Cancer break

Lately I’m finding it very difficult to write about cancer stuff. I sit down at my computer, almost every day, feeling inspired to write a blog post or work on this “book” that I haven’t touched or really thought about in a long time. And then quickly, the motivation goes right out the door. I put on another episode of Scandal and instantly forget about whatever it was that I felt I needed to get down on paper (and by “paper” I mean “computer”… but that obviously sounds way less romantic and writer-ish).

I’m not sure why this has been happening, but I think much of it is due to the fact that I am majorly cancer’d out. I have not had one day where I haven’t had to think or speak about cancer in a very long time. It is exhausting thinking and talking about such heavy things all the time.

I keep trying to have a day where I don’t think about cancer once the entire day, but I have not come close to succeeding. People say that eventually the day comes where you realize, “Hey, I haven’t thought about cancer in a week!” Honestly, I can’t imagine that really happening. I might think about it less on certain days than others, but the idea of it being entirely absent from my thoughts just seems impossible right now. It is such a major part of my life. I didn’t invite it in, but there it is, and its presence is constant.

I read up on the “cancer news” all the time. It might not be the best idea, but I really can’t help it. This is my universe. You might work in marketing, or finance, and you probably keep track of what is going on in those sectors so you can stay up to date and feel in the loop. Well, it is the same for me. My world just happens to be a bit less flashy and a bit less “something to talk about around the water cooler.” But I like to keep informed. I want to know what’s going on. This is my life, and my health, after all.

Cancer is not just something I had, or something that is in the past. It has become a huge part of my life. I used to get emails from people asking me for movie or music recommendations. Now I get emails asking for advice about getting through chemo and radiation. This has become my new area of expertise. When people have a friend who is diagnosed, they send them to me. The cancer guru. The Dear Abby of planet cancer.

And really, I’m okay with it. I love helping people, however I can. I like reading about clinical trials and drug advancements and understanding a very complex world that until recently, I knew very little about. I am a passionate person and I become highly invested in whatever it is I am currently working on or learning about. And, as unfortunate as it may be, my “job” and my “work” has been cancer for over a year now. I am drawn to books and movies about cancer. I like talking to people about their own experiences with cancer. I suppose, like anyone, I want to feel like I belong. And as much as I want to just be a “normal” young woman, thinking about things like work, and social events, and all that regular-people stuff… that is not my life. It is part of my life, sure. But so is cancer. There it is, and there it will always be.

But all that to say that sometimes, I just need a break. Sometimes I am literally so tired from thinking about it and writing about it, living and breathing it, that I need to lie down and take a nap. Sometimes I just need to turn my brain off, from the research, the statistics, the drugs, the fear, and the reality. Sometimes I just need to turn on the TV and watch The Bachelor, which is pretty much the opposite of thinking about cancer. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to watch The Bachelor premiere (and you should too, so we can talk about it) and I’m going to give myself a whole hour, free from cancer, free from the heavy stuff. You might need a break from your screaming baby. Or your beeping Blackberry. Or your cancer. Whatever it is… sometimes, we all just need a little break.

Oh lordy, now I really wish I had a Kit Kat.
Oh lordy, now I really wish I had a Kit Kat.

Like me? Hate cancer? Read on.

Thanks everyone for all of your excitement over my last post. Indeed, it was happy news and I was glad to share it with all of you. In other happy news, I have just begun my final week of radiation. Now that my burn is progressing and getting more uncomfortable, I am very eager to say farewell to radiation and my daily hospital routine. The next few weeks will be my “recovery” period, which I’m very much looking forward to, since I haven’t really had one of those since all of this began. I am feeling quite exhausted (which has been exacerbated by not having a functional A/C unit during an unfortunate heat wave), so it will be nice to have some time to relax and enjoy, without the familiar looming of a new phase of treatment quickly approaching.

One thing I am looking forward to is the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers 60KM walk in September. This walk benefits research, clinical improvements, and survivorship initiatives at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, which is where I have been receiving my treatment and care. The folks at Princess Margaret do amazing things with the money raised from this walk. As someone who has personally benefited from these amazing things, it is important for me to try to give back.

There are many things that are needed to facilitate cancer research initiatives, but the main thing that’s needed? Money. Lots of money. And maybe you have some money. And maybe you’re angry that young women like me are getting breast cancer. Or maybe you’re angry that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, meaning you will likely be closely connected to someone who has to deal with this craptastic disease. Maybe you want to play some small part in fighting back and making a difference. Maybe you want to pat yourself on the back, knowing you could be helping to improve or even save the lives of your friends, your sisters, your daughters. Me. You.

Did my guilt trip work there? Excellent. Now it’s time to pay up.

Everyone who participates in the 2-day walk has to raise a minimum of $2000. Obviously I’d like to raise even more than that. I’d like to raise a million. A trillion. A centillion. But we’ll start small. For now.

If you’d like to donate, you can do so on my personal page by clicking this link. Click the “donate online now” button, and follow the instructions. Anything you can give, big or small, is very appreciated. (But obviously bigger is better. Always better.)

(You can also check out my husband’s page and if you are his friend or family member, or a simple admirer, please donate to his page as he needs to raise the funds as well.)

Usually I really don’t like asking people for money. It makes me a bit uncomfortable. But this year, I have no problem with it. We can all play a small part in fighting cancer. I tried fighting it by torturing my body for the good part of a year. You can try fighting it by throwing a bit of cash at the problem.

If you ask me, I’d say you got the better deal.

The beginning of the Weekend walk last year. Waiting to hear my cancer diagnosis, but still managing to smile for the camera.
The beginning of the Weekend walk last year. One of the last photos taken of me pre-cancer diagnosis.

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. 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)