Log in
  • Home
Log in

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


  • 6 May 2019 6:25 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    My only job these days is taking care of my health. It's become a more intense job since the surgery. But it won't stay that way. 

    Monday morning. It's a bit cooler today. I don't mind it. It got too hot for me last night and I remembered how terrible they heat can make you feel at night, even if you're not getting over surgery and living on 2 T3s every 6 hours. It was harder falling asleep and staying asleep last night. I was annoyed, with the heat with not being able to move freely, with being back at an infant/invalid stage of life - again. 

    It wasn't a long down and discouraged moment, but it was a down and discouraged moment. 

    I've been well distracted by sister. She talks to me all the time while I'm awake. We sit in the living room and talk. We sit on the balcony and talk. We sit on park benches on our walk around the park and talk. We talk all day long, except when I'm having my nap. My husband is getting some free time. He went swimming yesterday. He did his usual Sunday things, even sleeping on the couch listening to the radio while my sister and I sat on the balcony and talked. My sister made supper for us last night. A pasta dish with roast vegetables from one of the same cookbooks that I have, fun, so I don't even have to get the recipe from her, I had it already. And a trifle for desert with my favourite - store bought angel food cake. We watched Sunday night TV. My sister’s being here is partly for him, to take the burden of caring for me off of him for a while.  

    I am really, really glad that she came here for the surgery. It's made a big difference in this part of my recovery. She was great in the recovery room, dealing with nurses and helping me get dressed. She'll come with me to the plastic surgeon, my husband can just drop us off. It's better if she's there for all that. Another woman. And she's been good about walking with me. I am a bit shaky on my pins. My legs did feel a bit wobbly on the first walk. And my stomach threatened to do some cramping things on the second walk. I was glad she was there walking with me. And I was glad that it was a perfect day so that we could go slowly and enjoy the walk. And also that we were in the park where there were lot's of benches to sit down on along the way. 

    Yesterday we did the lower mountain walk. And we did sit on benches on the mountain and then in front of the tennis courts. It was a nice long walk out in a bit of nature, enjoying people enjoying themselves. And I would not have had the courage to do that walk alone. And my husband would not have done it with me, so I'm really glad my sister was here for that. And then I had a big nap while she went out shopping for groceries for her supper dish. All good. As she would say. 

    Her plan is to take the train to Ottawa on Friday if I keep get getting better at this same rate. She'll stay here for the doctor visit and dressing removal. We have today to do with as we please, and tomorrow night she'll go over and see her in-laws and their kids. My husband might go with her. He did suggest having them all over here, but both my sister and I said no. I'm not ready for that yet. It's less than a week after surgery. Too much stress. Too much housecleaning which he doesn't understand. Too much cooking which he does understand and would be happy to do. And just too much, having a whole family bopping around the house all evening. I can be relaxed and almost normal here with just my sister and husband because they are both used to living with me, and I am used to living with each of them. But that's not the same as actually being normal and ready for normal social experiences.

    I did have a funny brain fart with my sister yesterday. I was telling her about the mushroom pate recipe and said it was pretty easy because really you just have to stick everything in the purifier. I blinked and knew it was the wrong word right away. But then, I couldn't find the right word quickly either. It was an odd moment. Puree, I was thinking of puree, you just puree everything, and I switched the sentence to you just stick it all in the purifier. Food processor. That was the word that I lost while I pictured the machine in my mind. But it also made sense to me why I went for purifier when I was thinking thinking the machine that purees things. If both pureed and fried then it would be a 'purifryer', get it - 'puri-fryer'? 

    I hope this is only a brain fart. I hope it's just a result of being on these T3s, two of them every six hours except when I'm asleep since Friday. And the massive anethesea drugs, and morphine that they gave me on Friday. I hope it's just drug induced brain farts and they'll go away as I quit taking the drugs and they all wear off. 

    I took all my drugs on schedule yesterday. I didn't really feel any pain. Or I should say that the pain in my breast was no worse than the pain in my hand along my thumb and index finger, and the pain up my arm through to my elbow and the pain from the rash. It's still just as painful as it was, but both my husband and sister see that it's 'drying up' acting less active than before. I did the mountain walk, I had a good deep nap. And I ate well. I was hungry yesterday. So. Things are improving. Too slowly, or quite quickly depending on my mood. Today I'll try to start cutting back on the painkillers and anti-nausea drugs and see what happens. One T3 and see if it lasts the full 6 hours. I'm okay now. My last dose of 2 T3s was 9 hours ago. So it will probably be okay. I'll probably be fine to start cutting back. It will feel better to get off of all these drugs. But also, I do confess, these drugs are nothing compared to chemo. Nothing. 

    Still. It  will be good to start getting back to normal. Whatever that is. 

    I'm glad my husband and I had a private, intimate moment last night. I'm glad my sister is here, cooking and doing dishes and helping out. And she's quietly watering plants and keeping things going on that front. Somebody even washed the kitchen floor while I was sleeping last night. This apartment didn’t get my usual Saturday clean up treatment this week. But it's okay. It'll be fine. I'm not going to worry about it right now. My only job these days is to take my little walks, have my little naps, take my drugs - moving off the painkillers and being more careful about making sure I take the antibiotics and the blood pressure pills. They are all in my weekly pill box. I should be able to stay on top of them that way. One pill in the morning with my blood pressure pill, and then the other one at night with dinner. My only job these days is taking care of my health. It's become a more intense job since the surgery. But it won't stay that way. 

    From this place in time I don't imagine that I will be able to go to the conference this year. But who knows, maybe by then...I suspect I will be taking daily radiation. 5 or 6 weeks of it. Starting the beginning of June. Daily. That will turn into it's own kind of grind. Especially if it gets really hot and humid here. I may start to hang out in the air conditioned hospital just to get away from this apartment. I hate how it gets dark, and noisy in here with all the fans, window air conditioners and closed off windows and doors. I dread that. I dread that far more than winter. That radiation part might be the worst. And I'll probably have to ride the bus back and forth, I can't imagine my husband driving me there and picking me up every day. But perhaps I can get him to drive me there, and then I take the bus home again afterwards. Maybe that can happen. 

    Anyways, the sun has come up, it's almost 8 am and both my sister and husband are up and about. Time to start the day. 

    Dispatched: May 6

  • 5 May 2019 6:07 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    Every day your body starts to seal things off, glue everything back together again. Smooth over the damage.

    Sunday morning. In the sunshine. Had a not bad night last night. Woke up every couple of hours instead of every hour. I had to sleep on my left side non-surgery side which is not my usual, and on my back. I slept on the couch for a bit. Around 3 am I took another set of Tylenol 3s. And then I slept on my side in bed until 6 am. Pretty good. It was good deep sleep when I was sleeping. And I feel pretty good. Not to woozy from all these Tylenol 3s. What does this say to me? The surgery and the accompanying drugs don't have all that much effect on me? It says something about the chemo drugs, and the drugs that go with them and how powerful they are. Tylenol 3s used to knock me flat out, now I barely feel them. Even the morphine didn't have much effect. It was hardly worth taking. But also - it tells me something about how tough I've become too. My body has become quite tough about getting back up again. 

    Yesterday was a quiet day around the the house with my sister. My husband went back and forth. Off to the market, and off to a porch party concert. It was a long, long bike ride for my husband and he was good and tired when he got home. I think he was glad to get home to me and my sister. I did the walk around the block with my sister, no problem. The old chemo walk around the block. The weather was gorgeous. And the day was alternating between sitting on the balcony and watching the world go by and napping on the couch. My sister and I did the scans of the photos and recipe cards for the family cookbook downstairs. That was fun just looking at the pictures and reading the captions on the back. 

    My sister took off while I was having my nap and did a bit of shopping in the neighbourhood. Came back with raisin bread and apple turnovers.  We sat on the porch after supper. It was a lovely evening, full moon, warm weather. Lot's of people either ending their day out gallivanting or starting their date night, it felt like an on the prowl night in the city. It was nice to just sit there and watch the world go by. My sister is knitting a lot while I sleep. I find it rather comforting to lie on the couch dozing while she knits. Must be partly from all those days of mom knitting. 

    Not much pain. It's sore when I get up, awkward to get up off the couch, moving around. But just sitting there or lying there it's pretty well pain free. I am taking the Tylenol 3s every 6 hours though. And an anti-nausea drug every 8 hours. Antibiotic twice a day. Morphine on the side if I need it. But I only took it that first day. Haven't needed it so far. I find that I don't really like morphine all that much. Interesting. But also I shouldn't be surprised, it's not the downer drugs that I like. Cocaine would be my downfall. I like the uppers. 

    When we were downstairs scanning my sister did say that it was hard to believe that I'd had surgery just the day before, I looked so healthy and normal scanning away there. I felt pretty normal too. Despite the heavy painkilling drugs.  

    Every day I'm getting better. I feel better every day. And although I've never had such a big surgery before, it is still progressing in a normal way that you heal. There is the really raw, just hurt stage. Bleeding and more damage is still possible. That was just the first day. Then every day your body starts to seal things off, glue everything back together again. I was right, it is not that much different from the biopsy. Bigger dressing, stronger painkillers, but same system. And even a similar timeline. This is all tissue. No muscles involved here, no bones. I don't have to get into that kind of healing. It goes fairly quickly. I think it's healing up fairly quickly under that big wad of bandage. It’s like a loaf of bread stuck on my chest. 

    Today I think I'll go for the sponge bath in the tub, get cleaned up a bit, put on a fresh shirt. In the end this dressing is so big that I'm not wearing any bra. Just the new shirt that I bought and pants. I wear the shirt to sleep too because I don't have any front opening pjs either. I could buy some, but at this stage it's not really worth it anymore. I'll be able to start wearing most of my regular clothes in a week or so anyway. Just muddle on through. 

    I can see the light at the end of this tunnel. I can see that warm sunny day on the other side of this. It is like being in Baltimore after the biopsy, gradually getting better and doing other things, gradually this gets to be a smaller and smaller part of my life until it's only a memory. I will have whatever new boob they've made for me. No nipple. But how many people ever see your nipples anyway? For all intents and practical purposes it will just a be a smaller version of my old boob. And if I my luck holds my arm will be okay too. And if my luck holds then the radiation won't bug the tissue too much, I'll heal well. It will all be just fine in the long run. 

    And there is daylight. Summer is in the air today. A new season begins. Feels good. 

    Dispatched: May 5

  • 4 May 2019 6:05 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    I realized that surgery is the opposite of chemo. Surgery day is your worst day and every day after that is better. Chemo day is not the worst day, you keep getting sicker and sicker every day after chemo day. And with every chemo treatment too. So, here I am in the day after surgery and I'm basically past the worst of it. I will start getting better each day now. Okay. 

    Saturday morning, in the sun, the day after surgery. It's done. It's over! Yippee. 

    But I had a bad scary moment all alone last night. I woke up every couple of hours because I was worried about my circulation and recovering from the anesthetic and also the pain killers. And my back was really sore from lying in the one position during the surgery. We started at around 8:30 and I wasn’t sitting up again until after 4:00pm. That's what woke me up, my sore back. And lucky it did. After all of this worry about lymphedema, and all the choices and prevention I did, I left the plastic hospital id bracelets on my arm when I went to bed. And yes, they did cut off my circulation. At 4:00 am when I decided to sit up and I took out my laptop that's when I felt that the fingers on my right hand were stiff, at first I thought it was like my back and just from lying still in one position all day, with my arm strapped out. But they felt like 'sausages' and when I looked down I saw that my hand was all puffy. Dang I didn't even make it one day without lymphedema showing up. On the very first night. Dang. And for such a stupid thing too. Not taking off the hospital bracelets. I saw the mark on my forearm from the bracelet. I knew the hospital bracelet had been pressing on my arm. And my arm/hand was swollen below that. It did look exactly like mom's hand. I felt pretty discouraged. But I stayed awake, I squeezed my hand open and closed periodically and after about an hour it did go down. It went all the way down. I was relieved. So. It happens easily but I was able to catch it in time, and I was able to deal with it, on my own, all alone in the middle of the night. 

    Whew. Less discouraged now. 

    The good news is that they didn't find any cancer in the lymph node dissection. Yippee! That means less radiation for me. And less risk of lymphedema because they didn't take out so many lymph nodes. Dr. B told me how many it was going to be, that first one that he found the first day I went to see him, and a couple more nearby. I do not know this for sure. I never saw Dr. B once yesterday. He didn't show up until after I was 'out' and he wasn't there to tell us how it went after the surgery either. The plastic surgeon at least showed up ahead of time. Luckily the nurse in the recovery room offered to page Dr. B and my husband talked to him. So I know that he was really happy with the surgery, that they were all very pleased and happy with how it went. I know Dr. B, he's honest. He wouldn't say that if they had found cancer in those planned lymph nodes when they did the biopsy. And also judging by how it feels, my arm feels pretty good. I think they didn't remove too many lymph nodes. I think that means they didn't find cancer in the biopsy. But I won't know for sure until June. For another month. But I think it's encouraging. I've decided to believe that the node biopsy was negative. 

    I got lot's of text messages going into surgery, wishing me luck. My sister and husband have been a good caregiver team.

    So here we are. Phase 2 the second big thing is done now. The surgery. I get another month off and then it will be radiation. So far it is all going well. So far it does not look as if we are going to have to muck around for years trying to get this cancer under control. So far. So good. So far. 

    It's interesting that I was so calm for the surgery. I wasn't the least bit anxious. I felt calm, and loved and cared for. I felt trusting. Even when I had to lie in the pre-op room for more than an hour without any kind of 'relaxing' drug, any kind of drug at all. I was completely drug free at that point, but I stayed relaxed. I did my mediation, relaxation and even fell asleep while waiting. I was that deeply, deeply relaxed. And this was despite the fact that two nurses got it wrong in describing the surgery I was going to have. One nurse said they would take a flap of muscle from my abdomen, and the other nurse, the plastic surgeon’s resident, said they would take a flap of muscle from under my arm. And not only that, that I would have drains and would need to have them for a week or two. Yikes. That was not at all what I signed up for. She even went on about how they would show me how to measure the fluid in the drains myself. Sheesh. I simply said, no, they were not moving muscle only breast tissue. I knew that, and that he did say that he might take some fat from my abdomen if necessary. But no muscle. But I didn't get upset or anxious. I just told both of those nurses that they were wrong. And they didn't argue with me. And I went back to sleep.

    I was actually asleep when the anesthesiologist showed up. He had to wake me up to tell me that he was the guy who was going to put me to sleep. Pretty funny. We joked about that. He asked his questions. And he did seem to know more about the surgery plan. He asked about my last chemo, and how I felt now. And he was happy that I'd taken the blood pressure pill, and that the blood pressure note from my family doctor was in the file, so that was all good. My blood pressure was up from the last family doctor visit - that was 112 over 70. In the pre-op room it was 138 over 85. Still fine. Still okay for the surgery. 

    It was cute in the operating room. He did say, just like I used to say, “what time is it? Treat time! with Moose” He said, “Okay all of these other things have been done, do you know what time it is now?” And I jumped right in and said, “Sleep time! I get to go back to sleep now!”. Fun. They all laughed. 

    His assistant put an oxygen mask on my face, I felt the beeps on some machine slow down, and that was it for me. I was a gonner. I never did see Dr. B. And I'd been looking forward to it, because I trust him so much. He has such a nice touch and honest way. But that's okay. I knew he was around somewhere. I could feel it.

    The next thing I knew I was in the recovery room. The pain in my breast was terrible. I said it was an 8. It wasn't excruciating. But it was sharp, burning and bad. They kept on giving me more and more morphine. Until finally, in the second recovery room it was a four or five, and then it was gone altogether. After that it was a matter of time for me to finish waking up, being able to sit up, being able to sit in a chair, then get up and walk to the bathroom. I peed blue. Blue dye. Not unlike when I peed red in the chemo room. Red chemo. And my husband had his chat with Dr. B. And my sister came in and helped me dress. Forget the special bras, there is so much dressing I just decided to go braless. And they got me home. I felt pretty good on the way home. My sister even took me on a little walk around the block so I could get some fresh air in my lungs. And now, here I am, after the night I described. Home again, sitting in my chair, drinking my second cup of coffee and feeling pretty good. I've taken all my morning pills, except for the blood pressure pill. 2 T3s, 1 antibiotic, 1 anti-nausea. Don't need the morphine. And my poor mouth is less dry. But my sister has warned me about constipation, so I think that I will get into the prunes for breakfast and see what they do for me. 

    It's okay. We are done the worst of phase 2 now. And I realized this fact last night, surgery is the opposite of chemo. Surgery day is your worst day and every day after that is better. Chemo day is not so bad, but you do keep getting sicker and sicker every day after that. And with every chemo treatment too. So, I'm past the worst of it. I will start getting better each day now. 

    Dispatched: May 4

  • 3 May 2019 6:57 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    We are ready. I am ready. Let’s go.

    Friday morning. Today is surgery day. We are ready. I am ready. Let’s go. We were ready by early yesterday evening. We were ready to go then, after supper. The three of us watched TV for a while, but we were all distracted, sitting there ‘all dressed up’ and ready to go, but it wasn’t time yet. A Dairy Queen commercial came on and it was a good distraction. That caught our eyes. We would all rather be eating treats than watching the clock count down. What the heck, I only really had to start fasting at midnight. We double checked the information sheet. Midnight.  I suggested that we walk over to the Dairy Queen. The little walk and the sit in the park with our ice cream treats was just enough to fill that last part of the evening, it felt appropriate too, and after that, then I was ready to go to bed, sleep deeply, ready to wake up to now. Ready to go for surgery today. 

    Dispatched: May 3

  • 2 May 2019 7:03 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    We will have healthy soup to sip on all week whenever we need to feel comforted. The taste of home, the taste of childhood, the taste of family all in one mouthful. Now I am fortified and ready for whatever might happen next, however bad it might go. That was the last thing that needed to be put in place. 

    Thursday morning. The house is quiet and I’m the only one up and awake on this last day before surgery. I think I am as ready as I am ever going to be, and if not, well too bad, because this surgery is going to happen tomorrow anyway, ready or not. Everything is in place. And I did all the agonizing and second guessing weeks ago. Over that part, confident in the decisions that have been made, my medical team and the plan that’s been put in place.

    I have two mastectomy bras. I’m not so sure about them. They are nothing like the soft sports bras I usually wear. They have a strange structure and I don’t like the fit. I thought they would be comfortable, like the difference between jeans and pyjamas. But they are the other way around, more structured than I like, and less comfortable - even before the surgery. I ordered them online because I simply had no idea where to go looking for post mastectomy bras in town. I probably won’t wear them. But right now I’m also not going to even think about trying to return them and get my money back either. Surgery is tomorrow. My sister is here. I have other more important things to do with my precious time. 

    Shopping yesterday morning was fun. I bought two shirts, both the same style and size just different colours. They will work for the next little while and I can wear them after the surgery is a distant memory too. It was fun introducing my sister to all the interesting stores just a block or two from here. She wears orthotics in her shoes and we found a whole shoe store devoted to interesting shoes, more styles and colours, that work with orthotics. She was a happy shopper too. We both came home with bags in tow. It was a bit like Christmas, only we were shopping for ourselves. 

    My husband made us lunch and I laid down to have a quick nap before we made soup. I dreamt I was a child at home again with my parents and siblings all around me. Secure. It was the only family I had ever known. I did not know I would not always have that family. I woke up deep in that childhood safe feeling with the smell of borsht cooking, dill and tomatoes in this real life. While I was asleep my sister had made the soup and then went back out and did a bit more shopping in some of the stores that we passed by in the morning. We will have healthy soup to sip on all week whenever we need to feel comforted. Now I am ready for whatever might happen next, however bad it might go. That was the last thing that needed to be put in place. 

    Today my sister and I are going to go for a walk in the woods together. That’s all that’s on the schedule. And tonight. I have to do the pre-surgery prep and fasting. Tomorrow is the day. 

    Dispatched: May 2


  • 1 May 2019 6:31 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    We had some good giggles along the way, just like back when we were little girls growing up together giggling at our mother’s grown-up lady stuff like make-up and brassieres. Turns out that breast cancer treatment and playing with the wig is just another stage of grown-up lady stuff. Worth a giggle or two. We're both post-menopausal, middle-aged women now, not so giggly anymore, and it was a bit surprising to discover that there are still more of those ’grown-up lady’ milestones ahead off us.

    Wednesday morning. Today and tomorrow and then it's surgery day. Are the surgeons as nervous as me? Do they do surgery every day, or is it a big deal day for them too? What am I asking here? Are they human? It's a routine for them even if they don't do it every day, and they are both experienced men in the prime of their lives and their careers. I learned to be more relaxed about flying after I flew several times a year for several decades. But there is always still that bit of thrill on take off and landing. I want my surgeons to be relaxed, and I trust them in the exact same way I trust the airline pilots. Once you put your life in their hands, then you may as well relax, there is nothing expected of you until the trip is over. Surgery is the same thing. You put yourself in the surgeons hands and let go. It's up to then and no amount of stress or worry on your part is going to help them do a better job. All of my decisions have already been made. 

    Yesterday my sister and I had a lot of fun with my wig. She did put it on my head and trim the bangs. But she had also done some research and learned more about how to put a cap on under the wig so it's not so itchy, and how to fit it so that it doesn't fly off so easily. Better. And we had some good giggles along the way too. Like back when we were little kids. Giggling at grown up lady stuff like make-up and brassieres. Breast cancer treatment and wearing the wig is just another stage of grown up lady stuff. We're both post menopausal middle-aged women now, and it was a bit surprising to discover that there are still more 'grown-up' milestones ahead off us. I'm never going to love this wig, I am never going to want to return to that hair colour or that old fashioned hair style again either. But now it has some good memories associated with it: the funny fly off my head moment, and the bonding with my little sister, letting her take care of me moment. 

    Dim Sum with the filmmaking gang was great. My last social outing was dim sum with them back in the fall and this is my first post chemo, out in public and in a restaurant not being so paranoid about about germs and bacteria because I have an immune system again outing. The food was great, the conversation was lively, it was a happy occasion and we all had fun stuffing ourselves with dish after dish as it came out of the kitchen on the trolly. 

    Now that my sister is here I've noticed how I sleep a lot. When we got back I had to lie down for a nap. I felt so normal that it seemed like an olden days nap, ten to twenty minutes. But when I woke up my sister told me that I'd been asleep for two or three hours. They were already making supper when I woke up from my after lunch nap. Time is passing me by. I guess it will be a while before I get my stamina back. In the meantime I have to go ahead and go through this surgery and that will knock me back again, in a different way. But it will still knock me back into recovery mode again. It's a lot. But if they don't get after the cancer and do this surgery this soon after the chemo there is a chance it can start growing again. Doubling ever cell division. Gotta do it now. I'm lucky that I got this much of a break. 

    The next step in the memory workbook was the method of Loci or "the journey". This is an old memory technique, it was used in ancient Greece. And today the folks who compete in memory competitions use this strategy. It's an natural next step from yesterday's visualizations. 

    Picture a familiar space with different rooms. Your home is an obvious choice. And think of the flow as you walk through it, from the front door around the rooms, up and down the stairs and out the backdoor. 

    In each room picture the objects or items that you want to remember/memorize. So if it's a grocery list it might be apples in the front hall, eggs in the living room and toilet paper in the kitchen. 

    Then make the objects odd or absurd. Exploding apples in the front hall, big bouncing eggs in the living room. Halloween toilet paper draped all over the kitchen. The more you can evoke an emotion; fear, laughter, disgust the more you will 'deepen' the memory. 

    I would not use this technique for a grocery list. Why? Because a grocery list is something that you want to forget as soon as you have bought your groceries. I would still just write that down and then do something to remind me to take the list to the store. I keep a list on the fridge and I write things down as I use the last of the peas, or decide to try a new recipe that requires ingredients we don't have in the house. And then I forget about what's on the list until it's time to go to the grocery store. I could do this on my phone too. And then I would not have to do the extra step of remembering to take the list with me to the grocery store. Either way, grocery lists are not something that I feel I need to memorize. 

    But do I do something like this memory trick on the days that I forget to bring the list with me? My dad taught me to bring things out of memory by recreating a beginning time and the event that you do remember and then follow the forward motion of the time through the past until you find that moment where you; put down your keys, took off your glasses, left store #3 without your debit card. I’ve got pretty good at that over the years. I can stand in the grocery store without my list, remembering that I had run out of something odd that I don't normally buy. I think back over the week, cooking is the key here so I think of all the meals that I made one by one, and there it is - I was making supper and used the last of the chilli powder, in my minds eye I see the empty bottle in my hand, hear me tell myself better write this down. I remember going to the fridge and writing it down before I put the bottle in re-cycling. And then there in my mind is the next thing on the list, I'm in the living room and the cookbook sits open in my lap with a delicious looking picture of a dessert I want to try. I study the picture in my mind for clues about the ingredients, strawberries, whipping cream, probably gelatine. Okay. I have a pretty good idea about what I need to buy to make that recipe. Usually I can remember most of the list that way. The problem with doing it that way is that then those re-enforced memories come back again the next time I go grocery shopping and I can end up with two new bottles of chilli powder. I have learned that’s better to forget your grocery list once you've bought that batch of groceries. 

    But I think this Loci method could be really good for things that you actually want to remember for a long time, perhaps even the rest of your life. Things like your social insurance number. That number would be good to have in your mind with you all the time. It doesn't ever change but you only ever need to know it sporadically, once every few years. I’m sure there are more ways to put this powerful memory technique to good use. I’m not giving up on the Loci technique because I just love the idea of following in the mental footsteps of the ancient Greeks! I don't have time to really practice just now with my sister here and surgery tomorrow but when the surgery and radiation are over and I'm coming back to real life again I’m going to really go for it.  

    In the meantime I have my little schedule. My sister and I are going to go out walking and shopping in the neighbourhood. Shoes for her, and shirts for me. I need tops that I don't have to pull over my head for the days and weeks right after the surgery. I don't have any open front, one sleeve at a time shirts. I looked through my closet and drawers and it seems I just wear t-shirts and sweaters. I had no idea that was my fashion statement. 

    And then, after shopping I think we are going to make borsch. Talk about your scent and memory, the smells of cooking, the smells of family, the smells of comfort all tied up in one pot of soup. Of course we are going to make borsh as we go through this stressful time together. Me and my little sister.  

    Dispatched: May 1

  • 30 Apr 2019 6:41 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    Smell is one of the strongest memory associations there is. You can use the effect of scent on your memory to deliberately to attach things you need to remember to certain smells. Sniff the scent as you commit something to memory. Then you can simply use the same scent to help you recall the planted memories later on. Cool, eh? 

    Tuesday morning. My sister is here and sleeping in the guest room. Easy flight, everything was on time. And now she is here. And surgery is coming soon, that is why she is here. Last night was dinner, unpacking, TV and chatting. She did not react to my appearance one way or the other that I could tell. Today we are going to play with the wig and see if we can make it work better and we're all going out for dim sum lunch with the filmmaker gang. 

    Todays mind and memory lesson is about visualization strategies. Here we start to move into the land of really tried and true techniques. Associate a place or event with an image. We do it all the time whether we like it or not. Logos. The golden arches at MacDonalds, the Olympic Rings. The idea is to create your own logos in your mind and associate them with something that you need to remember on a regular basis, like your PIN number for example. The idea is that by using visual imagery you can aide the auditory-verbal memory system, the same word processing part of the brain that in my case has been damaged by the chemotherapy I took, and also will be damaged by the further hormone therapy that I will be taking later on. 

    They give three steps. First state the name of what it is you want to remember. Say it's a time, 2:30. Maybe it will be easier to remember it as too thirsty. Next, describe what you see that is associated with that thing. A cold glass of water with condensation dripping down the side. Now exaggerate the image.  Two tiny glasses of ice cold water against desert landscape of sandpaper.  Too. Thirsty.  What time did I have to be there? Look in your mind to see if the answer is there, and there is the image. Too Thirsty. Two-thirty. Using images to help you recall words. The big tip here is to use images that evoke strong emotion. You can get really gross and strange here because you don't have to tell anybody else what about which imagery is working for you. 

    The other way to improve your word memory by hijacking a different part of your brain is through smell. Smell is one of the strongest memory associations there is. You can use that deliberately to attach word memories to certain smells. And then you can use the same scent to help you recall the words later on. My mind and memory occupational therapist told me about how she memorized her pre-written essays for a certain timed test by using the scent of oranges while she was doing the writing and memorizing. Then she put a few drops of orange oil scent on her wrists just before going into the exam. Bingo, the scent of orange on her wrists did bring up the memories of those essays as she leaned forward over the desk to write.  She said it actually put her right into the room, she could see the essays as she wrote them in her mind and was able to simply copy them down from memory during the exam.  She said the scent technique works best, same as the visualizations, with strange and strong scents. Out of the ordinary is what sticks in your mind. 

    I don't have time to get into all this right now in my life. I just don't. But I'm hanging onto the information and someday, when I have more time (ha, ha, like that will every happen) or perhaps when my memory failure gets more critical (far more likely methinks) then I will sit down and try to really work on these two techniques. Practice until I get good at them. Practice until I can really use them, and count on them as well as I use sticky notes and a daytimer, my phone alerts right now. I think it will do a brain good to learn these tricks. 

    In the meantime I can go practice my social skills with a group of old friends and my husband and sister. And eat restaurant food without worrying about food poisoning any more than any other normal person who will be sitting at the table with us. Small things. But big steps on the return journey. 

    Dispatched: April 30

  • 29 Apr 2019 6:03 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    The really big thing I learned about listening over the years is that it takes you out of yourself, if you can let yourself get caught up in the other person’s story, it’s interesting and it takes you out of your own self-consciousness. And then, what do you know, you even start to have fun. Laugh at their jokes, it feels good, listen to the problems of their day/job/family and it gives you a bit of perspective on your own. People like to be heard. You feel better. 

    Monday morning. Today is the day my sister arrives. Although I’m bald she is still going to cut my bangs like she used to do when we were kids. We’ll try to make something better out of this cheap wig with the long bangs that poke me in the eye with their little plastic ends. I have had enough eye poking to do me for a lifetime thank you very much. And this wig must know how much I hate it, it tries to make it’s escape and fly off my head every chance it gets. 

    Today I’ll walk over the the trendy street and get some nice chocolates and a few flowers for the guest room. We’re not a fancy hotel but our guests can still have fresh flowers and fancy chocolates in their room. 

    I have to go by my family doctors office, he has to take my blood pressure, make sure the blood pressure pill he proscribed is working and send the results to the hospital so that I can go ahead with the surgery on Friday. This is when I am glad that my family docotor has a quiet office, you can usually just about walk right in within five minutes of arriving, and so it will be a quick and easy visit. None of this waiting for hours, and hours, and hours with lots of other patients, none of whom want to be there in that waiting room any more than you do. 1:15 and then my sister arrives at 6:20. 

    In the meantime, today’s lesson is active listening, and also fatigue management and sleep improvement. 

    Active listening is just a specific case of paying attention, instead of paying attention to what you are doing, you are paying attention to what another person is saying to you. Look at them, do your muscle relaxation so you can give them body language that lets them know you are listening, repeat what they say, ask questions for clarification if you aren’t sure what they mean. 

    Turns out that cancer survivors tend to have trouble following or understanding conversations when there are several small conversations going on at the same time. This is me. This is normal me. Never mind the cancer part. I find those situations stressful, period. When I have to do them for work, the cocktail reception, the breakfast meeting, the gala dinner I have learned to really narrow my focus even in a crowded room so I’m not overwhelmed and overcome by shyness. I try to talk to only one person, at most two at a time and avoid bigger clumps of people. I eat or drink in between conversations to give myself a break and don’t open my mouth except to talk during an actual conversation. That way I’m not trying to juggle too many things at once. It reduces the risk of spilling, dropping food on people or thowing up out of stage fright. Also - I pretend I am someone else, I draw on my acting class training and pretend I am one of those ‘magnificent greek women’ from the old plays. Calm and powerful. Let them come to me. That ‘acted’ version of me is far better at these kinds of social events than the real me. The spell breaks a bit when I notice that the person I’m talking to is  looking over my shoulder for the next person on their list that they want to talk to at this particular event. But I take it as my cue to go grab an appetizer, look down and cut my breakfast into smaller pieces, or consult the gala program to find out what award comes next. It seems like a long time since I had to do that, and no events like that, except for the cancer group on my horizon either. I guess the cancer group is a good way to get back in practice. Social skills are important. 

    And the really big thing I learned about better listening over the years is that it takes you out of yourself, if you can get caught up in their story, it’s interesting and it takes you out of your own self-consciousness. And then, what do you know, you even start to have fun. Laugh at their jokes, it feels good, listen to the problems of their day/job/family and it gives you a bit of perspective on your own. 

    Fatigue managment and sleep improvement. Fatigue has plagued and confused me through this whole treatment cycle. Guess what? I’m not alone. This is common with cancer survivors. Guess what? They don’t really have any effective, universal protocols to help you manage this problem. They recommended some common sense things. Schedule your day with more breaks, don’t schedule more than you can realistically accomplish. Practice your relaxation skills. Do some sensible exercise. Ask you dietician if there are foods that will boost your energy or contribute to fatigue (the dietician at the cancer group did not mention anything like that and you would think if there were such foods, either way, that would have been the perfect place and time to present them) The sleep improvement techniques are not much better. They are just the usual, only use your bedroom for sleeping, keep a regular schedule of wake and sleep times, don’t lie in bed for hours trying to sleep, wind down before bedtime, avoid coffee in the evening, don’t do exciting things like sports or concerts right before bed. 

    I could add a few more don’t do right before bed things; don’t watch scary movies, don’t pick a fight with your husband, kid, sister, best friend, don’t start reading a page turner book. 

    Two of the people I know with sleep problems were told to wake up in the morning, get dressed and walk outside in the daylight before 11:00am every day. It is easier to control the waking up, getting dressed and going outside part of the day than to make yourself fall asleep after you lie down. I personally look at falling asleep as an act of trust, of letting go, a bodily act of trust. Perhaps if people did those acting trust exercises where they fall back into waiting arms and nothing bad happens, or if they just let themselves fall into the lake, swimming pool, ocean and let the water hold them and float them, perhaps those things could help?  

    And they did not mention the drugs that can keep you awake. How do you sleep when you are drugged to stay awake? How can you stay awake when the drugs are killing so many of the cells in your body that your hair falls out and you have no immune system. These are important factors specific to cancer treatment and they were not mentioned. 

    I think there is still a lot to learn about sleep, and chemo fatigue. There is just not enough scientific study and understanding. And it seems they are barely even scratching the surface of the common sense aspects of these basic conditions. They’re working on it, I’m curious, the world around us is still full of mystery and undiscovered territory and I’m curious to see how the ‘story’ of this part of life develops. 

    Dispatched: April 29

  • 28 Apr 2019 6:25 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    The idea is not to wait until you are in the mood for something pleasant and feel you have time for it. Schedule it, plan for it, anticipate it, and do it. Then feel good about it afterward too. Every day.  

    Sunday morning. Beginning of the last full day before my sister comes to help out and the whole count down to the surgery really begins. Lifestyle changes for phase two of treatment, surgery, begins tomorrow. It’ll be nice to have my sister around ahead of this, it will be nice to have another woman in the house. A woman who shares that long time, intimate relationship of sisterhood with me. I have all these memories of our childhood. We shared a bed for years when we were growing up, I remember waking up to the sounds of her hacking one night and opening my eyes to see her face with vomit coming out of it looming over me. I closed my eyes just in time. But it was still a disgusting mess, and my poor little sister was so sick I couldn’t be mad at her. I remember one evening, the street lights had just come on and we were running home as fast as we could because that was the rule, we could play where ever we wanted but we had to be home when the street lights came on. She was running ahead of me, wearing a cute pointed little cap that bounced around as she half skipped, half ran towards home, laughing. Full of joy. My little sister looked so small and adorable. I ran faster to catch her up in a big hug. I couldn’t resist. She had been in her own happy little world and she was annoyed when I grabbed her from behind like that. My little sister. She’s a grown woman with kids of her own now. All our kids are older than my sister and I were during the time of these memories. And the two of us are the only ones who share all these memories. All the memories of growing up together. 

    Until now my breast cancer treatment has been systemic. Chemo is something that affects my whole body. I could talk about it with guys and gals equally, comfortably. Now the treatment becomes specific. It’s all about that breast. Surgery. Disfiguring mutilation. Let’s not kid ourselves. Permanent. I am glad I will have my sister around for this part. I appreciate the physical closeness of another woman who will understand in a different way from my husband and sons. 

    The mind and memory workbook session was all about external cues. Helping your mind lay down memories and retrieve them by paying attention to what’s going on externally. Tips on setting up those external cues to help you, and managing the external visual and audible ’noise’ cues around you so they don’t distract you. As I went through that section I realized that people have chemo brain effects that are far worse than mine. 

    My problems are mainly around words, and they are really only an issue for me because I’m a writer so these kinds of mistakes affect my ability to do my job. Here is my list of swapped words that I don’t seem to be able to recognize at the time when I’m writing, or even afterwards when I’m editing, and spell and autocorrect programs don’t seem to recognize them either:









    Life in/live is

    It is chemo brain, and we know that because the chemo I had, and also the chemo pill I will be getting for the next ten years specifically affect the word processing parts of the brain. That is the exact part of the brain that’s been damaged and will continue to be damaged by the chemo that has done such a good job of killing and controlling my cancer spread. The good news is that the brain is ‘plastic’ and it can repair itself, you just keep building new word pathways as the old familar ones get damaged. 

    In my particular case they gave me a couple of specific tips. One, pay attention as I write, even the rough drafts that I normally blow through and ignore spelling and grammar mistakes and correct any of those mistakes as soon as I see them. Don’t let myself establish those word swaps and new pathways. And secondly get a more sophisticated program like grammarly which is free, to catch more of those mistakes for me as I write. And also so I can present a better finished work to the editors and clients. 

    That is where I am at with my chemo brain. 

    In this section on external cues there is a tip to write down, ‘check the schedule’ on a sticky note and put it in the spot where you usually sit to have your morning coffee. That tip addresses a whole different level of chemo brain and forgetting. It is a prospect that haunts me. Those poor people, cancer, all that cancer treatment, and then on top of all that, chemo brain that is disabling to that degree. Heartbreaking. 

    I think I’m pretty good at setting up enough external cues that I can get through the day, remember my appointments and manage my life. 

    I did find out some interesting facts and good information about distractions and their relationship to memory and learning that I will apply to my life though. I will make some of those changes in order to give my poor brain a break so that it can deal more effectively with the new, and chronic word situation. 

    Multi-tasking and numerous interruptions can lead to ‘incomplete’ learning of new information, making it difficult to recall for later use - or apply the new  knowledge in new situations.

    No more multitasking. One job at a time, don’t let people interrupt you. Turn off the radio. Turn off notifications from email and social media. Remove visual distractions from your workspace. Make sure your workspace is well lit - squinting is muscle tension and that as we know leads to impaired relaxation and over arousal resulting in less attention and focus for the task at hand. 

    If we cannot pay attention to things, they will not be remembered later on. 

    And another tip. Schedule pleasant things into each day. And even a back up pleasant thing in case weather or other people’s schedules or life in general means you can’t do your plan A pleasant thing. I have never done that before in my life. Schedule the pleasant thing every day, and even plan for a back up to make sure I do at least one planned pleasant thing every day.  It’s a way to control stress. And controlling stress is a way to prevent anxiety, irritablity and depressed mood all things that affect your mind, mood and memory. It also helps with pacing, putting these pleasant things right into the daily schedule helps keep you from over-scheduling your time. Guilty. That’s me. Over-scheduling. 

    The idea is not to wait until you are in the mood for something pleasant and feel you have time for it. Schedule it, plan for it, anticipate it, and do it. Then feel good about it afterward too. Every day.  


    Clean up the guest room for my sister

    Make a roast chicken for Sunday supper 

    Complete my income tax and figure out if I need a payment system

    Drop this writing that I’m doing right now, sit outside on the balcony, wrapped in my cozy big housecoat - simply watch the sun come up and let the day begin around me. 

    Dispatched: April 28

  • 27 Apr 2019 6:44 AM | Contact Me (Administrator)

    Don’t  try to run blindly ahead of time. Time will always catch you unawares if you do that - even if you don’t have chemo brain. I knew that. 

    Saturday morning, my traditional housecleaning day. I’m feeling okay, and I will do a general house clean today. Company is coming on Monday. My sister is coming. Family is coming on Monday. And financial stuff today. Income tax. The deadlines all draw near! The time to sit in the garden and simply recover has ended. 

    Today’s mind and memory lesson was all about external strategies, less introspective and more about just setting up systems to help you avoid the pitfalls of every day memory failures, even the kind of memory failures that everybody has from time to time. Again - everybody should be taking this course. They should teach it in school. We should all know this things as a way to live a better life. Easier life. Enjoy it more. 

    I thought it would be a peice of cake. Big tip number one was all about schedules. Well, that is my thing. I make schedules and to do lists all of the time. I write them down, I plan for big projects to get completed over a series of days or weeks. I did not like the part that said eliminate ‘to-do lists’ though. 

    What? I live by my little to-do lists. But then there was a sub-explaination telling you to put your to-do list into the schedule. To give the to-dos a specific time, not just have this long list of big dreams. Well I basically do that. To-do today, and put some things into tomorrow or the next day. For example. Yesterday I did the laundry, sheets and towels. Today I will do the general houseclean. Tomorrow I will clean the guestroom and put on the clean sheets, layout the towels. On Monday I will pick up some flowers and chocolates. Monday evening my sister will arrive and her room will be all ready for her. No last minute fuss on my time. Everything planned out in bites that I can physically do one at a time over time without exhausting myself. 

    That’s a to-do list broken down into steps and executed over time. That kind of to-do list is okay according to the mind and memory training. That is part of the scheduling training for people with chemo brain. I just found out that some people go through their whole lives without having to do this kind of planning, they just keep it all in their heads and do what they have to do without having to write it down and plan for it - until cancer hits, until chemo brain hits and they start to have memory gaps. 

    I always had to write things down, plan ahead, do the plan. I’ve been a freelancer all my life. I think that’s part of it. I don’t generally have a nine to five job, with a built in, five days a week schedule and a manager or boss who sets the goals and does that sort of big picture time management within the work week for me. All that is part of the job of being a freelancer. Managing your time and energy so you can get the work done by your deadlines. So that you can get new work to do after the current deadlines pass. So you can gradually move your career in a certain direction and also take advantage of sudden unexpected opportunities too. So you can do the paperwork to get paid for the work you’ve already done, and pay all your taxes too. 

    I would say I have good external strategies.  I would even say that is my thing. 

    I remember the time I took a time management workshop with a group of other production managers. It was a pretty typical time management course with a normally skilled consultant. But it was way beneath the needs of the experienced, big project production managers. They have all these production planning techniques for big shoots with expensive actors who have limited availablity that are subject to all the usual forces of unpredicatable weather, equipment failure and human meltdown. But the end of the first morning of the weekend course there had been a complete munity and the production managers, not wanting to waste any more time had mined the consultant for any new time mangement tricks that could be valuable, and then started teaching each other, sharing information about new software programs benefits and flaws from people who had tried them, and super tips about where real time emergencies might be hidden. One very experienced production manager comes to mind now. 

    He said, always listen when anybody on set comes to you with a concern. There is a heirarchy on movie sets and it exists to keep individuals from being overwhelmed by all the different things that are going on at once and all the different decisions that are being made, so normally a low lever gaffer would never talk to the production manager. But if one of them comes up to you and says he’s worried about some little thing on some minor piece of equipment, you listen, you take him seriously. Because if that piece fails, then the whole production could get stalled, never be too proud to listen, nothing is unimportant. 

    And he is the same guy who said for every shoot you are on, take a moment to walk away. Literally - walk away from it. Go stand on a hill for an hour, where nobody can find you. And just look at it all from a distance. Prove to yourself that you are not in fact indispensible. Get a perspective. And then go back in the minutia of the shoot. You will make better decisions. The production will run more smoothly for it. That hour of doing nothing on the job is important time, well spent. 

    And I remember, and this is one of my favourite time management stories, the time we sent the receptionist at the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation for a course in time management. Her job was to sit at a desk in front of the door. She had some filing and paperwork to do while she sat there. The rest of us worked deeper in the building in offices or in the production areas. She went to her course and we all took turns filling in for her at the front desk. She came back to work all enthused about more efficieint ways to do her job. But a few days later the producers started to get complaints from people who claimed they didn’t return their calls. The work schedules started to go off because the producers would get to someone’s house for an interview and the interviewee was not home. Everybody started to wonder what was going wrong. Time management. That was the problem. The receptionist was managing her own time in a better way. After everyone got into the building she locked the door so she would not be interupted by people walking in and disturbing her work flow. Same thing with the phone. She let the phone go to the answering machine and just wrote down the messages once a day, at the end of the day and handed them out to the staff the next morning. It was a super efficient way to handle the annoying parts of her job. She was getting a lot of her filing and other receptionist duties done in a more efficient manner, that is true. But she failed to understand the whole point of being a receptionist - timely communication between the staff and the outside world. She had to unlock the door and start answering the phones as they rang and start connecting all these people and messages with the production staff as fast as possible. But she was glad of that week off break from work, and she started to enjoy it more when she realized how crucial her work with all the annoying intrusions was to the whole operation. 

    And I guess for me, both those stories bring home what is the most important thing about time; scheduling and management. Knowing what you want to do with your precious time. Knowing what’s important. Don’t just try to run blindly ahead of time. Time will always catch you unawares if you do that. And you’ll regret it when that happens to you. 

    One of the old aunts saying, “Where did the time go?” 

    Another answered, “You wasted it. You were too busy running around senselessly like a chicken with it’s head cut off. The time is all gone now.” 

    I heard that conversation when I was about seven years old, sitting quiet as a mouse half under the kitchen table. I never forgot it. 

    Dispatched: April 27 

 You can use the FIND IT button below to find any date, topic or phrase you like. 

  • Home
Log in

The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software