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,