Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Joanne's hair-raising fundraiser

When her cancer returned and she had to have more chemo, my friend Joanne came up with a creative way to raise money for the Busting Out dragon boat team. She asked people at the Canadian Martyrs Church to sponsor her to attend a service 'unadorned'. Yup, that's right: no wig, no hat. Brittney Spears crazy-phase bald.
She even got up and made an announcement during the service so, not only did she raise $705, she didn't have to explain to everyone individually at her church that her cancer was back. Sometimes telling your story over and over again can be exhausting.

Talk about turning a negative into a positive. Joanne, you rock!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Abby had breast cancer

Well, not really Abby from ER, but the actress who played her, Maura Tierney.

She was set to star in the series Parenthood (which I think is great, and would have been even better with MT); however, she left the show after filming the pilot to undergo treatment for breast cancer.

Implant shows up in airport scanner

My Left Breast Put Fancy TSA Scanner to the Test
by Sandra Fish

"A funny thing happened to me at airport security this week: The full-body scanner appeared to detect my fake left breast."

Read the full story

One of those days

I ran into Anka at the Gloucester Mall this morning. It was getting close to lunch so we decided to have a bite in the food court. Anka was more than a little amused when I went up to get my sandwich and she noticed that I had my top on inside out, complete with white tag, very visible on black material.

Now if I could only remember what I went to the mall for...

What I'm grateful for today: Only 12 days until the prodigal son returns!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Does Cancer Make You Strong?

Does Cancer Make You Strong?

"I think it is great to honor cancer patients and recognize the challenges we face. But don’t call me strong when I have no other choice. It discounts the many nights that I sobbed alone into my pillow and felt cowardice in every inch of my body. … One of the best byproducts of my cancer is that it has helped me befriend weakness. I no longer think of weakness as a negative term. In fact, I’m pretty damn proud that I can let myself feel scared and vulnerable. After all, cancer is scary business."

Read the full post

Coping when friends aren't doing well

I just wrote a reply to a friend who asked me how I'm doing after seeing Mary on Saturday. Mary & I are close and I think everyone is aware that it's a bit of a double whammy for me when someone I'm close to with metastatic cancer is not doing well.

It is true, it hurts. No, that's an understatement. It fucking sucks. I think the world of Mary and hate seeing that it's impossible now for her to be her usual "I can do anything; I'm not really sick" kind of self. 

Also, seeing myself in her shoes (or wheelchair, or hospital bed, etc.) isn't that much of a stretch for me.

I'm heading off to a conference for women with advanced breast cancer this weekend. What kind of a lunatic would continue to make connections (and potential friendships) with an entire community of women who's futures are filled with question marks? Shouldn't I protect myself and ask for health records and a family history before making new friends?

But, the truth is, no one understands where I'm at in my head like these women. I have a connection with them that I can't find anywhere else. They "get" me.

(Was that from a Tom Cruise movie? Oh no, I think it was "you complete me". As cute as he is, it would take more than Tommy boy to "complete" this old jig-saw puzzle with half the pieces missing).

Some of the women got emotional when we waved goodbye as Mary left the hospital. I think I just can't go there because if I do, I'm afraid it won't stop. The last time I really cried was at Christmas and I can't remember the time before that. It just feels too big for me to deal with, so I shut down. I think it's my mind's way of protecting me from coming completely apart at the seams. I have to stay in control because if I dare to peak over the edge, I'm afraid I'll fall into the abyss and won't be able to get up again.

Whewww! That was just too deep for a sunny Monday morning. I'm heading out for a bike ride with Anka and then off to do some planning for the accessory party this afternoon.

But Mary, sister of my heart, is never far from my thoughts...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Surprise for Mary - Plan C

We’ve been missing our friend Mary at the Saturday morning walking/running group. She’s been in the hospital and, while she hasn’t been feeling well enough for visitors, we’ve all been desperately wanting to see her.

Plan A was to meet in the hospital parking lot this morning and get someone to bring her to a window so we could all wave to her. When we found out yesterday that she had a weekend pass to go home (for good behavior?), we moved on to plan B.

Plan B was to wait in the park across the street and have Eric bring her over on the way to the car when she was released. Getting her ‘sprung’ (waiting for the doctor to see her) ended up taking longer than anticipated, so it was decided that the trek across Smyth in a wheelchair would be too tiring after the wait. So… we moved on to plan C.

We were determined! And Plan C worked!

Mary’s sister Frances (who just arrived from Ireland yesterday) waited at the front door of the hospital with Mary while Eric went to get the car. Then they both distracted her while the group of us walked over to the entrance, signs and all, and surprised her.

I hope Mary was as pleased as we were to see her. We sent her off with Eric and Frances for some well needed rest after all the excitement (or should I say ambush?).

Mary: You are such a good friend to all of us and we wanted to do something to let you know that we love you. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. You are a wonderful blend of classy lady and tough broad. I'm honored to call you my friend. xo

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spending my son's inheritance

Thirty minutes in the same position in the bone scan machine gives you lots of time to think. For some reason I spent that time this morning thinking about money. Not worrying about it, just reflecting on how my view of money and spending has changed recently.

My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up. After my parents split, my mom struggled to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I repeated the same pattern in my own life, struggling to raise my son alone on a modest salary after my marriage ended.

Even in the later years when I was earning a decent wage, I continued to be careful with money. I had some catch-up to do with my RRSPs and worried about my retirement. I haven’t had credit card or other personal debt for years; I chose to buy 2nd hand cars for cash, rather a new one that would lose a chunk of it's value as I drove it off the lot. I still have a mortgage, but it’s relatively small and I live in a modest townhouse well within my means. Since going on long-term disability, my income has dropped but I am still able to live comfortably, as long as I am careful.

About a week ago I found myself in Zellers trying to justify buying a new patio umbrella and chair cushions. My old set was faded and stained, but still servicable. I had some HBC points I could put towards it and the umbrella WAS on sale… but I really didn’t NEED it.

Then it hit me: I have metastatic cancer and I’m AGONIZING over buying an umbrella set from Zellers? How crazy is that? (Especially after recently reading the 5 year survival rate for metastatic breast cancer... let's not even go there!).

My friend Vanessa (financial planner extraordinaire) is putting together an estate plan for me. After looking at the numbers I realized that what they say is true: you really are worth more dead than alive. Vanessa says that the best plan is to die broke.

I recently registered for the Conference for Advanced Breast Cancer in Philadelphia. The registration is only $75, but attending involves spending a chunk on flights and hotels. Even though I’m trying to watch what I spend, I didn’t hesitate to register and book a flight. I felt I needed to be there. Other attendees that I’ve met online have told me that they’ve received a travel grant through LBBC (and they aren’t necessarily poor). Even though there’s still money there, I was not approved because I registered before applying. It seemed unfair to me, but I’m not going to stress about it. I think it’s money well spent.

I recently got a $45 parking ticket at the cancer clinic for parking on the side street just past the parking boundaries. At first I was pissed. I felt like city is making money off the backs of cancer patients. The last time I got a parking ticket was in 1998, the day I was told I was having a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy. I spent longer that planned in my surgeon’s office, trying to convince him that he could get it all with a lumpectomy. I even drew him pictures of my breast and the incisions he could make. (He was incredibly patient with me!)

Back to the parking ticket... After I did the math, I realized that if I spread the fine out over all of the times I’ve parked on that street for chemo, blood tests, bone scans, MRIs, a biopsy, port flushes, injections, doctor’s visits, etc., it was probably pennies a visit. So I paid the fine and let it go.

As you can see, I went all "C-R-A-Z-Y" and bought the damn umbrella set.

I have a Visa card and a line of credit. I could be dangerous!

Sorry for the rather long post, but it’s funny where your mind goes when you have too much time on your hands in a bone scan machine. I’d love to hear from others about if and how your view of money and spending changed after your diagnosis.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Buckets for the Cure

I admit, I did the pink thing for awhile in the beginning; I bought my share of breast cancer 'products'.

But as time goes on, I've gotten totally turned off with companies who are trying to make money under the pretense that they are concerned about finding a cure for breast cancer.

Read Laurie K's thoughts about the latest pink chicken from KFC on her blog at buckets of pink sh*t.

This is so disturbing that I just don't know what to say.

What's next - pink cigarette packages?
It's not about living longer -- it's about living better.
Dr. Oz

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Look ma, I planted a tree!

When you raise a certain level of money for the Run for the Cure, they let you select a prize. One of the prizes I chose last year was to have a tree planted. I forgot all about it until I received this message today.

Hi Christine,

Thank you for choosing to support the 2009 Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure. You’ll remember that as part of your participation you earned Run Rewards and chose to plant a tree in our forest of hope.

I’m delighted to tell you that your tree will be planted by Tree Canada in Kamloops British Columbia during May 2010.

Your tree will be a lovely Douglas Fir a hearty evergreen tree that will thrive in this community which has been devasted by wildfires, wind storms and the mountain pine beetle.

You are helping hope grow in two remarkable ways; your participation in the Run inspires hope for the 1 in 9 Canadian women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. And your tree inspires hope for a greener, brighter and cleaner future for all of us!

Thank you for helping to create a future without breast cancer and we look forward to seeing you on October 3rd for the 2010 Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure.

Joanne Simons
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

What I'm grateful for today: Our Tuesday Toonie group. We see a different movie every week and then go for lunch. Today we saw Crazy Heart.

The prodigal son returns in: 19 days

Monday, April 19, 2010

Achieving Milestones When Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer

In this spring's Living Beyond Breast Cancer newsletter, Jill Cohen writes about Achieving Milestones When Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. I can relate when she says: 
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you get on the cancer roller coaster. You go up and down for a while, and then you get off. But when your diagnosis is metastatic cancer, your life is more like being on a merry-go-round. Sometimes you go up and down on the ponies and sometimes you get to relax on the bench, but you never get off. That’s my life.
Read the full article at:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My weird hobby

Whenever I visit my mom, I usually organize her linen closet. But she’s been keeping it too tidy lately, so it’s not enough of a challenge for me.

So this time I organized her bedroom closets. We went through everything and got rid of things she wasn’t wearing or using and hung all of her clothes on matching velvet hangers.

Notice the shoe boxes on the top shelf? I took pictures of her dress shoes and put them on the front of the boxes so she can now easily identify the contents.

I know, I know, it’s a bit of a strange hobby, but I really do enjoy it!

Dog blog alert: Sittin' pretty

What I'm grateful for today: I think I've found a room-mate for the conference in Phili

The prodigal son returns in: 22 days

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What were you doing at 5 a.m.?

It’s 4:45 a.m. and the halls of the Ottawa General Hospital are empty. I follow the signs past L, M, N and O, to the MRI area on the second floor.
There’s no one at the reception desk with I arrive. There is a manual bell, just like the ones that teachers had on their desk when I was a kid, and a sign that says to “please ring only once”. I do and a woman appears behind the glass window at the counter. She tells me to put on a gown in one of the cubicles and lock my things in a locker.

I wait in my gown in an old vinyl reclining chair set on it’s own in the hallway. I can’t read because the lighting is poor, so I put the chair in the reclining position and try to relax. After about 15 minutes I get up and get another gown, which I wear like a housecoat, because it’s cold in the hallway. I haven’t seen another soul since the receptionist, but I can hear the roar and clank of the MRI machine coming from behind the doorway marked with a huge caution sign.

Finally another woman in a hospital gown comes out of the room and we exchange awkward smiles as she passes by. It’s my turn now and the woman I thought was the receptionist must be doing double duty because she is now the technician that is doing my test. She helps me lay face-up on the long tray-like table with a pillow beneath my knees, and she gives me ear protectors that look like huge stereo headphones.

This is my third MRI and I remember the feeling of claustrophobia from my previous experiences. So I ask for a cloth to put over my eyes so that I can trick my brain into not acknowledging that I’m in a long tube that feels to be just inches from my face. I’m clutching a rubber bulb attached to a tube that I can squeeze if I panic. I wonder just how long it would take for the tray to pull out of the cylinder if I squeeze the bulb. Would an alarm sound? Can I trust that the technician would respond quickly enough before I bump my head and injure myself trying to get out?

I try to practice my yoga breathing and meditation while the tray moves my body slowly within the cylinder, but it’s hard not to picture myself as being trapped in the trunk of a small car in a manufacturing plant, being moved along a noisy assembly line. The technician asks me a few times if I’m doing OK through a speaker in my headphones but, unlike during my first two MRIs, I don’t get the sense that she really cares about the answer.

I suddenly realize that I have no idea what area of my body is being tested. My spine? My lungs? My brain? All of the above? I’m tempted to peak out from beneath the cloth covering my eyes to see where I’m at in the tube, but I’m afraid, and I wouldn’t be able to get my hand up to lift it off anyway.

Finally it’s over. Has it been 15 minutes or 2 hours? I’ve lost all sense of time in the machine. The tray moves out of the tube and, before I know it, I'm dressed and walking down the empty halls and out the front door of the hospital, to find that darkness has turned to light while I’ve been in the building.

I’m grateful that it’s still early enough that the morning traffic hasn’t really started and I’m home before I know it, back in my bed, curled up with my dog, for an extra hour of sleep before I start my day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cards4Cancer Day - finally here!

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who contributed cards to Cards4Cancer Day. We collected 86 cards for CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) and 116 cards for OHCC (Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre).

I dropped the OHCC cards off with Diane Manii, Clinical Manager of the Psychosocial Oncology Program. Some of the support the program provides are: speech-language pathology, nutrition counseling, social work, psychiatry, psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, exercise rehabilitation, geriatric oncology and access to the patient and family library.

I’ve known Diane since 1998, when she led the support group I joined when I was first diagnosed. She has seen many changes and improvements since then, including a modern and spacious chemotherapy centre in the new wing of the cancer centre.

I also met with Marie Belanger, Media Relations and Events Specialist at CHEO. Marie was happy to hear about the guidelines established by SpritJump (e.g. no religious content, stored in a smoke-free area, etc.). That made it much easier for them to accept and distribute the cards. They plan to put them on the food trays. The children's cards were filled with drawings, stickers, pictures of pets and cheery messages.

While I was waiting for Marie in the lobby, I met Dorothy (on the right above) who was delivering bags of teddy bears made by her mother, Peggy Williams. To-date, they have made and delivered over 5,000 teddy bears to CHEO for distribution to the patients there.

What I'm grateful for today: Unsung heroes who are making a difference in our community: people like Dorothy, Peggy, and all of the people who contributed to Cards4Cancer day. Also, a huge shout out to the wonderful staff at the Ottawa Cancer Centre for the care they show while doing a difficult job. In particular, I'm grateful for the good relationship I have with my oncologist, Stan Gertler. (OK, I admit, I've had a platonic crush on him for years!)

The prodigal son returns in: 27 days

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A near miss

Katey, Mom and I had a lovely visit and Easter dinner with my cousin Mike and his family in Burlington. As we were leaving, we nearly ran over the Easter Bunny. It was dark so it was hard to see this small gray rabbit in front of our car, but I was able to swerve to avoid him.

Could it be another attempted Bunny Suicide???

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Do you eat the ears first?

It's probably in poor taste to post a bunny suicide picture at Easter.

Which, of course, makes me want to do it even more.
My daughter-in-law Tara loves bunnys (she even has ashes from her dearly departed pet rabbit in an urn). She also has a collection of Bunny Suicide books, which appeal to my warped sense of humor (and apparently hers too).

I hope the Easter Bunny called the suicide hotline and survived to deliver you some chocolate today.

Happy Easter!

Adventures of Adam and Tara - Romania

Here's a note I received from Adam:

I'm in Brasov, Romania right now. Very authentic here! There are wild dogs everywhere (pretty sad). And loads of gypsies. Today when I was driving on a main road -- which isn't very 'main' since there are crazy potholes all over -- I had to squish between two horse-drawn carts on the road going in opposite directions! And I had to stop and honk at a cow to make him move. I just ate like a king for about 6 euros. Grilled meats and cabbage salad, mmm. About 50 feet down the street from where I'm staying, there's a place that has Canadian flags on the windows, so I got a closer look -- it's some immigration thing signing Romanians up to move to Canada. Interesting. It wasn't open, but I looked in the window... I think they are being sent to Quebec for something (guess they need cheap labour?) b/c there were Quebec flags inside.

As for me, nothing quite as adventurous. Katey & I are spending Easter in Stevensville with my Mom. When Mom gets back from mass, we're going to the casino for breakfast. How's that for a new Easter tradition?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hell hath no fury...

OK, now I’m getting really pissed off.

I wrote previously about the problems I had with a vacuum I purchased from Canadian Tire (aka Canadian Tired). After several attempts to contact both the manufacturer, Euro TrashPro, and Canadian Tire, I sent back the part that didn’t fit and bought a 2nd-hand vacuum from So far, it works fine. It was $50 well spent.

In the meantime, I went on the Canadian Tire website and posted a review of the Shark vacuum. I was honest and said I was unhappy with both the product and the customer service I received. Here’s their reply:

Unfortunately, we were unable to post your review about Shark Canister Vacuum as it did not meet our requirements for publication.

Obviously, Canadian Tire is not interested in honest consumer reviews, just positive ones. I have since filed a complaint with the better business bureau.

I realize that little ol' me boycotting Euro-pro products and Canadian Tire will not hurt their business, but I’m doing it on a matter of principal.

I know I should just let this go but Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! (I think that quote refers to a woman rejected in love, but you get my meaning…)