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A Cabinet of Curiosities


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Mixed Bag

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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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Playing for Keeps

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Most of the time I am involved in the day to day activities of a Masters student. I am a TA, I grade papers, I research, I write papers and of course I look at a lot of art. This is pretty much my ideal career path. I love what I do, more than anything else I have done before.

Then there are days like today, when I take a moment to think about everything that has happened in the past little while. It is these times that I realize that this health stuff is for keeps. That pain or the digestive issue are going to be my constant companions for the rest of my days. For the most part, I am ok with that because – lets face it, I am here, I am able bodied and I have a really good team supporting me. At the same time, it is sobering to realize that the body that I once had will never come back, that this is what is referred to as a “new normal.” I have a really cool scar (took 58 staples to close it after surgery) along and across my abdomen that makes me look like I got into some sort of crazy knife fight and various smaller scars from other procedures and interventions that map out the different incidents and interventions that have happened to me over the past two years, but these marks are just one part of a larger story of what makes up “Me.”

I have to wonder, what my insides look like after so many interventions because much more has been done on the inside than on the outside. Scar tissue, embolizations, RFAs, necrotic tissue, radiation – these are all permanently etched into my organs and my flesh. Each mark having its own history upon my body. Each mark whether visible or not changing me, changing the way my body works, changing how I function. Each scar a reminder of things that went wrong at one point or another, marking moments where my life has been saved.

Oftentimes, people will look at me if I am seated in the metro as if to say that I am taking up the seat of someone who really might need it. Little do they know what I am hiding under my clothes, under my skin. Little do they know what my body and my mind have been through, and is still going through because this chapter of my journey is not even close to being completed.


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One year Ago: April 17, 2014

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One year ago today was the single most scary day of my life. It was the day I came very close to bleeding to death, very suddenly. It was the day that my very last paper for my undergraduate degree was due. I had been experiencing some pain for a couple of days and was mentally monitoring it, I knew that if the pain got any worse that I would have to go to the hospital and see what was going on.

That day I was putting the finishing touches on my paper before having to go and hand it in to my professor. As the day progressed, the pain was getting more pronounced so I took a heavier painkiller to be able to muscle through and finish my paper on time. As I was chatting with my husband on his lunch hour, the painkiller just stopped working, as if someone flipped a switch, I told him what was going on and he said that he would come straight home so that we could go to the hospital together. I then emailed my professor and let her know what was going on.

Having to call an ambulance for yourself when in extreme pain is one of the scariest things to have to do. I was hoping that the dispatcher knew that I was being serious and not kidding around or anything like that. Luckily, the ambulance arrived in what felt like an eternity, but I know it was only a few minutes. My husband arrived home shortly thereafter and was able to ride with me.

While in the ER, they brought me to the trauma room and set to work stabilizing me, bags of fluid, blood transfusions, platelet transfusions, they stuck an NG tube in to empty the contents of my stomach, questions, before they brought me for a CT scan they put some defibrillator paddle pads on me (just in case which freaked me out) and then to angio where they finally, and unceremoniously put me under without warning. I remember them wanting me to lay flat on the table for embolization, I kept asking for a painkiller because I knew I would have to stay still for the procedure but was in a lot of pain… anyway the next thing I know they are waking me up two days later in ICU.

In total I was in the hospital for 6 days, final diagnosis: haemorrhagic shock brought on by necrotic tissue slitting open in my liver caused by metastatic disease.

Since then, I have had 5 CT scans, 1 MRI, a right side portal vein embolization, open RFA surgery (58 staples), 10 blood transfusions, 1 embolization because of tumour bleeding after the RFA, 1 8 grey dose of radiotherapy, 1 cardiac ultrasound, 1 PET scan, a closed RFA and multiple blood tests and doctors appointments.

Now, because of all of these procedures it makes reading my scans very complex, so my case has been brought to the tumour board – again- to see if exactly what is going on can be deciphered. I sometimes wish that there was someone I could talk to who would be able to tell me that it is going to be ok, but the truth is, no one knows. The truth is I could bleed again at any time, anywhere.

Through all of this, I have remained a student, graduated with my BFA, started the Masters program (part time) and worked as a TA this semester.

 

 


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My Hero

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April 6:

I have a few people that inspire me and who are the most special people to me in the universe. Here they are in no particular order:

My husband: he is one of the best people I have met in my life. He is kind, funny, cuddly, tall, handsome, loving and just plain fun to hang around. He never talks ill of anyone, and lives life with such gusto and zeal. I am very lucky to be his wife, his best friend, and the nutella to his peanut butter.

My grandmother: My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up so I got to spend a lot of time with her while my parents were out doing whatever it is that they did when they would go out. She taught me how to be strong, how to cuddle, and when to walk away from a fight.

My film animation teacher at Dawson: “David” We met by chance one semester after one of the classes that I had chosen did not fit the criteria of what I had left to take for my DEC. Oh boy! What an amazing and wonderful chance meeting that was! Our teacher/student relationship blossomed into a very long term friendship. The type of friendship where we would talk for hours about anything and everything. So many of my memories involve David, and so much of what I do, see, experience, reminds me of him.  I saw David for the last time in July in the same spot he always was, doing his crossword. He died in October. I still always look for him when I pass by his “spot.”  I miss him terribly.

The Chair of the Art History Department: This amazing lady is soft spoken, super intelligent and oh so strong. She is one of the kindest people you will ever meet, but she is also firm and fair. She is the type of person that I aspire to be like. Beautiful inside and out.

My oncology team: These are a bunch of the most amazing people. From my pivot nurse, to my oncologist, to my surgeon(s), all the people on the tumour board, all of the radiologists these people are true heroes who work so hard to help me (and the rest of their people) be well and feel well. Without them, I would not be here.

All of my Life Raft Group gister-sisters and brothers and everyone else I have met through this journey. For how classy, upbeat, kind, driven, and all around inspirational they all are in the face of such a scary disease.

Our dog Ludwig: For being a pest, a cuddle-puss, and jester. I can not imagine life without him!

Sarah Brightman: her music is sublime, so etherial and it makes everything better. She is also a fellow DreamChaser. I hope to meet her one day!

John Ritter: My idol.


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All About Me

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April 5:

April 5th is also my birthday so it is a pretty big day!
I think my greatest accomplishment in the past five years is returning to university, post diagnosis and completing my Bachelor of Fine Arts (with distinction) and then getting into the Masters program. This is something I have wanted to do for a VERY long time but put it off as something that I might do in the future, if I had enough money. Truthfully, being an art historian/historian is the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was a little girl. I have always loved ancient civilizations, archaeology, anthropology, architecture and all things pertaining to art. Why I did not choose this path to begin with will always be a mystery to me. But, I am here now and I really feel that I belong in this field.

I have also been published several times in peer reviewed journals as an undergrad and in the Masters program. Even though some things are quite challenging, like the class on Settler Colonial Art History that I took this semester, I really love what I do – I just wish I had gotten here sooner!


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Good Samaritan #HAWMC

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April 3:

One of the kindest acts that I can think of is from las summer. Right after my surgery, on the day that I was being released, my parents were supposed to come and visit me, but decided that they would not since I was going home. They had previously offered to bring me home, but for some reason they changed their mind that day. This meant that I had no way to get home other than the bus. This was not a prospect that I was really looking forward to since I was severely jaundiced and had 58 staples holding my abdomen together.

My cousin caught wind of what was going on and contacted my husband and I and stated that she was coming straight away (from across town) to bring me home. This was not planned, she basically dropped everything at a moment’s notice to be there for me. Not only did she bring us home, but she also brought bags of groceries and food that she and her neighbour had put together for us. I will never forget her kindness and generosity.


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Pre-Birthday Thoughts

Every year around this time, I take inventory of where my life is, how far I have come and where I want to go. This year is a little bit different in that I have been seriously questioning whether my voice, my presence, is strong enough. Along with having something rare, I also tend toward the introverted side of life so sharing and being open does not come easy. At the same time, I want to share, I want to be open and let people know that I exist.

Sometimes, I am not sure how to do that, it often feels like people got there before me, or I am too old, or too young, too rare, too experienced and that my voice does not matter or that I am one voice among a constellation of others vying for attention. The notion of being forgotten leaves a mark that can not be erased, what if I do die in the not too distant future; will I be remembered? Will my voice simply fade away? Will anything I have done matter at all? Right now, I am not so sure, and I want to change that, even if my voice is shaky.