I have been asked to share this link in an effort to help raise awareness for mesothelioma, which is a relatively unknown type of cancer that, unfortunately, carries a rather poor prognosis. Tomorrow is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, so click the link and be aware of the risks. Do it!

On the topic of “other cancers” (what a fun topic, amiright?), yesterday I watched an interview with Sindy Hooper. Sindy has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and somehow managed to complete the Ironman Triathlon while undergoing chemotherapy. Way to make me feel like a super lazy cancer patient, geez.

But seriously, I think this woman is extremely inspiring and she is doing amazing work promoting awareness for pancreatic cancer. You can watch the segment here, on CTV’s The Social.



The daily grind

So I think this is the longest I have gone without blogging since this all started. And that is because there hasn’t been much to say… which is good. Uneventful is good. I have had enough excitement to last for a long time, and I’m okay with boring and mundane for a bit.

Last week was my first official full-time week at work. It’s strange, because I work in a new environment, where I’m fairly certain many people aren’t aware of my history. Sometimes I want to respond to emails: Hi, I had cancer, and you should know, considering the effects of my treatment on my brain function and how extremely tired I feel all the time, it’s pretty amazing that I am managing to respond to you and give you even a half-coherent answer to your question, so please say “thank you” and give me a cookie for being awesome. But I would probably seem insane, or get fired, so I haven’t followed through with my urges to be “that crazy girl” just yet.

Speaking of being the crazy person at work, this guy is my hero.

There have been some days recently where I have felt so fatigued that I am convinced something is wrong. I no longer really know the difference between regular tired and cancer tired, because I have been cancer tired for so long and have not functioned in normal day-to-day life for quite some time. I can’t remember if this tiredness is just something average, healthy people feel from lack of sleep, or a long day at work. I guess eventually I will have to start trusting my body again and not think that every slight malfunction is a sign of the Big Bad Cancer. But my body broke that trust in a pretty major way, and I think it will be a very long time until I can forgive it and move on. I’m holding a bit of a grudge, you might say.

Lately I think about cancer and recurrence a little less. I am too busy with so many other things. As I get further away from it, it seems more absurd to think about the cancer coming back. No way, that can’t happen. Look at me, I’m fine, I’m great, everything will be great. I feel these things more and more now.

But then just as quickly, I’m hit again with reality. Wait a second. There’s a total possibility that I’m not fine and that this possibility will be confirmed in the near future and that I’m really just a dead woman walking. Sometimes I feel like I’m fooling myself, like there’s no way this bit of normalcy is going to last. I go so far as to imagine my doctor giving me the news (again), yet this time, it would be paired with the whole cliche, “You have this many months/years to live” spiel. The fact that that could actually happen is really quite terrifying.

And then I snap out of it. Back to my life, where I have bills to pay, dinner to make, a job to do, people to see, places to go, and all that good stuff. Because you see, in a normal, boring life, there really isn’t much time to think of things like cancer and dying.

And that’s just fine by me.

My First Cancerversary

September 11th. A crummy date, for many reasons. One of them being that this is the date, one year ago, I was told:

You have breast cancer.

I remember my doctor telling me it would be a rough year, and I thought, A YEAR?! That is way too long! And yet now, here I am. One year, exactly. A year of hospitals, surgeries, poison, burning, anxiety, sickness, and survival.

I remember walking out into the street in a daze. I have cancer, I have cancer. I remember emailing my girlfriends: Ok, this is going to be a pretty intense email, but I have cancer. Fuckkkkk. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. I remember stumbling over to the pharmacy to fill the prescription for anti-anxiety meds that my doctor said I would likely require to get to sleep for the next few nights. I thought, no way, I’ll be fine.

I popped my first pill that night.

I remember coming home and Googling my cancer (of course). I remember reading some really scary things about it and seeing the words AGGRESSIVE and POORER PROGNOSIS over and over. I emailed my doctor with the subject: First Freakout Email.

I remember my little sister coming over and how we sat on the couch and cried without talking. Then we, along with my husband, realized we still needed to eat, so we went grocery shopping. My first realization that life does not suddenly stop when you are in a crisis. It goes on, whether you like it or not.

We walked to the grocery store and I felt extreme rage at everyone I saw. I hated the young mom with her baby in a stroller. I hated the happy couples. I hated them all. Why were people going on, as if nothing had happened? Why were they allowed to be happy? My life had been destroyed. Why hadn’t theirs?

I don’t remember what I ate that night. Probably not very much, which was my trend for the month after my diagnosis.

I remember going to sleep, wondering how I would ever face the next day, and the days after that. Wondering how I’d ever get a grip on these foreign concepts – cancer, chemo, antibodies, hormones, fertility.

And here I am, one year later, with a far greater knowledge of these things and many more than I ever imagined I might possess.

I remember thinking, I am going to dieI might not make it through the year. I might never see the next season of Homeland.

As it turns out, I am very much alive. I made it through year one post-cancer. The first several years are the most critical. Every year is a milestone. Every year, I get closer to the possibility of more years.

This date will always be significant in my life. It is the day my life changed. The day I lost a large chunk of what innocence I still had. The day I became Steph AC (after-cancer) and said goodbye to Steph BC (before-cancer). The day I became a “cancer survivor” whether I wanted that title or not.

I will never forget that day.

I somehow made it through Year One. There were times I wasn’t sure I would. But I did. And I’m hopeful that Year Two will be a lot better, and involve a lot more fun, and a lot more hair.

Happy Cancerversary to me.

I am now a survivor

First off, a big HELLO to all my new readers. Last week I was “freshly pressed” on WordPress, meaning the WordPress editors featured one of my blog posts on their main page. I received thousands of page views as a result of the posting, and my phone has been going off non-stop since Thursday with everyone’s amazing comments and notifications of new followers of the blog. So thanks for stopping by! I haven’t had a second to respond to comments but I’ve read them all and loved each one. I also seem to have a lot of views in India… so hello, India!

If you’ve been following along, you should know that this weekend my family and I walked in the Weekend To End Women’s Cancers, benefiting the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Yesterday was Day 1 of the walk and if you live in Toronto, you might recall that it poured rain the entire day. The. Entire. Day. My friends, walking in the rain with puddles in your shoes for 32KM is not fun. We were cold and wet. Very wet. But we powered through and somehow made it to the end. Because of my fatigue and various problems with my hips and knees, I thought I wouldn’t even make it half way, so I am fairly proud of myself that I managed to walk through a monsoon in my current condition. I also paused briefly during the lunch stop to do an interview with the Toronto Star. They published it today and if you don’t subscribe to The Star, you can see it here.

In my protective bubble
In my protective bubble
Husband hugs
Husband hugs
Me and lil sis
Me and lil sis

Today was Day 2, and the weather was much more suited to long-distance walking. Unfortunately, my body was a bit damaged from the previous day. I can’t walk straight without searing pain in my knees and thighs, so I had to do a very unattractive limp/hobble for the rest of the route. The pain in my legs is actually very similar to the pain I felt when I was doing chemo, and reminds me that it was only several months ago that I couldn’t even walk down the street without being in pain. I have come a long way, you might say.

Chillin with some Smart Food. I will never pass up an opportunity for free food, and this weekend, there were many.
Chillin with some Smart Food. I will never pass up an opportunity for free food, and this weekend, there were many.

At the end of the walk, we marched down the finish line, into the Skydome (or the Rogers Centre, if you go by the new name… which, I don’t) and saw our faces up on the jumbotron. It is quite alarming to see your face that large, but since it isn’t something you experience every day, I loved it, and milked it for all it was worth – waving at the cameras, and doing some sort of awkward limp-jig down the aisle.

As the last walkers came marching in, it was time for my speech at the closing ceremonies. Right before it started, I had that feeling of why did I agree to do this, I just want to lie down and fall asleep and never get up. I was also getting paranoid about my nose dripping all down my face, since my drugs seem to have the nice effect of giving me a nasal perma-drip. Luckily, I believe my sniffles were mistaken for tears, so that worked out just fine.

The speech went well, and it was quite a surreal experience, standing up on a stage, in the middle of the baseball field, speaking to a huge crowd of cancer survivors and their supporters – especially in contrast to last year, where I had been a mere onlooker, anxiously awaiting the results of my biopsy.

I managed to keep myself composed until near the end, where I said the words “I am now a survivor.” I had practiced the speech a dozen times before, and never got choked up, and assumed I wouldn’t when I did it in front of others. But I guess it took saying it in that setting for it to really hit me. Those words. I am a cancer survivor. I could see the tears of everyone else looking back at me, and apparently crying is contagious, because I dissolved into a puddle at that moment. Everyone cheered for me and the spotlight was shining in my eyes and the entire thing felt like I was in some sort of dream, or playing a part in a movie. It was an amazing experience, and I’m glad I was able to do it, and hopefully did justice to the other women fighting it out with the big ugly C.

Afterward, I had many women coming up to me and hugging me with tears in their eyes, sharing their stories, and congratulating me on a job well done. Three young girls came over to me and they each hugged me, and told me I was their inspiration and hero, and because of me, they are going to do the walk next year. They had tears in their eyes and seemed genuinely moved. I turned to my sister, and we both, again, burst into tears, in reaction to the sweet sentiment of these girls. It was such a great compliment, to know I had affected them in some small way. I continue to be amazed by the power my words can have upon perfect strangers, and the power that theirs can have right back on me. Amidst all of the crap that I have endured, I feel so lucky for all of the people who have come into my life, however brief, as a result of me having had cancer.

And now I am home, back on the good ol’ couch, full of aches and pains and unable to stand without feeling like my legs are breaking beneath me. But I don’t mind. Because it’s pain from walking. From raising thousands of dollars for cancer research. From using my body. Not pain from cancer. Not pain from cancer drugs. I could get used to this kind of pain. Bring it on.

Are you there God, it’s me, Stephanie

Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. For those of you not in the know, this is one of the holiest and most significant days for us Jewish folk. It’s like our Christmas. Except not at all.

Unlike the North American type of New Year, the Jewish one is a touch more serious, with some heavy lessons thrown in for good measure (the Jews love lessons). The idea is that the Big Guy up there opens up his big book of judgment on Rosh Hashanah, and decides whether you’ve been naughty or nice and if you deserve to be written into his Book of Life. If you’re an evil, awful person, then your chances don’t look so good. If you’re a saint, then you likely have a good year ahead. If you’ve made a few mistakes, but are otherwise pretty alright, then you need to spend the next 10 days repenting for your sins and asking for forgiveness and making things right with the Big Guy, before he seals your fate for the year on Yom Kippur.

Okay, so I think that’s a really simplified version and if any religious Jews are reading this, I apologize, but that’s the best I can do right now. Judaism for Dummies.

Challah, i.e. the best part of any Jewish holiday. (photo by Tori Avey)

Last year, we celebrated the holiday the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so one might say that there was a bit of a cloud hanging over the holidays. Actually, there was a cloud hanging over pretty much every holiday for the entire past year, and some holidays I even had to bypass completely. So I am looking forward to any holiday where I can sit up, eat some food, enjoy friends and family, and not pass out in the middle of it all.

I don’t think I was really deserving of the past year, and if there is a God up there, I’m pretty sure he got it wrong when he decided what my fate would be for the following year. Unless I did some really, incredibly terrible thing that I have blocked from my memory, but I’m fairly certain that I’m mostly a decent person.

So hey God, if you’re listening, you kind of owe me one. I’ll look past your error this time, since we all make mistakes, and maybe you were just having an off day. It happens. But there is no need to waste time judging me this year. I’ve paid my dues. Please just throw my name straight into your Book of Life. Top of the list.  Let’s try to make this year a little better, a little brighter, and a lot less cancer-filled. Thank you.

Shanah Tovah.