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!

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.

 

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.

Lung Tumour

It is hard sometimes to sleep when your brain will not shut off. Since I am such a planner with life, it has been hard to sit back and let things just play out. Two days after my last operation I had a chest CT to check on the progress of my liver regeneration. During this CT they discovered a small tumour on the upper side of my left lung. My doctors then went back in my scans and discovered there was a small glimpse of it on my original scans from April. At first I was annoyed of course. How was this missed? Then I came to terms with the fact that they were so overwhelmed by what my liver was showing, they were not looking any place else. They did however give me another CT in May for the sole purpose to check if I had cancer any where else. I already had two treatments of chemo under my belt at this point, and my surgeon let me know I was clear. Conclusion? My lung tumour shrunk enough after two treatments that it disappeared from the scan. Sounds amazing right? Well to me, not so much. From when they decided I was going to have my first surgery, to when I was able to go back on chemo after my second surgery, three months had passed. Three whole months without chemo. That little tumour was persistent and came right on back after the poison was out of my system. This is what worried me. What happens if after six scans the tumour is shrunk enough that they do not feel the need to operate? At this point I feel like I am a pro when it comes to surgery. I would rather have them get in there and remove the sucker with good margins, then leave it and hope that it just never comes back. With my mind racing around this topic I knew I needed to have a phone call with my surgeon. I explained my thoughts towards everything and here is what he had to say:

“I know this must be tough for you. You have been through so much and I understand why you would want the piece of mind. However, the tumour on your lung is very small and does not worry me. What does worry me is all the other cancer cells I think are in your body. Those microscope cells are what we need to focus on. If we have surgery now, you will be off chemo for 6 weeks, then we would operate, then you have to recover for another 6 weeks. That is too long to be off treatment again. I have asked you to trust me many times, and so far your trust in me has paid off. So I ask for you to continue with that trust. In January we will have another scan and reassess your lung tumour. Until then stay strong and fight through the chemo. With your liver being much weaker than before, I am not surprised this is taking a bigger tole on you. Do not worry and keep going.”

That is obviously not word for word, but pretty much bang on to what he had to say. A quick 5 minute phone call instantly calmed me down. Yes, the cancer that we cannot see in my body scares me. Yes, every chemo treatment so far has sucked, and I am sure will continue to suck. But the fight must continue. I have to trust in my doctors that they know what is best for me. I’ve gone from inoperable to operable in less than 6 months, so I am becoming more and more positive that I can truly beat this.

Needles

My two biggest fears are needles and spiders. Leading up to my diagnosis I was stabbed so many times, my arms were bruised like a heroin addict. I used to squirm and cry each time, but I never thought I would become this comfortable. Needles used during my chemo have stopped making me feel faint and crying over (only the first time). I still cannot look when they take my blood or put the needle in my port, but at least there are no tears.

My last visit to the hospital they warned me that my white blood cell count was dropping too fast. To sum it up really quick, chemotherapy kills good and bad cells… my good cells were not reproducing fast enough. I had to be placed on daily injections for 8 days in order to help with this. I did not think anything of it at first, I have become a needle pro. Then they told me the real kicker to this whole thing, I have to administer the needle myself. I instantly said no, not possible. After much persuasion from the nurse, she assured me that it was very easy and 99% of her patients do it themselves. I was booked to come in the following week to the hospital for my first one.

Of course I was nervous, but I was trying to talk myself down from it.

“Diabetic people have to do this everyday… I can do this… ”

As if this adventure could not get any more fun, I had to draw the drugs from the vial myself. They taught me, let me practise and then said “go”. I took the needle off… drew from the vial… tapped out the bubbles… cleaned off the injection site on my stomach… and then sat there. Needle in hand I began to cry. How was I ever going to actually proceed with the motion needed in order to stab my own stomach with this needle? My mind was racing. My mom and friend were there for support, cheering me on. Finally… eyes closed.. one, two, three… I stabbed my stomach. Not the worst. Now I had the task of switching my hands and actually slowly pushing the drug in my stomach. Nope. Anxiety attack full swing… pass out mode engaged… the nurse had to take over.

Day two I had a nurse come to my house to be here in case I needed help. I was nervous but I tried to pump myself up. My pump up worked and I was able to do it from start to finish with no tears. Success!!!

Day three I began to draw from the vial and I noticed my needle was leaking. I started freaking out but the nurse again was here, and stepped in to help. I lost some of the medication so we opened a new vial, and drew the rest from that. My heart rate was up slightly from the set back, I took a deep breath. One, two, three… jab… except the needle just pushed my skin in and did not pierce. Annnnddd the anxiety came right on back. Heart rate up, tears flowing, the nurse took over.

Day four…. starts in 2 minutes. Wish me luck 🙂

By the way, needles is one thing. If you are afraid of them like I was, I am proof you can get over it… kind of. Spiders on the other hand…. If they told me I had to hold a tarantula everyday in order to feel better….. that’s a big cup of “nope”.

Sound The Alarm

I was feeling slighty calm going into the hospital with my mom. Although I could vividly remember my freak out at my colonoscopy 10 years ago, I was a human pin cushion the last few days. The nurse started with the standard questions, but I was quick to inform her about my last experience. That is when she posed the question “May I ask why you are here, and why you had one before so young?”. I told her the two minute version of my story. Like clockwork the minute I said “liver lesions”, she stopped, looked up at me with “the face”, put her hand on my thigh and said “I’m so sorry”. Ummmm sorry for what lady?

Let me also tell you that a needle in the arm is very different then what feels like an 8 foot long needle going into your hand. I passed out.

After the colonoscopy I knew what to expect. The nurse wakes you up, doctor comes by and says “you’re good to go”, and then your ride comes to pick your sore ass (literally) up. Now, I should also mention for those who have never been to day surgery before, it is a big room jammed full of people. Nurses running around and patients everywhere either who just came out, or are sitting around with their saline bag hooked up waiting to go in. I was woken up and amongst the chaos, the room went silent. I heard the nurse across the room on the phone…

“Hi Jorjan…. Jamie is all done and awake…. How far away are you?….. The doctor is going to wait for you to get here.”

I knew.

After revealing the polaroid of four bleeding tumours, the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m going to have a poo bag!?”. The rest of that small conversation is a blur. My dad almost fainted, my mom surprisingly held it together, and I was a blubbering train wreck. The doctor confirmed it was stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to my liver. He let us know he was going to refer me to another surgeon right away. I kept begging him to just take me back to the operating room and cut it out now, but he obviously couldn’t just do that. So we left to go home and wait to hear about an appointment with another surgeon. In my head I gave myself 6 months, just like my grandma.