Sunday, December 16, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: An attempt to decompress

Trying to get back to normal, or figure out my "new normal" as the cancer warriors like to call it, is proving difficult.

I've been back at work full-time for the past few weeks. Which feels great. I enjoy my job, I love what I do, and as I've written many, many times, I work with an incredibly supportive team.

If working was all I had to do, it would be fine. But I'm a parent. And a wife. And I'm trying to fundraise for Bust a Move. And it's almost Christmas, with barely a dent made in my shopping list. You get the point.

I'm overwhelmed.

I know something has to give, but what? It won't be my family. And my family has to eat, so I have to work.

So I'm keeping this post short. I'm off to write the rest of my Christmas cards. Then I'm going to bed.

Just wanted to let you all know I'm still alive and kicking. And just trying to figure it all out.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The gift for the person who has everything

So here's my big "donate for the holidays" pitch.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I have decided to give back by taking part in Bust a Move, a fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation.

Last month, there was a lot of news and kvetching online about pink nausea. And frankly, I agreed with a lot of what's been said.

A lot of us who have been left scarred emotionally and physically by cancer. We're angry, and no amount of pink is going to change that.

I'm not down with buying anything with a pink ribbon thrown onto it as an afterthought. Particularly carcinogen-laden products and junk-foods that are driving cancer rates.

What I am down with is helping fund research at the agency with the best record nationally of helping women survive this horrible disease.

The money raised by Bust a Move will go to the BC Cancer Agency where I received my treatments. It will drive research so oncologists are better able to treat and support breast cancer patients like me.

And I'm also a fan of getting women moving. Keeping fit is just one way I'm planning to keep those cancer cells the heck away from me for the rest of my life.

So for me, Bust a Move simply makes sense.

I have to raise a minimum of $1,000. So, if you are making charitable donations this Christmas season, whether in your name or in someone else's as a gift, please consider giving to the BC Cancer Agency through my fundraising efforts.

You can do this online.

Or if you prefer, you can print a donation form from this page, and fill it out to send with a cheque.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart,


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: Radiation done, now what?

On March 26, a surgeon sliced cancer out of my body. Seven months to the day later, I completed my final radiation treatment.

And now I feel lost, which is why it's taken me so long to write this post.

The "Yay, I'm done!" feeling faded quickly and has been replaced by "Now what?"

The physical scars

The treatments are done, but my skin is feeling battered under my arm where it has blistered along the scar where my lymph nodes were removed.

I was doing well everywhere else until a run last Sunday, when my bra strap rubbed the skin raw where the lymph nodes around the collar bone had been zapped. So no running for me now until my skin heals, which I'm not terribly happy about.

My friend Sharon, who is one of my running mates, suggested the stationary bike at the gym. Which I swear I'll do. Not relishing the thought of smelling everyone else's sweat, rather than the clean rain air.

Guess I am a runner now, eh?

The emotional scars

A lot of cancer warriors talk about the "new normal". I now get it. Life can never return to what it was pre-cancer.

While I don't miss feeling like a piece of crap after too many glasses of wine on a ladies' night, I do miss having the option of making myself feel like crap.

I don't miss being overweight, but I miss being able to enjoy a pumpkin spice latte without thinking I can feel a tumour pop up the moment the delectable beverage hits my lips.

I don't miss eating habits that make my stomach feel like it was full of cement, but I miss having a pre-made bowl of soup with my son when he's not feeling well without the guilt.

Welcome to the corner

I now feel like I've been painted into a corner by fear. I realized this after reading a lovely post by Heidi at Our House for Coffee this morning.

I'm so scared of making a bad decision which morphs into making several bad decisions. I'm scared of undoing the good habits I've worked hard to form over the last several months. I'm scared of getting cancer again, worse. I'm scared if I do have a recurrence, I'll blame myself and give up.

I don't know what to do to shake this fear. A bit of fear could keep me honest, yes. But too much is suffocating.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Look ahead

My friend Elise posted a link to Gord Downie's recent interview with Wendy Mesley about the Hip's latest album. Downie's wife has also been battling breast cancer.

Elise posted it with one simple question: "How's George doing?"

Thanks again, Elise for sharing Gordie's interview with me. This post is dedicated to all the partners out there, who have a loved one who is going through or who has been through cancer treatments. Sending much love and wishing peace to you all. May you find your ability to look ahead.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Parenting through kancer

This post has been brewing for a long time. I haven't written it out of fear. Fear of admitting that I'm less than perfect. Fear of criticism.

Parenting at the best of times is challenging. But parenting with cancer? It's shit.

If you think I'm fishing to be told how wonderful I am, I'm most definitely not. I'm hoping that by putting these words down, I can try to get the bad feelings out of my system and let them go.

I have met women who share how much of a bonding experience cancer was for their family. Everyone together as a unit, ready to fight the evil cancer. My reality is I feel like cancer is trying its best to tear my family apart.

These days, more often than not, I feel like I'm doing a terrible job.

Though I'm physically strong given what my body has been through the past several months, emotionally, I'm all over the place.

Like most 5 year olds, mine likes to test the boundaries. He started kindergarten and has had some challenging days that have resulted in his being sent to the office.

I'm doing all the things I've been told are the right things. I've talked to the teacher, to the counsellors, and to the principal. We've been to the cancer agency's children's group. We've tried to keep some semblance of structure at home.

But sometimes, I feel all this effort doesn't mean a damn. And I'm at a point where I'm tired of everything: a never-ending roster of appointments, trying different types of counselling, being told that everything we're experiencing is "normal".

I have become a more patient person in many ways - stopping to collect chestnuts on the way to school instead of trying to make it there in record time to prepare for my return to work, for instance - but I still have not-so-stellar moments. I yell when a hug is needed. I cry when I it's time to buck up. I stress when I should let go.

Trying so hard to make everything better is, well, trying.

I have this little person who depends on me for so much. My biggest fear of all is that while I'm fighting to get myself better, I am letting him down.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thanks, Henry Champ

I remember interviewing Henry Champ when I was only a year or so out of journalism school.

It must have been shortly before his retirement from his gig as CBC Newsworld's Washington D.C. correspondent. The Lewinsky-Clinton scandal was making headlines around the world, and we spoke about why Canada seemed to lack salacious news when compared to our neighbours to the south.

What I remember more clearly is Champ's affable nature, his willingness to chat with a green reporter he had never spoken with before. He didn't rush me off the phone, and was the type of person I'd love chatting with over a coffee given the chance.

Working in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, there were certainly seasoned reporters I saw every day who didn't seem to know me from a hole in the ground. So Champ made a real impression on me.

I know I thanked him for his time. But I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Henry Champ again. Rest in peace, Champ.

Putting on my 'brows

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror the other day sans makeup and nearly screamed.

When I first realized I might lose my eyebrows months ago, I thought I might try a Carol-Burnett-does-Nora-Desmond look.

I mean, if one is going to lose one's 'brows, why not have fun with it?

With eyebrows on my mind, I thought I would share some 'brow-related humour with you today.

Uncle Leo

One day at the office, I was talking about the whole eyebrow situation. My colleague Dragos warned me to be careful, or I could end up looking like Uncle Leo from Seinfeld.


Milhouse from The Simpsons has eyebrows that constantly get him into trouble.

Real-life crazy 'brows

Of course, a post about eyebrows couldn't omit this fabulous shot of Carrot Top, found on Sodahead. The page even opens with the photo's code underneath the image. Clearly, this is an image for sharing.

carrot top+eyebrows pics on Sodahead

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A letter to my fingernails

Worst fingernail is the
middle one. Coincidence?
© kittelberg writes

Dear fingernails, eyelashes, eyebrows,

Evidently, you didn't get the memo. I've completed chemo, four weeks ago in fact. My hair did get it and somehow I thought you were included, or at least cc'd with my medical update.

This means you, fingernails, can stop turning yellow and threatening to fall off.

I've been diligently clipping you short and wearing fancy rubber gloves while washing dishes. I get that you haven't felt up to par, particularly on the right side where my chemo IV went in.

But last night, one of you on the left side decided to try to sneak off while I was unplugging the bathtub. Really? What more do you want from me?

Sans makeup.
© kittelberg writes
With makeup.
© kittelberg writes

While we're at it, lashes and brows, feel free to start growing back any time. I get that you've gotten used to falling out over the past couple of months. But frankly, you're cramping my style. You're making me look like a cancer patient as I near the end of treatment with just 16 radiation sessions to go.

Luckily, my dear friend and Juggernauts teammate Chrissy bought me Quo's Must Have Brows kit before brows began evacuating the premises.

With the help of the fantastic Look Good Feel Better volunteers, I learned how to fill in my brows and not look like a drag queen. (No disrespect to drag queens, just not the look I go for in the daytime!)

The head takes the lead.
© kittelberg writes

The Look Good Feel Better makeup artists also taught me how to apply eyeliner to avoid unneeded tugging on delicate lashes, and to fill in the empty spaces to give the illusion of having a full set of lashes.

So, fingernails, brows and lashes, it's not me, it's you. Stop being stubborn, and follow the lead of your associate on the top of my head who is making a comeback as evidenced by the peach fuzz on my pate.



Monday, September 17, 2012

Kicking kancer's ass one step at a time

From left: Ceci and Roxy, Melissa, Sharon,
me, and Claire with the Harry Jerome statue on
the Terry Fox Run route. © kittelberg writes

Four weeks ago, I took a major step in kicking kancer's ass and some personal demons. I started running.

Barring one summer in my early 20s when I was training to get to and from work in case Ottawa bus drivers went on strike, running hasn't been my thing

As a kid, I was a chunk and never liked running. Running hurt. I assumed it was because I heavy. When I was diagnosed with asthma at 19, the pain made sense.

As an adult, being fit certainly helped with running, but by then, I was more into aerobics and weight training.

Run for your life

I decided recently to participate in Bust a Move, a fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation. My teammates and I will be doing six fitness classes on April 13, 2013.

I've gone back and forth with my fitness regime, working out like a mad woman for months, even years at a time, then being a lazy slug for a while. I now know I need to commit myself to moving my body for the rest of my life.

I mentioned to colleagues that I wanted to do the Run for the Cure as a way to kick myself in the ass to get moving. Sharon used to lead Running Room learn-to-run classes, and offered her expertise. And Melissa wanted to confront her fear of running. We started a running group. I mentioned it on Twitter, and Ceci joined us.

Terry Fox Run

So after three weeks of training, we decided to make last week's Sunday run the Terry Fox Run. Melissa's friend Claire joined us. I also got to meet my Bust a Move teammates Kirstin in person for the first time at the registration tent. She did the run with her mom, and may be joining me, Sharon, Melissa and Ceci for training now and then.

Ceci brought her daughter Alex who biked, and their dog Roxy who ran with us.

Running becomes fun

We debated whether to do the 3k or 10k run, and opted for the 10k route, rationalizing that we could turn around at any time. We followed our 2:1 (running for two minutes, then walking for one minute) training. When we hit the 5k mark feeling good, our decision was made for us: finish it.

Kudos to Roxy, who provided us with the funniest moment of the day by pooping as we ran, resulting in what was coined the "shit relay".

I want to thank these ladies for an incredible morning, and plenty of laughs on our training runs. The laughs will be needed this week when we begin hill training!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day of tests

The black dot on the right?
One of my new bad-ass tattoos.
© kittelberg writes

Today started bright and early at the cancer agency. Turns out I was scheduled for a CT scan, not a CAT scan.

The CT scan, as I told my friend Brandee today, ensures the radiation is aimed precisely, all the better to kill off stubborn cancer cells that may or may not be there, and save my organs from being inadvertently fried.

You may have also heard women talk about getting their tattoos, which help with setting up the radiation therapy machine properly.

These new tattoos may not look like much, but with all due respect to the artists who gave me my other tattoos, I think they're way more bad-ass than any other ink on my body.

Now I wait - up to 10 business days - for my radiation oncologist and her posse to refine my treatment, then start. No fuss, no muss.

Mammo me

After a quick visit with my colleagues, I head to Mount Saint Joseph for my mammogram. This is the stressful part. After all, it's about the unknown.

The technician has me wait while she has a doctor look at my results before either sending me off, or having me stay for more tests. I'm sitting outside the ultrasound room, and notice the happy baby poster which had me bursting into tears last time I saw it. Nothing like a reminder that treatment could leave me barren!

This time? No tears. I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that George and I are "one and done" when it comes to children.

A lifetime ago

Then I see the couple. They look younger than me, late 20s or early 30s. She's on a gurney, he's following. I wonder if she's here for a fine-wire placement, which will show her surgeon exactly where her tumour is. Does she have breast cancer, or some other type of cancer? Is this her first surgery?

Less than six months ago, I was in her hospital-issue fuzzy socks, scared out of my mind. My husband was the guy waiting in the hallway, trying hard not to lose his shit.

My ultrasound tech comes over and tells me I can get changed and go home. No more tests today. This must be a good sign. After all, the last time I had a mammogram, I stayed for an ultrasound, then was told I had to come back again for a biopsy. We all know what the result of that was.

I get changed and am ready to cartwheel out the door.

Then I walk past the young man, still waiting. He looks up at me and gives me a nervous smile. I smile back.

I get outside and wish I had said something to him. But what? I hope his loved one is okay. I hope I'm okay. Maybe I'll meet his Mrs. at my next mammogram, and we'll cartwheel out the door together. One can hope.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Waiting is hard work

I'm waiting for radiation to start. Most people would welcome a break in treatment. And I do. Kind of.

But at the same time, I just want to get it all over with and move on far, far away from this chapter in my life.

I'm an impatient person by nature. I was even born three weeks early. I'm often early for events because I can't stand the idea of being late. I nag at my son, the dawdlingest dawdler who ever dawdled, to hurry up 99% of the time we walk anywhere because this waiting business makes me edgy.

Then I think to myself that I should be taking advantage of this time and just slow down. I try to put on my yoga hat, breathe and stop rushing, rushing, rushing.

But it's hard when it's not in my nature to do so.

On edge

The other thing that makes me edgy is being left on my own after being at the beck and call of appointments all summer. Even if it's for a few weeks, the quiet is unnerving.

I'm sick of doctor's offices, but miss the convenience of having appointments scheduled for me every other week.

When I woke up with a swollen left hand and couldn't remove my rings, I waiting a few days. I followed online recommendations of putting my hand in cold water (painful!), then elevating it, then icing it to no avail. I finally call my GP's office.

Doctor instructs me to elevate my hand for two hours, then try again to get my rings off. If it doesn't work, I'll have to go to the hospital the next day and have them cut off. Awesome.

The two-hour elevation does the trick, rings come off. But I still don't have an answer on why this happened. Could it be lymphedema related? Did I sleep on my hand funny?

Do not leave me hanging

I realize this is ridiculous, so I start calling the cancer agency and leaving messages. When is radiation starting? And no one calls back. How annoying is that? Don't leave the cancer patient hanging, people!

Then I remember, I have a six-month mammogram coming up on the "good" (read: hopefully non-cancerous) side because of something that looked like a cyst, but they couldn't get more than one angle on so couldn't biopsy it. And I also remember my nurse who works out of Mount Saint Joseph's, where I'll be getting the mammo, said to call if I needed anything.

So I call. Imelda tells me when I have my mammo results, she'll also take a look at my arm and hand and figure out what's happening. I mention the unreturned messages about my radiation. She says she'll make a call. And 40 minutes later, I have an appointment for my CAT scan, which is needed before radiation starts (I didn't know this).

This is my life and it's in my hands to a large extent. So if I don't feel like waiting, I know who to call. Like I said on Twitter yesterday, I wish every cancer patient had an Imelda.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: Chemo 8

Final chemo, baby. Decked in the shield necklace,
borrowed from Becky, and red power lipstick from Sharon.
© gscameraworks

So I think it's fair to say I'm 2/3 through treatment. Surgery and chemo are done, just a month of radiation to go. Unfortunately, radiation is not starting as soon as I thought it would. Apparently, the body needs four to six weeks to recover from chemo first. Looks like I'll be starting in four weeks, fingers crossed.

My tribe rocks

Again, my family and friends came through with flying colours for the final chemo.

I've told you about the awesome colleagues who have become awesome friends. For today's treatment, I wore the lovely necklace Becky loaned me, which she termed a shield. Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure the only treatment I forgot it was the day I had an allergic reaction to the Taxol. Coincidence?

I also donned my red warrior lipstick, given to me by Sharon T. And in my pocket, I carried the St. Agatha rosary Dragos brought back from Malta. The middle digit you see in the photo is my gift to cancer.

Tablet games from Rahel,
and a hello from Jerome.
© kittelberg writes

Rahel came for a visit again, and brought her tablet so I could play games. She also brought a hello from Jerome, who she'd run into at the coffee shop on her way to the cancer agency.

A gift from away

When we got home, there was a gift from my cousins Alison and Patti and their mom, Aunt Phyllis: two pretty scarves, red and purple. My cousin Pam had given them my favourite colours. When our fall weather hits, I'll be sure to post photos of me wearing them.

And just days ago, a hat arrived from my friend and partner in youthful craziness, Jenn.

My point

I know some people feel like they need to do this journey alone. And who am I to say what will work for everyone? All I can do is say that my family and friends have been a huge part of my making it this far through treatment. Thanks again, everyone.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Music that brings me joy

Last night, George and I took a break from Sons of Anarchy season two. Too much stress watching them try to get that damn baby back.

Lo and behold, PBS had one of their music specials on - this time, it was a bunch of Ed Sullivan footage.

It included the Supremes, which always makes me think of my parents. They both grew up in southwestern Ontario, and listened to the Detroit radio stations a lot when they were in their teens and Motown was in its heyday.

Diana Ross, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Commodores, and Marvin Gaye formed the background music to my childhood.

Granted, there were other musical influences, but Motown stuck with me. Maybe because the music simply stands the test of time.

Although Motown artists shared their fair share of heartbreak, right now, it's the happy songs that resonate with me. Could be because I am attempting to embrace happy things right now.

That's why I decided to share Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life" with you. Enjoy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: Chemo 7

To say this week has been crazy would be an understatement.

On Tuesday I turned 40. On Wednesday, the project I've been working on for nearly a year - the fabulous, shiny new City of Vancouver website! - launched. And on Thursday, I had chemo 7.

It's kind of weird when getting a half-day off for chemo feels like a break.

Staving off the panic

After having an allergic reaction during my last treatment, I can't say I was looking forward to chemo 7. My oncologist offered to prescribe Ativan at my appointment the day before, but figured I would try the mind-over-matter approach.

The fact that my chemo nurse, Sue, was the same one who lead the Chemo Teaching class I attended before starting treatment probably helped, as did the fact that Angie, the nurse who took awesome care of me when I had the reaction, happened to be covering Sue's lunch break when my Taxol drip started.

Then there was the pre-Taxol Benadryl. I was dosed with enough that I couldn't complete words, much less sentences by the time George arrived with sandwiches. In fact, I managed to turn "Bena Dryl" into two words.

Chemo a welcome non-event

By the time my manager, Rahel, came for a visit, I had recovered enough to eat and speak. We talked shop a bit, but mainly chatted about books and TV shows we liked. Which of course, made me want to start watching shows I have yet to see, like Nurse Jackie. But first, I really do need to finish two-and-a-half seasons of Sons of Anarchy.

After Rahel left, I did something I had yet to do during chemo: I napped. My first four treatments, the A/C part, I never napped because they were less than two hours. My first Taxol treatment, I almost napped, but couldn't fall asleep when I heard the woman next to me vomiting. Last time, when I started to lay back, I had the allergic reaction.

This time? Sweet sleep. I guess I needed it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Feds inconsistent with EI benefits

Canadian parents can now get up to 35 weeks of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits if they have a critically ill child. I've read about parents going broke after having to quit their jobs to care for a sick child, particularly when the family has to travel to another city for treatment.

This is a good thing. And it certainly provided a nice photo opp for the federal government. But where are the benefits for critically ill adults?

How the system fails sick adults

If your employer doesn't offer extended benefits, or if you don't qualify for them because you are working on contract, you could be entitled to a whopping 15 weeks of EI. That is, provided you pay into the system via your employer.

If 15 weeks isn't enough, and your illness or treatments are debilitating enough that you cannot work, you may qualify for Disability Benefits through Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Applications for CPP Disability take about three months to review.

So adults get much more time off for a sick child than they will if they happen to be the one who is ill.

My situation

In my case, I get paid a percentage in lieu of benefits. I pay out of pocket for a very basic benefits plan that does not include sickness benefits. Silly me didn't anticipate getting cancer at age 39.

I applied for Disability and was denied because I can work, now anyway. Fingers crossed I don't start having debilitating side effects later in treatment, or that if I do, it happens within the three-month time slot I have to appeal the decision.

So far, I've been lucky: I feel okay to work, and I have a job I really enjoy where my colleagues are incredibly supportive.

But imagine if I didn't feel well enough to work, but felt too well to qualify for Disability. And if I had a stressful job that taxed my energy reserves. Not exactly a prime situation for healing, is it?

Add that to the fact that I apparently make too much money to qualify for any other type of assistance and I'm the stereotypical member of the middle class who is screwed no matter what.

There are a lot of things I'm grateful for, the quality of cancer care in BC in particular.

But the financial support system for people with cancer has holes in it. It's time for the federal government to take a consistent approach to who they award EI benefits to, and fix it.

Put the pressure on

If this bothers you too, make your voice heard:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Crossing the threshold of awesome

On my way to cross the threshold. © kittelberg writes

I stole that headline from my friend Lynn. If I say that right away, it's not really stealing, right?

At 7:40 this morning, I turned 40.

Does kancer make a difference?

I'm not sure how much the whole cancer thing has influenced my vision of 40. Honestly, I didn't really care that much when I turned 30. The last time I cared about the number on my ID was when I turned 25. And then, it was only because everyone kept reminding me I was a quarter of a century old.

The cancer has certainly made me care less about other things that would have once driven the younger me nuts.

At one time, the fact that I couldn't take the days off around my birthday would have made me unbearable to be around. But this year? There's a big deadline at work that happens to fall on August 8. No big deal.

Friends who I thought would join the weekend celebration at a cabin on Pitt Lake didn't come. Only meant there was actually comfortable sleeping space for everyone, so you know what? No big deal.

And the friends who could make it made the weekend unforgettable.

Moonrise brings a new year

As we were being devoured by mosquitoes the last night at the cabin, we watched the moonrise. This is something I've never done before, not because I wasn't awake for it. Rather, I either didn't care, or was too busy partying. Perhaps I've seen double-moons at times. It's hard to say.

It was amazing to first see the light, then the moon peek out a bit at a time. In minutes, there it was, a glowing egg, perfectly reflected in the lake. All this happening to the background of my crazy friends laughing at at a combination of old jokes, and new ones ("Terri, I want an apple. Peel it!")

Lynn has right. We have crossed the threshold of awesome. And there is only more to come. Bring it on, 40.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Do not let guilt get in the way of life

Image from Find Your Balance

It's hard enough to get time as a couple when you have a young child. Toss cancer into the mix and it's damn near impossible.

Of course, there are the appointments and medical tests to contend with. There are weeks that I feel it would be easier to pitch a tent outside the cancer agency, rather than bother with all this commuting business. Juggle that with work schedules, plus daycare pick-ups and drop-offs to negotiate, and sleep is the most attractive option when we have a moment to spare.

So when friends offer to take your kid to the beach an afternoon, the sane say, "Abso-freakin-lutely!"

After said friends, Cristian and Ximena (thanks, guys!) swung by to collect our boy, we were left to ponder what to do.

Now that my feet are pain-free after the weird callus issue cleared up (as predicted by my oncologist, this happened shortly after I started Taxol), a walk was in order. We wandered the seawall along Coal Harbour.

It didn't take long for us to figure out what we wanted to do. It was a sunny Sunday. We needed a patio, pronto.

Why guilt

Early in my diagnosis, this may have not been possible due to self-inflicted guilt. If you aren't a breast cancer survivor, you're probably wondering why on earth I would do such a thing.

Simply put, booze is not good for breast cancer. Or rather, it's not good for getting rid of or preventing breast cancer.

Says "Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells.

Compared to women who don't drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day."

It's well-documented that being overweight is also a risk factor when it comes to breast cancer. So if you're like me and looking at food makes you gain weight, choosing food wisely is very important. Generally speaking, the experts recommend lots of veggies, a bit of fruit, and little to no animal fats. Many say raw vegan is ideal.

Guilt be gone

I've greatly improved my eating habits, and rarely indulge in an alcoholic beverage.

But I'm not a fan of cutting things out completely, other than tobacco (which happened several years ago). I don't operate well when denied something. Sure, I'll manage it for days, weeks, even months. But then I crack. And I find it difficult to stop after being denied for so long. And that, my friends, is a slippery slope to navigate when it comes to life and death.

So we found that patio (The Mill Bistro on Coal Harbour). We each had a beer, and shared a plate of nachos. And it was glorious.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Help me Bust a Move

The Juggernauts 2011: Cheryl Blanchard-Lake,
Lori Kittelberg and Chrissy Watson. © kittelberg writes

This time last year, I was getting ready for the 60k Walk for Women's Cancers. I had no idea that one year later, I would be in the middle of treatment for breast cancer.

When I was done the walk, I was glad I did it, but figured I would take a pass at any big fundraisers for another year.

That was then, this is now.

The cause

Next April, I'm taking part in Bust a Move with Walk for Women's Cancers teammate Chrissy Watson, and Chrissy's recruit Wynter Trace. We are the Juggernauts.

I feel a need to give back to the BC Cancer Agency, where I am getting my treatment. The agency is partnered with the BC Cancer Foundation, and the foundation is holding this fundraiser.

The treatment I have received at the agency is, I'm pretty sure, the gold standard in cancer care. I've been steered from surgery to chemo, and soon I'll be headed to radiation, without a hiccup.

My medical team, including the fantastic nurses in the chemo ward, is simply incredible. I've never felt like I'm asking too many questions, or worst yet, like I'm simply a number.

Now I feel it's imperative for me to help raise money that will go towards helping other women like me, and help researchers annihilate this fucking cancer thing.

What the Juggernauts will do next spring

My teammates and I will be taking part in six fitness classes on April 13, 2013. The classes are geared to all fitness levels, something I really like since keeping fit and healthy is a huge part of reducing your risk of getting breast cancer. Hey, it's not a guarantee, but every little bit helps.

And of course, there's the fundraising. Each member of my team has to raise a minimum of $1,000. I would really like to exceed this.

We'll be holding fundraising events in the months leading up to Bust a Move. But you don't have to wait - you can always donate now.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Curse of the fat feet

I was as excited as a schoolgirl. My manager had a pair of black Fluevogs that didn't fit her just right. My size.

They looked even prettier in person. A little narrow, but very pretty. I unbuckled them. And couldn't even get my foot in all the way. Foiled again by my fat feet!

A childhood of ugly shoes

I can remember from a young age, probably around kindergarten, my mom buying me shoes, bringing them home for me to try on, then returning them with me in tow so I could try something on in the store.

Inevitably, the shoes she tried to buy me were always much cuter than the ones we left with. I craved black patent leather Mary Janes, but ended up with sensible matte brown, in a leather that was sure to stretch if need be.

The shoes I coveted as a child.

Back in the 70s, kids with fat feet didn't get a lot of choice. You took what you were offered, and felt lucky that you weren't leaving with newspaper duct-taped to your feet.

Not like today. My son has been blessed with normal-width feet. Often, particularly when there's a sale on, I'm hard-pressed to find shoes that will fit him in a sea of EEEs.

It got (somewhat) better

By the time I hit grade 8, my feet were the same size as my mom's. I discovered that adults get more choices when it comes to footwear than the measly kids, even those with tubby toes.

An added bonus is by then, it was the 80s. Running shoes could be worn loosely laced. Flats had openings that often showed toe cleavage. Perfect for my feet!

As I grew into adulthood, I picked up the knack for being able to tell if a pair of shoes would fit by eyeballing them. Doesn't mean I wouldn't try a narrow pair on now and then, just in case.

The big lie

Sometimes I would even buy shoes that didn't feel right, buying the salesperson's lie that the shoes would stretch. It never happened, and I would wear the offending shoes with a wince a few times, then they would be banished to the back of my closet before being given away.

I now know that shoes can be stretched, by a professional, but only to a point. I mean, a shoe has only so much give.

Heartache again

Today, I'll admit, I knew the Fluevogs wouldn't fit when I looked at them. But I coveted them nonetheless. Alas, it just wasn't meant to be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: Chemo 6

There's nothing like a first-hand experience to intensify one's empathy for others.

For five days after my first Taxol treatment, I dealt with muscle and joint pain, mainly in my legs. The shooting pain in my left knee was particularly fun, the type of pain that literally took my breath away at times.

When talking to my manager the following Monday, she asked how I was feeling and I told her about the pain. She lives with arthritis, and told me how sorry she was that I was dealing with that level of pain. And she's the one who deals with pain all the time.

This week's chemo lesson

This morning, I had an allergic reaction to the Taxol. Normally, if someone's going to react to Taxol, they will on the first treatment. Not me though. I'm an outside-the-box kind of girl

George had just left to get us lunch when it started. The Benadryl they gave me before the Taxol was making me sleepy, and I wanted a quick nap before eating. See, that's how many people react, they give you Benadryl beforehand, just in case.

It started with a nauseous twinge. Then all hell broke loosed. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I don't even know what I told the nurse, but she turned around to look at me and said, "Your face is red." Not surprising, as I suddenly felt like my head had been set on fire. Then my head and chest felt like balloons that were blown up to the point of almost breaking.

The IV drip was stopped, another nurse and an oncologist were in the room in what seemed like seconds. At first I nodded and shook my head in response to their questions because talking took a lot of effort since I was short of breath, and back pain had started. When I did describe what I was feeling, I felt like I wasn't making sense.

At least it's temporary

I was given more Benadryl, then hydrocortisone. They restarted the Taxol drip slowly, and eventually turned it back up to where it should have been. I was fine for the rest of the treatment, but feeling pretty freaked out.

The thing is I'll have two more treatments which will hopefully be uneventful since they're going to adjust them to ensure I don't react again. Then it will be over for me.

Meanwhile, one of my best friends has a peanut allergy. And I have a number of friends with children who have bad allergies. A colleague has a tree-fruit and tree-nut allergy. All these people have EpiPens prescribed.

I can now say I understand the fear someone experiences when having an allergic reaction. When your body is out of control, it's fucking scary. And though I don't know what it's like to see my child have an allergic reaction, I now think I have a pretty good idea of what it's like.

Believe it or not, cancer has helped me be more grateful for my overall good health. And it's helped me gain a better understanding of what people with chronic health issues go through.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The movie I've seen a million times

"Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place. - John Bender, The Breakfast Club

So tonight I steal riff on my friend Sharon's most recent post. NPR has a summer series, Movies I've Seen a Million Times, so I thought I'd share mine with you all.

The Breakfast Club

Funny thing is, even though I was a teen in the 80s, I didn't see The Breakfast Club until I was an adult. I remember a few of us were chatting in the newsroom I worked in at the time. Shelly, one of the graphic designers who did layout, started talking about The Breakfast Club. She was shocked when I told her I'd never seen it. My mission was to watch it, pronto.

George and I had just moved in together and had no responsibilities other than our respective jobs (read: no kids), so weekend mornings were often spent in a leisurely fashion, flaked out on the couch, hungover, watching movies. It was in this state I watched The Breakfast Club for the first time. And just like that, I was hooked. I spent many, many weekend mornings, or rather early afternoons, after that re-watching it.

It's now one of those movies that, when my friends and I hear certain words, sparks someone reciting lines from it. Most commonly, it's when someone uses the word "ruckus" as in, "Could you describe the ruckus, sir?"

Though I'm sure many would call the characters cliches, there's a nugget of truth in each one. The brain who freaks out because he couldn't get the lamp he built in shop class to work. The athlete who feels pressured by his douchey dad to whale on nerds. The princess who will never be friends with the ragtag bunch of kids she meets in detention, yet admits she hates going along with what her friends say. The basket case who revels in flying her freak flag because her parents ignore her. And the criminal from the wrong side of the tracks who enjoys calling everyone on their bullshit.

Many of us likely weren't completely like one character, but understood aspects of a few of them. For me, my type-A tendencies identify with the brain (though I was never hardcore enough to have fake ID for the sole purpose of voting). Meanwhile, the basket case is the girl I wish I'd had the balls to be.

My only beef with The Breakfast Club? The makeover at the end, that leaves Ally Sheedy's Allison looking fresh and preppy. Allison was way hotter before Claire got her hands on her, and got rid of "all that black shit" under her eyes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When you forget how to fly

When I was going through a rough patch a few weeks ago, my mom emailed me. She reminded me that when I was a little girl, I told her I discovered that when I was having a nightmare, I could make myself fly away from all the bad things. She wanted me to know I could do it now if I needed to.

Though her message touched me, I didn't buy it. I was feeling too broken to fly. In fact, I was in a place where I was doubtful I would ever fly again.

All about timing

I had forgotten about that email when I went to a yoga workshop yesterday led by my friend Will Blunderfield.

I met Will a couple years ago when I was taking hot yoga classes. I was inspired by his positive message, and ended up writing an article about him for Xtra West. Yesterday morning, I remembered he was teaching a workshop at the Chopra Centre, so looked up the info and on whim, signed up.

Once I walked through the doors of the yoga studio, I knew I had made the right decision.

Another nudge

Will is a singer, so it was natural that song played a large part in his workshop. His beautiful, theatrical voice filled the room, from the floor to the high ceiling

My tears started when he sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" but I was hesitant to let them fall. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

Will started, "I Believe I Can Fly". Initially, I had to stop myself from laughing. My son watches Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs a lot. There's a scene when a possum (I can't remember if it's Crash or Eddy) is catapulted and starts belting out, "I believe I can fly," before he splats into a tree.

I'm also not a fan of R. Kelly, so the fact that I could block the Ice Age visual and focus on Will's voice is a testament to his gift. And focus I did. I remembered what my mom had written. And the tears flowed freely as I lay down on my mat.

This was early in the class. There was dancing and laughing after that, along with plenty of song, but it was the warm-up that broke the barrier.

Ready for takeoff

An interesting coincidence is that both my mom and Will teach yoga. My mom is in Ottawa, Will lives here in Vancouver. They have never met. But their words crossed paths in my brain nonetheless, and I want to thank them both for that.

Will reminded me that my mom is right, and that I can fly. I just have to believe it.

Will's workshop was held on his birthday. Will, I hope you had an incredible day.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What George Carlin taught me about swearing

I can't even remember how George Carlin came up the other day. Then again, I guess it really doesn't matter. The point is, I've had Carlin on my mind.

My early memories of George Carlin

George Carlin will forever remind me of childhood. My dad started his career in radio, and he had a station copy of Occupation Foole at home. I clearly remember, "Not for play," being written in thick black marker next to some of the routines.

I can't even remember when I first heard the full album, but I know I had an appreciation for him early on. At first, it was simply for his silly faces and poses on the album cover.

The naughty seven words

As I got older, I respected the fact that my dad had an album that he enjoyed that he hadn't been allowed to play at a job.

As an adult, I remember borrowing our friend Bret's Class Clown (on cassette!) for a road trip. Where George and I were going, I can't remember. But I do remember listening to Carlin, and memorizing his delivery of the infamous seven words. When I was able to deliver them just as quickly as Carlin did, I was proud.

Parenthood and swearing

Now as a parent, swearing is weird territory for me. I'm not supposed to do it, but sometimes I can't help myself. I'm getting better at altering what I'm saying. "Mother of pearl" has become a favourite.

When I was growing up, swearing was the signal that the person using the word(s) was really angry about something. And it served as a warning, or as a message to those of us around that person.

Some people feel swearing is reserved for those lacking the smarts to say anything intelligent.

I think over his career in comedy, Carlin really put that argument to rest. Many of his routines riffed on serious topics - religion, drugs, abortion, classism - but injected comedy to catch and keep our attention.

Perhaps his delivery wasn't your cup of tea (and if so, I don't want any of what you're drinking, thank you very much) but he was able to form an informed, intelligent argument, swearing and all.

Sometimes folks, swearing gets the point across.

Now don't go thinking I'm swearing up a storm. I'm not hoping for my child to call another child a mother-fucker in the playground. But I don't think it will damage him to hear a naughty word from time to time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thinking in song

Tonight, I think in song. Someone says something, and it will bring to mind a song. For instance, my son called me, "Lady" tonight and Tom Jones's "She's a Lady" immediately popped into my head. Check out the video at the top for some awesome Tom.

A couple hours before that, my friend Jonny had posted on Facebook that he has booked a trip to NYC. Naturally, he included a link to the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn".

It can be a wonderful thing. If I'm in a high-stress situation, and me or someone else remarks on feeling like they're under pressure, Queen and David Bowie give me a much-needed smile.

But it isn't always a good thing. Crappy songs can make their way, unwelcome, into my brain. Someone can mention ice and sadly, while I hear the opening strains of "Under Pressure", it then morphs into "Ice Ice Baby". Sampling gone bad.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one whose brain operates this way. I wonder if it only happens to people who listen to a lot of music, or if it happens to everyone.

  • Does her royal highness ever think of the Sex Pistols when a crowd sings, "God Save the Queen" in her honour?
  • How many Tour de France athletes hum Queen's "Bicycle Race" as they pedal?
  • Do TV news meteorologists whistle "Stormy Weather" off-camera?

If any of you know the answers to these hard-hitting questions, please drop me a line in the comments.

And for any of you wondering if a writer keeps referencing Queen, will "Bohemian Rhapsody" start running nonstop through her head?

The answer to is "Yes" but it's alright. I'll manage.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Torture by miniskirt

The tiny skirt that tortures me.
© kittelberg writes

I have a suede miniskirt in the depths of my closet that I haven't worn in about 13 years.

Every six months, I purge most unworn items from my closet. But there are a few I hang onto.

One is a long, beaded, velvet dress that belonged to my late mother-in-law. I have worn it once, to see The Nutcracker. Friends bought it for her during their travels overseas, perhaps in the Middle East, if memory serves me correctly. I will never part with it because of who it once belonged to. Besides, it fits me.

I also have a baby blue vintage nightgown set that I bought with the intention of wearing it for Halloween as the Bette Davis character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Alas, plans changed and I never did wear the costume. But I swear I will one year!

The skirt that taunts me

The suede miniskirt is the only self-torture item I keep.

It's safe to say it will never fit me again. I bought it around the time George and I got married, thin from working out six days a week and strictly limiting my food intake. And I can honestly say I don't want to be that thin again, because it's a weight that my body clearly doesn't want to be at.

Several years ago, I decided I was okay with giving it to a friend, but it didn't fit any of them, a testament to how our bodies have changed since morphing into our 30s. Back into the closet it went.

Even if it did fit me now, it's hardly age appropriate. I'm not sure that with the right body I would feel comfortable in it.

Why I keep the skirt

Now weeks from the big 4-0, the skirt is still in my closet. It's the only piece of clothing I have that I keep for purely illogical reasons. It never belonged to a loved one. And there is no possible chance I will ever wear it again.

But I keep the skirt because:

  • I bought it the year I got married.
  • It reminds me of shopping in Kensington Market in T.O.
  • It makes me smile to think of the fun I had the handful of times I wore it.
  • Though it will never fit me again, it does give me some satisfaction to know it once did.

In other words, I keep it for purely sentimental reasons. But I know I'm not alone. My friend Sharon told me today that she has a pair of jeans she wore in her 20s.

What sentimental pieces of clothing do you have in your closet?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Educating oneself minus the paranoia

My chemo vein bump. © kittelberg writes

When I was diagnosed with the cancer, my cousin Pam, also a breast cancer warrior, warned me about relying too much on the internet. Her exact words were, "You'll scare the shit out of yourself."

Being a web writer and journalist, I figured I was fine. I know how to investigate, separate the sources from the trolls, I thought to myself.

Even when reading the Canadian Cancer Society discussion board, I'd remember my oncologist telling me that everyone reacts differently to chemo, and that just because one person had a bad experience didn't mean I would.

Then the side effects got fun.

My bump

Maybe you can't even see it in this photo at the top of this post, but I know it's there. The bump. It's on my vein, about 2" down from where my last IV was put in.

Given the insect problems we've recently had in our home, I initially freaked that it was a bite. So I investigated and pushed on it. Ouch! That shit hurt. And the pain, I swear I didn't imagine it, seemed to travel up my arm.

Rather than calling the cancer centre right away, I went online. Bad move.

My brain runs wild

Rather than simply consult the online resources I know are trustworthy, I googled "bump on vein after chemo". Another bad move. I ended up on a bunch of message boards which may or may not be moderated (the Cancer Society board is moderated), and may or may not be troll havens (the Cancer Society board is not).

Actually, whether or not the posters were trolls or not is irrelevant. The problem was, I took their experiences as gospel. If this happened to them, the very same thing must be happening to me, I thought.

Namely, that thing was my veins were collapsing, and with only three treatments to go, I would need a port-a-cath.

What is a port-a-cath

A port-a-cath is implanted in a lot of chemo patients to avoid having to be given an IV. IVs go into smaller veins than ports - chemo is hard on veins, and there is a risk of damaging them when going the IV route.

Though there are certainly benefits to using a port-a-cath - namely not being poked with needles all the time, and risking vein and tissue damage - I wasn't down with the idea of having a foreign object in my body throughout my treatment. Simply put, it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Back to the message boards. What seemed at the time like the majority of the posters on these pages were talking about how wonderful their port-a-caths were, that a bump meant vein damage, and that a port for us silly IV folks was inevitable.

I ignored the rest of the posters who said they'd had the same thing, it was simply a normal side effect, and they completed chemo with no problems.

Making the right call

Finally, I called the cancer centre and described my bump to a chemo nurse. She paged my oncologist, then called me back and said it was best to come it and have it assessed, rather than trying to figure it out over the phone.

So this morning, I stopped at the chemo unit on my way into work to get my bump checked out.

The nurse told me it was a totally normal side effect, and to let the nurse at my next treatment know to avoid using that vein. Oh, and I should use either a hot or cold compress if it starts to hurt.

Next time, I think I'll save my sanity, skip visiting Dr. Google, and call an expert.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Plastic surgery? Whatever blows your fur back.

I thought that breast cancer had given me some very concrete opinions on plastic surgery.

Before cancer, I had a whatever-blows-your-fur-back attitude. Who am I to judge someone who wants a smaller nose, bigger breasts, rounder bum, smaller thighs, etc.?

But when I was diagnosed, my opinion shifted. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why someone would put their body through unnecessary surgery and the risks that come with it, and unnecessary pain and recovery time. My own recovery from my lumpectomy and axillary dissection confirmed this.

Though I ultimately didn't have my entire breast removed, I did have part of it removed because I needed to (may I add I am grateful my surgeon did such a spectacular job too). I couldn't understand why someone would remove or add parts just because.

Reconstructive surgery to replace parts that had been removed due to disease, or damaged maybe because of an accident, I could understand, though I still had my doubts I could do it.

It was a question I considered a lot when first diagnosed, before it was confirmed the cancer appeared to be confined to the lump in my left breast, and to a limited number of lymph nodes.

To reconstruct or not to reconstruct

I wanted to feel prepared in case I needed to make a decision on reconstruction. Did I want to? And if I did, did I want implants or to have fat and muscle taken from my belly to create a new breast? I'll admit, the thought of getting a free tummy tuck out of the deal intrigued me for a moment or two.

Then I talked to a friend, whose close friend took the latter option and had a lot of issues recovering. And I looked at photos online, particularly of women who had reconstruction on one side. The results weren't always so spectacular, whatever method they chose.

Reconstructive surgery, if I ended up having a mastectomy, started looking a lot less attractive to me.

But the thought of having surgery not because of cancer, but because of vanity? Nope. The though of it straight-out bothered me.

A shift

Tonight, I was watching the show Skin Deep.

The women being featured were getting breast implants. Both were single moms with older sons, and being in the dating game certainly seemed to have an impact on their respective decisions.

But then one of the women being interviewed noted that she was a cervical cancer survivor. Her treatment had knocked her into early menopause. She had gained a significant amount of weight because of hormone therapy, then lost it with a serious amount of work. Unfortunately, the ordeal left her boobs a saggy mess.

Why not?

Why should she be less deserving of surgery she wanted, simply because she hadn't had her breasts removed because of her cancer? And really, even if she hadn't had cancer, but had gained and lost weight because of one of the millions of reasons women gain and lost weight, who am I to say?

The other woman had spent much of her life raising her son on her own. She put off dating so she could focus on raising him, and not worry that her son or a significant other was only getting part of her attention. She was slender and had always wanted implants. And why not?

So maybe plastic surgery still isn't for me. But the thought of it doesn't bother me any more. Whatever blows your fur back.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicken feet and kids are jerks

Chicken feet sans red nail polish. Photo from CEZ'L 

I was delighted to hear from Sandra, a friend from my elementary school days. Namely, the pubescent school days when kids are battling to be cool, or not to be the least cool. Turns out she has been reading my kancer kronicles.

Anyway, Sandra reminded me of something we did, something we thought was hilarious at the time. Something that today, would probably get us suspended at the very least. And something that reminded me that all kids are jerks now and then, even kids like us who weren't normally jerks.

I had just returned from a visit at my grandparents' farm. At the time, they had chickens. I had found the foot of one unfortunate chicken who had been recently decapitated, and thought it would be a great idea to bring the foot home.

I told Sandra about my find. We decided we needed to do something special with the chicken foot.

Hatching a plan

I'm not terribly sure how we selected our target. I remember she was very bright, one of the first to put her hand up in class. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. I guess that was it, she was simply an easy target.

Having been a target many times - I was a quiet, pudgy bookworm - I should have known better. Then again, maybe I was just delighted not to be the target this time around.

Anyway, we decided we would fancy up the foot, package it, and leave it as a gift on her desk.

Crafty chicks

We painstakingly painted the chicken's nails red, then stored them in the freezer at Sandra's house for safe keeping. Then we fashioned a package out of an old Cool Whip container, and made a tag in the shape of a fish. We wrote a love note from the least cool guy in our class, whose last name was Fisher. And topped it with a bow.

April Fool's Day, we made sure to get to school early, so we could deposit the gift on our target's desk before the teacher arrived.

As our classmates strolled in, they saw the package, paused, and wondered what could be inside. Finally, our target arrived. With a crowd around her, she read the note, opened the container and screamed.

A clean escape

Sandra, who made no secret of her dislike of our target, was roundly scolded by our teacher. She even told him it was me who had brought the chicken foot home from my grandparents' farm. For whatever reason, the teacher never said a word to me about it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: Treatment 5

Today's view, with a bit of my IV bag reflected.
© kittelberg writes

Today I officially passed the half-way mark in my chemo treatment, starting my Taxol regime.

So far, so good.

I got the prime, sunny chair next to the window. Check out the view. Not too shabby.

I felt pretty woozy after the Benadryl, but couldn't sleep during the treatment. I can't sleep on planes or in hospitals, and even have a tough time sleeping in hotels. So it's not really surprising that I can't sleep on Benadryl.
For those of you wondering, Taxol can cause some major allergic reactions, so it's standard for Benadryl to be given before Taxol.

Pros and cons

My awesome quilt. I love my colleagues.
© kittelberg writes

Again, it's a case of trading one not-so-great thing for a good thing. For instance, while I could not sleep and my neighbour in the next chair could, she also vomited. I felt terrible for her and wanted to rub her back or something, but instead I pretended I was asleep because I was afraid she would think I was being creepy. I really hope she's feeling okay tonight.

Thought I didn't sleep, chilling out gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy the quilt made by my wonderful colleagues. It's a perfect size for taking to chemo, and the personal messages written in the squares make me happy.

Time for crib

Once I was done trying to/faking sleep, I felt less woozy and more capable of forming coherent sentences, so the husband and I resumed playing crib. We had been playing earlier, but stopped when I began having difficulty remembering what I did seconds ago.

I had my ass handed to me, but it was fun nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cats aren't dogs, but they're still pretty cool

The bookends, Bella and Otis. © kittelberg writes

Years ago, a friend said after many drinks and whatnot, "Cats are cool, but cats aren't dogs." And while it was a running joke for the rest of the weekend, I got what he was saying. You see, for much of my life, I was a dog person.

When my sister was still a baby, we briefly had a cat. Two kids had come to our door with the cat, and told my parents their dad was going to leave the cat outside if they didn't find him a home. My parents took pity on him, and Fluffy moved in.

Fluffy did okay with me - likely because I fed him multiple times in an hour playing house with him - but he took one too many swipes at my sister, so Fluffy was given away.

After that, we were a dog household.

Cats 101

I was reintroduced to life with a cat when I moved in with my fiancé (now my husband). Silent Bob had lived with George and his roommates since she was a kitten (yes, Bob was a girl).

At first, ours was a tense relationship. Bob would look at me defiantly as she scratched my sister's chair, which was temporarily in our apartment. Her trademark bitchy meow seemed to sound extra bitchy when directed at me.

No matter. We grudgingly began to tolerate one another, and that tolerance eventually became friendship. When she became ill with advanced kidney disease and had to be euthanized, I cried for days.

I initially made George put all of Bob's things away and proclaimed that I did not want another cat for some time.

Enter the bookends

Then our friend Katherine told us about a women she had met who was looking for a good home for not one, but two cats, a brother and sister.

I had a good feeling about them. We visited them and about 10 seconds after we got into our car to drive home, I said, "I want them."

Days later, we returned and experienced an extremely awkward moment as their owner bawled her eyes out, and we left with her our cats, Bella and Otis.

Bella died last year. We all miss her. We will not have another cat until Otis joins his sister. And it may take longer than a month this time as our son has become quite attached to our big boy cat.

Cat people

I give you all this backstory in an attempt to illustrate my evolution from dog person to cat person. Don't get me wrong. I still love dogs very much. But I think something in my chemistry has changed.

I now meet a strange dog, and a lot of the time, they take a long time to warm up to me. Like they're not too sure about me. Or they're indifferent.

I meet a cat? And it's instant love.

Sure, cats aren't dogs. But that's why they're cool.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Super trooper: A matter of perspective

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been throwing myself a pity party lately. And frankly, I think I've earned it.

As Ally McBeal once said when asked why her problems were so much more important than anyone else's, "Because they're mine."

But all parties must come to an end, particularly those of the pity variety.

My chemo grievances

I saw my oncologist today, and discussed the latest annoyances I've been dealing with, namely foot pain (sensitive skin means I'm developing calluses faster than a normal human being should), and arm pain on the side I'm getting my IVs in. Both are totally normal for someone going through chemo, which is the answer I expected.

We talked about the switch to Taxol, now that I'm done the A/C portion (Adriamiacin Cytoxan) of my ACT treatment, and the side effects I'm likely swapping the nausea and other delights for.

The oncologist noted that some women find Taxol less, well, taxing than A/C. He said he hoped this would be the case for me adding, "You're breezing through your treatments so far."

Easy, breezy, beautiful chemo girl

As I walked back to work, I thought, "Breezing? Really? Maybe if we're talking about a smelly breeze coming from a pulp and paper mill."

Then I thought about it. I never cracked open the in-case-of-emergency nausea meds. I never puked. I had some discomfort in my mouth, but have been able to keep mouth sores at bay with baking soda rinses. I have felt well enough to return to work. (Let's hope I didn't just jinx myself by putting that in writing)

Though it's been challenging at times juggling schedules, for the most part, I've had help when I've needed it.

Enter Abba

Before I left work, my friend and colleague Tony asked me how my appointment went. I told him, and he said, "You're a trooper."

And Abba's Super Trooper popped into my head. Maybe because Abba transports me to a simpler time, dancing in one friend's living room, and dressing up for fashion shows with another friend.

Abba reminds me of a friend in grade 8 who started an Abba fan club because it was lame to like Abba by then, making a fan club super hilarious to our pubescent minds. I'm pretty sure there wasn't one kid in our class who wasn't a member.

If you haven't watched the video yet, do so now. At the very least, you'll get a kick out of the outfits.

One day I know I'll be "feeling like a number one" again.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pee and garbage harsh my beach buzz

These beach feet don't like to step on other
people's garbage.© kittelberg writes
The tough part about going somewhere that provides excellent people watching is that you have to take the jerks along with the good people.

Enter Mr. Beach Pee

You know, like the guy who openly took a leak in the water at English Bay tonight.

As in stood there up to his knees in the water, with a stream of pee clearly arcing from his shorts to the water.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no Pollyanna. I know people pee in the water all the time, from babies who don't know any better to adults who are just plain lazy.

But this took the cake. Not only was beach pee guy too lazy to walk the two minutes it would have taken to get to the public washrooms. He was too lazy to even sit in the water and attempt to hide the fact that he was peeing in the water. The water that tons of people, thrilled that summer might have actually started in Vancouver, were swimming in.

His nonchalance made it evident that he's the type of entitled young adult that the old folks like me sniff about. I mean really, what's more entitled than the act of purposefully and obviously relieving oneself in English Bay without regard for nearby swimmers?

Garbage tide

Then there's the garbage that was being hurled onto the shore by the incoming tide. I had visions of wading and perhaps even swimming in the water with my son tonight. I always forget how cold the water is. Then once I saw the garbage, it was game over. This mama wasn't swimming.

There was a plastic bag, then a bus ticket, and broken bits of bottles. These got added to our garbage to be placed in a - wait for it - city garbage can on our way home. Imagine that? Later, there was the disposable soda cup, a straw, then the condom wrapper. Frankly, I lost count after a while.

The sense of entitlement that must grip the people who feel free to leave their crap on the beach infuriates me. If you want to enjoy the beach, why trash it? Do people honestly like wallowing in filth? Didn't their mothers teach them right from wrong?

How can we fix the problem

I'm not sure what the solution is. Have more police officers on the beach, ready to hand out tickets? Not sure I'm a fan of that, as I'm sure the nice couple next to us quietly enjoying a beer would have been ticketed too. Hey, provided you take the beer cans back to get your deposit or donate them to a binner, cheers mate.

What I really wish I had done was take a picture of beach pee guy. Then I would have posted it with today's blog. Maybe someone would have recognized him. A little public shame could go a long way.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Must do DoodleArt

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"Do you remember DoodleArt?" Sharon asked me this afternoon.

Do I remember DoodleArt? I certainly do. In fact, I wish I had kept some of it.

Although what I really want is to get my hands on some uncoloured pages.

I like to colour with my five-year-old son. But it can be challenging, as he finishes his pictures at a much faster rate than me, and wants to turn the page before I'm finished.

Colouring = quiet joy

Colouring is about as crafty as I get. I'm not a scrapbooking mom (if I ever mock a scrapbooker, it's because deep down I'm jealous). I don't sew or knit. But I do love colouring.

Colouring calms me like nothing else can. I can zone out for hours and take my time, considering my options, contemplating the names of the colours. It's quiet joy.

I'm pretty sure I got DoodleArt for a birthday. I was thrilled. It came in a tube. It was poster-size. It had brand new markers. What was not to like?

I remember spending what seemed like hours filling it in at the dining-room table. Not sure, I should ask my mom how much peace that bought her.

A false start

I consulted with a friend who I recalled knew someone who knew the DoodleArt creators. Alas, she cannot recall who it was who knew them. So I googled it.

DoodleArt history

Coincidentally, DoodleArt was born in 1972, the same year as me. The Anderson family - creator Glenn, and his parents, Frank and Jean, patented and produced DoodleArt kits in Vancouver.

DoodleArt was sold last year to Andrew Perkins, Michael McLennan and Julia Finlay.

DoodleArt today

You can order DoodleArt online, or buy it at Chapters and Indigo stores. I'm pretty stoked about this.

If you have a special occasion coming up, and I'm a close friend, you can expect to unwrap some fine DoodleArt from yours truly. I promise I'll try not to colour it before I give it to you too.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

When the inside doesn't match the outside

Me in a hat that my husband thinks is "cancer-y".
Does it make it me look more cancer-y? And is that okay?
The last few weeks have been pretty krappy. Sorry, that's not a headline, I mean crappy.

The effects of chemo have been getting worse, of course coinciding with my return to work. Work is my escape. This, along with the fact that I work on contract so have no paid sick leave makes working both part of my healing, and a must.

I've already been off sick for a couple of days because of a sinus cold. My allergies are kicking my ass this week, and I have a nagging suspicion my sinuses are flaring up again as I write this. Added to personal stress that I won't elaborate (too much) on - let's just say pest control visited my home last week - and I've been an irrational, bitchy, paranoid, crybaby mess.

My first-world problem

But apparently, I don't look like a mess. And I'm wondering if that is part of the problem. My hair is gone, my brows sparse but fillable with makeup. My skin tone is good. (Now that I've put all this in writing, I'm going to wake up looking terrible tomorrow, right?)

Why looking okay is a problem

This probably sounds like a good issue to have. And I am grateful that right now, I could pass for a chick with a shaved head. But because I pass, it means people think I'm alright. And I'm most certainly not.

And because people think I'm alright, they're that much more shocked/scared/dumbfounded when I lose my shit. Because it appears to come out of left field. Cue the guilt.

I feel bad for losing my shit on unsuspecting people, particularly my husband. I feel bad for feeling like crap. I feel bad for not being able to stomach the healthy food I should be eating. I feel bad for getting blisters on my feet so damned easily that I can't even do the daily walks I was doing. I feel bad for not writing back to everyone who has sent me a greeting card.

Maybe if or when I start looking not so okay, I'll give myself permission to not feel okay.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Operation fuck kancer: Chemo 3 and an attitude adjustment

Wall of happy. Copyright Lori Kittelberg.
My wall of happy.
Had my third chemo yesterday, the second last of the AC part of my ACT treatment. This puts me close to the half-way mark chemo wise, which I'm quite pleased about.

The huge thing was yesterday, I had four members in my chemo posse: my husband, current colleagues Kirsten (who doubled as our driver) and Melissa (who had me laughing about making Elizabethan ruffs for dogs), and Erica, a former colleague who's now a great friend.

I was waiting to see if the nurse would kick two of them out, but it wasn't a full room, and only one other patient had one visitor with him, so I guess she decided it wasn't a big deal. Now more about that attitude adjustment...

Getting needed perspective

It was a huge kick in the pants for me. You may recall I've been having a pity party.

Then a few nights ago, I was magnetized to a magazine in our laundry room called Fresh Vancouver. The feature story was an interview with Bif Naked, a rockin' woman who happens to be a breast cancer warrior. One quote really stuck out for me:

"...there are cancer patients who take the bus in from Surrey for chemo, or who have four kids and can't find child care so they lug their kids in with them." Sweet merciful crap. I can't imagine taking my one kid with me, much less four.

Challenges are just that

Yes, we have had challenges arranging child care, or finding someone to do daycare drop-off and pick-up for us at times. My husband has taken over that task because it stresses me out (thing one to be grateful for).

And every single time, whether it takes 10 phone calls or one, a friend steps up to the plate (thing two to be grateful for). Indeed, the childcare posse is in full effect y'all, with Shemim helping us last night Yvonne this morning, and Nikki tonight since George is working. It takes a village, folks. And our village is pretty fucking awesome.

My wall of happy

All this brings me to my wall of happy (sorry about the photo quality, will try to get something better, but you get the idea). The wall started with a couple of art pieces by my son and one of his best friends. Last night it grew to include photos and greeting cards.

I've been posting my progress on Facebook with some uncertainly over how much I should be sharing. But within a few hours of posting that I'm almost halfway through chemo, the number of responses floored me. And that's why I do it. Living far from most of my family, I need to know my friends are there for me.

When I roll over to get out of bed every morning, and when I'm lying down because I feel like hell, I now have a hard-copy reminder of how many people have my back. And a reminder of how much hair I had when I was young and wild (yeah, that's a perm - don't judge, it was the 90s).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to find peace when I'm on the edge

This has been a crappy week.

    chemo hair copyright Lori Kittelberg
  1. What little hair I have is now falling out (except for the hair on my legs, which is really annoying). My scalp hurts. 
  2. Our mail carrier didn't bother buzzing when I was home yesterday, so I missed my mom's care package. 
  3. I've been on daycare duty more this week. Combined with my son's dawdling? Patience is done. Resulting in a mega-dose of guilt. 
  4. My period started, which seems to be extending the nausea from my last treatment. 
  5. My fingernails are starting to hurt, which is freaking me out because I don't want to lose my nails. Hair, fine, I'll deal. But fingernails? Really? Bloody hell.

After nearly having a breakdown on the bus this morning and sending a few panicked texts to my husband - please, someone buy that man a drink, he truly deserves it - I stopped for a little liquid sunshine.

Nectar of the gods

Delaney's on Denman copyright Lori KittelbergIn an ideal world, I would cut coffee. I'm eating more vegetables, have eliminated and reduced a lot of crap (white foods, red meat, wine, dairy). I am not cutting out coffee.

Which brings me to today's saviour, Delaney's on Denman.

Grabbing a coffee is nothing new to me, it's something I do every day. In Vancouver, we take for granted the fact that there's at least one coffee shop on every block. This makes it easy to miss the whole cafe experience.

When my mom was here after my surgery, we tried a few of the local coffee shops. She liked Delaney's best. And I remembered why I loved going there so much.

Me and Delaney's have history

Through my years freelancing two days a week, to my maternity-leave days and short escape trips when I was dealing with PPD, I used to go there an awful lot. Lately, I've been going on my way home from dropping off my son at daycare since it's been pouring rain (that's no. 6 on my list!), reading the paper, and tweeting.

I like the chill atmosphere, the staff, the new sugar-free spelt muffins, the free extra shot in my latte, the seating along the window providing perfect people-watching.

It's still been a crappy week. But taking that little moment today gave me the bit of normal I needed.