Pride…in the name of life

Today is Pride (at least was a few hours ago) and on a day where everyone is celebrating Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 12.57.39 AMcoming out of the closet, I have gone into mine for a long over due clean out. Both literally and metaphorically.

As I painfully try-on every stitch of clothing I have, I am coming to the realization that there is way too much I’m not wearing, way to much that doesn’t quite fit, and way too much that’s way too small and as I look at the piles that have formed on my bed I realize that I’ve been holding on to these things that don’t serve me and actually burden my life too hard. It dawns on me that when you hold on to something too tightly, there’s no space for anything else. This can be clothes or thoughts or identities.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.13.09 AMThis past year has probably been the hardest I’ve ever had. Harder than when I was diagnosed, harder than recurrence, harder than when my father was sick and dying, and even harder than all the years living through his alcoholism.

This year I have really struggled with my mental health. The following will likely come as a shock to many in my life who care very deeply for me and I want to assure you that I am in counseling and I am on medication, and would never ever actually hurt myself. I am also very sorry you are reading this rather than hearing it from me personally. Some things are impossible to say face to face and can seem easier to write it down, trust me its not. Up until this point I have hidden this admission from almost everyone, including myself.

My internal dialogue this year has been different than in the past. Lately I have asked myself many times “what am doing this for?” (as I take my trial meds) or tell Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.06.03 AMmyself “I just want to crawl under a rock and die” or “I wish I was dead”. Scary thoughts. Logically I do not want to die, I want to live. In fact I want to live in vivid colours, Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.31.55 AMopenly and honestly. Admitting to myself that these dark thoughts are happening is a start. It is the number one thing I will address with my psychiatrist, because I want to live.

So whatever the skeletons are, go into the closet and bring them out. Shine the brightest light on those demons and then let them go. Let them go so you can embrace life.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.01.25 AMTo all my friends celebrating Pride, have a great day and always be proud of who you are and what made you.

To all my friends celebrating Eid, may you have a blessed day.

AM

 

Intentional Magic (Fog Cancer)

Intentional magic describes the alchemy that happens when you bring together a group of random people (who happen to be between 18-40) that share a common experience. That the common experience is living through or with cancer. You’d never know that was it, at least by looking at us. Young adults with cancer making lemonade from our lemons. Cancer is different for young adults.

When you are a young adult that has been diagnosed with cancer, it changes your life profoundly, in ways you don’t even know yet, and won’t know how far the ripples reach until you are looking over the wreckage of your life. It changes everything. It changes who you are. It changes who you will become. Nothing is the same as it was and nothing will be what you thought or planned for. Now add in that most of the patients in the waiting room are your parents age or older (yes I had medical staff talk to my mother instead of me and have had to correct them). That the majority of funding for support, care and treatment is focused on 45+ or 18 and under. That you will likely never get insurance, may never have children or will suffer from reproductive difficulties, are at risk for secondary cancers, and feel isolated and alone in an experience that few will share at lease at this age.

Now put these people all together and its magic.

As a young adult with cancer and a rare one at that, I can attest to the feelings of isolation and loneliness, confusion, frustration, grief, anger and sadness at losing the trajectory I had planned for my life. I have mourned my fertility and financial security. I have feared for my life, and sometimes still do. I know scanxiety, and loss. So much loss, my own and of others. Too many to count. It physically hurts to count, the beautiful vibrant lives this community has lost. I know, and so do those at Young Adult Cancer Canada. That’s why they are wizards. They create this intentional magic every year and every year its a homecoming for me. Every year we gather as a group to learn, laugh, cry, dance, and remember.

Its magic!

It has been about a week since I came home from my trip to Newfoundland for YACC’s Fog Cancer conference and I have say it has been a challenge getting back into the swing of things. I normally expect to experience withdrawal, but this year it seems even harder. I don’t know why, maybe its because I just turned 39 and I fear my time in this incredible community is winding down, or maybe I over extended myself, or maybe I fear that one day it will be me being remembered up on Signal Hill. Whatever way, life hasn’t been as vibrant and comfortable as it was a week ago. I feel a little more alone, a little more isolated, a little more mired in my own crap. I miss the cocoon of just getting it.

AM

 

When Worlds Collide

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 8.30.28 PMToday is May the 4th and for us Star Wars Fans out there it’s Star Wars Day and boy did I did feel at one with the Force. For a short time today I was truly happy because I was finally able to see my Oncologist and not one of her fellows (even though they are all lovely and very competent) because it’s just not the same. For months now, I have been struggling with being just good and not NED (No Evidence of Disease), it’s been quite an ordeal. This is in part because I have had access to the scan results  and the fellows (bless them) have been saying “it looks good, no change,” the reports of course say that the nodules in slide x remain unchanged, so of course I see remain and think “well there’s cancer there!”

It was a tough pill to swallow (literally pills) going from being a super responder on Xalcori (yes its a thing) to just being good. For an over-achiever, this is not ok, especially when Lorlatinib is supposed to be a better drug. Well today I found I wasn’t just good, I’m a super responder and I’m NED!!! Hooray!!! So all that worry and mental gymnastics for nothing. Now that I’m relieved for myself, I can channel my energy into outrage for my friends in the US.

Maybe you haven’t heard or don’t know that the Republicans and the House of Representatives voted to support a heinous bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). They voted despite not knowing if it would save lives or harm people. If yoScreen Shot 2017-05-04 at 9.28.07 PMu are looking for impartial, you won’t find it here! Many and by many I mean millions of people will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars more to even get insurance or care based on their pool.If I lived there I would be in the two to tiers and would have to pay at least 150K a year and that doesn’t accept for the expensive pill I need to live. Even if I was at the top of my pay grade this is way more than I could afford, so without it I would die. Thats what my friends are facing. It sickens me! It also makes me so incredibly thankful that I was born in and live in Canada. Our system isn’t perfect, but you can bet your ass that if you’re in trouble you will be guaranteed care.

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I wanted so much for this post to be happy and for the most part it is. I wanted to just update everyone and summarize my weekend at the DC Hope Summit, but the more I think about is, the sicker I feel.

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Look at all those beautiful survivors!! Also that’s Katie hope dealer extraordinaire 🙂

Last weekend I was so incredibly priviledged to be able to attend LUNGevity’s Hope Summit in DC through a donor scholarship (and the very hard work of resident hope dealer Katie Brown and everyone at LUNGevity). It was an incredible experience! It’s not often that one is able to meet so many others like me. There were people from all stripes, young, old, survivor, supporter, newly diagnosed, those who have been around the block and everything in between. Before this, I couldn’t have even imagined having 340 other survivors and caregivers in one place. It was truly beautiful and tragic all a the same time. Beautiful because there were so many of us, tragic because there was so many of us. Its complicated.

I almost always need a few days to decompress and process my experiences because they really are massively emotional experiences, and I say that in the most positive way. There were so many ALKies like me, and ROS1ders, those with EGFR, Cmet and those without a driver mutation, regardless of who you were, there was someone there that knew and understood your experience.

It was just wonderful to see everyone talking and sharing, crying and laughing, taking hope from hearing someone else’s story and sharing their own, maybe empowering someone else. Many new advocates were born over the weekend and some old ones refuelled. Now, more than ever, they will be needed.

I have always marvelled at the close knittedness of the lung cancer community (so many of us knew each other online before ever meeting face to face) and how much sharing happens, how much progress is being made with so little. So little attention. So little funding, and yet research has happened, awareness is happening, action is being taken and people are living better and starting to live longer. But there is still a long road ahead. But we are just starting and bills like the AHCA is a massive setback to us and to all others who are vulnerable and live on the knife’s edge. So my thoughts are with all of you who hoped for the best, and are hearing the worst, resist my friends. Resist with every breath.Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 9.22.20 PM

Be Well and May the 4th be with you.

AM

Indivisableguide.com

Living with intention…Week 8

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.52.50 AMHey folks we made it to week 8 in the meditation series and here we are at the end! It has been really wonderful to put this out there and to practice and re-fresh myself again, I truly hope it has helped you in some way.

Hopefully as a result of your dedicated learning and practice, you may have noticed some  changes in you since you began. If you haven’t, now might be a good time to ask yourself…have you noticed any changes since you began 8 weeks ago?

The changes may be different than you expected and they might not be monumental. They may include subtle shifts, like discovering that you don’t react as readily to stressful situations, maybe now you take a deep breath or two before you act or don’t act. Or maybe Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.54.44 AMyou’ve discovered that you are sometimes able to find space in the day to take a few minutes to yourself, or that you are a little more resilient in difficult situations, or that you’re just a little kinder to yourself. No matter what they were, pat yourself on the back, you made it.

Now the challenge will be to continue on practicing. It doesn’t have to be intense like these 8 weeks have been, it’s up to you to find your own way. There will always be a million things pulling you in all directions and getting in the way, its up to you to remind yourself to be mindful and do things intentionally.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned throughout my 7+ years of living with cancer is, there is no control. It is an illusion. I can control the weather as easily as I can control the things happening in my own body. That is to say, I can’t!

What I can control, and what you can control is how we choose to react (or not react). How you choose to live with meaning and intention. We can let our lives go by with notions of shoulds and wounds, but by doing that we miss life.

So live.Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.52.34 AM

AM

“When possible do just one thing at a time. Pay full attention to what you are doing. When the mind wanders, gently bring it back. Repeat step 3 several billion times. Investigate your distractions”
– Larry Rosenberg

 

Resources & Tips:Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.43.45 AM

See previous weeks 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.

Tarabranch.com – Lots of goodness!

Dharmaseed.org – Pod Cast

Audio Dharma – Guided Meditations

Meditation Oasis – Podcast & Apps

Daily Mindfulness – Tips and suggestions

The Anger Process – AH FOWL

5-Step Pain Process

Soften Soothe Allow – Dealing w/ difficult situations

Tuning In – Tips on how to be a good listener.

How to Love Your Body…When its Trying to Kill You?!

To say I have issues with my body is an understatement. It did, after all, try to kill me. Three times now, and possibly again in the near future.

So how does one come to terms with their body after something like cancer?

Work in progress comes to mind.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-9-54-55-pmOnce upon a time, I took my body for granted. It was strong and flexible and I tipped the scales at about 95 lbs. soaking wet. Fast forward a few years and a tussle with lung cancer and my once slim frame is much more Rubenesque.

It has taken a while to realize how ludicrous it is to worry about something so trivial and superficial as putting on a few pounds, especially when I stop and think about what my body has actually been through in the last seven years. I mean, what are a few pounds when your body has been poisoned and radiated to the “nth” degree, not to mention cut open then poisoned some more.

My vain self wishes for my old body back, but my rational self realizes that this is where my body is and needs to be to be healthy and the two factions battle. Most days my rational self wins, but there are days when I go to my closet and nothing fits and I want to pull out my hair!screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-9-52-09-pm

The bigger issue for me is reclaiming my body and getting used to its new limitations. I hate to admit I have limits, but I do. On a good day, I feel like I’m a vibrant young woman, but most days, I feel old. I am constantly tired, my joints are stiff, and my legs and feet are swollen. Despite this, I still try to be as screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-03-21-pmnormal as possible. This “normal” is new for me because I once had boundless energy and pushed through fatigue; now its all I can do to get to a couch before I pass out. I have often tried to explain what my fatigue is like, but words fail me. The best way I can describe what is happening is a complete and total shut down that sneaks up on me like a shadow then totally consumes me and I can’t stop it. The problem is even if I sleep, I still wake up exhausted. This makes working and socializing rather challenging.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-9-58-27-pmHaving lung cancer really messes up your lung capacity. Even though pulmonary function tests say I am in the normal range, I know I’m not. I can’t run to save my life. Climbing up hills is out of the question, even just a slight incline has me huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf, and stairs, lets not even talk about them.

An added bonus to all this wonderfulness is the edema or swelling, acute neuropathy and arthritis I experience. None of these side effects are predictable or effectively treatable. The neuropathy, which for a long time was a mystery, turns out to be a side effect of the chemo I received. When it happens, it makes anything that touches my skin incredibly painful. Pair that up with the swelling and arthritis and I am one sexy beast.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-29-28-pmI used to have great legs, now it seems that I have two stumps attached at the hips. I began to notice that my knees and ankles would get stiff, and then I realized that my legs were sometimes swollen, as time went on, they were always swollen to the point that my range of motion became limited. To help this problem I began taking a prescribed diuretic that worked for a while but became less effective as time ticked on. Topping it off was my bone scans revealing what I long suspected, that I have arthritis in most of the joints in my ankles, feet and legs and in my shoulders, hands and wrists.  Hello creaky old lady bones.

You might think that with all these complaints, I am not thankful or grateful for the treatments I have received, but it really is quite the opposite. These obstacles are just speed bumps. I gladly take these inconveniences over being sick or dying any day.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-36-05-pmSo at the end of January when gyms everywhere are beginning to empty in the annual, New Year’s resolution revolution (Why is it that we are compelled to make resolutions? Does anyone really keep them?) I will be grateful and know that I am good enough.

I am slowly learning not to beat myself up when I get tired, when I can’t do something I used to find easy, or when I’m gasping for air. I’m learning to accept my less lean self and love every inch of it, because it has been though the ringer and remains true. It’s a steep learning curve and there are always setbacks.  So the going is slow, but I will take this body for better or worse and learn to be kind to it.

AMscreen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-05-27-pm

Stability ain’t what its cracked up to be!

This is my favorite time of year. I don’t know what it is about the weeks leading up to the holidays, but I just love them. My heart is warmed by twinkling lights adorning all the neighborhood houses and people seem just a little bit more cheerful. Just the other day it snowed, not just a dusting either, a real good snow. It was magnificent. Looking out our windows Sunday night and seeing a fluffy white blanket covering everything made me giddy. Everything seemed magical and pristine.

That day I spent the day in my jammies watching movies with the pups and a good cup of tea, it was heaven! A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the week before. It was a scan/check-in week preceded by a very long scare & scan day the previous Friday. Needless to say I had an x-ray, two chest CTs (one abdominal and pelvic), an MRI, an ECG an ECHO as well as blood work (thank you port) all in the span of 5 days and my body was feeling a little worse for wear. Thankfully, the scare turned out to be a chest infection and nothing more. Amidst all that my scans still say stable.

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Blargh!!

I am learning to live with stable, even though I don’t like it, even though I’d feel so much more secure if I was NED. NED allowed me imagine no cancer in my body, whether it was true or not, I don’t know. Its hard and sometimes torturous knowing that inside you there is a ticking time bomb or in my case many little time bombs just waiting to grow and spread (and kill you). The uncertainty makes it easy to go down the rabbit hole so much so that the thoughts permeate into everything, even my seasonal happiness.

While trimming the tree, I caught myself thinking… Wow! This is our first Christmas in this house, how truly amazing. I wonder if it will be my last? I wonder how many more Christmases I’ll get? I wonder if Patrick will decorate like this after I’m gone?

You see how easy it can be to get sucked in.

I don’t know if it is because I live my life in three week increments or six week milestones, but looking at a full year is truly daunting and scary. I felt the same way planning my wedding. It felt like a mixture of joy and sheer terror! Life can change so quickly. I have seen it happen too many times.

And then I remember to breathe.

Despite all these crazy emotions and being sick (my lungs sound like bagpipes warming up), my soul is happy. I find myself sitting on my couch sometimes, and I look around, and I am awed and I am grateful for all the blessings I have in my life. My husband, my family, my friends, my dogs, my home, and my health. My life is so rich! That is what I need to hold on to. That is the light that guides me out of the rabbit hole.

 

AM

 

The New Face of Lung Cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is devastating and life altering, but as a young adult with lung cancer the challenge was even more daunting. Like most people I was oblivious that I could get lung cancer, after all as a young woman I thought I was more likely to get breast cancer because I had breasts. I never fathomed that because I had lungs I could get lung cancer2013-08-14-20-48-46. I know differently now.

Even after beating the odds of living 5 years beyond diagnosis, the first question I’m asked when people find out I am living with lung cancer is “did you smoke?” The idea that smoking causes lung cancer is so entrenched in our psyche that most people have no idea that up to 60%1 of lung cancer patients have either never smoked a day in their lives, or quit decades prior to their diagnosis resulting in an unfair stigma being placed on patients and their families.* The notion that someone deserves their disease is a ridiculous concept to me, but a 2010 national poll showed more than one in five Canadians said they feel less sympathy for people with lung cancer than those with other cancers because of its link to smoking2.

I started down this road in 2009 when a small bump on my collarbone sent me to my doctor. Despite being unconcerned he sent me for an x-ray. That simple action would lead to the cascade of tests that would ultimately lead to the diagnosis of locally advanced adenocarcinoma of the lung. I am lucky! Things could have gone differently, I could have been inoperable, I could have been sent home, I could have been ignored, I have many friends who were, they didn’t get diagnosed until they were very sick, and sometimes even too late.

Once I peiced the tatters of my life back together, recurrence hit. I was devastated once again. My worst fears had come to pass. Beating Lung Cancer once was hard, I knew beating it twice would be damn near impossible, after all, at 17%, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer remains one of the lowest of all the major cancers3.

Finding out that I was a mutant was a relief…I know what you are thinking?? What! I’m sure most people would opt for a super power, but knowing I had an ALK-EML4 fusion meant I had options, so for me it was just as good. Prior to this revelation, I had few to no options left as a 32 year old stage 4 recurrent lung cancer patient. I was literally waiting to get sick so I could get treated and hope it wasn’t too late knowing full well I’d likely become one of the 85% of lung cancer patients. Dead.

I found information about a targeted therapy in clinical trial in a blog, much like this one. At the time I didn’t know anything about trials, targeted therapies, or driver mutations but I immediately jumped on this and looked for any way I could get in to the trial. Luckily there was a trial close to my home. In Sept. 2011 I was admitted and randomized to the drug group and began taking an ALK inhibitor. From that time until July of this year I had been NED (No Evidence of Disease, the best letters of the alphabet) and being unrmarkable was fantastic, but things change. I have always known that change would come, cancer is cunning and insidious.

Fear not dear reader, I am in a new trial for a third generarion targeted therapy. Targeted therapies mean I can live a fairly normal life. I don’t have to worry about neutropenia and infection, or other damaging side effects. I am able to live and travel. I am able to advocate and volunteer. I am able to plan a wedding, buy a house and plan on a long life ahead. It isn’t a cure, I will likely never be cured, but I gladly put my faith in research, after all it has given me five years and counting.

What’s disturbing is that every year, 26,100 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer, 20,800 of those diagnosed will die4. It takes the lives of more Canadians than breast (5,000 lives), prostate (4,000 lives) and colorectal cancers (9,300 lives) combined5. Yet it is one of the most underfunded.

It is exciting times in lung cancer research and diagnosis. Less invasive procedures, genetic testing, screening procedures, and many new targeted therapies are being developed and improved upon and patients are benefitting in so many ways. From prolonged life and higher quality of life to the freedom of taking their treatment at home and living life unremarkable or not to the fullest. You may think, great! They don’t need funding or support, but in actuality, the disease receives only 7 per cent of cancer-specific government research funding and less than one per cent of private cancer donations6. I can only imagine what they could do with 3%.

Living with a chronic disease, isn’t about how many days we have to live, it’s the ability to live life in the days we have. When it is my time to leave this earth, I will do so having no regrets. I will know that I did not let my diagnosis define me but allowed me to be the person I was meant to be.

AM

*Current smokers had smoked 100 or more cigarettes and currently smoked. Current non-daily smokers were current smokers who smoked only on some days. Former smokers had smoked 100 or more cigarettes and no longer smoked at all7.

  1. Lung Cancer Canada, Lung Cancer Accessed at: http://www.lungcancercanada.ca/Lung-Cancer.aspx
  2. Ipsos MORI, Perceptions of Lung Cancer in Canada, An Ipsos MORI report for the Global Lung Cancer Coalition, April 2010. Accessed at: http://www.lungcancercanada.ca/ resources/site1/general/PDF/CanadaReport.pdf
  3. Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2016, p. 64
  4. Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2016, p. 50
  5. Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2016, p. 50
  6. Canadian Cancer Research Alliance 2007, CRA 2009, Canadian Cancer Society 2010.
  7. Husten, C. G. (2009) How should we define light or intermittent smoking? Does it matter? Nicotine Tobacco Research 11(2), 111-121.