Friday, October 28, 2011


I met with the Oncologist again today. This was a check-in sort of check-up, I think. She asked me how I was feeling and I told her "pretty good" and she asked again like she didn't believe me. Then she told me she didn't think I looked that good. I guess in the future I will have to wear make up to these meetings. I don't know, maybe this was the first time I haven't. I can't really remember. Anyway, I told her as much, and she laughed. She followed up by saying my colour was good and that I just looked very tired, so there's that.

I'm a "take it or leave it" make up kind of gal. Sure, I like it but I don't feel like I have to be wearing some in order to leave the house or anything. I'll go to work without any on. I suspect that is really going to change in the next few months. I'll probably become one of those women who refuses to leave the house without it. Probably because if I do, I'll also be leaving without signs of eyebrows or eyelashes and that will look weird.

Anyway, they took some blood (hence the blog title) and then counted bits in it. As expected my white blood cell count is very low. She said I should stay in the house all weekend. Doesn't she know that I have TWO parties this weekend? Of all the damn weekends! I am not one of those people with a calendar full of parties- we go to parties about once a month. Of all the times! I pretty much told her this and she said she wasn't going to prohibit me from going but that I had to be very careful.

How does one even go about being very careful at a party? This isn't the hood - the joint is not going to get shot up. I've interpreted "being careful" to mean the following:

1) I should not do the cheek kissing thing that diplomats love. However, I don't know how to stop people from doing this to me since it is the only acceptable greeting here for women. Maybe if I wear a face mask? Or just awkwardly wave at people. This one requires a bit more planning.

2) I should not "try this" from peoples' plates or glasses. This will be easier. I'll just say no.

3) My oncologist mimed me being very reserved. Like I should wear a cardigan and wrap it tightly around myself (she actually did this with her Doctor lab coat) and stay in the corner and not talk to anyone at the party and just observe other people having fun. I'm definitely not doing this one. Well, if I get to go. Paul seems about ready to dig in his heels and make us stay home.

She did also say that while my white blood cell count is terrible for an average person, it's quite excellent for someone going through chemo. She probably shouldn't have told me this because it makes me rationalize going out when it might be wiser to stay at home. Also factoring into my decision - the belief that this will be the last weekend I have a reasonable head of hair. People should at least see this adorable cut before it is all on my pillow and in my shower drain.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Blog is About to Get Mighty Boring....

Which I suppose, all told, is a good thing. I say this because so far chemo has been pretty uneventful. Here, take a look at my symptoms:

Day 1 & 2
- trouble swallowing
- a LOT of hiccups
- a teensy bit of nausea and fatigue

Day 3 & 4
- less of the first two above
- more nausea and fatigue
- weird, dry eyes

Day 5 - 7
- I cannot stay awake for more than 3 hours at a time. I have 3 hour naps and then 3 hours later, I go to bed for 11 hours.

Day 8
A miracle! I am awake for 15 hours in a row. I have a shower! We leave the house! I buy a fake head to store my new wig on for 10 bucks! I show my mom the dog cafe and have a cafe latte! I eat spicy food (which initially I thought was a HUGE mistake but then turns out to be okay - thank you McDonald's Sundae and latish night walk)!

I don't know if it is the fact that the chemo must mostly be out of my system by now, or the fact that I am finally off the insane number of pills I am required to take after chemo but I feel almost normal again. I wasn't able to complete the week at work - it was just way too much - but they are open to being flexible which I deeply appreciate. Any way you look at it, chemo week 1 has been a success. Hurrah! Now only 11 more to go. Le sigh.

In other crappy, crappy news, we've had to give Hogan up, at least for now and probably forever. Once we got him home and after the initial honeymoon phase where he didn't freak out every time we left the house, we discovered his SEVERE separation anxiety. It escalated over the week but it all culminated in him breaking into our kitchen and eating enough chocolate to kill himself. We got to him in time and rushed him to the vet, so he lived. But even they commented on how they were unable to leave him in a recovery room by himself. When we went back that night to see him he was in the reception room on an IV as they couldn't leave him alone. Because we are not in a position to have a dog that we can't ever leave alone, and because we have a house that despite our best attempts to puppy proof he is still managing to break into rooms he shouldn't, we've opted to send him to boarding kennel where a guy will work with him for a month. We're looking for a new home for him and at the same time, hoping this guy can help get the anxiety under control. So, if anyone out there wants an amazing companion (we think he is a Belgian Malinois from a working line, so do your research before you commit - these dogs, while intelligent and amazing, are an insane amount of work. Had we been told this prior to fostering him we wouldn't have brought him home.) please let us know. He really is sweet, just extremely co-dependent. Like, more co-dependent than me and that is saying something.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Chemo Cut

Well folks, I took the plunge. Last night mom and I ventured out to Hongdae to surrender my 2 feet of hair. Okay, I'm not exactly sure that it was 2 feet but 18 inches at least. Here is the result, in the salon:

You will probably notice that I look tired. That is because I am tired. For those of you thinking of undertaking a course of chemo as say, an alternative to shaving your legs, let me advise against it. It won't kill you, but it isn't what I would call a "fun time". Although I am admittedly in the midst of a pity party, mostly to due to the fact that I'm not looking forward to feeling sick for the next 3 months, it isn't actually the worst thing ever. It is doable. I hope to NEVER, EVER do this again, but it is doable.

Anyway, all that whining aside, here is a pic from today. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to style this myself because I'm not sure I've ever had hair this short (except when I was 2 or whatever, and then didn't care what I looked like) but as you can see, I was successful!

So far I like it. It feels pretty crazy to run your hands through an inch or two of hair when there used to be many, many more but drying it this morning was a snap. I can only assume that being bald is going to be the weirdest thing ever. I will say this though, I've never been so zen getting a short hair cut. It really didn't matter if it was the worst cut ever because this hair will likely only be around for a month.

So there you have it, step 1 on the road to baldness. In another 7 days I should really start to notice the hair coming out and then, maybe, just maybe, some pics will follow.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Peeing Red

Well, chemo 1 is down. Only 3 to go. So far, it hasn't been the worst thing I've ever done but to say I want to do it again is a bit of an overstatement. In truth these declarations about feeling okay are probably a bit premature. It hasn't even been 24 hours since I got the big injections. Anyway, let's not dwell on what might be, let's talk about what was.

We arrived at the hospital and met with my Oncologist again. She went over all the symptoms, again. And then we were taken over to the cancer centre. My mother commented that the main building of the hospital looked like a fancy mall. She is right - it is a rather beautiful building. I appreciate that because I just feel sicker and more scared when I am in the cancer centre - a much older building that isn't so light and pretty.

At the cancer centre we met with a pharmacologist who explained all of the drugs I am taking in addition to the 2 types of chemo and 3 other injections I got. I believe (but the count could be wrong) that I am taking an additional 29 pills a day. Mostly they are to manage side effects or to help keep my imune system strong. Later, as the nurse was giving one injection she held it up and said "this one to help with nausea. It might cause burning anus." Well great! Please give me two of that one.

After the pharmacologist we met with a nutritionist. This meeting was less helpful but I suppose it is good to know. Lots of water, no booze, protein at every meal. I asked how many grams of protein a meal and she said "100g." I lost my mind. I can't eat that much protein - that's practically a whole chicken every meal. Luckily it was a translation error and I need to eat the equivalent of 100g of meat a meal. This I can manage.

And then...DUN DA DUN DUN DUNNNNN.. chemo. Here's a pic of the process...

I'm kidding. It actually looked more like this:

First they took my vitals and then they mixed my drugs. That took about 30 minutes. Once they were ready we were taken into a room to get an IV started. This is when I started to cry. It isn't even about being afraid of pain it is just knowing that I have potentially 3 months of utter shit ahead of me and it all starts with this IV. The nurse was very nice and said it was very common, so my dignity remains somewhat intact. I had 9 syringes of "stuff". It started with 2 IV anti-nausea drugs followed by 7 that were chemo related. I'm on A/C chemo which correlates to very fancy names I can't remember; 3 were the "A" drug which is the very toxic stuff (it's the bright red stuff and it turns your pee, sweat and tears red for few days) and 4 were the "C" stuff. Not really toxic but supports the A. Finally I got a saline flush. This whole process took about 10 minutes. It was an extremely unpleasant 10 minutes but I think that was mostly because I didn't want to do it and not because it was that bad.

I guess depending on how the next three weeks go I can either start dreading the next one, or try and get myself more zen about the whole thing. Either way, it's happening and I will get through it. As some wise person once said "this too shall pass." It has always been my mantra for dealing with crappy stuff but it's become even more important of late.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chemo Eve

Twas the night before chemo and all through the house....yep, tomorrow is the big day. In fact, tomorrow is probably the first day I will actually start feeling sick. Although surgery wasn't fun, I didn't feel sick really, just sore. I think tomorrow will be the day that "shit gets real".

Recently I've been having what I like to call a cancer vacation. I was able to go to Cat's wedding, I got a new dog, my boob is healing up and I've been able to go the gym a few times. Mostly life has gone back to normal. I'm not even obsessing about myself all that much these days. For now, cancer is really easy to ignore. It has been nice forgetting all about Ethel. I can look in the mirror and see the same person I've seen all along.

Tomorrow is the day I start to change. I'll probably feel crappy (but hopefully not too crappy) and I'll probably look crappy too. Before long I won't be able to hide the fact that I am sick. I think about that a lot. Right now the only people who know I have/had cancer are the ones I choose to tell. Someday, in the not too distant future, people will be able to look at me and know that something is wrong. They'll probably even be able to guess cancer. It isn't like I don't want people to know (I can hardly keep myself from telling people actually), but I like that people can forget I'm sick because I don't look sick. Technically, I'm not really even sick, Ethel is gone. All the crap ahead of me is meant to make sure she stays gone. Think of it as a very, very invasive home defence system. But either way, technicality or not, I'm about to look and feel like someone who has a serious illness.

The real blessing this past week has been getting a dog. He was living in terrible conditions in a shelter, he's way too skinny and he needs a lot of love. Having something else in the house, someone in worse condition than me, has been so helpful. It is hard to feel sad for yourself when you have a furry friend who isn't pouting at all even though he's had a rough life. I've been so busy trying to get him settled I haven't had time to worry about chemo tomorrow. And hopefully I don't have anything to worry about anyway.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Want to Know the Best Part About Cancer?

Your husband FINALLY lets you get a dog!

Meet Hogan, our Korean rescue dog. Isn't he handsome? We think he is a Shepard-Lab cross (with probably some other stuff in there) but so far he is a pure-bred gentleman.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Adventures in Oncology

We met with the surgeon Tuesday morning and he gave me the okay to begin the next steps for treatment. He also set up a meeting with my oncologist. I appear to be a bit of borderline case when it comes to my treatment strategy. If I were 45 with this diagnosis, chemo would not be considered necessary. However, since I am only 30 the international medical community has not made up their collective minds about what should be done for me. Unfortunately for me, getting breast cancer younger is not better.

We met with the oncologist on Friday and she went over all my options. In the end, she said it was my choice but that if it was her she would take chemo. I love it when doctors give you the "if it was me" option because not all of them do and, frankly, that is what I really want to know: If you were in my shoes, with my diagnosis, what would you do? We had already been leaning toward chemo anyway - I don't want to ever look back at this time and feel that I did not do everything I could have to prevent a reoccurrence. While chemo can't guarantee I won't have a reoccurrence it is estimated that it reduces your risk by about 30 percent. Meaning if I had a 100% chance of reoccurrence without any treatment (which I don't, by the way) receiving chemo would make my risk about 70%. From what I can gather, if I take all the treatment they can offer my risk of reoccurrence is about 10%. 10% is more than I would like, obviously, but in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty darn good.

Apparently chemo here only takes about 10 minutes - at least for the actual administration of the drug. There will probably be other things I have to do and it will take longer. The Doc asked if I wanted to start directly after our consult but I told her I was completely emotionally unprepared - who has a consultation and starts chemo the same day!?! No one! Plus, I told her my mother would kill me if I went ahead and got chemo before she could get here. So mom is flying in Thursday and I'm going for round 1 of 4 on Friday.

So what does chemo mean for me. Who knows! There is a good chance I will go through this feeling pretty good. The only 100% certainty is this: I will be bald. That is going to be insane. I will try to post pictures. I say "try" because while I feel pretty zen about this bald nonsense now, I still have my hair. Once it is is gone I may be less cool with the idea of parading my bald self all around the internets. I don't think it will be an issue, but you never know.

However, the silver lining of this (do I use that term too much?); think of all the Halloween costumes! I can go as Powder, Dr. Evil, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Boris Yeltzin! Our personal favourite/front runner is rather simple but, in my honest opinion, hilarious: I'm going to go as Paul, and he is going to go as me. I think this one might make people uncomfortable but frankly it makes me laugh like crazy and that is the important part. The only potential problem is that the Oncologist we met with seemed to suggest that hair loss might not get really going until after my second round of chemo and that is scheduled for November 3rd. Oh well, I'll do what I can.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fighting Cancer

I must confess, I left off my last blog post on a somewhat disingenuous sentiment. I don't really believe in this notion of fighting cancer or, as I said, "kicking cancer's ass". While I was waiting for my diagnosis, Jack Layton died. He died of cancer. One of the articles in the Globe and Mail following his death took on this very subject. The article highlighted this discourse - Jack didn't die of cancer because he didn't "fight hard enough", he didn't "lose a battle". He got sick and the medical treatments we have today didn't work for him. And that sucks. But the article really resonated with me.

I have never wanted to use the discourse of "fighting cancer" because I don't understand how I fight this disease. I have no idea how to personally fight cancer. I don't think anyone does. That doesn't mean I have given up but it does mean that a lot of what is going to happen to me in the next few months and years is really out of my hands. All told, that is probably a good thing - I don't have a clue what I am doing whereas my doctors and nurses deal with this sort of thing all the time. I'm perfectly willing to admit I'm no expert when it comes to cancer.

The truth is, I got lucky. And because I got lucky there is an extremely good chance I will survive and live a long and happy cancer-free life. It is also true that if I had not found this lump for another 3 or 4 or 8 years, this probably would not have been the story. No matter what, my approach would not have changed. I would have been the best patient possible, I would have done the most aggressive treatment possible and followed my doctor's orders to the letter. I would have done everything I could have to "fight", so to speak, but the outcomes likely would have been different.

This notion of fighting cancer places a lot of pressure on cancer patients. We don't want to let people down and we certainly don't want to die, but the reality is, sometimes what we want isn't what happens. When people talk about cancer using these notions of fighting and winning or losing, it can inadvertently suggest that there is something more that someone could have done to change their outcome. In one sense I suppose that might be true - I am not kidding when I say I'm going to be the best patient possible. I'll suck it up and go to every chemo and radiation appointment and take every tamoxifen pill, complaining as little as possible. I'll take every test and drug that I am asked to take. I'll continue to work out and eat well. But that is about the extent of my control. That is about the extent of any cancer patient's control.

We don't fight; we endure.

Now I know some of you are probably worrying because you have said stuff to me about fighting cancer and kicking cancer's ass. Stop worrying right this second. I said stop! Saying those things doesn't upset me or offend me or anything. I appreciate that you think of me at all and that you want the best for me. And let's face it, what the hell are you supposed to say to someone who tells you they have cancer? You want to be a cheerleader and let that person know that you think they can survive. The fighting discourse is one that people use all the time. The Canadian Cancer Society uses it. People with cancer use it all the time. So don't feel bad. I just wanted to get back on my soapbox and talk about this thing I have been thinking about. Plus, I felt guilty for breaking my own rule of not using that language (it is just so pervasive!) and needed to tell you all about it.