All about me

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

Here are some facts:

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

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

2. I’m married to this handsome man:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite activity.
My favourite activity.

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

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

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.

 

Sunny days

This past winter was a particularly miserable one for the city of Toronto, where I live. Cold, windy, grey, and what appeared to be never-ending. I often felt as though the weather outside was mimicking my own misery and sickness. That spring would come as I started to emerge from the darkness. I realize it sounds very narcissistic, to believe that I somehow can control the weather. But sure enough, this past week as I started to heal from my latest surgery and as my mood began to lift, the sun came out, the tree buds bloomed, and everyone seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief. We made it through the worst.

I made it through the worst.

I’ve been having quite a lot of, dare I say, fun the past few days. Friday I had my treatment, which ran just about as smoothly as that kind of thing can. Service in the chemo ward was top-notch, and I received multiple offers of pillows and apple juice. It was also fairly quiet, and no one around me appeared to be dying, which is always a nice bonus. Afterward, my mom and I met my sister and we got some frozen yogurt and went to the park and popped into a few boutiques. Then in the evening, the hubs and I went for a delicious dinner, where we sat on a patio, and relished the moment.  By the end of the day, I don’t think I even remembered that I had just had drugs injected into a vein near my neck a few hours earlier. Score.

Yesterday, I continued on my quest to be a normal young person in the city. After having a nice visit with my aunt, uncle, and little cousin (I am devouring my aunt’s butterscotch banana bread right now!) I had a nice walk through my neighbourhood and around the park and surrounding area. My feet ached from wearing terrible sandals. A regular person kind of ache. Not a chemo ache. There is a very, very big difference, and I was glad for it. Then at night, we went to see Iron Man 3.

Yesterday, getting ready for my date with Robert Downey (and my husband).
Yesterday, getting ready for my date with Robert Downey (and my husband).

I don’t know how to properly convey how excited I was to do something as simple as see a big blockbuster movie on its opening weekend. It has been a long time since I was able to do something like that. To be able to say I feel like doing this thing that many other people will be doing at the same time and then actually do it. It was amazing. Climbing the stairs up the large theatre was a bit of a challenge, but that was the only time I felt limited. I wore my wig, and from what I can tell, blended right in with the masses. Just another 20-something out on date night, watching a movie, wearing ridiculous 3D glasses. I enjoyed every second of it. I thought about how far special effects have come, and how watching a movie is one of my greatest simple pleasures. And I did not think about cancer. Explosions, and fast cars, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s abs. But not cancer.

Things are still difficult for me. My muscle and joint pain makes me feel as though I am a brittle old lady. When I sit down on the ground, it takes some serious problem solving to get myself back up. I am waking up each day, waiting for it to subside, but so far the pain is sticking around. I am also still wrestling with the emotional trauma from everything I have experienced. Sometimes it is these very moments, when I’m feeling happy and alive, that the fear creeps in. What if this doesn’t last too long? What if this is just a tease? What if I have a limited amount of happy, good days left, and then it all goes to shit? It is so hard to push these thoughts aside and it’s something I will have to work on. I don’t expect to have it all figured out anytime soon. But I’m trying.

I have my next phase of treatment approaching. I will go into more detail as it gets closer, but for now I don’t want to think about it for any longer than it takes me to type this sentence. I want to be young, and I want to play in the sun. So I’m going to go do that.

See ya.