Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on 2008

2008 began and ended with travel and health challenges. I spent last New Year ’s Eve in a hotel in Calgary with the stomach flu, on my way home from spending Christmas in Palm Desert, California. I was given someone else’s boarding pass and ended up on the wrong flight (long story…). The airline, concerned about the breach of security, put me up in a hotel where I was able to nurse my flu before flying home on New Year’s day.

Travelling to spend Christmas with family was challenging once again this year because of bad weather. I returned home on the 26th to prepare to end the year with a bang – my 6th chemo treatment was today, New Year’s Eve. Jill took me to my appointment and insisted on staying with me. She fed me, entertained me, and even rubbed my feet, so it was a good deal!

It has been a year of major events, some good, some bad, and some devastating. In January I celebrated my Mom’s 70th birthday in Halifax with her. During February and March, I snow shoed and skied several times, and went on an overnight ski trip to an unheated cabin in the Gatineau (complete with outhouse). My sister Nadine visited in May and on the 28th I left for the Netherlands. My friend Jennifer & I spent the first part of June visiting Adam and Tara in Holland, with a side-trip to Spain. I enjoyed several lovely weekends at friends’ cottages in July and August, and participated in the 150 km MS Bike Tour.

In follow-up to a surgery to remove a tumor from my lung last year, I continued to have regular oncology visits at the cancer clinic. Despite knowing that the breast cancer had spread, I had convinced myself that I would be in the 2-3% of people whose metastatic cancer was removed and never returned. Life was good – my son was living the life I wished for him, I had a job I enjoyed, I had a great community of wonderful friends.

When, in August, I found out that the cancer was back in both lungs, I spent some time doing my best to deal with the panic, shock and fear. Adam joined me for a week in Halifax just before my first chemo. It was good to just hang out together and transition between work and the start of my treatments.

I had my first treatment in early September, but still managed to spend time outdoors and do things that I enjoyed. I participated in the Run for a Cure but had to leave soon after for an emotional trip back to Halifax when my Dad died unexpectedly. I continued treatments through October, November and December and spent Christmas with family.

One thing I can say is that I truly lived this past year – the good, the bad and the ugly. I read somewhere that you never live your days as intensely as you do once you’ve look death in the face. Despite the challenges and emotions of dealing with a cancer recurrence, I can truly say that I’m grateful for so many things this past year.

The most important thing that I’m grateful for are the people in my life. My Mom dropped everything to be here for my first chemo treatment and is the one person I know I can turn to come and do anything – from cleaning my house to just holding my hand. Adam has kept connected by phone and email, and travelled twice from Holland to spend time with me since my diagnosis. Friends cooked meals for me in my own kitchen, filled my freezer with soup, listened to the boring details of my medical appointments, read my rambling blog postings, and filled my year with laughter.

My work colleagues formed a Run for the Cure team called Chris’ Jocks, taxied me to chemo appointments, and shouldered the burden when I had to leave work suddenly to start treatments. I’ve enjoyed the company of other breast cancer ‘thrivers’ at our yoga class, group hikes and Saturday walk/runs. I’ve received numerous cards, emails, thoughtful gifts and phone messages (sorry if I didn’t always return phone calls). One of my favorite Christmas gifts was a luxurious fleece nightdress from Mary embroidered with “Our D team”, in reference to a comment I made after my recurrence that I really didn’t want to join her “damn team”. (Who says cancer patients don’t have a sense of humor?)

The list goes on. I considered writing a list of everyone I wanted to thank, but I know I would forget someone, because I’ve had such an army of people show their support and love. I wouldn’t have thought that at the end of a year when I experienced a recurrence of cancer that I could say that I am blessed, but I can’t deny that I am. We all have our challenges and battles to fight, but I continue to be amazed everyday at how fortunate I am to have people in my life willing to walk this journey with me. Thank you to each and every one of you. I wish you a healthy and happy new year.

Stay tuned. I’m putting on my stilettos and plan to kick cancer in the ass in 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

I’m still recovering from 10 days away for Christmas – but it was totally worth it! Despite some bone pain and a fatigue-inspired crying jag on my last day (side-effects from the chemo drug, Taxotere) I had a great Christmas, complete with traditional dinner and the company of an assortment of dear, and sometimes quirky/entertaining family members. Christmas this year was in Black Creek, my Mom’s retirement community, half-way between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie.

My son Adam and daughter-in-law Tara flew from the Netherlands, with a stop off for a few days in Boston on the way. This is a photo-email they sent me from Niketown, before the storm hit.

The message reads: We are strolling in the snow on Newbury Street in Boston. It's actually nice to have a bit of winter. Well, within a few hours, they experienced more than “a bit of winter”. As did so many other travelers this holiday season, they got stranded for 2 extra nights and finally rented a car and drove from Boston to Buffalo.

My Mom (aka the Ever-Ready Christmas Bunny) decorated, cleaned, cooked Christmas dinner for 11 people, and made a gazillion trips to the train station and four different airports. I don’t know where she gets the energy! The weather made for something out of a bad made-for-TV Christmas movie. Just because I can’t believe she did this, here was my Mom's taxi-shuttle schedule:

Dec 17 – Picked me up at Pearson airport in Toronto. Because of bad Ottawa weather and the transit strike, I arrived 10 minutes before departure time, yet managed to maintain my record of never missing a flight (although I’ve come close too many times to mention). My flight was delayed for over an hour, which was a sign of things to come.

Dec 18 – Picked my sister Nadine & brother-in-law Doug up at the Hamilton airport, 1 hour away. We went directly from the airport to the train station to pick up my niece Erin, arriving from Halifax via Montreal.

Dec 20 – Drove Nadine & Doug across the border to the Buffalo airport, where they caught a 7:30 am flight to Florida. Drove back to Buffalo for a second time that evening to meet Adam & Tara’s flight from Boston, which was eventually cancelled. We spent the time waiting in a Tim Hortons (yes, they have them in the U.S. now) and in the Galleria mall.

Dec 22 – Back to Buffalo to meet Adam & Tara at the airport where they dropped their rental car off. We were relieved that they had made the 10 hour trip safely. They made good time, considering that they stopped along the way to visit the Basketball Hall of fame. (Who else besides my sports-obsessed son would do that in a snow storm??)

Dec 26 – Back to Toronto so Adam & Tara could catch a flight to Vegas, where they are spending a few nights before driving to Palm Dessert to visit with Tara’s Mom & stepfather.

Major screw-up: I thought I was leaving from Pearson within a ½ hour of Adam & Tara’s flight, but I realized at the last minute that my flight was from the Toronto Island airport, so Mom had to drive me downtown to get my flight. (Am I the only person in Canada that didn't know that Porter doesn't fly out of Pearson?)

Dec 27 – Back to Hamilton to see Erin off.

Dec 29 – Back to Buffalo to pick Nadine & Doug up for a 1-night stop-over.

Dec 30 – Back to Hamilton for Nadine & Doug’s flight home to Alberta.

Whew! Did I mention that Mom also had overnight company from Sweden in there somewhere? All of her driving, bedding changes and hard work was much appreciated. She did a great job of making sure this was a wonderful Christmas for all of us.

Now it’s back to reality. I had blood work today and have my 6th chemo treatment tomorrow – on Dec 31st. Happy New Year to me!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


" not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. ~ Max Ehrmann, "Desiderata"~

I took this from a newsletter that was forwarded to me by a friend from the Cancer Crusade. I can't find a link to the newsletter on their site, but I'm hoping that it's OK to copy it, because it's worth sharing.

Roger and Kathy CawthonThe Cancer Crusadee

One of our recent weekly messages told of the day I was asked to read and sign a 13-page consent form required for my participation in a particular clinical trial. The form listed all of the possible side effects of the standard and experimental drugs and other treatments that would be combined for the trial, and none of them were pleasant. In fact, they were all pretty awful, involving sudden death and other experiences I would just as soon...well, not experience.

As I have moved through the 13 years since that terrifying day, I have learned from various sources of other potential risks of the drugs I took (and, in one case, am still taking) and other treatments I received.Once I learned from Brian Williams on NBC's "Nightly News" that I may not have even needed one or two of the drugs I took, drugs that may lead one of these days to other serious diseases and conditions. On another occasion, I learned that I probably should have had more of a specific type of treatment than I did in fact have.

And once I received a registered letter from my oncologist informing me that a drug I was taking could cause cataracts. (Note to oncology professionals: Receiving a registered letter from you may cause heart palpitations, profuse sweating, nausea and dizziness. Since cataracts aren't a life-threatening condition, could information like this possibly wait until your patient's next checkup? And if you must send a registered letter, could you please mail it early in the week so that your patient doesn't find a pink slip in her mailbox saying there is a registered letter from you waiting at the post office that she can't retrieve for two days because it is now 6 PM on Friday evening which means she is facing an entire weekend of the aforementioned heart palpitations, profuse sweating and...well, I was just wondering.)

And on still another occasion, I learned that there were things I could have done and should have done 20 or 30 years before my diagnosis that might have prevented that diagnosis. Just exactly what was I supposed to do with that information?

What indeed. It's a fact that - for as long as any of us lives - whether we are cancer survivors or the fortunate ones who've never had cancer - we are going to learn about things we did that we shouldn't have done, things we should have done that we didn't do, things that were done to us or happened to us that couldn't have been helped and even some that were done to us with what were believed to be our best interests at heart. Unless we want to live in a cave, we are going to find out things we perhaps would rather not know because we live in an age of instant information (registered letters notwithstanding).

So what are we to do with this information? If it is troubling or frightening, we can discuss it with someone who can calm our fears. The oncologist may be able to explain that we have interpreted some news item incorrectly or that something we thought applied to us really does not. A professional counselor or spiritual advisor can often help us find our way through the scary stuff that does apply to us.I have often relied on both of the above, but the years have taught me to turn more and more often to a third option.I stop everything, breathe deeply, and remind myself to trust.

Come on. Do it with me. Right now. Here's how: Trust that you are, right this minute, right where you are supposed to be. Trust that your life is unfolding exactly as it should. Trust that you and the life you are living are vital pieces - essential parts - of a much bigger plan that is also unfolding exactly as it should. Trust that you have been given exactly the knowledge and experiences you need in order to grow the spirit you were meant to have.

Instead of a prayer, I will close this affirmation with a link to Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata" (excerpted above) which I have always found to be profoundly comforting and helpful when struggling to trust. May it bring you peace and healing today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Have a very Merry Christmas with family and friends this holiday season. I'm wishing you a healthy and happy new year -- after all, 2009 will be a year to kick cancer's ass!!!

Love, light and laughter,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

They're here!

After 2 nights waiting to get on a flight in Boston and 10 hours in a rental car, Adam & Tara have finally arrived in Niagara Falls. They decided it was best to rent a car and drive. I think that was a good choice because I see on the news that flights are so backed up that lots of people might not make it to their destinations for Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowed in

This is the view from my mom's front door. Adam & Tara were supposed to arrive last night but are stuck in Boston. They are scheduled on a 7 pm flight, but it is very unlikely that they will arrive tonight. There is such a backup of flights flying from Boston to Buffalo that there's no telling when they will finally get out. How frustrating!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Family 'stuff'

It's December 20th and, as we used to say when I was a kid, only 5 more sleeps until Christmas. I have an extra week between treatments over the holidays and I'm taking this opportunity to take a break from all of the 'cancer crap'. It's nice to be visiting my mother and spending time with family.

We went to my aunt's for dinner the other night and my cousin his family were there. It's been great to reconnect with him, because there were a lot of years between childhood and adulthood when we lost touch for one reason or another. My sister & her husband were here for a few days but have now left to spend Christmas in Florida. My niece is here and Adam & Tara arrive this afternoon.

In the picture: Me, my mom Janice, my sister Nadine, my brother-in-law Doug, and my niece Erin (in the back).

In the picture: my cousin Michael & his wife Sheri and their daughters Kayla & Chelsea.
In the picture: My aunt Diane & uncle Jim and their 2 grand-daughters (and 2 grand-dogs).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More "interesting" Taxotere side-effects

No, this is not the latest in pedicures. With the chemo drug I’m on, your nails can turn black and possibly fall off. Mine haven’t discolored, but have developed weird ridges and the toenails are definitely painful and feel like they are lifting from the nail bed. The surgical tape helps to make them feel more secure and less vulnerable.

Yesterday was the last of my medical appointments until after Christmas. Yahoo! I went to a physiotherapist to see if she could help with the neuropathy in my hands and then had a CT scan of my lungs last evening. It will be nice to take a good long break from all of this over the holidays. My next treatment is on December 31st, New Year ’s eve.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Making a commitment

In my last post I wrote about forgiving myself for not being productive. On the other hand, I really do want to make sure I spend my sometimes limited energy on what’s truly important.

If my current job is taking care of myself and getting stronger, then maybe I need to manage that job with more focus than I have been. When I was working, my most productive days were scheduled around my priorities. So, starting tomorrow, I’m going to dedicate ½ of my day to taking care of my health. Here is the schedule I plan to follow:

9:00-9:30 yoga stretches
9:30-10:00 meditation
10:00-11:00 plan food for the day, cook, juice
11:00-12:00 walk (or some other form of exercise)

I obviously need to be flexible and forgiving with this schedule. There will be days when I won’t be able to follow it; some days I have trouble dragging my aching body down the stairs! But if I don’t have a plan, I’m so much less likely to accomplish a few simple things I want to do to take care of myself.

My actual schedule may not be of great interest to anyone reading this blog, but it’s important that I create a commitment and visual reminder by putting it in writing. I’m more likely to do what I intend to do if I know that someone might ask me how I’m doing at sticking to my schedule.

I sure hope I don’t have to post something tomorrow to say that I blew it, but I’ll let you know how it goes…

Thursday, December 11, 2008


With so many things to do and not enough steam to do them, I really needed to go to my yoga class today to de-stress. I get up each morning with loads of plans (use my juicer, wrap Christmas gifts, go for a walk each day, try a recipe from my raw food cookbooks). I seem to move in slow motion some days, with the odd burst of energy here and there. I’m SURE no one has noticed(!) but it tends to make me a tad cranky.

By the end of the yoga class I had forgotten about my to-do list and felt much more relaxed. We did some gentle stretching and breathing exercises. I wish I could motivate myself to do it every day, but its one more thing to add to my to-do list, which is part of the problem.

I want to concentrate on 2 things in my yoga practice: forgiveness and acceptance. Forgiveness for not getting things done and acceptance that I'm just not all that productive right now. Wasting time isn't just wasting time - it's regenerating my body and mind.

Ra ma da sa Sa say so hung (prayer for self healing and protection from all disease).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Neighbourly Kindness

I looked out my back window this morning and wondered how I was going to shovel my way out. The next time I looked out there was one of my neighbours, almost unrecognizable because of the layers of winter gear, shoveling my back walkway. She said her boyfriend was doing my front walk.

I have snow angels!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Meat and Dairy

Back to recommendations from Susan Manion MacDonald’s book, Balance

The Balance book recommends not eating red meat or dairy products (other than organic quark) because of the possibility that they contact hormones or antibiotics, which may cause the cancer cells to divide and grow more quickly. The author references the book Life in Your Hands by Dr. Jane Plant, who states that 1 in 10,000 in China develops cancer compared to 3 in North America. One of the biggest differences in the Chinese diet is the absence of dairy products.

Her recommendations include having protein at all 3 meals, with the least amount of protein in the last meal of the day. To allow the liver the opportunity to process food properly and regenerate itself, it’s best to reduce protein after 2 in the afternoon. Sources of high protein: peas, beans, lentils, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, sesame and sunflower seeds.

I made a trip to Rainbow foods and bought a few things that were recommended in the book. I got strips to test my pH balance and was happy to see that my alkaline level was 7.4, which is optimum. I am experimenting with using Stevia instead of sugar (although my sugar addiction is an ongoing battle). I also picked up almond milk, which is relaxing warmed up before bed.

My latest concern is numbness in my right hand and foot, which is a side-effect of the Taxotere. I saw my naturopath yesterday and she gave me a B-12 shot to see if that might help. It’s getting progressively worse and the worry is that it can be permanent. I’m already have a hard time picking up small things like pills. I’m hoping that the longer break at Christmas, combined with the B-12 shots, will slow things down.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I have a fantasy about having a dog. I haven’t had a one since I was a child, and then it wasn’t MY dog, it was a family dog, a cocker spaniel named Goldie. I don’t know much about having a dog and I must admit that the thought of having my things chewed or accidents on the carpet is very unappealing.

What IS appealing is having a faithful animal friend that is affectionate; a companion who doesn’t argue and insist on putting a big screen TV in the living room; a reason to go for a walk each day; another being in the house so I’m not just talking to myself.

I feel the way about dogs that I feel about children; I’m not crazy about all of them as a group, but there are individuals that I could fall in love with. I think I could have fallen in love with Buddy. Buddy was a stray dog that showed up at a friend’s cottage this summer. He was too big, too hairy, too mangy, and not too bright – but he was a happy loveable dog with a handsome face, despite having been abandoned and in rather rough shape.
Buddy hung around the cottage and we finally gave in and fed him some cat food (that’s all we had). By this time I was having crazy thoughts of bringing this large energetic dog home to my little town house with its small decked backyard. But what if I was too sick during my treatments to walk him and take care of him? Was this the right time for me to be taking on the responsibility of a dog? Would that be fair to him?

We walked him down the cottage road looking for his owners and found at least a temporary home for him with a neighbor who had another large dog and lots of property for them to run. I went back a few weeks later and Buddy ran down the road to greet us, with what looked like a smile on his face. The neighbor had been taking good care of him. He had put on weight and was in much better shape than when I had seen him last. The neighbor didn't know if he would keep him or not, but promised to call me if he didn't find his owner or decided not to keep him. I never heard from him.

I'm not sure what has happened to Buddy but I hope to go back in the spring and see what I can find out. I realize that bringing him here might have been a disaster, but I often mention my almost-dog Buddy when friends talk about their pets. Maybe there is still a dog in my future. And maybe I’ll regret it. But my dog-fantasy lives on…

pH Balance - Ackaline v.s. Acidic

I’ve heard it said that cancer cannot grow in an alkaline environment. According to Susan MacDonald, author of “Balance … nature’s way to heal your body”, a pH reading of 7.4 pH protects the body from attack from bacteria, viruses & fungi.

You can test your alkaline level at home using strips purchased at a drug store. The drug stores in my suburban area don’t seem to carry them, so you might have to try a more urban one like in the Glebe or a health food store. Susan Macdonald suggests that initial tests should be done daily for 2 consecutive days to start and then weekly until one’s alkaline level stabilzes via lifestyle changes, such as appropriate nutrition, clean water, and stress reduction.

She suggests doing both urine and saliva tests for the most accurate evaluation. The ideal time for taking a urine sample is the second urine stream in the morning, but the first one is acceptable. Saliva tests should be done before a meal and then 4 minutes after the meal. Your pH level should increase after the meal. Avoid putting the strips in your mouth; spit into a spoon or directly onto the strips. Salivary pH should be approximately 0.5 lower than the urinary pH.

Highly acidic foods (avoid): most fast food, meats, grains, cranberries, prunes, plumbs, rhubarb, refined salt, sugar, condiments (e.g. pickles, ketchup) soda pop.

Alkaline foods: almonds, melons, unpasteurized honey, maple syrup, figs, dates, natural yogurt, dairy, root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, turnip) apricots, avocados, coconut, grapes, molasses, raisins & lemons. Alfalfa & other sprouts, cayenne.

Organic almonds are the kings of alkaline foods. Eat 15-20 day. Soaking for 24 hours in pure water starts the germination process and activates its life force. If a person has cancer, they shouldn't eat more than 5 per day. (I'm not sure why; I can't find an explanation in the book).

Suger substitutes: molasses, maple syrup, unpasteurized honey. It takes 30 glasses of water to neutralize the acid from one can of pop.

The aim is to eat 80% alkaline and 20% acidic. Try to consume ½ your veggies raw.

Note: The chart shown did not come from Susan's book. I found it on the Squido website.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dealing with a Diagnosis of Metastatic Cancer

A friend recently found out that her cancer is stage IV and, understandably, is struggling to figure out what that means for her future. How can I support her?

Here are a few thoughts about what I’ve learned from my own journey that may be of help to someone navigating through a diagnosis of metastatic cancer:

Don’t get caught up in statistics. Those numbers are averages of thousands of people and don’t apply to individuals. For every person who’s on the short end of the scale, there’s someone on the other end; why shouldn’t it be you?

Do your research – or not. I happen to find it helpful to read books about others with my diagnosis or to explore options on the internet. For others, it just adds anxiety and stress. Do what feels comfortable to you. It’s OK if you don’t want to go there. Denial can be a good thing if helps you cope.

De-stress. Dealing with your emotions, the medical system, families, treatment side effects, etc. can make you feel cranky and stressed. I find meditation helps me (when I make the time to do it!). Take time each day to be quiet and focus on slowing your breath. I like to imagine joy coming into each part of my body, surrounding my organs (especially the lungs where the cancer is) and flowing down my limbs. Experiment with mental images until you find one that works for you.

Accept help. For many of those who are used to being independent, it’s hard to ask for help. Remember that others want to help but don’t know what to do. If there is something that you need (drives to treatments, company, a loan of movies or books, etc.) reach out to others. You are probably making them feel better by giving them an opportunity to do something helpful.

Laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine” is not just a cliché. People who make you laugh are gems and may be as important to how well you feel as your health practitioner. Good friends came over for dinner yesterday and we laughed all evening. I’ve been recording reruns of “Who’s Line Is It Anyway” every weekday at 5:30. It’s one show that makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. Seek out people and situations that make you laugh, every day.

It’s OK to go to the ‘dark side’. That’s what I call the times when I feel like crap and thinking positive just isn’t an option: ‘the dark side’. I think it’s OK, and even healthy, to go there. Just don’t stay there. Sometimes I allow myself a day to wallow in it. Usually I get bored and move on when I’m ready. But I’ve found the more I fight it, the harder it is for me to get past it and be positive.

Ask questions. I find it hard to build a trusting relationship with doctors when I so often see a different one every time I go to the cancer clinic. I used to find it discouraging when I would get different answers to the same question from different doctors. I now see it as a variety of information that gives me more options. I’ve learned to take the answer that best works for me and discard the rest. I’ve also learned not to ask a question that I’m not ready to hear the answer to.

Appreciate your blessings. It might be difficult to feel grateful when you are first diagnosed and dealing with anger and fear. But eventually you move out of that phase and can appreciate the wonderful things that are still part of your life. I seem to appreciate those things more than I used to: the wonderful people who support me; simple things like a sunny day spent in nature; watching a good movie wrapped in a cozy blanket; waking up in the morning with no chemo side-effects. Things I used to take for granted have become all the more precious to me.

Life goes on. No matter what the prognosis, we’re all here right now, living our lives. Cancer doesn’t define me. My spirit is stronger than my body and I find ways to live my life with purpose every day. I’m more focused on what’s important than I’ve ever been in my life. Last week after a dear friend (who’s also going through treatments) and I went for a walk, we hugged and agreed that life is good. And, despite the challenges, it truly is!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Raffle tickets for a good cause

During a trip to Tanzania in early 2007, Jennifer and I visited a Masai village where we met an amazing group of women who were making beaded jewelry to sell to tourists. When we returned to Canada, we collected beads and sent them to the women to help them make money to support their village. Unfortunately they were charged a large fee by the Tanzanian Revenue Agency to receive the beads.

Jennifer and I are selling raffle tickets to cover the revenue fee. Tickets cost $2, or 3 for $5. Frances will also be selling tickets at the upcoming Busting Out pot luck.The winner of the raffle will receive a beautiful Kazuri necklace and earrings (generously donated by Frances). The draw will take place before Christmas and we will notify the winner.

Kazuri was started in 1975 by Lady Susan Wood with the social mission of making work for a few women. Initially less than 10 women were employed making beads in her garden shed. As word of the beauty and uniqueness of the Kazuri beads, necklaces and earrings spread, sales increased, as did the facility, and as a result 350 people are now employed. Many more wait in the hope of having an opportunity to join the ranks of those talented people who make small and beautiful objects. Now under new ownership, Kazuri has been able to expand whilst still retaining its philanthropic roots. The workshop is still located on a portion of the farm once owned by Karen Von Blixen, of 'Out of Africa' fame, at the base of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi.

Monday, November 24, 2008


We all know that drinking water is important for our health. There is always a lot of debate about water quality and the containers we use to store and drink water from.

I said I would share with you some of what I read in Susan Manion MacDonald’s book, Balance. Here are a few things she has to say about water:

  • Drinking water during a meal actually reduces the amount of digestive enzymes available for digestion and places an increased stress on the body to digest food. It's best to drink water a half-hour before or after meals. Adding a slice of lemon to a glass of water will aid digestion.
  • Natural spring water is best and glass bottles preferred. If you have to drink bottled water, choose a European brand (e.g. Evian) because North America’s standards for the level of arsenic in bottled water is low.
  • Do not soak in bathwater that contains chlorine because absorption is high through your skin. (I guess that's bad news for you swimmers...).
  • Charcoal filters on your taps & shower heads can remove toxins like chlorine from your water. However, they do not remove all toxins (e.g. fluoride & aluminum). Reverse osmosis filters remove most contaminants, but also remove minerals & nutrients and are not environmentally friendly.
  • She recommends a Nikken brand of magnetic energy filter, the PiMay.
(I also saw a shower head called the Wellness Shower on the Crazy Sexy Cancer site that is recommended by the Hippocrates Health Institute. )

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yolaine Madge (1955-2008)

Yolaine Madge (nee Leblanc), daughter of Charles Henri Leblanc and Gratia Leblanc; passed away at home peacefully at the age of 53 on November 18, 2008. She is survived by her husband Kevin Madge, her three children Rylan, Michelle and Kelsey, and her siblings Ghislain (Johanne Hardy), Louise (Rene Pinard), Rejean (Johanne Pelletier), Normand (Claire Matteau), Denis, Sylvie (Jacques Prud'homme), Marc, Yvon, Christine and Marie-Josee (Dominic Debay). She leaves many nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts as well as her many friends and colleagues at St. Vincent's Hospital and Elisabeth Bruyere Health Centre where she worked as a pharmacist for over 23 years. Friends may pay respects at the Kelly Funeral Home, 3000 Woodroffe Avenue, Barrhaven, Thursday, November 20th from 6 to 9 p.m. Funeral Service Friday, November 21st to St. Maurice's Church, 4 Perry St., for Mass of Christian Funeral at 2:30 p.m.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The last time I had contact with Yolaine was when I wrote about her on this blog in May. She seemed to be doing well then, so the news of her death came as a shock this week.
Being part of a wonderful, supportive community of breast cancer survivors is indeed a blessing … at least until we lose someone. It’s complicated; not knowing how to feel: sadness, anger, fear and even guilt. It’s hard to figure out why some people’s cancer returns and other’s do not; why some people do well and others don’t.

Many of my friends are at Yolaine’s funeral as I write this. I made the decision not to go - not because I didn't want to show my respect and honor Yolaine’s memory, but because a primal sense of survival and self-preservation tells me that it’s not the right place for me to be right now. I believe in my heart that Yolaine would understand. A sad goodbye to a fiesty lady and dedicated mom.

For those of you who knew Yolaine, please feel free to share a memory of her in the comments section. Add your name to the text portion if you want, but you can avoid having to log on by clicking on anonymous at the bottom of the window.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2009 Beauty of the Cause Calendar

The Beauty of the Cause is now accepting online orders for 2009 calendars. All proceeds will go toward the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, a 60 km walk benefiting the Cancer Foundation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Taking Care of Myself

It's hard to go from being a busy productive person to having some days where I accomplish nothing.

I just came from yet another doctor's appointment and I fully intended to run a few errands on the way home. As often happens these days, I felt tired and headed straight home instead. I'm in the 'lost days' cycle of chemo and so many things around the house and on my to-do list are left undone.

I'm learning to let it go. I'm learning to not be so hard on myself. On days when I don't have the energy to do much more than flip through the channels, I'm learning that what I have accomplished is recovery and healing. That's my job right now: taking care of myself. If I accomplish nothing else on the 'lost days' except eat something healthy and get some rest, then I've done my job.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Balance ... nature's way to heal your body

I went to a presentation this evening by Susan Manion MacDonald, author of Balance… Nature’s way to heal your body.

Susan was diagnosed with terminal cancer (4th stage lymphatic cancer) in 2002 and soon entered into a journey of research and discovery to learn everything she could about alternative ways to heal herself. She believes that “the tumor is not the disease; it is a ‘symptom’ – a result of the disease process – a breakdown of the natural biological order”. Susan became a certified naturotherapist in 2006 and is cancer free today.
I bought the book and will try to share some of what I learn with you as a read through it. To start off, here are a few of the changes that Susan made early on:

· Removed all refined, chemically altered or synthetic sugars from her diet (to improve her immune function)
· Eliminated red meats (which the liver can have difficulty processing)
· Eliminated all hydrogenated oils (which create free radicals)
· Eliminated bleached flours (questionable nutritional value and unwanted chemical additives)
· Eliminated processed dairy products (can facilitate cellular grown, including cancer cells)
· Stopped using nail polish and hair dye
· Changed shampoos, soap, toothpast, laundry detergent & many other household and personal care products
· Introduced rebounding (to move the lymphatic fluid)
· Experimented with Espsom salt soaks, dry saunas & dry brushing
· Drank 4 cups green tea daily
· Drank 4 ounces of Noni juice daily
· Took 4 Tbsp of flax oil (an essential fatty acid) mixed with ¼ c of organic quark

Some books she studied:

How to fight Cancer and Win, by William Fischer
Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide to Cancer, by Burton Goldberg

Click here for Susan MacDonald's website.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Look Good Feel Better

Mary and I went to get 'glammed up' yesterday at a Look Good Feel Better session. The purpose of the program is to help women going through chemo learn what cosmetics and head covers (wigs, scarves, hats) to use to look their best while they go through treatment.

Here's Mary's 'after' picture. She's looking fabulous, especially for someone who just had chemo that morning!

I'm not sure how much I learned that was new, but I can draw on a pretty decent eyebrow. We had a few laughs and came out feeling somewhat pampered, with our free box of goodies.

Looking Good doesn't necessarily translate to Feeling Better today. It's been 3 days since chemo and I'm feeling a bit rough around the edges; mostly nausea.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chemo # 4

Had my latest chemo yesterday and got through it fine. Still feeling OK this morning. The worst of it seems to hit about 3 or 4 days in.

I may still feel well enough this afternoon to go to my yoga class, so I'm playing it by ear. Breast Cancer Action offers a class on Thursdays for breast cancer survivors/thrivers. It's low-challenge; gentle stretching with lots of meditation and visualization, which is ideal for those of us who are currently in treatment. Others seem to enjoy it too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Journey Through Cancer, by Jeremy Geffen, MD

Patricia posted a comment about the book, The Journey Through Cancer. In addition to her recommendation, there are lots of positive comments from readers on the website. I'm definately going to check it out.

PS - Yes, you might notice that I am posting at almost midnight. Another steroid night and I'm wide awake...

Read any good books lately?

Although I love to read, I've never been interested in joining a book club. Reading someone else's pick that I might not be interested in sounds too much like work! However, I do like to talk about the books that I enjoy and I like to get recommendations on what to read from others.

On a cottage weekend this summer, a group of us had an interesting discussion about our 5 favorite books of all time. Most of us had more that 5, and Barb was kind enough to write them down for us. You can find the lists at (or click on 'Books on the Edge' on the right under 'Light Links').

Please feel free to make comments about the books that are posted and to send me your own recommendations and reviews at

Monday, November 10, 2008

1,401 Visitors!

It's been 1 month since I started tracking how many people view my blog. I can't believe that there have been 1,401 visitors since Oct 10th! I used to think it was just my Mom that read it, but I'm hearing from lots of people that they've passed the link along to friends and relatives.

Thanks to all of you who check in from time to time to see how things are going. Please feel free to leave a comment or to email me at I mainly just post pictures and write short bits on what's going on with my treatment and in my life, but I'd love to hear any suggestions that you have.

Please take a minute to take the poll on the right. It will be interesting to find out how many people are viewing for the first time and how many are repeat visitors.

Namaste and peace out!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Play week

This is the week I get to play: the week just before my next chemo, when I'm feeling my best.
I was happy to be able to do the full hike on Friday. It was a wonderfully sunny day and we stopped at a cabin for lunch. (I think it was McCloskey, but I always forget the names).
On Saturday I took a raw food course. I don't think I'm ready to adopt the full 'lifestyle' as they call it, but I did get a few good recipes.
Only a few more days to go before chemo #4 and lots to do before I have to take it easy again...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Good News! (and an update on Meridy)

I saw the oncologist yesterday to get the results of my last CT scan. The tumors on my lungs are shrinking and things are moving in the right direction. So I am continuing on the Taxotere and the aim is to go for about 9 treatments, as long as I'm tolerating it well.

Here's an update from Meridy:
I never even contemplated such a thing happening ....

After getting to the hospital at 10 a.m., getting into one of those ridiculous gowns and little paper booties, after fasting since midnight, after getting an iv inserted etc etc, I was told at 1:30 p.m. that the surgeon was running late, and at 2:45 that I would not be having surgery today - they will call me to reschedule.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers - I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Years ago I taught the Christopher Leadership Course. I met many wonderful people through the course and Meridy was one of them.

I unfortunately lost touch with Meridy over the years. She recently saw my name in an article that Alice wrote and contacted me. I was surprised to learn that she had recently gone through treatment for breast cancer herself.

Since contacting me, Meridy has been coming out to our weekly W.R.A.P. (walking, running and poling) group. Last Saturday she told us that they found two spots on her liver and she was having a procedure today to remove them (an ablation, which I had never heard of before).

Meridy has a really positive attitude and I'm putting out my own positive thoughts that the procedure will be a success. Here's a message she sent out to friends yesterday.

Hello everyone, Just to let you know that I am going in to the Civic Hospital tomorrow morning for the Radio-frequency Ablation to "zap" the cancer cells in the liver. I was there yesterday for pre-admission tests and I met the Radiologist who is going to do the procedure, so I feel very comfortable that it will go well. I will be awake but sedated. I will remain in a Surgical Day Care Unit overnight for observation, returning home early on Thursday morning. I will not return to work until Tuesday, although I will log on from home on Friday if I feel up to it. I'll let you know then how it went.

I have attached a recent photo of me - does that look like someone with cancer???? I think not! I feel very well and so I am anxious to get this over and done with and well behind me.

love to all,

Meridy - I'm thinking about you today. I hope they blast the crap out of those cancer cells. We want to see you back at our Saturday morning group soon!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Trio of Blessings

I've been feeling really tired and achy the last few days, so it really lifted my spirits to receive not 1, not 2, but 3 gifts from special people today.

1. My amazingly talented niece Erin, who is a student at the N.S. College of Art & Design in Halifax, sent me this portrait that she did from a picture of me taken when I was about 16 or 17. I wish I still had those eyelashes!
2. My dear friend Dorothy (aka Chuck) sent this lovely prayer shawl that she made for me (I didn't even know she could knit!). Here's what the card said:

Prayer Shawl
This shawl was made just for you to bring comfort, to know that you are loved. This shawl is to wrap you up when you just need a snuggle or a hug. This shawl was knitted with blessings and with love.

3. And last but not least, my wonderful role model Mary sent me for a massage. Given that my back and joints have been giving me trouble, it was a much appreciated gift. I spent an hour in a lovely serene setting, having all of my sore muscles massaged and kneaded and I left feeling like I was walking on air. Thank you, Mary, for an hour of bliss!

Monday, November 3, 2008

More fun with Wigs

I attended a Halloween potluck/baby shower for a co-worker on Friday. We were asked to dress like hospital staff or a pregnant woman.
I was a trailer-trash expectant mother, complete with curlers in my Broom-Hilda wig and a bulging baby bump that read "Property of Billy-Bob... or maybe Bobby-Ray". It seemed like a good idea at the time - at least until I saw the pictures!

Other wigs I've considered:

I'm thinking of knitting my own wig.
For someone who spends most of her time wearing scarves, I do seem to be wig obsessed...

An early winter in the Gatineau Hills

Although the snow in the city has melted, there is a generous covering in the Gatineau Hills and some people have already been skiing. I joined the hikers last week, but Mary and I took a shorter route and finished early. The combination of new snow, crisp air and bright sunshine was a great lift to the spirit. All of that fresh air must be doing the lungs good!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I see the Light!

Eventually light follows darkness.

I woke up this morning and realized that my hips and lower back weren't aching! Navigating my way down the stairs wasn't a major undertaking! I could possibly be feeling more like 80 than 110!

Despite the dreary sky (and threat of the S-word), I actually feel like I might be coming through the other side of my lost days. I'm happy to potentially be part of the real world again. Maybe I'll go crazy and go to Starbucks for coffee... or maybe I'll take pleasure in simple tasks like preparing healthy food or loading my dishwasher... or maybe I'll go for a walk.

Feeling like crap for a few days makes me appreciate getting outside even when the weather isn't great. Darkness gives us an opportunity to reflect and hope, and to trust that eventually everything, even the weather, will turn from dark to light.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Eight years after her original diagnosis, Marie-Andrée’s cancer returned in the same breast. The good news is that there was no signs of metastasis anywhere, but it meant a mastectomy and more chemo. She is now waiting for surgery to remove her ovaries and may consider prophylactic mastectomy once she has the results.

When I first met Marie-Andrée on the dragon boat team, one of the things that was obvious is her love of family. Her son is now 12 and we’d often see him and his dad at dragon boat events. The Busting Out dragon boat team has been a huge source of support and pride – so much so that Marie-Andrée wore her team shirt to all of her chemo treatments!

When a chemo patient finishes their last treatment, they get to ring a bell in the chemo room.

Marie-Andrée writes:
"How do I look at life today? Some days with fear but most days with hope and a very deliberate attempt at making every moment count big time. Watching our son grow and play and become a fine young man is what I want to keep on doing for a very long time.

A few tips from Marie-Andrée for others with a recurrence (in no particular order):
· Accept the kindness of others with grace - the people around you want to help so much - take all that you need. You deserve it.
· Be your own advocate with the medical system and with those who surround you. Only you can speak for you.
· Trust kids. They can teach us so much and they deserve honesty.
· Go for a walk everyday - if you can with a supportive neighbour.
· Read good books or, if you can't concentrate, watch funny movies.
· Keep on living as much as you can...enjoy the small moments of everyday life."

You can read Marie-Andree’s story in her own words at "Marie-Andrée".

If you would like to read about other women living with cancer, click on "Cancer Heroes" below.

The Dark Days continue

I know what it feels like to be 110. Small things like walking up and down the stairs take a major effort. After making the bed, I slumped down on top of the comforter and it took me about 15 minutes before I found the energy to move again. I've had back pain before that was caused by sore and tight muscles, but this pain is in the bones and no amount of stretching helps. I have morphine pills and sometimes they seem rather tempting, but I want to try and make do with Ibuprofen. I'm hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Dark Days

OK, I'll admit it. I'm cranky and feeling sorry for myself. Some days are for fighting; some are for recovery. Today is a recovery day.

These are the 'dark days' that I don't usually write about. The days when my stomache feels like raw hamburger and the taste of the inside of my own mouth makes me want to gag. The days when when my hips, shoulders, and just about every other joint aches at some point. The days when my internal organs feel like I've been hit by a bus. The days when I might not brush my teeth until noon and I don't always have the energy to make it into the shower.

The 'dark days' can be pretty boring. I sleep on and off and watch too much TV. Lying on the sofa for so long doesn't help my joints, and contributes to the pain in my lower back. Sometimes I get down on the floor and try to stretch it out. Sometimes I force myself to go for a walk, moving one foot methodically in front of the other.

But mostly I just give in to it and ride it out. There's something satisfying about wallowing in my own self-pity, knowing that the chemo cycle will eventually complete itself and I'll be able to appreciate the 'light days' again. Until then, I'm going to curl up into the fetal position, eat bad food, and rest my tired body.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wrapping in the rain

I've been feeling relatively OK since my latest treatment. I have slight nausea, which is mostly settled by needing to eat often, and the horrible metal taste (like I've been licking dirty ashtrays) has returned. While I'm able to do some activities, I have to rest often. Mary & I went for a nice walk yesterday and then I spent the evening on the sofa.
This morning our W.R.A.P. (walking, running & poling) group met at the new cancer survivor park on Riverside & Industrial. We got pretty wet but managed to dry off and warm up at the Local Heroes afterwards. Time for another few hours on the sofa with my quilt and a good book...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Run for the Cure photos

You can view more Run for the Cure pictures on my Snapfish account. You don't have to log on to Snapfish; just click on View Now on the top right. You will see 2 albums: Chris's Jocks and Just Doing It. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Kitchen

Moving off the cancer topic for a bit, my kitchen renovations are coming along, slowly but surely. The old flooring was ripped up yesterday and it's ready for the ceramic tile to be installed. My fridge and other kitchen furniture is in the diningroom, and the rest of my house is generally in a mess with the overflow, but it's great to be making progress!

Chemo - Round 3

Yesterday was my third treatment. I usually only post on my 'good days', but I think I'm going to try posting every day during the next 3 week cycle, as a record of the ups and downs of a typical chemo cycle.

The first week is usually a time of 'anything goes'. Nausea, fatique, and various intestinal problems (I won't get into that... just use your imagination) are all common side effects. You can generally feel like you have a bad flu. I haven't had much nausea and I still have energy, probably because I'm still on the steroids. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the steroids is increased appetite - I've been eating anything not nailed down over the past 3 days. Weight gain is common.

From day 7 to 14 is when you are at most risk for infection. Your white blood cell count can drop and your immune system is compromised. I have to watch carefully for a fever because if that happens you have to be admitted to hospital because you probably have an infection somewhere and your body has nothing to fight it. I've had bone pain, muscle pain, mouth sores and fatique during this time. You can also have numbness in the hands and feet. They put oven mitts packed with ice on me during chemo to try and prevent this (and to prevent the nails from turning black and sometimes falling off). Numbness in the limbs is not a good thing, because the damage can sometimes be permanent.

Towards the end of the 2nd week, the effects typically start to ease up and week three is my 'play week'. I've felt well enough in the 3rd week to hike, bike and do some other activities. I'm usually rushing around that week to get things done before the cycle starts all over again.

Another side effect of chemo is that it can age your body up to 20 years. With this being my 2nd round, that puts me at 20 years older than my mother, which may explain why she can run circles around me at 70!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Steroid induced Insomnia

It's 5:30 am on the morning of my 3rd chemo treatment. I estimate that I have had somewhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours of sleep, so if this post doesn't make a lot of sense, you'll understand why.

I am supposed to take 2 steroid pills (Decadron) in the morning and 2 at night for 3 days - the day before, the day of, and the day after each treatment. Unfortunately, one of the side affects of Decadron is insomnia.
So in an effort to lull myself to sleep, I finished reading half of The Reader and watched George Stroumboulopoulos interview Alanis Morrisette on the Hour.

I watched an infomercial on The Magic Bullet and wondered why mine doesn't crush ice like the one on TV does.

I watched a expose on Gary Bussey on Access Hollywood. (Did you know that he's been drug free for 13 years and that his rather bizarre behavior is caused by brain damage from a motorcycle accident?)

OK, tomorrow night I'm bringing out the big gun sleeping pills.

Congratulations to Carolyn Sturgess!

I recently wrote about cancer survivor/thriver Carolyn. She's living in Viking Alberta, but recently came back to Sudbury Ontario where she was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at Laurentian University, along with her brother Shawn.
You can read about her many accomplishments as a basketball star on the Laurentian website. Congratulations Carolyn!