Nine Years, Nine Lives

Today is a pretty remarkable day in my life. The day my life was changed, utterly and completely – nine years ago. When I think about that, I am brought to tears. After all I wasn’t supposed to be here. If it weren’t for luck and scientific breakthrough, I wouldn’t be. There are times I wonder why I am, still here that is. If it were any other kind of anniversary, I would be celebrating with a party or a cake. Because it’s my cancerversary, my day is spent reflecting on my blessings and thinking of all the dear friends I have lost along the way.

In years past, I have been so busy that the day has almost gone by without notice, can you imagine? A day not thinking about cancer, a normal day. I don’t have many of those. 2015-08-26 21.49.543,285 not normal days, just off, abnormal like the cancer. Some days I feel every second. On other days, time flies.

I  live a condensed life, condensed experience, condensed joy.

Joy.

 

This year is kind of a monumental year. I turn 40 in just more than a DSC05142month. 40! Middle aged (when did that happen :o)! Believe me, I didn’t think I’d ever see my 35th, let alone my 40th. When I was diagnosed nine years ago, I didn’t think I’d get to do a lot of things!

I didn’t think I’d ever be able to buy a car or a house. I didn’t think I’d get to travel. I didn’t think I’d get the chance to fall in love. I didn’t think I’d ever advocate for change. What did I know!? I had no idea what potential my life had. I had no idea of what I could achieve. I had no idea what life truly held. I had no idea what it meant to live. I mean really live.

IMG_2159It shouldn’t take critical or terminal illness to teach us that lesson. 2016-07-07 18.54.45-1Why can’t we all live genuinely, authentically, passionately, no time for B.S. kind of lives.

Time.

When you realize that time is really the precious commodity that everyone is after, you begin to value it over everything else. Things are just thing and are transient. Money can be made, of course it can buy comfort, but it’s just a thing. Time on the other hand provides us with opportunity. Opportunity to spend it on doing what we love. Opportunity to spend it wisely. I say that, because for us, it’s limited.

Our clocks start ticking they day we are born. So we can chase money and fancy things, and spend all that time working and running in circles. Or. We can open our eyes and see how beautiful the sunrise is, especially when you are with someone you love. How magnificent it is to experience the cultures of the world. How wonderful it is to be loved.

Love.

I wouldn’t be here without Love. The love (and kindness) of my medical team. Love from my family and friends. The love of my dogs. The love of my life. Thank you all! I couldn’t do it alone. I know together, we move forward.

To another nine years,

AM

 

Let’s Talk Again Bell

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.19.03 AMWhen I started this Blog, it was really intended to be an outlet to express my life and with it was like living with a terminal illness, lumps and all. It is still that, but it has turned into so much more. Little did I know that a year ago on Bell Let’s Talk Day, a post I wrote the previous year talking about what it was like coming off of antidepressants would resonate so deeply. Deeply enough that it was picked up by WordPress’ Discovery team (a very awesome experience). I don’t know if this year’s post will be as profound or powerful, but I hope it touches someone out there and let’s them know they aren’t alone, and it’s ok to ask for help.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.21.13 AMThis year has been hands down the hardest year for me mental health wise. I have felt things that don’t seem like me. I have always been cheerful and tenacious, but since changing cancer medications, I have felt anything but. I wish I could just switch meds, but they ARE the thing that keeps me NED and cancer free(ish), so I can’t just stop, or change, I have to deal.

But it has been scary!

This year I have gone to some very dark places, had thoughts I never thought I’d have. I have to remind myself, that I am not these thoughts, and that tomorrow is a new day. Initially, these thoughts would casually pass through my consciousness very briefly, to float away. Then they would happen as I looked at my life saving medication and wondered why I take them? I mean what’s the point? I’m so tired of all this. Gulp. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.21.39 AMSwallow, down the meds go. The thoughts soon float away. I then found myself on occasions, especially when I was feeling particularly down or feeling sorry for myself questioning whether or not everyone would be better off without me? On very rare occasions I actually uttered these horrible thoughts, “I wish I were dead.” There it is. Dark. I am not my thoughts!

It took me a few times experiencing this downward spiral to realize that something was really wrong. I was in a crisis that I hid from everyone, even myself. Upon this revelation, I immediately called my psychiatrist. Even with counseling and antidepressants, the depression and darkness seeped through. It wasn’t until I read another blog responding to Chris Cornell’s suicide that I really even realized this wasn’t me and that my brain as the author put it, was sick. It took an increased dose of my antidepressants and more Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.26.02 AMfrequent counseling visits to vastly diminish the dark. I still feel down, but now I try to remember that tomorrow is a fresh start, I allow myself to feel whatever it is I need to feel, and then try to move on. I never give it a postal code. I won’t live there. I have too much to live for. Too much work to do. I love life too much, and I certainly didn’t go through all this to just throw-in the towel or bury my head in the sand.

For those who live in Canada, we have a wonderful initiative, sponsored by Bell Canada. It happens every year around this time and it raises both funds and awareness for mental health in Canada. Mental illness effects 1 in 3 Canadians, and yet it is still largely stigmatized. Bell Let’s Talk Day removes the stigma by allowing everyday Canadians to reach out and stand up, and is working to breakdown barriers faced by those who suffer from a mental illness. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.29.59 AMYou can help raise awareness and funds by simply sharing #BellLet’sTalk. By doing so, Bell will donate 5 cents every time it is Tweeted, texted, mentioned online, or when you use the bell network, so call, Tweet, text your hearts out for mental health.

Be Well XO

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please call 911 or

Distress Lines

Operated by various agencies.  When in need of someone to talk to. Open 24 hours a day (unless otherwise indicated).

Toronto Distress Centres (416) 408-4357 or 408-HELP

Gerstein Centre 416-929-5200

Telecare (Mandarin & Cantonese), 416-920-0497

Contact Centre Telecare Peel 905-459-7777, Languages: English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese

Assaulted Women’s Helpline 416-863-0511, Toll-free: 1-866-863-0511

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Warm Line, Progress Place 416-960-9276 or 416-960-WARM, every day from 8pm to 12 midnight

Kids Help Phone at 1 800 668-6868

Distress Centre Peel 905-278-7208

Durham Crisis Line 905-666-0483

Oakville Distress Centre – 905-849-4541

Click here for a comprehensive list of International resources

 

#GivingTuesday

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 9.25.44 PMAbout a year ago, I wrote about Awareness and Action, That they are vastly different things. One is the actual act of something, the other is passive, and involves doing nothing. That’s right, nada, Zilch. Zero things are done. Bupkis. So in the dying hours of this Giving Tuesday, I want to remind people of just that. We should act and give, not just today, because we have been sold on a “gimmick”, but because we want to. Often even every day. It can be big or small. It also doesn’t have to be money, it can be time or a good deed. We have gotten too used to throwing awareness around, that nothing really happens. Lots and lots of inaction.

So why do we need a reminder?! Goodness and giving should be a no brainer, right?!

Is it that we get so wrapped up in our own drama, that we don’t see, or make time? AreScreen Shot 2017-11-28 at 9.26.08 PM we keeping score? If we are, then we shouldn’t, because life owes us nothing.

So I’m reminding you, Awareness is great, be aware, but also act.

I’m leaving this here, because I have to.

Be kind. Be good. Be present. Be generous. Give. Be well.

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Organizations I love.

Lung Cancer Canada

Young Adult Cancer Canada

First Descents

Save Me Dog Rescue

T’was the Evening of Hope

November is Lung Cancer Awareness month and tonight is Lung Cancer Canada’s annual  Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 4.18.11 PM.pngCasey Cosgrove who was the MC and truly synonymous with this night. Casey was such an integral part of this organization and made a huge difference to so many people dealing with lung cancer by not only sharing his own experience but by being a relentless advocate for the cause. On a very personal level he was a dear friend who I admired and miss very much. My heart is hurting.

Tonight won’t be the same without Casey but we will carry on best we can and try to continue the work he was so passionate about.

The above was written by my dear friend Roz Brodsky (A 3x lung cancer survivor), her words captured my feelings so well, that I asked to share them.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 4.26.28 PMI wish I could say that “if you didn’t know it was Lung Cancer Awareness Month, you’re living under a rock!”, but that is not the case. Most people I have asked were surprised. Well of course they were, we don’t have white/pearl/clear ribbons everywhere. We don’t have cement trucks with our message spread across it; we don’t really have walks, or Runs for the Cure. What we have is misinformation, apathy, and inadequacies.

I can’t tell you how many smoking cessation ads I have seen. Horrible in their depiction and so stereotypical that they add to the stigma and apathy. I am all for helping people quit, I personally believe we should treat an addiction, like an addiction, not a bad habit. I also think these ads should be part of a campaign strictly for cessation and illustrating ALL the diseases it is a risk factor for.

The sad part of associating these two things is that patients like so many others, and myself have to defend ourselves or tell people we are “Non/never smokers”. We shouldn’t have to, because we both have the same thing in common, lungs. The point being, it can happen to anyone at any age.

I have been radio silent this #LCAM because I have so much to say, but am so discouraged and tired of banging my head against the wall. I don’t know what it will take? It’s not the lives lost 1.59 million globally, or as my friends in the US will tell you #433aday, which is the number of Americans that die daily from this disease. We would take notice if a jumbo jet plummeted to the ground, right? Why can’t we see that this is happening daily!

I have posted a statistics laden post the last few years; I’m not going to do that again. What I Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 4.26.14 PMleave you with is, that Lung Cancer unbiased, it comes for everyone, regardless of age, sex, creed or colour, because we all have lungs. Anyone can get lung cancer.

Be Well

AM

Konichi wa Nihon

So today is the big day, day one of the IASLCs World Lung Cancer conference! After a few days getting our feet grounded after so so much travel, I’m ready to report! 

So far it’s a busy day (what an understatement). I type this as I wait for my second big session. I’ll be back later with a summary of my day, and a few highlights of the conference’s first day. Until then, you can keep posted by following on Twitter (@thesearemyscars, @iaslc, #WCLC2017, or #LCSM, or Facebook). 

Sorry I can’t live link, but I will later on. Blogging by phone has its limitations! 

Sayonara for now, 

AM

Look out Yokohama

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 4.14.12 PMIt has been a little while since I have posted and much has happened since the last post. One of the most notable things is, I was selected and awarded the IASLC’s Patient Advocacy Travel Award. This award allows me to travel to Yokohama, Japan for their annual World Conference on Lung Cancer. JAPAN!!! I cannot tell you how excited I am. For one, I get to travel to a country that I have always wanted to visit. I get to soak up the latest information on lung cancer research and practice. I get to network with other patients, advocates and experts in the field of lung cancer research, and I get to go to Japan. Have I mentioned I’m going to Japan!?Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 4.05.37 PM

Seriously though, I want to take this opportunity to share what the IASLC does and let everyone know about their Foundation Cancer Care Team Award.

The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) is the only global organization dedicated to the study of lung cancer. Founded in 1974, the association’s membership includes more than 6,500 lung cancer specialists in over 100 countries. IASLC members work to enhance the understanding of lung cancer among scientists, members of the medical community and the public. IASLC publishes the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, a valuable resource for medical specialists and scientists who focus on the detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.* For their mission statement, more information and resources, please go to their website.

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Nominate Your Care Team Now!

The IASLC is excited to announce the creation of a new award, the IASLC Foundation Cancer Care Team Award, designed to recognize outstanding patient care and honor multidisciplinary teams working together to provide the highest quality cancer care.

Nominations will be accepted from all over the world. The winning team will select one representative to attend the IASLC 18th World Conference on Lung Cancer, for which IASLC will provide monetary travel support. Learn more and nominate a team for the award. Please contact them with any questions: membership@iaslc.org.

As always, be well.

XO AM

*taken from https://www.iaslc.org/about-us

World Lung Cancer Day

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The Forum of International Respiratory Societies

Honour, Unite, Inspire. It’s 12:01, the dawn of the 6th World Lung Cancer Day and I struggled trying to write this. I wondered if I should write about numbers and facts, or maybe about how lung cancer is the most common cancer globally*. That of the  estimated 1.8 million new cases (in 2012)*, most (58%) occur in less developed countries*. That it is the most fatal cancer globally*. However, it might be more meaningful to tell you what “Honor, Unite, Inspire”, means for me, a lung cancer patient.

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Pan-African Thoracic Society

I write and share about living with lung cancer is because, I truly feel that if my experience, struggles and joys can touch or inspire just one person, then I have done my job as a good human. I think back to when I was diagnosed, and throughout treatment, I felt so very alone. I think of all the people out there with that same diagnosis, and how they too must have felt isolation and loneliness. I think about all the questions and fears I had, and no one to advise me, or let me know that what I was feeling was normal. I needed blogs like this, connection to patients who have survived and were surviving. Back then, it was hard to find. Now, not so much. Thankfully, but we still have work to do. Its for this, we have a Day like today.

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American Thoracic Society

Everyday I am blessed to see, I get to honour those who have given me strength, those who live with this disease, and those I have lost to it (sadly there are so many). Their courage and grace, push me to be better and instil me with passion to advocate for others living with this disease. It helps me channel anger in to action, frustration into hope. One of the reasons I advocate is so that those who are newly diagnosed don’t have to. So that they won’t fall into the cracks, and so that they don’t have to face the stigma of their diagnosis. There it is, the “S-word”, that assumption that lung cancer is our fault. That deadly misconception, that impedes compassion and funding. That idea that adds unnecessary stress

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European Respiratory Society

and shame on a patient and their family. It is for this, we need a Day like today.

It has been over 8 years since my original diagnosis, I know that I am alive in part to where I live. I am very lucky to live in a country that has a health care system that is accessible to all of its residents. I know it isn’t perfect, we have problems too, but its still pretty damn good.

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American College of Chest Physicians

Therefore, it would behove me if I didn’t point out the disparity between first world nations and developing nations. We are often so focused on our own problems, that we forget to think of those of others. Here, we might concern ourselves with accessing the latest and greatest treatments, there they may worry they will get treatment at all. Many countries don’t have the infrastructure and provide basic care, people may not  get

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Asian Pacific Society of Respirology

a proper diagnosis, let alone treatment that costs thousands of dollars a month. Their governments like ours focus PSAs on smoking cessation, the difference it that is their man way to “treat” lung cancer, after all you don’t have to treat the patients you don’t have. Here we concern ourselves with late effects or secondary cancers, there patients may worry they and their family will be shunned by their community, because there they think cancer is contagious. It is for this, we need a Day like today.

Until, we can ensure patients everywhere are being screened or

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Asociacion Latinoamericana De Torax

diagnosed quickly and comprehensively, are receiving the appropriate standard of care and support, are receiving as much funding as every other common cancer group, and we have either increased the survival rate to above 50%, or reduced the number of new diagnoses, we will need a Day like this.

AM

*Source WLCD Fact Sheet.pdf, http://www.firsnet.org/news-and-actions/86-forum-of-international-respiratory-societies-continues-grassroots-world-lung-cancer-efforts