Hot town, summer in the city

Today I completed radiation #15. 10 more to go. Woohoo!

My skin has started burning a bit more, and I have some very unattractive little red bumps. I also have started to notice that my scar near my armpit is stinging. So that’s not fun. But all in all, still not too bad.

Whenever I get a bit frustrated, I remind myself what chemo felt like, and I think, At least I’m not sitting on the toilet with my head resting on the sink while my body shakes and my nose bleeds and my bones throb. And then I immediately feel better again and able to deal with whatever minor discomfort (in comparison) I’m faced with at present time. So thanks, chemo, for giving me a super unpleasant and unique perspective on what it truly means to feel ill.

Today I was a bit of a grumpypants. The weather where I live has been unbearably hot, which is not ideal when you’re receiving daily burns to your skin and have to travel every day by crowded public transit without air conditioning, back and forth to the hospital. On my way to my treatment today, I sent the following texts to my sister:

Sooooo pissed right now on fucking streetcar fuckkkkkk!!!!
Sweat is pouring down my face and back and I’m going to be late cuz it’s just sitting in traffic.
I want to murder everyone!!!!! Everyoneeeeee!!!!!!

So, yes. You might say the daily grind of going to the hospital is getting to me a tad. I even started to feel a bit sorry for myself today during my treatment and almost cried while I lay on the table, I suppose from the combination of exhaustion and overheating. I thought about how I haven’t had a break from this cancer business in over nine months now and I could feel the anger starting to boil from deep within. But I realized that crying while having a tube in my mouth and a plug on my nose would likely make matters a lot worse, so I chose to stifle my emotions for the time being.

10 more to go.Β I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

To give myself a bit of hope and something fun to do, I’ve started collecting several photos of ladies with short hair, in the hopes that eventually my hair will grow long enough to have some sort of actual style vs. the buzz cut look I’m forced to sport right now.

Every time I see a short-haired girl out on the streets, I stare at her and oooh and ahhh. I’ve become a tad obsessed. To the point that I now even feel that people with long hair are a bit boring. I’m not part of their club anymore. I’m part of a new club, full of fierce, bold women who’ve shorn their long tresses in an act of defiance against what society deems to be feminine and pretty. Or, who’ve lost all their hair to cancer and chemo and had no choice in the matter.

Whatever. Almost the same thing.

Here are some of the photos I’ve collected.


I never thought that I would have hair as short as any of these, but now that I am, I am strangely excited about it. I just want it to grow. At lightning speed. Is that too much to ask? I think not.

In conclusion, I want the heat to go away, radiation to end, and my hair to grow. Whaddya know, three wishes. Now all I need is a genie.

Come on, come on, and dance all night
Despite the heat, it’ll be alright

The time I met a real-life hero

This past week:

I completed 11 of my 25 radiation treatments. So I’m about half way there. My skin is starting to burn. Right now, it just looks like I stayed in the sun too long and forgot to put on sunscreen. There is no pain, it’s just pink and warm to the touch. Since there’s still a while to go, I predict I might be headed for some discomfort soon, but I’m still hoping for the best. The past couple days, I’ve started to feel slightly exhausted. I’ve had some people tell me that the hardest part of radiation was how tiring it was, but so far I’ve felt pretty great. But I am worried it is now catching up with me and I imagine I might have some dates with my couch coming up in my very near future. Thank god for TV. And couches, of course.

I met a young woman named Sonia who is a fellow breast cancer sister. She was my exact age upon diagnosis, and she had my same type of aggressive cancer. She is now 7 years past her diagnosis, and is doing great. I repeat – she is alive. After 7 years. I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to meet her. The idea of being alive 7 years from now actually gets me giddy. I realize that for most people, they just take it as a given. But I certainly don’t. I’m so happy I met her and have a new friend in my life who can give me some real, tangible hope. Pretty cool.

I cried a bit. I’m not really sure why. It hasn’t happened in awhile, because I’ve been pretty distracted and feeling mostly good. But I’ve had a few moments of panic lately, for one reason or another. Where I think a bit too much about the cancer, and am sent into a spiral of panic and doubt and fear. I really wish I didn’t have to think about this crap. It’s usually just the realization that I have to think about this crap that is the hardest. Even after all this time, it still feels like this is not my life, like some gigantic mistake was made.Β It’s all a big joke! You never had cancer! Fooled ya! I wish.

I started my hormone therapy (Tamoxifen) last night. I felt a bit sad, swallowing the pill, realizing how long I will have to take those pills. But it’s one more necessary step, so I took it. So far nothing to report except a bit of queasiness today. There are numerous possible side effects, some more common than others. And some that are pretty unfortunate. If you’re really interested, you can Google it for yourself, but I’m not going to list them here because otherwise I’ll convince myself it’s all happening to me. And I’d rather not do that tonight. I’ve got enough on my plate for now.

I got to hang out with these two lovely ladies. I have some really great girlfriends. These are two of them. We spent most of our time giggling. As it should be.

And the winner of the “Best Part of My Week” award: I attended a press conference at Princess Margaret about an exciting new cancer drug. I was very excited to attend this announcement, because Dr. Dennis Slamon is one of the investigators working on this drug and I knew he’d speaking at the event. This brilliant man is responsible for inventing the drug Herceptin, which I currently receive every 3 weeks at the hospital. This drug was one of the biggest advances in breast cancer, and has prolonged or saved the lives of an enormous amount of women. Dr. Slamon faced many obstacles when trying to get this drug out to the public, and his persistence and determination eventually got it to the people who needed it.

I have never had the opportunity to meet someone like Dr. Slamon, someone who literally might save my life. When I saw him, I broke into a sweat and was overcome with nerves, like a little girl meeting her favourite pop star. I went over to him and shook his hand, and thanked him. It was completely surreal and I’m amazed that I didn’t start crying, or hugging him, both things which I thought might occur. It was such an honour to meet him, and I hope people really appreciate that there are men and women out there like him, sitting in their labs, searching for a cure, trying to save all our lives. They might not wear capes or star in 3D blockbusters, but they are heroes in the truest sense of the word. Real-life superheroes.

I am so grateful to this man and to all the others trying to find a way to help the millions of people facing this bitch of a disease. Thank you.

Dr. Slamon, my hero
“Screw you cancer, I’m going to make you my bitch.” – Dr. Slamon (*note he did not actually say this, but I like imagining he says it to himself when he’s alone in his lab)

 

My dad, My hero

I have been meaning to write this post for awhile, but it seemed appropriate to wait until Father’s Day to write about my dad. And now that the weekend has arrived, I feel I must stick to my deadline, as any decent writer should.

My dad has been instrumental in helping me navigate through the crazy world of cancer. This is in large part due to the fact that he’s a great father, and I am lucky. But it’s a bit more complicated than just that.

When my dad was a teenager, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma – a rare type of bone cancer. Even after receiving radiation, the prognosis was not great for 5-year survival. Quite a lot for a young boy and his family to have to deal with.

For those who have met my dad and can do some basic math, I’m sure you’ve figured out that he survived those five years, and then some. And lucky for me, despite the odds, he was able to produce three good-looking, intelligent, witty, and modest young children.

Growing up, I never understood too much about my dad’s cancer, or how it might have affected his life many years after. Although I’m sure it was always a constant presence in his mind, it wasn’t really for us. It was something we knew had been part of his childhood, and that he had conquered, and that was all I really needed to know. Cancer was part of our family’s history, not present. Something occasionally referred to in the odd anecdote.

But five years ago, that changed.

In 2008, my dad was diagnosed with breast cancer. Did you know males can get breast cancer too? Well, now you do.

So as you can see, this breast cancer beast found its way into my family before it decided to take up residence in my own body.

My dad underwent chemotherapy (the same grueling combo that I was so lucky to experience) and surgery. He got sick, he lost his hair. You know how the story goes.

This was a difficult time for my family. As you can imagine, I was scared and confused. I didn’t understand much about cancer at that time, or breast cancer specifically. I didn’t like knowing that my dad was hurting, and that I couldn’t do anything about it. And since parents like to protect their children, there was a lot that they did not share with us. Bits and pieces of information would be communicated, but not everything. My parents always put on a brave face. Everything was going to be okay. Because it had to be okay.

After dealing with that whole ordeal, my dad was struck a third time with the Big C. This time, it decided to take a trip to his thyroid, which was consequently removed, along with the cancer cells. And now, of course, we hope that third time’s a charm. And that’s it. (Seriously cancer, leave my dad the F alone. I think you’ve made your point. Whatever that is.)

So my dad has had a pretty rough go, you might say. And despite being knocked down three times, he’s still alive and kicking. He does yoga, he meditates, he draws, he travels. He kicks ass. And as you might have guessed, he has become quite the role model for me, now more than ever.

When we discovered my cancer, it was quite the blow to my family. Seriously, hadn’t cancer already caused enough chaos in our home? Could we not get a break from it, of more than a few years at the very least? It seemed pretty unfair. And frankly, it still does. My family is awesome. We are pretty good people. We don’t really deserve to have our lives constantly threatened. But here we are. You could boil it down to bad genes. Or bad luck. It doesn’t really matter. This is the hand we were dealt, and that’s just the way life goes.

My dad and I have certainly bonded, in a most unexpected way. He is one of the only people close to me who can say “I know exactly how you feel” and I know he really means it. We now share this strange connection, this common history, that most fathers and daughters don’t have, and probably could not understand. He has accompanied me to almost all of my appointments with my oncologist, helping me understand my treatment and figure out the important questions to ask. He has watched me cry out in pain, and he has felt pain for me – as any parent would feel for their child, but also as a cancer survivor feels for one who has recently joined the club no one wants to be a part of.

Now that I know what it is to face cancer, and to deal with all of its ugliness, I see my dad in a whole new way. It is almost impossible for me to imagine going through this three times. Once has been quite enough for me. I am truly in awe of my father’s strength and determination, and his ability to keep going every day, after all he has been through.

Sometimes, I really lose faith in my “battle”. I read other blogs, I focus on statistics and numbers, and I get consumed by all the people who don’t make it, and I begin to wonder if anyone really does. And then I remind myself; I know someone who has survived. I know someone who beat the odds. And he just happens to share my DNA. DNA that may have possibly made me more prone to cancer. But may also make me more prone to surviving it.

I love you, Dad.

Me and my dad, two days prior to my breast cancer diagnosis
Me and my dad, two days prior to my breast cancer diagnosis

Stuff

Hi there! I don’t really know what this post is going to be about. Just stuff, I guess. So here’s some stuff:

If you’ve been following my Facebook page, you might know this first bit of news. I’ve started going out naked. Ok, no, not that kind of naked. But naked up top. On my head. I did it for the first time on Saturday. First to a street festival, then to see The Book of Mormon. I had initially told myself (during one of my many self-talks) that I wasn’t going to go out sans head cover for awhile still, until I really felt like I just looked like any other lady with short hair. But I’m an impatient person and I got tired of waiting.

At first, all I noticed was how cold the wind felt when it hit my head. Hair really accounts for a lot of one’s body warmth. After awhile, I kind of forgot about it, although it’s hard to ignore the stares that I get. My sister says they stare because they think I’m pretty, but I’m not sure I’m really sold on that. I think most people stare because they are trying to figure out what my “deal” is. And to be fair, I’d probably stare a bit too.

When I catch my reflection in a window or mirror, I can’t help but hear “Well, Sinead O’rebellion…” over and over in my head. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably watch more movies.


Sometimes, I look at other people and try to imagine what they’d look like with no hair. Or I see people with hair like mine, and I tell myself I look better than them. I realize that’s really terrible and I probably shouldn’t be admitting that out loud. But I do what I gotta do to cope. And if convincing myself that everyone else would look ugly bald is the ticket, then I’m going with it.

I’ve started taking photos to monitor my hair growth, because otherwise, I don’t believe it’s growing. Maybe these photos will help someone going through chemo, because I can’t tell you how many times I tried to find images of people’s post-chemo hair growth.

Today, bird's eye view.
Today, bird’s eye view.
Front view
Front view. I’m not really sure what colour my hair is at this point. Many people have grey hair post-chemo. I wouldn’t say mine is grey, but it’s definitely not the deep brown it once was. Kind of a mouse-y brown. But I imagine it is temporary.

You also might be interested to know that my body hair is returning in full-force. Just in time for summer, swimsuits, and short shorts. Yippee!

Today I had radiation #4. Only 21 more to go! Oy.

At this point, although it’s very early days, I still have no complaints besides some issues with mistakes in my schedule that hopefully will not keep happening, now that the staff know I am a force to be reckoned with. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my breath with a tube in my mouth and a plug on my nose. Maybe after all of this, I can become a champion scuba diver. Does such a thing exist? I don’t know, but regardless, I don’t think that is my calling.

Today I also decided to pop into the lab to get my routine blood work done. My last couple tests had one level increase that prompted a new wave of panic in me, even though my doctors told me not to worry about it. But once I learned what this increase could possibly signify, it was hard for me to ignore it. So I was a bit hesitant to check my results this afternoon, but as mentioned previously, I am extremely impatient. So I held my breath and checked, and what do you know. Everything is back to normal. All green check marks. This is the first time I’ve seen everything be normal in awhile. And even though no one believed my previous results were anything to write home about, I still feel relieved. I like seeing those bright green check marks. Hello, I’m a straight A student. And patient. Anything less than a check mark is just insulting.

So, there you have it. Some stuff. More to come soon. You can count on it.

Radiation Update

Dear Diary,

Today I had my first radiation treatment.

I actually wasn’t anxious at all going into it. I think that my family and friends were more nervous about it than I was. Again I am quite astounded at how much I have changed since finding that lump back in September. I am slightly hardened, in a way. Acclimated to all of these treatments, and to the hospital walls. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, because I never want to get used to this as my life. But it does help me face each new challenge. Mentally, I do feel a lot stronger than I did before any of this started. Braver, I guess. None of it by choice, but nonetheless, a new me has certainly emerged out of all this mess.

As I waited for my treatment to begin, I chatted with an elderly man who has a tumor somewhere near his rib. He had had radiation previously, so he shared his experience with me. His doctors are considering chemotherapy as part of his treatment, so he asked how I fared with that. And there we sat, swapping war stories. Me and this 80-something year old man. Another cancer friend.Β You should know you’re still a very pretty girl, he said. I liked him. I hope he doesn’t have to do chemo.

I had two very nice radiation therapists bring me into my treatment room and set me up, making sure I was nicely lined up with the machine, thanks to my four little chest tattoos. Then they inserted my breathing tube. It was a bit more difficult than the simulation, due to the congestion I still have from my cold. But prior to beginning, one of the therapists remarked that it was quite impressive how long I had held my breath in the sim, so I knew I had to live up to my reputation and not screw it up. And I didn’t. I sailed right through it, and then it was over.

My new best friends for the next couple months. Cream, lotion, ointment, and aloe. Radiation 101.

Honestly, I was smiling through most of my treatment. I don’t even know why. There are lots of bad and scary things that can happen from radiation. Not usually immediate, but further down the line. But I guess I just felt happy to not be in chemo. To not be in pain. And to be kicking the shit out of my cancer, which has clearly become one of my favourite pastimes.

I met up with my sister after. Since she’s a medical student, she is often near the hospitals, which is convenient for me. I got some lunch, then we walked to the health food store, where I got a few items I needed, and some I definitely didn’t but couldn’t resist (chocolate quinoa crunchies, my new fave). And then I went home.

Radiation day complete. One down. Twenty-four more to go.

The main side effect from radiation is supposed to be fatigue. I can see how it would get quite tiring, even without the effects of the actual treatment. Just going to the hospital every day, back and forth, takes a lot out of you. I already don’t really feel like going tomorrow, and I’m just beginning. But I will push through it, and hope it doesn’t get too rough. I don’t want to anticipate anything bad happening. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

For now, I am smiling.

Post-radiation. Feeling my new hair that's slowly growing in. So soft, like a newborn baby. A newborn me.
Post-radiation. Feeling my new hair that’s slowly growing in. So soft, like a newborn baby. A newborn me.

Life moves pretty fast

Haven’t updated in awhile, but don’t worry, I’m still here. I’ve just been trying to live my life a bit. I haven’t really been able to enjoy any “recovery” period, because I’ve been sick or struggling with side effects every time there was any sort of break between treatments. So having this time off before starting radiation has been a pretty nice change of pace. Never underestimate the body’s need to heal after being physically and psychologically tormented for months on end.

I’ve been saddled with a cold the past few days. It’s a bit of an annoyance to be “regular sick” during a break from being “cancer sick”, but that’s all it is. An annoyance. Once you’ve dealt with the Big C, a cold ain’t no thang. I would take a cold over cancer any day. Although, I’d also take neither, if I had the choice. But maybe that’s being too greedy.

The weather outside is strange today. One minute it is raining cats and dogs, then bright and sunny and cheerful, then grey and cloudy and windy, as it appears to be right now outside my window. It’s a bit unpredictable, which is precisely how my mood and general outlook on life is these days.

One minute, I am happy, full of energy, enjoying the health I seem to be regaining. The next, I’m exhausted, feeling betrayed by my body and resentful that it can’t do all the things it once could, with ease.

And at another moment, I am hopeful, thinking of the future, entertaining the notion that I could actually live a full life, filled with fun and laughter, with cancer being nothing more than a distant memory, a bizarre detour that I will never take again. And then I read of someone with my disease who didn’t make it, or I get a test result that plagues me with anxiety, and I feel suffocated with fear. Burdened by the reality that despite everything I am doing, you never know if it was enough, unless you learn that it was not. Scared of never getting old, of not being here, of the world going on without me. Bitter that I even have to think about these things. That they are a real possibility. And that as hard as I try to control it all, it is out of my hands.

I’m sure anyone with a cancer diagnosis can tell you that it is all incredibly confusing. You want to live your life the way you did before. You want to be normal. Like everyone else, you want to feel like you have all the time in the world. Yet there is this cloud that looms over you. The knowledge that, at any moment, you may be told your life expectancy has shrunk quite substantially. That you’ve run out of time. These are big thoughts for a young person to have to grapple with.

I am so envious of those who still maintain their innocence. Who take it for granted that there is still a long and winding road ahead of them. Who believe that nothing bad will ever happen to them. I think it’s a beautiful thing, to feel protected and safe like that. Ignorance truly is bliss, in many cases. I’m sure I felt that way at some point, the feeling that nothing could touch me. I think we all want to feel that way. It’s what gets us through. Unfortunately, that innocence is long gone for me. I see the world through different eyes now. Nothing looks the same, and I, most definitely, am not the same.

But maybe that’s not all bad. Maybe there is something to gain from a new perspective and from being smacked in the face with the harsh reality that none of us is invincible. That life is short, no matter how you slice it. We are all just floating around, trying to do the best we can, and having no clue as to how or when it all might end. We’re all trying to make sense out of life, attempting to find answers to the Big Questions. Β I just hope I still have a lot of time left to figure it all out. Because I’m certainly not done yet.

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day. They say you are a survivor from the moment you receive a cancer diagnosis. So I guess I’ve been surviving for a bit now. Happy day to me.

Someone better get me a cake.