Monday, December 22, 2008

Coming back down and then up again...but in a good way!

We have been trying to settle back down into a routine ever since Ryan's hospital adventure, but we can't quite seem to get there. Ryan was scheduled to start back on daily radiotherapy treatments last Wednesday, but when we got there we found out that for the first time ever they could not treat patients. A virus had gotten into their servers and they sent everyone home. At least it provided Ryan with a little warm up to going back to that place and he of course made me take him by the room where they called the code on him (for those of you that know Ryan well, you can laugh now at some random memory of him showing you every place he ever lived, worked or went to school).

He has now had 5 more treatments (a total of 13 now) which gets him closer to the goal of 28 in total. We are still playing with his medications to try and get them just right. Everyone is of course concerned about this same scenario happening again, especially with the potential aggravation of the tumour once it is zapped some more, so we are watching him carefully. In fact Ryan can't really even daydream anymore, because once he stands and stares at something for more than 20 seconds, I am right by his side asking him..."are you feeling ok?".

He is on a combination of 2 types of anti-seizures medications and a steroid to try and control the inflammation. Every time he gets a little "ceiling fan" as he calls it (literally a small ceiling fan pops into his right peripheral vision for about a minute), we have to increase some of his anti-seizure medications. The doctors say this is a minor seizure and if left to its own devices, it could turn more serious. Ryan's ego of course gets in the way for a few minutes after I tell him that we have to increase his meds again, but then he quickly backs down when I remind him that we're doing it so that he doesn't have to eat hospital food for 5 days again!

So that's the "how's Ryan doing physically" news, which is really only a small part of the story these days. The day after Ryan got home, we gave the okay to an amazing group of women to release a Press Release story about us in Calgary. This group of friends had met the afternoon that Ryan was in the ER (which had been planned as their first meeting for some time) to discuss how to raise the funds Ryan needed to do the treatment of Avasting at $10K/month. When they heard the news during their meeting, it brought even more urgency to the cause. They felt that issuing this release to the press before xmas might be a way to raise a bit of money into the account they created and we did it to communicate our message of perspective on what the holidays are really about.

A few hours after the news release, Tricia (our seasoned media contact), got some calls. Over the last week we have gotten the opportunity to communicate our message on CTV, Global, through the Calgary Sun and Herald and on two radio shows (some links are on Ryan's blog). We also knew that we might have had some people generously donate some extra xmas funds to Ryan's fundraising initiatives, but had no idea about what was about to happen.

A local businessman Brad Field, a husband & father of 3, arrived at our house with his wife Sheryl and daughter Haley to give us an early gift. He said that he had seen our story in the Sun and wanted to help out. They presented us with a card and inside was a cheque. Ryan was holding it and I do need glasses for details far away and at first I thought the cheque said $6,000. I couldn't believe my eyes...a complete stranger wanted to give us enough money to pay for close to 1 treatment - how could that be? I said thank you and then I glanced down to confirm this amazing contribution and my jaw dropped open. The cheque was not for $6,000, but for $60,0000!!!! This man and his family had dropped by to provide us with the ultimate gift....payment for 6 months of treatment for Ryan and really, giving us the comfort of knowing that he can go ahead with his best shot to live!

After that happened, we spent the next day in shock. We kept looking at each other to confirm that it wasn't a dream and that the night before had actually happened. Earlier that day, I had talked to the drug company and they agreed to cover 20% of the costs of the drugs throughout. So in the matter of one day, we had received $84,000! It's hard to verbalize exactly what this meant to me, but it has really given me a sense of peace in knowing that Ryan is now able to do everything possible to fight this and the rest is really out of our hands. We had some thoughts go through our heads that this still might be Ryan's last christmas with us, but only a very small amount compared to what could have been.

So now there is much less worry that goes on in my head each day about the future and I am much better able to stay in the present. My mom is here to help and we are just ensuring that Ryan gets the rest he needs. The doctors told us that seizures are most often brought on by fatigue, so please help us in ensuring that Ryan doesn't spend too much time chatting with you on the phone and that he gets only 1 visitor a day. You know that he loves to socialize!

I hope that the holidays were good to you all and that if you did see our story anywhere, you took from it what we had hoped. Live each day to the fullest, don't worry about the past or the future, just be thankful for today! I hope the new year brings you all health and peace in knowing that this world is a beautiful place. If you ever wanted to believe in miracles, now with Brad Field's amazing contribution to Ryan's future, you can!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Comeback Kid

It is hard to describe the person Ryan was after having 3 serious seizures in a row. The best word that I can come up with is hollow. The nurse in the trauma area said that it was like the lights were on, but no one was home. How could my husband go from his big grinned self to that in a matter of two hours? But it happened.

The amazing part of it all is that yesterday morning when I went up to the hospital, I could tell right away that he was back. The smile he gave me when I walked in the door and the speed of his speech were telltale signs. The doctors will likely let him out today and we will bring him home to rest here. Then he will restart his radiotherapy treatments on Wednesday and go from there.

He will continue on the steroids to prevent future inflammation again, but it is a continued risk and one we now know much too well. To be honest, I feel much more scared now than I did when I ever heard those risks the first time.

The last few days have blurred into what seems like weeks and I can't believe that we are one week away from Christmas. Our family will be continuing to make some adjustments to life where we don't want Ryan left alone and where I will likely be driving him to his daily treatments so he never has to worry about not being able to say the words "call my wife" again.

Ryan's mom is still in town until things settle down a bit and my mom is flying in today to offer Talyn a constant through this all. I will continue to take deep breaths to keep my perspective on the today and continue to ask you all for your positive thoughts and prayers to help Ryan through the remainder of his treatments safely. He has done amazing things so far, so why can't he continue to be at the far end of the bell curve?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ryan's Fight

Ryan started radiotherapy on December 2. But the day before that, he had a mild seizure. This was the first day for us that reality started to hit us right in the face. Ryan has only ever had one grand mal seizure and that was in 1997 and before they ever found the tumour. So, although the doctors had told us about the significant progression, we were able to dismiss their news because Ryan was doing so well.

On the evening of December 1, Talyn and I were sleeping and Ryan was in the basement watching a show he likes. He describes a sensation of tingling all over his body and then knew he had to get to me. He got himself up the stairs and turned on the light to our room and by that time he had lost the ability to speak and fell to his knees to get ready for more. For the next 5 minutes his vision got fuzzy, he couldn't speak and we just waited for more. After 5 minutes he started to return to normal and we were hit with a cold dose of reality.

The doctors checked him out the next day and increased his anti-seizure medication, but seemed pretty relaxed about everything so he continued on with his treatments. He immediately felt much fatigue, but otherwise continued to feel well.

On Friday, December 12 in the morning, Ryan had a very similar mild seizure and after 5 minutes he returned to normal. So, after we knew he was okay, I drove Talyn to school and went back to my other life. Someone from Ryan's office drove him to his treatment that morning, but when he got there he felt off.

He went to go find his radiation therapists but by the time he got to them he couldn't speak. He then started to seize for 9 minutes. They called a Code 66 on him (a code the we listened to many times for others at the hospital) and the ER doctors rushed over to get to him. However by the time they got there, he had had a second seizure. They administered some meds to try and stop them and he seized a third time. I arrived to the hospital shortly after that and they took him to the ER.

There were many scary things about this. One was that there was 3 seizures in a row, but more concerning was that he wasn't able to regain all of his functions completely before another one came. He was rendered paralyzed on the right side and could not speak. They ran a CT Scan of his head and found inflammation, which can be a side effect of radiation. So they started to give him some steroids.

Throughout the last 2 days, we have watched Ryan regain most of his speech and all of his right side strength. He does continue to have some problems with language and vision, but they think that as the steroids continue to attack the inflammation, that should all return. He has spent the last 2 days in the ER while they wait for a bed and last night he was finally moved to the Neurology Unit.

I continue to be amazed at how alone I felt when this happened, but how in the background everyone worked around us to create a plan for Talyn and to make sure we were okay. So many people have helped us get through the last couple of days and I want to send a huge thank you to you all! We hope that Ryan will be let out of the hospital tomorrow and then we will chat with his Cancer docs to see if this changes the plan.

So many times before in my life I have seen mugs, magnets or books with various sayings like "live like there is no tomorrow", but I continue to find out exactly what that means. Life is a gift, continue to cherish it and those around you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Searching for a cure...

It really makes me mad that right now there are so many people around the world that are in the same situation we are. The western doctors are not as hopeful as you want them to be, every eastern doctor we meet is sure they can cure Ryan completely and we are stuck in the middle trying to figure out which way to go. It just doesn't make sense that in a time where your mind is not as clear as you need it, you are forced to act like a doctor and decide which is the best treatment to go with.

Through the past week I have transitioned nicely through the many stages of grief. The day after the news I went to a work meeting and everyone kept asking me why I was there - Denial. Then I started to feel really mad at why we should have to deal with cancer as a couple for the 6th time! I have always said that it was better it was us than a child or an elderly person, but that's because I was always totally confident we could get through it. But this time I did finally get - Mad. The next step is supposed to be Bargaining, where I will promise to whatever god or spirit you believe in to be better. I have always done this before, but this time have a hard time putting my head around any person that would give us this challenge again. On Tuesday of this week, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I couldn't get out of bed and cried very easily - Depression.

Now I am moving towards the fight - Acceptance. Reminding myself that Ryan has always been the exception and will continue to be so. The hardest part of this stage is that you have to let your mind go to the worst possible conclusion and go through how you would deal with that. Then you can bring yourself back to the today and deal with every day as it comes without going to that dark place again.

When someone gets this kind of news, the people around them don't know what to do or say. That is okay and normal. Just know that they would much rather you tell them that you're sorry they have to go through this and that you don't know what to say, then if you stay silent. They need to know that you are there to support them and help them out. Now they may not take you up on any of your offers to help, but the fact that you did makes them really know you care.

I am not saying all of this to get you to email me, but just to share with you what I experienced in terms of reactions when I was sick and what I am now seeing with Ryan. Live today like there is no tomorrow because none of us know what will happen today. Make Ryan your inspiration to tell someone you love them, forgive someone for something they've done or do something great that you keep putting off. Together we can make this a better place, but it's not going to happen if we all wait for that to happen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Round in the Ring

Usually when I don't write in my blog for a while, it's because everything is going so well that I don't think there's really anything interesting to note. That is the reason that you haven't seen anything from me for a while, but that is unfortunately why I am back online today.

Life in general has gone by without many bumps. Ryan did find out in September that his tumour started to grow a bit and that definitely got us worried, but we seemed to have settled into a world of him focusing on many eastern medicine remedies, taking time off of work and just living life. My health has continued to improve and that brings with it some ups and downs, but mostly I felt like we were really getting back on track.

Last Thursday I went in for my first 3 month check up at the Cancer Center and my oncologist noted that I looked perfect! I received another injection in my stomach to keep my ovaries temporarily shut down for the next 3 months and went on my way. But while I was seeing him, Ryan was down one floor getting an MRI to check on his tumour.

Of course there were 3 scenarios that Ryan and I had prepared for when we received the results on Tuesday. However, the news that we got wasn't one of them. Unfortunately his brain tumour that had started to grow a bit in September has literally exploded in growth over the past 2.5 months. For those of you that have seen Ryan recently probably are as stunned as we are. As one of his friends noted “he looks the healthiest that I’ve ever seen him!”. We were told that they would review his case at the Tumour Board (the weekly meeting with the top doctors from each different area of cancer care) and let us know what they came up with for options.

Last night the doctors called and told us the following:
· Surgery is still not an option. The risks are too great because they would be causing permanent damage to visual and speech fields and still may not get much of the area out.
· Radiotherapy (a more precise version of radiation) is still a go! He will start daily treatments as soon as they can get it planned. We are thinking in the next week or two.
· Chemotherapy is still an option post radiotherapy if Ryan wants it. This one is tricky….there are 2 drugs they want to use and 1 of them is very experimental for brain cancer. It comes with it some fairly significant unknowns and risks and some potential benefits as well, so we will entertain this option in a couple of months. The other problem is that it isn’t covered in Alberta yet because it is so experimental, so we will be working hard on many angles over the next 2 months to see what we can do to change that.

Although the situation is still really uncertain and scary, we are in a much better place today than yesterday. Not having a “plan” and “options” is never good! Today will be a day of figuring out more about the plan because Ryan was also told some other news he wasn’t so thrilled with…he can’t drive for a while! So, we will be acquainting ourselves with local transit, trying to reshuffle his appointments and getting his bike winterized – thankfully we moved to the inner city a few months back.

Life continues to throw challenges our way and we keep wondering why. The good in this scenario is that I have had 2 months to regain my strength and Ryan has had the past while to get his system ready to fight again. We now just need to further develop our plan of attack for this latest development and then get our fighting gloves on again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Rethink Romp!

I can't believe it's been one month since I've last written in my blog. I think it's because every time I go to write in it, I hope there is more to Ryan's news to report, but there isn't.

The doctors continue to plan for him to start radiotherapy in a few weeks. He has had a simulation session and they have made his face mask for his treatments. The last step will be one final MRI. The results of this will be used for two things. One - for final treatment planning and two - for Ryan to make his final decision.

If the tumour has shown any progression since the last MRI he had in September, he will go ahead with the radiotherapy right away. However, if it shows any shrinkage, then he will continue on with all of the more natural therapies he has been doing and do another check in a couple of months. The problem will come if it shows neither. That is when Ryan has to roll the dice and decide if he should take a chance with the large risks of this treatment for hope that it stops future growth or wait and hope that it will continue to stop growing.

So, on that side of our lives, no real news to report right now, but stay tuned!

In my life, things have flown on by. Over the past week we have continued with hurried preparations for the Rethink Romp. The event finally happened last night and it definitely surpassed everyone's expectations. We sold out the event before it even started and we raised about $25,000 for Rethink Breast Cancer! This means that we can now fund some amazing and much needed education and support initiatives right here in Calgary. As well, people had so much fun that they forgot that all of the money went to a good cause. I couldn't have pulled it off without the amazing committee that I had been working with for the past many months and I can't wait to see what we can do from here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Results Are In...

And my CT Scan was clear!!! Although I just had my CT on Wednesday afternoon, I put in a call yesterday to my amazing care team at the Tom Baker Cancer Center to see if there was any way I could get the results quickly. They all know Ryan and I well and because of the stress we are under dealing with Ryan's situation, my oncologist gave me a call back within an hour of my request!

When Dr. Webster called me back he first told me that it looked perfect. But when he said the word "perfect", of course my cell phone cut out, so I asked him to repeat it. Once he did, I had a hard time listening to anything else he said. He tried to make a joke with me by saying that my head was clear and they didn't even see a brain, but I was still trying to absorb the word perfect and didn't get it. To say that I feel a sense of relief is a HUGE understatement.

I feel like after 2 years of jail time, I finally have been let out for good behaviour. I learned my lesson about taking my life for granted and have made many changes to reinforce a healthy lifestyle for the rest of my years. I also have Ryan as a daily reminder of how quickly life can change in case I ever choose to forget.

Next week we should meet with Ryan's doctors to discuss next steps for him, but until then my family gets to breathe a sigh of relief and just enjoy life!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taking Back Control!

Getting dealt some less than pleasant cancer news feels like your life is literally being sucked out of you. When we got Ryan's news, it hit us both like an unforeseen tornado in our calming skies. For the few days after the news, we let the news hit us in various waves and told the story again and again to family and friends. Eventually, our emotions were sucked out of us and it was time to take action!

With the help of our acupuncturist, Dr. Johal, we developed a plan of attack to put the control back where it should be - with us! Over the past week we have travelled to Edmonton and Vancouver to visit some eastern medicine doctors. They all had fairly positive things to say. In general, they feel that Ryan's situation is not as bad as the doctors are telling us and that he will get through it. For me, they feel that I will also get through all of this but that my immune system is so weak after 2 years of treatments that my focus needs to be on rebuilding it, or the cancer will continue to return. We left with a nutrition and Chi Gong program to follow, along with a plan to have minimal stress in our crazy rollercoaster of a life.

We arrived back in Calgary this morning exhausted from the travel, but mentally so much stronger. This afternoon I had my CT Scan and tomorow Ryan will get a PET Scan and also get the results from the MRI he had last week. Next week will be a big week for results for us both!

It is amazing how much a terrible cancer diagnosis can play with your mind. All it takes is a doctor to say that there's not many options left or that they can't cure you to make you feel defeated. But I truly believe that the mind is a VERY powerful tool. If used properly, it can help you surpass all doctors expectations! Never forget that you ultimately hold the control over what you tell your body to do or not to do. Ryan and I are here to prove that a positive attitude will help us both surpass this cancer thing for good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Just when we thought life was going back to normal

Life had been pretty uneventful over the past weeks and I almost let myself drift into a sense of relief. Although I had ongoing anxiety over my upcoming CT scan, the real possibility that it could be clear and we could get on with normal life kept bubbling up. Talyn started at his preschool and Ryan and I were back at work and loving life.

But then our family got struck with another blow this morning. Ryan's latest MRI shows some growth from his tumour and unfortunately this has happened quite quickly over the past two months. Although Ryan's brain tumour has always behaved quite passively over the 11 years he has had it, we knew that there was a possibility that it could turn aggressive at some point. The doctors think this might be what has happened.

The next couple of weeks will be filled with more scans and tests to determine exactly how much of the area of concern is tumour and what the real growth amount has been. Throughout this time, they will be planning in the background for the next likely event of a new form of radiation. These details are all still very new to us, but it is different than the last kind of radiation he had and although there are more risks this time, they feel it could be promising for him.

He will do this for 30 days and then the likely next step will be a very aggressive and new drug for chemotherapy. The oncologist kept saying that we are in tiger territory. It took me a couple of times to understand what he meant, but he was saying that we need to be aggressive, quick and that this is new territory for everyone. Ryan's case is definitely unique. For someone his age to have been dealing with a brain tumour for 11 years and to continue to function so well with all the treatment he has had, is truly an exception.

This is all really new news to digest and we are all trying to get our heads around the latest names of new drugs we've never heard before, new scans and what they will tell us and all the while trying to keep our heads up for Talyn and the new fight we are about to embark on. But don't worry, we are both very strong fighters and come tomorrow morning when we wake up, we will be ready to enter the boxing ring again and this time for the fight of our lives! Get ready to be defeated once and for all cancer...

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Sense of Gratefulness

The only moments that I can recall in my life feeling a real sense of gratefulness have been after a big event - a wedding, a new baby, a car crash and getting through cancer ... again. These moments forced me to quickly reflect on what I have and how grateful I am.

Yesterday when I went into see Dr. Webster for a check up, I found out that I don't need to return to see him again for 3 months. Having completed the radiation, I am moving onto the "maintenance" side of things. Although I will still have the hormone treatments for the next year or two, it will definitely be more on the side lines of my life.

Getting through everything the first time was amazing too, but I didn't really get to finish before my cancer recurred. So in some ways this time is different. I feel like the first time was hard to get through, but this time was truly the ironman. Many people think that cancer is a physical game and it is. But the really tricky part is the mental game you're in. It's all about keeping up your strength to get through the fight while keeping your spirit in tact.

So, that may help you better understand why I really need to know if I'm out of the game or not. To this end, I convinced Dr. Webster to run another CT Scan on my chest and abdomen to ensure there are no new spots there. When my cancer recurred in January, there was a great risk that it was no longer confined to the breast area. We ran a CT Scan there and were elated to find out that it wasn't showing up anywhere else. I need to know for certain once again that I am clear and then, I can get out of the game mentally and get onto living my life again.

But all in all, I am feeling more mentally clear and physically stronger than I have in several months. I started back at work part time this past week and it was great to feel like I am truly in the right job there. Ryan and I also celebrated our 5 year anniversary and reminisced on how quickly time has gone and how much we have been through together so far. Talyn started at a new dayhome in preparation to start pre-school in September. All of these things feel distantly familiar to me. They remind me of a pre-cancer time when all there was to worry about was day to day things.

And so I left the Tom Baker Center yesterday, feeling a deep sense of warmth in my belly, which can only be a true sense of gratefulness for life. We are all so lucky to have what we do and I realize that more than ever after getting through this battle a second time. Although I won't get the true "all clear" for a couple of months after my CT Scan, I feel a large victory has been won already.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What is the new normal?

Yesterday I said goodbye to radiation and Unit #1. I told them that I hope to see them again, just not for treatment. They said that even though my treatment is done, to continue to rest and take care of the treated area because my symptoms should peak in about a week. What that means is that my cottage vacation includes no swimming or sitting out in the sun. Oh well, at least I'm done!

The second injection to shut down my ovaries last week went much better than the first. I have had no major reactions to it, only a big increase in hot flashes. Last night I woke up about 10 times because of it, so I will talk to my oncologist about anything to help that out. The changes that I can pinpoint from my first injection include some time off of work to rest my body and starting acupunture again. Although resting is a hard prescription for me to follow, I have seen the results of it directly in the past couple of weeks.

This afternoon I complete my 18th and last treatment of Herceptin. My body has had mixed reactions to this drug, so I am still a bit nervous about it, but will be very greatful to be done with this one (as will my veins). The pre-drugs they give me for this make me very drowsy for the better part of 24 hours afterwards, so I plan to pack up this morning and then just sleep any effects off.

It will take me a while to adjust my mindset to a maintenance mode for my cancer treatment. The good side of this is much more time for my body to heal, less visits to the cancer center and therefore more time for everything else in my life. The bad side of this might be that the anxiety of another recurrence will hit me harder than ever.

It is fairly normal for cancer survivors to be hit fairly hard mentally once they're out of the major treatments. While they are going through treatments, their mind is focused on survival and the next appointment, but afterwards it can all come crashing down. My knowing this in advance will definitely help me deal with it if it happens.

Tomorrow we leave for our vacation at my parents place and then we return to figure out what our new normal life will look like. I look at it like an exciting new opportunity to focus on the things in life that matter to me - my family, my job and my volunteer work, which all give me the opportunity to positively touch people's lives.

Use this chance to live through my learning and for the next few weeks take some time to figure out what is important to you and whether you are spending enough time on it. The fall is a great time for a fresh start!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Getting back on track

I am now 75% done radiation (5 more treatments to go) and so far it's been going really good. I have no new fatigue as a result of the radiation and in fact I feel more energetic and like myself than I have in over a month. The only real symptom that I am experiencing is some skin redness. Apparently my symptoms will continue compounding and should peak about 10 days after I'm all done. But so far my experience with radiation has been much more tolerable than anything else!

Today I had a visit with my oncologist where we reviewed everything again. In general, things are really turning around. My heart functioning is staying strong even through all of these drugs and my body is getting stronger. I had another injection of zolodex today (the one that temporarily shuts down my ovaries). These will continue monthly until it actually does what it is supposed to. Because of my crazy reaction the last time, I was a bit nervous about introducing it again to my body - but so far I am feeling fine.

I have been getting more involved with my Rethink efforts and things for our October event in Calgary are really shaping up! As well we have started to discuss our first education event, which is really where the value of our hard work pays off. Because of my connection to them, I have been talking to a certain national magazine that will remain nameless for now. It is likely that I will be profiled in their October issue. I have already been interviewed and will be photographed next week, but until it's actualy in print, I won't believe it's real.

In general, I am really starting to look forward to less visits to the Cancer Center and a more predictable life. I have the feeling that things are really starting to get back on track! Next week I will be finishing radiation & herceptin and saying goodbye to the "big" stuff. For someone who thought I was saying goodbye to them once before, I am a bit superstitious to get too ahead of myself, but I certainly am feeling a sense of change in the air!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

6 pokes and Ina is in!

I have now completed 7 radiation treatments and have 13 left to go. After my treatment on Wednesday, I will officially be 50% done. I am still feeling fairly tired, but overall I feel a bit stronger each day. They say that the fatigue as a result of the radiation should kick in by the end of this week. I am also lathering on the Glaxal (greasiest cream ever) onto the radiated area 4 times a day. This is my best chance at avoiding some major skin concerns. All in all, so far so good on the radiation front.

Yesterday I went in for my second last herceptin treatment. Considering the fiasco that happened 3 weeks ago, I was really nervous. The difference this time was that they were going to give me all of the drugs they pushed through after my body went crazy, at the very beginning. This way, they were hoping to pro-actively stop another reaction from occurring.

But apparently I was nervous for the wrong reason. The real problems started when they couldn't find a vein to start an IV. Typically the rule is that each nurse gets to try 2 times and then they get someone else. They will only try 6 times and then you're done being a human pin cushion. After 4 unsuccessful tries, they called in Ina. She is the nurse that can always find a vein when others can't. Although her first try (#5 in total) was unsuccessful, #6 finally proved successful! They actually found veins 3 of the 6 times, but when they started the IV, the veins blew. So, my arms will surely be nice and bruised up in a day or two.

Once they started pushing through the pre-medications, I fell asleep. They also took longer to push in the Herceptin and that seemed to work. I slept for the 2 hours that they ran meds through my body, only waking up briefly to feel that familiar sensation of light headedness and not really being there, but then I would fall back asleep and the reaction would go away. When I got home I slept for the rest of the day.

Yesterday evening we went to a BBQ at a friends house. There were 5 boys, so you can imagine the fun they all had. I was only half awake, but we still had a great time and it was nice to be in a normal setting for a few hours.

The next week holds lots of exciting things. My 50% mark of completion for radiation, we are picking up the new car we purchased which will make our road trip to Regina much quicker, some friends from Edmonton are coming for a visit and I hope to go into a work planning session. It really helps to focus on all of the great things going on in life to take our attention away from everything else. Everyone goes through hard things, so just keep focusing on the good to get you through.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tattoo's, Hot Flashes & Resilience

I really need to start blogging more often because each time I sit down to do it, I can't believe how much has happened! We attended Talyn's orientation at his new preschool and he was one of 3 kids getting a 10 minute tour of the classroom. He found it extremely difficult to hear about all of these great things and not play with them, so we had to redirect him back to making a good impression on his new teacher a couple of times. At the end of the tour she said that Talyn seems very outgoing. Which must be the new polite way of saying "I will have to watch him closely!".

Last Wednesday I attended my radiation simulation appointment. It was a room exactly like the real one I will be using, but the green beams it projects aren't radiation. They got me to lie in a bunch of different positions and took pictures once they got the angles right so they could mimic it the following week. When we were all done, they said "ok, we just need to bring in the tattoo lady and then we'll be done". I naively asked what she was needed for and I got the response "oh, didn't anyone tell you about the tattoo's?". So, 15 minutes later, I now feel much edgier than the old Tasha with 4 blue freckle like permanent tattoo's that they use as markers for my positioning.

I met with Dr. Webster on Thursday to review the latest episodes I had experienced and again review why this might be happening. His theories, which usually prove to be right, are that these are either because my second type of chemotherapy is again trying to put me into menopause and the drastic change in hormones is hard on me or that my body is just really tired.

After radiation, I am going to be taking a daily drug to stop the hormone production in my body so that my specific cancer that likes hormones, won't latch onto them. Because the drug they normally give pre-menopausal women didn't work on me the first time, they are now trying their second weapon which requires that I am post-menopausal. To do this, they inject me every few months with a needle in my stomach of Lupron. It acts to temporarily shut down my ovaries - science is definitely advanced in some areas!

The goal is that I go without a period for 4-6 weeks following this injection and then we start the drug. I of course asked what happened if I still got my period. Dr. Webster said that this is unlikely and we would cross that bridge if we came to it.

Later that night, the lupron injection created a reaction of its own that included hot flashes, dizziness and an internal infection. I started on antibiotics later that evening and started to feel better within a couple of days. But my Canada Day was mainly spent in bed and I have been off of work this week, letting my body recover from the latest of its reactions. With my body continually sending me signals that it needs a break, I was very anxious to start radiation!

On July 3rd, Ryan took my to my first radiation appointment. I was quiet and Ryan kept asking me what was wrong, but I was concentrating on "staying calm" and not thinking about what adding another component to my weak body was going to do to me. The appointment went way better than expected! It was very quick and the ladies on my unit - Unit #1, are really sweet. They cranked the music when they left the room to help keep me calm.

I am now 2 down, 18 to go and it has been going well. My body has actually been feeling a bit stronger for the past couple of days and I couldn't figure out how that could be. Until last night when my ovaries decided that they really wanted to be the exception and cross that bridge that Dr. Webster said was unlikely. My body was clearly not going into menopause and that's why all of the symptoms had ended. In one way, that part was a nice break, but why do I always have to be the exception? So, next week I will call into Dr. Webster and find out what's on the other side of the bridge.

The energy from the past few days is exactly what I needed to feel some mental strength to push through the remaining 18 treatments. Although my body is fighting everything that is foreign to it right now, maybe that means that is is more resilient after 2 years of treatment. If the cancer does decide to strike back again, this time my body will know exactly what to do! Fight, Fight, Fight!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

how much resting can one girl take?

I forgot to let you all know that my ultrasound was all clear. They actually couldn't find the lump the doctor had felt, so they said not to worry about it. Easy to say...maybe not so much so to do!

In the past few months, my mind has been filled with much anxiety over my cancer spreading. Why is it so easy for us to focus on the worst case scenario and not on living each day? Every new pain or feeling I have makes me automatically drift to the idea of my cancer growing in another area of my body. Dr. Webster continues to assure me that we are hopeful that we have killed all of the cancer now, but without the tests to prove it, I am having a hard time believing in hope these days.

So, I enlisted the help of a professional! I have been seeing a wonderful counsellor at the Cancer Center and she has helped me talk through this all. Although I'm not yet where I want to be, most days I can keep my mind focused on the now and not the worst case.

What is helping me stay up is Tricia. You have all heard me talk on and on about what a walking miracle she is, but seriously! Her journey through her third transplant has definitely had a few bumps and she's not completely out of the woods yet, but overall she is continuing to be an amazing inspiration of hope!

In my spare time, I have been enjoying being a celebrity. Investors Group chose Ryan to be one of 8 people across the country that they are doing a spotlight on. They flew a crew out to Calgary to spend the day with us last week and they literally followed us both around the city. It was crazy to be out in public and have a camera crew right there, I felt like I was in a reality TV show. Ryan's business continues to do very well and considering we both are fighting cancer right now, it's truly outstanding. The next day I had a brief phone interview with a freelance writer out of Toronto who is doing a story on the benefits of writing during illness. Although this was all very tiring, my hope is that it helps one person deal with something a little bit better and it will be worthwhile.

My radiation is officially starting next week and I am meeting with Dr. Webster later this week to go through our plan again. Unfortunately I suffered another "episode" last week, but this time it was while I was getting IV treatment at the cancer center. The fact that I was already in the place where I needed to be made the situation a lot better, but it still reinforces the fact that my body is struggling. It was again a terrifying experience where I wasn't sure if my body was going to recover or not, but after pushing through a bunch of IV drugs to counteract my reaction, my body started to calm down. I have now done up an excel sheet filled with each of my 7 episodes, the details of what happened and what drugs I was taking at the time. I will review this with Dr. Webster on thursday and hopefully come to a better understanding of why this keeps happening.

On the family side, life is mostly good. We are attending an orientation for Talyn's new preschool that he starts in the fall. He is pretty proud of going to school! We have also been lucky enough to have some family come to help us out lately. Talyn's Uncle Chad & Baba (Ryan's mom). So, Talyn has had the opportunity to try his "kung fu panda" moves on someone other than his mom and dad.

One question that the interviewer asked Ryan and I that caught us both off guard was "how do you do it all?". It was funny because it left us both speechless. You would think we would have a great answer, but really all I could say was "day by day". No one knows what tomorrow will bring and we all have enough going on today, so we just deal with what we have to today. I am still learning this with the help of my counsellor, but I think it's an important lesson for us all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

home for a rest

When I was much younger and more energetic, the song home for a rest meant a chance to go and jump around on the dance floor of a bar. Today it means that my body has had it after 2 years of treatments and I am literally at home for a rest. After my exciting Banff hospital visit, I rested up and enjoyed an amazing showing of Sex & the City with Tricia and her mom. For those of you wondering, we viewed it at Eau Claire and it wasn't that busy.

Monday was another day of rest and then my oncologist said that I could restart my chemo drugs that night as long as I felt up to it. My competitive nature of course told me that I was up to it and I started again that night. After just two doses, the next morning I experienced another "episode" but this time I was at work. The people there were great, but I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

No matter what is going on, there is just something comforting about being with your family and near home and I didn't have either of these then. The same type of symptoms cropped up and Ryan quickly arrived to take me to the cancer center to chek it all out. When we arrived, we found out that my oncologist and nurse were offsite for the day and instead they told us to go directly to emergency. For you Calgarians you know that means a minimum of an 8 hour wait with really sick people and that was not something this girl was going to do. So, I asked Ryan to take me home and I spent the day in bed.

The next days continued with new side effects as my body continued to tell me that it was struggling. I went to see my oncologist on Friday and he agreed that my body needed a rest and we were officially ending my chemotherapy. The plan had initially been to get me through at least 4 rounds and hopefullly 6. I got through 5 and again my competitive nature wasn't loving that, but I wasn't willing to risk more of these "episodes" so I gave in.

I have been spending the past week at home and will do the same this week. They have moved up my radiation to begin on July 3rd and then I will go daily until August 1st. I then plan to really go home for a my parents cottage for a couple of weeks (aka 24/7 babysitting service)!

Sitting still and resting is really not my thing. And the feeling that I'm letting people down because of it comes as a close second. I have struggled with this my whole life and this cancer thing really tests me! I know it will be a good lesson to learn and I will continue to practice.

Tricia has been responding well to the treatments she has had so far. So much so that she has continued to update her blog daily. So go ahead and visit it for the full update if you wish I have had the chance to visit her a couple of times and will be going up again shortly. Although I am still bracing myself for whatever might come, so far we have all been pleasantly surprised.

What I continue to learn is that no matter how well you plan, life can continue to surprise you. Sometimes the things you learn aren't positive at first, but it's all in what you take out of them.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

a few more blips on the radar

My health has taken a bit of a beating in the last week. I went to see the doctors for my pre-round 6 appointment and I had a much longer list of "issues" from the past 3 weeks than ever before. They did a very thorough check of my body to try and figure out what might be going on and felt a new lump under my left armpit. This one feels very different than the other ones I've had and it is sitting right on top of a muscle. It actually might just be the muscle that is a bit inflamed or it might be a growth on top of the muscle. Even if it is a growth, it might not be a worrisome one, but still worth checking out.

I will go for an ultrasound this week and then if they feel it looks suspicious, they will biopsy it on the spot. Because this one feels different than the others, I feel much more positive about its outcome. But because of my bad luck with biopsies, I can't help but consider the alternate possibility.

What I was really looking forward to was my birthday weekend extravaganza with Tricia! We have always had our birthday's 3 weeks apart and in the past few years have tried to combine these events into something fun that we both do together. It usually involves a road trip and some random events that we don't plan for.

This weekend, we went up to Banff to spend the day touring around, the night watching the Sex & the City movie at a smaller (less germ infested) theatre and then the night at a fancy hotel. It was to be a super fun weekend for us both and allow us to get away from the upcoming events.

Everything started off fantastic. We met at the Farmer's Market for some amazing coffee and pastries and then bid adieu to Ryan & Talyn and started our road trip. We immediately put in some great tunes that my friend Mireille had made for me and started singing. On our way out of town, there was a car that was slowing down beside us. When I looked over it was 2 younger guys. They smiled at us and we smiled back. A few lights later, they came up beside us again and I could tell from my peripheral vision that they were holding up a sign. I told Tricia and asked her to glance over. They were holding up a sign at us that said "U R A 10". We burst out laughing and knew that the weekend was on the right foot for our usual road trips.

When we were close to arriving in Banff, I felt a flush of warmth over my body and knew that something wasn't right. I tried to pretend I was okay, but Tricia could tell that I wasn't. When we arrived in Banff things got worse quite quickly. So much so that I started to have that sensation again that my head was spinning out of control and I wasn't really there.

We decided to try and check into our hotel early and maybe if I laid down for a bit I would be better. But things kept getting worse and I was starting to get worried. Tricia strongly recommended that I call into the on-call oncologist and tell them what was going on. When I called in, luckily it was Dr. Webster that was on call. While I waited even a couple of more minutes for his call, things were continuing to go downhill.

We happened to be driving right by the Banff hospital and Tricia recommended we go in, I reluctantly agreed. The good thing about being in Banff was that there wasn't the long wait I would have experienced in Calgary. They took me right in and started to run some tests. Dr. Webster also called as they brought me in. He gave me his "best guess" of what was going on, but asked that they call him directly if they needed to.

Most of my blood counts came back normal, but there were some variances from the counts I got 2 days earlier. My red blood cells were lower than normal, as was my potassium. The good news is that my white counts were still strong, so no sign of infection. They filled me with a bunch of fluids and potassium and a few hours later, I was released. The sadest news of this of course was that we had to turn around and drive back to Calgary just a few hours after we had arrived.

I was planning to take Tricia for a great getaway to get her mind off of things and do the one thing she really wanted to before her hospital stay - see the Sex & the City movie. The concern was doing it in an area without a lot of potential germs and instead I take her to the hospital! For those of you concerned about this, I did make her stay outside most of the time and we just messengered each other "U R A 10" to keep our spirits up.

I am obviously on a break from my round 6 right now and will talk to Dr. Webster in the next few days about what could be going on. Until then I am resting a lot and keeping myself on a strict diet, in case it was some food that might have set this off. As well, Tricia's mom, Marie and I are taking Tricia to the movie in Calgary tonight. We tried to pick a theatre that would be more empty, so I can't tell you which one right now.

Tomorrow Tricia starts her journey of Transplant #3. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't scared to death, but I also know that she is mentally stronger than I have ever seen her. If anyone can make history and give the cancer community something to cheer about, it's definitely her!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Some Challenging Doses of Reality

It's been a really hard couple of weeks. The sadest thing that happened was that I lost my first cancer friend. His name was Julian and we worked together. We both got diagnosed around the same time in Fall of 2006. He unfortunately had lung cancer, so right off the top his prognosis wasn't that good. We talked every few weeks and compared treatment and side effect notes. He was mostly sunny, but definitely had a harder time than me so I tried to pick him up a bit whenever I could.

In the last couple of months though he let me know that his cancer had spread to his liver and pancreas. I knew right away that wasn't a good sign, but he stayed really positive. He even had a line on some experimental drug from Europe that he was going to get for us to help reduce our tumours.

The last time I talked to him, he was going to start another round of radiation. The doctors felt there might be a chance this could help and he was still a fighter. I begged him to let myself and someone else that we worked with take him out for lunch. But he said that his appetite wasn't much these days. He said that once he was done this round of radiation we could come and take him for a coffee and I was really looking forward to that.

Shortly after I knew his radiation would be done, I called and left him a message. This was usually how it worked with us and then he would call me a couple of days later when he was feeling up to it. But this time he didn't call back. I tried again a couple of weeks later and still nothing. It was about 2 weeks after that that we got the call from his wife telling us that he had died.

This news was more devastating to me than I could have predicted. I have known many sick people, but this was the first person that I considered a friend that had lost his battle to cancer. It of course brought up a lot of questions for me that I had been keeping pushed deep down. Could my cancer actually kill me one day like him? Was a positive attitude going to make a difference with me if it hadn't with him? If my cancer does spread, the likely place is my lungs and I now know first hand how that might end up. What about the other cancer survivors that I hold near and dear to me?

With some time passing, it is getting easier to deal with. However it does keep the reality of what I am truly dealing with close at hand.

The other big challenge that is going on in my life is Tricia's situation. Today she had her central line inserted. I'm sure she will update the details of it all on her blog, but with everything that seems to happen to her, it wasn't easy.

I also spent some time this weekend with Tricia and her parents. She gave us the "orientation" to her upcoming protocol and what to expect over the next few months. It was another hard dose of reality about someone that I care about. She will be admitted on June 3rd and then I can only hope that everyone prays to whomever or whatever they believe in that she will come out a champion again.

My health has also started wavering a bit. Although I have been handling my chemo well so far, Round 5 really kicked my ass! I felt the familiar sense of extreme fatigue from my previous chemo cycles and that was another dose of reality.

Today I also started having some chest pains and heaviness which is new. Anything "new" is always a concern. I will see Dr. Webster on Thursday and find out what he says about all of this. My plan is to still get through one more round of chemo and then have a 4 week break to recover briefly before 4 weeks of radiation. So hopefully Dr. Webster agrees!

These past weeks did have a sunny side though. We spent Tricia's birthday with her and her family for a nice dinner - celebrating 34 years of life! I continue to be blessed to have her in my life and this past couple of weeks has given me another reminder of how precious our lives are. Hopefully the next few weeks will be sunnier.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shiny Happy People!

Nothing is ever dull in my world. In fact, I can't ever remember a feeling of being bored. The best news in my world has been that my bubbling up scar tissue has turned out to be only scar tissue - phew! As my boss at work said to me "you'll probably deal with a lot of these types of things in your future, but the important thing to note is that they got to it quickly!".

Breast Cancer may seem simple, but it's actually really complex with all of the attributes that it can have. Mine was lucky enough to have all of the ones they look for. It is accelerated by Estrogen & Progesterone in my body, giving me a positive ER/PR rating. As well, it has a strong positive HER-2 rating which means that my cancer is more agressive and has a greater likelihood of coming back...been there, done that!

What was interesting is that my recurrence came back being positive for ER/PR, but negative for HER-2. Initially, this was good news because it meant that my cancer might have been less agressive, but it also meant that it could have been a brand new cancer that grew. However, upon a second pathology review, I just found out that it was in fact HER-2 positive. They typically administer 1 year of Herceptin (via IV every 3 weeks) to fight HER-2, but when my cancer came back we stopped it short of 1 year by 4 treatments, assuming that it wasn't working. My HER-2 rating the second time was much less, so it looks like my cancer was responding to Herceptin. So, I started this up again to finish my last 4 treatments.

I also just got back my report from Best Doctors. A doctor out of an Illinois Cancer Center reviewed my case and commented on my treatment. He said that he mostly agreed with exactly what I'm doing with a couple of small suggestions. Dr. Webster and I will review them and see if we want to make any treatment modifications. This was really great to affirm. To know that I am being offered the best care for my case, regardless of our sometimes slow to react health care system.

On a personal note, Talyn had his big 3rd birthday and it was a huge hit. "Cars" the movie was the theme and that seems to still be his obsession a few weeks later. He sleeps with his favorite "Cars" characters and even had to wear his "Cars" PJ top to daycare today. When I went to pick him up and was greeted by 4 of his friends, all wearing "Cars" t-shirts, I understood. How quickly he is growing up!

We also moved into our new home last week. I am a person that needs complete order to feel moved in, but it is amazing how much we have been able to do in that short time. My mom flew in to help us out and she was an old pro, after moving my brother into his place the week before. It was perfect timing with Mothers Day to ensure she knew that we couldn't have gotten through our challenges over the past couple of years nearly as well without her support!

Unexpected niceties still continue to amaze me. Some of my friends have written me the sweetest cards lately to let me know how much I support them, which is crazy to me because they are all the true heroes in this story. I also got a sweet card from an old co-worker who lives in my area. He and his family wanted to welcome me, provide me their number for anything we needed and a gift card to a local restaurant they love. It is so comforting to know that in a world full of so much war and horrible natural disasters, that there are still such amazingly shiny people with the bright spirits that keep us uplifted. Take some time to thank all of those shiny people in your life and make sure they know how much they mean to you!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Just Breathe

The last week has been a fury of positive momentum. Firstly, Ryan's tumour appears to be a bit smaller from his last MRI. This means that his tumour is responding as well as we could have hoped to the chemo! We now hope that the drugs continue to beat down the troublesome growth area and then it just gives up for good.

Secondly, Tricia's transplant got the official go ahead from Ottawa. Although the official date has slid back a bit to June 12th, all in all, this is amazing news. However, this also of course makes us all very anxious of the reality ahead. What I have recently reflected on is how she has made it through all life has thrown at her so far. The only reason I can come up with is her mental strength . This somehow got her through what many thought no one could and I know will get her through her challenges ahead as well. She just needs to be reminded of that from time to time.

And thirdly, our house was conditionally sold. The buyers are from outside of Canada and so require a pretty quick possession. We should hear by the middle of this week if the sale is finalized and then will plan to move the following week. Even though this seems's us. This is nothing. Also, this will move us towards something we've been thinking about for a while, so we're very excited.

On my medical front, Best Doctors has all of my information and is currently going through the formal review. They actually have gotten all of the specimens previously removed in surgeries and are redoing the pathology to confirm the diagnosis first. I am interested to hear what they have to say in the next few weeks.

In other news, my scar from my last surgery has bubbled up a bit in one section. Although this is likely nothing, everyone on my team is very quick to find that out. So, I will go to an ultrasound tomorrow and get the results this Wednesday. If there is anything that looks suspicious they will just cut it out.

In one week, my baby is turning 3. It is a gathering of many important people in his life and will be a great opportunity to remind us what is truly important in this crazy life. Family, friends and having fun!

When everything seemed to be spinning much too quickly in my life right before I was first diagnosed, I would listed to an Anna Nalick song I heard once on Grey's Anatomy, "Breathe". I'm not sure what the song exactly means, but to me it means to just slow down and literally take a deep breath. I recently have been reminded of how well this works when your world is going too quickly. Just take a few deep breaths and gain some perspective. However you've gotten to today should be enough to prove that you can get to tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Getting OUT There

Life has continued to keep me really busy lately and I definitely know now that this is all intentional on my part. The more I thought about why this is, the more it came back to being a great escape from my cancer filled life and for the craving I have for feeling normal again.

I did experience one more scary episode, but the difference this time was that I knew it was coming on. After eating a few bites of lunch two weeks ago, I started feeling nautious and then my head started to spin again. I put my head down on my desk for a few minutes and then felt okay. But a few minutes later I felt as if I might pass out. So, I called Ryan quickly and told him that we needed to get home right away. Once I was home I started vomiting and got whatever was in my stomach out. After resting for a few hours, I started to feel more like myself again.

That week I went to visit Dr. Webster and I have somewhat stumped him here. He did ask me to avoid peanuts for the remainder of my chemo as there is a chance that I have experienced a side effect that causes a hypersensitivity to them now. But, he also told me to do the same thing I did before if this happened again. Call 911 and get to the hospital. He will be doing some reading to see if anything else pops up that could explain my symptoms.

One other thing that we discussed again is our differing opinions on my ongoing monitoring program. He still believes that it is standard protocol to not run any kinds of tests to see if the cancer has spread anywhere in my body. We should instead wait and if I happen to experience any symptoms that might point to this, then we would test. If it had spread there would be nothing that we could do differently no matter when we caught it, there wouldn't be a cure. This is where I refuse to buy into "standard protocol".

What I have done is sent my case to a group called "Best Doctors" that my employer has. They employ one of the best doctors in North America that deals with Breast Cancer to review my case, confirm my diagnosis, agree/disagree with my treatment protocol and then provide a recommendation of a monitoring program. Although I feel that Dr. Webster has my best interests at heart, I refuse to believe that I should just wait and see. So, this will hopefully support my opinion to do more and guide me on how to do this.

In my continued efforts to stay busy and not focus on the negative, I have been going to a lot of different events. I joined a mentoring program with the Women's Executive Network to try and rebuild my network of contacts in Calgary, I was the moderator for a panel of senior women executives at a learning session and I also joined an HR network of professionals here in Calgary. At the same time, my Rethink involvement is starting to take shape. We are planning a September Calgary event which will be amazing, trendy and fun. I will be sending you all details to come out and have a great time, while supporting a great cause!

All in all, the reality that I've come to is that I now need a bit of help in talking through everything that I'm dealing with. I am going to go see a counsellor for the first time since being diagnosed this week and get some guidance on how to do it all. This recent approach of "wait and see" combined with Tricia's impending transplant leaves me with a lot of anxiety about the future when I'm not consumed in everything else. I am mostly living in a world of positivity and exhuberance for life, but I just need a bit of help for when the negativity tries to creep in and ruin it all. Everybody needs a helping hand every once in a while, don't let anything stand in the way of a better you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Life In The Fast Lane

When I was little, my dad would always sing this song and quote it when we were busy as a family "life in the fast lane". I think I have been living in the fast lane lately. Following your life list is great, but I have to remember it's a "life" list, not a "week" list.

My new role with Rethink has been starting off a little bumpier than I had hoped. I don't know how I was assuming that it would be easy to get 8 women all on the same page within an hour, but I did. I have now learned that this is not possible. Our hope is to get a June event off the ground to raise awareness of what Rethink is in Calgary and get some real momentum happening within the committee. But since it's already mid-March, that leaves a lot of pressure on my shoulders to make it happen. We have another call this week and I'm hopeful that I can get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal.

The house that we are living in now went on the market last week. Since then we've only had 2 showings and an open house. That's probably a lot, but I was really hoping that the first person that saw our house would love it as much as we do and make an offer that day. Again, another dose of reality for me to learn. Until that does happen, we are struggling to keep our house "show home ready" with a 2 year old.

Those of you that follow my blog would have heard me talk about the balance before. For some reason unknown to me, there seems to be a balance that exists between the health conditions of Ryan, Tricia and me. When one of us gets great news, another gets bad news. This balance unfortunately hit us again last week.

On Wednesday morning, I got a bright and sunny email from Tricia letting me know that her application to Health Canada to approve her transplant had finally been sent. This process has been ongoing since last fall and we were all growing very short in patience for its finalization. This transplant option brings real hope to Tricia's future and we were all holding our breath while all the lawyers and doctors involved worked on the application. We should hear within the next 4 weeks whether this gets approved and the wheels at the Tom Baker Cancer Center have already started turning to get ready for this to begin.

That day I was at an all day session with some of my peers at work. Following this day of planning, we went out for dinner at a very nice Calgary restaurant. Although I was feeling fine, shortly after dessert, I started to feel very dizzy, broke out in a cold sweat and fell over onto the bench I was sitting on. For the next 30 minutes or so, I laid there popping in and out of consciousness and assuring those nearby that I was alright and I just needed to rest. Inside I knew that something was really wrong with me, but I didn't want to draw any further attention to my already deathly embarassed state. Once Ryan arrived to drive me home he knew that something wasn't right and called for an ambulance to come and get me. At first assessment, my heart rate was about double my normal resting state and my blood pressure was really low. They took me to our all too familiar Foothills Hospital and there they assessed me for an immediate risk of an impending heart attack or a blood clot in my lungs caused by my medication. After 4 pokes for blood, some intravenous fluids and some heart tracing tests, they said that I was not in immediate danger and I could go home to rest.

Now almost a week later I am starting to feel more like myself. But that whole situation definitely took a lot out of me. Unfortunately they still don't really know what happened, but I will be talking in more detail with my oncologist about it next week. It was weird. In everything that I've been through over the past 2 years, that was one of the scariest moments that I can remember. I felt like my world could change for the much worse momentarily and there was nothing that I could do to stop that. I was very thankful that I was surrounded by people that I work with and trust so much, because they truly did take great care of me!

The next few weeks will continue to be life in the fast lane with everything I have going on, but I will also take some time to rest in between the many activities. This poke on my shoulder was another gentle reminder to slow down and keep my health at the top of my mind at all times. Even though I crave a normal life, I have to remember that the old normal has been replaced by a new normal and I am still trying to figure out what that means.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Everything Comes In 3's

The last week has been a whirlwind, but in a very good way. Finally, some great news from me! We bought a house in one of the areas we've been wanting to live in for a long time. The stars seemed to align for us because after we did this, I got a promotion at work. Then I got asked to lead the calgary committee for Rethink Breast Cancer, the charity organization that I've been following for the past year. It is truly never boring in our world.

Our new house is a dream for us. It has just been completed, which is great for us "non-handy" people and it's in Richmond/Killarney. This gets us back into SW Calgary and only a 10-20 minute commute to work every day. The other great thing for us is that there are a few great schools that Talyn could go to within walking distance. We take possession as soon as we sell the house we're in now or as late as June 15th. So now my mind is swirling with what blinds we should choose, when we should book movers and how I should decorate Talyn's room.

My job is also going great. Although we rarely find ourselves with nothing to do, I have to stop myself every once in a while and realize how great we have it at Long View. The company really cares about everyone and the people there are all my other family.

Although some days I feel like I could fall into bed at 7 pm, I know that I can make a big difference getting Rethink going in Calgary. This organization targets awareness and research for younger women with Breast Cancer. When I went through my initial diagnosis, there really wasn't much for someone dealing with a young child and wanting to have another some day. This charity group does so much to help women affected by the disease who are under 40 and hosts crazy cool events for everyone to attend and the money funds promising medical research. So if you ever wanted to make a difference and didn't know how, just ask me how you can help us!

Yesterday I went for my first checkup with Dr. Webster after the new drugs. Round 1 is now over and I started Round 2 on Thursday night. All in all, it was a real cake walk. The only symptom I could mildly complain about was a bit of nausea towards the end of the second week. But compared to my last protocol for chemo drugs, that is NOTHING to complain about. Although I feel optimistic about finishing 6 rounds, Dr. Webster still says to be cautious and we'll see how we do in Round 2.

I also talked to him about my ongoing monitoring program. How are we going to watch my body to make sure that the cancer isn't spreading and creating some little spots anywhere else? The sad reality on this one is that it doesn't really matter if we catch those spots when they're little or a bit bigger and I start to have symptoms. If my cancer does decide to appear anywhere else in my body, we are playing a whole new game of ball. This was really hard to hear and although everything in the rest of my life is going to great, this kind of news really hits hard. The cancer already did come back once and while I was doing treatment, so I know it's not that nice.

So although I sometimes feel like I can't possibly do it all, I know that keeping my focus on so many great things right now keeps me positive and optimistic. We could all spend our days worried about what might come tomorrow, but the truth is that we need to focus on what we can do in our lives today. Do something great today, I know that I will be!

Monday, February 25, 2008

No News Is Good News

Maintaining a blog is sometimes a large weight to carry around. I have to feel slightly inspired to create a post and right now I am definitely faking it!

Typically with me if you haven't heard from me in a while, you can assume that everything is going well. I am now halfway into my first round of chemo and I am worried about jinxing myself when I say that everything is going really well so far (please knock on wood right now). The list of "freakshow" side effects have not affected me yet, so I'm hopeful that they won't.

I tell people that I was really excited when my oncologist told me that although this chemo is more potent than my previous protocol, I wouldn't lose my hair and I would be able to continue to work throughout. So, I let all of the other weird side effects that he warned me about float right over my head. Once I got closer to starting the drugs though, I started laughing at the fact that all chemo seems to have some really ugly side effects!

Lots of other great things are happening in my life to keep me busy right now. Most importantly, Tricia now has a "tentative" date for her transplant. Although her paperwork is still not sent to Ottawa for final approval, everyone is very optimistic that it will all go through so they have booked her in for May 1. Although this is the great news that we've been talking about for more than 6 months, it also seems fairly daunting that this big day is approaching. She of course has a couple of great trips planned until then, as she reminds us all to live life every day!

I also attended an initial meeting to get Rethink Breast Cancer started up again in Calgary. It was very exciting to learn more about an organization that fits so well with my beliefs and desire for fun! The next couple of weeks should tell more about what my role will be with that.

As a family, the commute from the SE part of Calgary has been really tough. Although we rarely admit it, having both of us dealing with cancer at the same time is really stressful. So adding 1.5-2 hours in the car commuting each day really isn't helping. We are in the final stages of deciding what to do, but we will likely be moving to the inner city in the upcoming months and lising our house next week. We will really miss our beautiful flowering backyard and the pond that we back onto, but we need to start to simplify things piece by piece.

The past few weeks have been really good for getting one big thing checked off of my life list - finding a way that fits with me to give back to the cancer community. I found that it was a little bit too easy to just go back to my old life after my first fight with cancer, but that isn't happening again! Learn from me and take the time to work towards getting something checked off of your life list...what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Onto The Next Phase

I got a call from Dr. Webster bright and early this morning to confirm what I had hoped. My surgeon got clear margins and better yet, they found no more cancer in the portion they had removed. So, with that knowledge in my back pocket, I went to the cancer center to fill my prescription for my chemo drug.

My brother and my parents were a bit worried about me because they thought I should be much more thrilled with the news. I was of course thrilled, but I am also now reflecting on the next phase of my journey and what that will entail. My parents told me a story of when I was 2 years old and we travelled to visit my mom's family in Europe. We were at the airport in Spain leaving my uncle's place and when we were going up the escalator to catch our flight I said "I wonder what Mormor is doing?". Mormor means Grandma in Danish and we were on our way to Denmark next to visit her. So, ever since I was 2 I have easily dealt with one thing and then moved quickly onto the next.

I will start my new chemo drugs on Thursday night so that if I do have any immediate reactions, then I'm at home when it happens. The medication will be taken in the morning after breakfast (guess it's time to start eating that every day!) and then after dinner. You would think that they could get the whole dosage in one pill, but I will be taking 5 pills at every sitting. Then I will also have some anti-nausea medication on standby if needed.

The list of side effects is lengthy and unknown as to which of them might affect me. I should know within a couple of days whether I am being affected by some of these and then by the end of the first cycle for the remainder of them. The goal is to get me through at least 4 cycles (each cycle is 2 weeks of medication and 1 week break) and hopefully 6 cycles in total.

I feel much more optimistic about everything these days and am looking forward to many great things. My team at work moved into a great new space and my office is absolutely unbelievable - a view of the mountains and tons of natural light! Tricia and I are planning a trip to New York - I can't wait for her to show me everything she's told me about for all of these years! And...I am attending a meeting with the founder of Rethink Breast Cancer next Tuesday to get engaged with them - finally my chance to give back and share my story with others!

It's too bad that I had to get another round of cancer to once again remind me that life is to be lived and it is our responsibility to give back to others. So, I hope that this time I've got it for good!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Will it be Plan A or Plan B?

My surgery last week feels like it was several months ago already. It all went as well as we could have hoped. My surgeon was happy with the amount of skin she was able to take out and she didn't cut my implant in the process. I had my surgery at 2 pm and was home by 7 pm that evening.

It took me until Sunday to start to feel more like myself and then I spent the day making cookies for Talyn and watching the SuperBowl. I have not had any pain at all (after 4 surgeries to the same area in 17 months, there just aren't any nerves there anymore). But, I have had a dull headache and some feelings of light headedness.

Today we went to visit with Dr. Webster and learned that although he remains confident that we'll get good news from the pathology, we have received no results yet. I will call his office on Monday to get the final results. What this means is that we created a Plan A and a Plan B to move forwards.

Plan A means that we hear that Dr. Mew was able to get deep, clear margins and we can assume that most or all of the cancer has been removed. I received a prescription today and once we have this news, I will fill it with my chemo drugs - capecitabine, to start next Friday, February 15th - Happy Valentine's Day to me!

This drug has the love it or hate it effect on its patients. In 1/3 of cases, patients have a really hard time tolerating this drug and they end up reducing the dosages and maybe stopping treatment. But, in 2/3 of cases, patients have no problems with it at all! Because of my anxious nature, I just wish there was some way to know which category I will fall into. I will take a pill each morning and each night for 2 weeks, then have a 1 week break and go back to see Dr. Webster for blood work and more drugs. Assuming all is well, I will start this cycle again and complete 6 cycles in total. Following this, I will do the radiation and hormone therapy that we had already discussed.

Plan B is very similar, but it will mean that we didn't get clear margins. So, I will go back for some more minor surgery to remove more skin and then proceed with chemo once we can get the clear margins we need.

This chemo drug, Capecitabine, is used for breast cancer patients that are dealing with recurrence or metastatic disease. Because we don't know whether my cancer has some cells elsewhere in my body, Dr. Webster feels that this drug is our best bet at attacking this very resilient cancer.

Although this plan seems solid, I left the Cancer Center today feeling a bit down. Surgery is easy, but chemo, radiation and a new hormone therapy all require me to be very strong physically and mentally. Because I didn't have a break to regroup my thoughts and get strong again, I don't feel that I'm quite where I need to be to start these new treatments again. But, just give me a couple of days to read everything I can find on what I'm getting into and I'm sure I'll be ready to fight again.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some "Normalcy"

I've had a busy last week. On Saturday night, Ryan and I had a night of "normalcy" and attended his year end party. I was in admiration and awe as he won 3 of 7 awards handed out. Imagine if only one of us had cancer this year what he could have done!!!

On Sunday I flew to Denver to visit the staff in the office. It was the first time that I was able to travel there in 3 years and it felt like a real milestone to be back. We went for dinner at the Brown Palace, which is where all the presidents stay when they are in Denver and the historian of the hotel gave us a ghost tour. There were enough stories to make you wonder how it could possibly be fabricated. What I was concerned about is that they don't tell people about these when they book into the "ghost" rooms...that doesn't seem to have a lot of integrity - does it?

I arrived back home late last night and spent the day today getting our house cleaned up and preparing for tomorrow. I found out that my surgery is scheduled for 1 pm, so if I wake up prior to 6 am...I can have a coffee! My parents got here today and my mom made her home made soup to remind me of the comfort of home and calm my anxieties.

Talyn has also been a bit too intuitive for my liking. He reminded me which of my breasts is "sick" and which one is "not sick" and then he did something that brought tears to my eyes. I must have been feeling a bit down one day and he asked me for some stickers. Once I gave them to him he went upstairs and asked me to stay downstairs. A while later, he came down and handed me the empty sheet and said "all done". When I asked him what he did with them, he just changed the subject. So, I put him to bed that night as usual and went to go to bed myself and noticed that my sheets had been pulled back. Talyn had placed a row of sparkly stickers right by my pillow to make me smile. I went into his room and thanked him for the stickers. He said "mommy all better now?" and I of course welled up with tears and said "yes, Talyn makes mommy all better."

I have had lots of apprehension around the surgery coming up, but only because I have had some severe reactions to the anasthetics in all of my past surgeries. But when I really think about my fears, I am not worried about the surgery at all, but the results meeting next Thursday. Every time that we have gotten pathology results, they have never been what we thought and even with me thinking about every possible scenario in advance, the results always seem to surprise me.

Ryan and Tricia will be making some calls after my surgery to confirm what we already know, that it will all go well. My parents will also be at our house for anyone who is curious and wants to call them. Around 1 pm tomorrow, please think positive, deep cutting and cancer retrieving thoughts for me! Although tomorrow makes me anxious, I know that it is only the first step in my new fight and it will be building me up for what's to come. And whenever my confidence wavers, I will remind myself of the sparkly stickers that Talyn gave me. Such a small gesture that made a huge difference.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Old Friends and New Curves In The Road

After the stress of the past few weeks, it feels like life has temporarily gone back to normal. The difference this time is that I will never forget the feeling of getting my life back. I hope this feeling is something that I can draw on throughout my life to keep me in check with what I'm doing to ensure that I am focused on my family, doing what I love at work and sharing my journey and hope with other Cancer survivors.

This past week I visited my old friend Dr. Mew. She was there when I first got diagnosed and kept me focused and calm throughout those scary first few weeks in August, 2006. She was involved in 2 of my previous surgeries and more importantly, in assuring me that we would find a plan to "mop up the remaining cancer cells" after her great work in surgery. What blew me away is that this time when I found out the cancer was back and surgery would be our first line of defense, she was on vacation. After my initial panic, Dr. Webster assured me that we could wait until she got back. In speaking to her this week, she told me that Dr. Webster had actually tracked her down on her vacation with her family to discuss my recent diagnoses and their joint plan of attack. It was another affirmation that I have the right team behind me!

My surgery is still scheduled for this week on February 1. My parents are driving up the day before to be here for Ryan and I, but I think mostly for Talyn. This is always a huge help because Talyn gets so excited about them spending time with him, that he usually doesn't notice what's going on in the background. My surgery will involve a bit more than I had originally thought, mostly that they will need to put me under. Dr. Mew will be making an eclipse incision around the lump area that was recently removed. The problem is that once she gets in there, you can't clearly see where the cancer is. I know there's a lot of research going on currently to cure cancer, but can't someone make something that you can drink prior to surgery that attaches to the ugly cells and dies them black? That way, when a surgeon gets in there, they can see what to cut out!

Because she will be cutting deep to get everything she can out and there isn't lots there currently, the fear is that she may accidentally cut the implant. If that happens, she will need to remove it right away and she doesn't want that to all happen while I'm lying there awake and trying to stay calm (I told you she knows me well). The hope is that I'll be able to go home the same day, but because they never know what could happen, I might have to stay over one night.

Until my surgery, my normal life will continue. In many ways this is great, but it also sometimes catches me off guard when my mind drifts off to all of the other things we are currently dealing with. Tonight we are attending Ryan's year end party and then I will be traveling to our Denver office for the first time in 3 years.

The lesson that continues to be enforced in me throughout all of this is to always be prepared for something you haven't yet thought of. Sometimes this doesn't end up as you would have wanted it to, but it doesn't always end off badly either! So keep an open mind when dealing with new things and see where it takes you.

Friday, January 18, 2008


It's hard to describe what this past couple of weeks has been like. In some ways, I wish everyone could experience it so that you could feel how precious your life really is. I felt like someone or something was holding my life in the balance and deciding whether or not I could add enough value to keep it.

Tricia, Ryan and I went in to meet Dr. Webster on Thursday morning. He came bouncing in the room (he has tons of energy all the time) and told me that the CT Scan and Bone Scan that I had done looked "pristine". That was great news! This means that no tumours were found elsewhere on my body.

But...isn't there always a but? The issue is that on the lump they just removed, they know that the edges were covered in invasive cancer, so there is still some of this stuff inside of me. However, it didn't show up on any of the tests. So, we don't really know if my cancer is local or regional. Dr. Webster's best guess is that I only have a little bit of it left inside of me and it might have moved a bit from its original area.

He said that we're dealing with a grey area now. Recurrence for someone so quickly after the original diagnosis and while I'm still in treatment is fairly rare and the best treatments for this are still really experimental. Since I've had the pleasure of dealing with him for a while now, he knows me well. He knows that I want to throw everything he has at this cancer and get it gone for good. So he put together a plan that we hope will give us the best shot at doing that.

I will go ahead with a day surgery on February 1. My previous surgeon will be doing this again and she is really great. Then I will go back to meet with my oncologist on February 7th to review the pathology results. What we are hoping to find is that we have very deep clear margins (i.e. they got it all out).

The issue then is to deal with any cancer cells that might have moved already. So, I will do 4 months of chemo. The great news is that this chemo is fairly mild so I won't lose my hair again and I will be able to continue working and living a normal life. Next is 4 weeks of radiation to the right side to hit this cancer with another shot to the head. Finally, I will do up to 2 years of a different type of hormone therapy to give it the final blow before it's knocked to the ground.

In the range of ways that this could have ended up, I am mostly very happy! Although it could have been slightly better, it also could have been a whole lot worse. The feeling of getting my life back is the most energizing feeling that I have ever felt. It's really hard to describe, but I feel that I now have a renewed passion for living a great life and helping others.

Now it's time to go knock this cancer on its butt where it belongs!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Some Negative Assurance

The last week has felt like a month in some ways. I needed 1 day to feel complete shock, 2 days to feel sorry for myself and then I finally woke up on Sunday morning feeling like I had some fight back in me. So, of course the first thing that I had to do was get organized. Tricia came with me and we scoured Calgary to find a new book to store all of my old and new cancer documents.

Although I am mostly feeling good, I do have the odd feeling of worry that creeps up when I start thinking about the range of possibilities ahead. The things that have kept me really up include the many nice emails and blog posts that I have received. Although many people don't know what to say, I encourage them all to say exactly that if they want! We also went for a nice dinner with Erin & Steve (our neighbours) which allowed us to feel normal for 2 whole hours.

Last week I had a mammogram and an ultrasound. They provided me with a document that stated that they had seen no abnormalities. Tricia calls this a "negative assurance". It just means that they didn't see anything worrisome. But since these tests can't see everything, we don't know for sure that there isn't anything there. Although it's not "for sure" news, it is something positive.

Today I had a bone scan and then a cat scan. These are the big tests! I have a follow up appointment to review these next thursday morning, but I asked that they call me if they get them any sooner. This will then tell me what I am dealing with and then we'll discuss treatment options.

To keep me inspired, I started reading Lance Armstrong's book. Throughout all of the reading that I have been doing on my situation, the statistics have shown that I have anywhere from a 25-80% chance of this not ending well. Lance had similar odds, but he beat it all and I need to understand how he did that. Right now I'm at the part when he just found out how bad things are and what his treatment options are. So, I'm hoping to quickly fast forward to the part when he finishes his treatments and kicks this cancer for good!

The next week will be really hard. I will be going to work and spending time with Tricia and my family as I always would, but will always have this lingering wonder in the back of my mind. What will the next few months hold for me? I am not the most patient person, so this will be another test for me.

The more time that passes, the more accepting I am of this new challenge. It has pushed me to want to do something more for cancer fighters everywhere. Once I finish my direct involvement with fighting this disease, I plan to use some of my time and energy to help others do the same. With a great support system like all of you, anything is possible!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Delicate Balance

Ever since I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer in August 2006, there has been a delicate balance that exists between the health news of my husband Ryan, my best friend Tricia and myself. It has literally always been within a week's time that if one of us gets good news, we all brace ourselves for one of the remaining two to get bad news.

Ryan's brain tumour started to rear its ugly head again in September 2007 and he started a mild form of daily chemotherapy shortly afterwards. In December he had a follow up MRI and it showed no new growth. Of course we were thrilled by this news, but also worried of what was to come.

In November, I found a small lump near where my first invasive cancer tumour was originally. I told my oncologist about it and we thought that it was most likely surgical (3 surgeries in the past year can leave a lot of scar tissue). But, we went ahead with an ultrasound anyhow. Once they took a peek at it, they were concerned and wanted to biopsy it to check into things further. But, when I went for this procedure, they were unable to do a typical biopsy because they were worried of rupturing my implant. So, they took out a bit of tissue through a small needle, but the results were inconclusive.

My oncologist was still certain that it was surgical, so he scheduled me for another ultrasound on January 7th to check for any changes. On December 20th, I had a follow up appointment with my plastic surgeon and I decided to ask him, since he was the last surgeon in there. He wasn’t sure if it was surgical or not, so he wanted to find out for sure. He removed this lump the following day in minor surgery and sent it off to be reviewed.

Most of you remember that I had a bilateral mastectomy in May and was told that I had clear margins, so how can there even be a suspicious lump? Well, they told me that doing this surgery would reduce my future recurrence risk by 95%, but if there was any recurrence, it would be above my implant and right below the skin because they had to leave some skin.

I went in on Thursday morning to get the pathology results and was absolutely stunned to hear that it was Invasive Cancer, high grade and no clear margins. Not good. That means that I was relapsing, that the cancer was growing very aggressively only 6 months after my last surgery and while I’m still doing treatments and there was still more in me. In addition, invasive means that it can spread elsewhere in my body, so there were lots of risks to get my head around.

I went to see my oncologist on Thursday afternoon to discuss next steps. The first priority is to determine what we’re dealing with. We are all hopeful that it is still contained in my breast area, but because it is invasive there is a risk that it is not. So, the next week is filled with many diagnostic tests to give us this answer. Then they are also re-running the pathology to determine if it is the same cancer as before or whether this breast cancer has different characteristics. As long as it’s still contained, then I will have another surgery as the first step and they have already tentatively got me a date. Following this, I will do radiation. If this is unsuccessful, then I will be back through another session with Chemo, but with different drugs this time.

So, I have another big challenge in my way and the next 2 weeks will be really important to tell us what we’re dealing with. Once I have a plan in place to deal with it, I’m sure I’ll be feeling a whole lot better about things.