What have we always said is the most important thing?

This week, I spent two luxurious days in my first hometown — gabbing and gobbling with my lost and found cousin, Kelly.

During our wonderfully relaxing and restorative weekend, we wandered through pockets of memories from my childhood, my adolescence, my wild university days, my young adulthood and my pre-me extended family.

It felt odd to cross paths with the many versions of me. With my lost and found cousin. In my lost and found life.

Scary stats and niggling twinges of mortality can make me antsy about the quantity of time ahead.

Drifting in and out of these memory-packed spaces reminded me that life is short at the best of times. But, more importantly, that even short personal eras can pack huge whacks of life.

Here’s to great memory-making ahead.

A Long-Overdue Apology

It hit me during Bif Naked’s un-freakin-believably honest, poignant and entertaining address at the conference last weekend.
And it hit me hard (thanks to you).

With a dramatic roll of her eyes, Bif described how breast cancer had saddled her with the pieces-picking-upping of her inconsolable family and friends. And the survivor crowd gave a massive been-there roar.

With all the whining that I did about inappropriate reactions, complete collapse (well, even the slightest tearing up) was a possible reaction that had never crossed my mind.

I blasted the world with my news as soon as I got it. By email, SMS, twitter, blogs, newsletter, gchat and in person, I shot my message out with faith that the returning vibes would get me through it.

Not a single adult cried. Not even Mark.

And, no matter how scary things got, my close friends and family always shrugged my worries off. And I guess I followed suit.

I realize now, it was not because they didn’t care. It was because they did.

So thank you, my beautiful friends and family, for shielding me from concern.
And please accept my sincere apology for not appreciating it sooner.

It’s just that I was constantly being called to the phone, or I was asked a question, or I was being resuscitated

I’ve been back at work for seven weeks and, while I’ve enjoyed the geeky problem-solving, the feelings of accomplishment and, best of all, the cash, my huge challenge is time.

With 8 packed and hurried work hours, bookended by the commute, delivery and pickup of Luba, and morning and evening chores, I’m scrambling through days and letting loads of life slide.

Hyper-healthy eating takes tonnes of time. And my millions of physiotherapy, oncology, port-a-cath flush appointments, plus the getting there and wait times, really put the squeeze on my already rushed ragged routine.

I had assumed that I’d be returning to a three day work week. And, given my uber-productivity, I hadn’t dreamed I’d be denied.

But my employer couldn’t oblige.

Hmmmmm.

Mystery Loves Company

I’m just back from Body, Mind, Spirit: The Canadian Breast Cancer Network’s National Conference for Young Women Living with Breast Canceralmost 48 hours solid of education and encouragement with 340 breast cancer survivors from every province and territory across Canada.

What a gift.

I left the conference with 14 pages of handwritten notes, a stack of books and brochures, and my brain abuzz.

The speakers and workshops were first class, the food was free, the facilities fitting.

And above all of this were the women.

340 women on journeys just like mine.
The lump-finding. The bad news. The pokes, prods and zaps.
The baldness. The isolation. The decisions.
The uncertainty. The losses, the triumphs and lingering impacts.
The crazy mood swings. The shockingly thoughtless comments.

Young families side swiped. With meals to be made and dishes to be done.

I’m back home. But I’m not alone.

Here’s a tiny sampling of my learnings:

  • Newfoundlanders rock. Thanks to Yvonne Jones for reminding me.
  • Cancer cultivates compassion. Thanks to Joy Smith.
  • I need to start each day with lemon water, add ginger to my daily matcha, and remember to eat 2 brazil nuts, 2-4 tablespoons of flax meal, some rosemary and 1 teaspoon of tumeric each day. Thanks to Dr. Natasha Zajmalowski.
  • Love heals. Death and recurrence do not equate to failure. Thanks to Dr. Rob Rutledge.
  • I won’t rule survivor advocacy out of my distant future. Thanks to Ryan Clarke.
  • It’s about time I explored Venus Envy. Thanks to Dr. Sally Kydd.
  • I can do my own lymphatic massage. Thanks to Anna Kennedy and Pamela Hammond.
  • Even a sexy, hilarious, intelligent, compassionate, super down-to-earth rock star feels stupid and isolated when she gets hit by breast cancer. Thanks to Bif Naked.
  • Sleep’s much more important than supplements and therapies. Thanks to Christine Maria Gross.
  • Your honesty reflects your intelligence. Thanks to Carol Anne Cole.

Massive thank yous to 340 strong young women from coast to coast to coast and to the inspiring survivors who put the conference together and shared their wisdom. And thank you to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for the scholarship that made this enriching experience mine.

I can’t wait for next year!

Don’t take my word for it….Conference talk around the web:

Have We Done Hair Off Glasses On? (7 months)

Way over-gelled today, but getting nice and long!

Related Posts:

Sorry about the photo quality. We were scrambling and ended up taking the photos at the Oat. “Not my best work, though. She wanted to look 48. I nearly airbrushed her into oblivion. Ended up checking ‘albino’ in the form

Scrapbooking Sting

I received a note, today:

Thank you for registering for the Creative Art for Self-Expression Workshop at the Body, Mind, Spirit: National Conference for Young Women Living with Breast Cancer.  This workshop will offer an opportunity to process and share the multiplicity of concerns and responses to living with breast cancer.

…I encourage you to bring photocopies of photographs of people, places and things that are significant to you.  The pictures can be of things you love, loath, learn from or look forward to. There will be an opportunity to include these images and feelings in your art-making process.

Jadzia Romaniec
Canadian Breast Cancer Network

I was thrilled and terrified. That loath made me sweat.

Then I realised: I loath no one.

I harbour hurt from four failed family relationships.
And, having zero contact with this famous four, mucky memories are my only foes.

Booyah!

The workshop’s kicking butt and I’m not even there yet.

Now, do I bring those four faces to Toronto, or no….?

Relief

A good portion of the last three weeks I’ve spent fending off terror. Battling my brain away from fabricated scenes of brutally big, bad news.

Thanks to two marble-sized lymph nodes and a slew of spin-off concerns.

This morning was my three-month oncology appointment. My oncologist poked in all the scary places and pronounced All is well.

What relief.

Rising from the imaginary-dead every couple of months sure makes it easy to keep appreciating my beautiful, beautiful life.

Now to start trusting my body again. It’s got me this far, and done a fine job of it. It’ll fare even better when my worry-war is won.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
It’s a beautiful life.

Thanksgiving – One Year of Survival

Last week — as part of my new risky living — I joined Toastmasters. I was scheduled to present a “thought-for-the-day” at today’s Thanksgiving week meeting. But it was canceled so I’m sharing it here…

A year ago today, as I left a meeting of the EDC Charitable Campaign, I got a call.

It was my doctor telling me “I’m afraid I don’t have good news. It’s cancer.”

I listened. I texted Mark. I scrawled a few notes.
Then I excused myself from the office and walked home.

I thought that was the end. The end of me.

But it wasn’t.
I’m still here. And I’m stronger, happier and more grateful than ever.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring.
But we do know what we have right now. Our families. Our friends. Our working limbs. Our pain-free, healthy bodies. Our peace. Our freedom. Our homes. Our incomes.

Our hair.

Marrianne Williamson said “Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things are.”

We can call it gratitude or we can call it joy. Whatever we call it, all our moments are better lived when we focus on all the good we have right now.

So let’s.

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.

Have We Done Hair Off Glasses On? (6 months)

And, thanks to chemo-induced menopause, my face is becoming furry!

Related Posts:

They Make Me Feel Dressier**

I never would have guessed I’d miss my Groucho Marx eye brows.

Even after I’d lost them, I would have laughed right out loud at the thought of coaxing them back.

But, tonight I did just that.

I googled growing eye brows and then slathered mine in coconut oil.

We’re hard on ourselves. It fuels the economy. But after years of berating my body, my features, my traits, it feels good to know that I’d rather be me.

With or without the caterpillar brows.

**

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

    I’m often asked for tips for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, their family and friends. But every situation is different — and it’s tough to tell which of or whether my choices have actually helped.

    The best I can do is offer personal reflections on my various decisions.

    So, here is a rambly whack of them…

    The Good: I’m glad I chose to…

    Insist on a Port-a-cath
    Although I was fairly terrified leading up to it, the port-a-cath installation procedure turned out to be a total breeze — and well worth the cyborg result. My port-a-cath saved a good length of vein from chemo-induced damage and allowed me unrestricted, convenient use of both arms for my 18 weeks of chemo. Mark’s pretty eager to have it removed, but as long as I have blood-work to be done, I’m thrilled to have this built-in valve.
    Look to real-life role models
    This journey would have been lonely and dismal were it not for the brilliant examples and support of friends like Caroline, Laurie, Derek, Gloria and Eden, whose dignity, courage, resilience and generosity showed me that life is what you choose to make it.
    I am so immensely grateful to these shining lights.
    Stay active
    I’m convinced that getting up and out of my PJs each morning, doing breakfast and walking to school with Luba, sticking to a fairly demanding exercise routine and taking care of household chores helped my body and mind cope with the rigors of treatment.
    Chemo threw my emotions into turmoil one week every three, and staying active kept me myself and helped me climb out of that trough again and again.
    Enjoy Energy Therapy
    Throughout my treatment, I benefited regularly from the talent, generosity and skill of three energy workers. I’m sure the resulting insight, healing and optimism played a major role in minimizing my treatment side-effects, improving my outlook and speeding my well-being.
    I am so grateful.
    Ask for and accept help
    I’ve never been comfortable doing either, but asking for and accepting help not only solved the many logistical problems posed by hectic medical schedules and diminished physical abilities, it deepened friendships, introduced our young family to the beauty of community, filled me with healing gratitude, nurtured my always-battered self-esteem and left me longing to pay-it-forward.
    Capture and share our story
    We broadcast my diagnosis as soon as it hit us. Right from — and especially at — the very beginning, we audio-recorded and snapped photos of our journey: sharing the news with Luba, attending appointments, celebrating milestones and living life in between.
    I believe capturing our journey gives me a sense of moving forward, of anticipating the victorious sense of looking back, and at the very least preserves precious memories for Luba.Sharing our journey, specifically and authentically, allows me to help those who may, unfortunately, follow. And distilling overwhelming situations to web-sized chunks helps me get to and focus on their vital core.
    Juice veggies
    As gag-inducing as these morning concoctions are, the ritual of selecting, chopping, juicing and somehow ingesting a whack of fresh vegetables every morning makes me feel like a healthiness hero.
    My daily juice includes beet, carrot, celery, ginger, swiss chard, lemon and, if I have it, bok choy, broccoli or cauliflower. Powerful veggies but possibly more powerful superstition.Daily juicing of fresh cut wheat grass is a salubrious luxury that I only wish I could afford to keep up forever.
    Embrace temporary baldness
    Our head-shaving party (video) helped me take control of my impending hair loss and enter temporary baldness with a resounding sense of support, victory and even joy.Choosing funky, friend-infused hand-made hats over wigs and baring it all when temperatures permitted, gave me the comfort, freedom, acceptance and playfulness that I don’t think hiding under a wig could.
    Supplement Vitamin D3, Curcumin, Vitamin C, Resveratrol and Green Tea Extract — and drink lots of Matcha
    I’ve tried a tonne of supplements during this journey, but after reading numerous books and articles (and not retaining the details of any) this is the handful I’m left feeling starve cancer best.This feeling is far from scientific. I’m sharing it, anyway.
    Reboot me
    I’m so grateful that I have taken this time to examine my life, my thinking, my habits, relationships, choices and outlook — trying to toss out what wasn’t working and deliberately striving for new patterns.
    My daily practices of gratitude and forgiveness have been far from perfect, but I feel lighter than my old self, and I feel much better about myself and my world.
    Celebrate every victory and milestone
    Ever since that lump turned up, we’ve been pulling our way through time by anticipating the celebration of milestones and victories, big and small.
    When there is something to look forward to, life is good. I’m so grateful that, as a family, we look for and find these things.

    The Bad: I’m glad I chose not to…

    Regularly consume sugar, white flour and other simple carbs
    Research shows, high GI foods, such as sugar, white flour, potatoes and white rice, trigger hormones such as insulin and IGF growth factor which, in turn, lead to inflammation and cancer growth.
    Since sugar, unlike dairy, offers close to no nutrition, I ended up deciding to mostly do sugar socially. Way easier than giving up coffee (which also raises insulin levels). I’m glad I did.
    Work during chemo, radiation and hormone therapy ramp-up
    Yes, I probably could have worked during a good part of my treatment. And, yes, a lot of people do it.
    I’m glad I decided not to. For me, the personal benefits of focusing completely on healing far out-weighed the financial benefits of working. I’m thankful for Mark’s job and that we all made adjustments to make it work.
    Hide my situation from our daughters — or myself
    None of us know what’s ahead of us.
    And we always hope for the best.But we’ve been honest with ourselves and our girls since the very beginning of this journey. And I’m glad of that.
    Venture into public places during chemo
    It was inconvenient, isolating and not absolutely essential, but avoiding public places for 18 weeks was a tiny price to pay to avoid the colds, flus or H1N1 viruses that may have stretched out my treatment — or worse.
    My chemo-cocooning gave me time to exercise, reflect, create and, most important, heal. And it protected me from the world I had yet to find my new spot in.
    Choose the attitude of fighter or invalid
    I didn’t choose cancer. But I do get to choose my attitude.
    There are lots of options.I’ve been happy with mine.

    The Ugly: I wish I hadn’t…

    Fought so hard for bilateral mastectomy
    I left my first post-diagnosis appointment absolutely adamant to remove both breasts. I remained so for three full weeks.
    After several late night phone calls, and just days before my long-awaited surgery, my fabulous surgeon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I reluctantly agreed to a lumpectomy.Turned out cancer had reached all 3 sentinal lymph nodes and recurrence could be anywhere. Removing my breasts wouldn’t have helped.
    I am so grateful for Dr. Lorimor’s perseverence and care.
    Wasted energy on impossible relationships
    My diagnosis and publicly shared journey gave me opportunities to reconnect with long lost friends and relatives, near and far. Those renewed relationships have enriched our lives.
    My diagnosis also gave me an excuse to work on some very broken family relationships. But after wasting precious energy and effort, they’re right back where they started — or worse. I should have put that energy into worthwhile relationships and healing.
    Bothered with daily Flor-Essence Herbal Tea
    During much of my treatment, I bought this pricey powder, followed the 24hour brewing and straining procedures then woke up earlier than I otherwise would have each morning so I could prepare it, drink it and wait 30 minutes before I could eat or drink anything else.
    I have no idea whether this or any of my practices did me any good, but this one was inconvenient and costly and I eventually gave it up.
    Neglected my protein intake
    Chemo eats away at muscle mass but I had hoped that by jogging, walking and doing strengthening exercises throughout my treatment, I would keep my muscles strong.
    Turns out, my plan should have included more protein.
    I ended up with two sets of tennis elbow and a brutal case of plantar fasciitis, which worsened after chemo ended and has prevented me from jogging ever since. Live and learn.
    Deprived myself of coffee and dairy
    I did not sleep one wink the night I received my diagnosis. And I guess, at that time, I figured I’d never sleep again. So, I cut out coffee. Cold turkey.
    Four months later, I realized delicious coffee was a treat I deserved. No great loss, I know. But enjoying a delicious coffee treat makes me feel like me, so I wish I’d relented sooner.As for dairy, it has a pretty bad reputation in certain circles, but with chemo-induced menopause and bone-robbery, skipping dairy was one of my stupider choices.

    Sorry for this absurdly long post. I wanted it to be a one-stop shop for anyone who may need it.

Published Pride

Lucy and Bayla wrote and submitted an article to our very local paper, last month. We’re proud to announce, that article was published today.

Here it is:

On October 6th, 2009, our mother, Andrea Sue Ross, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, less than eleven months later, we have already raised $3,500 almost $5,500 for ‘Run For the Cure’ of which our mom is a proud and worthy participant.

Through 2 surgeries, 1 MRI, ultra sounds, radioactive injections, mammograms, biopsies, a port-a-cath installation, 6 chemo treatments and 30 days of radiation our mom has hardly complained at all. Now, well into hormone therapy, our mom is only four years away from being “officially” a cancer survivor. Though in our opinion someone who has made it this far IS a survivor because you have to be really strong to have the confidence, courage, compassion and over all the perseverance that it takes to kick cancer’s butt. Our mom is strong. Our mom is confident, courageous and compassionate. Our Mom perseveres.

Our mom kicked cancer’s butt. So can you. You can help weather it’s by donating money to help find a cure, supporting a friend with cancer, or, if you to are, or will be, a cancer survivor then telling your story and inspiring others. YOU can make a difference.

Our mom is running for the cure. You can to.

Find more about our journey at WeCanRebuildHer.com

All is well

I’m just back from my first post-treatment mammogram and ultrasound.

And all is well. Woooohooooo!!

I learned a lot today:

  • That I have two staples in my right breast (!).
  • That my enlarged right breast may be a delayed reaction of radiation (?).
  • That the constant snapping of photos during the ultrasound is not necessarily a bad sign.
  • That no matter how unbelievably terrified I am during the tests, all the terror can be wiped away in an instant by a happy, happy result.

Happy, happy day!

Thank you to everyone whose good wishes got me through this week and to this happy, happy result.

Woooooohooooooo!!!