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.

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?

Looks like I made it

Tomorrow is August 9th, also known as my birthday, and also known as the day I turn THIRTY.

Yes, my friends. Little ol’ me who still gets mistaken as a high school student is turning the big 3-0.

When I was first diagnosed, I remember one of the first (of many) frantic thoughts that flew through my head was, what if I don’t live to see 30? I made it my mini goal, to “make it” to 30, because it seemed like a realistic amount of time to still be alive.

And whaddya know – I am alive! A pat on the back for me for being able to check off that box.

I am so happy to be turning 30 and say sayonara to the 20’s. Do you know how many Facebook posts I have seen of people crying and whining over their 30th birthdays, acting as if it is some sort of tragic occasion? So many. And I always want to yell at those folks and remind them that there are many people who are not fortunate enough to see their next birthday, and would gladly trade places. I said it last year, and I will say it again: getting older is a privilege. Getting old is my DREAM. When I think of being truly “old,” I get all weepy, because I worry it might not happen for me. This might already be my “old” stage. I have no idea.

But for now, I am content with having made it through another year, and having pushed my way into another decade. What a glorious thing. I don’t know what my next goal age will be. I’ve been really scared that I won’t make it to 40. So I don’t think I’m ready yet to think that far ahead.

In fact, no goals right now. No wondering about next year, or the year after that. I made it to 30. And that’s something worth celebrating. Another year, and I’m still here.

Happy birthday to me!

**Same deal as last year — If you feel like giving me a birthday gift, please donate to my team and support breast cancer research and programs at the Princess Margaret. Do it! It’s my birthday!

Updates (but not really)

Hello faithful readers! Jut checking in because it’s been awhile. How are you? I’m just fine and dandy, thanks for asking. The weather has finally warmed up and I am loving it. We Canadians talk about the weather every chance we get. It is so rare for it not to be completely miserable out, that when it’s a nice day, we jump for joy and can’t stop talking about it. Can you believe this weather we’re having? What a gorgeous day! What are you doing on this beautiful day? Get outside… it’s so nice out! I can’t even remember what snow and freezing feels like! We revel in the warmth and sunshine and talk about it until we are blue in the face, ensuring that we have fully demonstrated our gratitude to great Mother Nature.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Now that we’ve sufficiently discussed the weather, we can move on.

What’s new with me? Everything. I went from a very laid-back cancer recovery vacation to juggling about a million different things all at the same time. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t found it a bit overwhelming, going from zero to a hundred practically overnight. My brain and body are tired. But it’s all good stuff. Very good stuff. I feel like I’m having a bit of that cliche post-cancer zest to grab life by the horns and make sure I’m using my time wisely, while I’m still here.

So you’re probably wondering — what is all this exciting stuff I’ve been occupying my time with? Well, unfortunately, I’ll be saving that for a future post or two, so you’ll have to be patient. Mostly because I just don’t have the time right now, and also because some of it is top-secret… which will make sense once I explain. But I’m not explaining now. Sorry. Aren’t you just on the edge of your seat?! You probably shouldn’t be. I’m not going to reveal that I cured cancer or something that major. Although that would be so wonderful, wouldn’t it? Not today, my friends. Not today.

In the meantime, while you await future updates, I will ask a favour of you. I am doing the Weekend to End Women’s Cancer walk yet again. I wasn’t positive if I’d do it this year, but then there were a bunch of promotional materials with my face on it, stating I would be walking again, so I felt I should follow through and not disappoint all two of my fans (Hi, Mom and Dad). But this means I have the difficult challenge once more of raising some major dough.

So if you feel so inclined and haven’t decided which charity you feel like donating to this month, I’d really appreciate if you choose me. The money goes directly to ground-breaking breast cancer research and programs at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre that help benefit people like me. We’re all in this together, right? So whip out your credit cards and show me the love.

If you’d like to donate, you can do so by clicking here. Thanks in advance to anyone who donates! (And for those of you who don’t, don’t expect a Christmas card from me this year.) (Just kidding, I don’t actually send Christmas cards, but it was the most neutral threat I could come up with on the spot.)

Hope everyone is having a lovely start to their summer. Go outside. It’s a beautiful day.

A weekend at camp

Recently I had the opportunity to pretend I was a kid again and go to sleepover camp. Only this type of camp was a little different, because it was 100% female, no kids, booze-filled, and raised a ton of money for charity.

The “Health and Fitness Weekend” was in honour of Linda Lewis and all proceeds went directly to Wellspring. Linda’s twin sister, Leora, was one of the main organizers of the event and so generously invited me to come along. My sister accompanied me for the weekend and we had an amazing time, filled with delicious food, dance parties, new friends, and a few dozen mosquito bites (seriously… I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life).

When we first arrived at Camp Manitou, us city girls were giddy over the site of the glistening water and all the greenery. We signed in at registration and then wandered into the woods to search for our cabin. Our cabin happened to be down a small incline, which was just perfect for clumsy ol’ me (i.e. I may have slammed into a big tree trunk once or twice to prevent myself from tumbling down the hill). The cabin was large, but still cozy, with several requisite bunk-beds, naturally. Since there weren’t too many of us, no one had to sleep on a top bunk, which was just fine with me. I never liked top bunks. #scaredycat

We soon met our cabin-mate, Susan, who works with Wellspring. As far as having to share a cabin in the woods with a stranger, we majorly lucked out with Susan. We had some good bonding moments over chasing mosquitos and killing them throughout the cabin.

Our first lunch meal was delicious and nutritious, as was every meal the entire weekend. Obviously since my central concern is always “what can I eat/when can I eat/why aren’t we eating,” I was pretty thrilled. Hunger was most definitely not an issue.

The weekend was structured with a jam-packed schedule each day, filled with numerous activities ranging from seminars, to aerobics, to yoga, to hiking, to boat rides, to pretty much anything you’d ever want to do during a weekend in the country. You could choose to do whatever you wanted, or not to do anything at all, which was perfect. No camp counsellors yelling at you to jump in the freezing lake and plenty of time to just lounge and read and relax. In other words, camp for adults is pretty fabulous.

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Lisa LaFlamme (anchor of CTV National News) was the MC for the weekend, and provided a lot of entertainment while we sat and ate our meals and listened to speeches. She also hosted an auction, where a ton more money was raised for Wellspring. I so badly wanted to jump up and shout “TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!” for every item, but since my current unemployment status means I don’t have extra cash to burn, I stayed in my seat and watched the other ladies duke it out for the prizes.

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We had a later addition to our cabin, Eva, who also works for Wellspring. When Eva was settling into the cabin, we got to talking, and she mentioned that she couldn’t do too much activity because she’d just had surgery.

“I had reconstruction last month because I had breast cancer,” she said.

“Oh, cool, I had breast cancer too!” I replied.

Ding ding ding! An instant friendship was forged. We talked all about our experiences and where we were at now and all the gory details. It’s pretty special, the way in which a shared cancer diagnosis can immediately make you comfortable enough with someone to talk about your bowel movements. Seriously. Eva and I had the exact same chemo regimen, and so it only took about two seconds for us to start swapping war stories. Yep, I remember that. Oh yep, that happened to me too. Cancer bonding at its finest.

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On the Saturday evening after dinner, Eva got up and made a speech in front of everyone and shared her story. She was awesome, and of course I cried, and I imagine many others did as well. But the crying did not stop there, oh no. Next up was Nikki, Linda’s beautiful daughter, who shared a poem she had written while her mom was going through cancer treatment, before she passed away. Her poem was filled with love and rage and blew everyone away. There was definitely not a dry eye in the room at that point. Nothing like a cathartic, good group cry. We then each lit a candle and sat in silence, in memory of someone close to us.

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After releasing a lot of emotions and wiping away our tears, we made our way over to a different part of the camp, where a bonfire was happening, complete with a guitarist playing songs, and of course – S’MORES. I can’t remember the last time I had a s’more, but wow, that is seriously one genius combo. Kudos to whoever the heck invented those things. Unfortunately, the bugs got the better of us again that night, attacking our faces and scalps and every inch of our poor little bitten bodies, so we cut the night a bit short and headed back to the cabin. We brought back s’mores for Susan and Eva, who were staying in to avoid the bugs, and they were very excited by the unexpected midnight snack. Cabin buddies gotta have each other’s backs.

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The weekend eventually came to an end, and we packed up our stuff, said bye to new friends, and headed back to the city. Itchy, smelly, exhausted, relaxed and happy. And of course, like any summer camp kid, sad to be home and wishing camp never had to end.

*High-res photos all taken by Sarah Lever

 

A time capsule

I’m sitting here on my laptop, looking through a folder of old photos from my phone and taking a walk down memory lane. There is nothing like a photograph to take you right back to a moment, and to remind you of how you felt in that moment. I know a lot of people don’t take photos of themselves during cancer, which is understandable. For the most part, you usually look like crap. And you don’t necessarily want to document the worst, scariest, saddest part of your life. In my case, I actually took quite a few photos. In fact, I even treated myself to a nice camera early on in my diagnosis, which I used for most of the photos that appeared on this blog.

I also snapped several photos on my crappy Blackberry (hence the mostly poor quality), which I tend to never look at, except for moments like now where I happen upon that folder. Let’s have a look, shall we?

This photo is apparently from the day I had my biopsy. So I'm assuming this was a forced smile...
This photo is apparently from the day I had my biopsy. So I’m assuming this was a forced smile…
I think this was my first time going out post-mastectomy.
I think this was my first time going out post-mastectomy.
In a Starbucks bathroom right after my pre-chemo hair chop. Got to enjoy this style for a whole month before it ended up on my floor and in my garbage bin.
In a Starbucks bathroom right after my pre-chemo hair chop. Got to enjoy this style for a whole month before it ended up on my floor and in my garbage bin.
This is the bruise I got after having dye injected for a CT scan to see if my cancer had spread. I cried so hard when I took the bandaid off and saw it. Yuck.
This is the bruise I got after having dye injected for a CT scan to see if my cancer had spread. I cried so hard when I took the bandaid off and saw it. Yuck.
Before I was wheeled away for my port placement. Feigning excitement.
Before I was wheeled away for my port placement. Feigning excitement.
A clump of my hair as it started to fall out.
A clump of my hair as it started to fall out.
My sis bought my this nail polish during chemo. It's called "Enuff is enuff."
My sis bought me this nail polish during chemo. It’s called “Enuff is enuff.”
My zombie/nearly-dead look which I sported most of the winter.
My zombie/nearly-dead look which I sported most of the winter.
One of a few chemo shopping sprees I had when I happened to have a burst of energy.
One of a few chemo shopping sprees I had when I happened to have a sudden burst of energy.
This was pretty much the lowest of the low. Splotchy steroid cheeks and bald as hell and not even able to muster up a fake smile. Yeesh.
This was pretty much the lowest of the low. Splotchy steroid cheeks and bald as hell and not even able to muster up a fake smile. Yeesh.
Chemo did all kinds of bad things to me, including causing extreme dry eyes that were constantly painful and looked disgusting. Ew, this pic.
Chemo did all kinds of bad things to me, including causing extreme dry eyes that were constantly painful and looked disgusting. Ew, this pic.
One thing that just kept on going was my appetite. So much food, all the time.
One thing that just kept on going was my appetite. So much food, all the time.
The fat-face/pumped full of steroids look.
The fat-face/pumped full of steroids look.
Walmart hat fashion.
Walmart hat fashion.
One of my few wig days.
One of my few wig days.
The beginning of the regrowth phase when I became obsessed with taking photos of my scalp to see if I had hair. This photo was taken exactly one year ago.
The beginning of the regrowth phase when I became obsessed with taking photos of my scalp to see if I had hair. This photo was taken exactly one year ago.
Is it growing? OMG I think it's growing!
Is it growing? OMG I think it’s growing!

These photos now cause a huge range of emotions when I look at them: sad, shocked, angry, proud, amazed. I’m glad I have so many photos, if anything, to remind me how much has changed in such a short amount of time. And how much, for better or worse, could change again. How it’s all out of my control and how I need to be grateful that, for the time being, my current photos consist of me smiling, having fun, feeling healthy, and with a full head of hair.

A day for mothers

Today it’s Mother’s Day. And it’s got me thinking.

I am very lucky for my mother. If you know her, you know she is the best. I don’t know where I would be without her (well, not alive, I suppose, but that’s beside the point). I am also very lucky to have an awesome mother-in-law. Whenever I hear stories of impossible mother-in-laws, I think, wow, I really lucked out on that one. So I’ve really hit the mother jackpot.

I’m also thinking about my grandmothers. Both amazing ladies. Both gone too soon. Cancer, and cancer again. I miss them every day, and today a bit more. I have had many examples of strong women in my life, and they have all played their part in shaping who I am today.

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I’m also thinking about the pain of this holiday, for so many. Like being single on Valentine’s Day. Only a lot worse.

The pain of all those who have lost their mothers, who are bombarded with marketing messages like “CALL YOUR MOM! TELL YOUR MOM YOU LOVE HER!” and have to confront the sadness of being motherless. We don’t always think about these people on this day, and what it might mean to them. The orphans among us. Heartache instead of flowers.

I’m thinking about all the women out there, having trouble conceiving, desperately wanting to be a mother. My own friend, who was hoping to be a mother on this day, and is not. So many women struggling, undergoing fertility treatments. Trying, trying, trying. What does this day mean for them?

I’m thinking about Naomi, and how she is no longer here to celebrate this day with her adorable little son. I’m thinking about her husband and how this day might make him feel. And all the Mother’s Days they’ll have to face without her, and the sheer unfairness of it all. I’m thinking of how much she loved her son and beamed when she spoke about him, and what an amazing mother she was, for the short time she got to be one.

And, yes, I’m thinking about me. My feelings. I am not a mother. If not for cancer, would I be celebrating my first Mother’s Day as a new mom right now? Possibly. Likely. Will I ever have a Mother’s Day, as a mom? No one can answer that question. The option to have a child, for now, has been taken away from me. Mother’s Day wasn’t made for young women who had cancer. I don’t think Hallmark makes a card for that one.

Happy Mother’s Day. To the many beautiful mothers I am lucky enough to know. To those who are without their moms. And to those of us hanging on to the hope, that one day, this day might mean something different, and might be for us, too.