Diary entry, February 8, 2015

Dear diary,

Sorry it’s been awhile. I’ve been pretty busy and am usually too exhausted by the end of the day to update you on the various goings-on in my life. And when I’m not working, or writing, or doing various extracurriculars, I am spending time binge-watching old Friends episodes, along with everyone else in North America. Turns out the whole Ross-and-Rachel saga is just as enthralling as it was twenty years ago.

I’m not sure if I’ve told you this already, but I’ve been taking improv comedy classes at Second City since last summer. At first, it was just a writing assignment, to challenge myself to try it out, even though I’d had no prior interest. I’m now almost finished the third level, and signed up for the fourth. I look forward to it every week. I get to laugh and make other people laugh, which are two of my very favourite things. I’m not sure how serious I’ll get with it, but for now, I’m having a gay ol’ time.

Oh! I also should mention, I will be sailing the high seas in a month. My family and I are headed for the Caribbean to escape this brutal winter and spend some QT together. When I was sick, we had talked about taking a trip to somewhere warm once I finished treatment. So I reached into my wallet, pulled out my cancer card, and reminded my family of the idea, and–voilà! Off we go. I’ve been hitting life pretty hard these days, and though I can’t complain, I’m looking forward to a bit of a break from it all. I am always happiest when I’m looking out at the ocean.

Speaking of cancer cards, it’s getting harder and harder to use mine. People start to forget after awhile. And that’s okay, I don’t blame them. After all, my hair is getting closer to shoulder-length. I even had someone recently compliment my eyebrows, which was nice to hear, considering the nicely groomed, dark arches you see are just the product of my handiwork with some eyebrow gel. I’ve pretty much given up on the idea that my real eyebrows, in all their former glory, will ever come back. A small price to pay for still being alive, sure, but kind of a bummer. My days of running out the door without worrying about makeup are long gone. I remember I never really liked my eyebrows before. They were kind of unruly and I didn’t know what to do with them. It’s funny thinking about that now.

Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone

I recently had to go over my medical history at an appointment with a new dentist. She asked about surgeries and medications, which obviously led to having to reveal I am part of the young and the breastless club. I wish everyone in the world could just get the memo that I had cancer, because I am so over the sad/shocked/concerned reaction people have when I tell them. The dentist did the typical “Wow, at your age?!” followed up by the requisite “Is it a hereditary cancer? No? Wow!”

When I see the pity look in people’s eyes, it makes me feel pity for myself, and then I start to feel really sad. Which is no good, because I don’t want to feel that way. I can remember one time having to explain my cancer history to some sort of professional – I can’t remember who or why – and he just acted normally, continued the conversation, without his mouth dropping to the floor, and without making me feel like some sort of circus freak. That was great. More of that would be nice. But unfortunately, most people are still quite misinformed about the fact that young adults can and do get cancer, so the typical reaction is one like this:

In other cancer-related business, I recently requested to switch my brand of tamoxifen, because my hot flashes were keeping me up all night, which made me feel like this:

I had switched before, accidentally, when there had been a shortage at all pharmacies of my usual brand. I noticed that my symptoms seemed to be better. When my original brand was back in stock, I went back on it for my next refill… and whaddya know, the hot flashes came back with a vengeance. Apparently certain brands can cause different symptoms. 

Why did no one suggest I try another one in the past 1.5 years I’ve been suffering?

Your guess is as good as mine. Just another reminder that I gotta keep looking out for numero uno, because no one else is doing it for me. I called the pharmacy and requested to switch. So far, the flashes are better, although the general insomnia might be slightly worse. But if I’m going to be lying awake at night, I’d rather do it without feeling like my body is engulfed in flames. These are the options I have. Most cancer treatments just kind of suck. No one said it would be a party. Although wouldn’t that be great if it were?

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got right now, as I’m starting to feel my eyes get heavy. Did you know that cancer ages you about one million years? They don’t advertise that when they tell you you have cancer, but you figure it out a bit later. It’s okay though, because it also means I have an excuse to take naps for the rest of my life, which if you ask me, is pretty sweet.

Signing off until next time,

Steph

2014: Year In Review

It seems many people are reflecting on 2014 and, generally, letting everyone know how fantastic their year was. These kinds of posts can irk me somewhat; as much as I’m happy for all the great stuff happening to many friends and family, I’m also aware that a lot of people might not have had such a great year and it might be difficult to read about so many personal experiences oozing with happiness and celebration. I, myself, was one of those unhappy souls not so long ago, with 2012 and 2013 both being fairly rough on me. The last thing I wanted to hear was how awesome everyone’s year had been when mine was anything but.

But now as I reflect, I must tell you – 2014 was a really good year for me. And I want to share that fact with all of you who might have had a shitty year and are going through a rough time, be it with cancer or anything else. Even when life is at its darkest, the light eventually finds its way back in. There was a lot of light in my 2014. So here is my year in review, and may it give you hope that next year can always be better than the last.

January:

Ah, who can forget this glorious moment: finishing cancer treatment. I can’t even believe this was less than a year ago. It feels like a lifetime away now, like a memory that isn’t even mine. Finishing treatment was a wonderful way to kick off a new year and a fresh start.

I also went to Jamaica, again, because apparently one cancer vacation was not enough.

February:

This happened:

My college roommate got married and we took a trip to Los Angeles.

I walked the runway in the Holt Renfrew/Wellspring fashion show and did not trip and fall. So much fun.

Got my port removed without any drugs. HARDCORE CANCER GIRL.

March:

Much to my pleasure, the hair continued to grow.

April:

My husband became obsessed with running, which makes him very happy. Although this is really part of his year and not mine, my happiness is directly related to his so happy husband = happy me. (If you need to excuse yourself to go barf after that sentence, I understand.)

Went to Washington D.C. for a family trip and cousin’s bar mitzvah. My first bar mitzvah in many years. If anyone wants to invite me to their bar mitzvah, I’d totally come. They’re way better than weddings.

May:

My beautiful mama turned 60 years old! 60!

The beginning of the summer of too much ice cream began.

June:

I faced my fear of heights and leaned off the edge of the CN Tower.

Went to summer camp with my sister.

July:

Had my first column published in a national magazine.

Went to NYC for an early birthday celebration where I pretty much ate for 4 days straight.

August:

My 30th birthday, which included a lovely surprise party picnic in the park with my friends and family.

September:

Walked 60KM to help fund breast cancer research. Wasn’t waiting for a cancer diagnosis, or preparing a speech about my cancer diagnosis this time around – just a plain ol’ walker like everyone else.

October:

Got dressed up for a big charity event for Rethink Breast Cancer, and then got a job working there a couple weeks later. Not a bad deal!

We celebrated our third wedding anniversary by going to Mexico and relaxing for a week, which was pretty much the opposite of our first wedding anniversary post-mastectomy. Mexico FTW.

November:

My husband’s brother and his wife had a baby and we met her for the first time and fell in love.

December:

Holiday time with lots of friends and family and food. Doesn’t get much better.

As those super weird Facebook 2014 recaps would say: It’s been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it.

Is it cancer?

If you’ve been following my recent blog posts, you may have noticed that I’ve been having some worrisome aches and pains for quite awhile. My oncologist finally ordered me a bone scan last Friday, and if you follow my Twitter or Instagram you will already be aware of the results…

I DON’T GOTS NO CANCER IN MY BONES! Yiiiiiipppeeeeeeeee (sorry, I am not feeling very eloquent today, I’m tired).

My mind once again went to some very dark places while waiting to learn my fate. Unless you’ve ever had cancer, and had to undergo multiple tests to find out if your cancer has become terminal, you will never understand what it feels like to be in that unfathomable situation. And I hope you never have to understand. I’ve had major sob-fests merely over the realization that I will carry that anxiety with me, in some form, for the rest of my life. This cancer crap sure ain’t easy.

So now I breathe a sigh of relief, let the heavy weight release itself from my chest, and get on with life until the next thing crops up and I have to wonder: Is it cancer?

And since I believe all good cancer-related news must be celebrated in some form, I did just that: by ordering sushi with my sister, watching terrible reality TV, and taking a series of ugly photobooth photos that made me laugh so hard my ribs hurt.

But at least I know the rib pain was laughing-related and not cancer-related. I do know that. At least for today.

Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.44 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.29 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.34 PM Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.34 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.38 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.35 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.35 PM Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.42 PM #2 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.42 PM #3 Photo on 2014-12-01 at 8.42 PM #4

Life, etc.

Hello loyal readers! (Or, people who Google searched “cupcake recipe” and accidentally ended up here.)

I haven’t been updating the blog too frequently, but this is not because I have nothing going on, but rather the opposite. I often sit down to write and then quickly get side-tracked doing something else and lose my focus. I could blame it on lingering chemo brain, which I do believe I occasionally suffer from, but it mostly comes down to just being busy. Which is a good thing. Here are the things that have been occupying my time and my mindspace (which apparently isn’t a real word, but it should be).

TELEVISION! I realize watching TV might not be seen as the most fruitful of activities, but there is so much good stuff on right now that I am giddy about. I can talk about TV for hours, so if anyone ever wants to do that with me, feel free. My newest obsession is How To Get Away With Murder which is the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on television in awhile. I also recently watched both seasons of Rectify, which is on Netflix, and deserves way more attention than it’s been getting for its unbelievable performances and gorgeous cinematography. And of course there are all my old standbys: Mindy Project, Parenthood, Scandal, etc. And there is still so much I want to check out (The Affair, The Leftovers, Transparent) but haven’t had time to yet. I LOVE TV SO MUCH AND I CAN’T STOP.

ELLE! If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve started writing my monthly column for Elle Canada magazine called #LIFEREBOOT about discovering life after cancer. So I’ve been busy exploring and writing and doing many fun things, like going on mindfulness retreats and leaning off very tall towers. Every month that I see the new issue in my mailbox, I still get giddy when I turn to my page and see my name and photos and words. It’s been a fun challenge, and I am learning a lot. For February’s issue, I’ll be writing about something that’s been keeping me busy for the past couple months and that I’ve enjoyed immensely but I don’t want to spoil it, so you’ll have to wait and buy the magazine.

ANXIETY! This is nothing new but is simply now a common theme in my life that likely will never completely go away, and that I must learn to live with. I don’t mention this stuff for pity, or for advice, but merely to help non-cancer people understand that us cancer-people live a very complicated existence, often filled with various bouts of fear and anxiety. Sometimes I think I’m in the clear and over “that phase” and then all of a sudden, something new pops up — a new pain, a new ache, a new symptom — and I question my health and my future. I worry about not being alive in 5 years, I worry about my body betraying me in an awful and grotesque way, I think about what my funeral might be like, and who might show up. Again, this is NOT a cry for help. For 90% of my days, I’m living and loving my life and having a ball. But the other 10% is still kind of crappy and that’s just the hand I’ve been dealt, as have many others. And we’ll get through it, because that’s all we can do.

MEXICO! A perfect cure for all life’s problems… vacation! We just got back from celebrating our third wedding anniversary in Mexico on the most beautiful beach, where we ate fabulous food, swam in the ocean and read books by the pool. It was divine. I’ve said this before, but since having cancer I am incredibly grateful for any chance I get to just relax and be spoiled. Life is short, and I want to spend as much of it as I can sitting by the ocean and feeling the sun on my face. There is nothing better, in my opinion. Here are some photos if you like that kind of thing.

NEW JOB! Some of you may have heard of an awesome charity called Rethink Breast Cancer and if you haven’t, well now you’re gonna. They support a cause very near and dear to my heart: helping young women with breast cancer and those affected by breast cancer. They provide cutting edge resources, such as their new digital content, including a video by yours truly.


For this video, I came up with my own idea/script/tips. Nothing was spoon-fed to me. This is because the people at Rethink are cool and smart and believe in allowing young women with breast cancer to share their unique voices. My involvement with Rethink will now be turning into my day job, as I begin a new contract position with them entailing the coordination of various online initiatives. My advocacy and concern for issues affecting young adults with cancer has become a huge part of my life, and I’m excited to work somewhere that will foster that passion.

So, there you have it. Lots going on. Lots of changes. Lots of new beginnings. Lots of good stuff. Lots of hoping and crossing fingers for more good stuff. Let the good times roll.

A Thanksgiving song

Last year on (Canadian) Thanksgiving, I wrote a post about the things I was feeling thankful for. Today, on Thanksgiving, I met up with my awesome cousin Dan who presented me with a wonderful surprise: my very own song. Dan took the words from my blog post and wrote music for them and sang and recorded the whole thing. Pretty cool, right? What a thoughtful, special gift to receive. Thank you, Dan!

Listen, enjoy, and be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Testing 1, 2, 3…

A couple days ago, my dad and I met with a geneticist to discuss our genes and cancer and fun things like that. I know very little about genetics and DNA (and biology, for that matter), so I find it really fascinating to learn about how complex human systems are, and how much new information is being discovered every day.

Seriously, this just looks like a couple horseshoes and some pretty curling ribbon to me. Thank god there are people out there who understand these things.

Seriously, this just looks like a couple horseshoes and some pretty curling ribbon to me. Thank god there are people out there who understand these things.

Experts say that most incidents of breast cancer are not hereditary, and are due to various risk factors (such as radiation exposure, obesity, alcohol intake, etc.). But a portion of breast cancer cases are due to a genetic predisposition. You may have heard of the well-known BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (as made popular by Ms. Angelina Jolie), which greatly increase the risk of having breast and ovarian cancers. But from meeting with the geneticist, I have learned that there are in fact a whack of other genes that may predispose you to a whole array of cancers.

Hereditary cancers are often suspected if a person was diagnosed at a young age (check), diagnosed with a rare form of cancer for their population (28 year old with breast cancer – check; adult male with breast cancer – check), and if related cancers are present in multiple generations (check). So as you see, there is good reason to wonder if my and/or my father’s cancer was the result of a faulty gene. It could just be completely random, and a huge coincidence, but deep down, I really don’t believe that. I have met so many people who have a very high incidence of cancer within their families, despite being healthy and doing everything “right” to avoid getting cancer. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than we realize.

The geneticist asked us if we would like to undergo testing of 21 genes that have been identified to increase cancer risk. Some of them increase your risk of certain cancers by a great deal, and others more moderately. The types of cancers associated with these genes include breast, ovarian, colon, and a bunch more. When providing me with an example, the geneticist mentioned the gene that increases risk of stomach cancer, and if positive, the possibility of removing the stomach. Um, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, DOC. There’s obviously no way in hell I would give up my stomach, since doing that would greatly put a damper on my favourite activity: EATING. So let’s hope that bleak illustration does not ever become a reality. I’ll take a pass on that one, thank you.

Genetic testing can be very tricky psychologically, and it’s not for everyone. Some people don’t want to know what terrible things might be lurking around the corner. It can be very unnerving to have that information. But on the flip-side, it can also be reassuring — to know that you didn’t do anything to “cause” your cancer, and to know that there are steps you can take to lower your chances of cancer in the future.

I believe that knowledge is power, and as you might have figured out by now, I am an information-seeker and am constantly looking for answers to all of life’s questions. So for me, it was a no-brainer to partake in the genetic testing, and my dad felt the same as well. We signed some forms and gave some blood and put them in a fancy box, and now we wait (likely for several months) to hear the results. Since this testing currently is not available in Canada, the government needs to be petitioned to cover the cost of the test at a lab in the States. The doctors are handing all of that, but if it does not get approved, I’ll obviously step in and make a scene and make sure it goes through. You don’t want to mess with a feisty cancer blogger, I’ll tell ya that much.

Many of these genes were only recently discovered and not that many people have undergone testing. So we’re kind of like pioneers. Or something.

Obviously it is terrifying to think of any of these genes coming back positive, and what that might mean for me and for my family. But I also can’t help but be curious about what is going on in my own body. I will always be seeking out more answers, wanting to know the good and the bad, and everything in between.

But for right now, all I can do is wait, and hope. And in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy having my health, my life… and my stomach.

 

One of those days

Today was one of those days.

One of those days where I painted on my eyebrow gel to fill in the sparse areas between the stray hairs that managed to grow back after chemo.

One of those days where I sat in a breast cancer clinic waiting room, and received the typical “sad eyes” and confused stares from the others patients in the room.

One of those days where I filled out the standard self-assessment survey and rated my pain on a scale and realized I’ve never been able to fill in “zero – no pain at all” since this whole ordeal began and maybe never will.

One of those days where I wondered if I’ll ever not know my hospital patient ID number by heart, as if it’s my phone number.

One of those days where I changed into a gown five sizes too large for me.

One of those days where I met with my radiation oncologist and discussed bone pain and the possibility of that pain being cancer pain.

One of those days where my oncologist validated all my anxiety and confusion and empathized deeply with how difficult life can be for young people who’ve had cancer and how most people will never understand what that’s like.

One of those days where I had to think about balancing the effects of radiation from potentially needless scans with the mental effects of worrying that my cancer might have spread.

One of those days where I attempted to go shopping and try on cute dresses, only to have none of them fit my chest properly.

One of those days where I tried not to cry in a change-room for the umpteenth time.

One of those days where I saw pink ribbons in all the windows, on all the products, and pinned to salespeople’s shirts in department stores shouting out at me, begging to be noticed, forbidding me to ignore them.

One of those days where I unintentionally, while browsing greeting cards, picked up a birthday card that had a message inside that said something dumb about grandkids and reminded me that I don’t have a kid right now because I had cancer instead.

One of those days where I felt angry, and then angry at myself for feeling angry.

One of those days where I remembered I had breast cancer and it was hard, and it’s still hard.

Today was one of those days.