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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Image from %BLOG_TITLE%
"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.