Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I’ve often heard of the combination of chemotherapy drugs given to a patient as a ‘cocktail’. I guess they ordered mine neat (no ice) because I’m just getting Taxotere. I’d prefer a Cosmopolitan or a Margarita, but they don’t seem to be on the menu.

My next ‘cocktail’ is tomorrow, so today is my last day of feeling human for a while. A week from now, when I’m living with dust bunnies and ring-around-the-toilet-bowl, I may regret my decision to spend the past week enjoying the fall weather with friends instead of cleaning my house. But I highly doubt it.

Next week, when I’m lying on my sofa watching bad daytime TV, I’ll try to ignore the lint on the carpet and the kitchen wallpaper that’s only half removed, and know that I made the right choice.

Last Friday, I went for what was probably the last swim of the season in Meech Lake. My fellow bathing beauties are Peg, Judy and Frances. (I've posted a picture of me almost bald AND in a bathing suit! How crazy is that?)
I spent this weekend in Picton with Peg, Dianne and Barb. We went to a wine and food festival and stayed at a beautiful B&B with an outdoor hot tub (sorry, no pictures available).
Here I am wearing my new blonde-bombshell wig with my Bosom Buddies Beverly, Marylou and Jill (aka Jilly-bean).

Now, aren't you glad I didn't post pictures of me vacuuming???

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Indian Summer

The weather this week is worth taking advantage of, so I'm getting outside as much as possible. I’ve been out to Petrie Island a few times for lunch and spent a few hours in my folding chair by the water with a good book.Today I felt well enough to go for a bike ride with Anka and Fred. We had lunch at a boathouse restaurant along the water, with me sporting my new look: Bandana Biker Chick.

Victoria's Quilts

What does it say about me that I now prefer Victoria’s Quilts to Victoria’s Secret? My friend Anka put my name forward to receive a quilt from a wonderful organization that makes them for cancer patients. It’s just the right size to take to chemo treatments or wrap myself in it on the sofa. It’s become my new ‘blankie’ and I love it!

The countdown has begun: 6 more sleeps until my next treatment. I have to party while I can... so I'm going to a wine & food festival in Picton this weekend with friends.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hair Today... Gone Today

I knew when I washed my hair this morning it was going to be the last time I’d be needing shampoo for awhile. My hair was coming out by the handful and I had to face the fact that I needed to do something about it by the end of the day or it would all be on my pillow the next morning.

Mary Lou and I went for a walk in the Arboretum in the afternoon. We went back to her place afterwards and it just happens that she has a set of hair clippers, so she went to work. (OK, they are dog-grooming clippers, but at this stage it didn’t much matter). The deed wasn’t as painful as I expected and I’m now sporting a rather butchy-looking buzz cut.
Gee, I sure hope the wig I ordered comes in soon…

Art Tour

Peg and I took advantage of the beautiful weather this weekend and did the Chelsea/Wakefield Artist’s tour. I was not only amazed at the variety of art (everything from glass etchings to rustic furniture), but also at the wonderful studios the artists have to work in and display their art. (So much for the starving artist theory).
We took Peg’s daughter’s dog, Georgia, for a nice walk in Chelsea and had lunch by the river in Wakefield. You can’t beat a beautiful fall day in the Gatineaus!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tips for Family & Friends

My mom left on Friday. Reluctantly. She was a huge help to me and I was extremely grateful to have her here when I had my first treatment. But after 2 weeks, she had to admit that I’m doing fine and don’t need a nurse. It was time for her to go back to her life and for me to go back to mine. Or at least my version of the new ‘normal’.

Having my mom here reminded me of how hard it is to be a family member of someone who has cancer. One person doesn’t have the cancer; the whole family has it. It affects all of the people who care about the person who is actually having the treatment.

How can family and friends know what to do to help? We are all learning that together as we go. I came up with some thoughts on how my family and friends can help me that I hope will be helpful. It’s probably different for every person, but these are the things that come to mind:

  • Don't treat me like a sick person. I know I have cancer. I know I am having chemo. But I don’t want my life to be about cancer and being sick. Some days I feel sick, but not every day. Some days I feel pretty damn good.
  • Leave me alone when I’m cranky. On low energy days I feel like lying on the sofa in front of the TV. I don’t want to have to pretend to be ‘up’ and just want to wallow in it for awhile. Don’t worry, I’ll snap out of it when my energy comes back in a day or two.
  • Support my decisions. I’ve spent a lot of time looking into and thinking about my options. There is no absolute right answer for anyone in this situation. Each person has to make choices that they feel good about and they feel will work best for them. I know I can be pig-headed, but I’m comfortable with the choices I’m making.
  • It's OK to talk about your sadness and fears. You won’t remind me that I have cancer. Believe me, I haven’t forgotten. I’m pretty open about what I’m going through and don’t have a problem going there with you if you want to. Just as long as we don't get stuck there.
  • Come out and play. I want to spend nice days outside in the sunshine and nature. Let's go for a walk, paddle a kayak, sit by the water or check out the fall leaves.
  • Laugh! You can’t deny your emotions when you feel sad, but there are also times when finding humor in a tough situation can ease the stress. Laughter is not only the best medicine, it's the best way I know of giving cancer the finger!!! If I can still laugh, I know I'm OK.

Here's a site with some great general advice on how to help someone who has cancer: http://www.circusofcancer.org/HTH-toc.html.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Run for the Cure

On October 5th I will be participating in the Run for the Cure for the 12th time. I usually run it but, given that I will be having my 2nd chemo treatment 5 days prior, I am planning to walk it this year.

If you would like to sponsor me in this event, go to SPONSOR. I won’t be setting any speed records, but I plan to cross the finish line upright and smiling!

If you are a breast cancer survior/thriver, you can join the JUST DOING IT team. There are both runners and walkers on the team.

Also participating this year is a team called Chris' Jocks from Carleton University. If you would like to join or sponsor this team, contact andrea_barton@carleton.ca or melanie_dow@carleton.ca.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


My Mom & I drove to Anka’s & Fred’s cottage-trailer yesterday. Anka suggested we go for a short paddle in the kayaks and I jumped at the chance.

We didn’t go fast and we didn’t go far, but the feeling of using my own power to glide through the water made me feel alive and strong. (OK, the strong part is relative, but certainly a whole lot better than the day before). The feeling of warm sun on my face, the reflection of the white clouds and blue sky on the water, the sound of the dip of the paddles, all made me feel alive and renewed. I leaned back in the kayak and imagined the sun healing my body and the fresh air breathing new life into my damaged cells.

Never mind that I have to rest lots and that the inside of my mouth feels like raw hamburger. Every day I feel just a little bit better and a little bit more like me again.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Adventures in Chemotherapy

I made it through the first few days after my treatment without much nausea or other side effects. I should have known it was going too well…

Yesterday I developed severe abdominal pains and finally called my homecare nurse. She said I should go to the emergency to rule out a blood clot and that they would take me right away once I said I was a chemo patient.

Five hours later… I finally had blood tests and an x-ray. The tests showed elevated counts for my pancreas, which is exactly where the pains were. They gave me morphine (a mighty fine drug!) and sent me home feeling more than a little loopy.

I seem fine this morning and hoping to put that incident (and the painful hours in the emerg) behind me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chemo - Round 1

It’s the morning after my first chemo treatment and I’m doing relatively well. Other than feeling like I’ve had the energy drained from my body, I'm a lot better than I expected at this point.

I’m looking forward to visitors but ask that people stay away if they have colds or flu. The chemo compromises the immune system and I’m at risk for infection, especially after my first treatment.

Thanks to everyone for your calls. Please forgive me if I screen my calls when I'm tired or don't return your calls right away. I do appreciate all of your best wishes and support. xo

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chemo Postponed

While visiting the cancer clinic yesterday for bloodwork, I found out that I should have attended a chemo information session that I knew nothing about. As a result, they have delayed my chemo until tomorrow so I can attend the session today.

In preparation for the chemo I thought I was getting today, I started taking steroids yesterday. They’ve left me feeling like, well… someone on steroids. It’s as if I’ve had way, way too much caffeine and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. I never stopped talking all day yesterday (which is exhausting for an introvert!) and had trouble getting to sleep last night, despite taking a full sleeping pill. Maybe I should save a few of the steroid pills for the Run for the Cure. Do they do drug testing?

Alternative Treatments

I have to say, I’m not ‘feeling the love’ from the medical system this time around.

I haven’t seen my own oncologist for about a year & a half (just after my lung surgery and even then I had to specifically ask to see him). I feel like I’ve been abandoned and pushed from one doctor-of-the-day to another and have had little information going into this.

I requested a copy of my lab reports and the good news is that my bone scan shows no evidence of metastatic disease in the bone. But the OPINION section says: “Interval appearance of multiple tiny bilateral lung parenchymal nodules. Findings are worrisome for metastatic deposits.” Does that mean there is a small chance that it isn’t metastatic? Highly unlikely, but I’d hate to think I’m going through this chemo for nothing…

So I’ve been researching other alternative treatments to deal with the chemo effects and to fight the cancer. I saw an energy therapist in Nova Scotia that used plant and insect extract to neutralize the cancer cells in my body. After an intense 2-hour session with him, I can’t decide if he’s brilliant or a quack. Either way, he didn’t do anything invasive and I think it was $145 well invested, on the chance that what he did could make a difference.

I’ve also started seeing a Naturopathic Doctor who is giving me the support that I feel is lacking from the cancer clinic. Some of her recommendations include a change of diet to eat 80% foods that are alkaline and 20% that are acidic. That means lots of veggies & fruit; no refined sugars, white flour & processed food; decreased milk & wheat products; and lots of green tea. (Bye-bye to the sweets I’ve been struggling to give up anyway.) I’m also taking a series of supplements that will help to protect my liver and other organics during chemo, and hopefully work against the cancer.

I spent over an hour this morning putting together a schedule for taking all of my medications, vitamins and other supplements. This is turning out to be a full-time job!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Farewell to Nova Scotia

Our last few days in Halifax were bittersweet. The sun finally decided to shine and we tried to cram as much as possible into the beautiful end-of-summer weather, very conscious of the fact that our time there was quickly coming to an end. We sat at a lookout in Herring Cove and watched the waves roll in and turn into foam as they crashed on the rocks below us.
We climbed the Dingle Tower for a spectacular view of my hometown. We ate a picnic breakfast in the Public Gardens, which hasn’t changed much since I was a child.
Erin took us to Long Lake for a swim and then we went walked in the sand and surf at Crystal Crescent Beach.
Being by the ocean was just what I needed to prepare me for the road ahead. I could feel the salt air recharging my batteries and the powerful surf sharing its strength with me. Our last days flew by much too quickly and then it was time for Adam to get on a plane to the Netherlands and for me to return home to prepare for my treatment on Tuesday.
When I arrived at the airport in Ottawa, my mom was waiting for me. I quickly switched roles from being the parent wanting to protect her child to being the child taken care of by her parent. I remember thinking when I first found out the cancer was back that ‘I want my mom’. I’m incredibly lucky to have a mom who is a natural caregiver and so willing to do whatever she can to help me through this.

Monday, September 1, 2008

HAIR - by Mary O'Rourke

Here's something my friend Mary wrote about yet another lovely side effect of chemo. Thank you Mary, for being my first official "guest blogger".
I have a bad comb-over. And I am not a used car salesman. I’m a middle-aged woman with male-pattern baldness.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a happy camper and a remarkably vigorous one for someone “living with cancer.” I bike, hike, paddle, ski and travel – with product, hair product that is. When I roll out of bed in the morning, I look like a cross between Albert Einstein and a crested grebe. The wispy bits of hair on top of my head stand on end. It takes time and product to get things slicked down and plumped up just right. Then I’m ready to face the world.

At the beginning, 15 years ago, I had great hair. Long, dark, thick and lustrous. Wore it down past my shoulders to make my skinny-haired sisters jealous. Then the doc announced I had the big C, breast cancer.

A momentous, movie-of-the-week moment. Some people worry about dying. Some worry that they’ll miss little Johnny’s graduation. Others fear spending all their time throwing up. Me, I wondered how I was going to handle the humiliation of wearing one of those creepy little cotton turbans that scream, “Look at me, I’m a pathetic sick person.”

So I got a list of the best rug experts in town. Number one fell way short of the mark. Tammy Faye and Loretta Lynn look great at the Grand Ole Opry, but don’t really cut it on Parliament Hill here in Ottawa. “Do you have anything shorter, more business-like?” I asked the girl. “Most people don’t care what kind of wig it is once their hair starts falling out,” she replied helpfully.

Luckily, when friend Martha and I finish laughing ourselves sick, we find Caralyn. Mature, wonderful Caralyn is a hairdresser with a separate entrance for the follicly challenged. In the inner sanctum, she tactfully suggests a chin-length brown bob. It has a few strands of grey woven in to match my natural colour. The con job works so well that I get far more compliments than I ever get on my real hair.

Fast-forward six months. Summer’s coming and I’m now so sick of the damn wig that I’m ready to embrace my inner skinhead. Which I do, until my hair finally grows back. Same hair, life goes on.

Until the next time, that is. Who knew that a persistent cough would lead to more adventures in hairdressing? But it does. I get a new wig, sail through treatment for the spots in my lungs. And then the cosmic joke strikes. Just as I’m admiring the hair growing in, I realize it’s re-arranged itself, without my permission!

It may not actually be male-pattern baldness, but thanks to the cocktail of chemicals I’ve been treated with, my hair is now thinner on the top third of my head than on the back and sides. Call me crazy, but this annoys me far more than the bone mets in my hip which were later treated, very successfully, with radiation

Well, as my friends say, bad hair is still way better than the alternative. But just in case, here’s how I want my epitaph to read: She died after a long and cranky battle with cancer and hair care.

Click here to read more about Mary (who just happens to look lovely with her less-than-previously-abundant pixie hair cut).

Happy Birthday to me!

Welcome to my 2nd annual birthday-in-Halifax celebration. Adam & I spent the day wondering around the waterfront and then met up with my niece Erin for dinner at the Wooden Monkey. Lots of calls and great gifts, but the best was spending my birthday with Adam.
It’s Sunday morning and we’re sitting in a Starbucks on Spring Garden Road, both on laptops (mother & son nerds), and life seems normal. How can it be that I have cancer in both of my lungs? Am I really about to start chemo again in a little over a week? I keep watching for signs: Am I more out of breath than usual after walking up a hill? Is my sore throat the start of a cold, or could it be something more? I’m working at staying in the moment so there isn’t a dark cloud over my time in Halifax with Adam. The literal clouds are making that a bit difficult. Where is the sun???