A time for miracles

Last night, I was invited to check out the super high-tech, one-of-a-kind guided therapeutics operating room (GTx OR) at the Toronto General Hospital. The operating room is equipped with really fancy, expensive imaging equipment which will be used during cancer surgeries, allowing surgeons to be much more precise when looking at and removing tumours. Pretty cool, right? It actually made me a bit jealous, like my surgeries weren’t sci-fi enough. However, this snazzy operating room is currently only being used for research purposes, i.e. very unique cases. And I’d prefer not to be a very unique case, so I don’t hope to be in there any time soon. Except to play with all the crazy machines, which from my understanding, is not allowed. Too bad.

The presentation about the room was a bit of a challenge for me, as the surgeon who was presenting spoke of aggressive tumours and the fast growing ones being more likely to “come back with a vengeance” and “those are the ones they worry about.” Even though I’m very aware of my cancer and what it could mean, I still don’t like hearing cancer spoken about in these terms. Other people are able to discuss it and ask questions, purely for interest’s sake, remaining safely detached. But I don’t have that luxury. Every discussion of cancer and prognosis and dying feels personal to me. I can’t escape the feeling of, that could be me he’s talking about. Someone again said something about me being brave last night, to which I replied, I am not brave, this is just my life. I have no choice but to wake up every day, and live this life. C’est la vie.

Next week, I’m getting yet another MRI. This time around, we’re going hunting for tumours in the brain. You see, I have been having headaches for awhile now. My oncologist was not overly concerned, but when I mentioned them to my family doctor and how they have been persistent, she wanted to do the MRI because of “my history.” In other words, because I have cancer. And once you have cancer, everything else could be cancer. That’s just the way it goes. So I’ll do the test, and I’ll try to meditate and breathe deeply and not think about dying while I await the results. Same old story, different organ.

I also have a UTI (urinary tract infection for the layperson). I felt the symptoms come on very suddenly last week. Even though it is incredibly minor and tolerable, I still got a little weepy and angry over it. I mean, can I not get one week off without my body malfunctioning in some way? Without having to order another test, or fill another prescription? I am so ready for a break from thinking about my health, my body, doctors, hospitals, medicine. I am trying so hard to return to normal life (whatever that is) but it seems something always pops up, holding me back, keeping me firmly planted in this state of unrest.

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah. One of my favourite holidays. Presents. Fried food. Family. Chocolate. All of the key ingredients. Oh and of course, most importantly, Chanukah is about miracles. A big miracle. And oh boy, do I love a good miracle. More miracles, less cancer.

Someone should put that on a bumper sticker.

Clinging tightly to my wonderful Chanukah loot. Happy holidays!
Clinging tightly to my wonderful Chanukah loot. Happy holidays!
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Helping a friend in need

I’ve often thought of sharing a list of “what not to say to someone who has cancer.” However, I’ve seen many of these lists before and I know they can be somewhat harsh and make people feel like there is not a single thing they can do that is right when someone they care about is sick. So instead, I think it might be more productive to do a “how to help someone who has cancer” list.

1. PRESENTS

Anyone who has been following along since the beginning of the blog knows that I loooooved getting gifts while undergoing cancer treatment. Presents are awesome even when you’re feeling great, but they’re extra awesome when you’re feeling lousy. Sometimes the only thing that would make me smile on a terrible day was hearing the doorbell ring and seeing a box waiting for me. There was one day when I had multiple delivery trucks lined up in front of my house, and I felt extremely important. It didn’t even matter what the gift was, if it was something small or large, useful or just entertaining. It was the thought, and the unexpected surprise on an otherwise gloomy day.

Nothing sweeter than the sight and sound of that magical brown truck.
Nothing sweeter than the sight and sound of that magical brown truck.

So if you know someone who is dealing with an illness, send them something. Show them you’re thinking of them. Oh, but don’t expect a thank you card, because they have cancer, and don’t have the energy to deal with rules of etiquette.

2. CALL/WRITE/TEXT/MAIL

I know some people feel like they don’t want to burden someone who has cancer and sometimes they think that leaving them alone is the best strategy. I can tell you that in most cases, this is not true. Sure, you might occasionally say the wrong thing, or you might write an email or leave a voicemail that never gets read or heard because the person is ill and exhausted and can’t keep track of anything. But I will tell you that silence or absence from a friend is a lot more hurtful than any dumb thing you could possibly say or do.

That about sums it up.
That about sums it up.

So send your friend a message to tell them they’re on your mind, and that they don’t need to respond. And don’t only reach out at the very beginning when you’re initially reacting to the shock of it all. Show that you’re still there, weeks, months later. Because that’s when it gets really hard. And really lonely. A cancer patient can never have too many friends.

3. SEND FOOD

There were many, many days where I simply did not have it in me to get groceries or make a half-decent meal. There were many days I couldn’t stand up for more than a minute, and standing is really helpful when grocery shopping or cooking. Apart from physical limitations, I also did not have the mental capacity to think about food and putting ingredients together.

Life for me and my husband was filled with stress 24/7 and there wasn’t a single second where we weren’t completely exhausted. People who sent us food were literally our life savers. We had some friends and family who would make complete meals that we could keep in the fridge and live off for an entire week. We had other friends send us gift cards for a food delivery service where we could order several flash-frozen meals and serve them up whenever we needed to. So if your friend is ill, send them food. Don’t ask what you can do. Don’t ask if they need anything. Don’t make them think. Just do it. Send food. And they will eat all of it. And they will love you forever.

This bib is kind of offensive, but also kind of awesome, no?
This bib is kind of offensive, but also kind of awesome, no?

4. LET THEM BE A BIG, WHINY, CRYING BABY

When I was feeling like I wanted to die, it was very helpful to be around people who let me feel that way. People who would let me cry, let me scream, let me blubber this is so unfaaaaair, I hate my liiiiiiiiiife, I hate everyoneeee, waaaaaaah JUST KILL ME NOWWWWW! I had a lot of these moments, and they were not my finest, but that’s just the kind of mood I was in while I was sitting around, bald, trying not to puke, staring out the window. The last thing I wanted to be told was to cheer up or keep a positive attitude or any of that bullshit. The best thing you can say is “this really sucks and I hate that you’re going through this.” Nothing you can say or do can make anything better. The best thing you can do is let your friend scream and cry and feel all the feelings they need to until they finally pass out from exhaustion.

I feel ya, Johnny, I really do.
I feel ya, Johnny, I really do.

I know, it’s not really fun being friends with someone who has cancer, right? But having cancer is actually worse, so suck it up, be a pal, and sit with your friend while she drips snot all down her face and makes morbid comments about death and funerals. Yay friendship!

5. DON’T OVERSTAY YOUR WELCOME

This one is pretty simple, and you would think obvious. But for some people, it’s not, so I think it’s worth mentioning. When I was stuck at home for what felt like a million years, it was nice having friends and family visit. But it would take about ten minutes of socializing for me to feel like I needed a nap most days. I never want to tell anyone to leave, because it makes me feel like an ungrateful person. So don’t make me say it. Just leave!

The best friends are the ones who come (only after asking if it’s OK first), say hi, stay for a short visit, and then say “you should rest, I’m going to go now” without making me say it. Because truthfully, no one undergoing chemo is listening to more than 1/4 of anything you are saying to them. For me, I spent most of my social encounters thinking, How long until I can crawl back under my blanket and watch Marry Poppins while I cry without anyone seeing me?

Know your friend’s limits and respect them. Or, if you’re my brother and his girlfriend, you can just wait until I scream, GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE, which happened on more than one occasion. But we’re all still friends. I think.