Saturday, June 27, 2015

Banana trees and bingo dabbers

Well, last time I wrote I had just finished #4 of my 25 radiation treatments. At this point, I have only 4 to go, after having finished 21!! Yay!!! I actually am beginning to see the light at the end of this long tunnel of operations and treatments.

When I was beginning this journey my Aunt Violet sent me a bingo dabber, that had once belonged to my grandmother (who loved to play bingo) and she told me to mark off the days on my calendar with it till I get to the end of my treatments. Each day dabbed would be a day closer to the end and to healing. That is what I have been doing since the beginning, many months ago.

My creative friend Karey had a similar idea for radiation countdown. She had my daughter and her daughter make me bunches of cardboard bananas which we stuck on a banana tree. She was the one who gave me the monkey with the slogan "Peel strong" at the very beginning. So we're in the same monkey theme here! Rachel even had fun drawing a monkey climbing the tree. Every day when I would come back from my treatments I would pick another banana, noticing them becoming fewer and fewer as time has gone by.
It has been tiring, all the driving back and forth and taking up so much of my time. Having to go there mostly 5 times a week and then needing to nap etc has really cut into my every day chores and responsabilities. (That's why this blog has been neglected). It has not been easy for me to once again accept my weakness and let things go. I am definitely on a learning curve here! I know that once the treatments are over, my body will continue to live out the effects of these and that I won't jump back into life with the same energy as before. It will take time to fully recover, physically and emotionnally. This is not easy for me to accept. I'm the type who wants to turn the page as quickly as possible and get on with the next chapter. However God is teaching me to be willing to linger, to not be so much in a hurry to get over it and get on with life. There are important lessons to be learned in the process and especially in those moments of weakness, when we can only truly cry out to Him for comfort and help.

So that's where I am at the present, nearing the end of treatments and the beginning of a new normal, whatever that may entail. I do plan to continue to write as I feel inspired, because the journey continues. If  I decide to end this blog I will advise. Hey, notice the hair coming back in?! A lovely salt and pepper shade!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Healing rays and pray-ers

Well, I've had 4 out of 25 radiation treatments...only 21 more to go. People have asked about how I find it, is it as bad as chemo, what about side effects etc. Well, up to this point I would say it is not too bad. The main side effect at the moment is fatigue. But then again, that is probably due in part to the chemo still in my body and the effects that treatment had on my internal organs. I do have to travel for radiation, which is tiring also. For the moment, I have a little redness and tenderness to the area being radiated, but really nothing too uncomfortable. Burning and skin irritation are the main side effects of this treatment.

As I was getting ready to go to my first treatment and knowing how important a positive mindset is in our body's response to it, I prayed for an image to hold on to while lying on the table. God gave me this beautiful image of of warm, colorful sun rays shining down and bringing about healing. He created the sun, which brings life to everything on our planet. He permitted that man discover the beneficial uses of radiation (even though some people focus on the negative effects of such technology) It is also used for good, for healing and for giving new life. So as I lie on the bed and receive treatment instead of worrying about what this is doing to my body I choose to be thankful and imagine all these beautiful rays bringing healing to my body. I am thankful also that we live in a country where these kinds of treatments are available to all. I was also reminded of the verse in the

Psalm 121:5-6 The Lord watches over you—
                        the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
                                   the sun will not harm you by day,
                        nor the moon by night.

On another note, over the past month or so I have been so encouraged by what I call "little winks" from our heavenly Father. Times when I have felt discouraged, He has reminded me just how much He cares for me. He has done this is in so many different ways, but one way in particular has been through people who have been praying for me or who offer to pray for me. In conversations I have with family and friends on the phone or by internet I have been struck by the number of times one will tell me that they are praying, as well as their church or other friends, some of whom I have never even met. Just in the past month alone I have had 2 people, perfect strangers, ask me about my health and end our conversation with: "I will be praying for you." One man, who pushed my wheelchair through the airport and another, a border guard at the Vermont border. Strangers who were sensitive to God's leading to offer compassion, kind words and prayer; little sun rays. Isn't it amazing? In Romans it says: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" I cling to these and many other promises on those days when my body just doesn't want to cooperate. And I pray that I also can be that little sun ray in someone else's life.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Radiation to come

It has been a while since I wrote. It has been hard to discipline myself to sit at the computer. Had a wonderful time with my Aunt Violet in Florida! One week of being spoiled by her, enjoying the sun and the magnificent scenery, swimming in the ocean, and just plain resting. The best thing: no to-do list!!

Since getting back there have been lots of activities as my daughters' school years are winding down, which means being fairly busy. But I try to pace myself, especially with radiation treatments coming very soon. I will be having 25 treatments, starting on May 22nd. They will be 5 days a week, for 5 weeks, in Sherbrooke (1½ hrs drive away.) I plan to drive back and forth some days (or rather be driven) and stay overnight at a friend's house in Sherbrooke some other days. We will see how things go, especially with my energy level. I have heard that the side effects of radiation are not as bad as chemo, mostly tiredness. I am not looking forward to this new stage in the journey. However, I know that once I get through this, all medical treatments will be over, and that's my motivation.

Some verses that have been especially encouraging to me these past weeks, as I have been feeling tired and wonder often if I will ever get my energy back again. The apostle Paul is writing this:

"We do not want you to be uninformed...about the hardships we suffered...We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure...But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God....He has delivered us from such a deadly peril and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers."
2 Corinthians 1:8-11

I have to be reminded over and over that this situation is only an opportunity once more to grasp how much I need the Lord each and every day, His strength, wisdom, love and patience. And how really this is the way I should be living, even when not dealing with a sickness or side effects. A quote from my devotional book sums this up very well:
"Although self-sufficiency is acclaimed in the world, reliance on God produces abundant living in the kingdom."

That is my prayer as I journey on - to not try and do it all myself but to rest in Him to carry me through. As is stated in those verses above, the delivrance from God was also linked to the prayers of those who interceded for Paul. I continue to be so touched by the number of people who have told me recently that they have been praying for me regularly over the past nine months. Such perseverance! To you all: A HUGE THANK YOU!!! Your prayers have made a real difference in my life. Be blessed!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


My last treatment of chemotherapy is over!!!! Yay!!!

I'd break out the champagne, but alcohol hurts my tummy, so I'll settle for juice in mineral water.

I had it on Wednesday, April. 8th, accompanied by my friend, Joanne. I guess the expression "chemo brain" really applied to me that day because when the nurse asked me if I had taken all my pre-treatments medications, I replied (looking like a dear in headlights): "Medication? Was I supposed to take something? What color pills are you talking about?" I even had to call my daughter at home to verify the name of the little white pill shaped like a house (I can never remember the names of all my meds!) that I did remember to take in the morning, even though I had forgotten all the others and was supposed to take two of the little white houses! Oh dear! But thankfully they were able to give me what I missed through IV. The treatment itself went fairly well except for a very intense moment of nausea and dizziness as they were giving me my Benadryl. And then I really got loopy, started talking like I was drunk - my tongue felt like it was twice its actual size. After that, my friend Joanne and I started cracking up! What a sight we were - AGAIN!!
But that passed and before I knew it, I was saying good-bye to the dear staff in the oncology department who have been such a big part of my life since December. I was so happy that my blood cell count was up and that the treatment did not have to be delayed, that I decided I'm gonna do it in style and celebrate by wearing a cool wig to the hospital. We all had a great laugh over this and as it happened my oncologist who was working that day, came into the chemo room right at that moment. She burst out laughing and couldn't stop saying: "This is so good! You look so good! We have to get a picture of you like that and put it in the waiting room to encourage the other patients!" I remained in my wig for the rest of the treatment and every now and then Joanne would start laughing and say to me "How do you expect me to have a serious conversation with you with that wig on! Really, you look like a rock star!"

Thanks to everyone for your prayers and support. Now I have to rest up and take the meds for the side effects. I am still having some stomach issues and achy bones, mouth sores etc. but it's not too severe. I'm especially tired and ever so looking forward to joining my Aunt Violet who is presently in Florida and invited me to come down for a week. I'll be leaving in exactly one week, on Apr. 21st. Hot sun, warm water and sandy beaches - here I come!!!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The value of a smile

On Thursdays Rachel and I had the habit of going to free skate. I would pick up her skating friend Amber and we would go so they would have time to practice their figure skating. Being in the morning, usually the only other people present for the 1½ hrs were senior citizens and parents with preschoolers. This is our second year participating in this free skate so we know pretty well the regulars, although we've never really chatted with them. One man in particular, a senior, was almost always there. He is a fabulous skater and would weave in and out of the others, doing funny moves on the ice. This year he would have the habit of greeting me when he or we arrived by a nod of the head or a wave or quick hello as he skated by. He would do the same when leaving. The last free skate before Christmas he came up to me and shook my hand, wishing me a very Merry Christmas. I was touched by this and often remarked to Katherine that we always greet and say good bye to each other but have never actually met or talked together. This has been made even harder due to the fact that apart from a couple of times, because of my tiredness caused by chemo this year, I usually have skipped the skating part and sat and read a book while watching the girls do their routines.

Well, this past Thursday was different. It was the last free skate. My regular friend was there once more. However, this time rather than waving from a distance, he actually came up to where I was sitting in the bleachers and shook my hand. He said he just wanted to thank me - thank me for my smile. He said that every time he would come to free skate and would wave to me and I would wave back and smile, it just made his day. My smile encouraged and warmed his heart. Needless to say, I was very surprised. I responded by thanking him and then mentionned to him the reason I was no longer skating very often with the girls - because of my cancer and chemo. Now it was his turn to be surprised. Then he proceeded to tell me about his wife who had been sick and whom he nursed and took care of for the last year of her life. He shared that he had been with her the day she passed away. He added that some time afterwards, while he was here at the arena for free skate, he just started weeping, and felt overcome with grief. That was when he decided to seek the help of a counsellor. With this help he was able to work through and overcome his grief for the loss of his wife. One of the tidbits of advice his counsellor had given him was to find some way to invest in other people and somehow make their lives better. In doing so, he wouldn't be focused on his own pain but could focus on someone else in a positive way. So he shared that each time he would come to free skate, he would do so with the intention of cheering someone up, or making them laugh; some way to make their life a little happier. WOW! And when he greeted me and I appreciated it and smiled back, that just blessed his heart also. That was why he wanted to thank me.

He went on to skate and have fun on the ice, I went back to my book and watching the girls. But this time, when it was time to go and he saw we were leaving, he came off the ice, directly to me and said: "I just want to give you a hug". And that is what he did and wished me well for the rest of my treatment and for a great summer. I was blessed!

I was reminded of that verse that says it is more blessed to give than to receive. What an example of this in this situation. He gave, which encouraged me to give back and we were both truly blessed. So smile at someone today - you'll never know how much it could meet a need, warm their heart and be a blessing for them.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Highs and lows

I am thankful to say that following my treatment last Wed. I did not have the same intense side effects as after the fourth treatment - the regular aches and pains, some stomach sensitivity etc, but very controllable with the meds. Thank God!

On Monday, March 23rd I turned 50 yrs old! Originally I was supposed to be going through my last chemo treatment on that day. But because of day changes and treatments being put off, that didn't happen. And I'm glad for that because I was able to attend my wonderful surprise party organized for me by my family and friends this past Sunday.
They did a marvelous job - I didn't suspect a thing! It was so touching to see reunited in one room many lovely ladies who have been a part of my life at different stages since I have lived in Quebec: from my 2 sisters-in-law and Mother-in-law to friends from our old church in Pointe-aux Tembles to friends from the homeschool group in Vermont and so on. Quite the cross-section of people, some speaking English and some French, but all who have touched my life in some way over the past 28yrs.

I was so overwhelmed with joy, happiness and thankfulness that these ladies would come to Dunham to celebrate me, so touched by their love. And then there were the cards filled with notes of encouragement that I could only read the next day, cause I didn't think my heart could take so much emotion in one day! Thank you to those who came and to those who sent cards or messages via email or Facebook. I was very touched and felt loved!
 A couple of days later I find out the news of 3 ladies deaths from cancer, two from breast cancer, one who I knew personnally. Talk about a nose dive into the depths of sadness. It has been a hard few days, many tears, those old fears resurfacing. I let the tears fall, knowing that this too is for a season. My body and emotions are becoming weary of this journey, but the end is near.

A song by Michael W. Smith has been an encouragement to me to hang on when I don't feel like it:

There's a rose in the desert
Blooming red in the drought
There's a quenching rain
In the wings of the gathering clouds

Lift your eyes
Look to the horizon now
There's still a hope for us
Reach up from the dust
And call it down

One of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 139, reminds me over and over again the God has my story in His hands, under His control. I do not have to fear the story of another person. That was her story for reasons that I cannot and may not ever comprehend. My story is unique and different and I can trust the author, for He is faithful.

 Psalm 139:15-16
My frame was not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
and intricately put together in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed,
yet in Your book
all my days were written, before any of them came into being.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

I'm 5/6th of the way there!

I am happy to report my 5th chemo treatment went well on Wed. March 18th. No side effects during treatment. They had reduced the dose of chemo and added some benadryl in order to try and reduce the reactions I had last time. We modified the  meds also. So hopefully this upcoming week will be uneventful with regards to side effects. And we have changed the way in which the injections will be administered in order to try and maintain a reasonable level for my white blood cell count. I am going to have to be wise with regards to resting regularly during the next 3 weeks so my body can build up its strength and my white blood cells can be produced sufficiently before my next treatment.

Thinking back on my treatments, I think my visits have become part of the comic relief in the chemo room. Last time my friend Karey brought the tropical decor and this time I was accompanied by my long time (20 yrs+) friend Joanne. She decided to keep me entertained by a drawing game similar to pictionary (Telestrations) while I soaked my feet and hands. We laughed so much! Seriously, how can hair extensions be interpreted as a Hassidic, orthodox Jew?? There was a quirk in the game though - when it was her turn to draw and have me guess, she simply drew, I guessed. But when it was my turn, I couldn't draw of course (hands soaking in ice) so she closed her eyes and I dictated how to draw my picture. Then she opened her eyes and tried to guess the picture. It was sort of like 2 games in 1.
Sometimes we laughed so hard, I think the other patients thought we were crazy! Well it did give them something to keep their minds off their own treaments. At one point, because of all the fun we were having, I didn't even notice that water from the melted ice had seeped into the ziplock bags and my socks were soaking wet! So, like the good friend she is, Joanne whipped off her socks and gave them to me to finish the soaking and afterwards went home with no socks on in her boots. You know you're good friends when you can wear your her used, sweaty socks!! Then everyone in the room had their opinion on what to do next - with my wet socks, drying off my feet, how to reposition the new ziplocks. It was a hoot!

 I realized afterwards that normally every medical appointment or procedure we have during our lives is usually very private. It's one on one with the health care provider or providers. But not chemo. We are all (this time 7 of us) in one room, positionned in a circle. So you have to look at each other, whether you want to or not. Chemo is lived out in community, with the advantages and disadvantages of this set up. One can see first hand other patients' reactions, fears, joys. One can hear words of encouragement from caregivers, nurses, advice from the medical staff etc. I tell you, we're in this together - not very private at all. I wondered about this with Daniel - is it primarily a budget thing, need for less nurses? Is it just convenient for the surveillance if something goes wrong with one patient the nurse can respond more quickly, being in the same room? This is probably true. But maybe there is some additional reason. Knowing you're not alone in the battle, that there are others going through the same journey, some even worse off than you are, sort of makes it less scary. There is an inspiration and encouragement in knowing others are going through the same struggles as you are, and they can smile through this too. I do sincerely hope we made a positive impact to those surrounding us on that day. We certainly did make them smile and I'm sure some had stories to tell when they arrived home.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On slaying giants and facing fears

Well the first week of March was glorious and not just because it was March break. My sister Susan came for a week from Newfoundland to visit and support me in this whole ordeal. What a great time we had, laughing, reminiscing, shopping, snowshoeing and just basically getting out of the "cancer routine". She was originally scheduled to be here with me during one of my treatments but because there had been delays, it didn't work out. However, it was much more fun this way and Daniel and the girls and I really appreciated her time with us and practical help in the house.


 Then the after sister's visit/ before chemo blues hit. Needless to say I was "fit to be tied" as they say in Newfoundland. As the week advanced and I missed my sister I also began anticipating with much anxiety this next chemo treatment, knowing it would be the same drug and fearing the same uncomfortable, yes even painful adverse reactions. I really began to lose heart and get discouraged. The emotions just seem to come out of nowhere and completely overwhelm me.

During this time my solace was in song. And I quickly realized why the Psalmist David used song so much when he was fighting his own battles, some of them literally battling for his life. So I turned once again to my CDs and my mp3 player and forced myself to hear God's truth told, whether I wanted to or not, and to be open to receive this comfort and the reminders that sometimes can come only hidden in a beautiful melody.

Here are some parts of songs that have greatly spoken to my heart this week:

Steven Curtis Chapman - Our God Is In Control
This is not how it should be
This is not how it could be
This is how it is
And our God is in control
This is not how it will be
When we finally will see
We'll see with our own eyes
He was always in control

This is not where we planned to be
When we started this journey
But this is where we are
And our God is in control

Though this first taste is bitter
There will be sweetness forever
When we finally taste and see
That our God is in control
Kristyn and Keith Getty - Jesus Draw me ever nearer
Jesus draw me ever nearer
As I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I'll follow, though I'm worn.

May this journey bring a blessing,
May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart's testing,
With Your likeness let me wake.

Jesus guide me through the tempest;
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
Let me love You even more.

Let the treasures of the trial                                 
Form within me as I go -
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at Your throne

Aaron Keyes - You are Sovereign over us
There is strength within the sorrow, There is beauty in our tears
You meet us in our mourning, With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting, You're sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding, You're teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us
You're with us in the fire and in the flood
You're faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

You are wisdom unimagined
Who could understand Your ways
Reigning high above the Heavens
Reaching down in endless grace
You're the lifter of the lowly
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me
And Your promises are my delight

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You're working for our good
You're working for our good and for Your glory
Then this past Tuesday afternoon I find out the news that my white blood cell count is too low again and my chemo will be put off for another week, once again.
I was frustrated at first because this pushes everything ahead, but then realized that this is probably just what I need - another week to make my body stronger, readjust my meds and just relax and rest. Moreover, when I look back to what God has been trying to teach me through song, I can only have a thankful heart. He is in control, sovereign. He does know what He's doing and I can slay those giants and face those fears with Him, in every valley.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The famous fourth treatment

Well, I haven't written for a while, so I decided to do so again in the wee hours of the morning after being awakened by my ususal "tropical moment". Didn't have much inspiration these days for writing without sounding like I'm complaining, so I decided not to write at all.

How did the aftermat of this fourth treatment turn out, you may wonder? What can I say? Terrible. I had so many side effects - severe mouth sores, achy bones, intestinal issues, skin rash, nasal bleeding...but the worse was the heartburn and stomach pains which caused me an overnight visit to the emergency room. Things are stable now, thanks to various meds - lots of meds. Sometimes it's hard to remember the day when there were no pill bottles on the counter, no prescriptions to get filled. Me, who hardly ever took anything besides an occasional tylenol, I now live in the presence of my newfound friends, those little transparent containers filled with colorful candylike potions called RELIEF.

I have since heard from several people that the fourth treatment was their worse one. So, I take heart, knowing I am not the exception. And throughout these difficult few weeks of pain and sleepness nights, once again I am amazed and thankful for the wonderful team of people that surround me, who have done everything to help me get through this journey easier. From my doctor, who herself battled breast cancer last year, to my dear pharmacist who calls to find out how I'm making out, to the nurses at the CLSC who try so every gently to take blood from my so tired veins. I thank God for caring healthcare workers. Thoughtfulness and concern have been communicated and have been so appreciated by this weary patient. So I'm encourgaged once more to battle on and not give up. Only two treatments to go!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Manicure and pedicure - Quebec winter version

Just back from chemo. It went well and believe it or not I did have a "tropical moment" just as I was starting to soak my nails. That did help at least for the first little while!  It wasn't as bad as I thought, just that moment when your toes pain because they are completely frozen and are not yet numb. After that I couldn't feel anything. Reminded me of when I was a little kid and refused to come inside on a winter's day because I was having so much fun, trying to ignore my frozen feet.  Karey kept me busy as we yack, yack, yacked. And she even set up a tropical corner with a picture of palm trees, flowers in a vase and a little flowery crown for my head, so I could imagine I was on a beach in the hot sun!!! It was a blast!!

The pictures below show us in the chemo room at the hospital: Karey, who is wearing her Hawaian shirt and me in the flowery crown! This was during my intervenous chemo treatment and soaking of my finger/toe nails. You will notice the great ziplock bags to protect my feet. Pretty chic, hey?!

Thanks, Karey for making an otherwise nerve-wrecking day, one of fun and laughter!!