A model cancer patient

On Monday I participated in the Wellspring Well Dressed For Spring fashion show at Holt Renfrew. I got to wear expensive clothes and be fussed over and be a model for a day. I met some great people, many of whom had also had cancer, which of course gave us an instant connection. It is so strange how the second you learn someone else has had cancer, you suddenly start talking about very personal things that you might not even discuss with a good friend. The ties that bind.

Me and another model I met that night, who also had breast cancer, four years ago.
Me and another model I met that night, who also had breast cancer, four years ago. (Photo credit: George Pimentel)

As the show began and we waited backstage to be called, my stomach started flipping and I got extremely nervous. Why did I agree to do something where a bunch of people were going to stare at me? For someone who hasn’t felt very good about her appearance in quite some time, this suddenly seemed like a bad idea. A few of the other models were having butterflies as well. But then I reminded myself, and them, “We’ve all been through a lot worse than this.”

“Very true,” remarked my fellow model. The show must go on. So on it went.

After hearing my name called, I walked up onto the stage, while Amanda Lang from CBC read a short bio about me and my cancer story. As she said the words and everyone looked at me with tears in their eyes, I too started to tear up, which I really didn’t expect. I have no problem talking about my experience and have heard the story so many times. But it still sometimes catches me off guard, when I hear someone else describe what I have been through and where I am right now. It was all a bit overwhelming.

I walked down the runway, and the rest is really a blur. I remember I had had a plan of how I wanted to walk and I really wanted to seem cool and model-y, but that quickly went out the window the second I started walking. Cameras were flashing and everyone was cheering and my grandpa was blowing me kisses and I had a bit of a mental black-out. I really don’t remember walking. But somehow, my feet carried me, to the end, and back. And I didn’t even trip.

The awkward "Hi everybody, I feel weird!" look. You saw it here first.
The awkward “Hi everybody, I feel weird!” look. You saw it here first. (Photo credit: George Pimentel)

After the show, I had lots of people introduce themselves to me, and many people told me they have followed along with me since the beginning. No matter how many times I hear this, it always shocks me. I still have trouble comprehending that anyone other than my mother would be interested in reading my blog.

The evening was wonderful, and emotional, and fun, and exhausting. I am really glad I did it and had the chance to be surrounded by so much love and support. A nice feeling.

The next morning, I got up bright and early to do my final blood draw using my good ol’ port-a-cath. The nurse messed up the first try, so she had to give me a second needle, which was a bit frustrating. But I had a feeling things wouldn’t go smoothly, seeing as it was the last hurrah, and isn’t that just the way it goes.

After the blood draw, I had a check-up with my oncologist (actually, I got to see two doctors because I am just so special). We talked about various issues I’ve been having, and also some stats around recurrence and my odds. It is funny how when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to hear any stats or numbers from anyone, because I couldn’t handle how scary it was to talk in those terms. It is still terrifying, but I have a much firmer grasp now on the reality of my situation, and a certain comfort level with it. An acceptance, of sorts. It still feels like a punch in the stomach to hear that after everything I have done, my chances of survival are still not as high as I wish they were (i.e. not 100%, which is what we all wish for… isn’t it?). But my doctors do seem genuinely optimistic, and I fully believe that they are not bullshitters, which is why I have allowed them to remain a part of my medical team. I like real talk. I also like hope. And they give me both. So I actually came away from this appointment feeling fairly good, especially after being told I will now get a nice THREE MONTH break from hanging out with cancer doctors, which is the longest I’ve ever had. So that is quite thrilling.

After my hospital morning, I went home to change and headed up north to attend Naomi’s funeral. The service was beautiful, with touching eulogies and stories shared about this amazing woman. I feel so lucky to have known her and to have gotten to know some of her friends and family. Of course, as nice as the memorial was, it was also extremely difficult. I wept the entire time, having it fully hit me that my friend is gone, and that someone so important to so many people, is gone. It is a hard reality to face. It is so hard to make sense of why these things happen. To know that it happened to such a loving, amazing family, who deserved nothing but happiness. It is all just terribly unfair, and my heart aches for all the people who are feeling the loss of Naomi and all that she brought to this world. I am also confronted with having to face my own mortality, and the notion that it could just as easily be my funeral, and my family left behind. The death of a friend causes many emotions to stir up, and in this case, maybe a few more. It is hard, to say the least. But I’m so glad I got to be a part of saying goodbye to someone who had a very significant impact on my life.

And, since my week wasn’t cancer-filled enough… today, I got my port removed. I was initially supposed to be sedated for the procedure, but I called yesterday and asked the nurse if I could do it without any drugs. She said I could, if I felt relaxed enough about it. And I told her, honestly, I really just didn’t want to fast all day, because not eating for one day is just way too challenging for me.

So today I made my way to another hospital, and checked in, and commenced a very long wait for my procedure. I had a phone call from someone on the medical team asking if it had been explained to me that I could receive medication and get an IV and all that. I told the guy that I had just eaten a bagel, so that ship had sailed. No turning back.

When they finally called me, I went into the operating room and lay on the bed and stared at all the machines and monitors. I instantly started to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake by offering to be awake. For the port insertion, I had been so nervous that I asked them to give me an insane amount of drugs, and I completely passed out. How things have changed. How I have changed. I have a new sense of bravery about these things that I never possessed pre-cancer.

A young doctor entered the room, looking like he walked off the set of Grey’s Anatomy, which for some reason put me at ease. He explained what was about to happen, asked the usual questions, and then began. I had to have several needles to freeze the area, which didn’t bother me. Then he made his incision, and I could feel a bunch of tugging and pulling that seemed to go on for awhile.

I started to feel very warm and noticed I was feeling a bit faint.

“Is everything okay with it?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s just some scar tissue that I have to scrape out first.”

He continued to remove the scar tissue and I could feel pulling on the vein.

“Are you almost done?” I asked, “because I think I’m pretty close to passing out or vomiting.”

He asked me if I needed a break and I said no, just get ‘er done. Before I knew it, he yanked the tube out and out came the port. Then he sewed me up and bandaged me as I felt my blood pressure return to normal and the room stop spinning. Easy peasy.

And now I am home, a bit sore, after what feels like a very long, highly emotional, exhausting few days. I’m having some bleeding come through the bandage, which is slightly worrisome. If it continues, I am supposed to go to the emergency room. But I am hoping that does not happen. I’ve had enough cancer-related events for one week. Time to get back to watching bad TV, sleeping, and being a regular human being… which, these days, is what I hope for, more than anything.

Me, now. Time for bed.
Me, now. Time for bed.
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Naomi Angel

A few months ago, I wrote this entry about my friend Naomi. Late last night, my beautiful friend passed away, leaving many people to mourn the loss of a truly amazing woman.

I have thought of Naomi non-stop over the past several months, as her health began to deteriorate. I have missed her texts, and emails, and our lunch dates. I have sat at my computer at night, reading through all our old messages from the earlier cancer days, and looking through her photos, and praying for miracles.

Naomi and I had a truly unique friendship. Having “cancer friends” is a bond that only other “cancer friends” can really understand. Our friendship was not at all typical in any way. I have “hung out” with Naomi more times in the hospital than out of it. Our text messages and emails, although sometimes about work, family, etc., were most often about our cancer lives. Our lives.

We’d discuss arm exercises, and radiation CT’s, and MRI machines, and plan quick meet-ups in the waiting room. We talked about our hair and compared its post-chemo growth. I was completely jealous that Naomi’s hair and lashes were coming back so quickly. And she would assure me that mine would come back soon. I have sat with Naomi in the emergency room, helped her to the bathroom, changed her clothes for her (the end of one of her last emails to me was: Also, I realized that you and your mom both saw my bare ass at the hospital! Oh the indignities!). When the MRI tech asked questions about breast-feeding, we both looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Hello, we don’t have breasts! We understood each other in this way. Our secret friendship club.

The first week that Naomi and I started emailing each other, before actually meeting in person, I felt like a giddy teenager. My heart would skip a beat when I saw I had a new email from her, as we would write lengthy messages back and forth, talking about our treatments, our husbands, and how much cancer sucked. I was so happy I found her, even more so when I learned about her academic background and her general interests and realized we would totally be awesome friends in the real, non-cancer world. But sadly, we never really got to the non-cancer world together. Cancer was always there, until the very end.

Pic taken from Naomi's blog. She bought this fancy coat after her first brain surgery and demanded that the saleswoman bring her a bunch of fancy things to try on. She bought two expensive coats that day, and she was so excited to show them off. She looked beautiful, as always.
Pic taken from Naomi’s blog. She bought this fancy coat after her first brain surgery. She went to Anthropologie, sat down in the fitting room, and demanded that the saleswoman bring her a bunch of fancy things to try on. She bought two expensive coats that day, and she was so excited to show them off. She looked beautiful, as always.

I remember the first time I met Naomi in person, at a lunch spot near the hospital, in between our appointments. She was sitting on a bench in the sun, in a bright red coat. She looked so beautiful. Naomi had this amazing aura about her. She was so cool, and peaceful, and smart. I looked up to her. Even facing a tough prognosis, she always had so much hope. Her hope gave me hope. I was in awe of her.

When we would write to each other about our fears, she wrote to me: Focus on what’s happening now. The future will come when it’s ready, and it’s so hard to predict what life is going to bring. I loved her way of thinking, and her way with words. She always lifted me up, even when she was down.

I am so angry at cancer, for taking a wife from her husband, a young mom from her son… a daughter, a sister, a friend. It is all terribly unfair. But anger won’t bring her back, and it won’t take anyone’s pain away. So instead I will choose to think of all the good she brought into the world while she was here, and into my world, and how lucky I was to have known her for a short while. She was truly an angel.

My heart is with her family. I hope they know how much joy she brought to everyone who knew her and the impact she had on so many people’s lives.

On my life.

xo

Dressing up and moving on

UPDATES!

1. Next week I am walking the runway in the Well Dressed For Spring Fashion Show, supporting Wellspring. All the models have some sort of connection to cancer, and most are media personalities or executives. I am neither of those, but apparently I still made the cut.

Today I got to go to Holt Renfrew (our high-end fancy-shmancy department store, for my non-Canadian friends) and meet with my stylist, Christopher. YES, I HAVE A STYLIST. Christopher pulled several different outfits for me to try on, which was pretty much a dream. I wear $9 jeans most days, so this was a tad different from what I’m used to. I was a bit nervous going in, worrying that nothing would fit me properly. In fact, last week, when trying on a bunch of dresses from my closet, I had a bit of a breakdown when I learned that none of them fits me anymore, due to my new implants that don’t really move or squish in the way natural breasts do/should. So I now have a bunch of nice dresses I can never wear again, which is a bit sad.

I was worried something similar might happen at my fitting today, but it did not. Luckily, Christopher picked stuff that I was comfortable in and that wasn’t a far stretch from what I would wear in my daily life. The complete outfit costs more than my entire wardrobe at home (which really doesn’t say much… I am pretty cheap). And I even get to wear Prada shoes, which hopefully, I will be able to walk in without having a Carrie Bradshaw fashion roadkill incident. The whole thing was really fun and made me wish I were a rich celebrity with a personal stylist and a giant closet full of fancy things picked just for me. Sigh. But it will be fun to pretend and play dress-up, if only for a day.

2. Next week I’m getting my port removed. Remember my port? I have had this thing implanted in my body for a very long time. I don’t ever look at it or think about it. It’s just there, and I’ve gotten quite used to it. But now that I’m done with the whole drug pumping bit, I no longer have use for it, so it’s time to yank ‘er out.

The port removal is very symbolic to me, because it truly marks the end of that phase of my life. However, I can’t help but worry that taking it out will somehow jinx my health, and the cancer will come back, and I’ll need chemo again, and they’ll have to put the goddamn port right back in. I realize that type of thinking is illogical, but the thought has crossed my mind. Nonetheless, it’s time to come out, and that’s a good thing. More cutting, more stitches, more scarring. Just another day.

3. Last, but not really least… I have given notice at work that I will be leaving my job. So, I am looking for a new job. And as much as I really wish I could skip the whole job search/application process and just send an email saying, “I had cancer and have been through a ton of shit and have quite a bit more life experience than can ever be summed up on a resume and I deserve a friggin’ break, and I am pretty much awesome at everything so just hire me and let’s be done with it,” I can’t really do that because I would come off as completely insane and slightly hostile. So I’m on the hunt, looking for the next thing in my life, and excited for the future… and hoping it doesn’t take forever to get here.

(P.S. Anyone out there hiring and in need of a brilliant, hard-working, all-around fabulous employee? Remember, I had cancer, therefore you should probably try to help me out. It’s kind of your duty as a fellow, compassionate human being.)

(And yes, I have no shame playing the cancer card. I totally earned that card and will do with it what I please.)

(But seriously, if you want to hire me, get in touch. Besides the whole cancer-killing superhero thing, I’m fairly awesome at doing many other things.)

ronburgundy

All about me

Okay, so I’ve recently come to realize that a huge portion of the people who read and comment on this blog don’t know me, or anything about me (except for the whole cancer thing, obviously). In fact, there are over 1,000 people who subscribe to my blog, and I’m pretty certain my mom and dad only make up two of those people, because I have the ability to do basic math. So I feel like maybe I should tell you some non-cancer-y things about myself, in an effort to not just be “cancer girl” to all the loyal readers out there.

Here are some facts:

1. I come from a really great family. Boring, right? But that’s the truth. I have a big bro and a little sis, and two parents who love each other. We all live in the same city and see each other all the time. I also have a very large extended family, many of whom I also see frequently. I always thought this was kind of normal, to come from this awesome, big family, where everyone is smart and funny, and gets along and loves each other. I now know that that is not always the case and I am extremely fortunate for how I was raised and the relationships I have with my family members.

The siblings. The one who clearly looks nothing like me is the bro's girlfriend but she is included as a sibling as well because that's how we roll. (If you're a music fan, you can check her out at basiabulat.com.)
The siblings. The one who clearly looks nothing like me is the bro’s girlfriend but she is included as a sibling as well because that’s how we roll. (If you’re a music fan, you can check her out here.)

2. I’m married to this handsome man:

He’s smart and kind and makes me laugh until I can’t breathe. There is no one in the world I’d rather spend time with. We met on the internet, as is becoming the norm for lots of modern-day couples. Although I like to think we were a bit ahead of the curve on that one. I sent him a message after checking out his profile, because he spelled everything properly, made a couple non-obnoxious jokes, and didn’t look like a serial killer. I had no idea I’d ever end up marrying the guy, but here we are, living the dream (minus the cancer part).

3. I love movies and TV. Probably to the point that it might be unhealthy, but if that’s my worst vice, then I’m okay with it. It is hard for me to relate to people who “don’t watch any TV” or “haven’t seen a movie in years.” I just can’t understand that, because I get so much joy out of these forms of entertainment. I can go on forever and ever talking about whatever good or horrible show I am currently obsessed with. I feel actual anxiety when I hear of some new TV show that is getting a lot of buzz and I haven’t yet seen it (i.e. True Detective, which is next on my list). Current/recent faves are: Scandal, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Orange is the New Black, Homeland (despite a pretty weak recent season), Girls, The Mindy Project, Breaking Bad (RIP), Nashville, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Parenthood, The Bachelor… I will stop there before it gets any more embarrassing.

I grew up completely obsessed with movies. This is how I bonded with friends, and how I often judged prospective boyfriends (I have since gotten a lot less snobby about such things, as you can see from my occasionally terrible taste in television). I still get extremely excited to see a new movie in theatres, and I swear, my heart skips a beat when I hear the movie studio’s opening theme song. Sometimes I find myself humming the New Line Cinema theme, for no reason. That’s probably a pretty strange thing to admit, but alas… the truth.

I could easily write ten thousand words on my favourite films. There are many great, remarkable movies out there, but the ones that I always return to, that I have watched a million times and could watch a million more: Edward Scissorhands, Back to the Future (Pt. 1 for always, Pt. 2 for laughs, Pt. 3 for never), When Harry Met Sally, The Royal Tenenbaums, A League of Their Own, Annie Hall, The Lion King, Wizard of Oz, Hook, Marry Poppins, Home Alone, Poltergeist, and Dumb and Dumber. Those are truly my tops, many of them being childhood favourites. Obviously there are “brilliant” films like Citizen Kane or Schindler’s List, but those aren’t exactly DVD’s that I feel like popping in every night as I drift off to sleep. For me, my favourite movies are all about comfort. This was especially true when I spent lots of last year being ill, and sometimes the only thing that could comfort me was this:

4. My other favourite subject to talk about is food. I am, one might say, obsessed with food and eating said food (note: I am not obsessed with cooking. Cooking to me is just a necessary means to an end. I would much rather have someone cook for me, so I can just focus on the act of consuming the food, which is really the only part I enjoy of the whole cooking thing). I love food so much that if I’m eating something delicious, I will literally try to shove a piece of whatever it is in the mouth of whomever I am dining with, because I need someone else to experience what I am tasting. My husband and sister both find this extremely annoying, but I will never stop doing it. My friend Laura and I often write each other emails that are only about food — which new restaurants we have eaten at, which ones we’re dying to try, where we’re going to meet for lunch next week. And then when we go out to eat, we only talk about the food that we’re eating the entire time, and we joke that anyone sitting near us would likely think we are insane, or haven’t eaten for a month.

I just love food. Healthy, unhealthy, fine dining, hole-in-the-wall diners, all ends of the spectrum. I don’t discriminate. If you put it in front of me, I will probably eat it (a fun theory that my siblings like proving by putting something on my plate and watching it disappear, without me realizing that I have ingested anything). Some might say I have an addiction. But I just say, I LOVE FOOD SO PLEASE FEED ME AND I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.

My favourite activity.
My favourite activity.

5. I don’t drink alcohol. Party pooper, right? Sorry to disappoint. People always think that this is some kind of great life decision or statement or religious thing. But I actually can’t drink alcohol, for it makes me very, very sick. I have pretty bad chronic reflux disease (yet another thing, like cancer, that is usually saved for older people… I guess I’m just ahead of the game). This means that things like alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and some other things can do crazy things to my insides, which if it gets bad enough, can make me violently ill. Occasionally maybe I will have a few sips of wine or some champagne for a celebration, but for the most part, I abstain. Being someone who does not drink has made me realize how much value people put on alcohol consumption. A lot of people look at you like you’re some sort of weirdo if you don’t drink. I know some people can’t imagine the non-booze life. For me, it is pretty easy. And it also makes me a really cheap date, which may or may not be why my husband chose to marry me (just kidding… I hope).

Okay, I think those are enough random tidbits for the time being. But maybe now you feel like you know a tiny bit more about me, albeit on a somewhat surface level. If you feel so inclined, all you wonderful strangers/lurkers/random people I’ve never met, leave a comment and say hello and tell me something about yourself, or your blog, or what you’re doing here. I meet people all the time who say “oh I know you, I read your blog” and I know nothing about them, which always feels a bit strange. So don’t be shy, say hi! Or at least tell me your favourite movie, so I can judge you swiftly, because really, that’s the only way to do it.