Author Archives: joannebeatscancer

LOOKING FORWARD…

As I sat with Joanne courageously completing the last of her major treatments yesterday, I found myself reflecting back on how she had somehow found the inner strength and courage to fight through every obstacle she was presented with.  I think it’s the greatest impression I’m left with at the end of these past 14 months.  Joanne’s unyielding tenacity, resilience and overly positive attitude have been consistent from start to finish.  Never one to back down from a challenge (or an argument:), her innate grit of character and natural tendency to always put her best foot forward, have undoubtedly been her greatest assets in battling Cancer.

With this latest milestone behind us, our focus can now shift on ensuring the summer of 2017 more than makes up for the past year, and in particular, the most difficult months when Joanne was undergoing Chemo, Radiation and Herceptin.  Our plans to recognize “recovery” started a few weeks back with an overnight stay in Toronto where we saw Joanne’s favourite band: U2, and will continue with our highly anticipated annual cottage vacation this coming week, followed by a family trip to Costa Rica in August!

And so, we are looking forward…to just about anything that comes our way, as long as our family remains healthy, happy and intact…I can’t ask for anything more.  My sincere and heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone that has graciously given our family support while Joanne was mopping the floor with Mr. “C”….we are forever indebted to you all.

“I just can’t picture myself quitting, I’ll never quit and I know I won’t quit so I don’t even think about it.  All I think about is when times are hard they’re not always going to be like that.  It’s got to change eventually so I keep on going until they do” – Terry Fox

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CAN FLOWERS QUELL A MOUNTAIN LION?

Flowers for my girl.  That’s really all she wants today…her 48th.  The annual collection gathering.  A yearly rebirth for our well loved garden.  I know I’ve said this before, but tending to her beloved backyard oasis is one of her favourite rituals, her therapeutic retreat.  She just has this innate ability to truly make everything thrive…it’s really quite exceptional.  Oh, did I mention how deeply knowledgeable she is about it.  Go ahead, ask her to name “anything” sprouting above the dirt in our yard and you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at…yep, who needs Google.  Actually, she’s like that about most things…

Garden aside, it just feels good knowing how much better a place she’s in now than a year ago.  Yesterday was the anniversary of Chemo treatment #1, so ya, I’d say things have improved greatly since then. 🙂  There have been a few bumps in the road since my last post.  A couple of on-going symptoms that raised some real concerns but all and all how could we ever complain…we know we have it so much better than many others.

Our friend Dawn, someone who’s been working through her own struggles this past year, sent Joanne the following blog post a few weeks ago which she loved and immediately resonated with.  Clearly aligning with our sense of humour, we found it both cleverly written and enormously entertaining.  I’m still laughing, and therefore feeling compelled to share.  It’s always nice to read something about Cancer that doesn’t increase stress levels or require a box of Kleenex 🙂

May you and your loved ones forever avoid the Mountain Lion…

TIME TO WINE

“Tickets Please.”

“Tickets…!”

“All Boarding the ‘Fast Track to Full Recovery‘ please check in at Gate #7.  Train leaves in 10mins everyone.  No exceptions.”

“Oh @&*%, that’s our train.  Where’d I put the damn tickets?  I just had them here a minute ago.  Wait!  O.k.,…hold it, I think I’ve found them.  Here!”

“Um,…just a minute.  It seems you’ve made your way into the wrong boarding line here Sir.  You do realize these tickets are for the ‘Slow Uncertain Track to God Knows Where‘, …don’t you?” 

“Excuse me??  There must be some mistake.  We’re certain we purchased the ‘Fast Track’ tickets, not these ‘Slow, whatever the %&$* Track’ ones!

“Sorry Sir,…no exceptions.  Please step aside and board the proper train, you’re holding up everyone else.”

….”Next in line please!!”

“Fast Track to Full Recovery” 🙂 <– read in the tone of Steve Martin saying “get away car” at the end track #6 (Hostages) from his 1979 ‘Comedy is not Pretty’ album to get the intended delivery.

Steve Martin – Hostages

So, we met with the Oncologist earlier this week, and although everything is progressing as planned we were a little deflated upon leaving.  Statements like, “sorry, we’ll just have to wait for you to notice any changes in your health before we can re-test to see if the Cancer has returned”, “every Cancer free year is what we hope for but 5 or 10yrs would be better”…ah, you do know we’re right here don’t ya Doc?  Alright, alright,..if I had to choose an absolute favourite …”if it comes back again it’s incurable”.  So, how do I go about thanking you for putting that spring back in my step?

And so we’ve officially entered the ‘mental stage’ of the game which sometimes feels like a lifetime of apprehension awaits us.  All very sobering for sure,..which is exactly why I made a beeline to the closest L.C.B.O. and picked up a very nice bottle of wine for us to enjoy this weekend.  Oh ya, that’s right…Joanne has finally shed her damn Chemo wine aversion, and I’d say the timing is pretty much bang on.

 

RADIATION? BEEN THERE, DONE THAT.

Today’s a good day.  One we hope will mark the end of the worst period Joanne will ever have to endure in her on-going fight with Cancer.  The last of the 25 radiation treatments was completed this afternoon.  Not out of the woods yet but light is breaking through and we’ve almost made it to the edge of the treeline.  Time to crack open something celebratory and raise a glass to Joanne’s awesomeness 🙂

Origins of RADGirl !

This post is dedicated to my two boys,…both who’ve witnessed the amazing resolve and strength of their mother over these past many months.  With Halloween approaching and their life long appreciation for Comic books and Superheros I thought it would be fun to shake it up a bit for them this time…

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Somewhere deep…within the dark, damp reaches far beneath Mount Torment winds an endless maze of cavernous tunnels.  Only one combination of innumerable twists and turns eventually rewards it’s disoriented traveler with the frightening realization that the ageless myths are true.  The research Lab of the brilliant yet mentally unstable Dr. Geiger actually does exist!

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Busily preparing for the day’s events the slimy Dr. G. slithers amongst the endless rows of scientific instruments and bubbling concoctions scattered throughout the laboratory.  Pleased with the resolve and inner strength of this new patient he quietly ponders the amount of testing still needed to achieve his elusive goal.  His latest discovery is a very special individual…and the next “hopeful” in the long and tireless search for a truly amazing being.  Just one test subject is needed that can endure the agonizing radiation process.  Will this be the one?  He MUST know his life’s work has meaning,…WAS not in vain, and WILL erase the many years of ridicule from his peers.  Is today that day?  The day his life long dream to present the world with a genetically mutated Super being is realized?!!  Mmmm..wha-ha-hahaha!

Scurrying in the background, resident Lab monkey Pauvo Pecorino works quickly to tie down the last of the leg and arm restraints.  The semi-conscious patient catches one last glimpse of the hideous assistant before succumbing to the effects of the preparatory injections.

“Heh heh…one strap left to tighten Dr. Geiger then we’re ready to administer the next dose of radiation.”

“Good, good…she’s been progressing wonderfully so far Pauvo.  Let’s see how the fourth treatment goes.  We’re well beyond the most aggressive accelerated radiation schedule ever tolerated by a human before…unprecedented.”

“Yesz Dr., such an incredible specimen..hee hee.  No one has come remotely close to these bombardment levels before.  Strong evidence of some sort of genetic anomaly I suppose?  Her predisposition to express new and powerful abilities is very high isn’t it?”

“Most definitely Pauvo, but I just can’t put my finger on it – nor your incessant drooling.  What is wrong with you Pecorino?  But more importantly, what in God’s name has allowed her to tolerate such levels?  Could she actually be the one to complete the mutation process?!!!”

“Yes,…YES,…your life’s work could be realized today…snort snort!”  Pecorino slowly makes his way over to the wall of controls to initiate the program.  He fumbles to set up the technical behemoth in front of him.

“I’m preparing the treatment chamber Dr. G.- dropping temps, oxygen levels maxed, external vacuum chamber armed and Linear accelerators engaged.”

As Pauvo’s incessant fiddling breathes life into the equipment he begins a series of inhumanly contorted dance moves to express his excitement.  When finished, he pleasingly shouts “Treatment #4 is now in progress Dr. G.!!”

After what seems like an eternity, smoke begins to billow within the testing chamber and a cocophony of alarms suddenly erupt throughout the lab.  The mad scientist and his gangly dull-witted assistant are all but helpless in trying to stop the chain of events initiated only moments ago.

“Pauvo, turn it off….something’s just not right – her cellular division is occurring at an alarming rate!  All vitals are off the charts!”

” I, I, I can’t Dr.  Once the system is initiated it has to run through to completion.  There’s nothing we can do but wait it out and hope she can sustain it…uhhnzz”!

“Wh-what — this isn’t possible!!  We’re approaching a 10,000 rad dose and climbing. She’s absorbing it as fast as it can be delivered…like some kind of radioactive sponge.”

“Quick Pauvo!  The Antiemetic injection.  Cellular division rate and internal temperatures continue to increase.  Each cell has somehow mutated into an incredible power plant.  Her body is converting all the radiation we can throw at her.  All of them morphing into something far greater,….so much more powerful.  Unbelievable…this could be it !!!”

As the confusion and excitement continue to build the doctor and his Lab mule work feverishly to stop what they had started.  As they stare hopelessly into the chamber the thick smoke begins to dissipate.  Peering deeper within, a familiar yet astoundingly different image starts to emerge before their eyes within the shadowy background.  Is what they’re seeing for real?  Could the experiment have finally succeeded?  Could this astonishingly impressive figure now standing in front of them be the reluctant subject they started out with?

To their amazement they quickly realize just what they have created.  Something very precious,…something the world shall never forget….something much stronger and resilient than ever imagined…

Behold,…the incredible RADGirl !

marvel-girl

RADGirl (alias Joanne) is currently undergoing 25 rounds of daily radiation.  So far, it’s been going well but there’s still another 21 sessions to go.  And yet, with an endless stream of old guys without pants walking around the waiting room the entertainment value continues to be worth the drive every time 🙂

SAVED BY THE BELL

There’s a wonderful tradition followed at the Credit Valley Cancer Clinic where each Cancer patient gets to ring a celebratory bell at the end of their last Chemo treatment.  Each and every ring since starting stage one back in May has become a motivating reminder…”you can do this”, “you will make it through Chemo too”, “you can win this battle”…

So when Joanne got to ring the bell yesterday it was an amazing feeling.  It brought on a mix of emotions;… pride, elation and relief.  This was followed by a few moments of holding back tears as we listened to waves of applause erupt throughout the clinic while receiving hugs and well wishes from a number of the nursing staff.  It was a little mind bending to finally be on the receiving end of such a warm and genuine reaction to Joanne having ‘made it’ through her Chemo.  And although there’s still a long way to go before finishing the remaining stages of treatment, we leave Chemo behind us with as much positive energy as we can conjure.  Cancer isn’t on the mat yet but he’s looking a bit tired.  Bring it on, ’cause we’re just getting warmed up and finding our ‘Ali’ rhythm now 😉

Thank you “everyone” for the incredible flow of support.  It has continuously lifted our spirits and allowed us to arrive at this point with the better part of our sanity intact.  The amazing help we have received from family, friends and many acquaintances has been extremely humbling and no doubt the source of much of the strength Joanne has found throughout her fight – a direct result of the tremendous generosity given by so many wonderful people.  Our sincere thanks goes out to you all…

Now it’s on to Stage 2 (Radiation – 5wks, Bio Therapy – 12 mos, Hormone Therapy – 5yrs +)

Ring that bell Joanne !

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Also adding my favourite pic of Joanne from this summer…just because I can 🙂IMG_8015

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE DOCETAXEL

Cycle 5.  150ml and dropping…

drip,…..

drip,…..

drip…..

pause,…repeat

It actually becomes a bit hypnotic when you block out everything else and focus solely on the flow of the drugs.  Rhythmically rippling the surface of the fluid encased in a clear plastic delivery vessel.  The prescribed cocktail leisurely travels on down through a network of vinyl tubes, each winding their way and eventually releasing into the infamous “port” that sits just under the surface of Joanne’s upper right chest.  This process always begins the same.  A quick swab followed by a forceful stab through the thinly veiled skin covered device.  I can tell it hurts her every time, and remains uncomfortable until it’s flushed and removed at the end of the cycle.  The end in fact, is actually just the beginning. It’s what follows each 21 day visit that puts Joanne through no less than six days of unrelenting hell followed by two weeks of “relatively tolerable” symptoms.  Some never go away, like the constant headaches, the persistent tiredness and a few unmentionables which seem to be getting worse as we go along.  The change in drugs for cycle #4 was,..to be blunt and completely honest …very ugly.  When your wife is saying childbirth has now shifted into second place on the list of “most painful life experiences ever” you know she’s reached a special place that few have been to and all hope never to find themselves within.

There is a ray of light in all of this however, and it comes in the form of two changes that were graciously made for the last two rounds of Docetaxel – bad Chemo 😦 / Herceptin – better Chemo 🙂 – a new Morphine based drug and a dosage drop to 85%.  Combined, these modifications are expected to reduce the pain levels down to within the humanely tolerable range — no, she does not exist within the Marvel Universe, nor can she continuously sustain Hulk-like level dosages of Docetaxel.  I know, I would have expected her to be able to handle it with ease as well…but deep down, all of us must realize that even our Hero’s are as human as the rest of us.

Drip

 

APPRECIATING TIME

Time.

I often think about it, and even more so recently.  Our cottage week has come and gone, along with the bittersweet feeling of initially arriving at such an anticipated event while consciously knowing it will all be over in a… blink.

“This is the best part of the vacation…the first beer,…knowing you have the whole week ahead of you”  – PK

How could two weeks have already passed since enjoying our first full day at the cottage? And just over a week ago I was so completely relaxed floating in the lake that it felt like an out of body experience.  A total “zen” moment I shared with my B-I-L yet still fresh enough in my memory that I’m able to go back at will.  And yet that experience has ended.  Never to return…to the absolute quietness…

…and gentle coolness of the water on my hands and feet as they drape over the floatie into the lake.  The warmth of an unyielding sun is in complete balance with an ever present breeze that continues to wick away the heat.  Two beers in; eyes closed; breathing slowed; pulse dampened.  I shift into a rarely achieved state; feeling so utterly and completely relaxed that my mind is in tune with nothing beyond its total surrender to the environment.  All stress and pressure evaporate, and the worries that have stock piled over the past 6 months quickly leach away into the void.

Ya, it was so totally awesome!

And although I’m hopeful I’ll recall this and the many other amazing memories from our cottage week forever, I realize the finer details will eventually fade.  Perhaps it’s best to extend the appreciation of these moments into reminders of why focusing on enjoying the present rather than the worries of tomorrow is so important (something I continue to work on daily).  Special family memories like the ones we made on Lake Comanda this year only help to remind me why keeping the attention on living in “the here and the now” is so key.

 

 

JOANNE TAKES IT IN OVERTIME!

Joanne crushed the necessary 1.3 count on the WBC test today with a game winning result back in the normal range.  Perhaps stress helps with the regeneration rate?  So cycle 3 is a go again for tomorrow, leaving our plans to head for the cottage this coming Sunday intact….’nuff said 🙂

….Victory !

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S.N.A.F.U. !

Never put all your eggs in one basket.  Always have a contingency plan in place.  Expect the worst to happen and prepare for it.  A few simple rules we generally abide by.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee complete protection from all the negative scenarios that can surface along your path and of which you have no control over.  No matter…one has to assume that even a well-constructed plan will eventually attract an unexpected visit from “Murphy’s Law”.  Good ‘ole ML and his annoying little sidekick Disappointment.  Why do these two clowns always show up at the most inopportune times?  “You’z two sure are a dense lot aren’t ya…open your ears already…ya’ll not welcome ’round these parts.  Please pack your bags and mosey on outta here now won’t ya?”  After months of vacation planning the little twerp shows up unannounced, uninvited and has the gall to drop a low white blood cell count (WBC) result in our laps.  Can you believe this guy?  Not only did the test levels prevent last Thursday’s cycle 3 Chemo round from happening, it’s been delayed until this coming Tuesday.  Ultimately this means Joanne will have 5 fewer days to recover from the side effects before we leave for our much anticipated cottage vacation next Sunday (July 10th).  The shift in the treatment window will have Joanne at her worst for the first few days we’re up there instead of feeling her best.  And therefore, our well thought out plan so carefully coordinated around the timing of each of the cycles is doing a bit of off roading at the moment….sigh.

Ironically, and for the first time, both of us are really wanting the Chemo to happen on Tuesday now.  Anything less than a WBC of 1.3 on Mondays retest could have us driving back mid-vacation to get the treatment.  Come on lucky 1.3…hmm…so this is what we’re rolling for now?

Of course, it’s all relative and in the grand scheme of things it could always be worse, but if there was one thing that Joanne had set her hopes upon… one event that was motivating her through the ebbs and flows of all of this over the past several months… it was the plans we had made for this year’s vacation.  Sadly, this was also the first time I saw Joanne truly disheartened through all of this and that kinda made it real again.  Regardless, our focus is to get ourselves back on track; this diversion is already in the rear view mirror.  There’s little we can do now but hope for the best and deal with the outcome, good or bad and move on…everything else is out of our control 🙂

grumpy cat