Happy New Year?

In a few hours, we will bid adieu to 2012. Everyone is getting dressed up, going to fancy dinners, gathering with friends, drinking champagne. And I am home, in my sweatpants, with now patchy crazed-killer-esque hair, 3 days out from chemo #2, mostly exhausted, and not really feeling all that festive. But before you take too much pity on me, please note that having an excuse to stay in on New Year’s while wearing my sweatpants is actually right up my alley and very likely what I would desire to do, regardless of this whole cancer business. That’s just how I roll, yo.

I’d like to reflect back on the good things 2012 brought me. And there were some. Lovely weddings of friends. My first nephew. My first wedding anniversary. Lots of birthdays, family holidays, celebrations. There was some good stuff in there. But ultimately, 2012 will always be the year I was diagnosed with cancer. The year my life came undone. There’s no way around it. 2012 was a real crapper for me. But that’s how it goes. Everyone has that one really bad year that they want to put behind them and forget ever existed. So I’m okay with this last one having been mine. But I think I’ve paid my dues for awhile. I’ve earned a good year. (Or two? Maybe three? I don’t want to get greedy now.) 2013 will undeniably be a rough go as well. More treatments, more drugs, more surgery, more scans, and more question marks. But I really hope that the second half is better than this one was. There’s only so much a balding gal can take.

I do want to take this chance to say thank you. To my family who do everything for me, when I can’t. To those dearest of friends who continually check in and allow me to tell them how I’m actually feeling, and then continue being my friends all the same. To my husband, who has been by my side every second, and who is currently cooking me a nice dinner, while cursing in the kitchen*. To the many people who have sent me gifts, food, and offered amazing acts of kindness. To everyone who has shared this blog and offered me endless words of encouragement and made me feel like a total superhero, during a time where it is easy to feel isolated and misunderstood. To all the strangers who’ve never even met me, yet take the time to leave comments and reach out to me across my computer screen and put a smile on my face.

So you see, there is a lot to be grateful for.

But even with all those warm fuzzy feelings, I will still say:

So long 2012. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

*My sweet husband would like me to mention “across social media” that he made “the best dinner that has ever been made in our house” while wearing his Old Navy fleece “leisure suit”, with “Fred Savage fluffy hair” while drinking out of a Vera Wang champagne flute. An image to warm the soul, right there.

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My new look

I never in my life thought I would type the following sentence and have it be true: Last night I shaved my head.

On Thursday, my hair started to shed. Slow at first, and then faster. I couldn’t resist pulling at it. Maybe I’m making it all up, and it’s not actually coming out. And then I would pull ever so lightly at a clump of hair, and it would easily slide off right into my hands, proving that yes, indeed, it was coming out, and fast. Yesterday after pulling out a decent chunk, I decided it was enough. Time to pull a Fantine and cut it all off. It was tempting to try to keep it as long as possible, especially since I have (had) so much hair. But I needed to get rid of it. To take control. To stop thinking about my hair falling out and start thinking about something else.

My little sister starting cutting and my husband commenced buzzing. I watched the entire thing in the mirror, which in retrospect, may have not been the best idea. Everything started off fine. I’m shaving my head, no big deal, people do this. We put on some upbeat music and made some jokes and laughed a bit. But then, as we got closer and I started to see the actual skin on my head, I lost it and entered full mental case meltdown territory. I don’t look like me. My hair is all over the floor. I am 28 years old. I have cancer. There is nothing OK about this situation.

After a brief but necessary pause and some major “you are not your hair” pep talk from my sister and a few deep breaths, we got on with it and powered through. No more tears. Just one more thing that needed to get done, so I got it done. A big check mark on the to-do list.

Don't mess with me bitches, I'm craaaaazy
Don’t mess with me bitches, I’m craaaaazy

Everyone said the hair loss would be rough, and they were right. Actually harder than I had thought. I am a pretty confident person and it is not really a vanity issue, although I would be lying if I said I don’t miss my long, beautiful hair. But that’s not the hardest part. What’s difficult is looking in the mirror or catching my reflection, and being reminded that I am sick. That this is real. Before, I could try my best to ignore it. But now, it’s out there for all the world to see. For me to see. No escaping or denying it. This is happening.

So what is there to do, but wait for the tiny pieces that are left to fall to the ground, and move on to the next challenge, after dealing with this one in my own way, on my own terms.

My sister said I look tough and like someone she would never want to mess with. Normally I would never be able to intimidate a soul, so the idea that I maybe could, is kind of cool. My small silver lining for the day.

And here I am today. No wig or scarf. Just me… minus a few hairs.

I may have cancer, but I saw Les Mis before you did

CHEEEEESE!

I snapped this photo last night as evidence that I am back to looking like an acceptable human being, and smiling once again. I did not post a photo last week because a) I couldn’t lift a camera and b) I looked like something you might scrape off your shoe. I have been to Hell and back, and will probably be taking the trip several more times, but am happy to report that as of this minute, I am feeling quite good. I do believe that my hair is starting to shed. My scalp is killing, and I am pulling out tiny hairs when I run my fingers through. That’s the thing with this cancer treatment business. Just as you are moving on from one unfortunate event, another one begins before there is much time to celebrate. But right now, I’m wearing actual clothes, I have some makeup on, I am eating lots, I have been out of the house, and I haven’t taken a single drug today. So I’m a pretty happy camper. Except for the hair thing. But beggars can’t be choosers.

Here are 10 key survival tips I have learned for getting through a very crappy time:

Ask for help. Last week I finally had to ask for help as I was not able to do much on my own. There are a few key people who completely saved my life and took care of me and I am so grateful to them.

Eat chicken soup and crackers when nothing else works. Although, as a warning, be prepared to forever associate chicken soup and crackers with bad times and bad feelings. I hope one day chicken soup reminds me again of holiday dinners rather than forcing myself to eat something while feeling ill.

Have a really good family and loving husband. Sorry, I realize you can’t really force those things, so it’s not a great tip. I just got pretty lucky in that area.

When your appetite comes back, ask my uncle to make food for you. I really attribute my small weight gain this week to large plates of mac ‘n cheese. The best.

Cry a lot. Life is poop sometimes. Can’t pretend it’s not. Sometimes a gal just needs a good sob. I probably could have filled a small kiddie pool with my tears last week.

Stop crying. Don’t be a baby. Eventually the tears must stop, mostly because you look like a snotty mess, and no one wants to look at that. Gross.

FaceTime/Skype with your parents. Laugh at them while they say weird old-people things and take many screengrabs while your mother makes crazy faces.

Watch the movie Pitch Perfect three times. I never would have thought this would be on the list, but I swear, that silly movie somehow brought me back to life. And yes, I watched it three times. Gotta stick with what works.

Listen to upbeat music and go for a walk. And dance while you’re walking like you’re in some kind of romantic comedy, and hope everyone else will be infected by your positive attitude and start dancing too. Except don’t be disappointed when that doesn’t happen and people just stare at you instead. Because truth is, most people are pretty lame and don’t dance in the street. Their loss.

Attend an advance screening of Les Miserables as your first outing in weeks. Ok again, I realize this wouldn’t be too easy to achieve. I mostly just want to make people jealous that I have seen this movie before the general public. There are not many reasons for anyone to be jealous of me right now. But this is one. So be jealous of me, please. I’ve earned it.

This just in – cancer sucks

Sorry for the lack of updates this week and to all the many wonderful people in my life who have written to me and who did not receive a response. Please know that I love getting your messages and I feel like a really crappy friend for not being able to write back. Part of it has been because writing a text or email has felt like a herculean task for the last several days, due to a complete lack of energy. The other half is that, quite frankly, I have had nothing funny or upbeat to say. No positive spin. I have been a sadsack and a major Debbie Downer and I don’t wish to bring everyone down with me. So sometimes, it is just too difficult to respond.

I know that often people write and say “I’m not sure what to say”, but know that I still really appreciate those messages and I like to hear that you’re thinking of me. No one knows what to say. Cancer is stupid. It’s a real conversation killer. But saying something is always better than saying nothing. So in conclusion, please keep writing to me, never worry about saying the “right” thing, and please don’t think I’m a big ungrateful meanie for not always writing back. Thank you.

Although I don’t have many uplifting words of wisdom to share right now, I do still feel compelled to keep up with this blog, even through the dark times. There are now many people who actually follow it and check in for updates, which is pretty neat. I was even recognized by a young nurse at the hospital last weekend who had seen the blog, which made me feel like a total celeb (Hi, Gillian!). So here I am, to tell it like it is, and risk majorly ruining everyone’s pre-holiday cheer. You have been warned.

Cancer has kicked my ass this week.

It took all of 3 days into my chemo cycle to contract some sort of virus from hell. My legs and head have ached to the point that I wondered if it would be possible to cut them off and somehow float around without a head, or legs. I have been so tired that just thinking about going to the kitchen to get a glass of water feels like I am trying to solve some type of impossible mathematical equation. I have lost my typically ravenous appetite and as such, have lost a lot of weight. I have cried and screamed in agony, with my poor husband standing by, likely googling phone numbers for local exorcists. I have felt completely detached from everyone else’s reality. Babies. Work. Holidays. Vacations. Life. I stare at images of these things on my computer and feel like an alien, looking down from Planet Cancer, not understanding what it is I am looking at. And when I think that I still have many long months ahead of feeling like this, or worse, it makes me want to punch a hole right through my wall. Except I don’t have the energy to punch anything. So I have to just imagine it, which is completely unsatisfying, and nowhere near as bad-ass.

So that is my reality for the time being.

Right now, I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel a “positive” attitude. I don’t feel up to the task of inspiring anyone. I want someone to knock me over the head and wake me up when this is all over. I want to give up and throw in the towel. I want to be able to go outside for a walk, get my own groceries, go to work, and post boring photos on Facebook of me doing boring things. I want to be healthy and happy. I want to not feel like a burden to everyone around me. Mostly, I just want my life back. A simple, normal life, and nothing more.

Does anyone have any leads on this whole cancer cure thing? If you do, feel free to write to me.

I promise I’ll respond to that one.

All aboard the chemo train

Chemotherapy.

Even just typing the word makes me feel kind of ill. I don’t think there is a single person out there who has a positive association with that word. But nonetheless, in the case of cancer, it is a necessary evil. And thus, yesterday, marked my first of several chemotherapy sessions. And I am here to report that I made it out alive.

On the way to the hospital, I couldn’t believe what was happening. What I was about to do to myself. Willingly allow myself to be injected full of toxic chemicals. Again, how is this my life? I’m not sure. But it is. So I went.

The waiting room for chemo was packed. Although there were some “younger” patients, I looked around, and made the call that I was the youngest person there. I tend to get lots of stares in these situations, and yesterday was no different. You’re in the wrong place, you don’t belong here, their stares scream at me. But then after checking in at reception, they realize I do belong there, and they look sad for me. And I don’t like those looks, so I hide under my hood and wait a long hour until finally my pager goes off. The pager going off reminded me of being a kid and waiting for a table at The Cheesecake Factory. I will never look at a pager the same way again.

Jacob and I made our way to my chemo lounge chair. This doesn’t look too bad, I thought. We were very close to the man in the chair next to me, which could have been a disaster, but luckily he was very nice and laughed at all my stupid, awkward jokes and I really appreciated that. He was flying in from Northern Ontario for his treatment, which made me feel very grateful that I live about a 15 minute car ride from the hospital. My nurse’s name was Sammy. She was a gem. I don’t think I could have had a better first nurse. I asked if I could have her every time, but she said she’s going on a long vacation. I told her to please send me a postcard. She explained everything really well, let me closely inspect the medicine in order to convince me it wasn’t rat poison, gave me a blanket and proceeded to inject me full of drugs, straight into my port (which I was also so grateful for… no vein searching or relentless poking!). Right before the drugs went in, my sweet husband got me some popsicles and ice chips, which I chomped on throughout the entire treatment because that’s what the chemo kids in-the-know do.

After a couple hours when it was all over, we said goodbye and met my sister who was waiting for me in the hallway. I went and got a pastrami sandwich, which now sounds completely revolting, but at the time it sounded great. And it was. With a pickle, naturally.

I felt pretty good when I got home. And then the nausea hit. And the fatigue. And the tears.

And so it begins. The chemo ride. Not exactly a trip to The Cheesecake Factory. But hey, I got free popsicles out of the whole deal. All is not lost, my friends.

Hair, there, everywhere

Honeymoon hair, in all its natural glory. Sigh.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. As a child, before I learned of the brilliant invention that is the flat-iron, my hair was huge, frizzy, and unruly. I would break into a sweat while I attempted to blow-dry my thick, wavy hair into a sleek, straight mane, usually unsuccessfully, while developing cramping sensations in my arm.Β  I would ask hairdressers to thin it out as much as possible. I was always envious of girls who could just wash their hair and walk out the door, without looking like a bird’s nest had landed on top of their head.

Over time, I have come to appreciate my hair. With the right tools, I can wear it smooth and straight. I can also wear it wavy, or with more of a curl. I’ve learned that thick hair is, in fact, a good thing, and something many women desire. I receive compliments on my hair constantly, and somehow, it has become a huge part of my identity, and one of my favourite features.

And in a short time, I am going to lose it. It will thin, it will fall out, and then it will be gone. Be careful what you wish for.

A lot of people say that losing one’s hair is the most difficult part of the whole cancer ordeal. Because that’s when you finally start to look sick and when it all becomes very real. I don’t want it to become real. I want to run away and hide in a corner and wrap myself up in my precious hair and stay like that forever. But alas, in two days, I must go murder some cancer cells, so unfortunately I do not have that option.

I have been trying to prepare for the inevitable hair loss. I like to be prepared. I like to be in control. (Note: Control freaks and cancer do not play well together.) I cut off a great deal of my hair, in hopes that it would make the transition a bit easier. I’ve looked at some wigs and will eventually buy one, but am not thrilled about the prospect. Sure, it’s fun to try on different hairstyles and accessories. But ultimately, it’s a wig. Or a scarf. Or whatever. And I will be bald under it. And there’s not much fun about that.

Yesterday, on two occasions, I was told by strangers that I reminded them of Anne Hathaway. One woman said I should do a pixie cut style like Anne has been sporting as of late. I didn’t tell her that I likely would be forced to go that route eventually. Not because I have any choice. Not because I’m getting paid to star in an epic movie musical. But because I have cancer. And cancer doesn’t give, but it sure does take. It takes your plans. It takes your dreams. It takes your peace of mind. It takes your health. And it takes your hair. Your beautiful, flowing, thick hair.

Cancer sure is a greedy bitch.

But I will grin and bear it. I will make jokes. I will attempt to be the most badass bald girl you’ve ever seen. I will pretend like this was all part of my master plan, ever since I was a little girl and threatened to shave off my wild hair. Because when cancer kicks me, I will just kick it back. Harder. Right where it hurts.

saturday night

Since it’s a Saturday night, I decided to get a little crazy and remove the dressings that were covering my port. The tape yanked at my skin, which is a sensation I have become all too familiar with, but I soldiered on. At one point, I thought I saw an actual gaping hole in my neck as I continued to tear off the bandage and I was about five seconds from passing out. It ended up just being the way the light was hitting the skin beneath the dressing, creating a shadow. Crisis averted. Repeat: There is no giant open hole in my neck. Very glad about this.

My skin was bright red, which I assumed was from the antiseptic stuff they paint on the area pre-surgery. I tried washing it off and realized that was no dye, but rather the actual colour of my poor, abused skin. I also have some little blister bumps around the incisions. This is not at all shocking to me, as I have learned via many weird and mysterious rashes that my skin, just like me, HATES cancer.

Here’s a pic, for those who enjoy some illustration.

CANCER IS SOOO SEXY!
CANCER IS SOOO SEXY!

I learned today that I was given a whole package about my port when I left the hospital. I had no memory of receiving it, because drugs do strange things to the memory and I had received a whack-load of drugs.

I flipped through it, and noticed this extremely happy fellow on the front of the brochure.

IMG_0336
“Ports are so much fun! High five!”

Look how happy he is! I’d say he’s even laughing a bit. As if ports are just the bee’s knees. I’ve noticed this on lots of various cancer-related brochures and websites. People always look so darn happy. Do they know something that I don’t? Is cancer actually this big super fun party where everyone is smiling and dancing and giving each other high fives? I can only hope.

The package also included a card, key ring, and an extremely attractive bracelet so that the whole world can know I have a port inserted underneath my skin.

Don't mess with me and my power port!
Don’t mess with me and my power port!

All in all, I was pretty satisfied with the port package as a whole, especially because I got some freebies out of the whole deal. As a cancer patient, you get endless handouts full of information (although most don’t include bizarre bracelets). Every procedure, surgery, treatment, side effect, etc., gets its own handout. It can all be pretty overwhelming. In fact, I have an entire box that is overflowing with cancer-related paper and binders.

IMG_0363
This used to be my wedding box. Now it’s my cancer box. Life is weird.

So now I have to make a new folder to add to the pile, which will be labeled “port stuff”. I will refer to it whenever I want to be reminded that cancer can’t be all that bad, because the doctor on the front of the pamphlet is smiling, and doctors know best.