Textual Healing at PodCamp Toronto 2010

We’re really disappointed that we won’t be able to attend PodCamp Toronto this year. It’s always a great event at which to learn, meet new people and reconnect with our friends. However, with Andrea in chemotherapy right now, we have to sit this one out.

The good news is that we’ll be able to follow the event from the comfort of our home and we’ve been invited to deliver a session via video Skype. Our session is called Textual Healing: The use of social media for narrative therapy, connection and support.

Here’s how our session is described:

Communities can exist for many reasons, but one of the most striking recent examples is the support community that has arisen around Canadian social media fixtures Andrea Ross and Mark Blevis, as together they work to make Andrea a breast cancer Survivor.

Their place of wellness on the web, WeCanRebuildHer.com, and the community that has gathered there is “something that’s good for them”, their supporters and for others in similar situations.

In this presentation, Andrea and Mark will join PodCamp Toronto via live Skype video from Ottawa to share their use of social media as a key tool in Andrea’s strategy to survive and thrive and will offer their top tips for healing and sharing in a digital world.

If you’re going to be in Toronto on the weekend of February 20-21, 2010, we recommend you register for and attend PCTO2010.

I’ll be in the hospital bar

The challenge of having a naturally positive attitude is the tendency to take for granted that things will always be smooth. It can be extremely sobering when you get a shot across the bow to remind you that, particularly where chemotherapy is concerned, you’re tinkering with the complex and delicate systems of the human body.

Today, we recognized that shot.

Even though Andrea’s receiving Neulasta injections (which help stimulate white blood cell production), subjecting herself to practical elements of an alkaline diet, jogging and exercising daily, avoiding (as much as possible) contact with people outside our immediate family, getting plenty of sleep and receiving regular energy treatments, her white blood cell and neutrophil counts have dropped significantly. Thankfully all is well and chemo number three proceeded as scheduled. However, it was a revelation that we may yet face setbacks in Andrea’s chemo program.

It was also a shock to consider what the situation might be like if the above list wasn’t true. Those thoughts rattled Andrea. We actually took a picture of Andrea in an unsettled state and had hoped to use it for this post since it was just as relevant a moment as any of our happy moments are. Unfortunately, it seems my iPhone had different plans as it chewed the photo up and spit it out when we weren’t looking.

This is where having a naturally positive outlook is particularly important.

Andrea and I talked about what the counts mean and we agreed that the counts are high enough and Andrea strong enough that she’s remained healthy to date. We also realized how lucky we are that we’re able to get Neulasta and that Andrea’s commitment to exercise and good health has played a key role in protecting her from even lower counts so far.

I’m reminded of another belief I have which I sometimes forget: celebrate every victory, no matter how small. This simple approach sustains motivation and focus, and keeps away challenges that have the potential to overtake me. With that in mind, I’ll refocus my attention from finishing the sixth treatment as scheduled on April 2, to making sure Andrea stays healthy and can proceed with chemo number four as scheduled.

Risking My Significance (today is chemo#3)

Living Wide Open: Landscapes of the Mind (by Dawna Markova)

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

I Will Not Die An Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion, Dawna Markova
Red Wheel Weiser, 2000.

Breaking the Rules

Have I mentioned that I love the canal?

As I walk and jog at its edge each day, it rarely fails to share a story.

Tales of hopeful preparations and thwarted plans. Spunky students risking shortcuts. Rogue skaters and mysteries.

Today’s tale totally tickled me:

I definitely need to start breaking some rules.

ps. this is a raccoon, in case it’s tough to tell from the tiny photo, who should not only be obeying the Keep Off signs, but should be hibernating!

Support Group Jitters

I’m gutted by groups.

As I lurk awkwardly, battling the urge to bolt, the remaining strangers meet, beam, chat, laugh and connect. Stuck quaking on the outside of the quickly bonding group, my panic grows, my force field thickens. I’m too mortified now to function at all.

Seeing I’m “shy”, the group may kindly coax me. Ouch. Or toss me to the bottom of their fresh echelon.

I wonder how they do it. And why I can’t. I vow not to “group” myself again.

Yet, today I join the Stepping Stones support group.

So, move over group-phobia. Here comes fear of grief, fear of germs, fear of other women’s fear. Fear of drama. Fear of bravado. Fear that some of us will die.

Will I give myself a break? Will I let myself engage? Will I help and be helped by other recently diagnosed women?

I’ll soon find out…

Happiness Is…

Almost three weeks between hospital visits.

During the early months of this journey, Mark and I disrupted several workdays each week for medical tests, consultations and related appointments. With my complete paperwork neatly organized and in hand, Mark navigated the hospital labrynths. I followed blindly behind — sipping tea and, often, chuckling.

Mark and I have almost always made the most of our gadget-free time trapped in waiting rooms — giggling just as much in oncology as we did in obstetrics.

I am truly grateful that chemo is going smoothly. I love the almost-three-week gaps between hospital visits.

Now I just need to book Mark for some gadget-free waiting room time at home.

Hopes for Healing

During our Head Shaving Party last month, Lucy and Bayla provided each guest with strips of white electrical tape and the opportunity to mark and share the stories of their scars – powerful evidence for our young daughters that each life includes a share of scrapes; that we heal and grow and life goes on.

We hoped to put in perspective the seven inches of scars I’ve added to my collection since this challenge began, the looming possibilities of bilateral mastectomy and ovariectomy, and the great unknown beyond.

It was a fun mixer for Luba and it made for some good photos. But looking back, today, I am rocked by the resilience of our two guests to the right. The tape fails to show that both Bob and Jamie have lost brothers.

Jamie celebrates the life of his brother, David, today.

Wishing healing and strength for both friends and their families.

SMS? Really?

This is a question that comes up occassionally.

Yes. Really. Andrea really SMS’d me to let me know the biopsy results when she received them on October 6. You can see it for yourself in the image of this post.

SMS is just one of the many ways Andrea and I stay connected. On October 6th, it allowed Andrea to keep me up to date in real time as she spoke with her physician.

The sequence happened like this.

I was working in my home office when the phone rang. It was Andrea’s physician. We had been anxiously awaiting the results since the biopsy on September 29. Of course, the doctor wouldn’t tell me the results over the phone. So, I gave her Andrea’s cell number.

That led to the SMS I sent to Andrea at 1:34 p.m. “Dr. M……. calling you right now!!!”

It took a few minutes for Dr. M to make the call. It was 1:55 p.m. when I received the message “It’s cancer”.

Frozen Forgiveness

There are tonnes of things I love about living in Ottawa, and the Rideau Canal Skateway is number one, hands down.

In twenty-four winters of hopes dashed or bettered, I have never had a harsh word for the skateway.

Even when I went through to my thigh in ice-cold water (which is what I deserved for skating out of bounds).

Even when I sprained my thumb and had to forgo my very first xc-ski race (which is what I should have expected when skating with a brain-injured friend — twice my size).

Even when it melts and freezes and melts and freezes, when it’s bumpy, or crowded, or narrow, or short or when snow-covered cracks threaten to send me flying.

I absolutely always excuse it. I fiercely defend it. I’m unconditionally grateful when it’s open. I focus only on what’s good.

If only forgiveness were always so easy.

Happiness Is…

Long, strong friendships.


In a crowded Calculus lecture hall, first year at Waterloo, I spied a gangly guy in a fedora. In the twenty-six years since then, Bill and I have covered a lot of ground.

We made it through school, we braved bears on both Canadian coasts, we hitched a freighter to Labrador, biked past icebergs and camped among braying elk and screeching racoons. We drank a lot of coffee. We skied, we biked, we hiked, we drove.

We grew up. We stayed friends.

And what a friend. Bill has brightened our days throughout this challenge with delicious home cooked meals, healthful gifts and weekly visits. He’s subjected himself to gruelling afternoons of Life, Clue and Twister with Lucy and Bayla. And he’s turning the winter of their mom’s chemo into our girls’ first season of thrilling cross-country skiing adventures.

Happiness is my long, strong friendship with Bill Flanagan.


On July 1st, 1993, as we giddily embarked on a 7,550 km bike ride across Canada, I was greeted by the beaming smile, hand-painted Winnie-the-Pooh helmet and lime green cycling jacket of my soon-to-be best friend, Jay.

In the sixteen years since our cross-country meeting, Jay and I have survived headwinds, sunburns and soaked tents along the Icefields Parkway, the B.C. Gulf Islands and, scariest of all, rural Ontario. Our friendship has stretched to accomodate her adventurous years in Asia and my consuming years of early motherhood. We’ve skied, biked and skated. We’ve ranted and raved.

And our dependable weekly evenings of food, drinks and celebration-or-venting have kept me sane when little else could.

In October, Jay assured me, “We are going to get you through this.” With her weekly visits, her healing connections, her delicious home cooked meals and her weekend getaways for Luba, I know she’s absolutely right.

Happiness is my long, strong friendship with Jay Schmidt.

Our Powerful Hidden Selves

Toby is a Crocodile (by Dr. Barbara Nichol)

When you see him in his basket, Toby seems to be asleep.
But though his eyes are closed, our Toby isn’t counting sheep.
I have for you the kind of news you won’t hear every day —
Not only is he wide awake, he’s very far away.
While you might hear outside the distant sound of passing feet,
In Toby’s ears there throbs a most exotic jungle beat.

For oftentimes the self inside is not the self that shows.
Oh, Toby is a crocodile, but only Toby knows.

Where you see just a muzzle there are terrible swift jaws.
And he has ghastly talons where you see just fuzzy paws.
Despite the false impression that his furry coat creates,
Toby’s covered nose to tail in thick and horny plates.
You might not see the reptile in the basket by the chair,
But that you do not see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

For oftentimes the self inside is not the self that shows.
Oh, Toby is a crocodile, but only Toby knows.

His teeth are sharp as razors and his eyes are sharp as teeth.
A sunny surface has this dog, with darker depths beneath.
The fish dive to the riverbed, the birds are mute with fear.
Not any beast, however cruel, would ever dare go near.
And so, while Toby seems to doze unmoving on the floor,
He slips into the water and he glides away from shore.

For oftentimes the self inside is not the self that shows.
Oh, Toby is a crocodile, but only Toby knows.

Biscuits in the Cupboard, Barbara Nichol.
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1997.

Rebuilding Me

Almost daily, I’m encouraged to “keep fighting!” and, while I sincerely appreciate the emboldening intention, I’m always a bit perplexed.

I’m not fighting. In fact, I’ve never fought less.

During my 12 precarious years at Nortel, I was fighting. During my various vicious family torments, I was fighting. During my struggles with sundry insecure, thoughtless or just plain nasty humans, I was fighting.

But I’m not fighting now.

I’m healing. I’m nestling. I’m carefully rebuilding my body, my mind, my life; pulling things out, examining them, deciding what goes back in, and where.

The scalpel, chemo and gamma-rays do my fighting while I’m absolutely busy cultivating wellness and peace.

I am grateful to the citizens and politicians who have fought for free health care, to the scientists who continue to fight for cures, to the doctors, nurses and technicians who fight fatigue to care, to the taxpayers who fight daily to earn their OHIP contributions and to the many cancer patients before me who have fought for their lives as treatments continue to be tested, tweaked and tuned.

And I’m grateful for the opportunity to build a happier, healthier me.

Related Links:
Writing in the face of death

Ordinary is the new extraordinary

As part of the process of rationalizing something for myself, I’d like to tell you about a few people we know.

The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre and Chemotherapy Clinic have some amazing volunteers. Patricia and Dave, in particular, come to mind. When they greet you, you feel like you’re someone and you’ve arrived someplace you want to be. They happily escort you wherever you need to be and answer any questions you have. They’re just happy to do that for you; never mind that you may be stressed or feeling physically or emotionally crappy. They can turn around your attitude, feelings and outlook. If you ask them, though, Patricia and Dave will tell you they’re “just volunteers” and love helping out.

Most parents in Ottawa know or know of Little Ray. He’s the co-founder of Little Ray’s Reptile Adventure, a reptile zoo in the south end of the city. His collection includes abandoned pets from owners who had no clue what they were getting into, and he has even received wild reptiles that were rescued and in some cases confiscated by the authorities.

Besides his zoo and its amazing demonstrations, parties and eco-education programs, Little Ray is regularly invited into schools, conducts home-based birthday parties and exhibits in fairs all over the place. His passion for animals, education programs and life is completely infectious. Over lunch with Little Ray yesterday, I was caught up in how he can make you excited to learn and enjoy life. If you ask Little Ray, he’s “just living his dream”.

Meanwhile, Little Ray carried on about how inspired he is by our website and our transparency as we share Andrea’s journey to becoming a breast cancer survivor (see Little Ray’s blog post about being inspired by us).

For a good chunk of our journey, many people have remarked to Andrea and me how inspiring we are. Besides Little Ray, I received three emails with that message yesterday. I generally have difficulty understanding and accepting that idea. And then, when I consider how we view Patricia, Dave, Little Ray and many other people in our lives, I realize that ordinary may be the new extraordinary.