And That’s How You Narrate A Story

Mark recently shared with its makers the story of a happy family who almost lost everything and the one husband who had to keep them all together — I mean, how Marketcircle‘s Daylite Productivity Suite saved his sanity.

Here it is:

If you’ve ever had to deal with a cancer diagnosis in your family, you’re probably familiar with the changes it imposes on your life how it plays with your cognitive focus. This is what my family experienced when my wife, Andrea Ross, SMS’d me on October 6, 2009 with two big-small words: “It’s cancer.”

After I overcame the shock, I realized I would have to be Andrea’s chearleading champion and primary support. I half-jokingly announced to anyone I spoke to that I was taking on the role of project manager of Andrea’s treatment program. I also realized I would have to be coordinator of the family members and friends who emerged as our support system. In the process, I had to learn the medical language of cancer.

Daylite was the perfect tool to stay on top of our new life. It was my co-pilot. I maintained contact records and meeting notes for our new world which included a surgeon, medical oncologist, radio-oncologist, Breast Cancer Clinic case worker, Patient Designated Nurse (PDN) and a home care nurse. There were surgical prep appointments, an arsenal of tests, three surgeries and all the related recovery information, nuclear medicine appointments, energy treatments, blood tests, six chemo treatments over 18 weeks, six weeks of radiation treatment (30 in all) and port-a-cath flushes.

If that’s not enough, our family still had to function as one. Daylite helped me keep track of our daughters’ (then eight and ten years old) extra-curricular activities and invitations from friends and family who hosted them for playdates, ski outings, dinners and sleepovers.

I depended heavily on Daylite’s ability to link appointments, phone calls, emails and contacts to task and projects. I kept good notes in the details and meeting minutes fields. I can’t think of a feature of Daylite that didn’t help me keep my wits about me.

Daylite Touch was a fantastic tool, as well. I used it to stay on top of everything wherever I was. Having said that, I couldn’t have the 3G features of my iPhone enabled in most of the hospital, and I was more than conscious of the stigma attached to taking “handheld notes” during face-to-face meetings. So, I kept handwritten notes using my Livescribe Pulse Smartpen (livescribe.com) and attached the PDFs into appropriate records in Daylite. This saved me missing important information and allowed me to avoid a double entry note system. It was a snap!

I’m excited beyond words that Andrea’s been given a clean bill of health. The busiest part of her treatment program ended in time for us to enjoy an amazing and re-connecting summer. She returned to work in September. She have another four years of Tamoxifen and has lingering discomfort from the assault on her body. You learn to love life and live it all over again.

Did Daylite save Andrea’s life? No. Mine? Perhaps. We’ll never know. What I do know is there’s no way I could have kept my wits about me while tracking of all of the goings-on using any other personal organization software – definitely not as efficiently or effectively.

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Thank you, 2010

I absolutely adored 2010.
We were healthy, happy and together.
We had loads to celebrate. And we celebrated often.

Yet, reflecting on the year, this morning, I was shocked at its rockiness.

Where reactions and reconnections reigned 2009, 2010 was a year of overcoming obstacles. Of attempted relationship resuscitations. Of some painful — yet freeing — realizations. And relief.

It was a year of adjusting to the new me.
And of testing out the me that has been there all along.

As I reflected on 2009 and looked hopefully toward 2010, I never dreamed of the treat I had in store.

And I have high hopes for 2011.

Thank you, 2010. Welcome, 2011.

Some Zigs and Zags of our 2010:

February 6 (our 11 year wedding anniversary)

Our insurer refuses to honour my critical life and disability insurance claim.

This was a cruel and devastating blow. Not only because they robbed us but after stringing us along for 4 months but because I’d been over-insured for the twenty some years leading up to my leap from Nortel six months before my diagnosis.

April 1

Chemo ends!

And life begins afresh.

April 22

We are spared the pain of the long-awaited trial and Keith Ross accepts a Section 810 Peace Bond which prohibits him from having any contact with us for a period of 12 months..

Our world has been peaceful since.

May 20 (Mark’s 40th birthday)

The perfect storm of physical, financial, parenting and family challenges bring me to my knees.

Yet we survived.

June 15

Radiation ends.

We did it.

June 21

I take a first bite at my fear of public speaking.

I’m so glad I did. (Photo thanks to Alexa Clark.)

June 16-Sept 13

My first summer with my lovelies since Bayla was a newborn.

The most fabulous summer of relaxing, reading, biking and being with my lovelies.

August 28

Our long, long, long awaited victory celebration.

Wine, munchies and good, good people.
Pure bliss.

September 14

Back to work.

Two more days a week than I had hoped but simply grand to have an income again.

November 25

Port-a-cath gone.

Scary and thrilling.

December 22

We celebrate fifteen fabulous years of Mark Blevis.

Lucky, lucky me.

Thank you, 2010… Let’s all enjoy a happy, healthy 2011.

WoooooooHoooooooooo!!!!

All is well.

The doctor assures me that the lumps are absolutely no problem at all. She has a number of theories involving muscle, tendon, scar tissue etc and has ordered an ultrasound, just to be safe.

Yahoooooooooooo!!!!!

Yes, I’m a certifiable hypochondriac. And, yes, this very good news is worth the hours of teasing that Mark is currently enjoying.

Thank you for your good, good vibes.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Happiness Is…

The Kindness of Strangers.
One year ago today, I started chemo.
Days before — in anticipation of my hairless winter — Lucy, Bayla and I had combed the annual Originals Christmas Craft Fair in search of a funky chemo cap.

An extremely generous and talented stranger, by the name of Debbie Etherington, absolutely insisted that I pick out any of her cozy handknitted toques and accept it as a gift.

That cozy toque, with its warm thrumbed lining and its even warmer history, kept my bald head warm all winter.

Today, Debbie and I met again. This time I brought good news, gratitude,…

And a set of home made pillow cases.

Happiness Is…

Good Friends and, as it turns out,
Hooping.

When those lumps came to light on Friday, I spun into a vortex of terror.
I wandered like a distracted zombie for the better part of four days.

Sharing my worries here and in real-life has lightened my load but the real sand-blasting of my buzzing brain was thanks to an introductory hooping class.

My spatial ineptitude and lack of co-ordination meant my entire mind was focused on a festooned hoop.

No stabbing cancer scenarios for one solid hour.

And I’ve felt fairly human since.
A drained, dull and distracted human. But a human.

Thank you to Andree for your friendship and for the class.
And thanks to the many friends whose kind words and deeds are helping us through this scary limbo.

Hoping to be shouting happy, happy news on Tuesday.

How A Sitcom Saved My Life

Today was my first Toastmasters speech.
My icebreaker
, if you will.

The goal was to introduce myself to the group….

Now the story of how a sitcom saved my life.

When I was a kid, there was no need for daycare, summer camps or after-4 programs.

We had TV.

Ours was minute, black and white, with an aerial on top and 2 fuzzy, fuzzy channels. But we’d rush home from school for Flintstones at lunchtime. And we’d get up for cartoons so early Saturday mornings that we’d have to stare at that black and white test screen for ages – and the sing along with Oh, Canada when the station finally started up for the day.

Eventually, my parents splurged. They bought a Jetsons-style colour-TV. With a huge 12” screen. And cable.

Now we could watch everything.
And we did:

  • I Dream of Jeannie
  • Gilligan’s Island
  • The Brady Bunch
  • Laverne and Shirley
  • Mork and Mindy
  • Donny and Marie
  • The Gong Show
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Magnum PI
  • Chips
  • Dallas
  • The Love Boat


Then – boom – University.

No Time. No TV.


When I finally did have access again, I realized I despised TV.
And, that was that.


Fast forward to 2006.

Mark ran out to rent a movie and – like Beanstalk-Jack – came home with something else.
A TV show.

I turned up my nose.

We popped in the DVD and I prepared to give it a gong.

It was the story of a wealthy family who lost everything
And the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.

It was Arrested Development.

Jam-packed with family dysfunction and subtly placed laughs.
In no time, we were hooked.

With two young kids, two full-time jobs, two sets of crumbling family relationships and the production of at least two demanding podcasts, Arrested Development became our sanity.

We’d work like dogs ‘til midnight or so then pop some popcorn, slather it with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, pour ourselves some red wine and enjoy an episode or two of non-stop laughs.

Instant, dependable entertainment.
Fee-free, effective therapy.

Night after night, we’d make our way through the two-and-a-half seasons.
Then we’d start again.

We soon spoke in AD quotes.
And bonded with others who did the same.

We realized that there weren’t too many situations in life that didn’t have a relevant quote.
And the more aggravating the situation – the more the quote made us laugh.


Then came cancer.

Life turned upside down.

The tests, the surgeries, the injections, the scans.
The nausea.  The pain.
The chemo-induced roller coaster of emotions.

The baldness.

And at night we’d watch Arrested Development.
And laugh.

Arrested Development was a taste of our old, innocent lives.
It was the craziness that made our craziness bearable.

And when the going got really tough,
And my thoughts were dark and my outlook was bleak,
A well thought-out blog post and a perfect AD quote lightened my load in a way nothing else could.

And I survived.

And thrived.

And that’s how a sitcom saved my life.

Share a Story

I learned early in this journey that the aggressivness of breast cancer and its spectrum of treatments is dependent upon many factors: The age and pre/post menopause status of the woman. The size, location, estrogen receptor status, progesterone receptor status and Her2 status of the tumor. Lymph node involvement.

In those early days, I was desperate to find and follow happy, healthy survivors sharing my particular permutation and combination of these factors.

I needed to know the journey was do-able. That it had been done before. That there were happily ever afters.

Rethink Breast Cancer has opened its Tell Her2 Story Gallery up to all of us.

Have a story? Leave a story.
Need a story? Find a story.

Stories are powerful.

Happiness Is..

Healing Time.

A year ago today was my second cancer surgery (complete axillary lymph node removal).

I wish I’d known, going into those surgeries, that my right arm and upper body would be permanently damaged. And I sure wish I’d known to try breaking that scar tissue up right away.

But something else I didn’t know, back then, was whether I’d be here today.

I’m grateful that I am.
And for my resilient family, our working limbs, our healthy bodies and our joy.

A Snap, A Slap and One Last Flush

Today was my final trip to the chemo unit — for one last port-a-cath flush.

To mark the momentous occasion, I snapped this photo. Then that one.

“Mrs. Ross,” someone called. I assumed it was time for my flush. But the receptionist continued, “no photos allowed in the hospital.”

I was stunned.

“No photos in the hospital, Mrs. Ross. It’s hospital policy.”

“My blog’s in trouble,” I ventured, when I’d recovered from the shock. But she didn’t see the humour. Then a feeble, “But it’s my story.”

“Hospital policy.”

At each silence, she kept on:

I have to delete any photos I’ve taken. Pause.
If I want to take photos I need to have “Security” accompany me and approve each one. Pause.
If she called security they’d make me delete them right here and now.

Yikes.

Since I learned of it on May 4, I’ve been hoping to eventually join the hospital’s Community Advisory Committee.

Today’s sweet encounter was the perfect little nudge.

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.