Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year.

I got a peek yesterday, just a glimmer; a small affirmation, a tiny red tree. I was advised against doing a happy dance just yet, but whatever, I did one anyway. I just wanted to let you know, that if you are reading this and have been one of those beautiful people sending me love, I got it, and it's working.

There is something about the smell of the hospital air that evokes a psychosomatic response of nervous energy and general queasiness. However, yesterday, as we waited for my oncologist to appear on the screen in front of us (joining us via satellite it's Dr....) I felt lighter, trusting, knowing, calm. I had my blood tests and CT scan last week and he was giving me the results.
No advancement of the disease. Stable.
Blood counts and levels normal.
Kidneys functioning well.
Liver and Lungs clear.
PH balance great.
Dramatic drop in Tumor Marker going from nearly 400 to 22.

It's working. I'm going to love this cancer away, and I'm going to do it at home surrounded by my beautiful friends and family. There was awhile there when I considered seeking treatment in Mexico, or perhaps Texas but then one morning, stretched out on my kitchen floor, the clarity came. The thing is, I could jump on a plane and fly anywhere in the world chasing a magic pill that may or may not exist but the truth is, if there is going to be a cure, it will come from within my body. I believe that if my body manifested this cancer my body can take it away and I will do whatever I can to support this process.

On this New Years Eve I am filled with a bittersweetness. 2010 has been a whirlwind of emotion and growth. I've watched my son stretch out into this beautiful boy with shiny eyes full of spirit and comedic timing sent from heaven. I've grown closer to Dave, the other half of my heart, my soul's companion. I felt the shadow of fear, I've cried a river of tears and I've been lifted, gifted with love. I could never have imagined the LOVE, the depth or the strength of the friendships. I couldn't begin to measure the energy, the time or the loving efforts of the people I know and the people I don't. The ones who put me first, the ones who took it upon themselves to save me for my family. I could never have imagined the fire that would start in me, the determination or the desire to be exceptional. And so 2010, I'm going to let you go. Thank you for the lessons, for the awareness and the red trees. My arms are wide open and I'm ready for the New Year, with all of it's twists and turns. I'm ready because now I know that “Miracle shall follow miracle, and wonders shall never cease.” Happy New Year, yes indeed it will be.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Somebody get me a ruler.

I have a strong affinity for straight lines. There are no surprises with a good straight line, no curves to worry about or corners to take, no obstructions and no change in direction. I love rows and columns, clean working surfaces, and fine point pens. I tend to fall into leadership roles naturally, I enjoy making firm decisions and I love making a seamless leap from point A to point B. I excel in a straight line environment, my only problem is that cancer is no longer a straight line.

Lately I've been feeling a familiar type of anxiety rising, the kind of anxiety I get when Dave drops me off at the pumpkin patch and says, “okay, pick one”, or worse when he says, “you pick the tree, and I'll cut it down”. You see “options” are not a friend to a straight liner like me. Options trigger, what can only be described as an OCD reaction, sending me into tailspins trying to find the perfect “one”. The problem with having no cure for cancer, other than the obvious, is that everything and anything could be a cure for cancer. I feel as though I've fallen down the rabbit hole and now I'm faced with a wonderland buffet of options: drink this ionized water out of the copper cup, eat this mushroom while standing on one foot, take this drug, don't take that drug, don't eat sugar, only eat sugar...etc. etc. The options are endless and nauseating and I'm exhausted. There is a fine line between being informed and being completely overwhelmed and I am walking the tight rope.

This past week and a half has been extremely difficult. The hormone therapy kicked in last week and the side effects have been trying. I'm nauseous, hot and cold, irritable and a crybaby but most distressing is my aching back. I have this unrelenting, intense pain in my lower back that makes it incredibly difficult to pretend like everything is okay. I'm an emotional wreck because obviously my body is screaming at me and I am choosing to ignore it, and that does not sit well with me. I'm not confident in this drug treatment but I'm too scared not to take it. Seriously, is a straight line too much to ask for?

Last night I went out to the theatre with one of my closest friends. I keep this friend filed under divine because I'm pretty certain she's got some white wings tucked away, out of sight. At the end of what turned into a very emotional night she prayed with me. Together we prayed for clarity, for peace of mind and a straight line.

This morning, after I got Dave and Coady out the door to work and play, I lay a blanket on my newly heated (thank you Dave;) kitchen floor. I turned off the computer and the ringer on the phone and I lay down on my screaming back. I closed my eyes and I listened. It's amazing what you hear if you just take the time to listen. It's incredible to hear the sound that hope makes as it uncurls itself and reaches up, like a straight line extending to the sun.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pennies From Heaven

I distinctly remember the first time I saw her. It was early September, the beginning of grade ten. I was sitting with some friends, backs against the lockers in the hallway. I noticed her immediately as she walked towards us, and it shook me, because when I say noticed, I mean it was as though my soul recognized her. She had the most amazing smile, an undeniable sparkle in her eye, and a fiery spirit that made her glow. Her name was Katie and we became inseparable. She changed my character in profound ways, she showed me love, resilience and strength like no one in my life ever had before. She was my best friend, my kindred spirit and one of the greatest teachers of life that I would ever know. And she came and went too quickly.
On a fateful night in November 1998, Katie fell asleep behind the wheel of her car as she drove home from visiting family in Halifax. I remember dropping the phone and feeling the numbness spread through my body. But more incredibly, I remember the feeling of disbelief and gratitude I felt as my mom and I drove home from a friends house late that night. As I looked out my frosted window, into the peaceful black night, I watched the blanket of new fallen snow rise up to meet the stars. I closed my eyes and prayed for a sign. Let me know she's okay. Show me that she's okay. Show me that her spirit is whole and soaring. Show me. I remember opening my eyes, I remember the hair rising up on my arms. I remember the calm that entered my heart. I remember the way that the snow lit up and sparkled as though someone had captured the sun and let it almost escape. The brief shimmer that spread across the white blanket. The wave that said good-bye, I'm okay. It was Katie who taught me first, to watch for the signs. She's been winking at me ever since.
In the past month, I have received message after message commenting on my strength and my courage.
And while I accept these messages with an open heart and gratitude, I can only take so much credit because as a whole person, I am merely the sum of the beautiful people who have come into my life. And so I want to thank you.
I want to thank my beautiful family and my amazing friends for their love and unrelenting support. Thank you to the communities I have belonged to in the past who have joined hands and hearts and have caught my family, and continue to hold us tightly. Thank you to the teachers who have left your mark. Thank you for embracing my vulnerability and accepting my words. Thank you for your love and your belief in us as worthy.
My greatest fear, that comes with the cancer diagnosis is not of dying or of death, my fear is of leaving Dave and Coady in a life that is absent of me. However, the other night, as I took a moment to look around the room, a room that was so full of life and love it was palpable, I was filled with love, gratitude and a deep sense of knowing that everything will be okay. Dave and my little Coady would be guarded, and loved and adopted by this amazing community that we have surrounded ourselves with. What more could I possibly ask for? I am indeed a fortunate soul who will always have faith in the signs. Thanks Kate, I love you too.

“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is – 'thank you' – that is enough.”
Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Red Tree For Jenn By Tara Colborne

Your words.

They have become our sanctuary, our knowing
Like you, they grow


Your words have changed us
Your words have healed us
Your words are here and now and tomorrow and forever and red

These are your words:

You are a child of the universe
You are “growing”, you are “exceptional”, you are “loved”
No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should
You perceive the surreal and the surrender
“I need a sign, give me the sign that today will be...”

… a beautiful world. It is still a beautiful world.

You believe in the poetry and the signs and the love
and spit out
terminal palliative chronic
Spit them out
and fill up on
sweet love, spreading love, love of family, love of Coady,
gratitude and love, bravery and love

“Green tree, green tree, green tree, red tree, green tree, green tree.”

This world is not our home.
There is something more.
And miles to go before you sleep,
And miles to go before you sleep.

“Green tree, green tree, green tree, red tree, green tree, green tree.”

You are our red tree.

Please God
Watch over me and protect me and keep me safe.

And then there was love. Knock.
There was always love. Breathe
There will always be love. Shine.


(A mostly found poem inspired by the blog: by Tara Colborne
I don’t know Jenn but her blog battered my heart and made me weep and shake, but, ultimately, made me, finally, love and be grateful.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It doesn't get any better than this!

I'm so excited I can hardly stand it! Those of you who know me well, know that I am a HUGE fan of Stuart McLean, host of CBC radio show, the Vinyl Cafe (shame on you Canadians who just said “who?”). I have been listening to the Vinyl Cafe for about ten years now and never get tired of listening to Stuart's voice. As a storyteller, he is mesmerizing and as a writer, he is heartfelt and hilarious. Stuart's writing style is uniquely charming and always aspires to demonstrate the finer virtues of humanity, his style is one that I aspire to in my own writing.
This past May, as I flipped through the newspaper I noticed that Stuart was coming to Courtenay in October, I called the box office immediately but was told that tickets wouldn't be on sale for quite some time and to keep trying back. To my dismay, by the time we returned from our trip this summer the show was sold out. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I decided to write to Stuart. I wanted to share with him what my community has done for my family, he loves that kind of stuff! So I emailed the letter and then called my friend Chantel, who is also a huge Stuart fan. I suggest she write to Stuart too and she informed me that she wrote to Stuart four days earlier! Okay, this is a long winded story so I'll keep it short. Chantel called the next morning, her letter had been responded to and we were offered...BACKSTAGE PASSES to the show! I'm not sure if I can accurately describe the emotional bliss I am feeling. Imagine getting backstage passes to a Madonna concert, now instead of a blonde bendy woman in leather, imagine a grey haired gent in a nice pair of slacks, and instead of singing and dancing think more storytelling and chuckling...okay, basically Stuart McLean is my Madonna. It's not a smooth comparison but I'm sure you get the picture. The picture is that tonight, I get to meet one of the greatest influences of my writing, and he might even read words that I wrote! WOW!

I know this seems like luck but consider this...

When you learn what this world is,
how it works,
you automatically start getting miracles...
what others will call miracles.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Staying Positive

A few weeks ago I was walking downtown and ran into a friend I hadn't seen in a while. She asked me how I was doing and it was clear that she hadn't heard about the cancer returning. I began to tell her and as the word “terminal” parted my lips, I thought to myself, I have to stop saying that word. There is really nothing good to be said about this word, it's not very poetic, it doesn't feel good in my mouth when I say it, and furthermore, it doesn't describe me. As I left her and headed towards home, I passed a car parked along the sidewalk. I glanced through the passenger side window and on the dashboard was a giant neon pink sticker that read, POSITIVE. Okay, I get it, I thought out loud, I have since decided to disown the word “terminal”.

The day before my appointment with my oncologist, we spoke with one of the doctors in Mexico that I will be seeing. He went through his treatment protocol with us and at the top of his list was a hormone therapy, the same therapy being offered to me here. Never say never, I guess. I will be starting the hormone treatment here at home sometime this week. I feel much better about the decision knowing that the treatment plan in Mexico supports the drug plan up here. My oncologist seemed optimistic as he gave me the results of my bone scan and CT. The bone scan was clear, so no cancer in my bones and the CT scan looked great. So at this point, the disease does not seem aggressive and my goal is to keep it that way. We are considering going to Mexico sometime in January. That will give the hormone treatment time to settle in and will give us a baseline to work from.

The past month has been a complete whirlwind but things are settling down and a new normalcy is taking shape. I am well. I feel healthy, safe, excited and loved. Loved beyond measure. I am learning how to surrender to the waves of emotion, that come less often but still exist. The fear and sadness are raw, and the unfairness is biting. When they well up I am often overtaken, but it passes and when I kiss Coady goodnight, and tuck him in I am overwhelmed with gratitude and love. When I lay my head down at night I say a prayer of gratitude and remind myself, “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened”.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Spread Love

Surrendering is not something I do naturally. I am strong willed, so much so that I often surprise myself. When I became pregnant with Coady I was advised by my University faculty to take a year off. They suggested how tired I would be, and how stressful it would get balancing academic and domestic arts. Less than one week after giving birth to Coady, I was back in school. Determined to finish my degree, I sat through classes perched on my exercise ball while Dave walked the halls with our newborn son. Dave would quietly bring Coady into the class so I could nurse him and all the while I didn't bat an eye. I graduated in December with the rest of my class.

You see, what the faculty advisors didn't understand was that I was an exceptional student.
I'm about to show my doctors, that I am an exceptional patient.

The drive was quiet, on our way to Victoria last Wednesday. I spent a lot of time looking out the window trying to grasp the surreal nature of my current reality. As we climbed over the Malahat, I thought to myself, “I need a sign, give me a sign that today will be okay”. And then I thought, “show me a red tree, if everything is going to be okay today, show me a red tree.” As we drove I watched intently. Not a red tree in sight. As we rounded a corner I turned my head and looked out Dave's window and low and behold there was a driveway lined with maple trees. Green tree, green tree, green tree, green tree, red tree, green tree, green tree... I'm sure Dave heard my sigh of relief. I settled back into my seat contented for a moment until I admittedly acknowledged my cheat. It's freaking October, there are red trees everywhere. I was going to need a bigger sign. I began to focus, I watched intently as we moved into the city. Just as we approached the cancer clinic and my hope was beginning to fade I glimpsed out my window one more time, desperate for anything that looked remotely promising. A large white delivery truck was parked along the sidewalk, as my eye continued to the back end I noticed two words had been spray painted in black. To my disbelief, the sign read “SPREAD LOVE”.
“Did you see that!” I exclaimed to Dave. “Did you see what that truck said?” I then gave him the run down of my thought process. “Isn't that crazy?” I asked him.
“It's not crazy”, he replied calmly, “it just means you're growing”.
Yeah, that's Dave, he's kind of amazing that way.

Our visit with the oncologist was sobering to say the least. It was easy to recognize the disappointment in my doctors eyes when he walked into the room. He was just as unhappy to see us as we were to see him. After a brief examination that involved lots of tapping and pressing, he gave us his plan. Hormone therapy. Palliative therapy. Palliative, now there's a word that will bring you to your knees. Menopause at 31. Sometimes I find that doctors seem removed from the meaning of the words that they use. They throw around terms like menopause and sterility as easily as hiccups and indigestion. There is no cure, but we can treat it as a chronic disease. No cure.

I've had some time to think about his options and this Friday, I have an appointment with him at 11:00. I can't begin to explain the courage it's going to take to look into this doctor's eyes and tell him that I do not wish to take the hormone therapy, nor can I explain the strength I will need to tell him that quality of life is more important to me that quantity. It's difficult to portray with words the bravery required to go against the mainstream and look for alternatives but I'm sure the words will come. The truth is, it's difficult being exceptional.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pursed Lips are a Bad Sign

I've been sitting in front of this screen for a while now, so long in fact that I'm considering changing my medium to interpretive dance because there are no words. There are no words to describe the shock, the sorrow, the loss, the determination, the hope or the love.

Last week Dave and I travelled down to Victoria General Hospital for what was supposed to be the removal of an ovarian cyst. In retrospect, maybe I should have seen it coming, but in all honesty, there was not a cell in my being that thought for a second that this was cancer. I had visualized for days, the smooth white surface of the benign cyst. In my mind I watched as the surgeons delicately removed the mass and nodded at each other, satisfied that the job was straightforward, ordinary and routine. I envisioned coming home excited, because I had decided that the removal of this ovary was a sign. It was a clear sign that now was the time to have another baby. I wasn't going to wait out another three years on Tamoxifen, my anti-cancer drug, I was going to have a baby followed by a hysterectomy and possibly the removal of my other breast. And then it would be over, no more worrying.

But then I woke up to pursed lips. Trust me, that when you are coming out of the anaesthetic fog, the last thing you want to see are pursed lips. Pursed lips, reserved welcome backs, teary eyes.

They removed the cancerous cyst and the ovary that it was attached to, they scraped the fatty layer that covers my intestines, they biopsied, they shifted, they explored and discovered upon further inspection two cysts on my aortic artery, a lump on my neck and ultimately that the cancer has seeped into my lymphatic system.

We have not seen the breast cancer oncologist yet, but the surgeon told us that chemotherapies may be available but they would not be designed to cure the cancer that I have.

We got home on Sunday. Exhausted, overwhelmed, broken, scared, stitched, stressed and parents of a three year old.
And then there was love.

The sheer bombardment of support that we have felt in the past three days has been a miracle in itself. We feel lighter, hopeful, contented and loved.
Opportunities for healing are showing themselves quickly. I am trusting and willing to let things fall into place. I feel calm, patient and part of a bigger plan.

A close friend of mine told me that the trick to life is realizing that this world is not our home, we come from something bigger, more beautiful. We are in this world for a short time and our purpose is to show one another love, and when our journey here is over, then we go home. If you can wrap your head around that, she said, then there is nothing to worry about. I can find peace in that, I'm just not ready to go home yet.

I've got miles to go before I sleep.