Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Slight Resolution

The other day I was sitting in my office, crunching numbers and pushing paper – needless to say, my brain wasn’t all that engaged – and I started thinking ‘If I could be anyone, in the entire world, who would it be?’ I scrolled through a few beautiful actresses, rich people crossed my mind, people who have never had cancer came rushing in too but I kept coming back to the same person – me. Now, that is not a normal reaction to this question that I’ve been asking myself for as long as I can remember.
I've spent many years wanting to be anyone skinny (I’m still kinda partial to this one), I spent years wanting to be someone rich, someone famous, someone who has traveled the world, someone who wasn’t afraid of needles and a variety of other people who had traits that I admired or characteristics that I envied. It was only the other day that I realized that I wanted to be me.
I have said this before, but although getting cancer at 26 wasn’t exactly what I would call ideal, I have learned life lessons in my twenties that I may not have learned until my sixties or maybe even ever. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy into that whole ‘Cancer is a gift’ garbage, I am just trying to turn a horrible situation into a manageable one.
I think Keith and I have done things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise, like our Christmas trip to NYC. I think we would have put that off, until ‘next year’ and India – can you believe that I’m going to India? I fly out on the 14th of February to Delhi along with 11 other cancer survivors to volunteer for two weeks. I am at a point in this cancer business (I just can’t write ‘journey’ anymore) where I am starting not to feel like a cancer patient anymore and I feel as though it’s time to look to the future rather than the past. I am hoping that this adventure helps answer the 'now what' post-cancer question. I would have never gone to India if I didn't have cancer and didn't have questions that needed answering. It is way out of my comfort zone and I have never been more excited about something.
I am also not trying to convince anyone (including myself) that my life is problem-free or perfect. My weight is at the forefront of my thoughts every day (who am I kidding, it's every minute) and this one breast thing is really getting old. I don't have much money and I owe a lot to the student-loan department of the government. I went to school for six years for three degrees in education and I am working in accounting. I still rent an apartment and aspire to own a home one day. I live four hours away from family and am missing out on our nieces and nephews milestones.
I am alive. I have surrounded myself with the kind of people that you only hear about in books. Keith and I spend the majority of our time laughing at cancer, at each other, and together. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a pony tail. Although not having a breast does give me some anxiety and only feeds into my body image issues, I am starting to accept that it was part of the price that had to be paid to stay alive. I am slow moving on the reconstruction train but I am getting there.
I am surrounding by such generous, kind, and caring people. Your know, after coming to and supporting my benefit in 2011, friends and family dug deep into their pockets again and donated to Team Katie at the Relay for Life and then when I told people I was going to India as part of my survivorship business, they stepped up again to get me there. Saying 'thank you' seems like a slap in the face compared to how I feel. I am so grateful to so many people.
Some days I struggle, some days the bone pain from chemo that still ails me puts me into a recurrence tail spin and other days I can convince myself that it's the chemo still working hard to fend off any potential cancer. I have the regular challenges that everyone has - too much to do - not enough time - need to organize - don't eat this - gotta eat that - and so on - but I think I have just learned how to compartmentalize what's important, what needs to be dealt with, and what can wait. I've learned to take a deep breath and work my way through life. I feel like I am living and not plowing through each year so I can get to the next like I used to. I can safely say that I am enjoying each day.
Keith and I have made a slight resolution. We have decided to do what makes us feel good in 2013. I am very hard on myself for just about everything and many times it results in guilt and struggle. I'm going to do my best to reassure myself that I am enough. As I have said, 2011 was awful, 2012 was great, and if this pattern continues, 2013 is going to be spectacular!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Blame Game

As time passed from my initial diagnosis, more and more people asked me the reason for my cancer. I think they wanted an answer so it gave them something to avoid and somehow provided them with more protection from the disease. They were hoping that I said ‘Uh, well, when I was a kid I swallowed some poisonous floor cleaner and it gathered in my breast and turned into a tumour’ so they could in turn say ‘Oh, thank God I never swallowed floor cleaner and therefore will never have cancer.’ People seemed to want to be able to put their blame somewhere, so they felt less threatened by the reality of cancer and it seemed harder and harder for people to grasp the concept that my cancer is a big question mark.

Never the less, I have been told by many, many people, who don’t have any medical or oncological training, that my cancer has a cause. Some people think it was the hormones from the birth control pill, others think it was stress, others think it was the food I eat or the deodorant I used, and others have blamed it on our environment. I continue to assure them that my entire medical team is baffled but regardless of genetic testing being negative, having no family history, and being only twenty six when I was diagnosed, they feel as though they know the answer.

In the beginning, I would let this kind of thing go, or just agree with the different conclusions to the cause of my cancer but I am starting to get annoyed – pissed even – because I think this blame game that we are playing is detrimental to our health. On Facebook yesterday I saw a picture of a bald woman, obviously hooked up to chemo, with IV bags lingering everywhere with a picture of a green fruit in the forefront and it said ‘The Soursop [it is some kind of fruit] – Totally ignored by the criminally murderous pharmaceutical industry, this medicinal tropical fruit kills cancer cells up to 10, 000 times more effectively than their expensive failure called chemotherapy with no side effects.’ Are you fucking serious? This just pisses me off. This picture blames me for losing my hair, for feeling like shit for 6 months, for not having a breast anymore, for taking a year off work, for everything that comes with cancer. It’s saying that I had a choice and when I had to choose my course of survival, I chose chemotherapy; a treatment that has horrible side effects and may have left me infertile instead of a simple fruit. What an idiot! The choice is so obvious, pick the fruit you moron, you like fruit, and it's 10000 times better than chemo and the bonus? No side effects. Man, people are stupid who decide to go through chemo. (You see where I’m going with this?).

What pisses me off even more is that I know of women who have been fit their entire lives, who don’t smoke or drink and who eat organically and guess what – they got cancer. Is their cancer somehow not their fault but because I didn’t eat organically and am overweight, my cancer is my fault? I was told by a doctor who specializes in nutrition and health that at 26 years old, it is physically impossible for me to be the reason for my cancer – I have not had enough time to be the cause because in 26 years, my body cannot produce a tumour because of something that I’ve done. Wow, did that feel good to hear. It doesn’t give me a free pass to live a reckless life but it does relieve some of the guilt that I have felt about somehow causing my own cancer due to stupid shit like this Facebook post (as someone who doesn’t smoke, drinks maybe 3 drinks a month, and has a relatively healthy diet).

This soursop fruit might be wonderfully healthy and it might have cancer killing agents but I absolutely detest when people who have never had cancer preach about how they would react if they were faced with it. I fully support alternative medicine and if anything, I am envious of those who are brave enough to refuse chemo because they believe in a more natural route but to say that chemo doesn’t work or that drinking green tea will cure the aggressive cancer tumour growing at a rapid pace in my breast is morally irresponsible and ill informed. And oddly enough, in all of the research that I did on breast cancer, treatment, chemo, fertility, etc. etc. etc. I found actual data and research about how chemo works and the survival rate and yet, I didn’t come across one thing that said ‘soursop is the cure.’

When I initially read this Facebook post (along with a variety of other ones that say marijuana will cure cancer, eating sugar is a sure way to get cancer, drinking green tea is a sure way to avoid it, etc.) I was pretty angry and it led to a tweet that resulted in a number of replies that I want to share with you (keep in mind that you only have 140 characters in a tweet so grammar doesn’t really count on Twitter).

My original tweet – ‘I hate reading about how people who have never had cancer would not do chemo and would instead eat a certain fruit or drink a special tea.


From @ChristinaNewman – ‘talking to hubby about this – I used to be that girl – refused treatment for 11 months till I realized I would die w/o treatment.’ I loved her honesty. You just don’t know how you would react unless you are faced with these decisions.

From @zapladybug ‘When I was first diagnosed *two* people told me green tea cures #breastcancer. Two. To my face. And they were sober.’ I loved this. It was retweet worthy. Seriously, who says that?

From @arielnoriega5 ‘Agreed! People think they would do one thing but when you are put in the situation, one thing is clear… treatment!! #Life’. Yep, couldn’t agree more.

From @terriwingham ‘Seriously. I think it’s total garbage as I sip my red wine ;-) Everything in moderation even moderation is my mantra :)’. Terri, you’re so friggin’ great!

From @slieks ‘Even worse when they try to convince you it’s the key to your survival.’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

From @lexieann73 ‘Agree! Unless they have been there and done that they should keep their mouth shut.’ I don’t pretend to know how I would treat MS if I was diagnosed and the same should be said for cancer.

From @iamnotcancer ‘After I finished chemo, an acquaintance told me a friend’s mother was cured by marijuana oil. Pot cures.’ Don’t forget your green tea!

From @nancebeth ‘I was told that grilled food caused my #breastcancer and that there was an herbal tea available that would cure it’. Aha! I knew there was a tea for that.

To my cancer peeps – thanks for listening, this post was brewing for months. To non-cancer peeps, please be very conscious of telling people why you think they have cancer and how to treat their cancer and don’t forget that sometimes bad cancer happens to good people, and instead of trying to get to the bottom of it, accept it – we have.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

There Is No Less Pain

Today, I write with a heavy heart.
On the 28th of December, I got an e-mail from someone at YACC (Young Adult Cancer Canada) and the subject said ‘Open when you have some time and privacy.’ I was in my office, at work, and for some reason, when I heard the ‘ding’ of my phone, I checked it. I didn’t really read the subject and instead just started reading the e-mail. It was an e-mail that informed us ‘YACCers’ that one of our own had died, on Christmas Day.
Back in May, Keith and I went out to Alberta for a YACC Retreat and I was lucky enough to meet Naomi. Naomi was one of about 25 other survivors, caregivers, and healthcare providers at the retreat. We all arrived as strangers and we all left as hugging friends and although it was mentioned (as a form of preparation) that sometimes we lose some of our friends to cancer, I just never really expected it to happen. Although Naomi and I didn’t stay in contact after the retreat, we were united by cancer and by the experience of the retreat.
Reading of her passing was difficult. I was grateful that my office door was closed as I shed a few tears at my desk. I have never asked myself why I got cancer, it really doesn’t matter, and to be honest, I have convinced myself that it’s so my mom, mother-in-law, sister, sister-in-laws, aunts, cousins, and nieces never have to go through it. I do however ask myself why I was spared. Why was I ‘cured’ while others are diagnosed with a more aggressive cancer or a cancer that is farther along? Naomi’s family and new husband don’t hurt any less than my family would, there is no less pain in the world because Naomi died from cancer and I didn’t.
This is the first time that I have experienced someone dying from the same thing that I had and I don’t know how to deal with it. I am having a hard time getting through this blog entry - I’ve wanted to write something for a few days now but I just haven’t found the right words or the strength. I so wanted to go to her wake and I selfishly didn’t because I was too scared. I was afraid that I would sob, loudly, the entire time. I didn’t want to take away from her, I didn’t want anyone consoling me when it wasn’t about me, it was about her. On the 31st, via facebook, it was ‘Wear something Sparkly for Naomi Day’ and I participated; I felt like I was doing something in an otherwise helpless situation.
I feel as though cancer is that one thing you hope your doctor doesn’t say. It’s what we are all afraid of happening. For some reason, cancer didn’t seem as scary to me once I finished treatment as it did before my diagnosis because I knew that I could survive it. I mean the thought of having it again is horrifying but for some reason, it doesn’t scare me in the same way that it once did, that is, up until I found out about Naomi. It’s like her death has really brought everything to the surface again, it makes cancer real, the feelings new, and the pain as fresh as it was on March 11th, 2011.
Up until I had cancer, when I heard about someone who had died, I thought about the family of the deceased and how they were coping and to be honest, I have thought about her family and her husband every day since I found out. But since cancer, when I hear of someone who has died, I have started thinking about what he or she thought about during his or her last day on earth. I think about the way I would be, and if I would be crying because I’d be scared to be alone, I think I’d be scared for what the after-life looks like, I'd think about what I hadn't accomplished and how everyone would deal with my death. Does that make sense? I guess it’s because for the first time in my life, I could picture myself in a hospital bed, surrounded by family…
Although I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the 'old Katie' I know that deep down she is gone and along with 'new Katie' comes new challenges, new heartache, and new loss and although I would like to resign as a cancer survivor and just be me again, I am learning that alongside cancer comes continual struggle well after treatment is over.
I want to dedicate this entry to Naomi. You were a star on earth and now you are a star in the sky. Thank you for brightening my life.