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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The State of Things



I've been struggling.

In fact, it's probably more accurate to say, I am struggling.

In 2015, I spent a year of my life trying to beat cancer. I always had hope. Hope, I always knew, is what will always get you through the toughest of times.

I was in remission for only a few months when, one day in my office, I got the dreaded call. The one that told me the cancer was back. Not only was it back, but this time, it was incurable.

It's been almost a year since my re-diagnosis. The hardest year of my life. I struggled greatly, suffered greatly, and most times, privately. From the outside I think I did a good job at pulling myself together but on the inside I feel all rotten

I remember my last "normal" day. Sitting on the deck with friends, wondering what Whole Brain Radiation would do to me. Enjoying the sunshine. Watching the dogs play. May 2016, and I haven't felt quite right ever since.

It's been nine months now. I've spent the better part of the last 4 months getting sick every morning, sleeping my days away. I would wake up, go to work, sleep the rest of the afternoon. Have dinner with Jeff, go back to bed and then do it all again.

This January, I knew I was coming up on my one year "cancerversary" of living with metastatic breast cancer. Knowing median survival rates, I knew that time wasn't always going to be on my side. I wondered, if this was the last year of my life, is this how I want to spend it?

The answer, as you probably guessed, was no. I took a leave of absence from my work at the beginning of January. My "retirement", as a friend put it. I wasn't sure what I would do with my time, but I figured it would be filled with friends, books, long walks and getting the chance to finally do all the things I love.

The first week of January came around, the hustle of the Christmas season over. Everyone was going back to work, and here I was, at home. I spent a year off during my first bout with breast cancer, but here's the main difference: back then I saw an end. Back then I had hope. Now, I wasn't sure what I had. I had an indefinite amount of time ahead of me, with no structure or purpose to my days.

This month, I've spent a lot of time lying in bed. I think, well I could get up, but what's the point? Everything I was doing to fill my days seemed just that: wasting time until the inevitable was going to come. I am waiting to die. 

I catch my mind wandering to the dark places. Often it will be a holiday or a joyous occasion and I'll think, is this the last time I'll experience this? When someone is planning an event in the future, my immediate wonder is - will I be here for that? I get sad thinking about all of the books, music and movies I'm going to miss out on. The milestone moments that are so special that I won't be present for. 

These are heavy thoughts. These aren't things I ever wanted to say aloud, or share with anyone. I've kept them in for a long time. Day after day, the anxiety to get up and live "normally" became harder. Just getting out of the house was difficult.

I wear a number of hats. I'm a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend. I didn't realize that one of the hats I wore though, my working hat, gave me so much purpose. I placed a lot of value in my work. It showed me I am still moving forward, accomplishing something. I don't have my work to occupy my mind and time anymore. It had been a crutch, something I could dedicate myself to. It stopped me from truly accepting my reality. I allowed it to take up every corner of my mind, so that nothing else could surface.

I don't have an answer or any wisdom to share today. It would be easy not to post this and wait until I'm on the other side. I debated it. These raw feelings aren't easy to confront, much less talk about. They are real, though. Cancer can be seen as purely medical side effects. Yet there is another side of cancer, the mental battle, that is proving to be equally as difficult. I haven't overcome my bout with anxiety and depression but if there is a positive side of this, it's that I know I don't want to feel this way anymore.

I know I'm ready to find a new normal. I know it involves acceptance, gratitude, and self-worth. I'm just not sure how to get there. I'm ready to not only enjoy my time but to feel like I deserve it. I'm ready to feel worthy of this life, worthy of a sense of purpose. I am not just here to die.

Anyways, that is where I've been and where I'm at. Thank you to everyone who loves me and supports me every day. I owe everything to you (except Mavvy. I need to keep him).

xx

Monday, November 14, 2016

What's Comin Will Come (& we'll meet when it does)

    
  
A (lazy) blog post of pictures from the past few months...

        
 
 
        

...finally sharing my beautiful bridal shower & bachelorette...

 

... & of course for those that don't have me on social media... the wedding!


I haven't been able to bring myself to write full updates yet, so here are some pictures! I will say that I have been given stable results in my lungs and my bones (which means I am able to get treatment every three weeks now, versus weekly!), and I am awaiting an MRI on my brain to let me know how the gamma knife procedure worked.

I've been fairly sick and it's been challenging mentally and physically. Every time I have a good day and think I'm finally moving forward, all of a sudden I'm sick again and I take ten steps back. 

My diagnosis is isolating, exhausting, devastating, and demanding. It feels like sometimes it's all I think about; how to get through the next ten minutes, hour, day. Incremental living between scans is draining. Never being able to plan too far ahead is disappointing.

"Healing is not linear"
I am happy - and I am still able to enjoy the little things -  but I can say for sure:
 living this life is not easy.


      
     

After looking at my above pictures I figured I would include a "real" picture. This is what most of my life looks like. Eyebrow-less and being kissed by the dog (and not pictured, by my loving husband! Still getting used to that one). Oh, and a few episodes of Walking Dead and This is Us may not be pictured as well.

Happy Monday. Thank you as always for wishing me well. xox

Friday, June 24, 2016

Dealing With Grief





When grief weighs on you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think,

How can a body withstand this?


Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say yes

I will take you

I will love you, again.

In the past months since my re-diagnosis in February I had been faring very well. My chemotherapy seemed to be working: all of the wheezing I had in my lungs has completely disappeared, the pain in my arm gone as well. I have been continuing to work, thrive, plan a wedding, and in turn live a very full life.

I was so excited when I had the opportunity to travel for two weeks with Indigo and be a part of our new store launch in Sherway Gardens. Unfortunately, it was in my last days of travel when I started to realize I wasn't quite.. right. I would wake up in the morning very cloudy and confused, stumbling to use the bathroom and banging into the walls. I had a few theories on this; my new wig was soo tight! Maybe I need a break from it. I'll wear my old one today. I think I should wear my glasses: my prescription must have changed. I think I'm still tired from working overnights last week. I think it may be the travel?

I was able to plan my treatments around my travel schedule, so when I returned on the Friday I had chemotherapy first thing. Firstly, I mentioned these debilitating headaches to my oncologist. Unfortunately, they looked at me and gave me a very troubling response. We are going to send you for an MRI right away. I don't think you should be alone. This really isn't normal.

It turned out, it wasn't. 45 minutes later I was sitting in an MRI, and a half hour after that I was receiving my chemo and my oncologist came in to explain to me that nine lesions had been found on my brain.

I was shocked, but somewhere I was prepared. I knew that something wasn't right. But, brain cancer? For some reason, it just felt worse then any other diagnosis could have been.

A radiologist came to see me shortly after where he recommended me for Whole Brain Radiation treatment (WBR). Essentially, due to the excessive number of tumours, they did not feel comfortable just performing stereotactic surgery (laser) and thought they would see best results from the radiation.

I'm part of a few survivor networks out there now whom are extremely opinionated on this WBR business. I wish, in turn, I may have asked more questions. I wish I may have investigated and pushed my options a little further.

I had been told WBR could cause fatigue, headaches and nausea. It wasn't really explained that I could get as sick as I did. We did not talk about many long term side effects, which are rare but very serious. Many oncologists will not treat with WBR, as cognitive ability long term can suffer. For me, we decided to do five treatments over five days. This didn't sound too bad to me, so I agreed. I also like to think I tough things out better then others, apparently. It was within the first 4 treatments, however, I noticed my overall well being and quality of life take a very significant decline. Many women had told me they were able to continue working during this treatment, so I was hopeful, but I guess my intensive headaches going into treatment were detrimental to my health to begin with.

 
                  

What four weeks of my life looked like. Every. Single. Day.

I finished my radiation treatments on May 30th. It's been about 4 weeks now for me, 3 of which where I have not been able to get out of bed at all. My joints would not move, my muscle mass atrophied, my skin broken in a rash, the intensive hunger and  of course the rapid weight gain that the steroids can cause. The heartburn, nausea, and naturally... the headaches. My right hand doesn't seem to be fully responding anymore: I'm super shaky, make mistakes when I'm texting, and my penmanship is so sloppy!



The mask they make you wear for the radiation is pretty tight.....

If you have read my blog, you likely know I like to get on with things. I don't like to dwell, I can usually push myself over the edge and just... keep living. This time, I couldn't. It has genuinely been the first time I can say: If this was my new quality of life, I'm sorry, that is not a life worth living.

In those sort of circumstances, you can really scare yourself. The whole "looking death in the eyes" thing. It makes you wonder where you go, where your personality has gone. The pure survival instincts come out and for me, I was just... not nice. I reclused, became negative, picky, mean, upset, angry and feeling extremely, extremely sorry for myself. I sat in my room for hours, staring into space, not being able to speak or form thoughts. I kept telling Jeff "I'm just not here right now". It was the only way to explain it. I don't know when or how I passed the time.

Every night in a bought of insomnia I re-mourned every loss I have ever felt I had to experience: my loss of fertility and children, my career, my future, my strong body and able mind. I mourned and cried for all of it and I didn't let anyone stop me for a second for feeling bad for myself.

Then, at some point tonight, I started to feel... better.

In fact, the idea that I am sitting here and am not SO ill still feels like somewhat of a ... miracle?


I had a few women message me and say: just wait. It isn't the end. It will pass. As the fog starts to lift, you start to realize this may not be it and start see the other side. Sure, I still can't go to the bathroom by myself without my little sister picking me up off the ground, but I can see straight for once and that hasn't happened in nearly two weeks!


WBR can take up to 6 weeks to work, meaning we need to give it some time. Like when I had radiation to the breast, I burned and peeled for weeks after finishing treatments. My brain will be swollen like a balloon for weeks, and the steroids they have me on are the only things to control that. The Decadron is probably, no definitely, the worst drug I have ever been made to take. I could actually call it inhumane, but my radiologist told me if I suffered a seizure I may have to get a stent from my brain to drain the excessive fluids into my stomach so for now I guess I'd rather avoid that... steroids it is!

The wedding has of course been on my mind every day, and I haven't been able to oversee how sad and unfair it is that my body couldn't wait just one more month. We had weeks where we thought we would have to postpone, and the thought of that was almost more stressful (and sad) then my current situation was! So last week, they sent me for follow up MRI's and scans to see how the swelling in my brain was doing, and if they could lower my dosage of steroids. If they could, I may be able to recover enough to still have our wedding.

So, here's the point where I get to tell you some good news!

I haven't actually had any scans since I started my new treatments back in February. Bones take a bit longer to respond to chemo, so I just scanned my brain and lungs. For the brain, we were primarily looking at the swelling only as it is much too early to tell if the WBR is working. But: surprise! My radiologist said that almost all of the lesions they found actually had been responding already and looked smaller. My lungs were scanned, and some tumours have been resolved, some smaller, some stable. No growth!

Win!

 
The first day I was actually able to walk Mavvy outside by myself!

This means I stay on my chemotherapy of Taxol, Perjeta and Herceptin. I wait my time for the WBR to take full effect, and we see what's left over. They typically don't do "open brain" surgery anymore (atleast...not yet...never say never I guess!), and instead they use lasers and "zap" out anything leftover with a surgery called Gamma Knife. This surgery will probably happen later in the summer. I've heard side effects are minimal, which is awesome.

So... the wedding is on! July 9th, here we come. And if I could lose the chipmunk cheeks from the steroids before then, I would be very grateful!



Some peeks from our engagement session, since some people have been asking to see more :). We weren't sure if we were an "engagement" session type but I am super happy we decided to do them. Perfect memories!


In all seriousness though, there aren't a lot of chemotherapy options that cross the blood brain barrier which makes brain cancer so much scarier. My current treatment won't reach my brain. I could try and switch to a treatment that may, but my current chemo is keeping me so stable from the neck down that I can't chance it. So, it looks like after we take care of the tumours in my brain I have now, we just keep watching it carefully. Hope that the radiation and surgery did it's thing. Hope that I have plenty of time with no evidence of disease left in my brain.


Anyways, that's all the updates I have for today! I had treatment this morning and am feeling pretty tired and zonked out so it's bed time for me (If I can sleep over Jeff yelling at the TV about the NHL draft. Oof!)

xx

Sam

 
(I finished reading Teva Harrison's book In Between Days. She's living with Metastatic Breast Cancer as well, and if you ever want a glimpse into my life, I would highly recommend!)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Living In Dark Places

I thought I had learned alot this past year about fear, mortality, true love, friendship, family - and especially cancer.  Turns out, there is always something more that you can learn and experience - I just wish I didn't have to.

When we talk about cancer, most of the time we use phrases like "You'll beat this!". We call ourself "cancer survivors", or urge our friends to fight, fight, fight! The next few minutes you spend on my blog will hopefully make you rethink this mentality. 

About a month ago, I found a very small lump under my right armpit - next to the area I had the mastectomy. I am not a very lumpy person, so I thought this was a bit odd and had a biopsy done on the spot right away (learned my lesson from last time! No waiting around!).

I got a call about a week later from my surgeon, who told me it was a recurrence of my cancer. I'm not sure there is anything more shocking you can tell a person they have cancer the first time, but I'll tell you this: telling someone they have cancer for the second time? Meltdown mode.

My surgeon was quick to assure me that even though it was closer to my armpit it was still considered a local reoccurrence, meaning it was still in the breast tissue and was not confirmed to have spread anywhere else. She set me up with CT scan and a bone scan in the meantime though, just to be sure.

The anxiety of waiting for test results is all consuming. Knowing that these results will completely determine your entire life is crippling. I had my tests two weeks ago -  on Thursday, and on Friday I found out my CT scan of my abdomen was clear, but that it looked like I had a fairly bad infection in my lungs.

I called the hospital repeatedly on Monday looking for my bone scan results. Nurses were able to tell me the results were in, but that they weren't able to read them to me over the phone. I got that sinking feeling you get when something is about to go very, very wrong. I never received a call that day, and had to go to bed with the biggest pit in my stomach. I can't even put into words the stress I've felt over these last few weeks.

I received a call the next day from one of my oncologists who had some news for me regarding my scans.

They found cancer in the bones of my right arm: around my elbow and by my right shoulder. Due to this, it was determined that the cancer is also in my lungs: it was not an infection but a recurrence.

I have Stage 4 breast cancer.

I didn't cry on the phone at that time. I don't think I believed it. I went home from work, and told Jeff my news. If I had to determine the most heartbreaking moment of my life, that was it.

There isn't anything you can do to prepare for this. To realize your future as you had previously imagined has completely changed. To know your hopes and dreams for a career will not come to light. Coming to terms that I will likely never have my own children. I may never buy a house, meet my sister's babies, grow old with the love of my life.

I met with my chemotherapy oncologist on Thursday. Arguably it was the second hardest, and  heartbreaking, day of my life. It was the first time I had someone tell me to my face that based on the scans, I was living with Stage 4 breast cancer (For some back story, once a cancer spreads from it's original location - for me, the breast- throughout the rest of the body, it is still considered breast cancer. For me, my breast cancer has metastasized to my lungs and my bones).

My biopsy determined my tumor markers had not changed at all - I am still triple positive (ER, PR, HER2 +). My cancer is still digging all the hormones. The only scary part is that this cancer developed while I was on some pretty strong drugs: Herceptin and Tamoxifen.

My oncologist came up with a treatment plan for me, and I will be starting chemotherapy again on March 15th. I will be on a two week on/one week off treatment plan, where I will be receiving Taxol, Pertuzumab (Perjeta), and Herceptin. These are all new drugs for me, and due to the Taxol, I will lose my hair again about three weeks after my start date.

Symptoms wise, it shouldn't be as intensive as my first round. I will not be getting any Lupron injections (which was what put my body into temporary menopause), and I will not need the Neulasta shot (injection in my stomach after chemo). That means I automatically skip the achey body and hot flashes which is good! I may have flu-like symptoms but we'll just have to see how all of that goes.

The aim of this chemotherapy will be to manage the cancer. There isn't anyway to "beat" Stage 4 cancer. There is no cure. It is something that will need to be treated for the rest of my life.

The hopes are that I respond extremely well to the chemotherapy drugs, and possibly it will shrink the cancer and eliminate it to a point where it can't be seen on the scans any further. That is the ideal for Stage 4 - pretty much a dream. Until then, keeping it managed and from spreading any further is the real intent.

I asked my oncologist not to talk to me about statistics and life expectancies because I just have no interest. I still plan on living a very full life, and I can't imagine having that sort of knowledge would do anything very positive for my mindset. When you look at average life expectancies, it doesn't take into account that there are many developments that have come out in the last few years for those with Stage 4, especially HER2+.

In the meantime, it really puts life into perspective. I had originally decided my wedding would be Summer/Fall 2017. All of a sudden Jeff and I felt very strongly - why wait? It became less about the perfect venue, the most stunning decor, and more about getting to be his wife as soon as possible. We set a date in only 5 months.

The day after we found out, we adopted a dog (Maverick) from the SPCA. He is perfect, and also something we had always discussed wanting to do but just never went for it. The time was never right. It seems like finally, the time is now.

Before my treatments start, I have a surgery to remove my tissue expander and put in an implant. This will remove all of the metal from my body so I can finally go for an MRI - which will determine more about the cancer in my bones.

I plan on doing all of my healing from this surgery in Mexico - Jeff, myself and some friends plan on leaving around March 4th. Again, the post cancer trip I never took in October... all of a sudden, the time is now.

It has proven to be really difficult to not let myself live in the dark places. The places of gloom and doom, the "why me", the mourning, grieving for the life I had always imagined. I lived there for a few days and it was very miserable. I didn't eat, or sleep, or do much of... anything. I decided I couldn't live there, in those dark places. My biggest wish is that my family and close friends can do the same.

My new diagnosis has made me question my blog and my writing. The peace I felt from writing has disappeared. My blog can't be that beacon of positivity anymore. It will likely be sad sometimes. I don't know what is "too much" to share. Some of the corners of my mind have very dark, anxious and lonely thoughts. I feel as if I can't half-share what the experience is like; It has to be all or nothing. Unfortunately, I don't know if I'm prepared to share that part of me, and I'm not sure my family and friends are ready to read it. Maybe it is something that we will all grow into with time.

So for now, there's the update. It's out in the open.

If you've messaged me recently and I haven't answered, I'm so sorry. I couldn't talk about it yet. I wasn't ready.

I think enough time has passed though.

Thank you for all of your continued support.

xo

Sam

(Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Mexico was fabulous, and my first treatment is this Tuesday at 8AM!) 

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow


2015 was a pretty crappy year that sometimes felt never-ending. We had some fun and laughs, but overall I can't say I'm sad to see it go (#smellyalater). I could lament about how I had to do chemotherapy, have a full mastectomy, or endure 25 brutal rounds of radiation but instead, I'm going to talk about my hair.

It seems recently, hair has been on my mind. I have always remembered my dreams pretty vividly - normally they're a reflection of some part of my subconscious mind, likely including the people I stalked on facebook the day before, so it's safe to say they end up being pretty... weird.

The last few weeks though, I've been having crazy recurring dreams though, and they all have to do with my hair!

In my dreams, I "wake up" and realize enough time has passed and I have long hair again! I spend my whole dream running my fingers through my hair and putting it up in a ponytail and taking it out again. It's so vivid if I close my eyes I can actually feel my hair between my fingers.

Now I'm not a dream analyzer or anything, but part of me chooses to believe that this is a metaphor for something bigger then just... hair. I am in such a transitional phase of my life right now. I can't fully be normal yet - whenever I feel normal, I get that cancer-pit in my stomach. I look in the mirror and it reminds me of how much has happened in such a short span of time. I think the "normal" I was forced to deal with this last year - appointments, treatments, surgeries - that I just dealt with, putting my head down, is catching up to me and I realize how not normal everything that happened was. (Why do I feel like I have said this before? Oh? I have? Right... moving on!)

Anyways, the big hair metaphor: Here I am with a short haircut... It's cute, I kind of like it, but I know it's not very "me". I don't feel like myself yet. My short hair isn't something that necessarily bothers me daily, but every once in awhile I catch myself in the mirror and think - who's that girl?

So, a bigger metaphor for my life right now: the transitional phase. I'm happy, I love my life, but I still don't feel like I'm back to normal yet. I know I will move on, and I know it will be different (just like my hair, which is choosing to be brown and my hairstylist said she thinks it will be CURLY!). I'm just not there yet. Neither is this mop on my head.

Anyways, Happy 2015 to all of my family, friends and followers. I love you all and I am so grateful for all of your support this past year. Instead of remembering how shitty this last year was, I choose to remember all of the love that surrounded me, the body that fought for me and helped me to grow strong once again, and for having such a great family to fall back on every time I felt like it was too much.

The only resolution for 2016? Last year I said it was "Get Healthy". This year it's....

(Thanks @gilmansteph for the photo!)

Cheers!

xx

Sam

 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Time Is Now: One Year Later

One year ago today, I woke up to Jeff bringing me pancakes in bed and a card for my birthday that promised he would be there for me "no matter what happens".

365 days ago I was told I had cancer.

I sat on this post for a very, very long time. I knew I wanted to write something to mark the date. I have been sitting here, trying to determine exactly how I feel, and yet nothing I wrote felt right.

So, I decided to write a little post to myself. That is a very lame and cheesy thing to do, I know. I try and avoid the lame and cheesy but I had cancer, and it's my cancerversary, and I'm also turning 25 and am officially "an old lady" (too much Sons of Anarchy) so I feel like it's warranted. Story of my life.

So here it goes. If I had known a year ago what I know now, what would I have said?

Dear Sam,

A year ago the thought of writing yourself a letter would have made you laugh in my face. I know that. You would have told me you were way too busy to read it. You probably also would have been knee deep in boxes and on your twelfth hour of work as well, but let's not even go there.

You don't know this yet but 2015 is about to be the craziest year of your life. Seriously though, everything is about to change - and I don't just mean your hair colour. Although you will have pink hair this year (and no hair for that matter, sorry to tell you). Remember that time you played around with wigs when you worked at a salon? Yeah, well, you're about to become an expert on them.

I wish I could prepare you for the shock you're going to be in when the doctor says the big "C" word. To say you were in full denial was a real understatement. The devastation is unfathomable. I am so sorry.

I can't even begin to comfort you, but you learn quickly that, like anything else in life, the pain numbs out after awhile. It's sad to say you become used to life with cancer, but you do.

You sleep for about a week straight (amongst all of the appointments), and I hope you always remember how much clearer your mind and focus are when you're well rested. I don't just mean to deal with the cancer, I mean to deal with life after cancer as well. If there's one thing you should take away is that you need to sleep more. Everything seems so much more manageable after a good nights sleep.

I think I always knew mentally you could endure a lot, but I didn't know how much you would be able to endure physically. Chemotherapy ain't a joke. There will be that one night when you eat too many snacks, get too excited about Christmas presents, and then proceed to spend the rest of your night hugging the toilet until Jeff calls the nurse to knock you out. Guess what? You learn your lesson. Thank goodness, this only happens once.

When you finally go for surgery, you are fully ready for them to remove the cancer. You just want it gone and you aren't nervous. I wish you would have been more mentally prepared for how it will affect you. A year later, looking in the mirror at an uneven scar, you still find it very hard to come to terms with.

I'm so proud of you for talking about what you're going through. Looking back on it now, I don't know how you got the courage to do it. I don't think I could have. I think the fear of the unknown really motivated you to connect with others, and it worked. You very rarely felt alone.

One time you asked yourself if you were going to die. You only ask once, though. You will cry, and cry, and sit on the ground hugging your knees wondering if this is it for you (But I really do want to get married! I want to have children and see them grow up! I am just starting my life, how can it be over already? Do I really never get to go to Disney World again?), and all of a sudden something washes over you and you're calm. Something is telling you you're strong enough to deal with this. You repeat that over and over. I hope you continue to for the rest of your life. It's a great mantra.

Once you invest time in your hobbies, I hope you never lose them. Keep investing time into reading, writing, creating, reflecting. It keeps you, "you".

Things don't happen by chance. People will be introduced into your life at the time you need them most, and it isn't a coincidence, it's fate. Life gives you what you need. Trust that, always. (How you nourish it and what you do with it is up to you, though).

You have really great family, friends and colleagues who really step up to bat for you this year. Remember them, cherish them, give back to them over the years that follow. Don't take all they have given you, and given up for you this year, for granted.

Take some deep breaths and allow yourself to feel all the feels. You're not going to feel so positive some days. That's okay. Some days you won't even get up or turn on a light, and instead will binge listen to Serial for 12 hours. That's okay, too. Just don't make it a habit.

A year goes by really, really fast. You make all these grandiose plans for your time "off" and then next thing you know it's passed you by. This is typical of life, I think. Not just cancer-life, real life too. Make the moments count. Now's the time.

PS:

Put on the cream they tell you to use after radiation. Why are you so lazy!!! Your skin is coming off in sheets, and you still forget to use that cream! You crazy lady.

Love, 

Sam of 2015



Monday, November 16, 2015

What Life Looks Like Now

It's been two months since my last blog post and I've been having mixed feelings about it!

Part of me is so happy that I have taken my life back. I have really been able to relax over the last month. I've started feeling like myself again. I also started back to work!

The other part of me is so sad, because I truly love to blog and connect with those of you that take the time to peek into my crazy life.

I've had a few people ask me how life has been and how the transition from bed-ridden cancer diagnosis to a full return to work (more like, return to life!) has been. So, as I'm off on this beautiful November day, I was sitting in my reading chair and thought I would write you up a post about what my post cancer life is looking like!

I spent the majority of the last two months indulging in all of my favourite things. I got to take a fall cottage getaway with my best friends, have a crazy Halloween, spend Thanksgiving being EXTRA grateful this year with my family and friends, watch two of our best friends get married, and of course, plan and execute some absolutely fantastic fundraisers in benefit of the Run for the Cure. I'm so happy to report that my team was able to raise over $10 000 for cancer research. I was so proud and received such amazing closure that day. I truly learned that fundraising is a real skill and learned SO much. Mainly, starting our campaign earlier to avoid September burnout like this year...........



 

I have been listening to new music and rediscovering the old (new Ellie Goulding, the Amy Winehouse obsession is back, and of course some new One Direction ). I'm realizing how relaxing cooking can be, and continuing in the habit of reading 4 different books at a time and getting all my story-lines occasionally mixed up.

 
 

However, life is life, so unfortunately it hasn't been all smiles! I actually struggled quite a bit since my last blog post. Losing a friend to cancer makes the reality of this disease very, very real. It was not something that you just get over. It makes you question everything, and, ask "Why me?" for the umpteenth time (Why Me? seems to be a recurring question on this blog. If I didn't already have a perfectly fitting name I would just name this blog "Why Me?"). In honour of this, I made a little list of the top 5 struggles I've personally had in my return to life post-cancer diagnosis.

Top 5 Post-Cancer Struggles

1) Anxiety

It isn't the kind of anxiety over having a zit or wondering why someone isn't texting you back. It is real, full blown,  can't breath panic type anxiety that hits you when you least expect it. Namely staring at your ceiling at 3AM when your cats just won't shut the hell up and you've been googling "why is my hand numb" and you're on page 44 of a thread on WebMD and everyone is telling you that you've developed a second cancer.

You realize you took this whole year to rid your body of cancer only to realize that for the rest of your life you're going to live with the notion that it could come back.

I first started having this worry when I put all of my beautiful chemo hats in a box to take to donate to the cancer center. I started thinking, maybe I shouldn't part with these. Maybe I may need them again. Then I started looking at my wig, my bestie for those few months last winter, and I had to stow her back under my bed. I kept saying, you just never know. I ended up having the courage to donate the hats, but the wig still sits under my bed. I'm just not ready yet.

I had these really crazy shoulder pains for awhile that I was sure were bone pain, an early sign of stage 4 cancer. I had ghost pains in my breast that had been removed. Some nights, I couldn't sleep with the anxiety that I was sure my cancer had returned.

I've heard from others that the nerves, while they never disappear, will lessen as your life becomes less "cancer' consumed. It's important to remember the feeling is normal and when you're having any concerns your oncologist is usually more then open to checking it out.

2) A deep sense of loss

It was 5AM, I was walking to the bus to go to work, and I had this deep feeling of sadness come over me. It just seems to hit sometimes. The whole, "I cannot believe I actually just had cancer" thing. Telling someone the other day "On Christmas last year I was recovering from chemotherapy" just seemed like the craziest thing. I am still in shock that this whole year even happened to me.

I get that kind of feeling in your stomach that you get when you're in a big fight with a friend or you've had a really bad breakup or you've lost a pet. I am seriously mourning my cancer. I spent a whole year living with it, battling it every single morning when I woke up, wondering what side effect or appointment I would have next.

This morning, I officially closed my file with CCAC which provided me home care. I don't need care anymore, because I'm in the clear. It just feels like I am moving on from what was such a big part of my life for the past year, and I never want to forget how hard it was.

Sometimes I go a full day where I haven't even thought about my cancer at all. Then I feel so guilty. I feel like I'm doing a disservice to myself, and everything I've been through, to just move on.

3) Aches & Pains

Okay so if you're like me and had a hard time with bone and joint pain during your chemo, chances are you weren't the most active. I had the hardest time returning back to work for my first 3 shifts. After my first day I literally felt like I had done the toughest work out of all time (and one time way back when I had done the Gillian Micheals Shred, and I couldn't even sit on the toilet for a week and I think it was actually worse then that).

My body isn't in the shape it was when this all started. I am realizing how HARD it is to get back into shape once you're out of shape. It seriously sucks. Getting winded running up a set of stairs? My life, every.single.day.

4) Struggling To Do It All

Okay, so this is something I seem to be continuously learning and re-visiting so it may be a life long lesson for me.

I signed up for a course at Algonquin back in August: History of Furniture and Design. It was Thursday nights from 7-10. Most people in the course were going for their diploma in Interior Decorating. I was just doing it for... fun.

Until I went back to work, I was exhausted, and the idea of being in class until 10PM and then going to work for 6AM seemed ridiculous.

I started reading this book called Essentialism where I found the following image:


I realized this is a good example of my life. I am interested in so many different things, and I invest all of this time into learning a little bit about everything. I realized that even with this course, I wouldn't become an expert on the History of Furniture, even though I was spending 3 hours in class and about 3 hours on homework per week.

I decided I wanted to invest all of my time into my return to work and my recovery. Returning to work after a year off would be a learning curve as is. When you're me, and you realize the way you were working was all wrong and you essentially need to change everything you were doing, it's a REAL learning curve.

So, I dropped my course. Surprisingly, I did so with very little guilt. I was missing reading books for fun. I learned SO much in the few weeks I was there, and it is something I would like to pick back up again later in life, but the timing was all wrong.

You can't do it all. Sometimes you have to focus your energies on becoming an expert on one thing then being somewhat knowledgeable on a bunch of different subjects.

5) Getting back Into a Routine

I spent a year either sick and in bed, sleeping in until 11 and staying up until 4, and basically doing whatever in the heck made me feel better at the time being (because I had cancer so that basically gave me a free pass to eat chips in bed and re-watch all 10 seasons of ER).

That being said, it was always hard for me to have nothing to do most days, when all of my friends and family were working. I felt very inadequate and unproductive. So, I thought I would love getting back into a routine!

And I have, don't get me wrong! I am loving having a reason to wake up in the morning again. I went back to work nervous I wouldn't love it anymore, that I changed so much over this year and it wouldn't be a good fit. I went back and felt the opposite. I loved it more then ever.

That doesn't mean that the whole waking up early, working hard and giving up the freedom of cancer life has been easy though! Balancing life and work is hard - now I remember why I was no good at it!

Unplugging after work is something that is still very hard for me. We're all so connected through e-mail, text and our cell phones that I find it hard to "turn off" sometimes when I'm at home. I don't think this is a cancer thing. This is just a life thing that I find I'm still struggling with.

So many of you were so concerned about my work pattern and how I would transition when I returned. Seriously, my first day back I think I counted like 18 messages of people ensuring I wasn't falling back into bad habits.

I'm happy to say that with integrating a planner and organizing my day before I fall asleep I have been able to accomplish more then I ever have, and in less time.

So... everyone. Back off! (Kidding. Love you. But seriously. I am fine.)

  

In other news, "The Un-Organized Mind" was named the blog of the month by Rethink Breast Cancer. Super exciting!! So for all you new readers... Hi!

Despite struggling a bit, I've declared this "the winter of soup" and have started by making a spicy hot & sour soup, a potato soup and a hearty winter stew. Turns out when your hands are full of food and your timer is going off, you don't have as much time to look at your phone so it's a healthy way to relax. Plus, now Jeff can't tell everyone that I've never made him a meal in the 6.5 years we've been together!

I've also been reading quite a few good books, one of which I mentioned above called "Essentialism" which I'd recommend you check out if you find you're working so hard and never feeling very productive. It teaches the art of saying no and prioritizing, so you can complete your best work. If you're looking for a funny but rewarding read, check out "Furiously Happy" by Jenny Lawson. A hilarious take on mental illness (with a great message).

This Saturday I'm getting dressed up for a nice dinner with friends and a party back at our apartment to celebrate my birthday. It feels pretty surreal that my one year cancer-versary is coming up. It feels like it's gone by so fast until I close my eyes and remember how bad the hot flashes were and that feels like forever ago. I would rather not live till I'm 50 then go through menopause and have hot flashes again. KIDDING. Bring on the hot flashes, as I've heard 50 is the new 20.

 Oh, and I should probably tell you: had my first post-cancer mammo and I'm still in the clear. Six more months of living cancer-free! Now that's something to celebrate!

 
Saying Hello from my Herceptin treatment!

xx

Sam