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A Cabinet of Curiosities


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Interstitial Spaces

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I know it has been forever since I wrote anything here… well that is sort of untrue, it has been forever since I published anything here. I have a bunch of half-written posts that I will probably never complete.

Why am I writing here again? I think the biggest reason is because I am lost and I need a venue to sort out these feelings and emotions that are just overflowing. This is my last semester as a Masters student, I have fulfilled all of the requirements to graduate except completing the thesis part, which I am currently working on.

The thing is, I have no idea what is next. I applied for the Ph.D. program in the Humanities department but thus far, I have not heard anything back from them. I think I have felt every single emotion there is – all the way down to feeling worthless and like my life has no meaning because of not hearing back yet – which isn’t healthy by any far stretch. That world is so cut-throat and competitive that one tends to lose sight of the real world. Somewhat like when I worked at Freestyle, everything was so small and cloistered, you are so busy that you do’t have time to stop and look around you.

This needs to be a very important lesson for me, I am not my grades, I am not my pieces of paper. If I don’t get in I have a very good plan ‘B’ that I have talked about and will put in place. I am valuable, I am worthy, I do have something to contribute. I just need to remember that and get out of the tower more.

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Grandad

  
I have very few memories of my grandad because of various reasons, but he died on Monday at the age of 95. 

He was a very organized man and decided that he wanted to use this picture in his obituary. This is a picture that I took of him a long time ago at the request of my grandmother. She wanted to have a postage stamp made for him with his image on it and needed a photograph of him to send in to the folks who were creating the stamps. 

I found this photograph again a little over two months ago along with the original contact sheet and processing times/colour balance formula. Little did I know in July that I would see this photograph again so soon.
I am regretful that things could not have been different and that I could have had a better relationship with my grandad. He was a WWII veteran and I know he had fascinating stories to tell – I just never had the opportunity to hear them despite him being in my life for so long. 
And so, I sit here at my desk full of sadness and emotions for someone I barely knew because of circumstances that were beyond my control and seemingly beyond repair that happened even before I was born. 

Family animosity and grudges are no joke. In the end it is really the next generation who ends up suffering the most because either they are shamed for wanting to get to know “the enemy,” whatever trait that is found undesirable is used against them “oh you are so much like your … ” and lastly kids are taught to hate people they have barely met to forward the grudge even longer and more deeply. This ends up having an all encompassing effect on the entire family. 

In the wise and very truthful words of Yoda:

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” 

This post is not meant to be disrespectful to anyone. It is just the inner thoughts of someone who lost a grandfather before she had a chance to have one.


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A Couple of Updates

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After a few of weeks of finagling with our insurance company, I finally received my first shipment of stivarga on Monday; which I started yesterday. Other than having to eat a low fat/low calorie breakfast 30 minutes before taking it, there is not much to report as of yet.

My doctor suggested that I start off on the lowest dose (1/4) for a week, then 1/2 the next week, 3/4 the week after and finally see if I can tolerate the full dose by the fourth week. I have heard that few people can tolerate the whole 160mg dose and stay at the 120mg range and do better in terms of side effects. We will see how it goes. I am cautiously optimistic that stivarga will work well for me.

I have to admit that this drug is a lot more sensitive than any other drug I have been on. After opening which I have to note the date on the bottle, if the contents are not taken in a certain amount of time, it must be properly discarded (by bringing it to the pharmacy for them to dispose of) and I have to keep the anti-moisture packet inside the bottle at all times. I have to admit that the bottle itself from a packaging standpoint is really adorable because it is so tiny and square!!

Otherwise, I have been really absorbed in my class this semester. It is so interesting because it examines the intersections of art pieces that were created during the period of the discovery of the New World and how items from the new world found their way into paintings and other art forms that were either brought back to Europe or were created in Europe. This is a point of view that is not often examined in the art history world. I am really glad that I decided to take this class at this time. Bonus – it is being taught by my thesis advisor!

I have also updated my YACC profile which was wildly out of date, the link for the updated profile can be found here: http://www.youngadultcancer.ca/story/samantha-wexler/ so far I have received some really good feedback from the update, so that makes me very happy.

 

 


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Mixed Bag

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Image from: http://data.whicdn.com/images/150510810/superthumb.jpg

Whenever scan time rolls around, all of the familiar feelings of anxiety and stress pop up. I am the type of person who likes to do well on exams and tests, but this is not the type of test that one can study for, nor is it the type of evaluation where if I do poorly, I can request a do-over. Whatever happens, good or bad; I am stuck with the results until the next scan. That is not to say that things can not change in between scans, I just will not know until the next scan. The one thing that I have learned in the past seven years is that everything is constantly changing, nothing is permanent – even if it seems dire in the moment.

I recently had a scan to see how the TACE procedure I had in November did. Overall, the results of the TACE were quite positive. The tumour that was the most concerning shrunk a bit, some grew slightly and others were stable (!)

However, tumours in parts outside of the liver have grown in size and a couple of new ones appeared  which means that now we have to get them under control. In light of this, my oncologist spoke to my husband and I about a couple of options: either go up to 1000mg of Gleevec (which I have never heard anyone do because 800 is already very high) or switch treatments to the third line drug that is approved in Canada called Stivarga. His leaning was towards changing for the time being – so that is what I will be doing in the near future. I am not entirely sure what day, but soon.

It is confusing when getting a mixed bag of results, on one hand I am happy the TACE worked, but on the other hand I feel frustrated about the progression seen in other parts. It sort of left me feeling discombobulated for the better part of the weekend. Not because I am pessimistic, quite the opposite, just because I would like to have had some good news without the added “but…”

The side effects for this drug have been described as unfriendly, but somehow I feel better, perhaps even cautiously optimistic, about this drug than I did about Sutent; which I took in the summertime. Luckily, I have a very good team who have encouraged me to contact them should I have/feel anything concerning. I feel so protected and supported by everyone on my medical team.

In the fall, I started to change how I approached my thinking about living with gist. I had read a comment left on the Stupid Cancer FB page that completely made sense to me, about how cancer cells have forgotten how to behave properly and if you talk to them and tell them that help is on the way you approach your body with love and compassion rather than as a war zone. So, now I am more mindful about how I think, how I talk to myself and when I take my medication I tell my cells that the help they need is on the way. It is funny, but I feel more at peace with myself than I did when I was trying to do battle from within. Now, I can see the benefits of this type of thinking, I will make even more of an effort to be more mindful of my thoughts and talk to my cells more about how to behave to let them know that I am here to help and send them help.

We will see what this new adventure brings… For now, I am loving my class, looking forward to working on my thesis and doing things that “normal people” do.


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Favourite Christmas Gift


The view from the top of ‘Boob Mountain’

On Christmas Day, we were asked to go around the dinner table and say what our favourite gift was this year. I was the last one at the table so I had a lot of time to reflect on what my favourite gift really was, was it the Selphy printer, the Minnie Mouse charm? And then it came to me, my favourite gift was my health. Let me explain: The weekend before Christmas, some friends invited us to their country home in the eastern townships. We figured it would be an ideal time to go, right after I handed in my last assignment and when my sweety had the weekend off.

So Friday evening we dropped off the naughty-ham (our dog) and after our friends picked us up, we were on our way. When we got to our destination, it was suggested that it might be fun to hike up ‘Boob Mountain’ the next day, we all agreed that a hike sounded like a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that we’d be hiking on an incline… Our friend lent me a walking pole/stick which really helped a lot. There was a lot more snow on the mountain than we had in the city, in fact, we didn’t have any snow in the city at that point. The scenery of the trees and the snow was so picturesque, it was like being part of a perfect wintery scene. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath (everyone was super cool about the multiple stops), but I kept pressing forward higher and higher up the mountain until eventually, we reached the top. The view was breathtaking!!

Suddenly, I remembered the resident who had upset me so much in the fall by her words and her callousness. I thought of that day, and the juxtaposition of having just hiked up a mountain proving her wrong. I am currently at an intersection in terms of treatment, in January I will find out how well the TACE treatment worked. For now, I am grateful that I was able to hike up ‘mount boob,’ something that I would not have been able to physically do a couple of short months ago. I am someone who is normally very active, walks a lot, takes the stairs instead of elevators, so to not be able to do these things, even for short periods of time is very frustrating. To be able to make it to the top without being overwhelmed and asking to turn back halfway, was a big deal for me.

That was my favourite gift this Christmas.


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End of Semester

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Image from Tumblr

As with every end of semester, I am once again feeling inadequate in my ability to write in a proper academic voice and question whether I really belong in academia or not. It seems from my perspective that everyone is so far ahead of me – joining groups, applying for funding, getting to speak at conferences, and just generally seeming more ‘with it’ than I actually feel. Apparently, this is normal when being a graduate student who is pursuing a career in academia.

On the other hand, I need to reflect at how far I have come this semester. I missed the first two weeks of school because I was hospitalized with not one but two internal bleeds, my platelets had completely dropped out and, to top it all off my liver was very unhappy causing me to be jaundiced for a couple of weeks. During my hospitalization, I had two procedures to stop the bleeding, 3 platelet transfusions and 5 blood transfusions. I was also told that the drug that I had been switched to only a short time before was not working and it was discontinued. I was then put back on the original drug I was on and sent to radiology and a liver specialist to discuss TACE – and with that I entered uncharted territory medically speaking. I am a unicorn of unicorns.

During the semester, at times I would have up to three hospital appointments per week – every week, as well as a couple of procedures tossed in for good measure. Keeping up has been a challenge because as an art historian, there is a ton of reading and writing about what had been read. Having so many appointments was not only time consuming, but also very distracting because everything that happens in the appointments had to be processed and assimilated, as well as recovery times from the procedures to contend with.

When people talk about grad school being the hardest thing they have ever done, I wonder what they would say about what I went through this semester… When I feel like I am failing or not good enough because I am not part of the executive committee of an academic group, or because I missed the deadline to apply for government funding; I need to remind myself of everything I have lived through and that the most important part is that I am here, living, loving, studying. Everything else is chocolate sauce.


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TACE

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I recently underwent a TACE procedure to try to shrink the tumours in my liver after the second line treatment (sutent) failed me. At the time, (last week) I could not find anyone who had experienced TACE first hand so I am sharing my experience in hopes that someone who is facing the procedure will not feel so alone and scared as I was. This entry has also been shared on the connect.mayoclinic.org page.

A little bit of history: My primary tumour is in my duodenum and I have multiple mets in both sides of my liver. I also have a bleeding issue where my liver randomly decides to split open and bleed. There is no rhyme or reason to it, and no way to prevent it from happening. It has happened to me 4 times in 2.5 years so it makes treatment options where internal bleeding is a potential side effect a giant no-no for me, thus we have to find alternate solutions. I was supposed to have a liver resection in summer 2014, but when the surgeon got there he decided that my liver “felt funny” and that it would not be safe enough to resect, so they did an open RFA instead.

Fast forward to this fall: There was not really any advanced preparation to do in the weeks before TACE, other than to make sure that my liver was strong enough to withstand the procedure. The procedure was set for November 12 and I went through the usual pre-op “speed dating” session where you get your blood tested (there was an extra, special TACE related blood test that they had to do… ), meet a nurse, meet a doctor, etc… Then I was told they would call me the day before to confirm. They called me Wednesday afternoon to tell me they had a bed for me and that I should admit myself later that afternoon (which was a bit of a problem since no one told me about having to be there before… but my husband and I worked out the kinks and we got there around 8pm.)

The fist thing they make you do is take an antimicrobial shower and put on the gown and any pj pants/slippers etc… you may have brought with you. Then they install (insert?) two IVs one on each arm, take blood pressure, temperature etc… and then they pretty much left me alone until 4:30am when they made me take another antimicrobial shower and then started the IV fluids. They said that they found that TACE works a lot better if your kidneys are functioning really well, so they keep you SUPER hydrated. They also inserted a foley catheter. I was also not allowed to eat/drink anything until MUCH later that day.

Around 8:45 they came to bring me to angio where there was a LOT of waiting around, bring a blanket and socks – it gets chilly. I forgot to wear socks and I regretted it, also bring easy to slip on footwear like crocs, or similar – just because after they remove the catheter you will be going to the washroom a LOT!!

Once I was finally in the actual procedure room, I climbed upon a really narrow table and they covered me until the prep person came. They had a lot of IV bags full of antibiotics, the chemo, anti-inflammatories, and morphene that they were prepping for later use. I asked about them all and they were super nice when they explained them all to me. So the prep person came and prepped the table of tools that they would be using and then prepped me. Be prepared to be shaved down *there* if you are not already. Then they put on disinfectant and a very large blue paper cloth that covered me from my neck to my ankles (I am also 5’8″ so I imagine it would cover a less tall person completely.) The person who was doing the actual procedure came in and explained that they were going to give me a local anesthetic and that they were going to put a hole in my leg to my femoral artery where they were going to place a catheter that would go up to my liver, then they “park” the catheter and inject the chemo and the other IVs mentioned previously, directly into my liver. They said the longest part of the procedure was the actual infusion. There were moments when he was going up the artery that he asked me to hold my breath. I was not sedated per se, but I was experiencing some back pain so they gave me a little morphene to take the edge off which made me very compliant.

When the infusions were over they removed the catheter and bandaged me up (I have a 1/4″ incision, not even enough for a stitch.) Afterwards, you are not allowed to move your leg for about 6.5 hours just in case you should open up the wound and start bleeding from the femoral artery – no bueno. They kept up with the anti-inflammtories, anti-nausea, and pain killers the whole time I was there so I felt pretty good, albeit sleep deprived. I was there from Wednesday 8pm until Friday around noon. The procedure itself didn’t feel like anything. But there is a big concern about pain and nausea afterwards, so they take care of you very well to make sure none of those things happen.

Now, I still have some pain, but honestly I have not been sitting around resting either, I have been going out and doing stuff. As a Masters student, it is necessary to keep moving. I am not sure how I would feel if I took a few days to rest, maybe the same, maybe better. I am not sure.

Follow up includes, 4 blood tests at specific intervals and then a CT scan in January to see how things are shrinking and then we will discuss doing the other side. They chose the left side this time because that is where my largest tumour is/was.

Laydeewinx