Mud Puddle Brain

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It is an interesting combination when you take ‘chemo brain’ and add ‘mental pause’. To me, this results in ‘mud puddle brain‘. This would adequately describe my brain over the past couple of months.

When I first returned to Panama and tried to get back into the swing of things, I found my brain (and myself) ‘spinning’. It was like I was overwhelmed and did not have a clue where to start. I felt like a kid who had to be told each step in a logical fashion – over and over. Very frustrating and exasperating to say the least. The experience reminds me very much of when I used to be a psychometrist and test people’s head injuries and learning disabilities. The clients would often break down in frustration, as they were typically very aware of what they ‘used to be able to do’ better, or of things they find very difficult to do. This is where I find myself.

I ask the same questions, over and over as if they are new questions. Those around me patiently give me the same answer they did the first, second and third time I asked. I constantly worry about forgetting things, so I write as much down in my little red book – which travels with me everywhere I go. Most of the notes in it are legible, but some seem to just blend in with others and seem to disappear. As a result, I’ve begun to highlight and colour code, etc. so that the important ones will stand out. The most challenging at this point is remembering data while I’m showing properties to clients. Rhyming off property sizes, etc. off the top of my head is just not there. I must come fully prepared at all times with my little red book! I thought my memory was weak before, but wowzee, this one has knocked my self-confidence for a loop!

As with each step of this C adventure, mud puddle brain has brought upon self-reflection and the need for me to be more patient with myself. The girl inside me wants and expects everything to be just the way it was before C was realized, but I understand that is just not possible. My promise to myself is to set aside more time for me. Being back in Panama cannot just be about working, it must be about taking the time to relax, work on taking deep breaths and inhaling life. While I miss all the social events I used to attend, I find them very energetically draining now. I love people and love being around others, yet I know it is important to spend quiet time.

Thus, the journey continues, one lesson at a time. Mud puddle brain appears to be clearing, but I clearly have a long way to go towards ‘normality’. My goal is to learn more about yoga and utilize this knowledge to enhance my health as well as my brain. Each day now ends with deep breaths, guided meditation and some time without a screen in front of my face :-).

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I’m Baaaaack :-)!

IMG_4033It is now January 16th and the past month seems like it has been a blur. Between my birthday celebration, preparing for Christmas, children visiting, Christmas itself and then heading back it Panama, it has been a bit of a whirlwind since my chemo treatments ended late September. As I reflect upon the past year, it has been quite a journey.

It has been a very difficult year in many ways, but also a tremendous year of personal growth. The C journey has brought me closer than ever with my family, husband and children. It has taught us all that the little petty things in life are not important – peace and happiness are at the forefront.

As someone who has struggled with depression what seems like my whole life, I found myself having to make a choice. Did I want to continue in this life? Did I want to endure the pain and agony of surgery, chemo, etc. and continue? The answer from my heart and soul was a resounding YES! With this heartfelt decision, I endeavoured to take as much of the negative as I could out of my struggle with breast cancer and tried my best to make it as positive as possible. Was it difficult? YES – it was. As someone who is often described by others as being strong, it is important for others to understand that it is often the ones who appear the strongest who are the ones who bottle everything up inside and only present ‘the best’. I am guilty as charged.

Influenced by a good friend of mine, I created a gratitude journal at the beginning of my ‘journey’, which I diligently wrote in, every day, during my treatment. I also journaled daily. Both of these processes were difficult on many days, as some days there didn’t appear to be a lot to be grateful for. However, it was enlightening to say the least, as I always did find something positive to say – even on my most difficult days.

My husband was my main pillar of strength throughout, helping me ‘put one foot in front of the other’ on the days when I thought I just couldn’t. He encouranged me and promised that each day would get better – even on the days when I found that I was at the ‘end of my tolerance rope’ of pain and suffering. My amazing and loving parents, children and friends were also a tremendous source of strength and inspiration to me, telling me how proud they constantly were of me. The beaches community of Panama (lead by none other than Cat Mandell and Rachel Kern) kept my buoyant as I cried many tears of happiness over how truly loved I felt, even across the thousands of miles which separated us. I was truly overwhelmed by the amount of positive support that surrounded me throughout those difficult months. I have always known I had many friends, but I have finally come to realize just how loved I am by so many people – all over the world.

I am now back in Panama and loving being warm again. I’ve been embraced by everyone I’ve been in contact with so far, with big hugs, love and sentiments admiration that often bring me to tears. My new, short hair ‘style’ has received rave reviews! It is low and easy maintenance, with no comb required – just a little organic coconut oil to help it curl and flip and do its thing. It doesn’t get messy in the summer winds and is wonderfully cool :-).

Low stress, love and happiness are in the forefront as I learn to balance my body’s needs and tolerance levels with the activities I love and cherish here in the land of sunshine. I’m looking forward to my husband’s visit in a few week so that he can be re-introduced to the wonders of Panama.

Blessings to you all! XO

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Popcorn Hormones

IMG_1403I realize that it has been over a month since my last post, so figured I had better update everyone on my progress :-).

Ten and a half weeks post chemo and I now have a layer of hair :-). I have grown weary of wearing my wig, so now just throw a hat on before I go out in order to stay warm in this wonderfully cold country called Canada. I have real eyebrows again and my lashes have almost fully returned – yay! It is amazing how ‘naked’ a person can feel without brows and lashes. As trivial as it sounds after everything I’ve gone through, I really did not like that part.

I’m back to the gym and getting stronger every day, averaging 5-6 km on the treadmill each time I go. I do look forward to getting back to my beach walks in the mornings, rather than bundling up to go to the gym!

corn-popperIt’s like the fog has lifted in the last month or so and my brain has gradually come alive again. I’m beginning to retrieve things from my memory that would have been impossible a couple of months ago – thus progress is being made in wading out of the chemo brain puddle. With the fog lifting however, has come the emotional roller-coaster that goes along with medically induced menopause. My hormones feel like they are in a ‘corn popper’ toy, rising and falling without warning. I just keep reminding myself of the blissfulness of living in the moment, letting things roll off my back so to speak and staying positive.

As far as what lies ahead, my return flight to Panama is booked for December 29th. I look forward to physically getting back to work at My Panama Real Estate, seeing all of my Panama friends and making new ones! I will need to learn how to pace myself in order to protect my health and stay on the path of being cancer-free.

Both of my daughters will be home for Christmas, which makes me very happy indeed! I am looking forward to spending the holidays with family and friends and giving thanks for all of the love and support I have received this year – particularly during my chemo days. It is a year that I will be happy to bring to an end, yet I feel that the personal growth I have achieved over the past few months has brought many things into perspective.

April will bring me back to Canada for a check-in with my oncologist, as well as consultations with a couple of surgeons for breast reconstruction. A surgery date will depend on which surgeon I choose and their OR schedule, so that part is somewhat up in the air. I understand that everything is in ‘divine order’ and I will go with the flow.

As we enter the Christmas season, my wish for you all is that you have peace and happiness within. You have all been such a blessing to me, lifting my spirits during those challenging days of chemo and I will be forever grateful!

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Life After Chemo….

2014-10-30 13.02.01Getting back to ‘life’ in general after chemo does present some challenges. It’s funny, because one might think that after you’ve received your last dose of poison that it is all about getting back to ‘normal’. However, it isn’t quite like that. Life after chemo carries it’s own challenges and lessons.

Almost 4 weeks after my last chemo treatment (which was September 19th, 2014) is when my eyelashes decided they would indeed, depart. It is so disheartening, as you think it’s all behind you, but it’s like this nasty little trick your body plays on you after the fact! Not funny :-(. Now 6 weeks post chemo, I think I have about 5 lashes left in total. YES, I miss my long, thick and abundant eyelashes and eyebrows. It’s like the universe is saying “did you really think that was it – that you would just lose your hair and your boobs?” It’s like rubbing a wound with salt.

Then there is getting back into things like going to the gym. I was looking forward to getting back this week – until I came to a stark realization while trying to fall asleep the other night. My blood stopped pumping and then I went into panic mode as I realized that something that used to be considered a simple thing isn’t that easy anymore. How would I shower at the gym without scarring someone’s retinas for life? (Thanks for that borrowed expression Cat Mandell.) How would a young girl feel if she happens to see two big breast cancer scars in the place of my breasts? Not to mention that one minute I have hair (a wig) and the next I don’t when I go into the shower! Although I was tempted to not go, I shared my woes with my husband, who encouraged me to just keep moving forward. So I put one foot in front of the other and went – fully clothed in gym clothes with no plans to shower there, but rather at in the comfort of my own home. I did wear my hair, but it was too hot :-(. Prepare yourselves Peterborough, as I will be sporting my bald head and a hat!

This little experience is just one of many aspects of breast cancer that I presume most people don’t think of. Other things, like running to put on my boobs and hair when someone is stopping by so that you look less ‘shocking’ and don’t make people uncomfortable. While I know that it’s not about trying to please others, for me it’s about showing consideration.

Two gym visits down now and I feel good. I had a few extra-long looks today as I’m sure some were wondering whether there was ANY hair under that hat. Oh well. I just smiled and carried on. Time to get this body back in shape! I will forge forward with this new me and hold my head proud. Some adjustments are just a little more challenging than others ;-).

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The Calm After the Storm

2014-10-25 18.49.59 (1)Here I am, just past one month after my last round of chemo. “How are you doing?” you ask? GREAT – I’m alive! The cancer has been removed and the rest of my body has been duly poisoned in order to kill any remaining traces of the big C. The pill containers are now part of the past and have been replaced with herbs and natural products.

In talking with others who have walked this path, I think I fared quite well – relatively speaking. When I look in the mirror I have a little peach fuzz beginning to emerge from my formerly naked skull. I have one alfalfa sprout that is longer than the rest, which has been amusing to watch. I doubt that I’ll manage to keep the reserve for much longer and I’ll trim it to match the length of the rest of the shorter hairs. For the first time since early childhood I will be sporting a short hair style…the new me for a little while. That will be another interesting learning curve – learning what to do with short hair.

Much to my chagrin, I have three fingernails that look like they have begun the process of departure, but the rest look like they may just stay. It appears that immersing my fingers and toes in ice during the last four chemo sessions paid off!

The most difficult side effect that I’ve been dealing with is not one that you can see: memory loss. Those who aren’t around me all the time really notice the shocking presence of it, as I repeat questions a few times as if I’d never asked them. The other day my girlfriend said “do you know you’ve asked me that three times?” That question has haunted me since then, as I’ve repeated other questions with complete ignorance that I had already asked it. Another friend asked me what shows I’ve been watching on Netflix. I actually could not remember one beyond the one I was currently watching. It is SO frustrating :-(. I’m sure it is a combination of being shoved into menopause and having chemo-brain – it’s like a double whammy! The more I learn about chemo-brain, the more eye-opening the whole process that I’ve just completed is. Chemo therapy damages brain cells. Those days when I was getting chemo and felt like it was all floating in my head, it was indeed – killing thousands of brain cells.

So now I’m on the road to recovery. I’ll return to the gym this week, starting with the treadmill and work my way into a few weights, as I have very little muscle tone left. Thank goodness I’ve gained a few pounds back, as 128 was not enough to sustain this almost 6′ frame! I’m now weighing in at 137lbs and looking forward to a few more pounds added as I work hard to regain some much needed muscle tone.

This Wednesday I will be deported. Yes, my port comes out. This is a surgical procedure, but one that I will welcome. I will no longer be a bionic woman, with a ‘plug-in’ component. This will be a nice closure to this chapter of my life.  Now on to the new chapter …. one with much adventure, happiness, love and gratitude for just being alive.

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Who Knew…?

8/8 DONE!

8/8 DONE!

This past Friday marked my last chemo treatment: 8 out of 8 completed – YAY! It almost seems surreal! The next best news is that they have sent in the request to have my Port-a-cath removed, so I will soon be rid of that as well :-). Although it has been convenient to have the port, it will sure be nice not to have that lump sticking out of my body like an illegal alien!

Many people say things like “having cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me”. I’m not so sure that I would go as far as to say that, but I would say that I am learning a great deal about myself during this time. I’ve reflected a great deal over the past week, going over my journey in my memory – the good times and the not-so-good times. From losing my breasts, to losing my hair….and a few brain cells along the way that we attribute to ‘chemo brain’, to the excitement of this stage of it coming to a close – I am, after all, now considered a ‘chemo grad’.

Here are a few of the things I have learned thus far along my C journey with Triple Negative Breast Cancer:

  • I am still the same person inside. In spite of physical changes and losing body parts, the ‘Denise’ spirit is still in there – bigger and stronger than before. As I recently read somewhere: women are not the sum of their body parts;
  • Words can make such a difference in a person’s path in life. The overwhelming messages of positivity that I have received on this path has been nothing short of amazing – thank you ALL!
  • It is important to live life to the fullest – even when you don’t feel 100%. You never know just how long you have on this earth;
  • My thoughts turn into reality, so I need to monitor them carefully. If I focus on being happy, I will be – simple, right?
  • Holding onto guilt, anxiety, pain and other negative thoughts from the past does absolutely no good to anyone. It is important to forgive and let things go. Some things are easier to let go of than others of course, but I will keep working on this for the rest of my life;
  • When my body is acidic it can be a breeding ground for C and other aliments. Stress and anxiety causes acidity. I’m learning to let little things that bother me go – it is not healthy to let them fester into more!
  • Refined sugar is not my friend :-(. Goodbye wine gums and Twizzlers – we had a great relationship while it lasted;
  • I am more aware now than ever, of how important it is to be chemical free. Chemicals can deplete our health and cause disease! From makeup, to food, to various other things in my surroundings, I am seeking a chemical-free existence. While I am certain this might be a difficult challenge since there are many things we cannot control in our surroundings, I am committed to changing what I can. I now read all labels before I buy – especially on products that I use on my body such as makeup and lotions, as well as food and household items!
  • Taking care of me is important. More important than work or anything else. I pledge to always take time out for myself – quiet time to reflect;
  • I have finally realized and accepted that I am well-loved 🙂 and I cherish that!

While I’m sure there are many more lessons learned than the aforementioned, those were the main ones that came to mind as I was writing this. I’m so incredibly grateful for my support teams: my husband, parents, family and my friends from Peterborough as well as those all over the world and more particularly my team of supporters in Coronado, Panama – YOU ALL helped me to stay positive through this journey with your ongoing encouragement, flowers, gifts, food and love. While it’s not quite over yet, I wanted to share these lessons with you. There are, after all,  lessons in all aspects of our lives – we just have to be still enough to recognize them!

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Chemo Round 6 – Down!

My bag of chemo for the day.

My bag of chemo for the day.

Round 6 of chemo – check. As I sit here with aches and shooting pains running through my body, I’m yearning to go for a long power walk to enjoy this beautiful summer day that is upon us. Only a day or two more of the aches and pains, and then I will enjoy feeling ‘normal’ again until Round 7, next Friday.

The standard ‘protocol’ for cases like mine is to have a month off after chemo, in order to regain strength and let your body heal. Then they will clobber me with 5 weeks of radiation, 5 days per week. I find myself googling radiation therapy and evaluating its worthiness. So many people I know have had long term side effects after radiation. I suppose it is the weighing of the chance of cure with the risk of side effects.

Lymphodema is a risk when radiating the lymph nodes – which would be the case in my situation. They actually want to radiate three areas: the lymph nodes under my arm, my breast and upwards to my neck. To me that seems like ‘overkill’ – yes, pun intended! However, I suppose if I was to get lymphodema but have my life, it’s a fair trade-off. Decisions, decisions.

Off to IVC mañana. Looking so forward to having this behind me!

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Poster Girl?

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I had my pre-treatment appointment with my oncologist this past Thursday, who happily informed me that my blood work levels were all awesome this time – she was so impressed :-).  She also went on to say how amazing I looked, and that I should be the ‘poster girl’ for chemo! If only she knew how much I was doing on the holistic side of things to make that happen.

During my appointment with the oncologist, I confirmed my treatment time for 2pm the next day (Friday) and given the fact that she told me these last four rounds of chemo would take 4 – 5 hours to administer, I questioned whether we needed to adjust my appointment time. However, I was assured we would be fine. She also was of the opinion that my last four chemo treatments will most likely be much ‘easier’ than my first four.

As I was about to hop in the shower and prepare for my chemo appointment on Friday, I received a phone call from the CCC (Cancer Care Clinic) asking if I could come in within 15 minutes, or switch my appointment to Monday, as low and behold they hadn’t allowed enough time for my treatment. Kirk had just left for the gym, so once again I had to put my big girl panties on and head in for treatment by myself. My Dad drove me over to the CCC and Kirk met me a couple of hours into things. Needless to say Lorazepam came to the rescue once again, as did my sister Brenda, who met me there within minutes of my arrival. Surely the medical staff can understand that going for a round of chemo isn’t like popping a pill – it requires some psychological warming up to! Fifteen minutes warning isn’t quite enough for some of us :-(.

So it began, my first dose of PacLitaxel, also known as Taxol the ‘chemo of choice’ for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. An hour of pre-meds entailing Benadryl (an anti-allergenic) , Decadron (a steroid) and Zantac (for my stomach) to get me started, and then came three and a half long hours of Taxol dripping into my bloodstream. The nurse kept a close eye on me for the first twenty minutes or so to see if I would have a reaction to the Taxol. All was clear though, so they continued full steam ahead. I did ask about ice packs for my fingers and toes, as everywhere I read suggested this as a way to prevent neuropathy and other not-so-nice side effects of the treatment. However, the nurses assured me that was not needed for this type of Taxol, as it wasn’t typically associated with neuropathy. She convinced me that PACLitaxel was much less harsh than Docetaxel.

Other than tired afterwards, I was happy to not have the onslaught of usual nausea this time. In fact, I woke up Saturday feeling quite okay in spite of a very restless sleep. As the day passed however, I did feel overwhelmed with a sore, achy feeling  all over my body. In addition, my finger tips felt ‘sore’. I’m hoping this is not a sign of anything further. I did ice them when I felt this, in hopes that it will stop anything bad from happening. I really don’t want to lose my fingernails, have tingling in my fingers or encounter neuropathy if I can help it.

Sunday brought on a new level of fatigue, apparently quite common with Taxol. As the day progressed, my body began to feel achy and sore, but nothing unmanageable. Monday however, arrived with a thud, as my entire body was very achy, sore and exhausted. It felt like little fireworks of sharp pain that were constantly being set off throughout my body and Tylenol was just not cutting it as a pain reliever. My knees felt like they were on rusty hinges as I willed them to get me up and down the stairs as needed throughout the day. I napped for two and a half hours in the afternoon – which encompassed the only pain-free moments of the day. Needless to say, I was happy for Monday to end.

It is an interesting journey to say the least, waiting each time for my body to recognize new things that are happening to it. There really is no adequate preparation one can do for this, other than to read other blogs on the internet (which can really freak you out), or talk to friends who have walked this path prior to me. As they say, every person reacts differently to the onslaught of poison being tossed his or her way, so it’s best to not read the stories, but wait to see how it plays out.  I must say though, that I’m a little disappointed by the level of pain that Taxol is delivering to my body already today, and may have to fall back on Percocet for a little relief. Guess I won’t be running around the block today – that’ll have to wait for a day or two for when the rusty knees and internal fireworks subside!

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Halfway There!

Hearts and love are everywhere :-).

Hearts and love are everywhere :-).

Well, I’m halfway through the chemo part of my treatment. Yahoo! This last round of chemo did not seem to be as bad as the one before, so all of your positive thoughts, energy and love that you all have been sending must be working :-)! Actually, after explaining to my oncologist how horrible I felt last time, the nurse administered the chemo to me over a much longer period of time during this session (about 80 minutes vs. 30).  This appears to have helped immensely with the immediate side effects that I was getting during and immediately after receiving the chemo. I didn’t get the immediate ‘head cold’ feeling or the feeling like my brain was floating in chemo – thank goodness.

The mystery is now what the next four rounds will bring. AC-PACLitaxel, also known as Taxol, is the type of chemo that I will be receiving for my last four rounds. I’ve been told by my oncologist that there will be less nausea, but perhaps more fatigue. Other common side effects are joint and muscle pain, peripheral neuropathy (numbness or tingling of fingers and toes). Many internet posts say that holding onto ice cubes and/or putting them in your socks may prevent the neuropathy, but I’m not sure I want to freeze my hands and feet for the 5 hour duration that they will be administering this type of chemo for.

2014-07-30 17.58.37On a lighter note, I washed my hair today. Since I only wear it when I go out, and don’t go out for very long periods of time, there was really no need up until now. It’s a funny thing to see ‘your’ hair laying in the sink as you wash it and hang it up to dry! I’m hoping it is dry by the morning, as I do have some errands to do. If not, then one of the awesome hats that I picked up at my new favourite store, My Left Breast, will have to do :-). 2014-07-30 20.07.30

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The Not So Merry-Go-Round

Round 3 pumping through.

Round 3 pumping through.

Feeling the chemo pumping through one’s system is a strange feeling indeed. Sometimes it is more noticeable than others, but this time (Friday, July 11th) it was sure noticeable. First went the Red Devil, which is administered by hand, out of a plunger large enough to be associated with a horse. Then came the Procytox through IV.

As it was all flowing into my system through my bionic Port-a-cath, it was as though I had a bad head cold starting. My head felt ‘full’ and my nose started running like a rapidly-dripping tap. It felt like all the chemo was collecting in my head. The nurse said it is a common affect. Meanwhile, she was dressed from head to toe in protection in case of any possible chemo spillage whilst I was in my little sun dress. How ironic!

Upon completion of the chemo session, Kirk and I left the hospital and took a leisurely drive downtown and remembered there was a local RibFest in town. Knowing there was only a short window before the effects hit, we decided to pick up some world-famous ribs on the way home.  As I stood in line for ribs, I could feel the chemo really starting to do its thing and spread through the rest of my already tired body. We managed to get home and get a bit of protein into me before I started the almighty crash. Up to bed I went, barely able to keep my eyes open, as it felt like a bad dream was starting all over again.

The nausea commenced in the middle of the night and it seemed that all the meds they gave me to keep it under control this time weren’t touching it. From bed to couch to bed again I went for two straight days, barely able to make it up and down the stairs due to lack of strength. The chemo is doing its best at killing everything in my already thin body. My brain felt like mush, as did my muscles, and my senses had trouble focusing on anything in particular during those two days. While I tried to read, listen to an audiobook, watch a show on Netflix, or even listen to music, my brain could not tolerate it. It truly amazes me still, that I have agreed to have these toxic chemicals voluntarily put into my body – the kinds that are equivalent to hazardous waste. In fact, I recently read in The Cancer Killers book that “the idea of chemotherapy developed out of the use of Mustard Gas as a weapon during World War I. It began as an agent of death, as scientists saw how well it worked on a body’s fastest-growing cells.” Those of us in the Cancer Club clearly do chemo therapy out of fear, and can only hope for more years of full life ahead.2014-07-13 16.14.30

Yesterday and today I have been climbing back into the land of the living. I look forward to my IVC (IV vitamin C) again tomorrow, which will replenish my body with good things and give it the fighting strength it needs to kick this shit! Oops sorry mom! Forgot this is a G-rated blog.

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