The Next Chapter

February 7, 2013
Crossposted at Jenster's Musings

The-Next-Chapter-1-470x264

 

I am staring at a new chapter of the cancer chronicles. It’s not a bad chapter, precisely, but it has me feeling a little uncomfortable. Or maybe restless. Or maybe I just don’t know what it is I’m feeling.

Next week I see my oncologist for my last biannual appointment. That is a great thing. I am nearly 8 years out from diagnosis and over 7 years since my first No Evidence of Disease report. That is a survivor’s dream.

There are only a few days left of my Arimidex and I won’t be refilling the prescription. Two years of Tamoxifen followed by five years of Arimidex and I’m finally done. The original plan was to be on post-chemo drugs for a total of five years, but somewhere around year four a study indicated that it was best to stay on the Arimidex for five years regardless of how long Tamoxifen had been taken. That was a huge disappointment at the time (worthy of a few tears), but the extra two years are done and I can finally stop the Arimidex.

Earlier this evening I was reading stories from women who had gotten off the Arimidex and how their lives were improved. More energy, weight loss, decreased stiffness and pain, slight reversal of some menopausal symptoms… all things that I deal with to some extent. I want to be excited about the prospect of a better quality of life, but I’m afraid to. I am 47, after all. I’m not supposed to have as much energy, weight loss is supposed to be more difficult, stiffness and pain are just a part of growing older and menopausal symptoms are what you get when you’ve had your ovaries removed, right?

So what if I don’t notice any difference in any of those areas after I stop the medication? What if all my “symptoms” are just a result of my age? I can tell you right now that if there is no improvement I will be just short of devastated. And incredibly furious. Again. The injustice of cancer has a way of causing righteous anger even still.

I was talking with two of my co-workers today and I told them that I don’t want to be a “new” me. I just want to be the old me. The me that I was at 39. Or more specifically, the me that I would be today if I hadn’t been derailed by the monster. Of course, I have no idea what that me would be. I just know it wouldn’t be the me I am. But maybe I’ll be much closer to that me after I stop the Arimidex. I guess time will tell.

There’s more to this chapter than this, though, and it goes beyond my own personal battle. This afternoon I started the process to get Katie genetically tested. When she was about 13 my oncologist told me that I would want her to be screened when she was 18 because some of her life choices would depend on whether or not she was genetically disposed to breast cancer. At the time 18 seemed so far away.

It hurts my heart that I’ve done this to her and Taylor. We don’t even know if this is genetic, but just the fact that Katie (and possibly Taylor) has to go through the testing is more than I think either of them should have to go through. I feel responsible and guilty and I’ve never been one to feel guilt over much of anything. But this? I want to heap burning coals upon my head. Even though I know it’s not my fault. And yet…

I know I’ve said this time and time again over the past 7 years, but I really thought once I was through with treatment and reconstruction everything would be normal again. What I have found is that cancer has a ripple effect and I will never be completely free from it. And sometimes that’s exhausting.

But then I remind myself that I don’t have cancer and I am healthy, quirky aging and/or side-effects aside. Even more important is that my children don’t have cancer and they are healthy. I have a husband who adores me, kids who love me, great family and friends and I am happy.

So next week I’ll go see the White Russian and he’ll say how great I’m doing and he’ll send me for a dexascan to see where my osteopenia is (that will hopefully eventually be reversed since I’m stopping the Arimidex) and then he’ll tell me that I don’t need to come back for another year (which will make me happy and sad all at the same time). And sometime soon Katie will go get tested to see if she has the BRCA gene (which I don’t think she does) and she can then make the educated choices that a young woman needs to make.

And then I can move on to the next chapter.

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for Orit (by Laurie)

July 14, 2012

photo: Andrea Ross/Mark Blevis

As of Saturday, June 30th, I have been in remission for five years. This is a huge milestone and I’m very fortunate to have the chance to mark it.


But I really didn’t feel like celebrating.


Just a couple of days before, my beautiful friend Orit passed away, leaving three young kids, a loving spouse and a large group of family and friends in deep mourning. I spoke to her husband Sean early on the day she died and afterwards posted on Facebook what was for me an unusually vague status update:

“Warning: This would not be a good day to tell me that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes wrong stuff just happens. And sometimes life is terribly unfair.”



So much about cancer is a crap shoot. Some get cancer, some don’t. Some walk away, others live with the illness forever. Some live for a long time and some die way before they are ready to go.


Orit had strength and determination and a great love for her family and community. She had access to the best health care and, prior to being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, was healthy and fit. She never stopped fighting to live and she most definitely did not lose a battle.


Despite the fact that we lived in the same neighbourhood, I met Orit less than a year ago, not long after her cancer diagnosis. Our illness brought us together but we soon found that we had so much more than than cancer in common. We both found humour in the world around us, sought to nurture our creative selves and wore our hearts on our sleeves when it came to those around us. I had the privilege of watching her face light up when her husband got home and the clear eyed love she had for each of her kids. We had the chance to talk about being in cross-cultural relationships and about the values we hoped to share with our kids. We talked about petty grievances and big ideas. And we shared our fears, hopes, sorrow and anger at facing the scourge that is cancer.


One evening, as we were yarn bombing our local community centre, Orit and I sat on the pavement sewing a 6 foot tube of yarn onto a bike rack. As we took turns holding the piece in place and passing the needle, she suddenly said. “I really wish that we had the chance to know each other before. We would have been such good friends.”


I felt my heart break as I struggled to find an appropriate and truthful answer. But I knew it would be wrong to say “We will get to be friends for a long time” or even “It’s going to be OK.” Instead, I said swallowing the lump in my throat, “I agree. I wish I’d met you sooner as well.”


The last time I saw Orit, we had tea on her front porch while she knit. She had been in the hospital the night before because of unmanageable pain. That morning she seemed fine, if weak. She talked about convincing her oncologist to try one last course of treatment and her profound grief at the thought of leaving her children. We both cried.


And then I left for a yoga class, borrowing a t-shirt before I left. It didn’t occur to me that I would not see her again.


A few days later, she was hospitalized. And a few days after that, she died.


I wish I had told her how amazing I thought she was. That I thought she was a great mother, an interesting person and inspiring in a way that transcended her illness. I wish I’d said how beautiful she was.


I’ve struggled for two weeks to write this blog post. Orit’s family have been so kind, loving and generous to me but I can’t help thinking how grossly unfairly life has treated them.


Which is why I haven’t felt like celebrating.


I am very lucky to be alive and I hope to be around writing blog posts in another 5 years. None of us knows when our time will come. We need to live bravely, love fiercely and hold on to the things that matter. We need to tell those we care for how much they mean to us and to do those things we always wanted to do. No matter how long we have on this earth, we need to truly live.


I, for one, plan on doing a little more yarn bombing. I have Orit’s last piece of knitting so a little bit of her will be there as well.


Care to join us?

video: Mark Blevis


please be aware (by Laurie)

October 13, 2011

Today is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Six years ago, I thought I had a pretty good vocabulary but I didn’t know the meaning of “metastatic” until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, only 15 per cent of women with mets will still be alive 5 years after their diagnosis. I’m one of the lucky ones ( stats are bogus anyway).
I think one of the reasons I get so angry at campaigns aimed at “saving [insert infantile name for ‘breasts’ here]” is that, for those of us with metastatic breast cancer, the breast was only the beginning. Our cancer has spread to our bones, brains, liver, lungs or skin. We are “the bad girls of breast cancer.”
And we want you to know about us.
We are:
Catriona
Rachel
Katie
Jeanne
Deanna
Judy
Susan
Katherine
Eileen
Delaney
Kristina
Dirty Pink Underbelly
Susannah
And we remember:
Sarah
Emily
Rebecca
RivkA
Sue
Andrea
Kate
Chris
Daria
Lisa
Jill

Renee


no pink for profit runs/walks for the cure v2.0 (by Laurie)

October 5, 2011

 

The miraculous photo in which we all have our eyes open! photo: I. Hendel

There was some incredible coverage in the Ottawa Citizen this year. All the articles listed below were also in the Saturday print version of the paper (for my American friends: the Saturday papers have the highest circulation, as yours do on Sunday):

Seeing red over pink ribbon campaign.

Pink fatigue. 

Think before you pink.


The Citizen also posted a short video to their web site:

(update: I couldn’t figure out how to embed the video on WordPress but you can watch it on my blog, Not Just About Cancer.)

Thanks so much to all the team members (including those who who were not able to attend the walk/run) and to everyone who donated. Special thanks to Andrea (who is the real woman wearing the pinnie in the Citizen photos) for holding my hand through the surreal filming of the video and to our honorary team members, Tim (picked up the team kits and t-shirts) Ian (took photos and custody of our stuff while we walked and Lee (stepped up with kid distraction when it was very much needed).


May we all be healthy and able to do it next year. And may there soon come a time when the Run for the Cure is a thing of the past.

 

“I’m running for…Deanna, Susan, Judy (and me). 
In memory of Sarah and Rebecca.” 
photo: A. Ross

smiling can’t cheat death (by laurie)

September 1, 2011


I’m a reasonably happy person. And I believe that concentrating on the half full part of the glass has helped me to cope with many aspects of my life, including breast cancer. However, there have been times when a good wallow or a raging tantrum have been just as necessary and cathartic.

And I don’t, for even a second, think that people who worried too much, or got mad or who didn’t have a positive attitude brought cancer or their own deaths upon themselves. Nor do I believe that temperament or attitude is what causes one person to go into remission and another to succumb to the illness. I find the belief system that blames the patient to be repugnant.

In many ways, cancer is a crap shoot. It helps to have excellent medical care, good nutrition and the resources that help you cope with the disease and the treatments’ side effects. But luck plays a big role in survival as well.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and so it appears have other women. Yesterday, I stumbled on a great post at Uneasy Pink, by Katie, who, in turn, pointed the way to Coco, guest-posting at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. These women really tell it like it is.

Last week, Canada lost Jack Layton, a leader who was, by all accounts active, optimistic and happy. And we lost him way too young. Many media reports used the common phrase “lost his battle with cancer.” Jack didn’t lose a battle – there was no failure on his part – he got cancer and died. No amount of positive thinking could have changed that.


 

(Shout out to my friend Sharon, who first used the phrase “tyranny of positive thinking” in my presence. She has kindred spirits out there, too).

Cross-posted to Not Just About Cancer.


Hmm…. a rambling update of sorts (by Lyn)

August 20, 2011

I just want to first comment on the recent posts from these lovely ladies.  I can relate on so many levels to it all though I am in a different phase currently.  There was a time when I was first diagnosed with IBC that I wanted to talk about death, all I could think about was life in a spiritual fashion because I didn’t know if I would beat it.  My mother had just passed away a year before from cancer and I watched the last breath leave her body, so the heavy thoughts of the seriousness of IBC weighed heavily on my heart.  Then I remembered HOPE, and my fighting spirit kicked in and I focused on beating it.  Not necessarily on living a well rounded life at the time, I was too scared for that I think, but I did have hope and I did feel like a warrior.  A lone warrior LOL.  My life quickly changed from average life working full-time with a 2 year old and 3 year old happily married to unemployed, very sick, and noone around me understood.  The people that were supposed to ‘get it’ turned into confused weak aliens and my new support system was a world of women online that I had no idea even existed and most of whom I still haven’t met in person.

I actually had to shut out family members who weren’t positive.  I simply said, if you can’t support me as much as some stranger I’ve never met, don’t talk to me at all.  Fear is a powerful thing, and when I’m scared I am sort of like a feral cat backed into a corner and if you’re not a friend you were an enemy.  Right?  No.  Necessary?  Possibly.  There’s a lot that I look back on and regret from the first year of my cancer diagnosis, but I have to be very gentle with myself because my support system wasn’t good.  We had no guideline or role model to show us what to do, how to help each other.  The growth I’ve experienced is that it isn’t their fault.  It wasn’t their fault.  The desire to support me was there, but it wasn’t coming in the way that I wanted or needed so I couldn’t see it.  Now that time has passed I have since found understanding and reconnected with said family members who were more than happy to come help me at my recent surgery.  I vowed this time, to recognize the intent behind people’s actions and go off of that.  I’ve learned to have understanding for others looking in at me from the outside.  I probably scare the shit out of them.  A 30 year old with 2 small kids going through everything we warriors do, and doing it independently and fiercely.  Yes, I’m sure looking back they saw me as pushing them away and their own fear stopped them from meeting me where I was, and my own desire for survival on my terms stopped me from including them in my battle.

Needless to say I have learned a lot about myself and about others since my diagnosis.  Life, the meaning of life, the ‘right’ way of life is something I think about all the time.  I have yet to find a place where I am comfortable just being.  It seems like I keep pushing through pain to find the space where there is no more pain and it won’t come.  Sometimes I ask myself why me, why now, why not.  Lately I’ve been looking to the future a lot, praying a lot, begging the universe for some release.  Then I remember that I have the power to focus on hope, healing, and happiness.

I’m not talking about my cancer with the last paragraph.  I haven’t said as much on my blog, but I found out that my husband- who I truly love with all my heart well before cancer- was cheating on me when I was battling for my life.  I found out this year, and it’s been like getting a cancer diagnosis all over again.  Actually I would prefer chemo some days.  So while at first I shut him out, I’ve been allowing him to talk to me and to listen and then I talk.  It just feels like pain.  Healing, sure.  Cleansing, sure.  But pain, more unnecessary pain that I don’t think I deserve and that makes me angry, which makes me frustrated, which makes me sad because I can’t control it.  More and more I learn about myself and at the same time about others’ limitations.  He has stepped up to the plate at taking my punishiment and wrath and making it right but will it ever be enough?  I don’t know.  I can’t say, I can’t control how I feel.  I would give anything to be nonchalant and flippant and not care.  I would trade anything for that.  But I’m stuck here in the pit of I give a shit and also, responsible for what happens next.  Do I want to risk getting IBC again and not have him in my life- this man who I love and is remorseful- or is it – do I want to risk getting IBC again and be still married to a man who betrayed me when I needed him the most.  Or is it, do I take yet another leap of faith and trust (but verify!) that this person has grown himself, found his own love, and will never hurt me again and jump in with the hope that IBC will not come knocking on my door again but if it does my marriage will not be an issue of it.

I don’t know.  It’s too much, it’s overwhelming.  The gift and the curse of cancer is that we know how precious life is.  How much time can I waste on anger or hurt- even when it hurts so much all the time?  That becomes the question.  I imagine that if I was a normal 32 year old without cancer or parents gone, and everything was fine I would walk away with my head high and my hair flapping in the wind giving him the middle finger for not seeing how awesome I am, not caring what he might have been going through or what led to it.  But now… now I know unfortunately that life is bigger than me.  It’s not all about me, even when it should be.  Ah well… that’s my rant.

Physical update, I had a double latissimus breast reconstruction 4 weeks ago.  Last weekend I ended up with a bacterial infection and almost got admitted again.  Every day this week I have had to go into the plastic surgeon’s to have my back drain tube wound opened and drained and packed because it was fluid that collected there that caused it.

My left cancer side ‘frankenboob’ is not doing well.  It’s failing and the surgeon says we have to do another surgery in a few weeks when I’m better this time taking fat and skin from my stomach.  Hopefully it goes better this round.

I am NED still according to the pathology reports from the samples the surgeon sent when he did the reconstruction.  So I have that to be thankful for, and I am.  It is possibly one of the main things that keeps all the pain balanced, the physical pain and the emotional pain… that no matter what I’m still for now NED and still have a chance to see my kids grow up.  Anyone else sometimes feel like, is this really my life?  I know I do, but thanks to cancer, I’m thankful for most of it and the parts I don’t like I have hope I’ll figure that out in time.


please honour my friend by having some fun (by Laurie)

July 23, 2011

My friend Rebecca died this week. She was all of 37 years old (if I’ve done the math right) and she had metastatic breast cancer. She was also one of the funniest people in my online community. She was also generous, straigtforward and honest. My heart goes out to her friends and family – the people she loved, wrote about and who knew her best.

Rebecca left strict instructions that we were to shed no tears after her passing (I’m afraid I’ve let her down on that front but I’ve been doing my best) and that, instead of a funeral she wanted a celebration of her life. I’d love to join the party and to hear the stories that those closest to her would be bound to share. Because Rebecca took her fun seriously.

I won’t be able to attend the celebration (Rebecca lived in Cape Cod) but I would like to do something. And I need your help.

1. In the next week or so, please go out and do something fun. Do anything at all, as long as it makes you happy. If you need inspiration, Rebecca loved dogs (especially her pit bull, Diezel), cooking, eating out (her restaurant reviews were among my favourite blog posts), her scooter, her little car, road trips, NASCAR, kick boxing, books, funny movies and music. If none of these things appeal to you, please go out and do your own thing. If you like, bring someone with you to join in the fun.

2. Let me know. You can leave me a comment on this blog, at Not Just About Cancer or send me an email (laurie dot kingston at gmail dot com) or message me on Twitter (I’m @lauriek). Just a few words to let me know what fun thing you did in Rebecca’s memory. I’ll compile a list and make sure that it gets to her family.

That’s it. It already makes me feel happier, thinking that there will be a little more joy in the world this week. I think Rebecca would approve.