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.

My second cancerversary

Today marks my second cancerversary. Two years have gone by since the day I was diagnosed with cancer.

I wish I could say it’s all behind me, that I’ve moved on and thoughts of cancer never even cross my mind, but that would be a big fat lie. I probably worry about it all a bit less than I did one year ago, but the fear and anxiety is still there. Every time I read or hear of another young woman whose cancer has returned, or who has passed away, I remember, oh yah, that could be me. I’ve had sporadic rib pain for months. No one is particularly concerned about it just yet, so I try not to be concerned. But in the back of my mind, it’s always there: Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe this is it. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

I know that many people ignore their diagnosis dates, since it usually brings up really traumatic memories and dark thoughts. They don’t see it as anything worth “celebrating.” I can understand that. But I choose to remember it and acknowledge it. I don’t celebrate getting cancer. I celebrate that I am still here, two years later, living my life. Not everyone makes it to two years. I know I am lucky. I am so lucky that I’m not sitting in a doctor’s office right now, terrified, waiting to get a cancer diagnosis. I am so lucky that I can relax, enjoy my day, and go out with my husband for a special cancerversary dinner. Why be all glum and depressed about a date, when you can turn it into an excuse to eat dinner out at a nice restaurant on a weeknight? When life gives you lemons…

I also want to post something my sister wrote and sent to me (with her permission) about how she feels on this day, and the significance it holds for her. I don’t know how I would have made it through the past two years without her by my side. She may be my “little” sister, but she sure is wise:

Two years ago today Steph was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember it like it was yesterday. Hanging up the phone with my mom and rushing through the halls of the Medical Sciences Building – tears streaming, heart racing. Running blurry-eyed down to the lab and seeing my classmates’ heads turn, asking if I was okay. I didn’t answer. I continued running down the halls to find our anatomy professor, wanting the comfort of a doctor – of someone with past knowledge that could tell me everything was going to be okay. And although he tried, it wasn’t enough – it didn’t make the fears go away; it didn’t make me think that there wasn’t some slight chance I would lose my sister, my best friend, my confidant, my biggest cheerleader, my number 1. Soon I would learn that from this point forward, these fears would never completely go away.

I remember roaming out to the trees of King’s College Circle, seeking comfort from my classmates, answering my concerned friends’ texts, calling my parents, but all the while, being afraid to talk to my sister. Would I start crying? Would I break down and make her believe she had reason to be afraid? How would I act? Was I going to be the best sister I could be or would I shrivel away, afraid to look at her and be by her side through everything? I didn’t know, but what I did know is that I had to take each challenge as it came – each day something new, trying hard not to look behind and not anticipate the future more than we could. Not an easy task, that’s forsure. The nights spent bawling my eyes out, pacing around, the depression. But what wasn’t present during these times was my anxiety that I’m so used to. I snapped out of flight mode, and into fight mode. I recognized what was important in life, and what wasn’t. Those little things, those stupid little concerns, conflicts, worries – a waste of time. Sitting next to Steph, holding her hand and knowing I wouldn’t let go unless she wanted me to – that’s all that mattered then and all that ever will matter. That’s the only thing I want to hold onto from this whole stupid horrible experience – remembering what’s important and what isn’t. September 11th, for so many reasons, is a day to remember just how lucky we are. We are here and for that, we are lucky. We will continue to complain tomorrow of the streetcar being stuck, of the rain, of the million tasks to do and the short hours in which to do them, but under it all, is a reminder of just how lucky we are to complain of such things. How lucky we were to get to be born. And how lucky we are to continue being alive.

Today is a day that I wish never happened, but because it did, it deserves recognition, it deserves to be remembered as the day my nightmare came true; as the day when I realized just how fragile life is and how important my sister is to me. I’ve never taken her for granted, but on this day, two years ago, the rare incredible connection we have came to light: the moment I felt like she could be taken from me by some stupid rapidly proliferating disease – something she never deserved and should never have had to go through. But she did, with the bravest face in the world – brave doesn’t mean not crying or putting on a fake smile. It means showing your emotion, showing fear. Being brave means being human and she couldn’t have been better at doing just that. There are images I choose not to remember, but images I will never, ever, forget. Times of fragility, of sadness, of honesty and of total vulnerability. There were times we just had to laugh at the whole thing – is this really happening? Really? This is fucked. It was. It is. Sometimes we don’t know how to deal with certain situations, but you learn about yourself when you’re thrown into something you could never have imagined. And that’s what these past two years have been – years of learning that I can be afraid, that I can be sad, but that I can be brave and be strong and that I have the best role model in the world to look up to – the bravest, strongest, inspiration there is.

My sister.

Cancer Perks

Most of you know that I am not the “cancer is a blessing” type of gal. I do not, in any way, believe that cancer is a good thing to happen to anyone. It stinks. I do not recommend it.

However, like with most things, there are a few silver linings and some good things that have come out of this whole mess. Of course, I’d gladly accept NOT having cancer and give back every single silver lining. But since that’s not an option, and I have spent so much time lamenting over all the things that cancer has taken away from me, I may as well also make a list of some of the good things that have come my way as a result.

So here it is: The Perks of Cancer.

1. Hair compliments. Actually, general appearance compliments. I can’t begin to tell you how common a conversation topic my hair has become. When you go from bald and sick-looking to having hair and healthy-looking, everyone goes NUTS and wants to shower you with compliments ALL the time. It is pretty nice. What’s even better is when I get compliments from people who have no idea that I ever had cancer, and they just tell me that they love my “hairstyle” and I look amazing. Because then I know they’re not giving me cancer pity, but they’re genuinely paying me a compliment. They like me, they really like me!

2. Making new friends. I have had some amazing people come into my life, whom I likely never would have met if not for having cancer. Some of these people have cancer, and some don’t but they have been connected to me through my blog and through cancer-y things. Having new friends is always a good thing, and having new great friends is always an even better thing.

3. Making old friends. Cancer allowed me to truly learn who the real friends were in my life. Although this perk has a painful opposite side (i.e. learning which friends maybe weren’t so great as you thought), it’s still a really nice upside when you realize (hopefully) how many amazing people you are surrounded by. Cancer definitely strengthened some of my relationships and there are certain people who I can now say will be my friends for life, 100%.

4. Appreciation for everything. I think I already had quite a lot of appreciation for most things pre-cancer, but now it is just intensified in a major way. I see things in new ways and I value every minute in a way that I don’t think most people do. I still have times when something strikes me, and I feel tears in my eyes, because I am just so overwhelmed that I am still alive. Being alive is AWESOME. I feel lucky every day.

5. New opportunities. I think it’s a pretty common sequence of events: Go through something hard/awful/challenging and then realize that that obstacle has actually pushed you in a positive direction. For me, this perk has been a pretty huge one. Cancer magically turned me into a writer. Okay, no. I was always a writer. But it gave me something to write about and it allowed me to find my voice and share it with other people. I’ve also found that I have a passion for helping others and for advocating for other cancer patients. It’s forced me to re-evaluate my career path and make new choices. Which is totally terrifying and overwhelming. But also really exciting.

6. Valuing health and my body. I’d always been pretty healthy pre-cancer and I probably took it for granted. Well, that certainly isn’t the case anymore. After putting my body through hell, I am so appreciative now of the little things it can do. My legs can carry me and my arms can lift things. I can run up the stairs, or take a long walk through the city with my husband. I have energy when I get up in the morning and I don’t need to take multiple naps to get through a day. It feels amazing to get your strength back after having it completely obliterated. Simply, amazing.

7. Inspiring others. If you have cancer, and especially if you’re young, you are automatically an inspiration to others. Sorry, but you are. May as well milk it and enjoy it. I am happy to inspire you, especially if it causes you to make positive changes in your life. But just know that as inspiring as you might think I am, I am usually covered in ice cream drippings, with my drawn-on eyebrows sweating off my face, limping down the sidewalk because I have blisters all over my ankles. But if that inspires you, then I’m just fine with that.

Can you spot the ice cream drippings?