The Post I Never Thought I Would Have To Write

I mentioned in my last post that my family was going through a bit of a hard time. Naturally, when a member of your family gets diagnosed with something like cancer, it takes it's toll on every member. I have seen the stresses my illness has had on our family. We're tired. It was a long winter. Our eyes are a bit dark and our brains are a bit fuzzy. The stress fills you up inside and you brush it off because you know tomorrow is coming and this isn't over yet. It isn't easy to watch someone you love suffer. I know that.

I can also, genuinely, say that these last few months have been some of the best I can remember .

It's sad to admit, but I have spent more time with my family then I have since I was a kid. You can't pick your family, but if I could, I would pick mine over and over again. We are meant to be together. It has become so clear to me in how we have made it through this winter. I have had my family by my side during this whole process: every chemo, every headache, every heartache. I have had my mom, sister and dad every step of the way. My dad will stop by and bring me a coffee when he's on his way to a catering just to check in on me. He calls me every morning. My mom has never left my side and has bathed me, read to me, slept beside me and kept me company. My sister has made me laugh and never let me take this whole thing too seriously. She is also so kind. She is the most genuine person I know.

I have gotten to spend time getting to know my cousins. I get to talk to my aunts and uncles more regularly. I have the best, most caring, kind, selfless, and loving godmother in the entire world, of this I am positive (I now have a cleaning service for a year, so that speaks for itself, but mainly for all of the beautiful text messages I receive daily that help keep me positive and thinking about the big picture).

My family is stuck with me. My diagnosis, my treatments, especially my genes. It would have been easy to send well wishes and go about life. But they remember every appointment, every milestone, and cheer me on every step. They make me feel like I am better the way I am now. That cancer has freed me, that this time I've spent healing has made me more... "me".

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer less then 4 weeks ago. She is going in for surgery this Wednesday (I am sitting in the hospital waiting for her right now, actually). I want to respect her privacy. Writing this blog has gotten a whole lot more complicated. I don't want to speak for her, but she said it was OK I post about it. It has changed how I feel about everything. Despite my great need to respect her privacy, I would love if you could take all of your positivity and love you have shown me and send it her way. She needs it more then I do, at the moment.

My genetics were negative so our cancer is unrelated. I wonder sometimes if I'm being taught a lesson. If I'm being told to take action, to make great strides in cancer related work. There must be a reason that less then a week after I finished my last chemo, my mom would find out she will undergo the same surgery I will less then a week after mine.

When we tell this to our nurses and other well wishers, everyone inevitably starts to tear up. It's shocking. It's actually... unbelievable. 

She went for a mammogram when I was diagnosed. They wanted to do one, "just to be safe". I wonder if in an alternate universe, my mom got cancer and never found it. I wonder if, because of this, I was given cancer so that she would be sent to find hers before it got too far. When I think that way, it makes me feel better. It gives it some meaning. Regardless, we will both live. We're going to be okay.

I could keep saying how unbelievable it all is, how unfair life can be. I know my mom can't accept that it's true: she was supposed to be the one to care for me. She wants everyone's attention to be focused on my healing. It was supposed to be my battle. She was going to help me through it. That's how she sees it, anyways.

My mom and I have this strong, sometimes strange, intertwined relationship. We just know each other. I have always felt this closeness to my mom that has never compared to anyone else in my life. It's like we are the same person; sometimes it's hard to distinguish her from me. She knows me better then anyone else. I never have to make my mom a Christmas list: she will know exactly what I want, before I even know I want it. In high school, she never told me my purple eye makeup was too much, that my music was scaring her (when your kid starts relating to Marilyn Manson, I can imagine that can be a bit nervewracking), and she let me sleep on a mattress on the floor when I was a teenager because I thought I was cool. I never once felt ashamed, embarrassed, or that I had to hide my true self from her. It has come out in my multiple hair colours, nail polish, and ever-changing taste in music. Each one equally as supported as the last. Even to this day, she is the first one I want to talk to about all of my new hobbies and activities (or more recently, side effects and doctors appointments).

So I guess, somewhere, in some alternate reality, it makes perfect sense we would have cancer together. I couldn't go through this life altering diagnosis by myself. And while I knew that I had my mom's support, I guess the world thought we needed to both have this experience together. To continue to truly understand one another.

I have asked myself multiple times, privately and on this blog: why is this happening? Is cancer really "random"? Is there a higher being, is there an alternate reality, is there a real reason this is happening to me, and not someone else? What am I supposed to learn from this experience? How will this change me? What will I do with this new life of mine when this year is done? Why me?

With the news of my mom, I have so many more questions. I have spoken multiple times on my blog about the "random"-ness that has come to me in times of need through people that I have believed are here to show me I am doing OK. I'm on the right track. There has always been a little sign. I feel so strongly that this just has to be too coincidental to be random. 

I was watching Mad Men last night, there are only 3 episodes left until the series finale. They are tying up loose ends. Things that have happened in season 1 or 2 are finally being explained. Everything comes around full circle. It made me think of this situation. 

I may not know why this is happening to me (us) now, but I don't doubt, somewhere down the road, it will become clear. It usually does.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer less then a week after my last chemo. We have been attending all of our pre-op appointments together. Our surgeon can't believe this could be happening. No one at our hospital has ever seen anything like this before.

It's almost unbelievable. But... is it, really? Mom: we have been through everything else together. It only makes sense that together, we will get through this too. 




It Doesn't Have To Be Perfect, It Just Has To Be Done

1 & 2) MOH duties. Wedding dress trial! 3&4) Refreshing our apartment for Spring. 5) Can you tell I'm like really, really happy for Spring to be here? 6) Sens game!


It's been (nearly) a month since I updated you all on my current affairs. It's been exactly 1 month since my last Lupron injection, and 22 days since my last chemo. This means I'm essentially Lupron free, and in about 10 days the chemo will be out of my system. Yay!

So much has happened in the last month, that I almost felt I couldn't blog anymore. I felt I could never write it all out, I would never catch up. I tend to feel the same way when I scrapbook and I get really behind on my dates: next thing I know I have a year's worth of pictures to scrapbook and it deters me from getting started. I feel so bogged down and behind.

I feel the same way about my blog. I don't know where to begin. I guess the old phrase rings true in that "it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done" and "you just have to start". So... here it goes:

My family has been going through some major hardship this past month which has changed absolutely everything. I am going to choose to not say anything more at this time, and hope you can respect our need for privacy, but I promise I will write about it in due time. It's part of the story. It needs and begs to be told, but I can't decide how I feel yet. In some ways, it isn't even my story to tell. Sorry for being so cryptic, but I will leave you with this: we are all okay, we will all be okay, and I am very proud to come from such a strong and supportive family (both Price AND Mitchell). We are beyond lucky for the support we have been given.

So.. let's go back about a month!

I was really blessed to have had so many of my friends and family come for my last chemo session. I felt like a proud mom showing off her honours students. I brought them all into the chemo ward, and had everyone rotate so they could come up in 10 minute increments to sit with me (the nurses only allowed me to have 2 people sit with me at a time). I showed them the big fireplace I love to sit by, introduced everyone to my lovely nurses, and showed them where to get water, hot blankets and ice mitts. When it came time to ring the bell, everyone was allowed to come upstairs. We took over the entire hallway and I was really touched to see all the nurses crying to see all of the support. For some reason, I decided I wouldn't wear my hat when I rung the bell. It was something I decided in the last few minutes. I knew there would be lots of pictures being taken. Up to this point, I hadn't allowed anyone to take any pictures of me without my hat or wig, let alone just see me without my hats or wig.

Talented Cakes by Crystal ;)

We were all undecided on the dress code. St Patty's day green or breast cancer pink? My best friends chose to do both...

Even got my family from afar watching on Facetime!

I decided when I looked back on the video and pictures, I would feel like I was cheating myself if I didn't show what the treatment truly did to my body. I wanted to be able to see (and everyone that would be seeing the pictures too), what chemo actually "looks" like. I have been fairly open about my treatments, so why should I not be open with what it has done to me? This is me - this is what I look like - and I am okay with that. In all honesty, I'm not able to watch the video of myself ringing the bell. I haven't watched it once. It doesn't feel real yet.

My chemo bell from one of my best friends. When I rang the bell at the hospital, it was hard to be as excited as I wanted to be because I knew I had a rough week ahead of me. She gave me my own bell I could ring once I felt better!

I re-read some of my past posts from this winter where I said I was okay. I was and AM okay. I lived through it. The worst, I believe, is over. But I can't help but laugh when I remember thinking around Christmas that I was "okay", because honestly: I was far from okay. I was very sick. I was not myself. You say you're okay and you put your head down and get through it, but looking back... wow. It wasn't a walk in the park. In retrospect it was painful, it was exhausting, and sometimes it felt never-ending... but here we are and Spring is upon us and I made it. Seems significant that with the end of my treatments and as I start to heal comes the sunshine and good weather.

I thought long and hard, and if I were to give chemo advice, this would be it:

1) Don't rush out and buy an expensive wig, hats and scarves until the hair is gone. Sure, have a few scarves on hand for when it starts to fall but let me tell you: I bought every leopard print scarf and hat under the sun and spent a fair amount of money doing so. Once the hair was gone, you learn what makes you comfortable. I never felt entirely comfortable going out in scarves and hats. I wore wigs most of the time, and donated most of the hats I purchased to the cancer center. Wait and see what suits you!

2) Utilize the resources available to you. I didn't, and I regret it. You are able to see social workers, nutritionists, and get free classes at the Maplesoft center (knitting, yoga, etc). Sign up for Look Good, Feel Better (a class that shows women undergoing treatments how to apply makeup and style wigs etc. and you get a BIG swag bag!), and look into getting free wigs and hats through the hospital. We are so lucky to have this available to us.

3) Eat healthy! Unlike in the movies, you won't spend your whole treatment puking. In fact, the steroids increase your appetite. This, paired with the fact that you will  be too exhausted to excercise much, means that you are likely to gain weight. I let myself off the hook for the first few months and told myself... you have cancer! Poor you! Eat what you want. This will catch up with you, and fast. Now, I have to worry about losing the chemo weight. It would have been easier to eat healthy from the get go!

4) Be kind to yourself and listen to your body. It's so discouraging to finally start to feel good after treatments, knowing you have to go back in for your next one. It feels like a never-ending cycle. On days when you feel good take advantage of it. Don't be hard on yourself when you need to have a laid back day. Give yourself little things to look forward to: knowing I had a new book to read while I was recovering or getting addicted to a TV show is a good way to pass the time!

5) Be prepared. You will have so many appointments. Use a planner (either on your phone or written down). Fill your prescriptions early so you aren't running around on chemo day. Have an appointment buddy. You will forget things if you go to appointments alone. It's better to have a second set of ears!

6) It's only hair. Don't fall for all of the products that will help you "keep your hair" longer. Nothing you put on your head will combat the intensity of the medicine you are putting in your body. Hair was one of the hardest hurdles for me, but in the end: you get over it. The sooner you come to terms with it the sooner you can move on!

I thought I would feel more proud, excited, or hopeful but in truth I'm still in warrior mode. I am only 1/3 done and I am moving on to the next hurdle. Surgery time!

I met with my surgeon, Dr. Arnaout, about a week and a half ago. I was so excited to see her again. The first time we met, if you'll remember, it was my birthday and I ended up ugly crying, wiping my snot on Jeff's shoulder and worrying about how in the world I would look without hair (Girl needed to learn some priorities!). This time, I came equipped with questions.

I go for my surgery on April 15th where I will be having a full mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection. 

I went into the appointment with one demand: I never, ever want to go through this again. Whichever surgery that will guarantee I never have to go through this again, I will endure. I asked for a double mastectomy.

Here's the great thing about Dr. Arnaout and why I love how forward thinking the views on breast health are here in Ottawa: when I asked for the double they looked at me like I was CRAZY. This may have been a solution in the past, but just "getting rid of everything" isn't really an acceptable solution anymore.

She asked me "Sam, if I told you that you had a 90% chance of winning the lottery, would you buy a ticket?" I said, of course. She said "Okay. Now what if I told you there was only a 10% chance of you ever getting cancer in your right breast in your lifetime? Would you still choose to remove it?".

Because my genetics test came back negative, there is actually a very small chance I will develop cancer in the other side. Even WITH a mastectomy, I still have about a 5-10 percent chance of recurring breast cancer even in my left side. I think she could see my worry about this, and being wonderful, she told me instead of mammograms, she will screen me with MRI's longer then any patient she has had before. If there is any cancer in my future, it will be caught early. This put my mind at ease.

So, she measured the tumor. Guess what? In the end, it came back no bigger then 3cm. To the touch, it is so small, sometimes I'm not sure where it is. Considering how BIG it was when I started, I felt pretty good about this.

I had always prepared for a mastectomy, but we decided that based on the MRI, I would possibly be able to have a lumpectomy. There is lots of research that a lumpectomy with radiation is equally as effective as removing the whole breast. Not to mention, no implant needed, much less recovery time, and there is no part 2 for the surgery. I could go back to work in August. You know me: I got my hopes up. I hadn't even considered this an option. I anxiously awaited my MRI results.

When I got the call, I knew from her tone of voice that we didn't have good news. Firstly, the chemo had done SUCH a good job of removing the cancer in my lymphnodes, that she is not able to see which one originally had cancer to begin with. Since she is unable to detect the one, all of my lymphnodes will have to be removed. This leave a chance for lymphdema in my future. Not the best case scenario: it means a longer recovery time with much less mobility. I won't be able to reach above my head from anywhere between 4-6 weeks.

Secondly, even though my tumor FELT smaller to the touch, it actually left a "hole" behind. Essentially, it left a hollow tumor in my breast. The inside no longer has cancer inside of it, but the outside of it that was left behind is still cancerous. Due to this, I need the mastectomy. The recovery time is about 4-6 weeks.

At first I was a bit upset about this. I have made sure to never get my hopes up throughout the last few months: if you don't get your hopes up you are never disappointed and you ALWAYS feel prepared for the worst case scenario. In reality, I am getting the surgery I always assumed I would be! So, instead of being upset, I have decided to just arm myself with information and prepare as best I can for this new body of mine!

I met with my plastic surgeon yesterday. I had to have a laugh: I never thought I would be meeting with a plastic surgeon THIS early in my life. Her name is Dr. Zhang and she is young but super smart. I trust her fully and we discussed all my options. There are a few options when you go for breast reconstruction: you can choose to have it done right away (same surgery, you wake up with a new boob), or later on. Regardless when you choose to have it done, it is covered by our healthcare.You can choose to have implants put in, or to my surprise, you can choose to have your own fat from your stomach taken and used to make an "implant". The procedure takes about 9 hours (versus the 1 hour for the saline) and your stomach has to heal as well. This is for people who are really against having the saline implants. I am a lover of makeup and fancy things. I had 20" platinum blonde extensions for most of last year so... implants don't really bother me that much! In fact, I think I'll be happy to have them when I'm 50. Ha.

 Dr. Arnaout applauded me for my good attitude, but kept telling me repeatedly not to underestimate the psychological side effects having a mastectomy can have on your well being. Surprisingly, I don't feel nervous... at all, for this surgery. It's 2 days away and I keep waiting to feel sad at the fact that I am losing my breast but I just don't. I'm pretty excited to have them get rid of it. Technically, after the surgery is over and with the lymphnodes removed, I will be (unofficially) deemed cancer-free. And that will feel better then having a real breast does.

Since this appointment, I have been at the hospital and at various doctors appointments nearly every day preparing for surgery. I go in Wednesday (I wish I could tell you a time, but they only tell you the night before the surgery!), so starting Saturday I decided to take some time for myself. I went for a pedicure and we had a party at our apartment on Saturday night, Sunday I spent time with my best friends walking around Lansdowne, and tomorrow I'm going to see Dirty Dancing at the NAC!

Out of town friends!

Don't ask me how many caesar's I've had this week. 

Sometime tomorrow I plan on stocking my apartment with groceries and buying the comfiest patio chair money can buy. If I have to be in recovery for 4-6 weeks, I will be doing it outdoors in the Spring sun!


In other breaking news, I have hair again. Albeit, not much... but it is there! And... it is brown. I have always been a blonde so this is throwing me off a bit. Especially since I made a pact to keep it healthy and refrain from over-dyeing it again. My baby hairs are so soft to the touch, it makes me regret ever bleaching my long (not so) luxurious locks to begin with. My family's new favorite game is to hold up baby pictures of me and say "YOU LOOK THE SAME!".  I've been looking up short pixie haircuts and I'm getting excited! I noticed hair growth almost immediately after my last treatment, but it wasn't until last week that my eyelashes and brows stopped falling out. They're looking pretty sad and patchy but I can see little hairs growing in. Funny enough, my arm hair is finally deciding to go. It's crazy that after a month the chemo is still taking it's toll.

I am also in the middle of looking into massage therapy that specializes in post-chemo recovery. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

Hanging out with a couple of my besties.

Normally this would be the time I would throw in something cheesy about how grateful I am for the people in my life, or something about cancer and looking on the bright side. Today I have a different story to tell. Jeff and I had our 6 year anniversary on April 1st (for those of you that don't have me on Facebook: Yes, he asked me out on April Fools, yes he said "APRIL FOOLS" after he asked me out). 

When Jeff found out about my diagnosis, he was the rock. While I was a mess, and my mom was so worried... Jeff went into warrior mode for all of us. He will be embarrassed about me posting this, but he ordered a book called "Breast Cancer Husband" (cute, right?), only to decide he didn't need a book to get us through this. We were going to do it our way. He constantly reassured me that cancer didn't mean I had to stop living my life. We went on living as normally as we can. When we went to the canal and I could only skate for a half hour, he got us Beavertails and helped me skate back. And, while in the last few months I haven't been as active as I usually am, he never once made me feel guilty for sleeping in a little late or for watching one too many episodes of TV. He has looked after me completely: from making every meal, doing my laundry, and always asking me "Doing OK?!". I think that it is engrained in him at this point: I will wake up in the middle of the night to turn on the fan and he subconsciously asks me if I'm okay. He has literally dedicated the last 5 months helping me get better: every day off, every holiday, every evening taking care of me, coming to all of my appointments and making sure I'm comfortable.

He has used humor to get us through the toughest of times (the boob jokes are starting to get a bit old babe), but in those random moments when I just need to have a good cry he always holds me until the moment passes. I was looking back on pictures from when we first met, and looked at myself in the mirror and I am always still shocked at what I see. My eyes are sunken in and I'm constantly sweaty from hot flashes, not to mention the no eyebrows thing, and yet Jeff tells me every day I'm beautiful and he loves me more then he ever has. I think this is a little white lie, but I'll take a compliment when I can get one.

Going through something like this together really shows the strength in your relationship. Whenever I say "I don't want to do this anymore" he always tells me "I know, but you have to do it for me! I need you around!". So - here's to dedicating this year to my health so we can spend the next 6 years together. The next 20, 40, 60 years. It will all be worth it in the end. 

Anyways, I think that's all I've got for now. I'll see you on the other side! (with one less body part and two stitched in drains.. joy!) 


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