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.

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.

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 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!

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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

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!

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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.

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!!!

Tossing Timid

“Fish eating’s like anything else in life, Elijah. If you go at it ‘specting something bad to happen, all you gunn do is draw that bad thing to you. You caint be timid ’bout nothing you do, you got to go at it like you ‘specting good things to come out of it. If I’s to worry bout bones choking me, it’d happen every time I et fish. Ain’t nothing further from my mind”

Elijah of Buxton. Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic Press. 2007.