Thursday, July 15, 2010


I saw my oncologist today and he is suggesting I start on zoledronic acid to help prevent bone density loss and  metastasis. Every time he suggests I start a new treatment, I feel a bit of panic. Aren't we done? Aren't I better? Everyone keeps congratulating me on beating this. Haven't I?

I'm going to be on holiday for a couple of weeks so probably won't be posting much for a while. So when I was thinking about what I could post in the interim, I thought I might provide the inspiration for the naming of my blog. I considered something funny (there are some great cancer blogs with very funny names) but it didn't feel right (and I really value humour!). Instead I kept coming back to Gibran's poem on death. It resonated with me when I reread it after my diagnosis. I literally felt my heart opening up and much of my anxiety melting away. When I am weepy, or running the risk of feeling sorry for myself, I remember the words and feel the ground beneath my feet again.

Hope you are having a wonderful summer, full of sticky popsicle hands, stones for skipping, marshmallow roasts and bubbles. All my best.
Then Almitra spoke, saying, "We would ask now of Death."
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

Khalil Gibran, On Death, from The Prophet

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More summer food for people we love

Sweet Paul's Watermelon and Strawberry Salad with Ginger Syrup .

Smitten Kitchen's Thai-style Chicken Legs.

Epicurious' Mango Pomegranate Guacamole. Yummy, pretty fiber!

The Kitchen's instructions on grilling pork loin. We love grilled pork loin in our family; it takes lots of different flavours so try some rubs or salsas to go along with this method.

Sunset's Crispy Avocado Fries, originally found via The Kitchen. More yummy fiber!

My favourite Thin Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sunset.  And because there is no egg in it, I don't mind - as much - when the kids want to eat it raw. And, sometimes you want to make cookies and you don't have eggs...ta da!

Kids' stuff

Got kids that like to build? Like to recycle? That's our house - and I just found what might be the next best addition to our toy box: makedo. Makedo is a set of connectors that lets you join together cardboard, paper, plastic, fabric, what have you, to make larger, movable structures. Kids get to imagine something and build it - limited only by their imaginations and the packing material, egg cartons, cereal boxes and fraying pillow cases on hand!

The system includes connectors and hinges, as well as a construction tool that lets them safely punch holes and make cuts in boxes and other paper materials. The great thing about makedo is, rather than knocking together playhouses, puppet theatres, and robots with cardboard boxes, tape and glue, now we can take them apart and reuse the components to make space ships, pirate lairs and laser blasters. REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE!

It's designed for use by children 5 and up and isn't safe for the under-3 set due to the small parts.

The sets come as kits for one (69 pieces) for $25, and kits for three (170) for $50. You also get reduced prices for ordering multiple kits. Right now, shipping is free but makedo is distributed from Australia, so there may be shipping delays and additional customs or tax charges upon delivery.

Take a look at the inspirational makedo creations of others here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New hat

My weird post-chemo hair continues to grow in and I have not yet cut it. Since I don't want to look like a complete freak while on summer holiday, and since I also want to protect my face and head from the sun, I decided it was time for a new hat. So I called on my helpful and enthusiastic sister-in-law Diana to see if she'd go hat shopping with me. When you are buying a hat, it is very important to have someone with you that will give you an honest opinion. Diana's very good at doing that.  Plus, she also likes to rock a sweet lid! :-)

Off we went Edie Hats at Granville Island in Vancouver. Love hats? Visiting Vancouver, BC? This is where you want to go. They have an endless selection and superb service. Then cruise around the public market, grab some yummy food and flowers, and pick up some lovely gifts for yourself or someone you love. OK - end of ad.

With the help of keen-eyed and knowledgeable Nicole, we settled on a great Panama for me and a lovely green straw cowboy hat for Diana. I got to pick out two feathers for my brim, too. Thanks, Nicole. We wore our new hats around Grouse Mountain yesterday with our friends (Jennifer, b-day girl Karen, and Laura) and our heads stayed cool and comfortable. And I got to feel a little less self-conscious about my hair.

Cut to this morning and me doing a quick blog scan while drinking my coffee. First site I head to is The Sartorialist and today's style post. Look at that hat. That is my hat! And I can easily say that the hat is the star of that outfit. :-) Now that's a good omen.

So after a sad day on Saturday, I'm heading into my holiday with a new boob, a new hat and a more positive outlook. Don't nobody mess with that. I'll finish with a shout out to my girls - thanks for a great day! And thanks for the positive feedback on my squiggly hair. Y'all are the best. :-)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New boob

Yesterday I went shopping for my new breast. Since my mastectomy, I've just been going around lopsided, in camisoles with shelf bras. Now it's time to get a bra and start looking a little more, um, symmetrical.  So that means a prosthetic breast and a mastectomy bra.

I received excellent service at Bare Basics in Steveston, British Columbia. Arlene was kind, supportive, and full of good, pragmatic, advice. I have friends that buy all their bras there and I know why.  A good bra fitter is the secret to finding a good bra, and a good bra can be a wonderful thing. (Ok - I'll say goodbye now to any guys that may have been reading.)  After trying a few different variations, Arlene found me a very close match amongst their breast forms and helped me pick the bra that would give me the best shape and support. She gave me advice about care and a reminder that I needed to file my insurance claim soon in order to be within the six-month window we have in Canada.

So, I'm home now with my good bra. Good right? Problem is, I don't much love this breast. I had been hoping a pretty bra would help me feel, well, normal. But the bra ain't so pretty and the breast ain't my breast. I must have been pinning a lot of hope on this new purchase, because the let down I felt was immense.Wiith clothes on over this new breast, I look much like I used to. But the process of getting it all on, lining it up, shifting everything around, feeling the dense, heavyness of it, and then taking if off again...the sadness of it hit me so suddenly that my response was physical. This isn't my breast. My breast is gone. Gone. And in its place, under this fleshy, heavy, plastic coated chicken cutlet, I have a long puckered scar, a bump, and some other odd little, well, bulges. And as I'm looking at this altered terrain, this same terrain that I have been washing, moisturizing, and massaging - but visually avoiding - for the past 6 months, I must finally come to terms with it. I am different now, and always will be.

The tears flowed out of me in a way they haven't in months. My husband was great. He said all the right things. He put it all in perspective and said all the things I already knew. I am alive. Different, but alive. And that is worth it. But I suddenly feel so sad, something I haven't allowed myself to feel for a long time. I realized that for the last eleven months I have been trying to get back to something to which there is no getting back. And realistically, I always knew this. But there is nothing like wrestling with a concrete thing to make you realize you are actually wrestling with something intangible, internal.

So instead of trying to fight my way back to what used to be normal, I guess I am going to have to face what my my new normal is. And that may just be the secret behind coping.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

You've Got to Be Freaking Kidding Me

or How I Learned to Put Down the Malbec and Pick Up the Green Tea

In a few days, I will post about some of the risk factors for breast cancer. One of them is moderate alcohol consumption. Not heavy consumption, moderate. Really?! Really. And, for most women, moderate consumption is considered to be one alcoholic beverage a day. If you are someone that enjoys a glass of wine with dinner (and if you are a red wine drinker you have probably been patting yourself on the back for all those lovely heart health benefits you've been swigging back) now you need to enjoy it less often.

So when you do get to enjoy it, make sure you really enjoy it. :-) That means, do your research. In addition to talking to family and friends to get advice (Hi Mom, Christi, Jim, Judy, and Shaun!), I've also started looking at an on-line resource - Snooth.

From their website:
Snooth doesn't sell wine. Instead, we offer users an engaging and unique shopping experience that lets them interact with wineries, merchants, fellow wine lovers, and wine professionals from all over the globe. When users are ready to make a purchase, they can compare prices and shop from over 10,000 wine merchants worldwide as well as review the wine and their buying experience to help others in the future.
Since its launch in June 2007 Snooth has quickly become the world's largest and most comprehensive online wine destination, featuring millions of reviews and hundreds of thousands of wines.

I don't buy wine via Snooth, but I have been reading the articles and reviews. I have researched past wines I have loved, and not loved, and learned about new ones to look for the next time I'm out for dinner or at the liquor store. It's a fun diversion and, if you like wine, you will find lots of great, current information from experts and amateurs.

So, I highly recommend doing your research and making sure you are getting good value for your dollar. And, now that you have freed up all that time you normally spend selecting, opening and decanting your wine, could I suggest you pop the kettle on for tea?


Port installation

If you are undergoing long-term chemotherapy like I am, it will be necessary to have a port (or port-a-cath) installed. Chemo drugs are highly toxic and damaging to veins and tissue, so long-term treatment is very hard on these parts of your body. Ports allow health care providers to administer drugs more efficiently by tapping almost directly into the heart - drugs are flushed quickly and efficiently through the circulatory system with little chance for damage to your veins.

A port is a small disc made of plastic or metal roughly the size of a bottle cap that is placed beneath your skin. It is usually implanted in the area just below the collar bone on the side opposite the breast with cancer. A soft thin catheter extends from the port to a large vein near your heart. Nurses will administer your chemotherapy medicines by inserting a needle right into the port and then connecting an IV line to your pouch of drugs. When all your cycles of chemotherapy are done, the port is removed during another short outpatient procedure.Click here to find out more about ports.

My port is a power port. The nurses love my power port. It has three little bumps on it that help them easily locate the injectionable area. But I really wish someone had told me about the bumps soon after the port was inplanted. I didn't notice them until several weeks after I'd had it - at about the time the swelling was starting to go down. But, of course, I didn't occur to me that the bumps were there intentionally. I don't know about other cancer patients, but my experience has been that I no longer give anything the benefit of the doubt. Every itch, twinge, tickle and creak in my body is directly related to SOMETHING VERY VERY BAD!!!

Me: WTF are those bumps? Come feel this! Jon, WTF are these bumps? Is it broken?! Where did they come from? They weren't there yesterday!!!!! WTF? WTF? WTF? WTF? (insert sound of my voice steadily getting higher and more screechy)
Jon: It's probably nothing. Let's ask the doctor. 
 Me: Probably nothing? Probably nothing?! How do you know that? This doesn't feel normal. WTF? Feel them! They weren't here yesterday! They're wiggly. It must be BROKEN! They must be poking out because something has come undone! Oh, god. What happened? How did it break?

...ok - I'll save you the whole freak-out session. But I seriously put the freak in freak out. Turns out, the bumps are a good thing. Who knew? Note to self - stop imagining the worst.

Ports are installed in simple day surgery. Mine was installed in the same exam room in which I had my surgical biopsy - just a wee room with a nurse, a bed and some tools. Warning - I received no sedation. The area was numbed very nicely with a local but I was just as aware for this procedure as I was for the biopsy. Now, it wasn't as stressful - 'cause, like at this point I know that I have cancer so I've already sort of gone to 11 on my stress meter - but it was disconcerting. There was no real pain, but the feeling of my surgeon making a pocket for the port using his thumbs was, um, gross. But get this - when he was finished he smiled and had the nurse confirm how long it had taken (I forget now but it was mere minutes). And....YES...he installed it in record time! Apparently the day before the same procedure had taken much, much longer; the patient was larger and that makes the procedure more challenging. Surgeons like it when they can be in and out fast. And, let's face it, he's a guy so he likes the competition, even if it's against himself.

After he was finished, he gave me some instructions for care and signs to watch for that would indicate infection. Then he smiled :-) and said, "You can manage the pain with Tylenol."  Now according to the link I gave you above, it seems to be standard in the States to manage the pain with a narcotic like Demerol. But you have to love Canada. So, in the days following implantation, I can best describe the pain as being akin to having been punched repeatedly in the same spot on my chest by someone wearing a cocktail ring. Or maybe being pummelled again and again by a seven year old with a mittful of Lego. You get the idea. So, he's right - I was able to manage the pain with Extra-Strength Tylenol - it sort of took the edge off.  And the pain started to subside after a week or so.

The port has been great. I was worried at the beginning that it would be difficult to manage seatbelt or purse straps, but I now no longer even notice it is there. Unless, of course, one of my kids gets overzealous and smacks me on it. (Are you starting to wonder about what goes on in my household yet?) The nurses flush it regularly and it has never given me a moment's pause.

Plus, it gives me that cool cyborg look that I just know is going to be the next big thing. Watch for Lady GaGa to be sporting one in her next music video.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chemo and your nose

Just a heads up to those of you about to be or in the midst of dealing with chemo, it can wreak havoc on your sense of smell. I had the misfortune of receiving treatment during the H1N1 outbreak last fall. On the one hand, I was happy to get scooted to the front of the line for vaccination because of my weakened immune system. On the other hand,  I was ill-prepared to deal with the smell of most hand sanitizers. It was horrific. The slightest bit of artificial perfume made me want to vomit and then hurt people. One day I walked from room to room pitching the little plastic pump bottles in the garbage, "Get it out of the house...GET IT OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!!!!"  only to later fish them out so we could donate them to a less smelling-impaired household.

So, fair warning, please do not use scented lotions, soaps, body sprays, antiperspirants, dishwashing liquid, detergent or the like. You will thank me.

And since I just mentioned antiperspirant, I thought I'd include a link to the US National Cancer Institute's fact sheet responding to questions about the possible link between use of antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer. In short, there is no conclusive evidence of a link and studies have provided conflicting results. Yippee. If you are concerned, speak with your health care providers and consider opting for natural alternatives.

As an aside, I never ever had much of an issue with underarm odor and so was not a daily user of these products. It is very unlikely, in my opinion, that they had any impact on my tumour growth. For my thoughts on that, stayed tuned for my future posting where I take on my probable breast cancer risk factors (moderate alchohol consumption, early menstruation and delaying of baby-making till after 30, I'm looking at you!).