Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Juggling Life

Today was the funeral of my friend who passed away from cancer on Sunday.  I was looking forward to going and celebrating her magnificent existence in this world.  My plans were to attend the funeral and then go directly to teaching my students this afternoon.  As I was vigorously brushing my teeth and almost ready to leave my home for the day, the telephone rang.  With my mouth full of toothpaste, I answered the phone.  It was my daughter calling from her school and my thoughts raced ahead to "what book did she forget and I have to find to deliver to her", "I'll bring her lunch to her", etc.  All the thoughts that go with having a child in school.  I hadn't anticipated her real reason for calling.  "Mom, I was playing dodge ball in gym and the ball went off my finger.  Can you pick me up from school?"

So I loaded the van up with my teaching supplies and went to pick up my daughter.  The poor girl had tears running down her face when I got to the school.  We went directly to the hospital and I resigned myself to missing my friend's funeral.  She would totally understand as she cared so much for her children and then her grandchildren.

As we waited for my daughter to be looked at in Emergency, we were keeping an eye on the time because I also was expected to be at a local school to begin lessons in the afternoon.  Eventually, a young resident doctor took a look at my daughter's finger and then we waited some more for her turn to have an x-ray taken.  While waiting, the time slowly marched along and I had to make the call to cancel my lessons for the rest of the afternoon.  I used to always agonize over cancelling lessons.  If I didn't cancel lessons when my children were sick, I always felt my heart rending in two because I wanted to be with my children.  At the same time, I also didn't want to disappoint my students and their parents.  Today was the first time that I was totally secure in my decision.  This has been one of my "changes" that I've thought about throughout the past several months.  Life is too short and my children and family are too important for me to put other people ahead of them.

Finally my daughter had her x-ray taken and then we had to wait for it to be read by the doctor.  Eventually he came to us in the waiting area and confirmed that her finger was broken.  He allowed both my daughter and myself to see the x-ray and you could see that the finger was indeed broken.  They put a splint on it which is like a half cast which is held on by a tensor bandage.  She has been referred to a hand clinic just to make sure that she doesn't need a pin put in the finger to help it heal better.  By the time we left the hospital, it was past mid-afternoon and we still hadn't had lunch.  My daughter was still in pain but wanting a turkey sub for her late lunch.

So the day has been a "wash" as far as my plans and schedule were supposed to be today.  However, on the other hand, my daughter and I have spent some much needed time together.  I was able to comfort her and spoil her even though she was still a typical teenager.  This has been the first time ever that I've been able to juggle and drastically change my plans for the day without feeling a great deal of anxiety and stress.

At one point while we were at the hospital, I was sure that I saw my friend, whose funeral I missed, walking briskly down the hallway.  I know it wasn't her but it was someone who was the same height, had the same brisk walk, the same hair colour and the same hair style as my friend always wore before she had gone through chemotherapy.  It certainly made me take a second look.  I'm sad that I missed the funeral but I'm glad that I got into the palliative care hospital to visit her before she passed away.  I'll have my memories to give me comfort.

So tonight, I'll be contacting the parents of the students that had their lessons cancelled today in order to explain my sudden absence.  We'll work out the logistics and life will go on.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Life, Death and What Comes After

Yesterday morning I awoke feeling refreshed and full of vitality.  It has been a while since I've been to church so I decided that today was a good day to go.  I arrived and it was so nice to see my friends in the choir and in the congregation.  I'm able to sing a little now but not very much and so I still sit in the congregation even though I'd like to be up in the choir.  I enjoyed the service but was saddened to hear that an acquaintance is now in palliative care with another form of cancer.  This disease seems to be everywhere.  As a result, I just wanted to go home and be surrounded by my family.

As I was in the doorway of the sanctuary and ready to leave, the minister asked for everyone's attention and quiet.  She had just received a phone call informing her that my friend, who was in her last days, had passed away at 9:30 a.m.  My heart, already saddened and burdened, became very heavy and achy.  Tears came unbidden to my eyes as I tried to control them.  My friend had been in the twilight of her life but she was full of energy and vigour.  Up until last Fall, she had been leading exercise classes.  She had more energy than I did.  I remember a time when the church had a talent show.  Partway through the program, she got up and led everyone in some short, easy exercises just to keep us all from sitting too long watching the performances.  I will always remember her telling us all that when we watch television or movies on television, every time there is a commercial, get up and do some lunges or gentle stretches.  She always arrived at choir practice with her Timmies and if you got to church earlier enough on a Sunday morning, you would see her with her Timmies.  She was a caring woman who was interested in everything and everybody around her.  She cared for her daughter as she was diagnosed with ALS disease and she cared for her right through to the end.  This was such a sad time and I remember thinking what a strong woman my friend was.  She asked me to sing "On Eagles' Wings" at her daughter's funeral.  She became such a rock for her granddaughters after that.  My friend always was dressed so nicely with her hair just so.  She always had different hand bags that were always so nice.  I remember her having a bright purple one and then a bronze coloured one.  I will always remember her laugh.  She was always so interested in my children and how they were coping with growing up.  As they hit the teenage years, my friend was a source of wisdom, experience and guidance.  Even when I saw her last week (a week before she died!), she was asking about how my daughter and son were doing.  She always wondered about their well-being at school and socially.

Yesterday, I struggled with my grief.  Then tonight (as it is in the middle of the night here as I write this), I awoke thinking of a book I had read this summer called "Heaven Is For Real".  In it, a 3 year old boy has a near death experience while being operated on for a ruptured appendix.  He meets Jesus who is sitting at the right side of God.  He also gets to meet his grandfather for the first time.  This little boy also meets his big sister who was miscarried part way through the pregnancy.  I awoke and I envisioned my friend making her transition from the hospital to seeing God and Jesus face-to-face.  I also envisioned her seeing her husband and then being reunited with her daughter who she missed so much since she died.  This has brought me comfort.  She is/was the type of person that she would want us to grasp our lives fully and live them with interest and vigour.  I'll miss her vitality.  I'll miss her laugh.  I'll miss her brightness.  I'm praying for her best friend who is another friend of mine.  They were like sisters and did so much together.  At choir practice, I would hear them talking about shopping together, meeting for tea together, having meals together or just spending an evening together watching a movie.  It's so hard on those left behind when a life ends here.

As I see friends and acquaintances getting diagnosed with cancer and fighting valiantly to survive, I sometimes feel sad and confused.  Why did I get the one with the better cure rate?  Why did they get the diagnosis without much hope?  I don't know the answers to these but I'm starting to learn to feel thankful and a real sense of the grace of God.  I have been given a second chance at life and I will continue to live it to the fullest.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm also learning that living life to the fullest means experiencing the emotional highs and lows as well.  I will have a full week as I have my teaching in the first part of the week and I also have a Celebration of Life in memory of my very good friend's mother who died in August.  I am a firm believer that memories are a great comfort to us when our family and friends pass on.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Living and Enjoying Life

As a friend commented the other day, it is time to "get on with LIVING and enjoying life".  So last night, my father-in-law and I watched my husband play 3 Pitch in his season ending playoff tournament.  My son normally plays on this team as well, but last night he was working.  When we arrived the umpire that was working the current game saw me and gave a little wave.  After that game was finished, he came up to me sitting in the bleachers and mentioned that I'm looking so much more healthy and I didn't look tired at all.  The last time he saw me was in late June.

I enjoyed watching the game.  I was nice and toasty warm as I was dressed in warm layers and had a wool blanket wrapped around my knees.  We cheered them on but unfortunately, my husband's team lost.  I used to play for this team in the summer of 2011 and so I know a number of the players and really get into the game and cheering for them.  My husband even hit an over the fence home run.  I decided to get my exercise last night by retrieving the balls that were hit over the fences for home runs.  It felt good to be able to go for a brisk walk as well as to throw the ball back onto the field in the next stoppage in play.  I could tell that I haven't thrown a ball in over a year because my aim was off.  I miss playing.  We all returned home and while my husband enjoyed his after game beers, my father-in-law and I enjoyed a specialty coffee which included Bailey's Irish Cream, Glayva and Glenlivet scotch.

This morning I enjoyed some quiet time as I read "The Book of Awakening" and the newspaper before anyone else was awake and moving around.  Once everyone else was up, I managed to complete 3 loads of laundry before my husband and my son were playing ball at 1:30.  The tournament was slightly delayed due to the  heavy rains that pelted the region during the night and early morning.  However, the day cleared up and the games were able to be played.  In order to keep our seats dry from the wet bleachers, my father-in-law and I sat on 2 thick afghans and then wrapped our legs in the wool blanket again.  We settled in to watch the game. We brought our digital camera as this could be the last time my husband and son play ball together and we wanted to get some pictures of them both on the field.  The tournament was a double knock-out format.   I took some pictures and was very pleased with how they turned out.  In one picture, my son was pitching and my husband was standing on second base and ready to run to third base.  We saw my son make a diving catch in centre field.  It was spectacular as we saw him make a head first dive and all you saw was the spray of water as he slid through the puddle in the grass.  It reminded me of when he was little and used to play on the kids' toy "The Banana Water Slide".  As he slid through the grass and mud, he held his glove hand up to show the umpire that the ball was in his glove.  As my son got up off the ground, I could hear him say "That's slightly wet."  His whole right side was mud from his ankle up to his shoulder.  My son also hit a bomb of a home run.  The team won this game and then had to play again at 4:30.

We went home between games so that I could run the ball uniforms through a quick wash and get them dried.  At the same time, I was trying to dry out my son's running shoes with the hair dryer.  This was too slow a process so I came up with the bright idea of putting his shoes and my husband's shoes in old pillowcases and tying them shut.  I threw them into the dryer with the clean clothes in an effort to get the dirty shoes dry.  It didn't quite work as we ran out of time but at least the shoes weren't as soaking wet as they had been.  Back to the ball field we went and my father-in-law and I again got ourselves ensconced up on the bleachers with our afghans and blankets.  We settled in and watched the game.  Unfortunately, they lost this game which meant they were knocked out of the tournament.  Secretly and selfishly, I was glad because I was getting very tired and cold.  I didn't want to miss watching them play ball side by side, but I must admit that I need my weekends to be a little slower paced so that I can recuperate from teaching.  My stamina just doesn't seem to be ready to go full tilt.  This is too bad because my mind is wanting and willing to live every single moment to the absolute fullest.  I want to wring the most out of life that I can.  My body just isn't quite ready to cooperate.

I'm very tired tonight and struggling with a bit of a headache.  I have noticed that I struggled to do the sudoku puzzles this past week.  I used to be able to complete most of the ones that are in the daily newspaper.  Maybe I'm having less success with them lately because I've started teaching again.  Perhaps my mind is more tired than I think it is.  I also found out tonight that my friend, that I visited last week who is in palliative care, is in her last days.  I had hoped to get in to see her a couple of days ago, but our van had been in the shop getting the brakes fixed.  I didn't make it to the hospital.  I guess she really became much more frail in the last week.  As I've received this news, I am full of anger and sadness.  As I've said before in the blog, cancer is a horrible disease!  It isn't fair that there are "cures" for some and not others.  This is a disease that has been around for much too long!!!  I know that there are strides being made in research for some of the cancers.  I know that early detection is key in the cure rates.  It is very disheartening to know that while I am in remission and the probability of a full cure is high, my friend is not so fortunate.  My heart is aching for her.  I've been praying for her as I know others have been praying for her.  My understanding is that my friend has continued to be positive as she faces these last days.  As another friend said "What a wonderful woman!"  I guess I've been praying for a miracle that's not going to happen.  Maybe my prayers now need to shift to God keeping my friend cradled in His/Her hand and keeping my friend comfortable and at peace.

In a week's time, I have a Celebration of Life to attend.  The church choir I used to sing in (and will sing in again) is singing Psalm 23 at the service.  I'm going to try to sing in the choir.  I tried singing the soprano part (the part I normally sing) but my voice isn't ready to do this.  However, this morning I was able to sing the tenor part comfortably as long as I sang it softly.  I may not be a "leader" in the choir this time, but I will be a body and a soft voice.

As this post seems to indicate, living life to the fullest doesn't always mean having fun times and memories but it also means feeling life fully both the good and the sad.

Friday, 21 September 2012

All Sorts - You Never Know What You Get

Today's blog will touch on a variety of facets of life.  Each day I awake and I look forward to my day.  It is a little like digging into a bowl of All Sorts candy and picking one out.  They are never the same.  So I may have an idea of how my day will go but there are always little surprises and comprises which make each day slightly different.

This year I've arranged my teaching schedule to be busy for the first part of the week and then I can rest, read and enjoy the rest of my week.  One of the changes I wanted to make once I was back to enjoying life fully was still incorporating "deep thinking" time.  While I was ill, I enjoyed having time to contemplate and analyze aspects of my life.  As I have just finished my second week of teaching, I'm realizing that it is very easy for me to get so busy with day-to-day tasks that I forget to take time to sit quietly with no interruptions to think and enjoy life.  I like to be busy but I also like my "down time" where I can read and enjoy nature.  I'm noticing that I'm already starting to ignore and not make time for these little moments of peace and solitude.  Writing the blog seems to help me get that quiet time.

The other day I had my MRI.  Leading up to it, I was thinking of it as just another test to help explain my increased memory lapses.  Consciously, I wasn't too concerned about it as I didn't really believe there would be any lymphoma in the brain.  However, once my case nurse called from the hospital with the information that all is well, I was a little surprised at the extent of my feelings of relief.  I guess I was worrying more about it than I consciously thought I was.

Last week, I went to visit a friend who is in palliative care and I gave her my "The Frienship Book 2012" because it helped me so much while I was sick and I continued to enjoy it.  I thought the short daily readings might brighten her days and give her some inspiration.  I've missed my "The Frienship Book".  It helped to ground me in the morning and provide me with a figurative springboard into my day.  I still use "The Book of Awakening" too but it requires absolute solitude and quietness in order to concentrate on it, absorb it and meditate on it.  In a busy household, I don't always get this quiet time and that is where "The Friendship Book" was helpful because it was shorter and easier to grasp.  I think I'll be making a visit to the book store to see if I can pick up another one for myself.

There is an aspect to myself that I have always disliked.  Somewhere along the line in my life, I've made some kind of correlation between cleaning and being grumpy.  Rarely can I recall cleaning my home when I've not been grumpy and complaining.  I don't want to be this way and I've thought about putting music on or the nature channel on to make this task more enjoyable which hopefully would make me less grumpy.  Again, this is one of the changes I'm trying to incorporate into my life now.  I think I have to realize that I won't get the help that I've always wanted from my children and I have to "suck it up" and just get on with doing it myself.  I think the grumpiness comes in when I'm trying to cram and stuff all the chores into the few hours of down time I have in my week.  I probably resent the intrusion of these tasks into my "me" time.  I work well with an agenda and scheduling tasks so perhaps the solution to my "me" time and cleaning time is to schedule in "me" time every day in my agenda and schedule the cleaning time into the calendar every week.  I'll try this and see if it helps.

I was randomly looking at some of the earlier posts in my blog last week.  I couldn't continue to read them because it brought back the physical memories of the trials.  I had the same kind of physical response as I did when my husband showed me consecutive pictures of myself as the treatments progressed.  For the time being, I'll have to just put all that away and sometime in the future I'll look at it.

So today, I'm having a quiet day.  It is raining and overcast which lends itself to sitting quietly and listening to the rain hit the leaves like a gentle, soothing lullaby.  This is a good day to tend the soul and enjoy living.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


I was tired last night and went to bed early because I knew that I had to be up early this morning and at the local hospital for my MRI.  I was having an MRI done to determine whether I am suffering from "chemo fog" or whether I have lymphoma growing in my brain.  I was anxious on many levels last night.  I've never had an MRI before and I wasn't sure what it would be like.  I was asked by my oncologist last week if I was claustrophobic before he ordered the MRI for me.  When the hospital called with the appointment time for the MRI, the nurse asked me if I was claustrophobic.  I don't know if I am or not.  These questions increased some of my anxiety as I wondered how tight a fit it was going to be in there during the MRI.

I was also anxious because I was afraid that perhaps lymphoma had returned and was in my brain.  Even though my oncologist mentioned it was a very small chance, my mind was playing with me and my emotions.  As a result, I did not sleep last night.   I tossed and turned all night long as I worried about lymphoma, being claustrophobic and going throug the MRI.  I finally fell asleep around 4 a.m. this morning and the alarm went off at 6 a.m.  I had my appointment for 7:30 a.m.  Again, I was asked by the technician if I was claustrophobic.  Again, I replied that I didn't know for sure as I haven't been in really tight spaces.

During the process, I had to lay absolutely still for 30 minutes.  The technician put a set of headphones on me to help save my hearing.  The MRI is very loud.  I was told to lay down on the table with my head at the very top of the table.  The technician put a pillow under my knees to make it a little more comfortable for me.  She put a cover on over my face and there was a small window in the cover.  I closed my eyes and felt the table move as it put my head inside the machine.  There were loud beeps with each beep lasting about 1 second or so.  In order to keep myself distracted, I counted the beeps.  The first group of beeps consisted of 175 beeps.  Then there was the sound of a jackhammer.  It even shook the table I was laying on!  That seemed to last a while.  Then there were another series of beeps.  I tried to count them again but I must have lost count because they seemed to end at 85 beeps.  The technician then removed my head from the machine and put a dye into my system.  Then I was put into the machine again where I heard more beeps and more jackhammers.  Then it was all finished.  Because I was so tired from lack of sleep, I was actually able to stay somewhat relaxed throughout the whole process.

I was surprised that I had my MRI just one week after seeing my oncologist.  I had been under the impression that it would take 3 to 4 weeks to get an appointment.  I'm not complaining because it certainly meant less time for me to think about the MRI and the possibilities of why it was being done.  Obviously last night's sleeplessness was my body and brain dealing with the anxiety levels that I was experiencing.

I returned home from my appointment and then got on with my day.  I had a full afternoon of teaching and my day went by very quickly.  By the time I was done teaching for the day, I had the beginnings of a major headache just from lack of sleep.  I went home with the intention of  laying down for a few minutes.  When I walked in the door, my son greeted me with a message that the nurse had called from the hospital and everything is fine.  The results were good.  What a relief it was to get this message!!   I then went to my bed for a rest and I even dozed off for a little bit.  It took the edge off of the headache and allowed me to function as I made supper and then visited with my father-in-law and husband.  I'm so glad to know that the lymphoma is not inside me!!

This means that the memory issues and slight cognitive impairment is due to "chemo fog" or "chemo brain".  My doctor told me last week that it would last anywhere from 6 months to a year after the chemotherapy treatments were finished.  It should start to improve  in the next few months.  I can't wait.  It is very frustrating to being in the middle of a conversation and hit a mental brick wall where for a moment there is nothingness.  Sometimes I can get back on track and describe the word I'm looking to use and other times the word is totally gone.  Sometimes I even lose track of the conversation and I can't remember what I was in the middle of saying or thinking.  There are times where I hit the mental brick wall and I have to ask the person I've been speaking with "What were we talking about?"  It is very embarrassing as it may appear that I'm not really interested in what we were talking about.  So the good news is that this will slowly start to get better.  The best news is that it is not lymphoma!  Whoo Hoo!!!  That monkey is off my shoulder for now.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Calm In The Eye Of The Storm

It's been one very hectic week.  And things don't look like they're going to slow down anytime soon.  Last week, as noted in this blog already, I returned to work after being off for nine months while I went through chemo treatments and then recovered.  You would think that I would return slowly....and that was my intention.  I would resume work and take it easy on my down time....NOT!!

I was very tired after work each day.  I expected that I would recuperate over the weekend.  But then I wanted to and had to support my son as he played ball in an all-star tournament.  He had to be at the ball park on Friday at 11:30 a.m. and it was at least a three hour drive away.  To make the ball weekend summary short, my son's team won the tournament on Sunday but it made for a very late night on Sunday night as we drove home.  I knew I was tired on Saturday when it was difficult to get myself up and going to the ball field.  I'm now dragging and feeling like I'm out of energy especially after an evening of work last night.

Today I have a full day of teaching.  As well, my daughter is needing my attention as she's not well and my father-in-law is arriving from out of province tonight for a visit.  This means I need to get the house in order.  This morning I awoke feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep but as I have become alert, my mind is starting to race.  This is now when I need to rely on some new tools to keep myself "calm in the eye of the storm".  So I'm blogging in an effort to release some of the anxiety.  I'm also relying on deep breathing to keep myself relaxed.

On top of al of this, I received a call yesterday booking me for an MRI on my brain tomorrow morning at 7:30.  As I mentioned last week in my 3 month check-up, my doctor was referring me for an MRI just to make sure my memory problems are not more than a lingering side effect of the chemo.  I've never had an MRI before.  I am a little afraid of the procedure but also of the "what ifs".  What if the pain I've been experiencing in my right shoulder and my right hip are signs of cancer in the bones?  What if the memory and vocabulary problems I've been having are a sign of lymphoma in the brain?  When the "what ifs" start I sometimes rebut them with the aches in my joints are due to muscles being used that haven't been used in months.  Or the memory issues are really just a lingering side effect of the chemo.  The "what ifs" are  terrible thoughts to deal with.  They can cause crippling fear.  They can cause underlying anxiety and tension which then robs you of the enjoyment of the present.  This is why, when the "what ifs" start, I use self-discipline and imagery.  I imagine the "what ifs" as balls of crumpled paper that spill out all over the floor when I open the closet door in my mind labelled "What Ifs".  Once the "what ifs" are out on the floor, I imagine taking a shovel and shovelling them back inside the closet and slamming the door.  I'm not ignoring them.  I do realize where the anxiety is coming from.  But sometimes we have to wait for answers and this is my way of putting the anxiety aside until I have the answers.  This technique of imagery along with keeping busy helped me deal with the waiting of test results while I went through the diagnostic process in December of 2011.  I've recognized over the summer and throughout September so far that the imagery of a closet labelled "What Ifs" is also helping me live in the moment and reduce the worry of the future.

I remember in June wondering how I was going to live with this thing called cancer living perched on my shoulder.  The thought of cancer is always there even though it is in remission.  Until I've cleared the 5 to 7 year mark and I'm deemed cured, I believe there will always be the "what ifs".  My challenge is living a normal, busy life without being over ridden with anxiety and fear.  For me praying helps and it is another way to keep things in perspective and balanced.

So I'm signing off and tackling the bathrooms in preparation for my father-in-law's visit.  Hopefully I will have time to exchange some clothing at a local store for my daughter and also to visit the hardware store before I start to work today.  I think it was a radio personality used to say "So go and take on the day" or something like that.  I'm off now to go and take on my day.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

3 Month Check-Up

I was very tired this morning but it was a residual tiredness from my first couple of days of teaching.  This morning I had some "down" time and as a result I had time to think.  My 3 month check-up with my oncologist was scheduled for this afternoon.  My appointment coupled with some bad news about another friend with cancer, was causing me some anxiety this morning.  This friend was diagnosed with cancer about the same time I was.  Her journey has not been as successful as my own and I learned that currently she is not doing well.  I learned this a few days ago and it has weighed heavy on my heart ever since.  It's not fair that chemotherapy works for some people and not for others!  Anyway, I was feeling some anxiety this morning.  I wasn't sure if I was feeling a lump on my jawline on the right side.  Was this another lump to be concerned about?  I've been worried about my cognitive abilities and the problems with words not coming to me, some memory lapses that I've been having and my inability to multi-task as much anymore.  I was also worrying about the swelling and achiness that occurred on Monday night after I had finished teaching.  My challenge, then this morning, was to keep the "what ifs" at bay.  In order to do that I did laundry and kept myself busy preparing for my appointment this afternoon.

I wrote down my list of questions that I wanted to ask my doctor:

1.  Impairment of my brain function?
2. Permanent heart damage from the chemotherapy?
3. Does being overweight help lymphoma return?
4. How long does it take to fully recover from the chemotherapy treatment?
5. Nerve function in my neck -- I touch the left side of my neck just under the back of the jaw and I feel it on the left side just below the collarbone-- will the nerves recover or is this permanent?
6. Swelling and achiness in the area where my neck and shoulder meet.
7. Possible lump on the right side of my jaw?

I kept myself busy and was able to make my way to my appointment without being too strung out with anxiety.  The clinic was very busy today and I was glad I had a book with me to read while I waited for my turn.  This was the first appointment that I was attending by myself.  My husband wanted to come with me and he did appear in the waiting room while I was waiting to be called.  Unfortunately, he had work commitments that needed to be tended to and I convinced him that I was comfortable going to this appointment by myself.  He just looked so torn between wanting to come with me and needing to attend to his work.  I promised him that I would drop by his office after my appointment to give him the update.

While waiting for my turn, I was saddened to see the number of people who are obviously fighting their own battles with cancer.  I'm confused about my sad feelings because I didn't have them while I was coming to the clinic every 3 weeks for my treatments and doctor appointments.  I know that I am very happy to be in remission but I also feel some sadness and maybe even guilt that I'm happy while other friends are still in a terrible fight (and losing) with this dreadful disease.  Perhaps that's where the sadness came from while I was in the waiting room today.  I also saw other patients who were visiting with each other and laughing and having a good time.  This reminded me of when I met up with a friend of our's while I was in treatment.  We had also laughed and had a good time.  Today I was happy to see that there were others that can be happy in the Cancer Clinic too.  Obviously I am filled with mixed emotions and confusion.

I finally got to see my doctor.  I asked him my questions.  I don't have to worry about any permanent heart damage.  That was a relief!  The overweight question?  The answer is no but I should try to keep the weight off through a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise.  My doctor did mention that there is a common psychological phenomena with people who have gone through chemotherapy.  People seem to give themselves permission to eat anything and give themselves treats.  That combined with the weakened state (which means less exercise) translates into weight gain.  So I do need to watch what I'm eating again and get back into a regular exercise program.  How long does it take to recover from chemo?  It takes anywhere from 6 months to up to a year.  My doctor didn't have an answer regarding why my neck nerves are mixed up.  It most likely is from the surgical biopsy but he didn't know if this permanent or temporary.  My doctor also didn't have an answer to why I would be swelling and having pain.  The lymph nodes in the area are normal.  In fact, after examining me, he said everything appears to be just fine.

He did have some concerns regarding my brain function.  It helped that during one of my questions, my brain refused to find the word to finish the question.  My doctor was able to witness this most frustrating issue.  He is almost sure that it is the "chemo fog" that people have.  It should improve.  But there is a slight possibility that there could be a trace of lymphoma in the brain.  He did some basic neurological tests on me which I passed without any problems.  He is going to send me for a MRI of my brain just to make sure.  He also said it would give him a baseline to compare to in the future.  He reassured me that he is just being very thorough and making sure what it isn't.

He is such a great doctor.  He is always so willing to answer questions and spend the time with me when I need it.  I don't want to become a hypochondriac but the symptoms I had were exactly the same as other symptoms for other conditions that women my age experience.  Living with the "what ifs" is an exercise in self-discipline as I try to be realistic but still positive.  I have to trust my doctor and believe him when he says that everything with my brain is fine.  I'll be seeing him again in six weeks. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Returning to Work

I went to bed early last night so that I would have the energy to make it through my first day of teaching piano.  I knew I was going to have a very full day and I have been a little apprehensive about my stamina and how I would do jumping straight back into a full day of teaching.  I started at 11:30 this morning and didn't finish until 7:30 tonight but then there was the accounting and bookkeeping to do as well as return phone calls and emails relating to work.

This morning, as I walked up the sidewalk into the school where I teach piano lessons, I felt the excitement and anticipation that I used to feel as a child returning to school after the summer.  I was eager to see my returning students as well as meet the new ones that are starting lessons with me this Fall.  As I pulled open the door and entered the school, I heard a voice say "Welcome back!!  Are you here for the full afternoon?  You look great!"  Having just come in from the bright, warm sunshine, I was slightly blinded until my eyes adjusted to the change of light.  The woman who was speaking to me was an EA.  She was so welcoming and genuinely pleased to see me that she came and gave me a big hug.  This brought the prick of tears to my eyes.  I was unprepared for my reaction but it doesn't surprise me that I became teary eyed.  Ever since my diagnosis became public back in January, I have become overwhelmed by everyone's concern and kindness.  I don't know how many times throughout my treatments that I would receive get well cards and I would start to cry.  Anyway, my emotions were close to the surface today as each and every teacher and EA that saw me warmly welcomed me back to the school.  My students were happy to see me back.  Some of the students seemed a little shy as they saw me with my very short and wavy/curly hair.  This is a much different look than what I was sporting last December.  As some students welcomed me back with big smiles and hugs, others were shy and appeared not to know what to say to me or how to treat me.  Still other students were afraid I was still sick and going to die.  Before each lesson began, we cleared the proverbial elephant from the room and addressed my cancer.  I told the children I was all better (I am as the lymphoma is in remission) and that I just have to see a doctor every once in a while to make sure I'm still "all better".  This seemed to put the students at ease and we were able to carry on with the lessons.  I had water with me all afternoon so that my voice would not get too tired or strained.  This has been a bit of an issue over the summer.  If I talk way too much, then my voice begins to weaken and become hoarse.  I taught at the school until 3:30 and my voice was fine.  As it would start to tire, I would drink more water and that seemed to revive it.  My other concern about returning to work is the side effect of the chemotherapy on my brain.  The most common lingering side effect is the loss of vocabulary and my forgetfulness.  This continues to happen as I have conversations and I was apprehensive going into today's lessons because what happens if I lose my words during a lesson.  This didn't occur during my lessons at the school but it did occur once during my lessons in my home studio today.

I taught out of my home today from 4 until 7:30 p.m.  Thank goodness the "word drop" only happened once and it was during a lesson with an adult.  She was very understanding and gave me time to try to get my brain working again.  My voice was tiring as the evening went on but I kept drinking my ginger green tea to keep it lubricated and warm.  This has always helped over the years as I've taught long hours.  The tea tasted wonderful.  I'm glad because I was afraid I might still be "off" of it due to the association with my treatments.  Another milestone and step forward!!

It feels great to be back to work and earning a living.  I normally wouldn't have had this many hours of teaching on a Monday but I had to move my Wednesday afternoon lessons to today so that I can go to my 3 month check-up with my oncologist on Wednesday afternoon.  I may have overdone it today.  My body and mind are tired.  The area where the tumour in my neck had been is swelling and achy.  I've probably aggravated the area as I've leaned forward, turned pages and been much more active than I've been for awhile.  I've walked the long hallways and I've run up and down the stairs at home to answer the door for my students.  I didn't expect the swelling and achiness because I've been walking briskly and long distances for a few weeks now.  So I'm now going to listen to my body and put some ice on the swelling.  I'm going to take some ibuprofen to reduce any inflammation that is occurring.  I'll be mentioning this to my doctor when I see him on Wednesday.  Well, I'm off for the night so that I can do this again tomorrow.  It's great to be back to work!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Moving Forward

Last February, I planted seeds and then watched them sprout and grow into healthy plants.  As I have healed and grown stronger, my tomato plants and pepper plants have also grown stronger.  We had a very dry summer and my husband took it upon himself to regularly water the tomato plants that I had transplanted into the garden.  The symbolism of the plants growing was very important to him.  They are now bearing lots of fruit.

Over the last couple of days, I have been excitedly harvesting the ripe tomatoes.  Yesterday I made tomato juice and canned it for use later on in the winter.  I was very proud of myself for being able to have the stamina to make the juice and can it yesterday afternoon.  I was very tired afterwards so I had a short nap because my husband and I were planning on attending a fundraiser last night.

I'm glad I had the nap because it refreshed me enough that we were able to go out and enjoy some of the live music at the memorial benefit concert in  memory of Taylor Allan.  This was an event to raise money to add to the Taylor Allan memoria bursary that is administered by the Limestone Learning Foundation.  The evening also included a live auction and a silent auction.  I enjoyed myself but felt myself tiring as the evening went on.  When we returned home around 10:30 p.m., I went straight to bed as I'd had a full day.

A couple of days ago, I was hoping that today we'd be able to make a family trip to the Avonmore Berry Farm and go apple picking.  I have apples growing in my back yard, but they've been too small and wormy to use for freezing in order to make pies and apple crisp in the winter.  Anyway, I wanted to go to Avonmore early this morning, go to my old church and visit with old neighbours and friends as well as go apple picking.  I was really looking forward to doing this today.  Unfortunately, my body didn't listen to my mind and I slept through until 9 this morning.  I struggled to be alert this morning.  Finally my husband suggested that we hop on his scooter and drive to our new minister's open house that she was having at her new home this afternoon.  This sounded like fun, but I was still tired.  He left to go and pick up the items he had won at the silent auction last night.  While he was gone, I got myself going but was still dragging.  When my husband returned, he suggested that getting out of the house might be just what I needed.

So we hopped on the scooter and enjoyed the 50 minute drive to the open house.  We sped past the Bombardier plant where you could see the light rail system and a train that they use for testing purposes.  We drove up and down hills and around curves throughout the rural area.  Being on the scooter, you get to experience the trip in a very different way than by automobile.  As we drove by swampy areas, I could smell the musty vegetation and stale swampy water.  As we drove past farms, I could smell the fresh cut hay even before I saw them cutting it.  I could also smell cattle and horses as we passed by the various farms.  Sometimes I could even smell the unpleasant smell of old roadkill or the odd skunk.  Once we arrived at our destination, it was heartwarming  to see so many people from the church!  They were all so caring and solicitous to both my husband and I.  Our minister's husband made fresh scones and they were cut in half.  Some scone halves were topped with butter and our minister's homemade strawberry jam or grape jelly while others were topped with clotted cream and the strawberry jam or grape jelly.  This was all served with tea or lemonade.  It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon which passed by much too quickly.  The scooter ride back home seemed to take less time than on the way there.  However, by the time we arrived home, I was very stiff and feeling a little chilled.   I have an opportunity to go and watch my husband and son play softball tonight, but I think I will choose to stay home and go to bed early so that I can handle the teaching tomorrow.

I am a little apprehensive about starting teaching tomorrow because I'm not sure how my stamina will hold out.  I'm also excited to be returning to teaching.  This is another indication of my return to health and moving forward in life.  I've travelled through a difficult year and I'm ready to move on.  I'm wanting to move forward but every time I look in the mirror, I see myself with my very short hair.  It is a constant reminder to me of everything that has happened.  Part of me is proud of surviving lymphoma and my image in the mirror reinforces that pride.  Another part of me sees that woman in the mirror staring back and it feels like a chain that is holding me back from moving forward.  The woman with the short hair (it's too short to do anything with yet) is a constant reminder of everything I want to forget.  But...despite it all I'm excited to be finally moving slowly forward in life.

Today has been a great day.  I've celebrated my return to health with my church family and I've enjoyed the great outdoors as I've zoomed along as a passenger on my husband's scooter.  I'm looking forward to the adventure of this coming week as I see students that I haven't seen since last December.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


My father died of lung cancer when I was almost 27 years old.  This was four months before my wedding.  The lasting impact of this event was that I recognized life is short.  It changed me and made me realize that my relationships with family and friends are more important than worldly, material "things".  Our money doesn't comfort us when we've had a bad day.  Our possessions won't help us through major life changes.  Relationships are extremely important and special.  This was reinforced again when my family doctor told me in November of last year that the lump in my neck was either lung cancer, thyroid cancer or lymphoma.

My relationship with my husband has become even stronger and healthier in the last nine months.  I love my children so very much but they are teenagers and they are at the stage where they want nothing to do with me.  I recognize that this is part of a teenager's attempt to gain independence and grow from a child to an adult.  The relationship with my daughter reminds me of the book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  Mr. Munsch describes the teenage years really well.  "He grew until he was a teenager.  He had strange friends and he wore strange clothes and he listened to strange music.  Sometimes the mother felt like she was in a zoo!"  I definitely feel like my teenagers are a different species from myself.  What bothers me is that life is short and, as I respect my teenagers' wants of independence and space from me, I am hurting because of the "teenage attitude".  I'm trying to understand my children.  I give them their space.  My fear is that in doing so, they will never return to me.  I guess I'm feeling nostalgic for when they were little children and we'd go for walks together, spend time together, play board games together and have fun together.  I miss those days and the teenage years are so much different that it hurts.  I also recognize that I'm much more sensitive to how brief life can be.  It can be taken from us in an instant.

This was reinforced to me again yesterday.  I've been spending the last week contacting my students and arranging lessons.  Last night I answered the phone and it was the father of a family that I have taught for 10 years.  I had a very long conversation with this gentleman.  This is another family that has had a health challenge that "blew them out of the water".  My chat with this father has echoed with me all evening and into this morning.  Literally in an instant, we can be taken from our family.  It doesn't matter how fit you are.  It doesn't matter how much money you have.  Life can be snuffed out immediately.  I think of this family and I think of my own situation.  Sometimes, we just don't have the luxury of time to wait out the teenage years.  This morning, I have a sense of urgency to figuratively shake my children and other teenagers out of their attitudes.  "WAKE UP!!" is what I want say.  "LIFE IS TOO SHORT!" is what I want to get through to them.  It doesn't matter what I say, how I say it or what I do because my teenagers automatically think I'm being critical and combative.  I want their attitudes to change.  This summer (and it was reinforced with the conversation I had with the father last night) I had and I continue to have a strong sense of motivation to have healthy relationships within my immediate family and also to nurture the relationships with all my friends.

In order to have healthy relationships, I truly believe you need to spend time with the people.  I've spent my summer visiting friends and spending time with family.  I want to spend time with my daughter.  I want to spend time with my son.  We recognized that our son wanted to spend as much time with his girlfriend before she went away to post-secondary education.  We let him do that.  I missed him terribly.  We've let our daughter spend time with her friends.  We've let both our children have their "alone" time in separate rooms from us.  I miss them terribly and I want to spend time with my children!  When I walk into a room to see what they're up to, I'm treated with suspicion and indifference.  I know that this is regular teenage "stuff" but it still hurts.  I'm just so afraid that all this could lead to a permanent chasm in our relationships because we don't spend "good" time together.  If the lymphoma ever came back, I'm afraid that my time in life would be shortened considerably and I may not have the luxury to wait until my children outgrow these attitudes.  I want healthy, close relationships with my children.  I want to be a friend to them.  I want to enjoy their presence and I want them to enjoy being with me.

All these anxieties have the capability to eat away at my insides.  When I really think about them and identify them, they create stress within me.  Throughout my life as I've had major challenges and crises, I have turned to my faith to help me through them.  As I write the blog this morning, I recognize that I cannot change my children.  They have to change themselves.  I can't figuratively bonk them over the head.  They have to come to the realization themselves of how important family relationships are.  So when things are out of my control, I pray.  I am handing over my anxieties and fears about my relationships with my children to God.  I will continue to pray for peace and serenity for myself.  I will continue to pray that my children will traverse the teenage years safely.  I will continue to try to spend time with them.  I will continue to give them their space and respect them as individuals.  Please God just don't let them take too long to recognize how important family relationship are!  As far as my fear of the lymphoma returning, that is being put back in the "What If Closet" in my mind.  That door is being shut and locked.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Old Fashioned or Just Plain Rude

I'm of an age that I remember when personal computers became available for the regular masses.  I probably could have lived without a personal computer because I like to do "old fashioned" activities such as walking for exercise and enjoyment, gardening, playing instruments and singing, visiting with friends over tea or coffee and having daily eye-to-eye contact with my family and friends.

When we bought our first home computer, my husband was very excited and eager to learn to use it both for work and leisure.  I also learned to use it for both work and leisure.  Not long after having our new computer, I noticed that my husband and I were spending less time together when we were both at home.  Due to our work schedules, we often had less than 2 or 3 hours a day together.  I started to blame the computer and felt resentment towards this piece of metal that had come into our home.  You see, my husband (and I too, I must admit) was choosing to spend time on the computer "playing" and less time "visiting" with me when we were both home.  Combined with the fact that when my husband was home but not on the computer, in all honesty, I was also spending time on the new computer instead of having eye-to-eye communication with my husband.  Needless to say, we were a young couple and still learning how to live with each other and compromise as husband and wife.  I noticed that we were drifting apart as we spent less time talking with each other and more time "playing" on the computer.  We eventually worked our way through this distraction and decided to make time for each other.

As our family grew with the addition of children, we used the computer as a teaching tool.  Now our children are teenagers and I see the same lack of eye-to-eye contact in our family unit as what plagued my husband and I when we were younger.  Now there is not just the personal computer but there are cell phones, IPhones, IPods, Tablets, laptops, etc.  The rule in our household is that there are to be no electronic devices at the table while we eat.  Then we can be forced to have eye-to-eye communication.  Yeah, right! (sigh).  Everyone can't get finished their meals fast enough to escape from the table and go back to the electronic devices!

I seem to be very attuned and sensitive to the rudeness of people using their IPhones and cell phones for texting while with other people.  It bothers me to no end when my son is so busy texting that he doesn't hear us speak to him in the car when we are on a family trip.  The same goes for my daughter when she's got her IPod on with the ear buds in her ears.  I have a cell phone and it is a basic pay as you go for emergency use only.  I feel totally ignored and undervalued when I'm on the patio with my husband on a warm day or evening and the electronic device comes out because he just has to update his facebook.  I think this is very rude and when I mention it to him, he is very willing to put it away.  I just think it is common courtesy to keep the electronic devices closed down while you spend time with family and friends.  Is it really necessary to update your facebook page every minute of the day for your electronic friends at the expense of ignoring (even momentarily) the flesh and blood friend or family right beside you?!  Do I really have to remind you that I'm there beside you?!  I have been known to just leave the patio and my presence isn't even missed.

The other day my husband, my daughter and I walked up to the mall to do some shopping.  We used to enjoy each others' company when we went on "family" walks and I guess I miss those walks.  As an aside, I feel nostalgia for the days when my children were young and we'd go for family walks with the kids riding their bicycles.  Anyway, on the way to the mall, my daughter had her IPod in her pocket along with one ear bud in her ear.  When I spoke to her, she seemed to not hear me so I mentioned that it was rude to have the ear buds in her ears when she's with people.  Her response to me was, "There's only one ear bud in my ear.  I can hear you through my other ear."  So does this mean she was ignoring me deliberately?!  I still don't know and I still think it is very rude.  I have been in other situations with friends when we've been visiting and the electronic devices are out and you hear tap, tap, tap while they update Facebook, Twitter, etc with pictures, information or whatever.  I strongly feel it is rude.  As I mentioned before in regards to my husband, I think that anyone who texts, uploads pictures, follows other people's Facebook pages, Twitter "tweets", etc while they are with me are not only being extremely rude but they are sending me a personal non-verbal message that I am not worthy of their time or full attention!

My children call me old fashioned.  I've been told I need to "get with the times".  Perhaps I'm too sensitive.  Whatever the reason, I think that life is too short to ignore people while you are with them face to face.  Does it really hurt to put away the electronic devices for an hour or two while you are with me?  It's the end of my rant but maybe it's something we should ponder as we go through our day.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Paradoxes...Quiet Stillness or Hectic Busyness

I'm still trying to settle into my changed routine.  It was very easy while I was sick to have quiet time so I could reflect and meditate.  As the summer has progressed and I'm regaining my strength and stamina, I'm living life to the fullest as well.  This seems to translate into less "quiet" time.

My husband has always labelled me as a type A personality.  I like to keep busy and fill my day with activities that promote my relationships with my husband, family and friends.  It makes me feel like I've accomplished something worthwhile.  I love to visit with small groups of friends.   So in order to keep in touch with everyone, I used to fill our weekends with activities with friends.  At the same time, I would fill the weekends with errands for our children, or going to activities that they were involved in so they knew how much they meant to us and we totally supported them in their endeavours.  It used to be the norm that I would be up at 6:30 a.m. and running solid until 10 or 10:30 p.m.  Then I would fall into bed and start the next day all over again.  This has a type A personality agenda written all over it!

While I underwent chemotherapy, my body's lack of health forced me to sit quietly for hours at a time.  What a relief this was!!!  How nice it was that I didn't have to organize, plan or "run around like a chicken with its head cut off".  The paradox to this was that while I was embracing a slower lifestyle, I still wanted to watch my children's activities.  I still wanted to "do".  But....I also learned how to stop and enjoy some "quiet" time.

My current challenge is to achieve a balance of quiet and serene time in conjunction with my busy lifestyle of teaching and organizing a busy household.  One of the new routines I want to continue is to take a full 30 minutes of uninterrupted, absolute stillness and quietness.  During this 30 minutes, I read "The Friendship Book" and take time to absorb and contemplate the entry for the day.  Next, I read "The Book of Awakening" by Mark Nepo and, again, I take the time to absorb, contemplate and act on the suggested meditation exercises for the day.  I find when I do this, my day seems to go much easier.  I seem to handle any negativity that comes my way so much better.  You would think that because I enjoy this time so much that I would not have any difficulty building it into the start of my day.  Wrong!  My type A personality gets in the way.  I get up in the morning, put the coffee on, read the paper, check my email, read the blogs I follow and check my facebook.  By this time, the other members of the family are up and the hustle and bustle of the house is beginning to hum.  There goes my "quiet" time.

While I was in California, I was able to do my readings and meditation every day.  Since I've come back, I seem to be missing days at a time.  This past week, I've started to contact my students and get myself organized to resume teaching private music lessons in September.  As I'm getting stronger and taking on more tasks, I'm forgetting to nurture my inner self with the meditations.  Again, the paradox of all this is that I want both the quiet, serene and contemplative time as well as the busy, "worthwhile" time.  Perhaps this is my problem.  I've bought into the world's measure of worth.  In order to be worthy, we need to be multi-tasking and "doing" from the time we arise in the morning until we fall into bed at night.  I have to keep reminding myself that my inner self is just as worthy and the quiet time of just sitting, reading, contemplating and meditating is just as important or more important than the doing.

I know that I use an agenda/calendar to keep myself organized and on task.  In order to get in the habit of daily quiet time at the beginning of the day, I may have to enter this into my agenda.  I may have to arise earlier in the day and "schedule" my meditation time before anyone else is up and about.  I just know that I want to continue this routine which started back in March while I was still undergoing treatments.  These daily moments helped me cope with anxiety and the unkown of cancer and treatments.  I truly believe these daily moments will continue to help me cope with the stress of living life to the fullest.  So I'm raising my cup of coffee to the art of finding the balance between quiet stillness and hectic busyness.