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.

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!

Finding The Word

Crying has become a part of my everyday life. It is just something that happens and I am almost getting used to it. During my most recent therapy session, my therapist wanted to know why. She wanted me to seek the reason as to why I cry. It started with me describing the memories that like to pop up in my mind daily. All of the ones of me in the hospital, getting poked and pulled and crying out for help. So then the question was, why are these memories the most prominent? What was the common thread that linked these together? I couldn’t figure it out, so we moved on. She then asked, if you could use one word to describe why you cry, what would that be? I had no idea which made the tears come even harder.

Vulnerable. I cry because I feel so vulnerable now.

No, that’s not it.

Independence. I cry for my loss of independence.

No, that doesn’t work either.

Misunderstood. I cry because no one really understands me.

Nope.

Grief. I cry as I am grieving the life I once had.

Dammit that’s not it either.

Then I thought about the hospital, and the memories that haunted me the most. The ones that like to creep into my thoughts and distract me from all of the positive. What was the common link?

No one was there.

When I was having anxiety attacks on operating room tables. I was crying and begging them to stop because I was scared. They would hold me down as I struggled and I would look up the bright light and wish it would all be over.

When my blood pressure spiked and my heart felt like it was coming out of my chest. I kept fading in and out of consciousness and thought I was dying.

When I was told they had to pull my liver drain out at my bedside and they would not wait for my family to come to hold my hand.

When I was struggling to stand and I had to call the nurse to wipe me after the washroom.

When they stabbed my arms and held me down trying to insert a picc line.

Nurses and doctors were there, sure. For the most part they were so friendly and helpful, but they are not family. I also fully understand it is impossible for family to be in the hospital 24/7, so I don’t blame anybody.

So now that we have figured out the common link, is that the reason I cry so often? What is the word that I feel would best describe my feelings in general?

Alone. That’s the word.

No matter how much I explain, no matter who was there for what, no one has been there for it all. No one is in my head having to live with these thoughts, and the ones described above are just a handful of them.

Alone does not only describe those moments, but so many others. I have met a lot of wonderful people who can better understand my experiences, but no one fully can. No one I have met has had 6 surgeries. No one I have met has been told twice that they are inoperable.

So now that I have named it, I have to work on accepting it. There will never be anyone who will fully understand other than myself. So that is the next step. I am working on it, alone.

Clear

I have played out this day over and over in my head before. Many nights I would lay in bed trying to fall asleep and fantasize about my doctors saying to me, “Your scan is clear.” I thought last year it was going to happen, and then was crippled by the news that all of my cancer was back. This year I was hesitant. I felt good and I know that I have changed so many things in my diet that are positive, but there was always the chance. Saying I was nervous would be an understatement. I was an emotional wreck in the days leading up to my results appointment. When the day finally arrived I walked into the office as he said walking behind me, “So your scan looks good.” Get out. I was shocked. Even my CEA blood levels were only 0.3! Chris cried, and I sat there taking it all in. In my fantasy I jumped out of my seat and hugged Dr. Jay. I cried and wanted to film it so I could share the “reveal” video with all of my friends. In reality, I just sat there almost faking happiness.

I am happy. I am beyond happy. I need a clear scan to then have another, and another, and eventually stop worrying every day about this damn disease. I know I will never be “cured”. Stage four cancer patients always live in fear. But I would love to have one day in the future where I wake up and think, “Holy shit I didn’t think of cancer once yesterday.”

For now, I’m going to try and forget that January is just three months away, and this blissful life could come crashing down.

Oh She Glows – Apple Bake

First off – For those of you who have read my post from a few months back about how I am was going to start cooking everyday, and you are sitting around and laughing at my lies – I would just like to say, it’s been harder than you think.

I had good intentions, but then I went through a major slump. I was depressed, eating still fairly healthy, but not perfect. Most days I didn’t want to do much of anything. I also was stressed over planning for my wedding – which I will post about on a later date.

Now – back to the good stuff!

This oatmeal apple bake found in the Oh She Glows cookbook is AMAZING. I have actually already made it twice. It is so easy once you figure it out for the first time.


Here is a picture of all of the ingredients I used the first time around. I try to stay as healthy and organic as possible. The Simply Organic products are my absolute favourite.


And there is the beautiful finished product. I transferred it to a few containers as it keeps really well in the fridge – I continued to eat it up to 4-5 days later. I am also sure it freezes really well in case you have too many leftovers.

After doing it the second time around I changed a few things. For starters, as you can see I did not add pears. I am not the biggest fan of baked pears. I also included 4 apples and did not skin them. The first time I made this I found skinning every apple to be tedious and I just didn’t want to do it again. It honestly tastes the exact same.

Highly recommended!!

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.

Port Advocate

When I see the hospital calling I always assume the worst. For the first time in a long while, this call was only good news. Let me back track before I get into my conversation with Dr. Jay.

During my time in the hospital for my first two surgeries in 2014, I was a human pin cushion. I had IV lines coming out of every vein they could tap. My hand, wrist, and arm were all covered with lines that weren’t even hooked up to anything. They were all there “just in case” they were needed. On top of this, I was still bothered once a day by a nurse, who would poke at me to take my blood. Worse even still, were my constant arguments in the ICU over a picc line. (If you are not familiar with this term, it is a tube they insert and leave open in your veins, so they have direct access to your blood.) I would fight tooth and nail with every nurse that came in to inform me that they were going to put one in. “Why do you need to put one in, I have a PORT!” The first time my yelling worked and I was able to keep them away until I made it to the surgery ward. The second surgery, I was not as successful. I had three nurses hold my arms down, while a male doctor cut into different parts of my hand and arm trying to start the line. I was crying the whole time and begging them to stop. After trying in four different areas, they were nice enough to give me a break. (This sentence couldn’t be any more sarcastic.) An hour or so later a new nurse came in to let me know they were going to try again soon. I cried and said, “Please just explain something to me. What is the point of me having a Port-a-cath if it is not going to be used? The whole reason I had it implanted is so I wouldn’t have to get a picc line. This doesn’t make any sense!” She surprisingly agreed, and then proceeded to call off the picc line.

Side note: While driving the other day I thought about this moment, and I cried underneath my Raybans. I wish my memories in the hospital could all be erased.

From my weight gain in the winter of 2014, I developed a lot of extra fat on top of my port. This made it really tricky to access. So when it came time for my surgery in 2015, I did not bring it up.

When I met with Dr. Jay and Dr. Ko this year to discuss my May surgeries, I was quick to touch on this subject.

“Can I ask you guys something? Why the hell am I poked at everyday – which hurts by the way – when I have a bloody port? What the hell is the point of having this thing if every nurse I speak to, other than the ones in oncology, don’t know how to use it?”

“You’re right.”

WHHHAATTTTT!? This was the first and probably last time they will ever tell me I am right. Even though I have been right SO many times before, and will probably continue to be.

“It is a little tricky to explain why they are not trained to access it. However, I will make sure this time it is used.”

To my surprise, they kept their word. For both my surgeries in May, my port was used. I was administered all of my drugs through it, and all of my blood was taken from it. No more tube city!

Which brings us to today. Dr. Jay called and asked me if I wouldn’t mind speaking about all of this to a colleague of his in the hospital. Since I was such an advocate for myself during all of my hospital stays, it started a movement. Nurses are now starting to be trained on how to access ports. A woman is putting together a proposal for more funding, in order to be able to have the supplies and training needed, so all nurses will know how to use the port to their full advantage in the future. I obviously said yes right away. If I can help prevent future surgical patients from having to experience what I have been through, I am all for it!

I will also request to have it called “The Jamie Protocol”. Just kidding……… not really.

 

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.

 

Worrywart

Every little ache or pain I have, my mind begins to wonder – Is this THAT bad? Should I go see a doctor? I’m always nervous to go to a walk-in or the hospital because when new doctors find out about me, they run every test known to man. Here is a breakdown of my train of thought:

So a little bit of pain in my back is probably just a pulled muscle right? Hold on let me google it…. Ok the organ located in that area is the right kidney…. So is the pain from a muscle or is it my kidneys? Well I’m having no problems in the bathroom so it must just be my muscle….. But it is so close to my liver – maybe it’s just my body healing from the surgery….. Or it is the cancer that jumped from my liver to my kidney….. Ok I will just wait one more day and see if it gets worse. 

Here’s another one that also happened this week:

Hmm, my seatbelt is rubbing on my incision site – that’s not comfortable…. Ok where it is has been rubbing for the past few days seems to be irritated – I’ll just hold the belt away from it…. So it’s been a week and the irritation has become larger and now even if my shirt floats by it, I feel like someone is sticking their finger in an open wound – I’ll leave it a few more days…. Hmm my shirt feels wet, oh that’s because it wasn’t swollen it was infected and filled with puss that has seemed to have popped open in the night…. Guess I’ll call the doctor – maybe I should have gone earlier?

I can’t run off to the doctor everytime I have an ache in my body – I would live at the hospital (even though I already feel like I do). However if I leave things and they are something serious, then I am just hurting myself and making things worse. I’m sure I am not the only crazy person out there. 

Black Out

No, this is not about to be a hilarious story of some drunken antics I got up to over the long weekend. And for the record, I have never been “black out drunk”. So to all those friends who over the years I said, “I did what? Oh I don’t remember at all” – that statement was a load of bull.

My first surgery of the summer took place on May 2nd and was quickly followed by a second on May 4th. I called my fiancé on May 8th and to my surprise (and apparently also his), he said “Oh hi – Wow you sound like yourself today.” Um sorry? The weird thing about blacking out in the hospital is that you do not realize you were until it is all pointed out to you. It still hadn’t hit me yet that the past week of my life was all just a blur. A few days later my mom was visiting after work (as she did everyday) and said, “Oh you were so mean on Saturday. You were yelling at me and told me to leave and never come back. I cried to your father about how if this was your new personality, I don’t think I want to take you home.” How horrible is that? I felt awful. I can remember pieces of that week, mainly just the painful things. I remember having to flip on my sides for my sponge bath, and how painful that was. I remember HGTV always being on the television. I remember the day I hallucinated and screamed out to my nurses that I must have a fever (which I was right about). I know one afternoon I was screaming out in pain and begged anyone who would listen to me to make it go away. Besides those few things, I don’t remember much else. 

I asked around and have been able to figure out what I was saying and doing for those days. Here are some stories I was told:

“One day you wanted to pull out the line going into your port. You were so angry when we tried to hold you down and stop you from doing it.”

“You thought I had your phone in my purse and began to throw everything out of it screaming at me to give it back.”

“The tv stopped working and you lost it.”

“You thought I had cookies in my hand and kept reaching out to get them.”

“You thought I had doughnuts and wanted them.”

“Everything on your lunch tray you wanted to put in your coffee cup. Then you got mad when we wouldn’t let you.”

“You walked the halls of the ICU with your catheter, epidural and chest tube in – somehow in no pain.”

“Anything you tried to do you would fall asleep after 20 seconds. Mid sip of a drink – asleep. On the phone – asleep.”

“We were concerned with how out of it you were. We thought you would slip into a coma in the night.” 
Sounds fabulous.