Cancer IQ

Since my diagnosis I have not participated in any outside program related to cancer. At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of identifying myself with cancer. I am not one to just bring it up and a conversation. Who really wants to hear depressing shit? The only place I have felt truly comfortable saying whatever is on my mind, is in my colon cancer group. There, everyone has the same problems more or less. During one of those meetings the opportunity was presented to volunteer at a local hockey game to promote Colon Cancer Awareness Month. I was intrigued and thought this would be a perfect way to start giving back. 

When I received the information on what we would be speaking about, I discovered it was not so much about colon cancer, but more about promoting a new website entitled “Cancer IQ”. We were encouraged to try it out first. This site asks the user approximately 15 questions, and then identifies what their risk factor is for a specific cancer. I decided to fill out my form based on myself one year ago – before my diagnosis. To my surprise my risk for colon cancer was only 10%. Is this site useful? Absolutely – it brings awareness to the user, and maybe reminds them to go and speak to their healthcare professional about being tested. What this site does not do however is ask the right questions. The biggest sign for colon cancer is all about the way your poop looks. Is it pencil shaped? Is there blood? Is it a solid or a loose movement? These questions would greatly help determine whether or not a person should be concerned. But no – not one single poop question. No wonder I only received a 10% risk factor. Imagine someone like me out there took this? They would pat themselves on the back and go back to sleep. No worries in the world. Wrong. 

What does this teach us? Do not take one opinion as the be all end all. If you have concerns, ask around. Each person will provide you with a different piece of the puzzle. 

For Now

I find it interesting when I speak to people these days, I consistantly hear the word “journey” being used.

“Oh what a journey you have been on this past year”

“I bet you can’t wait until this journey is over with”

“Just think in a years time you can look back at this journey you went on and laugh”

I myself may be guilty in the past of using this word in order to help describe my current situation. The truth of the matter is, this is not a “journey” for me – this is my life. There is no end to this experience. After my lung surgery, when the doctor annouces I am cancer free, that will just be the end of one phase. From everyone on the outside life will go on. Slowly the fact that I had cancer will become just a memory for them. New people will come into my life that will not even know anything I have been through. For someone with cancer however – it never ends. There are side effects from every surgery – phantom pains, scars, etc. – these are things we have to just suck up and deal with because we exchanged them in order to save our lives. Every scan creates a mound of aniexty for the chance we will be told bad news. Every time there is the littest amount of pain in a new area – the thought that our cancer is back will instantly enter our minds. This is no journey, because journies usually have a end point. We cancer survivors forever live in the “for now”. In May when my surgeon enters the room with a big smile on his face, and annouces that I am officially cancer free – inside my head I will be saying, “for now”. 

Focused

I should be more fucked up. I mean seriously – what kind of a mind fuck is it to be told pretty much you are on deaths door, to all of the sudden having some surgeries, doing some chemo, and then being told – oh wait, never mind, maybe you will have some years ahead. I think I can attribute my sanity to the fact I have always been more focused on other things.

Before my first surgery, my mind was not thinking about my doctor pulling and poking at all of my organs, but was more focused on how many people would prefer a burger over a hot dog at my BBQ. In between my first and second surgery I was not caught up in the horror from the first, but more focused on making sure I was well enough to go to Arcade Fire back to back. During my chemo in the Fall I was not spending day in and day out with thoughts of if it was even working, but more on what course at the University of Toronto I should take in January.

Today my focus is still partly on my health (obviously), but more on my school, my upcoming trip (yep – I am all booked for Punta Cana 3 weeks after my last shot of chemo), and then I am already excited to go back to work (currently aiming for January 2016). All of these things and more, I believe, have contributed to keeping me from becoming a crazy person. I am rarely thinking about the now, but more times than not I am focusing on what is ahead. Do not misinterpret what I am saying here – I LIVE in the now. I do pretty much what I want day in and day out because it makes me happy. I am saying my mind however, is always racing with plans for the next big thing.

Body Transformation

I know I have spoken quite a bit about the changes in my body – but I am a girl so obviously this is a major issue for me. When I first learnt I would be on chemo for about a year, I thought like most people do – weight loss central. This however is not the case with all treatments. Yes, there is that stereotypical look of a chemo patient with no hair who looks like skin and bones. Then there are the people whose drugs react in the total opposite way – like myself. My drugs not only cause me to never have a full feeling (that’s right, I can eat for days and never get the sense I have had enough) – but the steroids have also caused some serious ballooning of my body.

The stomach was an obvious stand out at first because, well, it started standing out. Then I noticed my thighs had a few more bumps than normal. The shirts I would try on at the store went from medium to extra large – and even some of those looked too tight. I went from my skinniest after surgery to my heaviest in a matter of months – and there was really not much I could do about it. I knew the steroids were causing my face to swell – but until I did a side-by-side photo – I did not realize how much.

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Yes, I understand that gaining weight is much better than losing. I did not expect to be going through this and also look like a supermodel the entire time. As a young female however, our looks are still important to us. Well not even as a young female – I would say as a female in general. Heck, even some men would probably have a tough time with this. The scars I could care less about – but looking in the mirror and seeing back rolls (yep, thats right, I now have back rolls) – was more than shocking to me. If I haven’t said it enough, I am ever so thankful to have such a strong support system. They really come in handy when I am having a “nothing fits me” kind of day. And yes I know at the end of it all, a little weight gain in order to save my life is probably a fair trade off. I think I need to put that into perspective a little more.

Scan Results

What is beginning to become fascinating to me is watching the way different people react to the same news. What is the news you ask? My latest scan reveals that the little shit on my lung decided to camp out for the winter. He’s small and insignificant (like most men – right ladies) – but still sticking around. The rest of the organs however are all clear – even the liver. That’s right, after removing over 30 tumours from my liver I am lucky enough to say that none of them have grown back. (Yet? I feel like I can’t finish that sentence with such a strong point. It is as if I am daring them to resurface. I’ll knock on wood.)

The plan now is for me to finish up the chemo (last day is April 1st – Aprils Fools Day – how fitting), and then surgically remove the last remaining morsel of my cancer in May. By end of May my surgeon has stated, “I am looking forward to giving you the news that you are cancer free”.

The scan results have caused a multitude of reactions – which I will now break down the most common:

Criers – People who cannot believe that my liver is clear and I am almost cancer free. They stare into my eyes with amazement as to why I am also not crying and smiling from ear to ear.

Skeptics – People who think the “cancer free” statement is a little too soon. Let’s just hold off throwing around that term until there is actually a clear scan.

Questioners – People who after every statement I give them follow up with a “And how do you feel about that?”. These conversations are the longest.

Neutrals – People who stay in the safe zone. They gage their reaction based off on the way I am speaking. What ever emotion I display, they mirror.

Drumroll for what category I feel I fit in to…….

All of the above. Well I haven’t cried, but I can understand why some have.

My perspective? Going in to the appointment it never crossed my mind that my surgeon could say, “Your scan is horrible and you are covered with tumours.” Did I know that was a possibility – yes. We had discussed that was a major risk from my back to back surgeries. I guess I was so focused on my lung results that I did not focus my energy on to thinking the absolute worst case scenario. So now my thoughts on the appointment are – Ok, five more bloody rounds of chemo and then another stupid surgery. Yes I know it is less invasive than my other two (you are not the first person to point that out) – I am not concerned about that. If you recall in the Fall I even asked my surgeon to just operate so I could stop worrying about that sucker. This “go get’m” attitude shifted when my surgeon dropped the words – chest tube. To take precautions after my surgery to ensure my lung is inflating on its own, I require a chest tube for a day or two. No thank you. I feel like that should be up for negotiation – which I made clear to my new chest surgeon. He does not understand my personality yet so he just stood there dumbfounded that I was even trying to make this into a debate. My liver surgeon stood by his side, leaning up against the table with his arms crossed. Body language to me, from him, was reading – Yep, typical Jamie. Always trying to negotiate her way out of everything.

You’re damn right. My last statement to my new chest surgeon was – “This chest tube thing. That will be up for discussion at our April appointment.” I will probably lose.

Halfway Point

 

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I am finally on the other side of my chemo treatments! Seven down only five more to go… for now? Had a good chat with my oncologist and he let me know I will get a break (thankfully) – but for how long is still to be determined. Now on to planning my travel life for this summer! My nurses in oncology as well as everyone else I seem to meet have all told me to get out there and start travelling. It sounds perfect to me. All I want is to get away from it all and have some good laughs and see some amazing sights. So the planning has begun! So far on my “to-do” list for 2015 is Las Vegas, New York, Vancouver, Florida, California, and maybe a beach resort getaway. Time to stop worrying about everything I cannot control and focus on what I can. Making valueable use of every moment of every day is my new “full-time job”.

 

Reunion

A few days ago I had this crazy dream that ended up being an idea I cannot get out of my head now. What if there was a reunion of people – but instead of high school it was grade school. Epic right? I mean think about. We spent with some of these people 8 years of our lives. Do you not ever wonder what they are up to lately? And yes, before you go there, I understand the easiest thing to do would be to look them up on Facebook – but how boring is that. I want to actually get to know who these people are – not who they pretend to be through a sepia filter. Ok, in a two to three hour reunion setting I understand I will not be able to ever fully grasp what role these people play in our society today – but at least if I drop a Michael Scott joke I can see if they smirk or not. (By the way, I rate my level of “Do I care about you?” or not, if you find The Office funny. If you do not, please stop reading my blog and go throw all of your shit out on the curb because we are breaking up.)

The reason why my reunion in my dream was so fun was because we built a massive snowboarding hill. However besides that fact, I also seemed to enjoy myself because no one had any preconceived notions going in. There was no “Oh she/he was such a geek/bitch/weirdo”. Well even though we were 11 at the time and our end all be all was going to a Much Music dance party – ya she/he is probably the exact same….

I look back at old school pictures and completely forgot some of these people even existed. How awful is that? But it is reality. If I haven’t heard a peep of your name in ten plus years – then yes, I am sorry but I probably forgot about you. That does not mean however I wouldn’t be interested in what you had to say as we both awkwardly held a glass of wine at a cocktail party.

Unfortunately I do believe my dream will stay as such. From what I have observed in today’s world – people love to hold grudges. That geek who got picked on would probably show up hating the person who picked on him/her the most. They would either A: not want to give that person the time of day, or B: spend the entire time trying to prove how much better they turned out. This would be the same in the reverse for the bully I would bet.

Well, if it does happen I have a request – someone bring a bunch of Pogs. Who can get mad when there is a serious Pog tournament happening? I would bring mine but I am pretty sure my parents put them in a garage sale years ago. Damn them for trying to make a quick buck off of my youth.

Have vs Had

At what point in my journey can I use the phrase “I had cancer”? Is there any specific time that you can switch a “have” to a “had” when you have stage 4? Since the cancer cells in my body are just floating around like dust particles, I wonder if I will ever be able to speak of cancer in a past tense. If I forget about the microscopic cancer cells and just go by what we can see, can I use the term after my first clear scan? Or do I have to wait till that all coveted 5 year mark to finally say, “I had cancer”. Even when that time comes, is that a description I would want to define myself? I am so much more than this disease, but yet it seems to be in the top five of words used to describe myself these days.

Having a “planner” personality it is very difficult to throw all of my papers up in the air and just let life unfold as it may. I am always looking years ahead but now I find myself only being able to plan 3 months at a time. Right now I am not even sure what will happen next month as my next body scan is January 27th. That will determine a yay or nay to surgery on my lung. However if that scan is clear then in February, am I stepping into the “had” zone? Maybe it is when I am off chemo and all I have is scars as evidence of my battle with cancer. Maybe I should stop thinking so much.

Don’t Blame 2014

The common theme in my “Happy New Year” messages from friends was – “Hopefully 2015 is better than 2014”. It got me thinking – was 2014 really that bad? Pointing out the obvious it could seem that way, but I think the total opposite. It’s not 2014’s fault that it happened to be the year I was diagnosed with cancer. It could have been found up to 8 years ago, but unfortunately just was not.

Yes, at the beginning of the year it looked like things were going to be rough. I was unsure of how long I had in this world. Even though that question is still unanswered (and if you really think about it, it is unanswered for everyone) – I now have what will hopefully be a longer life span because of my two surgeries. That is a positive.

Is chemo something I would choose to do? No. However from the horror stories I have heard from others – my go at it has not been horribly bad.

The support system surrounding me from family, to friends, to even people I have never met – is stronger than I ever would have imagined. My relationships are forever changed and for the most part has brought me closer to these people.

2014 was a year where I learned so much about myself. I have been more of a shoulder to lean on for most than me choosing to lean on others. I do not like to be a burden to anyone, so for the most I try to never complain. I have taken on the comforting role by using humour to make people not afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. No one needs to be sad for me because I am not sad. In a twisted way, being diagnosed has a few positives that came along with it.

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

 

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This year truly has been the best holiday season I have ever had. It was the first time where each day spent with family and friends, was taken in moment by moment. Little things that would have come and gone before are now remembered and will become a cherished memory of mine. Gift giving was thought out and it was done not by monetary value, but with heart. I enjoyed the pleasure of watching other people open there gifts and felt and took in all of their joy in that moment. Laughter was everywhere and it is still warming my heart in this moment. The positive energy is continuous and lifts me up with just a thought of these past few weeks. My eyes and heart were open more than ever for the first time in my life. It was and still continues to be a beautiful experience that I would not trade for anything. My wish during this holiday season is that every person can experience even one tenth of the joy that I am feeling. Do not let the little things pass you by – they can be bigger than you could ever have imagined.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Xx