Tag Archives: mental health

Cancer, party of one

Where do I even begin? (I just finished this blog and apparently I had a lot to say. So grab a coffee and a comfortable chair)

My whole plan when I took a break from blogging back in the Fall was to pick it back up after my scan in March. I had this idea that I could share with all of you my amazeball results of my first, second clear scan and then I could FINALLY share what I discovered my passion to be! Of course that fantasy is just that, a fantasy, and the reality is life never seems to be that easy.

I’ll share my passion another time…

For now, I’m just going to share what has been going on in these last few weeks.

My scan was on March 15th and it was a typical scan day. Drank the crap, joked around with my CT tech, got the IV, scan scan scan, then drank litres upon litres of water for the rest of the day to flush out my kidneys. Normal shit. The only change to the whole routine came with the delivery of the results. Back in the Fall I asked my surgeon if he could save me a trip to Toronto and just call me with my results. He agreed. So later that afternoon he called and said the following;

Liver and lungs – clear

Right ovary – unsure, needs more testing

I’m sorry what? Did you just say now I have to worry about my god damn ovaries?

He proceeded to ask about when my last colonoscopy was, how have my bowel movements been, when was my last period, etc etc. Then he let me know he was off to Whistler but I would be getting an ultrasound appointment in the next two weeks. Perfect.

Then my brain entered into rapid fire mode. It was dissecting every word and pronunciation he said and trying to figure out what the underlying message was.

This is what my brain told myself in less than a minute:

When they were first diagnosing me they told me they thought I had cervical cancer that had spread to my liver. So that means that scan showed the shadow in my colon but then thought it was in my cervix. So this one must be showing the same thing and that’s why he’s asking about my last colonoscopy. That also makes sense because it’s probably just stage 1 or 2 and that can be easily cut out but he doesn’t want to worry me because he’s in Whistler for 2 weeks. This also makes sense because my colon is the only place that when they removed the tumours they did not get clean margins. Yep, cancer in the colon is the logical answer. Or it’s in my ovaries. Or both. Start panicking.

So that was a fun night. The next day (Friday) I received my ultrasound appointment, for the Monday. This further spun my idea tighter around my finger because whhhyyyyy would they book me in so fast!? Yep, shit’s going south.

So that weekend was fun.

Monday comes and my ultrasound tech isn’t aloud to say anything about my exam but does say, “Don’t lose sleep over this.” So that calms me down slightly for the next week and a half while I wait for my next phone call.

The results? Oh inconclusive yet AGAIN. Somethings going on and they can’t figure it out and they can’t brush it off either. My surgeon is frustrated with the radiologist who wants to now send me for an MRI. So he asks if it is ok that he takes me case to the next tumour board meeting.

What is that you ask? A bunch of doctors and radiologists will review cases and give their professional opinion on what they think is going on. It’s actually pretty cool. So of course I agree because why wouldn’t I want more eyes reading my file and trying to figure out the mystery of the ovary.

So that’s where I still stand now. The meeting is on Monday and then I will find out what they said on Tuesday and go from there. Almost a full month after my scan and the results are still slightly unknown.

As you were reading this if you thought, “Well at least it’s just an ovary, you can remove those.” You are not alone. My husband, mother, best friend, and mother-in-law all said the EXACT same thing. And yes, you would be correct, I can lose an ovary. My problem with that is that I am not Swiss cheese. It is very easy now for people just to jump to the surgery idea for me without even blinking an eye. That’s how NORMAL surgery has become for me. This summer will be my first summer since 2014 where I haven’t had any surgery. That is just so crazy even to write.

What you need to step back and think for a second is say this wasn’t a story about a girl who has been under the knife more than she can count. What if this was just a regular ole person? Would your first response from an abnormal scan be, “Oh, well you can just lose an ovary!” Probably not. You would probably be worried or upset and have a tad more compassion.

I am not mad at all at the four closest people in my life jumping to that conclusion so fast. I get it. They are just happy that if it is something, it can be removed – aka non life threatening. But to me, I’m not a cadaver. You can’t just keep slicing and dicing me.

Well I mean you can if it saves my life, but that’s not the point.

The point is, as I have said in previous posts – Every piece they cut away is a piece of me. Literally and figuratively. I don’t want another surgery because I don’t want anything to be fucking wrong with me anymore.

If you are actually in my life and are shocked reading this and are thinking to yourself, “Wow, I had no idea all that was going on.” Surprise! That’s what happens when you go on with your own honky dory life and because I removed the cancer sticker plastered on my forehead, why would you ever think I even deal with matters like this anymore right? WRONG.

Here’s the take away for people reading this who are fighting cancer themselves right now- Cancer is an EXTREMELY lonely disease. The people who rally behind you at first drop off one by one every day longer that you still fight to survive. So YOU have to be the strong one. No one else is there anymore to fight your battles and pick you up when you are down. YOU have to wake up every day and choose not to live in the comfortable dark hole and step into the light. YOU have to remain positive and keep telling yourself that you are just fine. YOU have to put a smile on your face in public and act like nothings wrong. If you solely rely on others to raise you up and motivate you, now’s the time to start finding that voice for yourself. I’m telling you the crowd dwindles fast and when you are left alone, take a minute to be sad, and then pick yourself back up, dust off and continue on fighting.

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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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Acceptance 

Even though it may seem sometimes I am a Debbie Downer, it’s actually not the case. 


This was taken in Thailand just 30 minutes after I told Chris that I wish that cancer would just kill me so this crapshoot life can be all over with. Can’t you see it in my eyes? I had a LARGE SCALE breakdown. But with a few hugs and some laughter, I was able to pick myself up off the floor and head out for dinner. I thought to myself – I don’t want to feel this was anymore – but then how do I change it? 

I’m not over here though praying to be “cancer free”. I honestly don’t know if that will ever truly happen. What I am trying to do is shift into the world of acceptance.

That is a big world to use. Accepting the fact that I have, and may always have cancer, and that’s ok. This year could be my fourth summer where I have to enjoy it from inside the hospital walls. Learning to walk again in the humid weather. Watching everyone cool off in the swimming pool while I sit on the sidelines. Struggling to find the strength to move from the couch to the kitchen. Maybe that’s ok? If I just learn to accept my disability then it will no longer have power over me. 

So today, that is what I am choosing to do. Remind myself that it is what it is, and I am who I am. And maybe there is nothing wrong with that. 

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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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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.

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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.

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Car Rides

My focus for a long time now has been to build back up my physical strength. I go on long walks, try a few sit ups here and there, and swim in my parents pool whenever I can. Physically I am beginning to feel stronger. Just when I start to pat myself on the back, I remember that I am leaving a major part of my recovery out – my mental and emotional strength. It is like I have been doing all upper body exercises, but my legs look like chickens. Driving alone in the car seems to be the worst time for me. It is when my mind runs all over the place, and I always end up crying. Good thing for sunglasses. I need to start shifting some of my energy into helping to heal this crucial side to my recovery. But how? Group therapy sessions help, and I do attend them, but I beginning to realize I need more than this. I have to find an outlet that allows me to be able to be alone and one with my thoughts – and still be ok. This is a harder task than it seems. As soon as it is quiet, the little voice in my head starts to say, “You have stage 4 cancer. How many years do you have left? That sharp pain in my side, is it cancer? So what if you don’t make it to forty, who needs to be forty? Why do I have to go through this? Fuck you Taylor Swift, you don’t even know my struggle.” (She’s always on the radio.)

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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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