doing interesting things and having good relationships with all these amazing people from my family to my old friends to new friendships that I'm just forming. I was lucky. 

    And I still am lucky. I look at the wall of cards in the doorway and realize how lucky I am. I look at all the chemo hats and scarves in my box and realize how lucky I am. Flowers. Phone calls. Emails. And simple likes on my Facebook page, people following me and being happy to see me there and doing things. I am lucky. And I have a future in mind. 

    I don't really know where I will be at this time next year. It's truly up in the air right now. Even if I get my old job back, I might not be doing the conference. They might decide they don't want/need a conference every year. I might be doing more work than usual on that, but not too much work. If all goes well.

    Or I will be back in treatment, still in treatment. That is an option too. I'm hoping for my three year break. Everybody I know seems to get at least a three year break if they make it through that first round of treatment okay. I'm hoping for that.  

    In the meantime, we are getting health back from the surgery and going forward. 

    Yes, yesterday I did do my mountain walk, all alone, the full distance, with a stop at grocery at the end. This is way ahead of where I've been since treatment started. And I carried groceries home. And I did mess around with my knitting and set myself up to start working on the sleeve for the grey sweater, but I did not actually start knitting anything. And I did a manicure. I did my yesterday list.  

    My armpit throbs, this is not a good sign. Maybe I did not squeak that infection thing after all. 

    Today the good bath is a part of the schedule. The first part of the schedule. I will look for signs of redness and also keep an eye on myself for signs of fever too. I did notice a bit of redness on the underarm scar yesterday, but no sign of fever. And the redness was not much. 

    I painted my nails again yesterday. You can hardly see all the damage. I feel better. They no longer hurt, they are regrowing, and I have a pretty ring to wear to remind me. Regrowth, strength and peace. Can't ask for much more than that. I feel better having painted nails and not looking at the damage all the time. Going forward. Forward in time. Sometimes it does help if you just refuse to see the truth. 

    Reminding myself to enjoy this moment. Enjoy this moment of coolness, even if it is raining. Everything is so green now! Enjoy this moment of optimism. The results of the lymph nodes are all negative. The margins will be good an no further surgery necessary. Light radiation to follow and then a good, long recovery and no real reason to expect a recurrence. This moment of optimism. Believing this until I get bad news to the contrary. Enjoying this moment of regrowth, strength and peace. Yes, I am getting stronger every day, even with the hiccup of the surgery, that was nothing compared to the chemo. Enjoy today. Enjoy this break, enjoy the support programs that will happen this week. Keep getting better. That's all I have to do right now.

    Dispatched: May 13

  • 12 May 2019 5:30 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    That year of learning to fall in judo class has saved my life and health, and only now do I realize that it was also a wonderful mental health exercise too. Learning to fall. Learning to let go and fall correctly so you don't hurt yourself when you land. I was mad at the time. I signed up for judo so I could be glamorous Emma Peel and beat up bad guys without messing my hair. Instead I learned the best thing of my life. How to fall. So you can get back up again. 

    Sunday morning. Considering my altered future this morning. I'm still absorbing that fact, altered future, and my mind goes back to it on the slightest excuse, the way a kid worries a loose baby tooth with their tongue. That is me and thoughts of pension, insurance, sickness and death. I don't think it will stay with me like this. I think I will worry it until it looses it's jagged edges, until it gets smooth and falls out, and then I will worry the hole where it was until I am comfortable with the new reality. That's what I think will happen here. With my poor sore breast as well as my altered future. 

    Yesterday I did a bit more work around the house. I don't have two people spoiling me anymore. I don't have someone to talk to all day long. Time to get back to real life. I'm surprised at how much I sat back and let my sister fuss over me. I'm surprised at myself. I'm surprised at how easily I fell into that. Now I have to go back to standing on my own two feet. It’s good for you. For your overall outcome and general physical health as well as your emotional maturity. Fighting. Standing up and fighting for yourself. Going to the store and getting the foods you want to eat, the juices and snacks that you like. I did that through the worst of the chemo in the worst of the winter weather. Now there is no juice in the house, no coffee for the big machine, I'm down to just the Nespresso machine. I guess I better step up to the plate more now, take care of me more now. I don't have sister to fuss over me anymore. 

    My mission for yesterday was to clean up the mess I had made pulling out stuff to show my sister, my summer clothes, knitting projects. Plus the sheets and towels from when we did laundry. Piles of mess all over the house. That is done. And it feels good to get it back to 'normal' mess. I have the top of the bedroom dresser cleared again, wool hats are put away, my office desk top is cleared, I'll be able to do some paper work on Monday. I went for the mountain park walk all by myself yesterday. I really have progressed a lot. There was a food truck parked by the park and I bought two of their amazing lemon tarts. Two for $4.00 a good deal. 

    Later on in the day, after my nap, after most of the cleaning was done I was in the guest room and saw an envelope addressed to me and my husband. A nice thank you card from my sister. And she gave me her Koru ring. She said she wants me to have it. "I want you to have this ring as the "Koru" in New Zealand symbolizes new beginnings, growth (yes you will have to shave your legs again) strength and peace. As you continue to recover I wish all these things for you. Thanks for being the best sister and friend that you could ever be." 


    It's a beautiful ring. The Koru is the shape of a fiddle head, the curled top of a fern. Spring. I guess it's an early spring sign in NZ as well as here. Ferns, as old as the dinosaurs, but still around. Unlike the dinosaurs, ferns are still around. 

    My hand looks like my sister’s when I am wearing this ring. And then I see my wrecked fingernails. I've been through a lot. Even if they don't hurt anymore you can see the damage now. Funny, when they hurt the most they looked perfectly fine. Now that part is over you can see the brown, and even white where the nails died and started to lift off the skin that they were supposed to be protecting underneath. When I see the extent of the damage on all my fingers I am surprised that I didn't complain more at the time. What good would it do? It was the choice of that, or dying. Even that was a small complaint in that context. It will take time for this visible nail damage to grow out. I can paint over them in the meantime, it doesn't take much to cover it up either. 

    And I realized that I really am moving into a new stage. I feel more complaint over the stickiness of the leftover adhesive that I can't really scrub off under my armpit. This is not any kind of real problem, it is just annoying but now I am feeling like I dodged the death bullet enough to be annoyed by stuff that won't kill me. 

    Funny, all these side effects, from the surgery, from the chemo, and never once did I feel a drop of pain or discomfort from the cancer itself. This is the difference between me and my brother and our attitudes towards our cancers. His cancer made his life miserable. It messed up his plumbing and made his life miserable for years before it was diagnosed. That is why he hates it more. My cancer never did anything bad to me, except getting me into all this chemo and surgery and radiation. The treatment has been the only bad part so far. The cancer itself did not bug me at all. If I had just stayed the way it was I could've easily lived with that cancer for the rest of my life, just like that. Of course it wasn't going to stay like that. We were planning for the future with all this aggressive treatment. We still are. 

    I remind myself that I am only in the pause. The real story will come out at the beginning of June, when I meet with the cancer doctors again. Both on the same day. That will be the big one. We won't know if this cancer will start up, has already started up someplace else, but we will know more about it's makeup and it's nature, and if there were cancers cells that escaped or were in the margins of the surgery. Those are the things we'll know then. They'll have the whole tumour to look at. 

    And what is left is my new breast. It is a weird shape, reminds me of a loaf of bread stuck crosswise on my chest more than a breast. It has a flat top. It is soft and breast like though, and with a shirt on, without a bra it looks 'normal' It is the same size as the other breast and hangs the same way and the loaf like quality disappears under my arms or where ever. From the outside, even now, with stitches in, tape across the top, swelling in odd places, it still looks like a normal, matching boob to any casual onlooker seeing me out walking wearing a shirt but no bra. I'm sure that part will only keep on getting better and better as the stitches heal, the swelling and bruising go down. I think the empty part where he removed tissue will settle down and it will be less like a loaf of bread and even more like a normal boob. Hopefully they won't have to do any more surgery on it, and hopefully the radiation won't damage it too much. Hopefully it can just stay this way. No I won't get a nipple reconstruction. But yes, I might get a fun little tattoo. Down the road. In the future. Six months from now. In the fall. Just one more season to get through. I've been through three seasons so far. Fall, winter and spring. Summer has started in earnest now. Just summer to get through and then all these 'normal' afterward things can start happening. 

    In the meantime I have this odd boob. And it's sore sometimes, periodically, but I'm not sure if that's the boob or the lymph nodes. I've started to do some simple exercises on my own. That very first night when I saw my hand was swollen I started to work my hand, I started to clench and unclench my hand. Now I can do more. I put both arms straight out in front of me and clench and unclench. My old judo exercise. How long ago did I learn that one? How long have I been doing that one. I was in high school, around granddaughter’s age. I took Judo lessons at the Y because I wanted to be like Emma Peel I've been doing that straight arm fist clench ever since then. 

    I wanted to learn to fight, but they spent a whole year teaching me how to fall first. That year of learning to fall has saved my life and health, and only now do I realize that it was also a wonderful mental health exercise too. Learning to fall. Learning to let go and fall correctly so you don't hurt yourself when you land. Learning to fall instinctively. What does that mean? It means you learn the tipping points, you learn when you've tipped past the point of being able to catch yourself and you realize that you are falling. Getting your body into the right position for each kind of fall and relaxing into it. Tensing the muscles that need to brace you and relaxing the rest. Being wise in your fall. Accepting the fall and surviving it with the least amount of damage. I spent a whole year learning to do that. I was pissed at the time. I wanted to be Emma Peel and beat up bad guys, be glamorous and tough at the same time. Cool and ferocious. Instead I learned the best thing of my life. How to fall. So you can get back up again. 

    My brother’s outward, public appearance did not change much through all his cancer treatments. His hair didn't fall out, his nails didn't change colour, his skin didn't get big rashes, and he didn't go all puffy. He still looked pretty much like my brother. The only real change in his appearance is when he shaved off his moustache. And that's a pretty normal thing that has nothing to do with cancer. 

    I have been calling pride my worst failing. But like all sins and blessings it's a two sided coin. Pride is also a strength. Pride got me up walking. Pride got me into the grocery store buying my own damn juice. Pride got me going to the laundromat doing my own damn laundry. Pride is not that bad. I let my sister care for me. She went to the grocery store, and the flower shop, and she first helped me do laundry, and then just did my laundry for me. She cooked. She cleaned. She watered my plants. I just let it all happen. I just rested, napped, walked, talked. It was good therapy to talk to her too. I told her everything. She knows my whole cancer story. It is worse than she thought. Stage three. That's not something you say to a loved one over the phone if you don't have to say it, if they don't ask. But I said it this time. I want her to know and have realistic expectations. And I was there to answer her questions, to keep talking, to explain my point of view, to explain how I feel. So she'll know, if things start happening and she is far away and we can't really talk like that, then she'll know what it was, and how I felt and why I am making the decisions that I might have to make. We've done that big conversation. She was shocked, and glad she was here, and I'm sure glad to go home and get away from it. 

    I've gone through the surgery. I'm on my own again. My sister has gone home and left her ring with me, a token. 

    I still have my arm. It's a bit of a mess with left over allergy scares, some actual allergy pimples still healing, yellowed damaged fingernails, and internal problems too, that ache in my veins, achy armpits. But it's still my arm. It's not this big swollen thing hanging off my shoulder that I have to hold up with my other hand. That didn't happen. I can still put a ring on that hand. It's still my hand. I can still type with it. 

    Today I'm going to start knitting again. Today I'm going to go back to the granddaughter sweater. It's late in the season for a sweater like that, but it snowed in the foothills last week, so there is always a place for a sweater like that out west. I'd like to finish it. Even if I don't mail it to her for her birthday, even if I hang onto it, and do a whole fitting with it instead, I'd still like to finish it so I can move onto other projects.  

    So today. Now that I am coming back 'online' as an independent person who has to take care of herself. I am going to have the good bath again and continue to work on all the leftover adhesive from the dressing, just keeping things clean and letting the actual stitches get this regular cleaning and rinsing, gently for now. But good that I'm sitting in the tub, using the sprayer and going ahead and doing  it. It takes time. I need to be alert not to slip and hurt myself. And then a walk. Either the mountain walk or another walk in the other direction. A nap. Naps are still working for me. My mission is still to get my health back as much as possible so that I'll be in better shape for the radiation. And then a trip to the grocery store. I'll get coffee, juice, snack things for me, perhaps a favourite cheese or meat product. A bottle of wine for a spritzer this afternoon as I listen to Tapestry on the radio and do my knitting? That would feel like a real back to my old life Sunday afternoon. 

    So that's the general picture. Gradually getting my life back. 

    Dispatched: May 12

  • 11 May 2019 6:01 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    It really is amazing how far I've come in only one week. I did  a longer mountain walk with my sister yesterday, without stopping to rest on a park bench, and at a better pace too, more like my normal walking pace. We got caught up in the Oxfam walk for a better world and finished our private little walk in the midst of 5,000 high school students from across the province shouting clean water slogans. Fun!

    Saturday morning. Yesterday was Friday, my one week surgery anniversary. And it really is amazing how far I've come in only that one week. I did  the longer mountain walk with my sister yesterday, without stopping to rest on a park bench, and my sister says at a better pace too, more like my normal walking pace. That was fun too, we got caught up in the 45th annual Oxfam walk for a better world, 5,000 high school students from across Quebec starting out from our neighbourhood park just as my sister and I walked through on our way home. I took a fun selfie, and a few pics of the walk, and posted to of them on Facebook. It was a good way to end her visit. It was a good distraction for the sadness of her leaving. And it's only now, writing about it now, that I feel like crying. I was brave in the moment of goodbye and so was my sister. 

    It was a good visit. I was glad and sad to get the apartment back to just us after she left. We talked a lot, I was ready for some quiet. I was glad to finally have someone to talk to and we talked a lot, and then I was ready for some quiet. I still remember the look on her face in the train station. That's what makes me want to cry. My little sister. Heartbroken at what I've been through, heartbroken to leave me. Afraid of the future too? Imagining a future without me? Imaging the future that will never be the same even with me in it? I cannot imagine a future without my her, my sister. But one day, one of us will have to go through that and be the only sister left. Not today. 

    The look on her face seeing what has happened to me this winter. 

    Sometimes you need to see it through another person's eyes before you realize how bad it was. And we did talk about how far I've come. And that let me know more about what she saw when she first arrived. I've been putting a brave face on it, she has friends with cancer, but she probably didn't see them at this staying isolated stage. She didn't see my brother until a month after his last surgery. She must have been a bit shocked. Because at the end she talked about how much I've improved from the first day she saw me, never mind the surgery, that was a blip, but a small blip compared to the results of the chemo and the continuous progress I've made on that front. And she's right. It's true. Even with the surgery in between, the Friday walk on the mountain that I did with her yesterday was farther and faster than the walk we did when she first came, before the surgery. She was amazed. She was amazed that in one week I not only got past a lot of the surgery set-back, but I then continued to progress quite a bit on the chemo recovery road too. My hair is growing back at a great rate. It is. It's snow white so it doesn't show that much but it has turned into a real thing on my head now. And I'm walking further, faster better. 

    And the thing she doesn't know, is that I've gotten out more. She's got me out onto my regular walking territory, but also back shopping, eating in restaurants, chatting with strangers in stores, joining protest walks, all of it, getting back involved with life again. 

    I think she was a bit shocked at how much I was sleeping, how low I was to start with when she got here. I still sleep, a lot. Sometimes two hours in the afternoon. And then again on the couch in the early evening. And to bed at 10 pm. That isn't the surgery. That's still the chemo. If it was only the surgery I would be even further ahead by now. 

    So I have mixed feelings. I'm pleased that she saw such improvement in the nearly two weeks that she was here, and I'm a bit distressed that the chemo is clearly still slowing me down so much after more than a month. March 25th, that was the last chemo day. How I looked forward to that day, thinking it would be the end of everything chemo and horrible. It wasn't. First it was only the beginning of the last round of set back/knock down for me. And then the recovery has been much longer and slower than I thought it would be, than has ever happened in any recovery I've ever had in my life before. And I just get to thinking I'm okay, almost all recovered and then my sister shows up, with her most recent memory of me being the one from last summer, and she saw how not at my best health I was going into the surgery. And then she was delighted at the way I recovered from the surgery and kept on going recovering from the chemo too. She left with the idea that I was well on my way. 

    We made it through the surgery, through the first days of painkillers, through to the first doctor visit and unveiling of the reconstructed breast, through to the last antibiotic pill on Friday morning. We bought shoes for her, we had fun meals here at home, we had fun restaurant meals, we celebrated the unveiling milestone with a rose wine and appetizers on the balcony, we scanned family photos, we started a new sister project and got needles for me to get going on the granddaughter sweater. Which I should do. Which I should finish and send to my granddaughter for her birthday. It's only two sleeves and then the neck line and blocking/pressing. Her birthday is the end of the month. If I started up again soon, I could get it done by then and be able to send it to her for her birthday. Express post maybe, priority post. But I could do it. Something to think about. And a present for my husband too. May is birthday month around here.

    Had a chat with my son on Skype. Wasn't in touch with him all that much for the last couple of weeks. I only have so much real time in any given day, still. And for the past ten days or so it's been taken up with hanging out with my sister and with surgery and recovery, and more hanging out with my sister. So that's been less time for other things. And I am backed up a bit on that. Keeping up with kids and grandkids for one.  

    For me this weekend, I can't really do so much house work, I’m not supposed to do too much with my arm yet. No vacuuming for six weeks. But I've decided that the mission can be to have a better bath/shower now and try to get rid of some of the sticky tape residue from the dressing. I did spend a bit more time in the sponge bath yesterday, and washed sticky tape reside off from under my boob, and it did feel better when that part quit sticking. But I didn't want to be spending too much time in the bathroom when my sister was here. Three of us had to share it, and she wasn't as free as my husband to go downstairs and use the office bathroom there. That is my mission for today. A better bath this morning. In the tub. Just a bit of water in the bottom, and the shower on top. Careful getting in and out. Careful standing up and sitting down. But still, getting there, doing it and moving forward with the whole healing process. 

    A walk this morning too, the mountain walk before it gets too hot. I know how far I can go easily, so that's the route I'll do today. That'll be good too.  

    And a bit of a tidy. My stuff this time. I have magazines, and clothes not put away things scattered all over the house. Stuff that I hauled out to show my sister, start cleaning up on that level. My husband washed the kitchen floor yesterday, my sister has been watering plants and everybody has been doing a certain amount of housework, so I'm not even going to think about that today. Not yet. 

    Next week. No medical appointments, but we are going the breast cancer support group. The oncologist nurse will be there on Wednesday night. And then Thursday morning I start with the physiotherapy gal at the wellness centre. I am making a point of taking advantage of as many of their services as I can, without turning it into a career. So, the physiotherapy and personal trainer is my next step. I am going to the support group which has it's own schedule and will go until June. So I have my immediate future more or less planned out. From here until June. Radiation will start somewhere in there. And the results from the pathology will be available too. We'll get those. And my brother is coming for my birthday. I wanted to take advantage of the seat sale, so we just booked it around that. We don't know the radiation dates, but we do know my birthday. And it'll be good for me - and my husband to have that next break in the schedule of the two of us getting through all this together. 

    Dispatched: May 11

  • 10 May 2019 6:28 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    We went out to the park for a final picnic supper, to enjoy the evening, and simply watch the world go by after all we have been through these past few days. A lot of other people of all ages and stages of life were picnicking, tossing frisbees, walking their dogs, falling in love, sharing old friendships, and playing with their babies all around us on a lovely early summer evening. Sweet. 

    Friday, one week anniversary of the surgery.  My sister is leaving today. I’m well on my way to recovery and she has her own grown up life to live. Though it was fun for us to feel like we were still kids together for a while. She’ll take the train to Ottawa this afternoon. It’ll be back to just the two of us, my husband and me. But my brother is coming soon. His trip is all booked, so that is something to look forward to. My world is opening up again. My loved ones are coming and going, and I am coming and going more too. I’m getting out and about a lot more lately. My sister really got me out of the house and back out into the world, out of my survival rut. 

    The wool store was a lot of fun. Beautiful wool and yarns to look at and feel. This store always has a lot of examples of the yarn knit up into sweaters, shawls, little tops, baby clothes. It was fun to look at all the ideas and see the finished garments. And the colours! And the textures! Very stimulating after a winter spent mostly inside this room. And it was a very female space too, so it was okay to be a bald breast cancer lady in there, I felt like it was a breast friendly zone where all the physical complications of being a woman, having a woman’s body were just understood and accepted. This ancient world of women grabbing a moment for themselves and knitting, chatting together. Making art out of craft, finding solace in a shared activity that has been part of the work we as women have done for most of human history. 

    And then for a bit of British tea. Scones, soup, salad, sweet for dessert. We weren’t the only women having our lunch and going over our purchases, excited to get going on our next projects. There was a lively buzz in that place! Women laughing and giggling together. Felt good. 

    My sister spent most the afternoon packing for her return trip, trying to find space in her bags for all her new purchases. My husband made up sandwiches and we went out to the park for a final picnic supper, to enjoy the evening, and simply watch the world go by after all we have been through these past few days. A lot of other people of all ages and stages of life were picnicking, tossing frisbees, walking their dogs, falling in love, sharing old friendships, and playing with their babies all around us on a lovely early summer evening. Sweet. 

    Dispatched: May 10

  • 9 May 2019 6:24 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    He was surprised that I had not looked under the dressing. It was going to be my first view too. It was all three of us together. Not much blood. Just a straight line of scar across the top of the breast. Tiny ugly black stitches like spiders running across my chest. The same size as other breast, a bit more swollen, a bit flatter on top. More horizontal, like a loaf of bread, than round. I don’t think I’ll keep looking, wait for it to heal more before I look again. 

    Thursday morning. All is calm in the house, all is going well. My sister’s time with us is coming to an end. There is no reason for her to stay longer the potential crisis part has come and gone without a crisis. 

    Yesterday the two of us went to see the plastic surgeon. I forgot to warn her that the plastic surgery ward is surprisingly old and dumpy. You feel like you are in one of those old Soviet movies as you sit there with the institutional green walls, peeling paint, take a number in order to speak to the receptionist. Cracked plastic chairs. 

    Luckily we didn’t have to wait long this time. I had settled in with my book when my sister nudged me and said your doctor has arrived. I looked up just in time to see a man’s back disappearing into the clinic area. 

    “How do you know it was him?” I asked, “You’ve never seen him before.”

    “Oh, it’s him, alright.” Her eyes were big. Oh yeah, I did remember to tell her how handsome he is, a rock star plastic surgeon. Handsome, being that handsome, is a distinctive characteristic. 

    This time we got in right away. This time there were no residents. This time it was me and my sister and the doctor. He was very sweet to us, even if he is too handsome for words. He was pleased that it was two sisters in the room together. He was surprised that I had not looked under the dressing. It was going to be my first view too. It was all three of us together. Not much blood. Just a straight line of scar across the top of the breast. Ugly black stitches like spiders. The same size as other breast, a bit more swollen, a bit flatter on top. More horizontal, like a loaf of bread than round. That will change as the swelling goes down. He told us that Dr. B had taken out more than he expected, a piece the size of an apple, so   the plastic surgeon had to move more of the existing tissue to fill the gap. But he was still able to do it all by moving tissue from within the lower part o the breast up to fill in the empty space. He took a picture of my chest with his phone, for his records. He repeated his same explanation that my head was not in the shot, it was only for his records and medical use. It was a short visit. It was a good visit, everything looks the way he wants, everything is healing the way it should. He wasn’t able to tell us anything about the cancer part. He didn’t start until after all that part had been done. He did know that there had been some breakdown in one of the insight testing machines, so they had to do a work around and that made the whole surgery take longer than planned. I think it was the one that tested the lymph glands for cancer cells. He said that Dr. B had given me wide margins, and removed more tissue than the plastic surgeon had planned for, so it was unlikely that they would find cancer cells in the margins and so have to go in and redo the surgery right away. 

    So, it’s going well. I know more than I did before that visit, but also I really don’t know anything. Not on the cancer front anyway. I will have to wait for my appointment with the surgeon. And I won’t get that appointment until after the lab results are in. Four to six weeks, they said to allow for that. 

    In the meantime I just keep going on with my arm exercises, my little walks, my healthy eating. And that’s it. I don’t have to wear the big dressing anymore. 

    It was all done quite easily and so my sister and I had time, and I had energy for a trip to the laundromat. She did her laundry, I did my laundry. We had a nice cup of coffee and a pastry while we waiting for our clothes to go through their cycles. We sat out in the back garden because it was a nice day. The owner has a nice black lab dog and we had some nice visits and pets with the dog too. Not your typical laundromat experience and I think she liked it. 

    Today is our last day. Tomorrow she is getting on the train to go to Ottawa and then make her way home from there. Today I’m going to introduce her to the wool store, and to the British bakery and tea place on the next block where all the wool ladies go for lunch after their shopping sprees. That will be a pure fun day. 

    Dispatched: May 9

  • 8 May 2019 5:52 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    It’s like a twins study. Now I am the slower weaker one, and by a long shot. I can only do a half a day to my little sister’s full day of walking around, shopping, puttering, cooking. Simply staying awake. I am only half the woman at simply staying awake, never mind hiking and sports. Never mind just doing errands and going shopping. Can’t even stay awake all day. 

    Wednesday morning. Enjoying the balcony that my sister planted for me while I slept yesterday. Since she’s been here I’ve discovered that I’m now about half the woman I used to be. In the days B.C. (Before Cancer) my sister and I were more or less on a par, she is less than two years younger than me, and for most of our lives we’ve lived a similar schedule of activities together. Swimming, skiing, canoeing, kayaking with our Dad as kids. Hiking around the badlands looking for fossils. We were physically together, and perhaps because she was that bit younger in the early days she was the slower, weaker one, but only by a tiny bit, and only in the very young days. 

    Now I am the slower, weaker one, and by a long shot. I can only do a half a day to her full day of walking around, shopping, puttering, cooking. Simply staying awake. I am only half the woman at simply staying awake, never mind hiking and sports. I can stay awake all morning. I can, barely, keep up until lunch time. Then I have to sleep. All afternoon. I’m awake for a couple of hours in the evening, and then I’m back in bed by nine and am asleep all night. While I sleep she continues to walk, shop, cook. In the evening she stays up with my husband and they watch tv or read while I sleep. 

    With this straight up comparison, almost like a twins study, I see that right now I am about half the woman I was before. 

    Discouraging. And this isn’t over yet. After the surgery there is radiation. After the radiation there will be an ongoing chemo pill for ten years. That’s right. Ten years. I truly did not get the full force of what this treatment would do to me, and my life when we started down this road last fall. Would it have helped to know? Am I glad I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into back then?  Is it worth it? 

    I can stop at any time. I can just say, enough. I quit and stop. This moment of doubt is common. There are no end of cliches to go with it. Some for each side. “In for a penny, pound” “throwing good money after bad” That moment of not seeing the benefit, wondering if the cost is too high comes to us many times in our lives. 

    We will have more information soon. We will have the ’tumour’ report. It’s not a biopsy, it’s the whole tumour, and it’s whatever they found in the lymph nodes too. I’m waiting on that important information, as is the radiologist. This is a big turning point. Wait for the new information. Do not make any new decisions yet. 

    My brother is coming for a visit next, we’re trying to figure out a good time for that, the three of us siblings looking at our various schedules. He has a diabetic cat and my sister will need to be around back home to help take care of the cat while he’s here visiting me. Fun for us three to be chatting away on Facetime. 

    This morning my sister and I are going together to see the plastic surgeon. I’ve told her about what a rock star, handsome young man surgeon he is, and I think she is curious. I have not removed the dressing, as per the instructions so neither one of us knows what’s under this big white, ‘loaf of bread’ that is stuck on my chest. Only that is not especially painful and nothing is leaking out of it. There is a lot of curiosity in the air  this morning. Hopefully it won’t turn into another one of those 5 hour waits like my last visit. 

    We have nothing scheduled for the rest of today. Just in case. 

    Laundry. If we get home early then I’ll take her to our fun laundromat/cafe/garden terrace and we can both do our laundry, have a nice coffee and croissant, catch up on young people music and just enjoy that neighbourhood experience. My laundromat pals have been watching out for me all winter, giving me hugs of support, they will get a kick out of seeing me with my sister. 

    But first - visit with the handsome plastic surgeon, find out what happened when I was unconscious and check up on how the healing is going, get a first look at what they did to me. All of us together, it won’t be me alone. It won’t be me facing whatever it is, whatever it looks like all alone. 

    Dispatched: May 8

  • 7 May 2019 6:26 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    Eat well. Check. I have been feasting with my sister and husband taking care of all the cooking. Plus my sister and I share appetizers every evening on the balcony. And I have great leftover lunches from their cooking. Yes. I am shocked to see how fat and bloated I've become.  I will have to stop eating like this. But not right now. Let's heal up first. The big advantage is that they are both making lot's of real food, good quality food. Recovery food. 

    Tuesday morning, the sun is shinning, it's 6:30am, not so hot as yesterday. Going to be 20 today instead of 28. This is perfect for me. I'm feeling pretty darn good. Especially for somebody who had surgery on Friday. Yesterday I cut back the drugs to just one Tylenol 3 every six hours. And then I forgot the early evening one, so just took one before bed. I feel much better. Getting off all those drugs makes me feel better. I'm surprised at how good my breast feels. It is still deeply buried under that thick dressing so I have no idea what it looks like, or what is going on in there. None. What I can say is that it feels fine. I feel some discomfort when I stand up if I've been lying down for a long time, or when I lie down on my side on the bed. Just at first. And really, that's it. The rest of the time it feels just fine. Already. No pinching, no pulling, no soreness, nothing like that at all. Period. The biopsy with it's 5 shots did bother me for longer. Of course I am still on the occasional Tylenol 3. But still. I am impressed with those surgeons. They have done a fabulous job. So far, so good. 

    My part of the story is to help everything heal up as best, and as fast as I can. My plan for that? 

    Eat well. Check. I have been feasting with sister and husband taking care of all the cooking. Plus my sister and I share appetizers every evening on the balcony. And I have great leftover lunches from their cooking. Yes. I am shocked to see how fat and bloated I've become. I am ignoring that as much as I can. I will have to stop eating like this. But not right now. Let's heal up first. The big advantage of now is that they are both making lot's of real food, good quality food. So that is what I eat. 

    Walk every day. I'm walking pretty good now. And I'm out in public. Even with this big dressing and bald head. I just wear my hat, and a buttoned up shirt and  away I go. I'm more embarrassed about the fat than the bald head and the bit of dressing showing at the neck of my shirt. Yesterday my sister and did the park walk, then down to St. Laurent and Bummies the children’s store. I bought a cute little swim outfit, made in Quebec, for the new baby at the ranch. It's a sun bonnet, swim tank top, and swim diaper. The bonnet and diaper are the same fabric, patterned with Koi fish and green fronds on a white and turquoise back ground, and the swim tank top is turquoise. It's very cute. I feel good about it. So, today I'll get a card, and perhaps write a little letter to everybody, not a big one and pack it all up to mail. It will feel good to get that in the mail. I've felt bad about not being able to send something sooner. Then we kept on and stopped at the Russian store too. So it was a good hour or so that I was up and walking about outside without stopping or sitting down. It was good for me. But I was tired at the end of it. We came home, heated up the soup for lunch, had something to drink and I had a nap. A good hour long nap. My sister went off to do some more shopping. She bought us cheese stick appetizers and my favourite cheese. And she bought me cute plants to rejuvenate my balcony window boxes. Nice. And then my husband got fresh snow crab and fiddle heads and we feasted on a local spring feast. Yummers. So the walking is good. And we are actually walking enough to poop my sister out. Well, okay, she is walking twice as much as me. But still. I am happy about the walking. I think it makes a huge difference.

    And I sleep well. I have my naps, and I am relaxed and content. And I feel loved. I sleep deeply when I sleep. I'm still waking up every couple of hours at night when my back is sore to turn over, that part still goes on. But I feel like with the naps and the walks I am still getting a enough sleep and exercise and a good balance of both. Yes, I would like to add swimming back into the mix. Soon. That is only a month away. Beginning of June I can ask permission to swim again. Yeah. I'll feel a lot better when I can do that. 

    I feel like I'm healing up really well. I feel like the plastic surgeon will be please to see his results, take his picture, give me a new dressing and send me on my way. That'll be good. 

    I feel no pain right now. If we count surgery as day 1, then I am on 5 right now, that's pretty reasonable I think. If we count the day after surgery as day then I'm on day 4. Either way I am past the 3 days of the taking these painkillers on schedule and onto the 'as needed' instruction. I don't feel any pain at all right now, so I'm not going to take anything. We'll see how it goes. But I think I'm down to just the antibiotics and the blood pressure pills. Yippee! Moving right along. 

    And the sun is shining. 

    And my disability cheque came in yesterday. And my credit card is all paid off, and even has 400 bucks for me to spend on it. Wahoo. 

    Today the walking plan is to go up the street, towards the bank, I'll deposit the cheque and check up the office mail at the post office and introduce my sister to the new organic grocery store and to the souvenir section of the book store. She'll like that. And we can stop at the liquor store on the way home, she can buy wine for her dinner tonight. That will be our walk. 

    We have the nice new plants so today's project can be to play with the planter and put them up on the balcony. 

    Dispatched: May 7 

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