Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mom's Prayer

Say “Please God” she would prompt, as she pulled the covers up around my shoulders.
“Please God” I would repeat without hesitation.
“Watch over me, protect me and keep me safe”.

This was the beginning of the nightly prayer that my mom would lead my brother and I through when we were little. Tonight I can hear her voice in my heart and it seems only fitting to follow her lead.

Please God
Watch over me and protect me and keep me safe.
Give me the strength and courage to take this final step.
Grant the doctor a clear focused mind and a steady hand in the morning.
And let Dave’s eyes be the first to meet mine when I wake up.

Thank you for this lesson in gratitude.
Thank you for your healing touch.

Amen

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The last straw

In less than one week this will all be over. Even as I write it, I can hardly believe it. My surgery is scheduled for December 3, 2008. I have opted, through MUCH deliberation to have a lateral mastectomy (just one side) with immediate reconstruction. This means that the surgeon will remove the nipple and all of the breast tissue attached to it from my right breast, I will also have to have all of the lymph nodes from my right arm extracted. The plastic surgeon will perform my reconstructive surgery at the same time. The implant will be placed under the muscle of my chest wall and will gradually be filled with saline over the next few months. How do I feel? Where do I begin?

Relief. I am relieved that I was strong enough. I am relieved that we did it, that my little family survived this, and thrived!

Gratitude.
I’m thankful for the lessons, the life lessons. Grateful for my family and the most solid, and unbreakable circle of friends I could ever hope for in this life. I love you all so much, I could never begin to repay you for your worry, your kindness and your love. I’m grateful for a new outlook on life, one that pushes me to stay present, love constantly and teach. I’m thankful for the opportunity to live and love my son. I’m thankful for my husband, my partner in life and love. Thankful for his realism and his constancy and his ability to make me laugh even through tears.

Fear.
I try not to spend a lot of my time here. Fear is a space that I can get lost in very quickly and where my imagination likes to take control. It’s dangerous and foreboding full of questions like “What if it comes back” and self-corrections like, “you mean WHEN it comes back”. You see what I mean? Not a fun place. But it does exist.
Right now my fear is waking up to a new body that I don’t want to recognize as my own. My fear is the look on Dave’s face the first time he sees me naked. My fear is that it’s not over.

Love. I love that cancer and the opportunities that come with it have made me look deep into my core. I know exactly what I’m made of; I know what I stand for, who loves me, who I love. And I love life.


Consider this –

we are not humans on a spiritual journey, we are spirits on a human journey

I have shaved my head, weakened my immunity and removed pieces, but my spirit is whole and flourishing. Try and catch me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wisdom

Too Young
Too Strong
Too Brave

You never stood a chance

I laugh more often,
love more deeply,
and live everyday with purpose

You may have taken my hair, but you'll never get my heart
I'm going to thank you and then I'm going to let you go.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
~Max Ehrmann~

Saturday, September 13, 2008

With love

I could never have begun to imagine how you would change me, nor predicted the strength, the unwavering commitment and the bravery you would demand from me. It wasn’t until we met that I even considered the vulnerability of life or the fleeting nature of time. And it wasn’t until I saw my reflection in the deep blue of your eyes that I realized how deeply I could love. My beautiful boy, how has a year gone by already? I love you with my whole heart, forever. Love mum
video

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bittersweet Symphony


There was nothing but blue sky appearing in the skylight above me today, as I reclined back into the blue chair in the chemo room. The cherry tree outside, now adorned with it's summer plumage, had mirrored my own seasons in this chair. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel today, sitting in that chair for the last time, closing this chapter. As thrilled as I am to be finished, chemotherapy has pushed me to my physical and emotional limits, there is a part of me that is sad and frightened to be moving on to the next step.
It is amazing how we as humans, become so easily attached to one another and are able to adapt and normalize an amazing spectrum of circumstances. Six months ago, I walked into that hospital terrified and today I'm crying because I have to leave. The care I recieved was amazing, my nurses and doctor were compassionate, warm and genuinely caring people. I feel amazingly blessed to have crossed paths with them, regardless of the circumstances bringing us together. Now I must look forward to my next challenge. Radiation will begin on August 18th and continue for 6 weeks. I'm ready.
But first, VACATION. Our bags are packed and we're ready to go. We're leaving tonight, hitting the open road and we are suspeding our reality for five weeks leaving our stress, our tears and worries behind us. I'll keep you all updated as we go.
Thank you so much to everyone who sends me constant love. I would not have made it this far without you.
Until then, this is my wisdom, my joy and my journey.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Loving life

A few weeks ago, as I crept into Coady's room to administer the midnight feeding, I caught a glimpse of his golden head through the bars of his crib. His little mouth was slightly parted and forming a tiny pucker and his bum was sticking up in the air making him look as if he fell asleep while attempting to crawl. He was absolutely the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and it sent me into a tailspin. Panic spread through my body like a wildfire.

Damn it. Losing control and perspective at three o’clock in the morning is a bad scene.

I crawled back into bed beside Dave, tears streaming down my face. As I buried my head in my pillow I felt his familiar warmth mimic the line of my body, tucking his knees behind mine he whispered, “You’re okay, you’re just scared. The choice is yours, you can be scared or you can be inspired”.

Wow, where did this guy come from? Who has this kind of conversation at three in the morning? Why can’t he stay awake long enough for me to dispute the simplicity of his logic? Have I mentioned how much I love my husband?

To be scared or inspired, that is the question.

From the very beginning, for me, coping with cancer has been a very dichotomous situation. It has been a nightmare but at the same time such a blessing. I have felt incredibly sick, and yet healthier than ever before. I have been terrified while experiencing the most overwhelming sense of bravery imaginable. I have been scared but deeply motivated to live my life, love my family and be incredibly grateful for all of the indulgences I have been granted.

I have been INSPIRED.

I had my second last chemo treatment this morning and I am on cloud nine, ONE MORE to go!! My last treatment is scheduled for July 11th and then…drumroll, we are hitting the road on the 12th for five weeks and driving to Prince Edward Island to see my family. Crazy? Yes. For the record I am usually the one to balk at ideas like this-generally because they are Dave’s and truth be told that when he first mentioned the idea of driving I had a million reasons why we should fly instead, but then it occurred to me that I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the closing of this small chapter in my life than spending five weeks with the two most important people in my world.

We went to Victoria last week for a check up with the oncologist, who says that my tumor has shrunk to approximately a third of its original size and that everything is moving in the right direction. My radiation is slated to begin the week of August 18th and I have an appointment with the surgeon next week to discuss my options.

I am happy. I feel healthy.

My baby is a bundle of laughter, who just started giving real hugs, crawling up stairs, pulling books off my bookshelf and SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT!!!

My husband is amazing. I am so genuinely thrilled to wake up beside him every morning knowing that he loves me and all of my drama unconditionally.

My hair is growing back, oddly enough attracting the attention of a lot of good old boys in their early to late 50’s. I think they are impressed to see that someone is appreciating their “look”.

On our daily walks I make a conscious effort to stop and smell the wild roses and to instill in Coady the importance of being grateful for the moments.

That’s where it is folks,

Celebrate we will,
For life is short but sweet for certain
We climb on two by two
To be sure these days continue
Things we cannot change

-Dave Matthews

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What...she's leaving us alone??!!

This is what happens when you are left unsupervised at the cancer society armed with your sister-in-law and her camera.





Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Undertoad


For months now he’s been sitting there; perched on my shoulder, in a manner that would suggest he deserves some kind of reverence. Settled just at the edge of my peripheral vision, I can only make out the dark contour of his menacing little form. We don’t talk to each other, that was a mutual decision from the beginning, it has always been enough just to acknowledge each others presence. Lately though, he has been incessantly intrusive, making his presence known at the most inopportune times and all too often sending me into emotional tailspins of panic and sadness. He is malevolent and sinister; a dark angel if you will. He is my UNDERTOAD* and he constantly reminds me to stay present as he patiently waits to show me the exit if I falter.

I first noticed his inflated audacity during my last assessment, about a week and a half ago. As a personal rule, I try not to socialize too much with the other patients in the chemotherapy room. It’s not that I’m unfriendly; I just don’t want to hear about anyone else’s drama right now, I have enough of my own to deal with. Also, it has been my experience that parallels can be drawn between chemotherapy and giving birth, in that everyone wants to tell you their nightmare stories. Anyway, during my visit there was an elderly woman sitting in the chair beside me. I gave her one of my “hi there, sorry to see you’re in this predicament too, I don’t want to talk about it” smiles, and then proceeded to bury my nose in the novel I brought with me.

“You’re so young.”

Hmm, clearly she didn’t read the entire message of my smile. “Yeah” I replied, sympathetic to my own case.

“What kind of cancer do you have?”

“Breast cancer”, my answer accompanied by a “that’s enough conversation, thanks” smile.

“That’s what I had the first time”

OH GOD, make her stop. I could feel panic begin to rise in me, alarm bells and whistles going off in my head.

“That was three years ago, now it’s in my liver and bones”

Is she for real!? SHUT UP. I am not having this conversation. Make her stop, please.

I couldn’t get to my car fast enough before the tears came, that’s when I caught a glimpse of white over my shoulder, the twisted grin of the Undertoad.

Fortunately, I have a secret weapon. Coady is LIFE at its best. He has turned into this rolly-polly whirlwind of happiness. He squeals with delight and spends his day relishing the new sounds he can make with his mouth. He’s crawling around at a rapid pace, eating whatever he can get his hands on and laughing his head off. He is in LOVE with his Dad and the feeling is mutual. I melt watching the two of them speak to each other in their own love language.

Oddly enough, during these times when I’m fixated on the wonderful perfection of my tiny family, my shoulders fall away from my neck and I’m able to breathe deeply; as if a weight has been lifted. Perhaps the weight of someone who got tired of waiting.

*The undertoad is a brilliant concept created by John Irving(one of my favorite authors) in his book The World According to Garp. In the book, the youngest child, Walt, is constantly being warned to "watch out for the undertow" while playing in the surf, but he mishears the word as Under Toad:
Garp...realized that all these years Walt had
been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore,
waiting to suck him under and drag him out to
sea. The terrible Under Toad.
The undertoad, then becomes the family symbol for any impending stress or disaster. Great image!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Reluctant Warrior

I’ve been waiting for a little while now for some brilliant bit of inspiration to materialize so that I might be able to conjure up some romantic idea about my current situation, however, it would seem that if there is such a thing as a honeymoon period after you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, mine is definitely over.

The other day I ran into a friend in the grocery store. “You look great!” she said, (I get this a lot, combined with a look of surprise). “You are such a warrior”, she continued. I could feel the threat of tears rising in me. The truth is, I’m tired of being a warrior. I never asked to be a warrior and quite frankly I’m growing weary of the title.

I had my third treatment last Thursday and I am still trudging my way through the side-effects. Chemotherapy has left a bitter taste in the back of my throat and the inside of my mouth is blistered and sore. The veins on my left arm are bruised and tender, strained by the unfair task of being the vehicle that drives the poison through my body. My eyes are strained, my muscles ache and it takes every ounce of energy I have just to keep on moving. But I move. And I am grateful to be able to do so.

Of course, not everything is doom and gloom. According to my oncologist, my tumour has shrunk approximately 2 cm in all directions. This satisfying little tidbit is enough to make all the ugliness worthwhile. I have five treatments remaining, followed by a course of radiation that will last 5 weeks and will begin approximately 3 weeks after the chemotherapy is finished. I’m looking into the prospect of reconstructive surgery and can almost make out the dim flicker of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Dave and Coady continue to be two beautiful reasons to maintain my warrior status. Refusing to let me get too caught up in my own drama, Dave still manages to drive me crazy with antics such as: sewing curtains for his van and lovingly referring to me as Mr. Clean. Not to be outdone by his Dad, Coady started saying “Mum” on his 6 month birthday. While Dave insists that he doesn’t really know what he’s saying, I only have to catch a glimpse of those big blue eyes to know the truth.

And so it is, the battle rages on. The reluctant warrior that I am, watching the snow melt away and taking with it my disease, my fears and my heart.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Becoming Real

Last night my head was sooo itchy, I thought I was going to scratch it off! Dave broke out the shaving cream and delicately drew the razor in clean lines over my scalp. In my mind I thought, “Oh, this is what the Skin horse meant”.

I had in fact just had my hair loved off.


The Velveteen Rabbit…

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bartering with God

When I was a little girl, my biggest fear was that my Granny Coady was going to die. As a child, my grandmother was my constant source of love, comfort and security. She was in every sense, home, and the thought of losing her terrified me. I remember lying in my bed one night; I was about 10 years old, and praying to God to just let my granny live until I was 16. (I might note that my grandmother was in perfect health and the prayer was coming from a complete place of paranoia. Also, to me at the time, 16 seemed to be an appropriate age where I would consider myself grown up enough to deal with the devastation that would follow the death of my beloved granny). It’s no great surprise that when my 16th birthday arrived I was overwhelmed with the weight of the bargaining chip I had played. This is where it started, my incessant need to haggle with the divine.

Despite the fact that over time my relationship with and notions of God have changed, old habits die hard. Sometimes at night, when I’m rocking Coady back to sleep, that old familiar feeling of panic will rise up in my throat and I find myself silently suggesting, just until he doesn’t need me, or just until he can remember how much I love him. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t entertain the idea of dying as even a possibility, I’m just saying, if I can buy a little time here and there, there’s no point in wasting an opportunity.

It’s been just over a month since my diagnosis. Last week I had Dave shave my head. I cried and he held me.

There is something to be said for having to face one’s mortality. I feel authentic, strong, loved and at peace with even the rebellious cells in my body. On a daily basis, whenever I become aware that my mind is drifting I say to myself:
I am in the process of healing my body.
I reject the disease in my breast.
My tumor is melting away like the snow.
Thank you for this lesson in gratitude.


It’s getting late, tomorrow morning I’ll call my granny and tell her about my day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Baby, will you love me when I'm bald?

In the past three days I do believe I have run the entire gamut of human emotion. I feel drained, emotionally and physically. I’m walking the fine line between keeping my chin up and crying poor me all the time. Fortunately I have been blessed with the most amazing friends and relatives who have taken the time to make sure that when I stumble someone is there to play catcher. I am blown away by the beautiful sentiments everyone has sent me via facebook and email. Thank you so much. So just to keep everyone updated, here’s a quick overview of the past few days, both the good and the bad.

In the early morning hours of January 29th my beautiful sister-in-law gave birth to a healthy little boy, Cole. He weighed in at just under 7 lbs and I love him. We went to visit him in the hospital that morning which provided a magical reprieve from real life, if only for a short time.

All of the tests and scans I had completed came back clear! This means that the cancer is contained in my breast and has not spread anywhere else in my body. With this news, Coady and I danced.

On Thursday we met with the nurse at the Chemo unit to go over the drug plan and side effects. The list sounded a lot like the Pepto-Bismal commercials, nausea, heartburn, indigestion…sterility. What?! “Sterility” says the nurse, so nonchalantly she could have said hiccups. Once again my head started to swim. There is a high risk that chemotherapy will send you into early menopause. “Early” is a bit of an understatement.

STOP

We made frantic calls to the oncologist, my family doctor, the cancer agency in Vancouver. What about egg harvesting? It turns out that egg harvesting is rarely done outside of McGill University and that the success rate for pregnancies with frozen eggs is quite low. They do freeze embryos, however we need a time line of about 6 months, not exactly in the cards right now. My heart sunk. The weight of this news was almost too heavy to bear. Why? Is this really the way things are meant to be? How could my life plan go so far off track that it isn’t even recognizable to me anymore? With this news we resumed the plans to go ahead with my first chemo session on Friday.

Chemo-therapy (a horrible name I’ve decided) is not actually as scary as I thought it would be. The chemo room at the hospital is a bright little space, with comfy chairs and smiling faces. The therapy itself took about 2 hours to administer all the while there was lovely music in the background and my beautiful boys to keep me occupied.

Dave continues to be my rock. “I’ll love you even more when you’re bald” he says. “Do you realize how much money you’ll save me on haircuts, product and color not to mention time getting out the door!” His comic relief is invaluable to me.

While the days continue to place constant hurdles in my path, the nighttime hours replenish my soul, my hope and my heart. I only have to look over my shoulder to see two beautiful faces sleeping calmly beside me to know that all is right with the world. Tomorrow is always another day and it’s worth getting up for.

All my love
Jenn

Seriously...I have what?!

"Breast Cancer" says the doctor over the phone two Fridays ago. My head started to swim a bit, but I had it checked!, the voice on the phone was becoming a bit farther away, the biopsy was negative, my knees started shaking, the doctor told me it wasn't cancer, I could feel my hand touching my forehead and my skin heating up underneath it, Seriously...I have what? "

I was just saying to the nurse," the doctor continued,"how unfortunate this all is what with you being so young, just having a baby and a career that's ready to start".

Unfortunate.

I've been here before.

Do not get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I truly believe that the "unfortunate" situations I have had to deal with in the past have been character building. They have allowed me to gain a greater sense of my own self, my strength, my courage, my weaknesses as well as the opportunity to love more deeply than most people would in an entire lifetime. However, how much character does one person need?

So, here I am. 28 years old, new baby, loving husband, career ready to be launched and breast cancer.

We have spent the last 2 weeks running from appointment to appointment looking for someone to say, "don't worry, I can fix you". Doctors, surgeons, chinese medicine herbologists, naturopaths, breast cancer veterens and supporters. Everyone has been amazingly supportive and kind, however it seems as though there is no quick fix.

We went to the cancer society in Victoria yesterday, a very strange and humbling experience. The oncologists I saw were softspoken. One referred to the lump in my breast as "grossly malignant". This little beauty slips into my mind every now and then sending me into tiny tailspins. The plan from here is 6 months of chemotherapy, radiation and a masectomy (possibly on both sides). The doctor reassured me that there was nothing I could have done to prevent this, it's a lottery. A lottery? I think he meant crapshoot. My grandmother, my mother and now me.

Two weeks in and I am doing okay. Dave says, "you weren't dying two weeks ago, and you're not dying now, get on the bike!" Dave has been nothing short of amazing. His support and loyalty to me is unwavering. I love him more than I ever thought possible. Coady is flourishing. He's is totally in love with me right now, if we lock eyes across the room, he just lights up. I love who he has made us.

I am determined to gain more character out of this experience. There is no end to my determination and willpower to beat this. I feel strong and purposeful. I never imagined having so many beautiful and supportive friendships. Thank you to everyone who has sent along messages and support. I continue to ask for your prayers. Pray that my body will be strong, that my mind will be focused and that my spirit will soar. I will continue to keep you all updated as we progress along in this journey.I love you all.

Jenn.