Steph’s Cancer Tips – Part II

Time for some more tips! To read the first installment, click here.

Entertaining Yourself

If your cancer treatment drags on for awhile, as mine did, you will find you have a considerable amount of downtime. You will likely think to yourself, “Great, this will be the perfect time to read those huge novels I haven’t had time for and finally watch the entire box set of The Wire.” WRONG! So very wrong. Here’s the thing: your “downtime” during cancer treatment is not fun. It’s not relaxing. In my case, most of the time I felt like absolute crap. There is no way I could have focused on a book. Even reading a tabloid was challenging for me at times. And stimulating television or cinema? Don’t even think about it. When you are in pain and can barely lift your head up, you don’t want to watch anything thought-provoking, intelligent, or heavy. There is a reason that I watched two entire seasons of The Real Housewives franchise while I was doing chemo — the show is complete garbage and requires a very low level of mental acuity to follow.

Good chemo movie
Good chemo movie
Bad chemo movie
Bad chemo movie

There were many films I thought I would watch while I was sick. Classics, documentaries, award-winners. WRONG AGAIN! I found the only DVD’s I wanted to watch were those I had seen a thousand times and provided comfort. Back to the Future, Edward Scissorhands, Big, Pretty Woman, Hook, every Disney movie ever. It didn’t matter if I passed out in the middle of the movie or just closed my eyes while I listened to the buzz of the TV.  I didn’t need to focus and pay attention to what was going on. The purpose of TV and movies was 100% distraction. A way to pass the hours, in hopes that the days would go a little bit faster. A small respite from reality.

So in conclusion: Honey Boo Boo = Good. Six Feet Under = Bad (although it is my favourite show of all time, but it’s about the last thing I’d recommend you watch while doing chemotherapy). Dumb and Dumber = Good.  Memento = Bad. Got it? Good.

Dealing with stupidity

If you have cancer, chances are, people are going to say some pretty dumb things to you.

People will ask you details about your prognosis, or say thing like “You’re going to be fine, right?” They will compare you to their 95 year-old great grandmother who had a small non-invasive cancer that was 100% different from the cancer you have. They will tell you stories of someone they knew who had cancer, that end with the person dying. They will make awkward comments about boob jobs, insinuating that a regular boob job is in any way similar to having your cancerous breast surgically removed. They will try to show you they know “exactly how you feel” by comparing your cancer to a very temporary, highly non-threatening malady they suffered from 5 years ago. They will say, “I know you are going to survive this” even though you are painfully aware that you might not survive this and that it has nothing to do with your positive attitude, or lack thereof.

I’m betting this lady has said some dumb things in her time.

Yes, people say some dumb things. This is because most people have no idea what to say or what to ask when someone has cancer. There is no guidebook. It’s understandable that people will say the wrong thing and mess up from time to time, as I’m sure I have many times in the past, pre-cancer. You have to give people a break. 99% of them have good intentions and have no idea that what they’ve said might be hurtful/anxiety-provoking/insensitive/ignorant.

Of course, if someone says something extremely stupid or blatantly offensive, you can always kick them, or take the high road and explain to them why what they’ve said has upset you. But all of that will get exhausting, fast. I just choose to smile and nod. That is usually the answer to dealing with most things: Smile and nod.

Using the Internet as a resource

Ooooh this is a tricky one. I love the internet. I love having information at my fingertips. But as anyone who has ever Googled a health issue knows, the world wide web can be a very dangerous place. So here is my advice to you: TREAD LIGHTLY. Seriously.

There are some great things you can get from the internet if you have been diagnosed with cancer. Friendly people on message boards sharing the tricks of the trade for dealing with treatment side effects. Reputable websites that can allow you to better understand your disease and your treatment options.  (Note: there are also lots of bogus, scammy sites out there, so you will need a basic level of media literacy to navigate online resources. Your hospital should also be able to provide you with a long list of reputable websites.)

However, you need to be careful with how you use this information and how far down the rabbit hole you wish to go. Just a few evenings ago, I was reading some article, that led me to search for more information, and eventually I ended up stumbling on some studies that provided some very upsetting stats on survival rates for young women with breast cancer. As I read more and more, I became more anxious and riddled with fear. I burst into tears and sobbed to my husband, “I’m… gonna… dieeeeee… it’s… not… faaaaaairrrr waaaaah bleerghhhh.” Something along those lines. And I had been feeling fine just moments earlier. But a simple click of the mouse here, and another one there, and I had stumbled upon some really depressing information, that was not helpful to me in the least.

You’re going to find some info on the internet that you don’t like. I mean, hi, you have cancer. People die from cancer, and there are many things on the internet that wish to remind you of this fact, at every twist and turn you take. You must learn to shut out the noise. Remember that what you’re reading is some study of some group of people, and you are an individual. If the stats say that 99 out of 100 people died, that still means one lived, right? And that one person could be you, right? Definitely. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I also try to remember that even the best studies have their faults, and even the most thorough researchers cannot be 100% accurate all the time.

I could spend hours reading expert opinions and numbers that tell me the likelihood that I will or won’t be around five years from now. And sometimes I do, because I can’t help it. It’s like stumbling upon a horrific car accident and not being able to turn away. But you know what? You really should turn away. Keep on driving. Keep on moving. Because, for today, you are alive. You are not a statistic. And you really should be making better use of your time spent on the internet, like watching dumb clips on YouTube.

 

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. 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

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. 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.

Brandi

On Friday, I went to the ophthalmologist to try to get some answers concerning the many unfortunate things happening in and all around my poor eyes. It was confirmed that I have “severely” dry eyes, and something called blepharitis, which is the reason for my styes, itchiness, redness, grossness, and general discomfort. I was given many various things to put in my eyes to try to help and a new bedtime eye care ritual that is somewhat unpleasant. The doctor said it could take several months/half a year for the styes to clear up. When I asked, But how long until the constant watering of my eyes goes away, he replied, That will be for the rest of your life.

Chemotherapy, the gift that just keeps giving.

I am doing what I can do to get the situation under control and praying that the entire mess is not going to be chronic and as ridiculously dire as he made it sound. That is completely unacceptable to me, since I currently can’t do much of anything because of my stinking eyes. So we’ll see what happens. (Get it? We’ll “see” what happens? Never pass up an opportunity to make a pun, even if you have cancer and have learned your eyes might be damaged forever.)

Anyway. I’m going to now change to the subject of wigs. When I first learned I would be losing my hair, I wanted to make sure I had a wig that I could use to cover up my bald head. The second after I shave my head, I am putting on a wig and never taking it off, I said. Before starting chemo, I went to a few professional wig shops in the city and tried on some very expensive options (many good wigs can cost well over $1000). It wasn’t as fun as I had wanted it to be. The whole thing felt very strange. All the salespeople seemed to talk to me in this hushed voice. They looked at me with sad eyes, like I might die at any moment. The whole ordeal made me uncomfortable, as did spending so much money on something I didn’t even like all that much. I left each store without purchasing anything, thinking maybe I’d go back eventually. I never did.

After I lost my hair, I was surprised how comfortable I felt going out with just a hat or a scarf. I mean, I have cancer. I’m writing about it. It’s not a secret. I no longer felt the need to hide under fake hair. I was bald throughout most of my chemo, and felt okay about it, which surprised me. I still am amazed I posted photos of myself so freely on the internet, for all to see. If you had asked me if I would do that four months ago, I would have told you you were crazy. But I guess the hair loss made me a bit more confident, in some strange way.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I missed out a bit on the whole wig part of chemo. Because being bald is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend, just for a little bit. To feel and look like someone who isn’t sick. The more that my appearance has deteriorated with the cumulative effects of chemo, the more I understand that. And the more I miss having hair.

And so, I ordered a wig. Now that I am done with chemo. Which is a bit backwards, but I like to do things my own way. I also broke another rule by ordering it on the internet from some random wig site. This is something “wig experts” at the fancy boutiques will say not to do, because you can’t really tell how it will fit your head, or match your face. However, I am pretty good at figuring stuff out and doing research. So I read through some reviews and looked at some photos and finally settled on a style and colour that I thought might work. It was a good price for the quality, and most will be reimbursed via insurance, so I decided if I don’t like it or wear it only once, it doesn’t really matter. It gave me something to do, and something to be excited about, and possibly something to make me feel a tiny bit better during a low point in my cancer adventure. So that was enough for me.

Yesterday, my wig arrived. The wig’s name is “Brandi” and she is pretty sassy. When I put it on, it reminded me of my old hair. I started brushing it and it has been so long since I have brushed my hair, that I nearly cried. But I was having too much fun playing with Brandi to cry. Too much fun looking in the mirror and remembering what I used to look like. What life used to look like. And what it could look like again.

Ladies and gents: introducing, Brandi.

I am wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes. Or maybe my alter-ego Brandi is just so wild that she wears her sunglasses at night.

 

Why is this night different from all other nights

Tonight marks the first night of Passover, which is typically one of my favourite holidays. But right now, I am not in the festive mood. Unfortunately, the holiday decided to fall this year during my darkest of chemo days, so I do not get to celebrate. Thanks a bunch, lunar calendar. I am lying on a couch, alone, cursing the world, missing out on my family’s seder. I am not eating brisket or the many other delicious Jewish delicacies that soothe my soul. I would not even be able to taste the flavours if I tried. Instead of the happy, warm feelings I usually feel this time of year, I am filled with anger, sadness, loneliness. I am a Bitter Betty. Lately I feel as though holidays only exist as a painful reminder of what I am missing out on. What normal life was once like. I am watching life go by around me, and I want to jump in, but I can’t. And yes, I know one day, I will get back to living life and doing fun things and blah blah blah. I haven’t completely given up. But for today, I am having a big fat bad cancer day and I just want to wallow and feel sorry for myself. I want my damn brisket and I want to be able to taste it.

I want these so badly right now.
I want these so badly right now.

There was so much excitement over my last chemo round and ringing the bell and I thank all of you who rallied around me. It definitely makes everything easier, having nice friends like you. I wish I could be your happy cancer patient all the time. I wish I could be your shining beacon of positivity and let you know that you can make every day a great one if you just think happy thoughts, no matter how dire your situation. But the truth is, on days like this, when my drugs are making me completely looney and I can’t think straight and I haven’t slept more than a few hours in four days, positive thinking isn’t really going to get me anywhere.

I know for some people who are walking the cancer line, it is fundamental to their process to always keep on the sunny side. Always on the sunny side. And that is fine. Whatever gets you through. But for me, I have learned that sometimes I just need to be comfortable in my misery and sink into it. I don’t think this makes me weak, although all the images of super peppy cancer patients that saturate the media sometimes make me feel different. But I guess no one wants to see images of people crying all the time and looking like they’re a few inches away from death. Fair enough. If I were healthy and living my life, mostly oblivious of my own mortality, I wouldn’t want to think about those things either. But I don’t have that luxury. I have to stare at my reflection as I stumble past the mirror in my room in the middle of the night, and wonder who that shell of a person is and why she is standing in my place. No fuzzy, happy thoughts. Just reality. For the time being, at least.

Yesterday, I forced myself to go for a short walk with my husband, since the sun was actually out. I hid under my hood with my big sunglasses, as I often do these days. I started crying. I hate all these stupid bitches with their stupid hair. I actually said that out loud. I never in my life thought I would be so jealous of people, just for having hair. It’s not like it is their fault. You don’t have cancer, and I do. Bad luck for me, but no one’s fault. Yet still, it’s a challenge not to feel envious sometimes, of all you beautiful non-cancer types with your full heads of hair. Walking, laughing. Eating brisket. I want those things. I want them now.

I am pretty sure I will completely regret writing this post in a week when my chemo is wearing off and the steroids have left my system, but I do feel the need to document my worst days, for some reason. Maybe for the book I might write. Although I’m not sure if depressing cancer stuff is a hot topic for a bestsellers list. Maybe I just want to make other cancer folks who are reading this and having a crap day feel a bit less alone, or feel a bit less pressured to be something they are not. Or maybe when I do experience sweet moments again, I will want to look back at days and weeks like these, to make those moments that much sweeter and remind myself to savor every second. Like when I am one of those annoying bitches, walking around with my hair, without a care in the world. Oh what a day that will be.

Happy Passover to all.

Love, The Passover Grinch

Ringing the bell

I’m happy that I made so many of you happy with my last post. Tomorrow is chemo #6, so since I will probably start depressing the hell out of you by this time next week, I figured I would check in again while the going is mostly good.

I am currently chomping on some crackers to take with my pre-chemo dose of steroids. I will be on a lower dose this round, which hopefully will minimize some psychotic feelings and fat face and other issues, while still doing its job of mitigating serious reactions to the chemotherapy. I have learned that most of cancer treatment is trying to find a middle ground between making sure your treatment is doing its job and making sure you aren’t completely miserable and in constant agony. That sweet spot is a very difficult one to find, indeed.

I am still feeling pretty decent, all things considered. I have developed some uncomfortable muscle pain the past couple days, which I imagine is a delayed reaction to the cumulative chemo sessions. I also have constant runny eyes which can make it difficult to see, and a constant drippy nose, which can make it difficult not to be gross. Some side effects can show up after completing chemo (something fun to look forward to!) and last for quite awhile. It is difficult to deal with the toll all of this has taken on my body. A lot of people don’t realize the severe effects cancer treatment has on your physical well-being, long after the treatment is over. I worry sometimes about long-term muscle pain, joint pain, exhaustion, fogginess. I worry that people won’t understand and will expect me just to be like any other normal young gal. But I will never be normal. Nothing about this is normal. I guess I will just have to deal with it, same as I have been with everything else. And hope that I will find nice people to carry me up a flight of stairs when my legs start to ache as they do now.

So tomorrow is my final chemo. I made it through to the end of this grueling part of my aggressive treatment plan. At my hospital, when one finishes their chemo treatments, there is a bell you’re supposed to ring and people clap and whatnot. I’ve been a bit torn about ringing the bell. In three weeks, I will be right back in the chemo chair, because I need to continue to receive targeted antibody drugs for an entire year, due to my badass type of cancer. There are still side effects, but they should not be nearly as severe. I have already started on those drugs, but since they’re currently mixed in with my chemo cocktail, it’s difficult to know which side effect is a result of which drug. Hopefully, it will be a breeze compared to what I’ve been dealing with. But the fact that I will still be hooked up to bags of drugs every three weeks for a year makes me feel a bit reluctant to ring the bell.

However, after some deliberation, I have decided I am going to ring that goddamn bell. I have had to sit in that chair many times, with cytotoxic liquid dripping into my veins, hearing the bell ring and feeling envious of the person ringing it. That lucky bastard. So, now it’s my turn. I’ve earned it. And around this time next year, I will ring it again. Harder. In all likelihood, I will probably break it. Poor bell. You have no idea what’s coming your way.

Needing this pep talk to get me through tomorrow. Thanks, Coach Taylor. I can always count on you.

Looking forward

RIP eyelashes, you are sorely missed.
RIP eyelashes, you are sorely missed.

I looked at the results earlier this week from my routine blood draw, and for the first time, it showed a red flag instead of a check mark. The change alarmed me, as I stared at the ominous graphic of a down-facing arrow, signifying a drop of some sort. The description stated that I am anemic. As someone who has never failed a test, I was disheartened to see I had failed this one, after having a perfect score thus far throughout my chemo treatments. It was also an odd feeling, realizing that I am not in control of what is happening to my body right now. And things are most definitely happening. I suppose this should be reassuring, but there’s also something upsetting about it. I found the staff oncologist and asked her if the drop in my levels was anything to be concerned over. She explained that my numbers were still fine, and to be expected, for someone undergoing chemotherapy. The regular range only applies to regular people.

I am growing tired of the whole chemo routine and having all these bizarre things happen to my body.  I have about half an eyebrow on both sides and a significant portion of my once lusciously long eyelashes have fallen out. I was reading today that for many women, it takes a very long time for their lashes to come back, and often when they do, they are not as long as they once were. Something so silly, yet it made me feel quite sad. I have a few “things” and my lashes are (were) one of them. I often get compliments on them or people asking me if they’re real (they are….were). It can be rough to think of some of the long-term side effects from the chemotherapy, or the ones that will linger for some time. It is also somewhat of a heavy feeling, to think of the treatments and long road I still have to walk after chemo is complete. Despite what future post-chemo blood results might show, I know I will never quite be a “regular” person again. But let’s be honest, I never really was.

So in order to not get completely depressed, I’ve decided to make a list of some of the things I am looking forward to after chemo is over. Because there are things, and I need to remember them, especially when all that is going through my head right now is the fact that in a few days, I will once again be in a massive amount of pain and threatening to jump out windows.

Here is what I am looking forward to:

Eating sushi… the real kind
Not being afraid that every person who coughs or sneezes is going to kill me
Grocery shopping without passing out in the cereal aisle
Spring and the end of a miserable winter
Going for long walks
Not feeling like I am walking on hot coals
Hair regrowth, hopefully in the right places
Not having people stare at me with a does she have cancer or is she just some artsy girl wearing a scarf on her head look
Eating a real caesar salad
Having my skin return to normal and losing the not-so-sexy red patches that have taken up residence on my cheeks
Gaining my energy back (this one can take months, or years, but even a small increase will be something to celebrate)
Writing bitchy comments on people’s facebook statuses such as “I just endured four grueling months of chemo, but I do really sympathize with your seasonal cold that lasted three days.” (I will never actually have the nerve to do that, but I think about it all. the. time.)
Not having a perma-runny nose
Tastebuds that work properly
Not basing my entire life around my chemo schedule
Planning the most needed vacation ever in the history of vacations, even though I still can’t take one for some time
Being able to say I’m 28 years old and survived chemotherapy. And I’m still standing.

To do or not to do

This is how I'd look right now, if I were a cartoon dwarf.
Oh, Grumpy. I feel ya, pal.

Many people believe that when it comes to cancer, things are fairly clear-cut. You have this type of cancer, you follow this type of treatment, and you do whatever the doctors tell you to do. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case, although it sure sounds nice. Cancer is all about unknowns and grey areas. This can be especially true when you are a young patient, as many of the studies and numbers do not necessarily reflect people of a younger age, who are often “high-risk” – the fabulous term with which I have been labeled by doctors. Of course, there have been many advances in cancer research and treatment. But even so, sometimes there is not enough data and information to work with, and ultimately, the patient is the one who has to decide what they feel most comfortable with and how they want to proceed in many areas of their cancer treatment.

As a control-freak, you would think it would thrill me to get to make choices and not be told what to do in a given situation. But no, my friends. That is not the case. You see, when it comes to making decisions that can affect your ability to be alive, it’s not such a great feeling to be in control. In fact, it’s quite a lot of pressure, and frankly, a pain in the ass.

Throughout my cancer “journey” (barf… someone find me a better word for “journey”), I have had to make many impossible decisions. Decisions that affect my body, my health, my chance of survival, among other things. This past week, I have been confronted with yet another huge decision in regards to (what feels like) my never-ending treatment. And again, doctors can give me the facts, but not advise. It is in my hands. My stupid, sweaty-palmed hands.

As a young girl, I was an excellent student. Straight A’s all the way, occasionally referred to as “The Brain” or “Brainer” by my schoolmates (not the coolest nickname one could possess, but I suppose there are worse). I would ace a test or get accolades from my teacher for a story I wrote, without putting in a great deal of effort. This continued throughout university, where my roommates would get frustrated at my ability to write an essay or finish an exam at a dizzying pace, while they would still be trying to come up with a thesis statement.

The student inside me, who has been locked away for years, has returned as a result of my new current interest: curing my cancer. I spend endless hours reading studies that I really have no business reading, in that I usually have to google every other word to make sense of the terminology. I read articles, message boards, books, trying to stay on top of all the current and relevant info pertaining to my particular case. Trying to search for the answer to whatever question I am currently faced with.

But unfortunately, unlike school where I could essentially bullshit my way into getting a great mark (one teacher in high school actually told me I did that and I took it as a very high compliment), I can’t do that here. I can’t make the answers appear. I can’t pretend that I know them all. Because no one does. Most of it is just a crap-shoot, where you make a decision, pray it was the right one, and move on the best you can. If you can.

Today I feel tired of making these big decisions and trying to be the all-star cancer student. I feel over it. The Brain can only handle so much. As my mother said to me earlier, I should be making decisions about what colour nail polish to wear, not trying to figure out whether X or Y may or may not kill me. (Note to self: must paint nails.)

So, all this to say, I’m feeling a bit grumpy today. Grumpiness is another unfortunate side effect of cancer. And, as the cherry on top, tomorrow I get to do chemo #3. They better have a good stock of popsicles this time. Although hopefully I won’t have to make a choice between flavours. I don’t need anything else on my plate right now.

This just in – cancer sucks

Sorry for the lack of updates this week and to all the many wonderful people in my life who have written to me and who did not receive a response. Please know that I love getting your messages and I feel like a really crappy friend for not being able to write back. Part of it has been because writing a text or email has felt like a herculean task for the last several days, due to a complete lack of energy. The other half is that, quite frankly, I have had nothing funny or upbeat to say. No positive spin. I have been a sadsack and a major Debbie Downer and I don’t wish to bring everyone down with me. So sometimes, it is just too difficult to respond.

I know that often people write and say “I’m not sure what to say”, but know that I still really appreciate those messages and I like to hear that you’re thinking of me. No one knows what to say. Cancer is stupid. It’s a real conversation killer. But saying something is always better than saying nothing. So in conclusion, please keep writing to me, never worry about saying the “right” thing, and please don’t think I’m a big ungrateful meanie for not always writing back. Thank you.

Although I don’t have many uplifting words of wisdom to share right now, I do still feel compelled to keep up with this blog, even through the dark times. There are now many people who actually follow it and check in for updates, which is pretty neat. I was even recognized by a young nurse at the hospital last weekend who had seen the blog, which made me feel like a total celeb (Hi, Gillian!). So here I am, to tell it like it is, and risk majorly ruining everyone’s pre-holiday cheer. You have been warned.

Cancer has kicked my ass this week.

It took all of 3 days into my chemo cycle to contract some sort of virus from hell. My legs and head have ached to the point that I wondered if it would be possible to cut them off and somehow float around without a head, or legs. I have been so tired that just thinking about going to the kitchen to get a glass of water feels like I am trying to solve some type of impossible mathematical equation. I have lost my typically ravenous appetite and as such, have lost a lot of weight. I have cried and screamed in agony, with my poor husband standing by, likely googling phone numbers for local exorcists. I have felt completely detached from everyone else’s reality. Babies. Work. Holidays. Vacations. Life. I stare at images of these things on my computer and feel like an alien, looking down from Planet Cancer, not understanding what it is I am looking at. And when I think that I still have many long months ahead of feeling like this, or worse, it makes me want to punch a hole right through my wall. Except I don’t have the energy to punch anything. So I have to just imagine it, which is completely unsatisfying, and nowhere near as bad-ass.

So that is my reality for the time being.

Right now, I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel a “positive” attitude. I don’t feel up to the task of inspiring anyone. I want someone to knock me over the head and wake me up when this is all over. I want to give up and throw in the towel. I want to be able to go outside for a walk, get my own groceries, go to work, and post boring photos on Facebook of me doing boring things. I want to be healthy and happy. I want to not feel like a burden to everyone around me. Mostly, I just want my life back. A simple, normal life, and nothing more.

Does anyone have any leads on this whole cancer cure thing? If you do, feel free to write to me.

I promise I’ll respond to that one.

Hair, there, everywhere

Honeymoon hair, in all its natural glory. Sigh.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. As a child, before I learned of the brilliant invention that is the flat-iron, my hair was huge, frizzy, and unruly. I would break into a sweat while I attempted to blow-dry my thick, wavy hair into a sleek, straight mane, usually unsuccessfully, while developing cramping sensations in my arm.  I would ask hairdressers to thin it out as much as possible. I was always envious of girls who could just wash their hair and walk out the door, without looking like a bird’s nest had landed on top of their head.

Over time, I have come to appreciate my hair. With the right tools, I can wear it smooth and straight. I can also wear it wavy, or with more of a curl. I’ve learned that thick hair is, in fact, a good thing, and something many women desire. I receive compliments on my hair constantly, and somehow, it has become a huge part of my identity, and one of my favourite features.

And in a short time, I am going to lose it. It will thin, it will fall out, and then it will be gone. Be careful what you wish for.

A lot of people say that losing one’s hair is the most difficult part of the whole cancer ordeal. Because that’s when you finally start to look sick and when it all becomes very real. I don’t want it to become real. I want to run away and hide in a corner and wrap myself up in my precious hair and stay like that forever. But alas, in two days, I must go murder some cancer cells, so unfortunately I do not have that option.

I have been trying to prepare for the inevitable hair loss. I like to be prepared. I like to be in control. (Note: Control freaks and cancer do not play well together.) I cut off a great deal of my hair, in hopes that it would make the transition a bit easier. I’ve looked at some wigs and will eventually buy one, but am not thrilled about the prospect. Sure, it’s fun to try on different hairstyles and accessories. But ultimately, it’s a wig. Or a scarf. Or whatever. And I will be bald under it. And there’s not much fun about that.

Yesterday, on two occasions, I was told by strangers that I reminded them of Anne Hathaway. One woman said I should do a pixie cut style like Anne has been sporting as of late. I didn’t tell her that I likely would be forced to go that route eventually. Not because I have any choice. Not because I’m getting paid to star in an epic movie musical. But because I have cancer. And cancer doesn’t give, but it sure does take. It takes your plans. It takes your dreams. It takes your peace of mind. It takes your health. And it takes your hair. Your beautiful, flowing, thick hair.

Cancer sure is a greedy bitch.

But I will grin and bear it. I will make jokes. I will attempt to be the most badass bald girl you’ve ever seen. I will pretend like this was all part of my master plan, ever since I was a little girl and threatened to shave off my wild hair. Because when cancer kicks me, I will just kick it back. Harder. Right where it hurts.