The best thing about pain

I’ve often said that the best thing about pain is how good it feels when it stops! Yesterday was my first completely pain free day in the last three weeks and so far, today is going just as well.

Though I didn’t realize it at first, I was suffering a nasty reaction to the cancer treatment that I received on April 14th. The first few days after the treatment were fine; just the normal tiredness that I’d experienced after each of the previous ones. Then, I woke at about 3:30 one morning with excruciating stomach pain. I had no idea what was going on and neither did my family doctor. He ordered an x-ray and when that came back looking normal, he suggested an enema to ensure that there was no blockage anywhere. For a little while, I felt a bit better, but soon the fire in my belly was back. Pain filled days and sleepless nights followed, eventually prompting me to phone the cancer clinic and describe my symptoms to Brent, the nurse who coordinates the team that provides my care.

“I hate to tell you this, but I’m pretty sure we did that to you,” he told me!

Gee, thanks Brent!

Discovering that what I was experiencing was actually a fairly common reaction, especially in patients with dead and dying tumour cells in their system (that’s definitely the good part!) didn’t lessen the pain at all, but it did give me peace of mind. Brent also assured me that I should soon begin to feel better. Apparently, this kind of reaction usually occurs within a two week window following treatment and I was nearing the end of that. We discussed the fact that the lining of my stomach and intestines was likely badly inflamed and I made the decision to eat a very bland diet of apple juice, applesauce, toast, crackers, tea and broth for a few days to give my insides a chance to rest and heal. That seemed to help and sure enough, right at the two week point, things improved significantly. I was even well enough to spend a few days in Calgary celebrating two very special birthdays. Our granddaughter, Jami-Lee, had her fifth birthday on April 28 and her brother, Drew, turned seven on May 1.

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I continued to experience intermittent pain until two days ago, but that too seems to have finally passed. Obviously, all of this has made it impossible for me to begin following the dietary and exercise recommendations related to my recent pre diabetes diagnosis. I had no choice but to put that on hold until I got this under control, but I’m eating well again and I’ve just returned from a brisk 20 minute walk. That’s a far cry from the recommended 30 minutes five times a week, but it’s a start. I also felt well enough to play my first round of golf of the season yesterday!

My real hope in all of this is that the treatment has been as hard on my tumours as it has been on the rest of me! We’ll know more about that when I go for CT and PET scans on July 24. These will provide the baseline for my next phase of therapy which won’t involve another treatment until sometime in the fall. I’m very thankful for that too! If I was facing another one in just a few weeks, as I have done until now, I think I’d be tempted to slink away and hide in a deep, dark cave!

Instead, I’m going to enjoy the summer… sunshine, camping, golfing, geocaching, time with family… !

Mother’s Day memories

My earliest memories of Mother’s Day involve stopping in the flower garden before we left for church. Mom would cut a blossom, most often a carnation, for each of us and pin it to our lapel. We all wore red flowers except my father. His was always white. Red, if your mother is alive, Mom would explain, and white if she is not. Her mother, my Nana, was very much alive living just up the hill from us and down the block from our church. My Gran, Dad’s mother, passed away around the time I turned five. I barely remember her and I don’t remember when my father’s blossom was red.

We lived on BC’s Sunshine Coast where flowers bloom profusely in early May. I don’t remember when we stopped keeping this very old Mother’s Day tradition, but it was likely when we moved to Vancouver where our new yard hadn’t been landscaped yet and there were no flowers growing.

Had we kept up the tradition, I would be wearing a white blossom for the first time tomorrow and the impact of that has hit me hard this past week or so. When I went into the card shops in search of birthday cards for two grandchildren who celebrated their big days recently, I was confronted with huge displays of Mother’s Day cards. Sending a card was a tradition that I continued even after Mom lost her sight and after she had difficulty remembering who I was. She could still finger the card and Dad could read its message to her. He could also gently remind her who it was from. She knew that she was loved.

This year she is gone and I have no one to send a Mother’s Day card to. Tomorrow will be a bittersweet day of remembrance. For a few moments tomorrow, in my mind at least, I’ll still be a little girl standing in a flower garden with her mother pinning a red carnation to her lapel.

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Farewell dear friend

There’s a party going on in heaven today. I’m absolutely certain of it! Our dear friend, Mary, went to be with her Lord in the wee hours of this morning and our loss is definitely heaven’s gain.

Mary Cameron 1917 - 2015

Mary Cameron
1917 – 2015

Photo: Deborah Proctor

 

Life was not always kind to Mary, but she took it in stride and never lost her fiery spirit. She came to Canada from her beloved Ireland as a war bride, leaving behind a home equipped with all the conveniences of the day and finding herself on the lonely Canadian prairie without electricity or running water. She knew the heartbreak of losing a child and endured the break-up of her marriage, but oh how fiercely she loved and how vibrantly she laughed! At 98 years old, Mary still lived alone in her own house and took part in activities at the local seniors’ centre where she was an avid bridge player. She stopped coming to church regularly only when we all stopped speaking loud enough for her to hear us. Of course, it couldn’t possibly have been that her hearing was going!

Mary was tiny in body, but huge in character. For the past twenty years or more, she was known as my husband’s “other wife.” At the reception following the funeral of an elderly gentleman from our church, a lady from out of town met Mary and the two of them struck up a conversation. Later in the afternoon, before she left, the lady returned to Mary’s table to bid her good bye. At that point, Richard was sitting beside Mary and the woman, obviously without looking too closely, said “Oh, this must be your husband.” Mary immediately went off into peals of laughter and from that moment on, always referred to Richard, who was 33 years her junior, as her husband. She loved nothing better than to raise eyebrows by referring to him as such in public settings where she would then have to tell the story of how she became his “other wife.”

Richard was MC at Mary’s 98th birthday celebration just three weeks ago where she was as bright and vibrant as ever. Sadly, I wasn’t able to be there as I’d had a treatment earlier that week and was radioactive. I was looking forward to popping over and having tea with her as soon as I felt well enough (that’s a story for another day) but now I’ll have to wait until we meet again on the streets of gold.

Mary was especially close to our youngest son, Nate. During his teenage years, she hired him to do her yard work. When he finished, she’d always have a cold pop waiting for him and they would sit and visit. Since he’s been grown and gone from home, whenever Mary saw me, she’d ask how “her boy” was doing and when he was coming home again. When he did, even if if it was only for the day, he’d almost always drop in to see her.

Three years ago, when Richard and I were performing in a community theatre production, Nate came home to attend one of our dinner theatre performances and took Mary as his date! Like any good date would, he took flowers when he went to pick her up and when I stopped by their table after the performance, she was glowing!

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Mary was always one to speak her mind and you never knew for sure what she might say! The first time Nate brought Colleen home, he took her over to meet Mary who, after spending a few minutes getting to know his girl, expressed her approval by telling him that she was very happy that he hadn’t brought home a trollop! That’s a Maryism that won’t soon be forgotten! I’m sure it will long be part of our family lore.

While chatting with my daughter this afternoon, I asked her how I could possibly put our Mary into words and she gave me a great illustration. I’m not a Dr. Who fan like she is, but according to Melaina, Mary was like the TARDIS, Dr. Who’s time machine/spaceship, “small on the outside, but endless on the inside.” Yes, our lives will definitely be a little less colourful without Mary in them, but oh how blessed we are to have known her!

A new diagnosis!

Yes, that’s right! Apparently two different cancers in 20 months wasn’t enough. This time I’ve been told that I’m pre diabetic.

In this regard, I’m following in the footsteps of my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. Fortunately, Nana lived to 83, Mom to 92 and my aunt is an amazingly active 91. None of them developed full blown diabetes. Hopefully, I won’t either but if I do, it’s manageable. I’ve already spoken with my doctors at the Cross Cancer Institute and they’ve assured me that it wouldn’t change anything as far as my cancer treatment is concerned.

There are 3 lifestyle changes that are usually recommended for a diabetic (or pre diabetic):

      • Lose weight. Umm… no! At 5’8″ tall and 135 to 140 pounds, I don’t have any extra weight to spare!
      • Make dietary changes. Again, not an easy one for me as we already eat an extremely healthy diet, but we met with a nurse this morning and I have a bunch of reading to do on this subject. Apparently, I don’t have to eliminate sugar. Moderation is the key. That means that I don’t have to completely cut chocolate out of my life. After all, would life without chocolate be worth living? It looks like I have a lot to learn about carbs though; which ones to choose and how much of them to eat. I might also be wise to cut out my morning glass of orange juice even though it’s almost as essential to me as most people’s first cup of coffee! A couple of common slogans for diabetics are “Don’t drink your fruit” and “Don’t drink your sugar”.
      • Exercise. Again, exercise has already been a vital part of my life, but I do admit to getting rather lax about it over the past few months. 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week is recommended. The half hour of yoga like exercise that I do 5 mornings a week doesn’t count as it doesn’t elevate my heart rate. Sadly, golf doesn’t either, except maybe in those moments when it frustrates the heck out of me! No, it’s time to get back in the habit of going for a brisk walk every day.

 

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Well, I’d love to be curling up with a good novel this evening, but I guess I’d better start reading this stuff instead!

Milestone!

I reached a medical milestone today!

Yesterday, I completed my initial round of four radioisotope treatments and this morning’s scans showed that my primary neuroendocrine tumour (located in my colon) is shrinking! The other four tumours appear not to have grown and there are no new ones. As a result, my cancer treatment will now go into a maintenance phase. I will continue to be treated with Lutetium-Octreotate, but instead of a treatment every nine to twelve weeks, I will now have one every six months!

While I was sitting on my hospital bed yesterday afternoon while the Lutetium was being administered via IV drip, I flipped open my new issue of Chatelaine magazine and was in for a surprise. When I read “Crashing the Cancer Club”, Jenny Charlesworth’s story of surviving cervical cancer, in the March 2015 issue, I immediately responded with a letter to the editor via email. I’d completely forgotten about that until I saw my letter in print yesterday! Here’s what it said:

Thank you for pointing out, in “Crashing the Cancer Club,” that every cancer story is different and that each of us who has cancer, or who has had it in the past, is a survivor in our own right. Since August 2013 (a misprint in the magazine says 2014), I have been diagnosed with two different cancers. One was removed by surgery followed by radiation; but the other is a rare, slow-growing cancer for which there is no cure. People have a hard time grasping the idea of a chronic cancer. The usual assumption is that patients either die of their disease or are cured, thereby becoming cancer survivors. I’ve learned to look at my situation differently. I may die of my cancer or I may die with it, but either way, I am a survivor.

It may sound silly, but I was encouraged by my own words. Written two months ago, they reminded me that though mine is an incurable disease and, barring a miracle of God, I will have it for the rest of my life, I am indeed a survivor!

Reaching today’s milestone was a great reminder of that!

 

No ordinary weekend

This weekend Christians around the world celebrated the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) It was definitely no ordinary weekend, but for our family, it was also no ordinary Easter.

Thirty years ago, a heartbroken young grandmother placed her first grandchild in my arms and walked away not knowing if she’d ever see him again. On Saturday evening, she sat across the table from me at his wedding reception. Her daughter, Nate’s birth mom, was at the next table. This was definitely no ordinary weekend!

Nathan was just three days old when he joined our family but there was already an unmistakable twinkle of mischief in his eyes and he has found his soulmate in Colleen, a beautiful and godly young lady with a mischievous twinkle to match his own! The wedding ceremony and the reception, complete with an inflatable bouncy castle in the corner of the hall to keep the youngest guests entertained, were a perfect reflection of the fun-loving and quirky but also very classy personalities of the bride and groom.

My weekend began with a moment of panic on Friday morning when I woke to discover that the five pound block of ground beef in our hotel room’s mini fridge was still frozen solid! I had a rehearsal dinner to prepare for approximately two dozen people and only a couple of hours until I needed to begin putting it together. Where there’s a will, there’s a way they say, so tying the meat into a plastic hotel laundry bag and dropping it into a bathtub of warm water, off I went to breakfast! The novel defrosting method worked wonders and by early afternoon I had three slow cookers filled with lasagna. (No, I didn’t prepare the meal in the hotel room! We transported the meat, along with all the other ingredients, to one of the bridesmaid’s homes.) Though I never want to be a caterer, the meal was ready right on time and received rave reviews. Once that was over with, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend!

From the bride and groom’s self-written vows that reflected both the sanctity of the moment and the humour that permeates their relationship to their impromptu dance on the platform during the ceremony, the wedding was, in the words of one of our dear friends, “a wonderful, classy, down to earth celebration.”

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For me, one of the highlights of the weekend was having all my children and grandchildren together in one place, something that doesn’t happen often. On Sunday morning, with the bride and groom off on their honeymoon, the rest of us gathered at their home to be for a relaxing brunch before having to go our separate ways. The Easter bunny somehow knew exactly where our five young grandchildren would be and ensured that there were chocolate eggs to be found!

After cleaning up and making sure that everything was ready for Nate and Colleen’s return, we headed for home stopping on the way for Easter dinner at my sister’s place. It was also a celebration of my nephew’s 22nd birthday and in his words, “a perfect end to a perfectly incredible weekend!”

Our beautiful children: Matt and his wife Robin, Nate and his lovely bride Colleen, Melaina and her husband Aaron

Our beautiful children: Matt and his wife Robin, Nate and his lovely bride Colleen, Melaina and her husband Aaron

Uncle Nate and Auntie Colleen with our five grandchildren

Uncle Nate and Auntie Colleen with our five grandchildren

First day of spring

According to the calendar, today is the first day of spring, but looking out the window I see a grey, gloomy Eeyore sort of day.

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Yes, though it seemed for a little while that spring had come, this morning we woke up to snow again! The geese are back, the pussy willows are in bloom, Jami-Lee and her little friends found dozens of ladybugs at the playground in Calgary last week, and I’ve heard that the gophers have been out and about. I suspect that they’re huddling deep in their holes this morning though.

The best thing about snow in March is that it isn’t likely to stay very long and it will provide much needed moisture for the fields. Unlike the eastern part of the continent, we didn’t get as much snow as usual this winter.

I’m not a fan of winter and I’d love it if the first day of spring really was spring-like, but like Eeyore, I’ll try to look on the bright side. I’ve been receiving regular updates from a missionary couple living in Vanuatu, the remote cluster of tiny south Pacific islands that was blasted by Tropical Cyclone Pam late last week. It has been called the worst storm to ever hit the Pacific region and the devastation is beyond imagination. More than half of Vanuatu’s buildings have been badly damaged, many having their roofs blown off, and up to a third of the country’s 266,000 people have been left homeless. What’s a little spring snow compared to that? I dare not complain!

One of our Vanuatu churches

One of our Vanuatu churches

photo credit

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