Other
Thursday
Aug032017

Ten Years....and I've Graduated!!

On this day, ten years ago and in the early morning hours, at sunrise, I was wheeled into the operating room at Sacre Coeur Hospital, in Montreal, for the biggest operation of my life. At the tender age of 45, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I decided, with my doctors, to undergo a double mastectomy. After ten and a half hours in the operating room, and more time in recovery, I was finally brought down to my room; just as the sun was setting. An entire day was lost in the arms of Morpheus, as the teams of doctors removed the cancer from my body and rebuilt my breasts. And during that hot and humid summer night, with the only sound in my room being the contracting of the pressure boots on my legs, I seriously didn't know if I would survive the night.

Ten years later, on a hot summer day; alone at my desk in the office, I tenderly picked up the phone to return a call from my oncologist. I knew he had been to the hospital tumour board with my case the week before. There he had planned to present my case to the various medical professionals on the board, and together they would determine the next steps in my treatment. When my doctor finally got on the line, we exchanged pleasantries, and then he told me that the board had collectively decided that I did not need to take any more medication, and that I no longer needed to see him. 

I should be jumping up and down for joy and dancing a jig. All at once I am ecstatic and profoundly sad. Almost the same feeling I had when I stopped chemo and was no longer going to the hospital every two weeks. I have been dumped by my oncologist. He has broken up with me! After almost ten years, I may never see him again. With all these years behind me, I also know that this is a normal reaction. Seeing my oncologist every six months was a sort of security blanket, and my nice, comfortable, but worn blanket has just been tugged away from me. 

Once it sinks in, I will be happy, grateful and relieved that I will no longer have as many hours of waiting for my appointment at the hospital. And how fitting that this news came on the very day that my journey to recovery started, ten years ago. A journey that involved the love and support of my family and friends. One that, I hope, showed my daughters that whatever knocks you down, you should get right up and move on. A journey that made all of us realize what is important in life. One that made the bond of love for my babies, who were between the ages of seven and thirteen back then, so strong.  I'm so proud at how they handled it all. The world sure does work in mysterious ways. It's time for a celebration!

Tuesday
May232017

Do You Remember?

Many of us are parents. While our children were young, some of us may have put a lot of thought into organizing a really good surprise for them. There is nothing more magical than this; both for the parents and the children who are surprised. In my case it was my two older daughters, who were HUGE Hilary Duff fans. They listened to her music and watched her TV show religiously. I used to get that warm feeling inside just watching them enjoy the show, and associate it with some of their own childhood experiences. It was the age of innocence. They were pre-teens, who looked at everything with the giddy, colourful wonderment of life. The last bastion of childhood before the teen years kick in.
And wonder of wonders, Hillary Duff planned a concert tour, and Montreal was on her schedule! My plans for a big surprise had hatched. Both daughters were swimming for the Pointe-Claire swim team at the time, and were training five days per week. That was my only means to get them out of the house on the day of the concert. Their younger sister was too young for concerts at the time. Needless to say, my girls were not impressed that they had “an additional” swim practice that week, but reluctantly got in the car for the ride to the pool. I had purchased some Hilary Duff t-shirts and had placed them in gift bags. While we we in the car, I gave them the bags, claiming I had a surprise for them and they had to guess what it was. They were excited to get the t-shirts, and actually thought that was the surprise. Imagine their faces when they were told they weren't going to swim practice, but going to the Hilary Duff concert instead.
While this is a very long lead into what I have to say, it's important to get into the mindset of the parents who were attending the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester last night. They too may have planned a big surprise for their pre-teen or teen children. Many parents would have attended themselves, either to live the excitement with their children, or to accompany a child that may have been too young to attend the show with a friend. Either way, I bet it was as delightful for the parents as it was for their kids. Imagine the horror, after such a breathtaking night, that an explosion, set off by a twenty-three year old man, could steal all that magic away, in a flash, leaving chaos and destruction in its wake. That innocence, only minutes before full of giddiness and wonderment, taken away with shrapnel and the last breath of life.
As they took the suspect away in the ambulance, knapsack in tow and a sadistic smile on his face, one has to wonder why? Why target innocent young people? Why destroy youth; many of whom do not even understand the reasons why this type of atrocity happens? It's cowardly. It's premeditated murder, organized by people just entering adulthood themselves. Youth recruited by a sick and pathetic individual who is so brainwashed with his/her so-called beliefs, that reality has been clouded by the evil fog that has blinded them, and robbed them of common sense and integrity. In its place is an entitled sense of revenge and so-called honour for themselves and their families. Do the terrorists that planned this feel any sense of remorse for their actions?
Probably not. And that is what angers me the most. My empathy for the families that lost loved ones in Manchester runs deep. Parents are robbed of ever checking in on their children before they go to bed, feeling guilty of not being able to protect them, and they will never have the joy of planning a surprise again. There will be no high school graduations, no weddings and no grandchildren. Their lives have been frozen in time, and , for awhile anyways, void of purpose. They will be grieving when they shouldn't be, and will be as full of questions as many of us are today.
It takes a community to raise a child. I still believe this is true, and although I grew up with others informing me when I was doing something wrong, people shy away from this today. We need to open those doors again, and help one another. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing, and who they're hanging around with. They need to have family time; even if it's a quick dinner, where discussions can be had. Government needs to do their part as well; but they can't do it all. They need to call a spade a spade, and call these acts of terrorism. They need to work with other countries and learn from the unfortunate experiences they have witnessed. They need to set an example for our citizens, for others to follow, and for these discussions to start in the home, at school, in places of worship.
It needs to be a collaborative effort. We cannot be afraid. We need to talk, when the anger subsides. We need to have proper security to ensure the safety of our citizens. And the perpetrators need to be punished.

Many of us are parents. While our children were young, some of us may have put a lot of thought into organizing a really good surprise for them. There is nothing more magical than this; both for the parents and the children who are surprised. In my case it was my two older daughters, who were HUGE Hilary Duff fans. They listened to her music and watched her TV show religiously. I used to get that warm feeling inside just watching them enjoy the show, and associate it with some of their own childhood experiences. It was the age of innocence. They were pre-teens, who looked at everything with the giddy, colourful wonderment of life. The last bastion of childhood before the teen years kick in.
And wonder of wonders, Hillary Duff planned a concert tour, and Montreal was on her schedule! My plans for a big surprise had hatched. Both daughters were swimming for the Pointe-Claire swim team at the time, and were training five days per week. That was my only means to get them out of the house on the day of the concert. Their younger sister was too young for concerts at the time. Needless to say, my girls were not impressed that they had “an additional” swim practice that week, but reluctantly got in the car for the ride to the pool. I had purchased some Hilary Duff t-shirts and had placed them in gift bags. While we we in the car, I gave them the bags, claiming I had a surprise for them and they had to guess what it was. They were excited to get the t-shirts, and actually thought that was the surprise. Imagine their faces when they were told they weren't going to swim practice, but going to the Hilary Duff concert instead.
While this is a very long lead into what I have to say, it's important to get into the mindset of the parents who were attending the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester last night. They too may have planned a big surprise for their pre-teen or teen children. Many parents would have attended themselves, either to live the excitement with their children, or to accompany a child that may have been too young to attend the show with a friend. Either way, I bet it was as delightful for the parents as it was for their kids. Imagine the horror, after such a breathtaking night, that an explosion, set off by a twenty-three year old man, could steal all that magic away, in a flash, leaving chaos and destruction in its wake. That innocence, only minutes before full of giddiness and wonderment, taken away with shrapnel and the last breath of life.
As they took the suspect away in the ambulance, knapsack in tow and a sadistic smile on his face, one has to wonder why? Why target innocent young people? Why destroy youth; many of whom do not even understand the reasons why this type of atrocity happens? It's cowardly. It's premeditated murder, organized by people just entering adulthood themselves. Youth recruited by a sick and pathetic individual who is so brainwashed with his/her so-called beliefs, that reality has been clouded by the evil fog that has blinded them, and robbed them of common sense and integrity. In its place is an entitled sense of revenge and so-called honour for themselves and their families. Do the terrorists that planned this feel any sense of remorse for their actions?
Probably not. And that is what angers me the most. My empathy for the families that lost loved ones in Manchester runs deep. Parents are robbed of ever checking in on their children before they go to bed, feeling guilty of not being able to protect them, and they will never have the joy of planning a surprise again. There will be no high school graduations, no weddings and no grandchildren. Their lives have been frozen in time, and , for awhile anyways, void of purpose. They will be grieving when they shouldn't be, and will be as full of questions as many of us are today.
It takes a community to raise a child. I still believe this is true, and although I grew up with others informing me when I was doing something wrong, people shy away from this today. We need to open those doors again, and help one another. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing, and who they're hanging around with. They need to have family time; even if it's a quick dinner, where discussions can be had. Government needs to do their part as well; but they can't do it all. They need to call a spade a spade, and call these acts of terrorism. They need to work with other countries and learn from the unfortunate experiences they have witnessed. They need to set an example for our citizens, for others to follow, and for these discussions to start in the home, at school, in places of worship.
It needs to be a collaborative effort. We cannot be afraid. We need to talk, when the anger subsides. We need to have proper security to ensure the safety of our citizens. And the perpetrators need to be punished.

Friday
Sep022016

When Patient Becomes Caregiver

When I was admitted to the hospital in August 2007, I had a double mastectomy followed by a breast reconstruction in what turned out to be a ten and a half hour operation. I came out of surgery pretty banged up and needing more blood transfusions. My parents and husband were there when I was returned to my hospital room in the early evening.
Over the course of the week that I spent in the hospital, my mother was my principle caregiver. My sister, Susan; herself a nurse, spent much of the early hours with me as well, and my husband did the night shift. I don't know what I would have done without my mother that week, and during the six weeks of recovery she spent with me at home. The gratitude I felt, and still feel for my mother's generous and giving care never fades.
While I was in the hospital, I had a few visitors. One of them was someone named Joyce. I have called Joyce my “political” mother; if only to distinguish between my mom and her. The real truth, is that she has been a mother to me in the thirty years we have known one another; particularly in the past eighteen years, where she did all the “motherly” things like visit me in the hospital when I gave birth to my children, babysit my children, and she even had the upper hand of potty training my youngest daughter. With great success, I may add! Joyce celebrated my girls' accomplishments, went to school concerts (even when my daughter refused to sing) and was there to proudly see my two older daughters off to their high school prom. During the holidays, on the odd occasion when she and her husband, Gordon, were not visiting their own children and grandchildren in Ontario, she would celebrate with my family. There were many candles adorning birthday cakes that were blown out at our table. Many happy memories were made.
Every week, without fail we would have our weekly “caucus” meeting, where we would discuss what we were most passionate about; politics. In fact politics is how we met, when we were both “working” for provincial members of the Quebec National Assembly. I put working in quotations simply because Joyce was not paid, and volunteered her time. For almost four years of Joyce's stellar forty years of volunteering (full time, I may add) we would share an office. We were a force to be reckoned with. God help anyone who refused to renew their membership when Joyce would call. She was relentless and would not stop until she convinced them of our cause. Joyce also volunteered her time for me during the three federal elections in which I was a candidate.
It is now my turn to give selflessly, as Joyce's health took a turn for the worse this summer, and she has been hospitalized for the past six weeks. As fate would have it, I had the time to stay by her side, each day since the end of July, as I am between terms in my job. How perfectly those stars lined up! Spending all those hours at the hospital gave me much insight into the caring professions, and I was fortunate to became friends with many professionals that are certainly in the right line of work.
After spending the first week at the hospital in the emergency ward, Joyce was sent to a room. She would spend the next four weeks in that room where we would see several people come and go from the hospital bed next to her. One of them in particular, named Franca, was an angel to us, as she would always give us progress reports on the type of night Joyce had. Often, when Joyce was sleeping, I would talk to Franca and her sister-in-law about food, recipes and cooking. I'm sure you've guessed by now that Franca is Italian!
When Joyce was sent to a private room, I was somewhat melancholy, as I was not going to be able to chat with my new friend as much. The private room turned out to be a godsend for Joyce; however, being less busy and more peaceful for both the patient and the caregivers.
While in the hospital, I have watched the slow decline of my good friend's health. That sparkle that Joyce always had in her eye is slowly fading. My other mother is slowly dying. It has been a real emotional roller coaster ride this summer; one that I have been fortunate enough to be on. Being one of Joyce's caregivers was a gift and having the opportunity to be there for her; just as she has been there for me, is something I will always be grateful for.
Today Joyce is moving over to a palliative care centre. It's a beautiful place, and I know she will be happy to spend her final hours there. She will have the opportunity to see the outdoors again, and spend time with the ones that she loves. I will take this final trip with her, with gratitude and a heavy heart. Knowing that she has, and will be in good hands. And when I get home, I will try to pick up the pieces of my heart, and hope to put them back together.
I have come full circle, and have a newfound respect for my own mother, as I have now stepped in her caregiver shoes. It takes a lot of love, and this role is only for the special few.

 

Wednesday
Aug032016

Nine Years and Counting

Since 2007, my typical day on August third usually starts the same way.... I am grateful for being alive. This year I am grateful that I have had nine additional years, and counting, to see my three daughters grow and flourish and to spend with my family.

I think back on that day, as I was waiting outside the operating room, waiting to be ushered in to start what would turn out to be a ten and a half hour operation, involving two teams of surgeons. First my oncologist would remove both breasts; one of them full of cancer, and check my sentinel node for cancer cells. As some cells had spread to the sentinel node, he also removed twelve lymph nodes; the conduits through which cancer cells travel to other parts of the body. Once the oncology team was finished, the plastic surgeon took over with his team. He removed tissue from my stomach and pelvic area, reconstructed new breasts; included the intricate vascular system, and reconstructed my belly button.
I checked in to the recovery room in the early evening; having spent all day in the operating room and with both legs equipped with what resembled moon boots that expanded and contracted several times per minute to ensure that I would not develop dangerous blood clots. I also had two drains attached to my pelvic area, and two other drains on each side of my chest. I do not remember being in the recovery room at all. My first conscious recollection, since early morning, was being wheeled into my hot and muggy hospital room; a place I would call “home” for the following week.
That night, I would receive two additional units of blood, and countless injections of pain medication. I can only imagine what my family was going through.
I recovered well over the few days I spent in the hospital; thanks to the fact that I was in good physical shape. I even went for a five kilometre run the day I was admitted to the hospital, as I knew I wouldn't be running for quite some time.
The post operative care at the hospital was a different story. My room was small and illogically located on the maternity floor, was not air conditioned, dirty and had paint peeling off the walls. The nurses would pass by in the morning, and would not be seen again until the new nursing shift was about to start. My mother, who often spent the day at the hospital with me, had to track someone down if I needed help to go to the washroom or required action following my surgeon's prescription. My room was not washed, and the garbage only emptied if someone who was with me asked a hospital official to do it. So much for universal health care in Quebec. Part of the reason this happened was that my operation took place in the middle of the summer, when many regular nurses took vacation time and temporary agency nurses were brought in as back ups. More hospital beds are also closed during the summer months to accommodate holiday time. This should not be an excuse.
Thankfully time replaced my hospital stay with more positive memories and countless feelings of gratitude. This was also a turning point in my life. The time that drew the line in the sand for me between the before and after cancer. There were surgeries prior to this one, and many surgeries following this one. None of them can compare to the one I had on this day.
I was walking my dogs with my parents, who were visiting from out of town this past weekend. We were walking along the road near my house, and passed a gateway where I walked with my mother while I was recovering, and after my doctor permitted me to leave my house. She remembered this spot, as it was exactly half a kilometre from my house. I laughed, as I think of those moments each time I pass that area.
And so as I reflect on the state of things today, I am grateful that August 3, 2007 is getting further away from me. Four years ago, I had a party to celebrate five years cancer free, inviting sixty people, consisting of family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. We had a wonderful time, and I'm sure glad I celebrated that way. Back then I thought of it as an important milestone to be celebrated. Now I realize it's a time where I become a statistic. A time that I am considered “cured”. I still think that these occasions, and any of them before or after are important dates to celebrate; even in a small way. On this day, I will celebrate with my family, and perhaps enjoy a glass, or two, of prosecco. And I will be grateful....always.
Tuesday
Mar152016

A Step Past Self Improvement

I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in Aril 2007; almost nine years ago. In the beginning all my energy was concentrated on organizing surgery, getting medical advice and learning about my new status in life. With events happening so quickly, and decisions that have to be made without the luxury of taking your time, I had a one track mind and tunnel vision. It was a real fight for survival.
The first few months after surgery were similar. Complications, lab results, being informed that there would be more surgery to come, and decisions about chemotherapy all cloud the mind with insistence and stress, and force you to concentrate with the moment and immediate future. There's no time to worry about the past or the future.
And then something happens. You suddenly have some breathing room and can catch your breath. Your mind starts to wander; asking that question you almost screamed in the beginning.....“Why me?!?!”...but looking at it more profoundly. There is no answer at this phase; although there are many suspicions, and if you have the least bit of intuition, you are probably able to as least partially answer your burning question.
Life will coast for awhile after this, and the pent up stress of the year of cancer treatments will take its toll. Fatigue settles in and forces you to rest and let your body recover. But if you're like me, more and more questions are asked and the mind increasingly wanders. At this time I took the opportunity to buy self help books, books of inspiration, and wellness books. Yes! The wellness community had started to pick up steam and was becoming more strong and vibrant. I had books on wellness, books on healthy eating and nutrition, books of affirmation and inspiration....and yes, I even authored an inspirational chapter about my cancer story in a collection by British journalist, Chris Geiger.
Don't get me wrong. All these books, and blogs are extremely helpful. They lift you up when you are at the lowest of your lows. They inspire you to get out of bed and put your clothes on; even when you are so weak, you don't even know you'll be able to stand up. They make you cry and blow off steam, and bring the light and positivity back into your life. They inform you that your lifestyle could have caused your cancer. Cancer was brought on by the food choices you made, or the alcohol you drank, the bad marriages you are in or the troubled childhood you had.
They also make you think.....and think.....and think. I believe I started thinking so much, he hole was getting deeper and deeper, and I was fast approaching wonderland. Sometimes you just have to get out of your head.
And this is the point of this blog. Although all the conclusions certain experts and bloggers come to are accurate and properly encourage you to understand your inner workings, and there are many people out there that are able to teach you, and inspire you to become a better runner or learn how to meditate, you need to take that step, and stop lingering in that cozy cocoon. That step out of your mind. That step to action.
It may be a scary prospect, but the answer is out there, and you can realign yourself towards better life choices.