Happiness Is…

Reconnecting.

Sharing this journey online has rewarded me with opportunities to connect with friends and relatives from the distant past.

Living this journey has rewarded me with the courage to face old fears, step beyond the comfort of keystrokes and into real-time, face-to-face encounters.

My life is so much richer as a result.

And it’s getting easier.

Lucky me.

Contested Irrelevance — My PAB2010 Jolt

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Honourable Mentions (Thank you!):

Happiness Is…

A Fresh Start.

Just days before that lump jumped to centre stage, Mark presented me with this birthday card.

Its message so maddeningly trite but true.

Since then, life has seemed a series of countdowns. To surgeries, celebrations and ends of various treatments.

Escaping to the I Can Do It! Conference this weekend reminded me of the importance of choosing :

  • flexibility
  • happiness
  • openness to new perspectives and new possibilities
  • self care
  • healthy thoughts and habits

Above all, it reminded me that every breath can be a chance to start fresh.

I think I’ll take a few.

Andrea Needs to Care Less

During my twenties, I had the coolest boss. Handsome, hard-headed, capable and curious, he was a windsurfer, a motorcycle-driver and an incurable devil’s advocate.

For our seven years as colleagues, I was a star resource, but Steve often bemoaned two of my big failings: my need for confidence; and my need to chill.

This week, on this blog, Steve may have helped with the latter.

When I’m dithered by diet decisions or fretting over family fiascoes impending or past, I’m going to repeat my new Steve-supplied mantra, “Andrea needs to care less”.

Its third-person perspective seems to squeeze issues down to a less scary size.

Maybe I’ll be chill yet.

To Zap or Not To Zap

Five days ’til radiation.

But I’m having second thoughts.

Living the aftermath of chemo — the swollen eyes, the mounting fatigue, the weakness, the aching, the blurriness, frustration and fog — I’m questioning the wisdom of this four-fold onslaught.

Mark’s concerned that turning down radiation and hormone therapy would make me low priority for any relapse treatment.

It’s a tough call.

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Stride

I’ve had a recurring dream throughout this journey.

I’m biking on a remote, rural highway, alone. It’s almost dark. I’m without lights, panier, or even a lock. And I can’t believe I’d set out for some destination more than 200km away without any preparation.

In last night’s version, I was on foot. Still alone, on a darkening, remote, rural highway with no supplies and miles from anywhere.

But this time, I made the scary decision to leave the road for a wooded path.

The path morphed into a university library and the librarian held up a line of complaining clients while drawing me a little map.

He told me the path was frustrating but it should only take me 30-45 minutes.

I’m not making this up.

At Long, Long Last…
and well worth the wait

All winter long, I’ve looked forward to being on this side of chemo.

And now, unbelievably, here we are!

It may be tedious, but I’m so thrilled to have reached what seemed for so long like an unattainable mirage, that I just must document this fabulous, fabulous day.

A Play by Play of this Beautiful, Long-Awaited Day:

9:06 a.m.

The morning drop off.

We’re pretty excited.

10:15 a.m.

Enroute to blood work.

Hope, hope, hoping that my counts are all fabulous and we go ahead with the infusion.

10:30 a.m.

Last pre-chemo bloodwork done. Yay!

A bit abrupt and shocking, but no problem at all.

11:30 a.m.

Waiting for bloodwork results and — hopefully! — chemo — and making friends in the lovely hospital lounge.

12:30 – 2:50

Blood counts are fine! On with the last infusion!

Thanks to a 70 year old firecracker named Helen, our chemo pod was full of laughter and good cheer. A fabulous final chemo experience.

2:55 p.m.

Ringing that bell!

Klunking, actually, but absolutely awesome!

3:23 p.m.

All done. Heading home.

Happy.

3:40 p.m.

Look who was waiting for us at home. A protective critter from our friend Caroline. Thank you!

I adore armadillos and this cheeky, cheery, luck-dispensing chum makes me giddy with joy each time I pass by him.

5:30 p.m.

A happy, happy trek to the Gratitude Statue.

Spring celebrated this exciting day in all its glory. As I made my way to and from the Gratitude Statue each day throughout this challenge, in deep snow or icy wind, I thought of the sleeping bulbs that lay in wait along the trail. And I dreamed forward to today.

It was well worth the wait.

9:00 p.m.

A massive celebratory basket of joy arrives from Aunt Barb, Uncle Wilf, Kelly, Ian, Luke and Jade. Thank you!

And a fabulous excuse to have a nice long telephone chat with each to dream of the big celebrations to come.

I’d Skip This Post If I Were You

This morning, my oncologist tasked me with making my hormone therapy choice.

I’ve been reading the horrors of Tamoxifen so I perked right up when I heard the word “choice”.

Here are my options:

5 years of Tamoxifen
Tamoxifen is a 33 year old and very contraversial drug which is either a life-saver or a menace, depending what you read.

Its known side effects include: blood clots, stroke, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, shortness of breath, weakness, tingling, or numbness in your face, arm, or leg, difficulty speaking or understanding, vision problems, dizziness, increased tumor or bone pain, hot flashes, nausea, fatigue, mood swings, depression, headache, hair thinning, constipation, dry skin, loss of libido, weight gain, cognitive dysfunction, sexual dysfunction and more. Super Scary.

or

A 5 year Randomized Clinical Trial SOFT: Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial (IBCSG 24-02)
If I chose this option, I would be randomly selected to receive one of the following:

  • Tamoxifen (see huge side-effect list, above)
  • Tamoxifen (see above) and Triptorelin (a drug that will suppress ovarian functioning and induce menopause with its own slew of side effects )
  • Exemestane (an aromatase inhibitor) and Triptorelin (see above)
    Apparently Exemestane has been shown to be 2-4% more effective in decreasing recurrence and spread of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Unfortunately, its side effects are, anecdotally, much more severe than Tamoxifen’s. Super-Duper scary.

And don’t even ask what’s behind door number 3. I made that mistake.

I guess being a chubby, depressed, moody, sexually dysfunctional air-head beats being dead…
If I don’t get the deadlier side effects, that is.

As my good friend Mary would say, awesome.

I See Dread, People
10 Small Talk Tips for Cringe-Proofing One’s Future

I’ve had more than my fair share of fabulous reactions to my diagnosis. Tonnes of people have been wonderfully real with me — and wonderfully supportive.

These people have turned what could have been pure nightmare into a long-lasting lesson in generosity and friendship.

I am truly grateful.

That being said, OMG, I’ve had some hilariously inappropriate reactions.

I’m far from a guru of social graces, but I just have to chuckle at some people’s obvious dread of interactions with me — and their fumbling attempts to hide that dread.

I know I’ve made big mistakes in the past and I cringe just thinking about them.
So, I’ve compiled the following handy list of Ten Small-Talk Tips for Cringe-proofing One’s Future. And it’s free!**

  • If you don’t know what to say, simply say so — and save us both from whatever you’d blurt out otherwise.
  • If my diagnosis scares you for your own health or that of a loved one, share that fear with someone other than me.
  • If you’re imagining terrifying possibilities for me, keep them to yourself.
  • If you know of survivors and therefore think my situation is a walk in the park, put yourself in my shoes for two seconds before you decide to treat me as such.
  • If you’re afraid I may keel over dead during our conversation, maybe it would be better just to smile, wave hello and keep walking.
  • If you follow my blog because you care, but just not enough to send the occasional comment or email to respond to my story, don’t mention my blog when we meet in person.
  • If you follow my blog out of morbid curiosity, and therefore don’t send the occasional comment or email to respond to my story, don’t mention my blog when we meet in person.
  • If you’d rather not know how I’m doing, don’t ask.
  • If you have no idea what I’m going through, don’t assume otherwise.
  • If you think that not acknowledging my situation is a brilliant social tactic, think again.
  • Bonus Tip #11: When in doubt, try genuine good wishes, a smile and a heartfelt hug.

Or, ignore all of the above — and provide me with hours of comic relief.
I’m happy either way.

** Although I am charging big bucks for the names associated with each tip.

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Courage vs Authenticity

Melissa Ethridge, on courage and truth:

Well, Courage. I’ve had a funny relationship with courage.

Because I often get … ‘Oh, you’re so brave, you’re so courageous!’
And I keep thinking ‘Ok, why do they think I’m so courageous?
Oh, because I said I was gay. I told the truth about myself.
Oh, because when I was bald, I was bald and that was the truth.’

And I started thinking ‘Wait a minute. We actually live in a society where just speaking the truth about ourselves, just saying ‘Hey, I’m a gay breast cancer survivor’ is courageous. Speaking our truth is courageous.

…Let’s just back up a minute and examine what we are considering courageous. And how about if this were just normal? If all of us agreed just to wake up every day and go ‘Hey! This is what I am.’

That would change the world.

Melissa Ethridge, from her session Fearless Love: Living Lives of Searing Authenticity and Audacious Courage.
Part of the Women on the Edge of Evolution audio series. 2010.

Happiness Is…

Making plans.

When the diagnosis hit in October, random, everyday thoughts of the future were immediately and violently squelched by fear and the Big Unknown.

It seemed we’d forever lost the luxury of making plans.

While I’ve spent much of the last five months training myself to live in and enjoy the precious present, I’m thrilled to be back to a little looking-ahead.

I’m currently looking forward to:

  • my final chemo infusion (April first!)
  • the end of chemo-cocooning (April 21st?)
  • a May full of scheduled visits, travel and activities
  • Mark’s 40th birthday celebration
  • completion of radiation (June?)
  • a fabulous summer+.

And it feels great.

Journey Learning #5: Braving Eye Contact

Christopher was a large crab who lived as a pet in one corner of a pull-out lobster tank at the generous and friendly Butland’s Seafood, just outside Fundy National Park.

Surrounded by lobsters of every size and colour, and occasionally picked up and shown off to lucky customers, he dealt with the terror by closing his eyes. If he couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see him.

I’ve always done the same.

When faced with the terror of possible judgement, rejection, criticism or the source of a deep and open hurt, I simply refuse to look.

Family gatherings, group activities, crowded school yards, you name it, I protect myself by averting my eyes. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me. They can’t judge me, reject me or hurt me. They can’t see into me.

Reading this post by our friend Daniele Rossi, I realized this is another hamstringing habit that has to go.

To let go, to connect, to be fully alive, I need to open my eyes. I need to take in what’s really there.

I need to touch the burner.

Part of me knows I’ll be pleasantly surprised.