Gearing up for Chemo #5

Mysteries which I hope will be solved at my pre-chemo#5 oncology appointment today (if we get to see our oncologist, that is. Last time it was a surrogate):

  • Can I avoid the full week of Taxotere-induced agony this round? If so, how?
  • What’s with the sunken, bright read hollows under each of my eyes?
  • Is my 105 year old skin here to stay? (it’s not just the skin surface, it seems to be a complete change to whatever used to be under my skin — yikes!)
  • What’s her opinion of my long-debated bilateral mastectomy?
  • When does radiation start? And is it still within walking distance of our place? (I hope, I hope)
  • Can I ask now about plans for my ovaries? (last time she said it was too early to ask)

Stay tuned…

Wearing Memories … in a good way

Mark’s parents paid me a lovely lunchtime visit last week. In honour of the occasion, I had changed out of my everyday recovery-wear into my Company’s Coming recovery-wear.

At the end of the visit, Mark’s mom motioned to my T-shirt and asked “Who went to Nepal?” and I responded, “My friend Bill. Twenty-some years ago.”

Old T-shirt.

I realized afterward that not only do I recall the source and story (however banal) behind each item in my recovery wardrobe but the memories flit through my mind each and every time I put the clothes on. Which, for one outfit or the other, is at some point of every single day.

So, for the record and without the full details which flit at lightning speed through my mind each time, here they are.

Dress recovery-wear:
  • medium weight lycra tights – part of a fabulous chemo-survival gift parcel from my sister Linda, January 2010, in preparation for more stylish winter jogging.
  • purple “Trek Nepal” T-shirt – a souvenir from my friend Bill Flanagan following his trek through the Himalayan mountains, circa 1989.
  • CCKMA T-shirt (alternate T choice) – a gift from fellow breast cancer Survivor and neighbour Laurie Kingston, December 2009, on the occasion of our head-shaving party.
  • peach Lululemon hoody – a pre-surgery gift from Mark’s mom and dad, October 2009, in preparation for not being able to lift my right arm.
Everyday recovery-wear:
  • winter-weight wooly tights – my very first MEC catalog order, circa 1992 long before MEC came to Ottawa, in preparation for our bike trip across Newfoundland (2 identical pairs).
  • red fleece undershirt – Phase 2, The Glebe, autumn 1999, on the recommendation of my friend and fellow strollercizer, Caroline Coady, in preparation for winter strollercizing (3 identical shirts).

And my daily hat choice is a selection from the stash provided by my generous and talented friends Whitney, Katherine and Debbie.

And guess what, all those good clothing vibes seem to be working.
Thank you!

From the Mouth of Bayla #11: port-a-cath person

Two nights ago, mom suggested to me that “tomorrow you could draw a face around my port-a-cath, because it kind of looks like a nose”. So, last night I drew the person. I was going to put 2 GIANT hairy nostrils on the bottom of the port-a-cath but mom wouldn’t let me. I can’t believe I did the person without hurting mom. Today I woke up and  the port-a-cath person was smudged.

For Better or For Worse#3 HIP-HIP-HORAY!!!!!

Mom has had two surgerys, one portocath surgery, four chemo treatments, two radio active scans: one heart scan, one bone scan, MRIs, a mamagram, ultra sounds and a biopsy. Dad has dealt with the insurance company, he has taken mom to all of her appiontments, scheduled playdates etc. for Bayla and me and done a special project for his work as well as going to Calgary. In my opinion, my parents are as courageous as they come.

So three cheers for Mom and Dad!!!


From the Mouth of Bayla# 10

Today, I did 2 presentations. One was a book talk* and the other was an oral presentation. The oral presentation had to be on “Mon activite prefere*”. I did mine on the violin.

I’ve been doing the violin for 5 years approx.  Playing the violin takes my mind off of any bad thing that is going on because playing the violin really takes you into your own little world.

For the last few days, I’ve been playing to take my mind off of dad being in Calgary.

For the last few months, I’ve been playing to take my mind off of the fact that mom has cancer.

*a book talk is a talk about one of your favourite book.

*mon activite prefere means “my favourite activity.”

♫ Mr. F

The last six to eight years have been some of the best of my life — so far.

I’ve been a mom to two fabulous toddlers, preschoolers, school-agers and then awesome eight and ten year old girls.

I’ve made, maintained and enjoyed great friendships, hosted and participated in terrifically silly get-togethers, contributed generously to the world of children’s literature and literacy, thoroughly enjoyed four PABs, two PCTOs, one KidLitCon and the online and offline social media scene, and revelled in a whole slew of creative projects.

I’ve taken risks. I’ve grown. I’ve been more truly me than my crazy twenty-something years allowed.

And all the while, that cancer grew.

So, as the end of chemo inches into sight and I nervously ponder my re-integration, I remind myself that I’m not actually an alien among the healthy.

In fact, aside from the effects of the treatments themselves, I’m physically healthier now than I’ve been in six to eight years.

Ignorance was bliss.

But booting cancer and moving on is bound to be better.

Dead Ants Walking

Food for thought from Anticancer: A New Way of Life:

The Train to Omaha

In the weeks after the discovery of my cancer, I dashed from one appointment to another. At the end of a rainy afternoon, I was awaiting my turn in a fifteenth-floor waiting room. I stood in front of a plate glass window and watched the small figures in the street below scampering around like ants. I was no longer part of their world. They were alive; they had errands to run, plans for the future. As for me, my future was death. I had left the ant heap and I was frightened. I remembered the poem “Limited” quoted by the psychiatrist Scott Peck.

The poem’s narrator writes about a train barreling at top speed across the endless expanse of the Great Plains. He knows the final destination of these steel coaches — the scrap heap; and the fate of the men and women laughing in the compartments — dust. He asks a fellow passenger where he’s going. The man answers: “Omaha”.

In the end, even if the other ants didn’t know it, we were all going to the same place. Not to Omaha, but to dust. The last stop was going to be the same for everyone.

The only difference was that the others weren’t thinking about it, whereas I was.

Anticancer: A New Way of Life
David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D, 2008.

Survival in Small Talk

We’re having a glorious taste of spring this week. The sun is shining, Snow Drops are blooming and once empty sidewalks are full of smiling, sauntering humans.

Where in winter’s grip I could roam the neighbourhood with my chemo-cocoon in tact, outings this week have been much more social.

And chance meetings with acquaintances have introduced the challenge of responding to pitying looks and casual/earnest inquiries of “Oh, Andrea! How are you doing?”

What can I say?

I’m actually doing fabulously, all things considered. I’ve made it through the initial horror, the decisions, the surgeries, the injections, scans, x-rays, potions and two-thirds of the chemo. I’ve faced the loss of my occupation and income, insurance theft, my own mortality and a huge wallop of uncertainty — and I’ve stayed pretty sane.

But standing on a street corner in the sunshine, no response does this journey justice.

I’m thinking I’ll stick with, “Fine thank you, how are you?”

CANCER to fight cancer

I’ve been meaning to do this post for the last few days. Alas, it took being alone in a hotel room in Calgary to finally get around to making good on the idea.

If you walk into our local Kardish bulk and health food store, chances are you’ll be greeted by Ryan, a young staff member who’s immersed himself in learning about healthy eating and the medicinal value of various natural foods, spices and supplements. His greetings are chipper and his service is enthusiastic, usually coming with a detailed explanation of how I happened to select the best version of the product I’m purchasing.

In my most recent visit, Ryan told me about his cancer fighting acronym — CANCER.

  • C – vitamin C
  • A – beta carotene (pro-vitamin A)
  • N – niacin (vitamin B3)
  • C – chlorophyll
  • E – pancreatic enzymes
  • R – red clover (and other red veggies including beets)

Ryan explained that a cancer fighting diet includes all of the above and he plans to include this and other advice in a book he hopes to write — a book that will include recipes for healthy smoothies.

You can follow Ryan’s blog about healthy eating, inspiration and his new bachelor pad at


I’m back in the land of the living.

A bit woozy. A bit wobbly. A bit weepy.

And very, very grateful to be sleeping, eating, walking, breathing, smiling and pain-free.

A huge thank you to my family and friends for working to get me through the muck last week, to all of you who sent good vibes, emails and comments, and to the magic of resilience.

I got from last week to this week.
That’s definitely magic.