Tag Archives: life

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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Through Sickness and Health

For us it’s more like through sickness and health, and some more sickness, now some health, oh wait don’t forget about the sickness.

When my health is a roller coaster you can’t expect my relationship not to be. Chris and I have to not only deal with our own ever changing emotions, but then also try to tip toe and figure out each other’s. It’s not easy. We decided we needed some navigational help. So we found a couples therapist and have now been seeing her every two weeks for the past three months. What we have discovered is the way we were raised has really impacted the way we communicate and interact as a couple. When I was going through chemotherapy and surgeries it was almost easier for us. Our only focus was my physical health so we had no time to really examine our mental health. Even though I am still physically sick, it is not as noticeable and doesn’t affect our day to day, so now our mental health is disrupting our relationship.

It is a day by day process because our internal issues cannot be resolved overnight. My own mental health changes minute by minute, so if I have a hard time with it how can I expect anything different from him. Going to counselling is not showing weakness in our relationship but it shows strength. The challenges with cancer doesn’t end when you are no longer receiving treatment, in my case it feels like it is just beginning.

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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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Mind Trip

Last night I walked in the door after being in Vegas for 4 days, and it took me 5 minutes to realize I was in a mood. I felt like I would snap at any minute, and then did on Chris. I was frustrated and annoyed and just put myself to bed. Today I woke up feeling the exact same. Tried to take the dog for a walk, but still couldn’t shake this feeling. After showering Chris asked me to come sit down and talk to him so he could try and figure out what’s wrong. One minute later I was crying, and wasn’t sure why. After a few minutes of tears and trying to assess what was going on in my head I figured it out – In Vegas I was the closest thing to my old self. I haven’t felt that way in almost 3 years.

I laughed and laughed, I got drunk and had a hallway dance party to Mariah Carey – I felt free. People would be looking at me for reasons of their own – maybe I was laughing too loud, or dancing like a fool, or for the first time in a long while, because I actually looked pretty and was walking with confidence. All of these feelings in me I have not felt in the longest time. I blended in as just another girl who is having an amazing time in Vegas. I went to bed at night and only thought about how I can’t believe I didn’t hit on roulette, and what tables I would play in the morning. That was it.

Today all of that is gone and I am back to reality.

I broke. Chris sat there and just watched as I went from tears rolling down my face to a full sobbing mess. He tried to make me feel better and say that everyone feels that way when they get home, that’s why it’s called a vacation. But I hated that response and started yelling through my tears, “It’s not the same, it’s not the same, it’s not the same!” I threw my face in my hands and sat there balling my eyes out and trying to catch my breath. I never realized how much I missed my old self until I saw a glimpse of her again. She was fun, confident, independent, smart, care free and beautiful. This new person I am still trying to wrap my brain around. I am better in many ways but worse in others. I feel like a solider who has gone to war. They have seen so much death and despair. They had to wake up everyday and fight for their life, and may have scars to prove it. Then they come home and just have to try and forget everything that their memory won’t let them. They are forever changed.

My break down was interrupted by Chris’s phone ringing, which was perfect. I told him to take it and went back to blow drying my hair. I’ve become really good at putting the cork back in the bottle and just continuing on with my day.

 

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Work/Life Balance

As my surgery date approaches, I begin to contemplate what lies ahead for me on the other side. As the doctor appointments become further and further apart, and life starts to return to normal – questions begin to arise. Where do I want to be? Who do I want to be? How do I want to live the rest of my life?

It slowly becomes more clear with each passing day. The easy answer is simple – I choose to live. 

The bank offers a large mortgage. Do you use the whole sum just because it was offered to you? What kind of life will you then have? Yes, you will have a beautiful home – but how else will you choose to spend your time? How fun is it really to stay in every night because you cannot afford to go out? Before I would have said yes. I would have found a way to make it all work. Now – that is just foolish. Why cause stress when it is not needed? When I am not working I want to be able to do things – whether it be a casual night out or an expensive vacation. Either way I want to be living a life instead of sitting on my money. (That is a fantastic term that was recently said to me by a certain friend – you know who you are 😉 ).

While we are on the topic – let’s talk about work. I love work. I like having a purpose for my day. I enjoy the social aspect. I like the feeling that comes over me when I complete a project and I see it live. (By live, I mean online – I work in ecommerce. Have I mentioned that before?) If you work in a field that you enjoy and are passionate about, it is easy to go into work everyday. Working a little overtime never bothered me because I enjoy what I do. 

Work however, should not be the only reason to get up in the morning. I am not “working for the weekend”, as the song goes – but I do plan on enjoying my time away from work. It is hard not to bring your work home with you if you are a workaholic like myself. It is easy however to look back and think “man, I wish I went on that trip”. You never hear anyone say, “Ten years ago I wanted to go on vacation, but chose to work instead. Totally do not regret that”. You are given vacation days for a reason. If you are worried that your boss will look down on you for wanting time off – then maybe they are not the right boss for you. (I am thankful not to have this problem 🙂 ) It is healthy to want a break. You need a mental break. Most people (and by most, I could probably say all) work harder when they are happy. Who would ever be happy working 80 hours a week, 365 days a year? Work hard – yes. Choose work over your life – no. 

That being said – if you know your work is busy during certain times of the year – do not be a fool and ask to book time off then. That is just dumb. 

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