The waiting game

There hasn’t been too much to report lately. I feel as though I am in a strange state of limbo. But not the fun kind of limbo, like these people are experiencing:

The fun limbo. Although not really that fun if you're terribly uncoordinated like I am.
The fun limbo. Although not really that fun if you’re terribly uncoordinated like I am.

Rather, I am in a sort of cancer limbo. Somewhere in between being sick and being healthy. In between the chaos and instability of the past year, and what I hope to be the more calm and predictable pace of the next phase. I feel as though I am just waiting. Waiting to be approved to return to work. Waiting to have my 3-month check-up with my oncologist. Waiting for my hair to grow back. Waiting for all the plans I have to become a reality. Waiting for my life to resume.

And of course, waiting to see if the treatment worked, and to know that I didn’t go through hell for nothing. Unfortunately, I’ll be stuck in limbo waiting for that particular answer for quite awhile. So I guess I need to adapt and adjust accordingly. Which, luckily, I’ve gotten pretty good at.

I am also waiting to see if these terrible hot flashes will subside. I got about a two week break between chemo-induced hot flashes and hormone-induced hot flashes. Turns out, they are pretty similar. I even take a mild anti-depressant to try to combat them, but it seems to be failing me. Just another pill to pop.

I’m sure there are many menopausal ladies out there that can relate to the horrific discomfort that is the HOT FLASH. I wake up multiple times throughout the night, feeling like my face is on fire, with my body covered in sweat. Then I lie awake, remember oh, right, I had cancer. This sucks. And I wait for it to pass until I can finally go back under the blanket, and wait for the next one to hit.

This isn’t an uncommon thing for a woman to experience. I get that. But I am not supposed to be experiencing this for another 25 years. I try to flip my thinking and remind myself, I’m doing this to prevent a recurrence of cancer. I’m doing this to increase the odds I won’t die. And when I think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so bad. A small price to pay, really. But when I feel as though I’m on fire, I’m not thinking about the benefits of cancer treatment. I’m thinking about how shitty it is to have cancer in the first place. How frustrated I feel that I will be dealing with side effects for a long, long time.

Last week, I went to a Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z concert in a big stadium. I don’t typically go to shows like this. I prefer more intimate performances, and less of a spectacle. But I thought it would be a fun time, and it really was. It was good for me and my husband to be out, on a weeknight, doing the kind of thing your average young couple in the city might do.

There was a moment when I looked around at the other people in the crowd who surrounded me. My peers. People my age. Girls with their long hair, and their breasts sitting right where they should be. And I thought to myself, I have been through so much more than any of you. You all have no idea.

When the concert began, I felt my emotions take hold and my eyes even got a bit misty. It still feels surreal, to be out, in public, enjoying myself. I have experienced so much misery in such a condensed period of time, that the happy moments catch me off guard. Those moments where I feel like my life has returned, like it was all a bad dream.

And then, I was hit with a hot flash. My face felt as though it would melt right off onto the dirty floor, and flow through the aisles, mixed with all the spilled beers that had been kicked by overzealous concertgoers. I thought I might pass out and topple over my chair, while everyone around me continued to dance and sing along, oblivious to my scorching body temperature. I remembered the cancer. And that I’m not like those other people. And that I’m not back to my normal life. Not just yet.

And so, I wait.

My friend drew this for me when I was doing chemo. It is super hostile and I love it.
My friend drew this for me when I was doing chemo. It is super hostile and I love it.

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)

 

Stuff

Hi there! I don’t really know what this post is going to be about. Just stuff, I guess. So here’s some stuff:

If you’ve been following my Facebook page, you might know this first bit of news. I’ve started going out naked. Ok, no, not that kind of naked. But naked up top. On my head. I did it for the first time on Saturday. First to a street festival, then to see The Book of Mormon. I had initially told myself (during one of my many self-talks) that I wasn’t going to go out sans head cover for awhile still, until I really felt like I just looked like any other lady with short hair. But I’m an impatient person and I got tired of waiting.

At first, all I noticed was how cold the wind felt when it hit my head. Hair really accounts for a lot of one’s body warmth. After awhile, I kind of forgot about it, although it’s hard to ignore the stares that I get. My sister says they stare because they think I’m pretty, but I’m not sure I’m really sold on that. I think most people stare because they are trying to figure out what my “deal” is. And to be fair, I’d probably stare a bit too.

When I catch my reflection in a window or mirror, I can’t help but hear “Well, Sinead O’rebellion…” over and over in my head. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably watch more movies.


Sometimes, I look at other people and try to imagine what they’d look like with no hair. Or I see people with hair like mine, and I tell myself I look better than them. I realize that’s really terrible and I probably shouldn’t be admitting that out loud. But I do what I gotta do to cope. And if convincing myself that everyone else would look ugly bald is the ticket, then I’m going with it.

I’ve started taking photos to monitor my hair growth, because otherwise, I don’t believe it’s growing. Maybe these photos will help someone going through chemo, because I can’t tell you how many times I tried to find images of people’s post-chemo hair growth.

Today, bird's eye view.
Today, bird’s eye view.
Front view
Front view. I’m not really sure what colour my hair is at this point. Many people have grey hair post-chemo. I wouldn’t say mine is grey, but it’s definitely not the deep brown it once was. Kind of a mouse-y brown. But I imagine it is temporary.

You also might be interested to know that my body hair is returning in full-force. Just in time for summer, swimsuits, and short shorts. Yippee!

Today I had radiation #4. Only 21 more to go! Oy.

At this point, although it’s very early days, I still have no complaints besides some issues with mistakes in my schedule that hopefully will not keep happening, now that the staff know I am a force to be reckoned with. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my breath with a tube in my mouth and a plug on my nose. Maybe after all of this, I can become a champion scuba diver. Does such a thing exist? I don’t know, but regardless, I don’t think that is my calling.

Today I also decided to pop into the lab to get my routine blood work done. My last couple tests had one level increase that prompted a new wave of panic in me, even though my doctors told me not to worry about it. But once I learned what this increase could possibly signify, it was hard for me to ignore it. So I was a bit hesitant to check my results this afternoon, but as mentioned previously, I am extremely impatient. So I held my breath and checked, and what do you know. Everything is back to normal. All green check marks. This is the first time I’ve seen everything be normal in awhile. And even though no one believed my previous results were anything to write home about, I still feel relieved. I like seeing those bright green check marks. Hello, I’m a straight A student. And patient. Anything less than a check mark is just insulting.

So, there you have it. Some stuff. More to come soon. You can count on it.

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.

The thunder theory

It’s pouring outside really hard right now and thundering loudly. Whenever it thunders, I think of how my mom used to tell me not to be scared, because it was the sound of my grandfather bowling in heaven. I would fall asleep, listening to the booming thunder, imagining my grandpa getting strike after strike. It is so wonderful to be a child, and believe that anything is possible. To be so easily comforted when you are scared. All you need is to hear a simple tale, a made up story, and the fear goes away, and you are safe again.

Yesterday, I did my radiation simulation. Since the radiation will be near my heart, I had to perform a breathing exercise to see if I could hold my breath long enough to move the heart out of the radiation field. This involved biting onto a plastic tube and having my nose plugged with a clip. While lying in the CT machine, I had to breathe in and hold my breath. The tube locks, and you are no longer able to breathe until it is released, or until you let go of the panic button.

At first I felt a bit claustrophobic and anxious, since I don’t like feeling confined to begin with, let alone with my ability to breathe stifled. But then I started imagining how I must look at that moment which amused me, and then it was over. It turns out I can hold my breath a lot longer than I thought, so I continued my streak as superstar cancer patient.

This isn’t me in the pic, but this is what it looks like

While lying down, the tech also gave me four tiny tattoos so that I can be lined up precisely with each treatment. I had read some people say they found this part painful, so I was a bit apprehensive. But it was nothing and I didn’t even flinch. Between that and my blood test via my port later that day, I had 5 needles, and I realized it didn’t even phase me. Something that used to petrify me is now just part of my normal routine.

Prior to my radiation training, while I was waiting in the reception area, I saw a little girl. Cute as a button, she looked to be around 7 years old. She was clutching her stuffed monkey. Her mom complimented my turban and asked the girl if she liked it, and she nodded bashfully in agreement. Your hair is still hanging on for now, the mom said to her daughter.

Shortly after, she went with her parents into one of the rooms that said “Caution: X-Ray Machines Inside” on the door. Since this was the area where you prepare for radiation treatments, I imagine that’s what she was doing. It didn’t take long before I heard the little girl crying and screaming from down the hall. Her mom left the room for a moment and paced the halls, clearly stressed, while her husband stayed with the girl. She continued to scream at the top of her lungs and I sat there helpless, listening, until my name was called.

My heart really ached for this girl and her parents. How confusing this must all be to a young child. I wish I could tell her a story like the thunder story. Give her some reason as to why this was all happening that makes it fun and makes all the pain go away. But cancer is not thunder. The threat is real. The pain is real. And the fear and confusion that comes with all of it is the same, whether you’re an old man, a 28 year old newlywed, or a 7 year old little girl.

Sometimes there are no magical answers. Sometimes it’s just that life is unfair, and some of us get dealt a really shitty hand, while others may not. I wish there was a better explanation than that, a story you could tell your children when they ask why bad things happen to good people. I wish things could be different.

But for now, I am comforted by the sound of the rain, and happy that I am alive to listen to the scary thunder.

Grandpa just got another strike.

Tree And Storm 2 by George Hodan
Tree And Storm 2 by George Hodan

A few small steps

I just went for a walk to get a sub. It took about 20 minutes total and my legs are burning as if I just ran across the country. When I think back about how far I used to walk, I can’t even imagine it now, but hopefully I will be able to build up some strength again eventually since my current physical state is probably close to that of a 90 year-old woman. All in good time. For now, I’m pretty impressed that I made it there and back and am still alive to tell the tale. Gold star for me.

I have been watching a bunch of TV, which is a good sign, because when I am at my worst, I don’t even have enough energy to to watch television. Which shows how much chemo destroys your ability to do even the laziest possible activity. I’m all caught up on The Vampire Diaries after falling behind for a bit and losing track of which ancient vampire was trying to kill which modern-day hybrid werewolf. I am aware that I am definitely older than the target demographic for this show, but lately all I want to watch are teen shows. I’m sure a psychologist would say it’s some sort of regression/coping mechanism, to avoid all of the very grown-up stuff I have to deal with daily. But I don’t think so. I just love shows made for 14 year-old girls. I have also been watching a ton of Felicity on DVD (thanks, Nicole!) since I somehow missed out on watching it as an actual teen. Very riveting stuff.

Felicity's big haircut.. such a dramatic moment in TV history
Felicity’s big haircut.. such a dramatic moment in TV history

I wanted to reply to each of the comments on my last couple of posts because they were all so thoughtful, but I felt anything I could say would not do justice to the kind words you left for me. I couldn’t believe all the love I got after sharing the sad state I was in. Honestly, if you are feeling down about humans and their ability to show compassion for each other, I urge you to go back and read through all the comments people leave here. I am so lucky to have so much support coming at me.

I am starting to feel better again, in terms of my mood and body pains and fatigue. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to really catch a break, and my eye troubles have not let up. In fact, today, I counted seven little styes on one of my eyelids. I’ve lost count of how many I have had now since last week. I am not sure why it is happening as it does not seem to be a common cancer thing. I also have permanent teary eyes so it is hard for me to see most of the time. I have walked into a few walls. In short, I look like a mess. I am seeing an ophthalmologist on Friday so we’ll see what that brings. If they try to put anything in my eye, you will likely hear my screams wherever you are. After everything I have been through, I still feel squeamish at the idea of anyone or anything getting near my eye.

So with the eye troubles, I believe I have had every part of my body have some sort of issue. But it’s okay guys, it could be worse. I mean, my head could fall off. There’s always that.

My mom gave me this button.
My mom gave me this button.

I feel better

I received a lot of really kind and encouraging messages after my last post. I know a lot of people out there are concerned about me and I didn’t really have the energy to respond at the time. So I wanted to check in with my faithful followers and let you all know:


In fact, I am doing quite well, both emotionally and physically. As quickly as the sickness and misery from the chemo seems to hit me each time, there is also this wonderful break where I bounce back and wake up from the nightmare. Each time, it gets a bit worse, and each time, I am in such agony and my emotions become completely warped (especially this last time, which I attribute to the high dose of steroids I was on) and I don’t believe it will ever end. This past round, I was convinced that I was dying and would never see a good day again, despite what anyone told me. The combination of feeling awful and being on strong drugs really does crazy things to an otherwise (mostly) sound mind.

But sure enough, it passed, and I didn’t even notice it happen. The puffiness in my face and bloating in my stomach seemed to go down, which I was thrilled about, as I had convinced myself I was becoming obese from laying in bed too much. But I now believe it was steroid-induced, so that’s certainly a nice treat. The idea of being fat and bald had me feeling a bit down.

I also have been gaining my energy back, which feels great. In fact, on Friday, I went on a mission with the help of my mother and decided to redecorate my bedroom. I spent four hours shopping, which I really believe was some sort of miracle. I only had to lie down on a floor model bed very briefly. And I didn’t pass out at Walmart, which is also amazing, as I typically want to pass out in Walmarts even when I am in perfect health. I also helped carry my new nightstands up the stairs, which was quite a feat, considering I couldn’t even get myself up the stairs at this time last week. I set everything up on my own and felt like the most productive chemo patient in the universe.

The next day, I spent another several hours on my feet, throwing out loads of crap that had piled up in my home over the years. Old makeup, expired cold medicine, receipts. The types of things you just ignore for too long, making it progressively more difficult to tackle as time goes on. I went on a complete rampage, tossing things out and reorganizing. I don’t know where the motivation came from. I suppose having less clutter makes my brain feel less cluttered. And as you all know, I have a lot going on in my brain, so any mental space I can free up is a big help right now.

My new and improved bedroom after a bit of a facelift. That radiator was full of magazines and crap before. Crap be gone!
My new and improved bedroom after a bit of a facelift. That radiator was full of magazines and crap before. Crap be gone!

When I feel better like I do now, with only a few side effects present as opposed to several, it is hard to accept that I have to endure another round. I was hanging on by a thread a mere few days ago. Why would any rational person continually subject themselves to that kind of torture, when they know precisely what will happen?

I suppose, the answer, is that the alternative is worse. So, there’s that.

Friday is my last chemo. You’d think I would be excited, knowing it’s the end of this chapter, but I’m not. It’s not like I finish up the day and suddenly feel super. I still have to go through the suffering that comes after. I still have to drop all the way to the bottom once again and wonder how long I will stay there. I also am afraid to let myself get excited. To feel complacent. I am scared to let my guard down and believe that things really might start to look up. To get easier. What if it’s not really the end? What if I have an early recurrence? What if they throw me right back into chemo? What if, what if?

But for now, I’m not going to bother with that. For now, I’m not going to think about Friday and the week following it. For now, I’m feeling good. Almost like a normal human being. And in my peculiar case, that is certainly something to celebrate.

Enjoying my new bed, which I’m currently not stuck in. Hip hip hooray!

Looking in the mirror

Last week I think I hit a new low of sheer misery. The fatigue that comes with chemotherapy is truly cumulative, and with each new treatment, it is growing increasingly difficult to do any of the things I once enjoyed. Such as taking a walk. Or lifting my laptop. Or lifting my head. The tiniest things we all take for granted have become incomprehensible to me. Memories of the past. Of a life I once lived, where my body would do whatever I asked of it, with ease. I feel as though I have been thrust into old age almost overnight. My bones ache when I try to move them. My body cries out for rest after walking up a few stairs. I wake up at night with hot flashes, my cheeks burning, thanks to the menopausal effects of chemo. Creases are starting to form on the outer corners of my eyes. My stomach and face are bloated constantly from all the drugs, making me look like I am five months pregnant. I can’t follow a basic conversation without losing focus, or feeling like I need to shut my eyes. I am an old lady. At the ripe age of 28.

Chillin with my Goodnight Moon bunny in bed, where I spent all of last week. I am looking super cancer-y these days. Yikes.

It has been difficult for me to look in the mirror lately. I don’t like what I see. A bald, puffy face, with red patches all over my cheeks and glossy eyes. Is that really me? It is hard to feel healthy or strong, when the image reflected back at me is anything but. Lately I am starting to feel as though I will never get my old self back. I can’t imagine having life in my face again. Or having hair. It seems like appearance should be relatively low on the list of things to feel bad about, when you’re dealing with all the crap that comes with a cancer diagnosis. But it is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for me. Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re already feeling just about as low as a human can feel, it really does add insult to injury.

It is hard for me to look at pre-cancer photos of myself now. I feel very disconnected from the girl I see. She’s pretty, and healthy, and happy, and completely unaware of what is about to happen to her. It’s as though I am looking at someone else’s life, even though I know she is me. Did I really do all those things at one time? Did I really look like that? Did I really have hair? I want to go back into those photos, just for one minute, just to remember what it’s like, to be happy and pretty. To soak up those moments. Because they are starting to slip away from me.


I hope that eventually I can start feeling better about what I see in the mirror. View my reflection as an image of a brave warrior, rather than one of a sick cancer patient whose body has been continuously cut, poked, and poisoned. I don’t want to be that girl who cries when she looks in the mirror. I have never been that girl. I refuse to let her win. And anyone who knows me knows I always get my way.

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.