Sunday, 18 December 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose.

 I know it's been a while... What can I say? I've been busy with things I'd rather not be busy with...

For Christmas, I'd like you all to know me better. This is my favourite TVshow of all time. Please watch. It's worth your time...

Give all of us gathered here tonight
The strength to remember that life is so very fragile.
We're all vulnerable.
And we will all, at some point in our lives, fall.
We will all fall.
We must carry this in our hearts,
That what we have is special.
That it can be taken from us.
And when it is taken from us,
We will be tested.
We will be tested to our very souls.
We will now all be tested.
It is these times, 
It this pain,
That allows us to look inside ourselves.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

Much love,

Friday, 30 September 2011

Weekend Update

This weekend update does not come to you by Tina Fey. I wish.

It's three and a half weeks after my last chemo session and I'm finally feeling myself again. Like really myself again. The myself from before I knew I ever had cancer. I don't feel like I'm having "good days and bad days", but that I just feel like me again. Really, towards the end of chemo "good days" were more like "well, I'm not curled up in bed days, so that's a plus". It's awesome to have all this energy back. And just in time too. Lyla learned to walk about a week ago or so and I haven't been able to sit down since. I'm loving every second of it.

The reason for my delay in blogging is two fold: One, that last round of side effects was a doozy. I know I said I was all happy to be done 6+ months of chemo in 4, until it felt like, wow, I just got pounded with 6+ months of chemo in 4. The second reason is that I've started to repel technology. Sometime in the last few weeks our house computer's hard drive crashed, the monitor on my work lap top stopped working, and my blackberry won't send emails. Corey's off today for his annual chefs-at-large-in-the-woods weekend so I have the run of his lap top for a few days. It feels great to be plugged back in, but man do I have a lot to catch up on, and not much time to do it in.

This Sunday is the Run for the Cure! This will be my first run since I used to do the Sun Run in elementary school. Remember when you were young and just had so much energy that you didn't need to train for a 10K run?? Now I'm most likely going to be walking this little 5K number... how the mighty have fallen. Thanks to everyone for your support of Team Smashlyn. I'm especially thankful to my sister-in-law Jeannie and her friend Jodie who organized the whole thing, as well as to everyone who donated to our team. We were close to $3000 last time I checked. I am sincerely touched by it all.

After the run, it's sayonara to the sisters. Tuesday October 4th is my surgery date. I'll be the first surgery of the day, so hopefully I'll only be in hospital for one night. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about the upcoming surgery. I think I may have floated back into a bit of denial because it all seems surreal now. When I was diagnosed and they told me I had to wait for surgery, I was thinking, "ARE YOU CRAZY??? CUT IT OUT RIGHT NOW!!!" But I've been feeling so good these days that if it wasn't for the bald head, sparse eyebrows and the whopping 12 eyelashes I have left, I'd be able to forget I have cancer. I'm also somewhat feeling irrationally guilty over Righty. She never did anything wrong. Lefty was the traitor. Now they're both going. It somehow seems unfair...

So that's it for now. I just got my t-shirt for the run (i picked a survivor shirt by the way!) and I can't wait to get out there and be part of something so positive for a change. I'll let you know how it goes. Fingers crossed for good weather!

Much love,

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

It's Not Me, It's You!

I've had my last chemo session! Woot! When they told me my cancer was too advanced to wait three weeks between sessions and that I had to have it every two weeks instead, I was freaked out. But really, once I got a few sessions under my belt, I realized that chemo wasn't anything I needed to be afraid of. Don't get me wrong, chemo sucks. It's just not something to fear. It was very obviously working and now that I'm at the finish line, I'm so thankful that my case got me here in just over four months rather than six. I know I still have a few more bad days ahead of me, but frankly I just don't care. I'm finished chemo! Eat it cancer.

Next up: Surgery. I'll be getting a bi-lateral mastectomy and I'm meeting with my plastic surgeon today to discuss reconstruction. I know that getting radiation affects what they'll do in surgery, but I'm not sure to what extent. It'll be great to get those answers because, well, knowing is half the battle (Go Joe!).

I can't begin to tell you all how great these last few weeks have been for me. The love that's getting sent my way for finishing chemo is unreal. I think my Facebook notification broke yesterday from overuse. Well, really the love I've been getting this whole time is ridiculous. For example, my ten year old niece had a $5 and $10 birthday party this year. The idea is you bring a 5 dollar bill for the birthday girl and a 10 dollar bill for a cause of her choice. She chose to give the money to me so I can spend it at the naturopath. Are you crying yet??

I've been sent more cards, letters and books than I know what to do with. There's been countless offers to babysit and just recently another offer to use a friend's cabin for some down time. Someone's also just sent me a subscription to People Magazine and no one's owned up to it! WHO ARE YOU?? I love it! I  love a magazine that I can actually complete the crossword puzzle in pen :) And just yesterday I got the greatest package sent to me from work. Inside were gift certificates, more than 200 donated personal assistant points, a beautiful card, and then a link to a 10 minute video they put together for me full of well wishes. They were from my fellow recruiters, team members I had hired, managers I've worked with, and all of them friends. I had to watch it more than once because I bawled through it the first time (happy tears I promise!) Liking your job and loving the people you work with is like winning the lottery. Who knew cancer could make a girl feel so lucky??

People keep telling me I'm handling this so well. That they love my positivity and strength and so on and so on. But listen here people, it's all because of you! Look at the kind of people I'm surrounded with. It's like the "It's not you, it's me" cliche in reverse. I had myself a nice little Sunday Funday on the Joe Fortes patio this weekend with my best girl friends (Dave, that includes you!) and Lord, did I feel lucky. I live a really good life. There's been some bad times these past few months, but hey, I've been through worse. Not everyone gets a fighting chance. Not everyone is surrounded by the best family, friends and colleagues there are to find. Every time I'm at the cancer agency there are people who are all alone. People without rides, and no one to sit with them. And I know there are people who abandon, or worse yet mistreat people they know with cancer. I can't even fathom a scenario like that because of all of you. You have all been a part of my fight. Please accept my sincerest thanks.

With much love,


Monday, 22 August 2011

Not Just a River in Egypt

Happy Chemo Day!

Today will be treatment #7. Chemo days don't make me anxious anymore. In fact, today I'm looking forward to the nap I'm going to get. That's about all I'm looking forward to though. I was not amongst the happy 50% of people that Gabapentin works for. The joint and bone pain wasn't any worse in severity, just more constant and lasted a full week. I know what I'm in for, and I'm not looking forward to it.

I'll just go ahead and tell you that it's depressing to be in pain for that length of time. By day three of no help from the drugs I was a sorry sap of a human being. I finally felt like I was a sick person. It's a hard feeling to avoid when you're too exhausted to do anything about your appearance and you keep catching glimpses of yourself in mirrors around the house. There were a lot of, "How is this my life?!?!" moments that week. So one night I finally admitted to Corey that I felt like a cancer patient. "Oh honey, no you're not". Uh, ya actually, I am. That was the worst I've felt in a long time. I sat in bed and had a good long cry about it.

Don't worry, I got over myself pretty quickly. Any woman reading this knows how cathartic a good cry can be. Actually one time I felt my friend Susan needed a good cry, but I knew she just wasn't a cry to her friends kind of girl. I also knew she'd never seen Steel Magnolias. So I recommended it as a good chick flick and giggled to myself all night just knowing that it would get her to bawl her little head off. Wow, that sounds cruel doesn't it?? Don't start yelling at me, she loved it! I actually called her halfway through the movie and she answered the phone, "What is WRONG with you???? This is the worst movie EVER!" I couldn't help myself, I was laughing so hard, "But you love it right?" Ya she did. Best cry she'd had in a good long time. You see, Steel Magnolias is to women what Rudy is to men. If you don't tear up when Sally Field has her breakdown post funeral or when Rudy finally rushes out onto the field then I'm pretty sure there's something wrong with you. But I digress.

That little anecdote was just to remind you not to feel sorry for me for having a bad night. I needed it. I needed to get good and emotionally exhausted so I could finally have a solid night's sleep. And I suppose I also needed to come out of the denial phase of this journey. I do have cancer. That nagging little feeling I had that kept telling me I wasn't taking this seriously enough? It knew I was still at least partially in denial and that needed to change.

How could I be this far into my treatment and still be in denial, you ask? Well, the thing about "active chemotherapy" is that it can be a very passive experience. You just sit there and take it. You curl up and take the nausea. You do whatever you can to handle the pain. Plus the doctor's orders to not overdo it on anything diet wise lulled me into this place where I didn't feel like cancer had really changed my life all that much. But I know that it needs to.

I learned a long time ago that denial serves a very real purpose. When you're world gets turned upside down, first shock, then denial that anything has changed, allows you to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. So thanks Denial, it's been a slice, but I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to accept that my life has been forever changed and that I need to make some changes because of that. It's good timing really. With chemo ending soon, I can start making plans. I like making plans. I may not like the plan, but I like making it. I've got about a month before I head to the naturopath. That's probably how long it's going to take me to figure out how I'm going to make adding kale to my smoothies taste good...

Time to head to chemo. Seven down, one to go!

Much love,

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Taxol Effect

6 down, 2 to go!

Yesterday was chemo day. It was the second treatment of the Paclitaxol. It was also Lyla's first birthday. Talk about not exactly what I wanted to be doing yesterday. I'm always the youngest person I see in the chemo wing of the BCCA - although I happen to personally know someone else my age and someone even younger both going through this as well. I wonder if they get the pity stares as well. The pity stares force me to act almost bubbly in the chemo unit. Like I need to demonstrate to these people, hey don't worry about me, I'm fine! Most of the time I am fine. Like I said at the beginning, I've put a lot of faith in that chemo is what works best against my particular kind of cancer. So although I don't necessarily love going, I do feel like I take it in stride... needle-poking, pity stares and all. The only time the stares get to me is when other patients hear that I have a young child at home. They somehow think that it makes me even more pitiable. Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. I don't know how anyone else goes through this without a baby at home. I'm just going to go ahead and be a braggy mom here, but my baby is the best! She's so deliciously cute, is almost always happy, doesn't make strange around new people and is a constant source of laughter for me being the total goof ball that she is. Because of her I don't have the time or the cause to feel sorry for myself. She's my therapy and support group all-in-one. Well, she better be, because she's also the reason I don't have time to go to any of those things, not to mention blogging...
But back to yesterday. I got the biggest pity look of all from my nurse when I told her it was my daughter's birthday. And for the first time I just went ahead and joined her and gave myself a moment to feel good and sorry for myself. Her training kicked in mighty quick though and got me talking about the good stuff, so thankfully my Debbie Downer moment didn't last too long.
So on to the latest news in Ashlyn's cancer journey. The first round of Taxol started off really well. Awesome actually. The main worry about this stuff is having an allergic reaction to it. So before they get started with the chemo, they give me a whopping dose of Dexamethazone (steroids) and then an even bigger dose of Benadryl by IV drip. Thanks to the Benadryl I slept through the entire treatment. All 4 hours of it. That was the best nap I've had in YEARS! Corey kept having to readjust my head because I was so out it and slack jawed that I was snoring up a storm for the rest of the chemo patients to hear. I was way too groggy to feel embarrassed about it when I woke up, so score 1 for the Taxol treatments, this was going to be a cake walk.
Day 2 was great. It was such a relief not to have any nausea. I had been getting really good at recognizing the early signs of nausea from the first four treatments, and got it front of it as they say, but it was awesome not to have to be taking a bunch of pills all day long. Day 3 started off much the same, and summer had finally showed up in Vancouver so I was pretty much in the best mood ever. Chemo-schmemo. I laugh in the face of chemo. Muah ha ha ha. Then having written off the chemo effects in my life, at dinner I legitimately couldn't figure out why it felt like I'd run a marathon. What was up with these shin splints? And why are my knees on FIRE???

Dear chemo gods,

I TAKE IT BACK!! I TAKE IT ALL BACK! I wasn't laughing AT you, I was laughing WITH you. K???
Be nice please. Did I mention I have a baby girl at home? (ya that's right, I'm now using my daughter to induce pity from the heathen chemo gods)

Respectfully yours,

Well, just like most of my letters to cancer, this one fell on deaf ears. I wanted to avoid ever getting too preachy about getting everyone to start living healthier, (for example, eat your greens or you WILL get cancer!!) but I've just had a sneak peak of some serious arthritis and osteoporosis pain. So start taking your calcium people, because honestly that pain is the WORST! My knees took the brunt of the constant intense aches and it felt like the worst shin splints I've ever had. It was like a non-stop game of roulette with the rest off my bones and joints. Spin the wheel, bang! Intense wrist pain. Bang! There goes my toes. Ankles, Hips. Knees, knees, knees, knees, knees. I couldn't get more than an hour of sleep with these intense bone attacks. When the Aleve didn't work, it was off to my narc drawer. Tylenol 3's didn't come close to helping. One oxycodone, nope. Two oxycodone? Still nothing. Two oxycodone plus an oxycontin? Well, at least I fell asleep with that cocktail, but 2 hours later, nope! This went on from Wednesday night through Saturday. By Sunday I was better but seriously considering asking to go back to the first kind of chemo. I'll take the nausea over this.
I had my check up last Thursday and the shrinking has started again, not as drastic as the first round, but some shrinkage nonetheless. Now we're dealing with a mass of about 4.3cmx3.2cm. So there will be no going back to the first stuff. Instead my doc has prescribed something called Gabapentin to take preventatively that helps with the pain in about 50% of chemo patients. I guess I'll just have to take those odds.
So fingers crossed for me please on this one. If the new meds work, I can sail through this, then it's only 2 left and I have an entire month break before I have to have surgery. I can see the light at the end of my chemo tunnel. Thanks again to everyone who have been seeing me through this.

As always, much love,


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Just Keep Swimming

5 down, 3 to go. Lord does it feel good to be on the back 9.

It seems like forever since my last post. A lot has happened in the last 2 weeks, some great, some not so great. Let's start off with the great, shall we? I'm still amazed at how many people are reaching out to me. Every week I'm getting cards in the mail and friends are dropping off books and bath salts. One of our closest friend's mom even invited us up to her cabin for the weekend because she knew we needed a break. It was so thoughtful to offer us a chance to get out of the city. We spent the weekend in the most idyllic setting. This cabin isn't so much a cabin as it is a 4 bedroom house right on a lake. And it's not exactly roughing it when you're traveling with 2 honest to goodness Chefs. Also, our friend's older daughters were with us so we had live in babysitters for Lyla all weekend long. I can honestly say it was the first time I've felt really relaxed since all of this started. I treated myself to some wine and had good long chats with one of my closest girlfriends, hung out in the sun with all the kids, sat in the shade and read my book. It was such a nice break to be outside of the walls that more and more remind me of being sick.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I'd had a rough week news-wise at the cancer agency. First it started with my consultation with my radiation oncologist. He was a perfectly nice man, spent a generous amount of time with me, and answered all of my questions. He was also dire. There's no other way to describe it. It felt like such a long time since I'd met a new doctor who was reviewing my file for the first time. There were too many sad looks, too many sympathetic nods. At one point when we were going over all the side effects he told me that although some are potentially quite serious (another cancer for example) that in my case I simply didn't have a choice. Radiation is "necessary for my survival" were his exact words.

Now I'm not sure if this falls into "Am I not taking this seriously enough?" category, but the term "survival" seemed a bit drastic to me. Was that in question?? And by the way, I didn't need the hard sell. I know there are a lot of people who, for very different reasons, refuse treatments. I'm not one of them. Can someone please update my chart with "Patient believes in modern medicine - no need for scare tactics"?!?! I was still busy absorbing this sentence when we got to the physical exam. More serious eyes and nods. He honed in right on the thing that still worries me the most and reminded me that we're still dealing with something over 5cm and that we're halfway through chemo. So he tells me that he's ordering not 4 weeks of radiation, but 6 and a half weeks instead. That's all the way through December...

Dear Cancer,

Apparently you don't respond well to polite letters. F.U. then.


So needless to say, I was already bummed out when I went back to my medical oncologist the very next day for my regularly scheduled check up. He brought out his fancy measuring device and there was no more shrinkage. He reassured me that's why it was already planned to switch things up. Often times people can plateau on one kind of chemo or another. Ok fine. But could I please plateau with maybe just 1 cm left, not 5?

Don't get me wrong. I know no one's handed me a death sentence or anything. And like I keep telling myself, things could be a lot worse. But I have to say, I was getting used to the good news. I handled the first four rounds of chemo like a champ. I was, and still am, encouraged by how much progress we'd made. Then suddenly, I'm right back at the beginning. Back in the office of a doctor that doesn't know me, and hearing all the information of my case that reminds me that my diagnosis was serious - serious as cancer.

So off I went for my first round of the new cocktail today, feeling nervous yet resigned. The only other woman in the room with me still had all her hair and her shiny new folder stuffed with dozens of pamphlets. It instantly reminded me of that moment you get at work after being in a new job for a while. That conference call when all of a sudden you realize that the balance of experience has shifted. I love it when I go from being the person with all of the questions to the person who can answer them. I looked at this woman who, to her credit, looked like she was taking this all in stride, and felt like saying, "Ask away". Instead I just smiled and wished her luck when she left. She was alone in the room and I didn't want to run the risk of upsetting her. And then, once again, I felt so lucky to have Corey with me. I've felt a lot of things during the last few months. Alone isn't one of them.

So thanks again to everyone for coming on this ride with me. It makes it a lot easier to fight the lows and the bad news when I know I've got so many people in my corner.It's because of all this support that I find the energy to swim upstream. I'm feeling hopeful about the new plateau fighting chemo I've just started. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes.

Much love,


Monday, 11 July 2011

Twas The Night Before Chemo

I never sleep well before Chemo Day. So instead of lying in bed and tossing and turning I thought I would just get up and write about all of the things keeping me awake.

When I was diagnosed I had to compartmentalize in a big way. The things I couldn't deal with at the time got locked away. Today one of the biggest things got unlocked. I spent the day with some of my favourite girl friends. All of them started as work friends but they've all become forever friends. Two of them are in town from Toronto so I hadn't seen them since I started treatment. There's something so comforting about friends that you can just slip into a conversation with like they've never left. They're the people who don't look at you any different because you're sick and you can still get to the important stuff - like admiring Michaela's new purse - out of the way before getting to the cancer talk. To them, I'm still Ash, not Cancer Girl.

We had a great lunch at Sandbar over some great girl talk. At one point in the conversation we start talking about the big C and I mentioned that one of the hardest things I had to face was telling my best friends. Susan, who was there, retold the story of how I told her and our other BFF Alyssa. We were all a crying mess that day and then found ourselves at Cactus Club ordering wine. See? I told you, with good friends, some things not even cancer can change. Anyhow, like I said, telling those two girls was unspeakably hard. I had so much anxiety over it. There was still so much I was unsure of. I was terrified and at the same time didn't want to worry anyone. I was so stressed that I wasn't eating or sleeping. So I compartmentalized. When they asked what they could do to help I asked them to tell the rest of our friends. It was too much for me and I just couldn't go through it over and over again. With that off my plate, I locked away all those worries away and let them deal with it.

I knew it was a lot to ask, but it wasn't until today that I really appreciated it. After Susan retold our story, Michaela talked about having to hear it from Susan. And then how Tiff had to hear it from Michaela. And how everyone cried. Why was I surprised to hear that? It's bad news. Of course my friends were going to be upset. But it genuinely did shock me. And then I realized just how good of a job I'd done at locking those thoughts away. Everything I couldn't bare to put myself through, my friends had to go through anyways. I spent the rest of my afternoon sort of baffled at the realization of just how many people are being affected by this. Don't get me wrong, it's so nice to know that people care, but it's also so hard to know that you are the cause of their worry.

What else have I not been considering? When I started this blog I made the decision to stay positive, update my loved ones here when I had some spare time, and the rest of my focus was going to Lyla. She has been the best distraction for me. There are days where I'm so busy with her that I don't give cancer a second thought. I'm now wondering if that was the right thing to do. Is staying positive enough? Is distracting myself the same thing as ignoring the problem? I've done a little research on diet and complimentary therapies, but I know I've barely scratched the surface. Am I taking this seriously enough? I know I'm just supposed to sit tight and let the chemo do its thing for now, but shouldn't I be doing more?? I know that cancer has changed my life forever. But what have I changed? To be honest, not much.

And now that those floodgates have opened, I find I'm right back in those early days again where I'm frightened and not sure exactly what to do about it. I had my check up on Friday and even though this thing has shrunk to 4.5cm x 5.5cm (that's half!), all I'm thinking about at this very moment, is "shit, that's still huge". This thing started off HUGE. And here I am, all of a sudden actually looking forward to tomorrow's chemo session.

Why does to the urge to spring into action have to come after midnight?? I actually can't help but laugh at myself right now. I don't know how many times I've said "Diet starts on Monday", but this time I swear I mean it! See ya later sugar. Beating cancer is a way better motivator than wanting to squeeze into an old pair of jeans, so I'm feeling pretty good about getting things started tomorrow. And yoga too! I'm starting yoga (again). Hold me to it people. Peer pressure me on facebook. I thrive on encouragement. You've all asked how you can help. That's how. Bring on the healthy living advice!

And to the first people who asked how they could help, let me take this moment to thank you. Thank you so much to my girls who were given the job of having to spread this crappy news. Thank you so much to all my friends that didn't take it personally when I just couldn't deal with calling you all personally to deliver this crappy news. And thank you so much to everyone who continues to understand that it takes me forever to return a phone call or email.

Ah. I already feel better having that off my chest and a rough plan in place. I know that No Sugar/Do Yoga may not seem like much, but hey it's a start. Wish me luck.

Much love,

Friday, 1 July 2011

No Strongbow, eh?

Happy Canada Day! Wouldn't it be nice if I could start every blog with a "Happy Somethingorother"? We'll see...

Well I've made it to the end of the week of round 3 and, again, it wasn't so totally heinous. The anti-nausea pills seems to work really well for me so I'm grateful for that. I've had lots of help from friends and family this week too, which made managing the days with Lyla much easier. And I no longer think twice about taking the sleeping pills during chemo week. The steroids they put me on make my body too hyper to sleep otherwise. It's a strange feeling wanting to curl up under the fog of nausea pills but not be able to stop flailing your arms and legs in bed. Corey must feel like he's sleeping next to a spastic chicken by now. With the weekend here now though, I can tell things are settling down. Or maybe I'm just getting the hang of this chemo business. Either way, I'm happy to say today is a good day.  

My big complaint (and why have a blog if you can't complain on it, right??) is about food. My taste buds have gone all wonky. I thought maybe there was something wrong with my appetite. Turns out, not so much. The problem is nothing tastes right! Sourdough toast (which was my pregnancy life saver) tastes like cardboard. My tea tastes extra bitter. Even cheese is off. Oh dairy! Is this the end of our love affair? The cancer agency told me not to eat my favourite foods because I'd start to associate them with chemo. Ummmm, that's a problem because I. Love. Food. Period. We're about to head out to the Village Taphouse in Park Royal for lunch and I'm already stressing because I don't know what food I'm about to ruin for myself forever. And whatever food that is I'd like to wash it down with a Strongbow. But I can't. I can't run the risk of tainting my favourite drink on top of this all. Hmmm I feel another letter coming on...

Dear Strongbow,

You've most likely noticed an unexplained decrease in sales in the North Burnaby area in recent months. Please accept my appologies. It's just for a little while. We've been through these tough times before when I was waiting on Lyla. You know I'll be back. Not even cancer can keep us apart for too long. In the meantime, please start being sold in Hawaii so I can enjoy you there on my family trip in the New Year.


I suppose I should just count my blessings. A little food aversion isn't the end of the world. And it's not as though I'll give up. You know I'll find something to eat. Most likely potatoes. Mmmmm potatoes. Ya that should do it.

Much love,

Monday, 27 June 2011

Simple Plans

Happy Chemo Day!

Three down, five to go. I can't help but feel like I'm in for it this time. I know there's no point worrying about it but I'm past the point of thinking the side effects won't get to me. The metallic taste in my mouth has set up camp and my eye lashes are starting to go. I still have my nails though so I guess that's a bonus. Today's chemo was #3 out of 4 sessions where they give me two separate drugs. The first has to be manually administered by a nurse because it's so toxic that they need to be able to pull it out right away if there's any leakage out of my veins. Joy. That's the one I get nervous about. It doesn't help that it comes in these giant evil syringes full of red hate. The rest of the chemo is given through a regular IV drip and the whole appointment only lasts about an hour or so. My last four treatments will be with a different set of meds and I'll be stuck in the chair for up to 4 hours. Although it sucks either way I'm sort of glad there's only 4 of each. It somehow seems more manageable to break it up that way. So that's the plan. Every second Monday I'll be in chemo until the fall.

It all seemed so simple on my first visit to the BCCA. Chemo till September, then recover. Surgery and reconstruction, then recover. Radiation for a month, then recover. Done. I felt so good about the plan, that I didn't bother to ask my oncologist how he felt about my odds. However the further along I go, I realize that things aren't necessarily that easy. It's not just grin and bear it and then it's over. There's the assess. "Let's wait and see". I want a prognosis but they won't give me one. It's too soon to tell. "We'll have to assess you at a later date". I've realized that this is all because of the curve balls cancer can throw your way. Chemo may kill the cancer but it might also leave me infertile and in early menopause. It might also give me another cancer. Pardon?? Surgery and reconstruction can't necessarily be done together. But that's what they said to me on my first appointment! "Well, the radiation will burn and shrink the skin and that may change things". Sorry did you say burn? So, I guess I can give up on this dream of being done with this nonesense by the end of the year.

This is the part I'm struggling with. I'm a planner. I like a nice orderly world. I'm fully onboard with visualizing my life without cancer. I had been aiming for the New Year. I don't like being told, "Well, let's just see how it goes". Listen here doc. I have plans. I'm going to Hawaii in February with my entire family and I'd don't plan on stuffing my bikini with tissue paper so work with me here, OK? I pride myself on being a model patient, so now I just need things to go according to plan. Enough with the medical drama. I've accepted that I have cancer. All I want now is for my treatment to be uncomplicated. No curve balls please. When I was pregnant, I put in an order for a 7 hour delivery. It seemed reasonable. Lyla made it here in 6 hours and 45 minutes. Just sayin'. So...

Dear Cancer,
I have a family trip planned. I feel like I've given you plenty of attention and I'm being a good little patient so I'm putting in my order for an uncomplicated healing process. I'd like to be in remission by 2012. If you want to go ahead and bump up that time line as a Christmas present to me, I accept.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Much love,

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Round Two: Blessedly Uneventful

Two down, six to go. I had my second round of chemo last Monday and I made it through the week relatively unscathed. I had a few hard nights of insomnia at the beginning but got that under control with some new drugs. The nausea wasn't nearly as bad this time either. As for the fatigue, it was totally manageable. Let's face it, I have a 10 month old at home, I'm tired all the time anyway.

The hardest time I've had this week was actually dealing with the anticipation. I kept waiting for things to get bad. And then when it was clear that I wasn't taking a turn for the worst, I started questioning that. "Does this mean it's not working?" When things were bad after the first round I would tell myself, "Ok, this is just for a little while. You feel like this because it's working. It's worth it." I know I should just probably just be thankful for having a good round and be done with it. But instead I'm feeling myself up everyday to see if I can notice any more changes. I can't. So I'm resigning myself to the fact that not every round of chemo will be dramatic, and that slow and steady may have to win this race.

In other news, my hair is just about gone. Corey shaved what was left of it with some clippers I had bought him for Christmas. He left the #2 guard on it so I still have a sparse and spiky layer all over my head. And what's left is red. I'm talking RED. Not auburn. RED. I'm a stubborn redhead after all. Who knew?? All three of my brothers are probably uttering, "I did". So now when I leave the house I've always got my wig on. The first few ventures out I was sure everyone could tell and spent all my time avoiding eye contact. After the weekend though, my sister-in-law trimmed the bangs and made a few other snips and now I feel MUCH better about it. Thanks again Jeannie! I don't know what I'd do without you...

Speaking of my family, they truly deserve the credit for keeping me sane. I don't have enough words to express my gratitude for all my parents' support and advice. My mum is a two time cancer survivor and even though this is her worst nightmare she has remained as positive as they come. As a doctor, my dad is on double duty.  Firstly, listening to his only girl's fears as any dad would, and then secondly, having to act as a teacher to me and my brothers. I've spent most of my life bragging about my big brothers and how they'd protect me from anything. This has been no exception. And the word "sister-in-law" somehow diminishes my relationship with those women. They are my family in every way that matters, in-law, shminlaw. And of course there's my in-laws. Corey's sister, although I don't see her often, I know would come down here and sucker punch cancer in the face if she could. I'm pretty sure Corey's dad and his wife are on track to cure all cancer with the amount of positive vibes and love they are focusing my way. And lastly Corey's mom remains the most positive and inspirational example to me of how to handle this disease with grace and a sense of humour. With all this love I'm having a hard time staying a Debbie Downer...

I know it took me a while to get this post up. Mostly it was because I felt this round was uneventful. But the other reason was that I plain old didn't have anything positive to say. I thought about getting on here and having a good ol' fashioned rant, but decided I didn't want to give my wah-wah-wah attitude any more power. So I waited until the funk passed. Obviously it has passed. At the moment I'm feeling good. Blessed even. Thank you all again for the continued love and support. As you can see, it does get through to me.

Much love,

Friday, 10 June 2011

Becoming Superhuman

"Auntie Ashlyn, what's wrong with your hair?", my nephew said to me yesterday.

"Do you mean, why did I cut it short and sorta look like your dad now?"

"YEAH!!! Why'd you do that??"

"Because I'm going to lose it all anyways buddy."


"Because that's how I'm going to become superhuman."

"Hey! I'm superhuman!! I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow and Auntie Jeannie's gonna give me chocolate!!"

Sounds like a plan my sweet nephew. Somebody better be waiting for me with chocolate when my hair falls out.

Well it looks like I won't have to wait too long for that chocolate... Since writing the above, it has started.

I was warming up Lyla's last bottle before bed and doing a little cleaning in the kitchen when I glanced down and noticed it. All over the kitchen floor were strands of my hair. It was strange at first because I'm used to seeing my really long hair all over the place. But this was my new short hair. I started looking around the apartment and it was everywhere. My hand bolted to my head and came back with 7 or 8 strands sticking in between my fingers. Then I did it again. And again. More and more hair each time. I couldn't help myself and started to cry.

BUT, the universe clearly didn't want me to be sad because I swear before the first tear hit my cheek Lapierre scored! GO CANUCKS GO!!! Even Lyla picked up on the excitement and started her weird little baby dancing. No one could ever cry watching Lyla's dance moves. No one. Meltdown successfully averted.

Back to the point... I saw my nephew yesterday because my savior of a sister-in-law was babysitting Lyla, yet again, for another "teaching session" at the Cancer Agency. The class: Stabbing Oneself With A Needle 101. Like a number of my 100 level courses, I should have skipped it. Here's how it went:

Nurse: "Ahhhhh, we don't actually have any of the needles you're going to be using here because they aren't government funded."

Me: "Uh ok, then what should we do here?"

Nurse: "Well I have this other practice needle with saline that's similar but I don't want to open it because it's our last one."

Me: "Alrighty then, what should we do here?"

Nurse: "Well when you open the box for your syringe at home there will be some written instructions.Read those."

Dear Cancer,
What a waste of my time. I can't believe I drove into Vancouver for this.You owe me $4.50 for the parking meter.
Love, Ash.

Now I should mention that this experience was not the norm. Everyone at the BCCA, including that nurse, has been kind, compassionate and has given me all the time and attention I've needed. And I did get a pretty good laugh out of the experience. You see, the reason you need a teaching session to poke yourself with these needles is because there's an odd plastic mechanism around the needle that you have to engage properly so you don't accidentally poke yourself a second time. Just let that sink in for a second. If necessity is the mother of all invention, just how many people were running around jamming their needles into themselves a second time before the drug companies had to create this mechanism?? Who were these people?? They owe me $4.50.

Onto the positive part of this story. I have good news! I had my first check up today since starting chemo and it's already working. The 3cm node under my arm has shrunk to the point where we can't even feel it. That 11cm spread is now down to 9.5cm. My CT results are back and all's clear. And see ya later pain killers, I don't need you anymore. I can lift my left arm above my head again. That may not sound like a big deal, but I like to sleep with both arms above my head and now I can. That needle I have to inject myself with? It's full of some magic drug and causes me to produce extra white blood cells so I stay superhuman healthy. It worked too! My white cell count was excellent and I've got the green light from my doc to go to my friend's party tomorrow night. Happy Birthday JB!!

So regardless of the hair situation, things are looking up. It's not as though I didn't know it would happen. And if that's the price I pay to make my body superhuman and kick some cancer ass then so be it. By my count the score is: Ashlyn = 1, Cancer = 0. Just like tonight's game, the better team won :)

Much love,

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Up to now

Let me just start by saying that I'm no writer. The thought of a blog has always terrified me because looking back on past samples of my writing usually makes me cringe...(think 9th grade English class "deep thoughts" journal)
Ok, deep breath, here we go...

Three weeks ago I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer. The long of the short of it is that I had been experiencing problems in the breast feeding arena for months and finally decided to wean. Then came the lump we all thought was a blocked milk duct. The ultrasound and mammogram came back clear but by the time we got those misleading results it was obvious that something was wrong. "But cancer doesn't hurt", I told myself and my friends and anyone else I was trying to convince. "And something this big would have been obvious on a mammogram", I reasoned. "Not so", said the specialist that day.

I was alone in his office having convinced myself that I was overreacting and Corey should just stay home with Lyla because it was all going to be ok. He told me he was positive there "was a malignancy there" but we still needed a diagnosis so off for the MRI and biopsies I went. Everything was rushed. Strings were pulled and favours were called in. All forms were marked urgent.

And so began the worst week of my life. I went from being in total denial, to very angry, to so unspeakably sad. What would Lyla and Corey do without me? At this time only family knew. We didn't want to worry any of our friends until we actually had some concrete information to share. But after a very tearful phone call to my biggest brother I realized how helpful it was to talk it through. And so we slowly started to tell our friends and asked them to spread the news because truly nothing has been more difficult then uttering the damn C word. And as people began to find out I began to hear survivor story after survivor story. I tell you, nothing makes me feel better than cancer survivor stories these days. Now filled with considerably more hope, I was ready for the news.

Less than a week later it was confirmed that I had triple negative breast cancer. Don't Google that if you don't want to be freaked out. Those were actually the words my oncologist said to me. Yes it's large (11cm across - too big to operate on right now), yes it's aggressive, yes it's spread to several of my lymphs nodes. We're still waiting on the final scans to come back that will rule out metastasis, so until then I'm at stage 3. And that completes the bad news portion of this entry.

The good news is that this tripple negative cancer responds particularly well to chemo. You have no idea how precious that sentence is to me. As soon as I heard it I felt better. I can do chemo. I've seen that Julia Roberts movie where she took care of that cancer patient. I know it's not that bad anymore. Bring on the chemo!

Bring it on they did. There is a normal 6 week wait to get on the chemotherapy treatment schedule. I was on it within 6 days. I'm grateful that it happened too quickly for me to really appreciate how scared I was. My first treatment was 10 days ago and I'm definitely on the "good days" portion of my cycle. There was nausea but the fatigue was worse. And for the first time in my life I didn't have an appetite. Not exactly how I planned on losing those last few baby pounds, but hey, I'll take it.

The worst part for me though was actually the guilt. Guilt over being too sick to go to my baby when she was giving my husband a hard time. Letting others take over Lyla-care has been the biggest adjustment. But having gone through my "bad days" it's become a black and white issue. I'll need the help. I am truly and deeply thankful to have the family I do. I have my pick of sitters and a rock star husband that takes over the house the minute he steps in the door from work.

And now for the sappy portion of this entry... I'm so so grateful for my family and friends. I have a ridiculously blessed life. My biggest problem these days is trying to get back to all the people reaching out to me. Please know that I am getting all the messages and that they all mean so much to me. I'm saving them all and I've been re-reading them when I've been down. I've got a lot to fight for. And I do intend to fight. If you want to hear more about my fight, come back here.

With much love,