Tag Archives: cancer

Young, Female…… Cancer


It’s been a hard few weeks. I lost a friend, a confidant, a fellow war hero. I met Damian early on in one of the cancer peer groups, and we instantly connected. He also had stage 4 colon cancer, but we were experiencing the disease much differently. As I struggled with the ups and downs from surgeries and being on and off chemo, he was more stagnant – only on chemo, every two weeks with no breaks. I admired him. We developed a relationship outside of the cancer groups, and it was beautiful. He would confide in me with his struggles and then laugh at my stories of telling people off. He was quiet, and it was hard for him to really talk about the way he felt about cancer. He was a self-employed electrician who loved his family and wanted to make sure they were taken care of. He had chemo consistently every two weeks for over three years – and he worked throughout it. Not only that, he would play hockey as well. He said it helped keep him strong and fight through the exhaustion that comes with those lovely chemicals. Did he ever complain? Not that I can recall. I did though. I loved a good bitch fest and would share with him my fears and anxieties over life, and he would listen and smile. Afterwards usually came a message from me apologizing for being so insensitive. “Here I am complaining about recovering from surgery, and you haven’t been given that option.” It made me feel like shit. We in the industry (of cancer, that is) call this “survivors guilt”. One of our last conversations he had told me that his liver was failing and that he was starting to turn yellow (jaundice). I tried to cheer him up letting him know that everyone loves The Simpsons, and that he just needed to keep his head up. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I was told he had passed away. I knew it was coming. The things he was telling me about his symptoms and condition changing were all the standard “you don’t have long” descriptions. I tried to hold on to a little bit of hope, but inside I knew it was the beginning of the end. The loss of a friend is hard, but this was much greater. We were fighting the same war, in combat together side-by-side. There is no rhyme or reason why he was shot first. Now, the survivors guilt grows stronger, but I am trying not to let it take over my life. Instead, I’m hoping it changes it.

At his viewing I spoke with his wife and she said something that surprised me, “Damian had a hard battle with chemo but you have had to have chemo and surgery and everything else that comes with that”. I never knew they thought of it that way. I always thought that there was a small part of Damian and his family that were, not resentful, but maybe annoyed at the fact I was given so many chances for surgery. Kind of like, “What does she have to complain about? At least she is getting surgery”. To my astonishment it was the complete opposite. They felt like he had it not easier, but that we both had it just as hard.

So I started to do some self reflecting. Maybe I’m not “lucky to be alive”. Maybe I’ve worked fucking hard at it.

Before I continue I would just like to say that I am not saying that Damian, or anyone else for that matter did not fight their asses off. This disease is not predictable and it is constantly changing and evolving. Everyone who has it is a hard ass fighter. 

I always put myself in the “lucky” category. I considered myself lucky that it was found when it was, that I had the surgeons that I had, and that I was winning the battle. But maybe that is not the case. I think the only thing that luck had to do with, is the hospital I was referred to. St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto does not get enough credit. From my surgeons, to my oncology team, to my nurses, and the administrative workers – everyone there has played a vital role in my survival.

But so have I.

I have changed my entire eating habits. I have researched my disease and helped to dictate my chemotherapy schedule and dosage. I have said if I would like to move forward with a surgery, and sometimes have even got to choose if I would like it sooner or later. I pushed myself and worked hard during my recoveries in order to heal faster. I have sought out group therapy, couples therapy and personal therapy so I am not lost in my own mind. I have listened to others along the way and have learned from their experiences. I am still learning and evolving. Cancer has changed me physically, mentally and socially. It will be forever a part of the description of myself.

Now however, it is time to take a breath. The past three and a half years I have been driving this speeding car trying to avoid every obstacle, and it is exhausting. It is time for me to stop breathing in the stale hospital air and start enjoying the outside world. I need cancer to become a lower descriptive word than the third. So I am taking a step back from blogging and social media. I am still here if anyone comes across my page and has questions about anything – I am always here to help. It is time for me to find my passion in life and do something that brings me joy.

My name is Jamie. I am young and a female with a loving husband, two beautiful fur babies, a good friend, smart and intelligent individual who is driven and opinionated, who also has cancer.

Bye for now.

Xx

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Ativan 

So here is part two of my addiction story….

During my many chemo sessions, it became apparent to not only myself, but to all of the nurses working in oncology, that I was developing MAJOR anxiety before even stepping foot into the clinic. My oncologist wrote me a prescription for a drug called Ativan (also known as Lorazepam) and told me to put two under my tongue an hour before each appointment. Well I did, and they did nothing. I kept the bottle in my cupboard at home and thought nothing of them. 

Before each and every surgery the same thing would happen – I would have a major anxiety attack. After the first major blow out I was also prescribed Ativan to be taken 30 minutes before being called into the operating room. Just like with the chemo anxiety, they did nothing. 

All I ever knew about this drug was that is was to help with my anxiety. From my experiences I thought it just didn’t work for me. 

While packing in March to head on my Thailand and Australian adventure, I was taking out the Advil bottle and noticed the bottle of Ativan. “Perfect find!”, I thought to myself. Just in case I have an anxiety attack while away, I will have something to help calm me down. I made an appointment with my family doctor before leaving, and told him that I had a bottle of Ativan and it never worked for me before. He then prescribed me a bottle of Clonazepam, and said they might work better for me. 

Both Lorazepam and Clonazepam belong to the drug class known as benzodiazepines. They act on the brain and nerves and produce a calming effect. 

While on the 17 hour flight to Hong Kong, my panic set in. So I popped a Clonazepam and low and behold, I felt nothing. 

Great. My anxiety levels are too high for these drugs apparently. 

A few days later, finally in Thailand, I was having some anxiety before bed and thought I would try just one of the Ativans. 

The following day I woke up and could not believe it – I actually had a full nights rest! 

I have not slept through the night since I don’t even remember. With my multiple keloids on the body, and the anxiety and pressure from this cancer world, I toss and turn throughout the night. But now, I feel rested and AMAZING. Well, this is a miracle. 

I decided right then and there, I would take one each night to help me sleep. They did not make me groggy or even put me to sleep. But what they did do is KEEP me asleep. Which was the best thing I had experienced in a long while. 

In May I went for my consultation with my surgeron for my upcoming surgery, and I told him about how Ativan has helped me, and if he could right me another prescription. He did, but only for 3 months because he said he wasn’t allowed to write one for longer than that. Well that’s annoying, but I thought nothing of it. 

I dropped off my scrip and when I went to pick it up the next day, the pharmacist let me know that I was NOT allowed to get my next 30 day refill till the actual day it was due. Ok, sure lady. Again, I thought nothing of it. 

Now in August, I made an appoint with my family doctor again to have my pre-op for my colonoscopy. During our talk he saw I wrote down that I was taking Ativan. That reminded me, my three month prescription was almost up. So I asked him to write me a new one. 

“Are you addicted?” He quickly asked. 

“Um no. You know me I hate taking drugs. This I just use to help keep me asleep. No big deal.”

“Ok. You are a special case. With everything you’ve been through I can understand if these help you.”

I was so confused. Why was he being so weird? 

“Are these super addictive or something?”

“YES. Very much so. But you are different than most people and I know you wouldn’t be taking something unless you truly needed it.”

He wrote the prescription and told me to just have the pharmacy fax him every three months for a new one. 

I went home and spoke to Chris about my conversation with my doctor. He and I agreed that if it was helping me right now, then it’s ok. 

Later that night I got into bed, took my pill, and then began googling “How bad is Ativan?” – oh the things that came up. So many blog posts about people who were given it in the hospital, and it took them months and sometimes YEARS to get over the withdrawal. It explained how it is the most additive drug and that you should start with a low dose of 0.25mg. 

Holy crap I was taking 1mg! 

The next day I woke up and said, “Nope, I’m never taking that again.” 

The following day I woke up, and was instantly in withdrawal. My skin was crawling, my heart was beating out of my chest, I felt super anxious and couldn’t stop crying. Just a complete mess. I didn’t know what to do. If I took a pill to stop it, I would still have to take one at night – so then I would be taking two pills in one day. That wasn’t the answer. I called my doctor but he wasn’t in that day, and I was told he would call me on Monday – this was Friday. 

I cried and cried to Chris – I was so mad at myself for getting into this predicament. I started reading online how hard it was to come off of this drug, and that got me even more scared. Chris was amazing and calmed me down. He let me know that I am not a drug addict, that my case is different. If I needed this to help me get to sleep then so be it. 

I, on the other hand, did not agree. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew I was taking a drug that was highly addictive. I think it would cause me more stress. From all of my readings it seemed like the best way to get off of it was to slowly drop your dose down. So Friday night I took a pill, and then I decided Saturday I would not. When it came time for Sunday I though, hell I will roll the dice and just not take one tonight either. On the Monday I felt the withdrawal, but it wasn’t overwhelming as it was on Friday. When my doctor finally called I told him my predicament and he said very firmly, “Do not go off of this drug cold turkey. You have to gradually take it out of your system.” 

Well as we all know by now, I rarely listen to doctors. 

So I decided to push myself, and if it got too bad at any point I would give myself permission to take a pill. 

It took about two weeks, but I finally began to feel back to normal. Now, here is the craziest part. My depression also has seemed to have left. I no longer feel as though I am living in this dark hole. I truly believe that has to do with being off of the drug. I still have my days obviously, but they are not a constant anymore. 

My sleeping is back to being scattered, but now I am looking for more natural remedies to help with this. 

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Addiction 

I avoid drugs. I know how easy it is to become addicted to pain killers, so I was always scared to take them. Since I have always been vocal about this to all of my doctors, they are never worried about me and always tell me, “Don’t be a hero and just take the drugs if you need to”. (Well ok they do not use the term “hero”, that’s my ad lib 😉) 

After my second surgery in 2014, I saw first hand how easy it was for my body to become addicted to drugs. Even though my mind wanted nothing to do with it, my body began going through extreme withdrawal when I tried to stop taking the Oxycodones. My skin felt like it was crawling, I was sweaty but shivering, and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I was forced to continue to take them and gradually reduce the dose. Since then I have refused to take anything other than just regular ole Advil – well until recently. 

I was in a lot of pain and discomfort after my recent lung surgery, and when I went in for my post-op, my surgeon told me to just take even a single pill if I think it might help. After discussing it with Chris, we both decided that I will have to try it as the Advil did not seem to be doing the job this time. So I cut the oxycodone in half and took it at 6:00pm. At 9:30pm I still felt no relief so I took the other half. By 10:00pm my whole body was numb and I felt drunk. No joke. I had to put myself to bed. 

The following day I had plans in the morning so I woke up and felt groggy, but I figured that was only because it was 8:00am. It wasn’t until I was half way to my destination that I realized, “holy crap I am SO high right now and should NOT be driving”. I pulled into a parking lot and had my friend pick me up. This feeling lasted till the mid afternoon! 

When I got home I looked at the bottle, my original prescription was 1-2 every four hours!! WHO COULD SURVIVE THAT?! 

Never again – I went back to just suffering through the pain. 

So, this story is not even the main reason for this post…. I will have to write an “addiction part two” tomorrow. 

But to finish off our discussion about oxycodone – or just any pain reducing drug for that matter. BE CAREFUL. The doctor will prescribe you what is the standard dose, but LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Do not just read the label and pop away, see what works for you. I am not advocating to never take a pain pill. Tolerances for pain are different for each individual, and if you are in too much pain then that will actually harm your healing process. All I want to make known is just to be aware of the problems that can come from taking pain killers. It may help with your pain but it may be hurting you in some other way. These drugs are strong so please use with caution. 

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Let’s Talk

A subject I have never been ashamed to speak about is my mental health. I struggle to try and stay in a positive mood, some days more than others. Instead of reminding you of all the ways I’m fucked up, I will inform you of the ways I am helping to take care of myself.

Eating Right – Keeping a clean diet when I am having a rough day is not easy. Nothing feels better then combining my tears with a tub of ice cream. I find however that afterwards I end up feeling worse. Now not only am I sad about whatever made me cry that day, but also upset at myself for eating all that ice cream. If I stick to healthy alternatives it is one less thing I need to be down on myself for. Also, all of those beautiful nutrients keep your cells happy and healthy which is never a bad thing!

Fresh Air – Seems like an easy fix, but pulling yourself off the couch some days can be tough. Just force yourself to get up and go on a quick walk outside, or go for a drive with the windows down. Removing yourself from your current position and feeling the cool breeze on your face can make a world of a difference.

Therapy, Therapy Therapy – I cannot express enough how much therapy has, and will continue to help me. I have been going to group therapy as well as seeing a therapist one-on-one for a while, but I recently have also begun to see a couples therapist. My relationship with my husband is fantastic, however we do struggle in dealing with the emotional aftermath from everything that has gone in the past couple years. Speaking with someone is helping us communicate better when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. It is so easy when you are sad or angry to take it out on a loved one. I am guilty for that. She is teaching us the dance of how we fight, and ways that we can change it so that we better understand what the other person is going through. I find people are often embarrassed to admit they are attending therapy with their partner. This is the wrong perspective. There is nothing shameful for wanting the best out of your relationship. These jobs exist for a reason, because it is COMMON that couples have issues when communicating. I am very thankful that my husband was open to attending when I first asked him. He saw the improvements I have been having one-on-one, and understood how it could now help us move in a more positive direction. I have said it before and I will continue to preach it – EVERYONE can benefit from therapy.

Pets – The love of an animal is such a beautiful thing. They do not care about any of the baggage you have, and just show you unconditional love. Now, I’m not suggesting in order to achieve happiness everyone must go out and adopt a dog (although that would be amazing). If your life style does not best suit a dog, that is understandable. It takes a lot of time and effort to have a dog and it is not for everyone. If this is you, then try to go for a walk at a dog park on a weekend. Not only will you love the fresh air, but these are the best days for PUPPIES. I find my local dog parks are full of puppies on the weekends, and I just love it. Puppies are so clumsy and dopey they can put a smile on anyone’s face.

Well there you have it, just a few of the things that help me to stay sane. You are also allowed to just stay in all day and binge watch tv. There is nothing wrong with telling the rest of the world to fuck off and just sit around in your track pants. Just do it one day though, the next day you have to get up.

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CEA Blood Test

With my next scan only four weeks away, my anxiety is growing with each passing day. Thankfully, I can’t remember the last time I cried all day, so that’s a positive. I am trying to stay in the mind set that there is nothing I can really do to have the results I wish. The holidays were hard on my body. More alcohol than I have drank in the past three years combined, and enough sweets and salts to go along with it. But that was to be expected and I do not feel like I over indulged. I have to constantly remind myself that I have to quit the “blame game”. If my scan results are bad, that is not because I had a larger piece of pie for Christmas, or because I had two glasses of wine with dinner – there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I am starting to truly believe that. I am cleaning up my eating again because I was to stay consistently healthy for a longer period of time than just three month periods.

I’ve decided after this next scan to change up my follow up schedule. When most cancer patients enter the NED (no existing disease) stage, they all have roughly the same schedule. Two to three years having a CT scan and blood test every three months, the following two years it drops to every six, and at that beautiful five year mark it goes to once a year. This is because with each passing year, your chances of reoccurence technically lowers. Of course, every body is different, but overall this seems to be the case. I however would like to do things differently, as I always seem to do. With colon cancer a good indicator that something is changing is when your CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) levels in your blood are increasing. This isn’t a perfect way to tell if your cancer is back, but it is usually pretty accurate.

Just in case you have no idea what I am talking about – the CEA test measures the amount of a certain protein that may appear in the blood of some people who have certain kinds of cancers, especially cancer of the large intestine (colon and rectal cancer). A healthy person should have CEA level under 4. A smoker is typically under 6. In the late summer of 2015, after my lung surgery, my CEA level was 4. Fast forward to Spring of 2016, when my cancer was back in my liver and lungs, my CEA level was 44.

At my last check up in October my CEA level was 0.3. Yep – that was a shocker. So this month if my levels have increased a significant amount, then something very well could be going on inside. However if they remain very low, I will feel confident that I am on the right track. So I will switch things up and only get my blood taken in May. If that level is also low then my new CT scan and CEA test will be in July – at the six month mark. If my levels are raised in April then we will scan away. I figure I will save myself the stress, and the radiation, if I push it to the six month mark. I haven’t really been able to unwind and enjoy my life in the NED world because my scan is always looming in the back of my mind. So maybe having it every six months will help with that. I guess we will find out.

Fingers and toes crossed that this scan and blood test is clear!

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Unknown

Since I have been home from the hospital, I have gone through my usual routine of being a hermit – or so I thought. Usually after any of my surgeries, I spend a lot of my time recovering quietly. Sure, I will go out the odd time, but always try not to make those times too social. I am never interested in talking to anyone – I just enjoy the peace and quiet. So this time I have been the same way, except I should be starting to turn the corner by now. I have been in a “funk” emotionally for the past few weeks and could not figure out what was wrong. At first I thought it was the recovery process, and then I thought maybe it is the stress of the wedding. Both of those do play a part in the way I am feeling, but they still were not enough. Yesterday I finally broke down and figured it out. I’m entering into a world of unknown. I have been here before, last summer to be exact. I had a successful surgery and entered into the “monitor” stage, only to find out after my first scan that everything was back. So this time I do not have the same delusions in my head that maybe, just maybe, I have finally beat this cancer shit. After my post op this week I just am left to sit around until October when I will have my next scan. It weighs so heavy on my mind.

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The New Plan

If you are reading this and wondering how my surgery went, I apologize. I was called by my surgeon 3 weeks ago and told that he had to bump me. There was a patient he had who has a more complicated problem and needed my time slot. So my new surgery date is July 5th. I have been asked a lot, “How do you feel about that?”. Truthfully – I feel fine. I’m confident my surgeon wouldn’t have chosen me to move if he did not think that I would be ok.

The other interesting piece of information I found out recently is that I will no longer have to go back on chemo. During my post operation appointment, Dr. Jay let me know that after my last lung surgery I would be put back on chemo, particularly Oxaliplatin (or Eloxatin). This is the drug that is used in the FolFox treatment. I spoke up faster than he could finish his sentence and let out a big “Hell no”.

If you want to know why I was so fast to react – please refer to my posts in October 2015.

Dr. Jay was quick to respond and let me know that this was the only drug which is proven to work with cancer that has not yet formed a tumour. But my answer was still no. I am one of the rare people whose bodies cannot handle this drug. I told Dr. Jay that my oncologist would back me up but he wasn’t hearing it. I get it – I am known to complain about being on chemo because I hate it. So I assume he just thought this was me being dramatic. Jokes on him.

A few weeks ago I met up again with Dr. Jay and he let me know I was right and he should just listen to me moving forward.

Just kidding.

What he did say however is that he had a meeting with my oncologist and THEY decided that I cannot be on FolFox. It does not react well with my body and it would do more harm than good.

Oh reaaalllyyyyy???

So – no more chemo for me this summer. This news is amazing because I really didn’t want to be sick and bald for my wedding in September. I am slightly worried however. I have been off chemo for this long before and just exploded all over again with tumours. So I am being cautiously optimistic. Not one of my doctors is saying, “After this next surgery you will be cancer free and we will never see you again.” Actually what they have said is, “This most likely won’t be the last operation you have – just so you know.”

Cool.

 

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Temptation

Over the weekend I gave into the temptation – I ate red meat. This decision was not made hastily. During my chemo on Wednesday I spoke to my nutritionist about it and she let me know that it was completely my choice if I decided to continue to cut out the cow. She cautioned me if I did however choose to try it again, to start with ground beef rather than a big steak. Perfect, cheeseburgers are my go to meal anyways! My surgeon also said, “If you want a cheeseburger, have one.” So I kind of felt like they were all on the “Yay Red Meat” train right???

So Saturday night I had one side cut rib. Super small and barely anything to write about. The whole time I was still nauseous and having stomach pains so I chalked it up to just regular old life for me. Then Monday came.

Still nauseous but out and about I thought that after my hard week I deserved it. I have been off red meat since August and I should be able to treat myself. So I went for it. Single patty cheese from good old McDonalds. As I took off the wrapper I could tell – this shit was perfect. It is like they knew my addiction and they made it just for me. Every bite had the perfect ratio of cheese, onion, ketchup and mustard. No dry or greasy piece in site. I raved on about this perfect burger for the next hour. And truthfully if I was not with someone else, I would have stopped at a drive-thru for a second. Sure enough though, no more than two hours later, the stomach cramps began. My intestinal gas pains, acid reflex and debilitating cramps lasted until last night. A full day and a half of pain. Never again. And I mean it this time. The amount of discomfort I experienced is not worth the pleasure my taste buds enjoyed so much.

I do not consider myself a failure for trying red meat again. I never declared 100% that I would be off the stuff forever. (If I did say that in my old post, please ignore then….). I am human – we are not perfect and have set backs. I am just hoping that writing down my experience will help me to remember that it is not worth the agony afterwards. That, and I also need you people to slap me if I ever am tempted again.

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Freedom

Ever have a jar with a super tight lid? When you can’t open it the first thing you do is bring it closer to your body to try and help with the force. Well I just did that and was surprised by my sudden and long lasting lighting bolt of pain. Yes, even something as simple as opening a jar has now become scary. Why? Well my scar is still pink and puffy which makes is super sensitive. Even if my shirt rubs against it the wrong way it can hurt me. Reaching to turn on my bed side table light – think again as my skin pulls on my scar and again causes a jolt of pain. Overall I will take all of these painful moments if I could just wear a normal bra again. I was cut high enough that any chest support system would come into contact and constantly rub on my scar. Although the no bra movement is liberating and comfortable – it’s hard to get cleavage that way. Thankfully I’m no double D so I don’t have to fear that months of no support will cause sagging. Life gave my cancer but thankfully also gave me a nice B cup that stays in place without help. Must be why I am going as a safari animal this year and not a “sexy” something or other for Halloween. Kind of would need some cleavage for that.

With the temperature dropping more and more daily it is time to start investing in multiple baggy sweaters. I would hate to be in the supermarket and let everyone know just how cold it is outside. Stop staring at my chest you pervs I have cancer.

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Sir?

Would you like to hear something hilarious? A few days ago I was called “sir”. Yep, that’s right – “And sir what kind of sub would you like?”. After hearing my voice that young boy proceeded to fumble over the bread. No more than 3 days later a young lady at the gas station said – “Ooo I like your hair cut”. The way the world works is so strange.

Well, just 4 days left till surgery. 4 days left till a 20% of liver failure. That is the statistic that seems to be sticking in my mind. 20%. I know that number could be worse… but who wants a chance at liver failure at all? The positive side is I see myself back at work. I see myself working and laughing at the past. Little thoughts like this get me through the statistics.

These next few days are quite busy for me. I am trying to do as much as possible since I know I will be laying on my rear for the next few weeks. Wish me luck! I will be in the hospital for a week so once I am feeling like myself again I’ll post about my time :).

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