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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at www.debilynsmith.com

Friday, January 28, 2011

One Down...Fifteen Frys To Go


I can't say why I was so intimidated but by the time Homer, Barry and I got to the Cancer Clinic today at 1:45, I was an emotional mess. Maybe because I have been enjoying all the freedom of having my health back since the past two ordeals of surgeries and chemo. It's such a mind screw to be so alive but know that you're headed back down that road of trying to fend off what's being done to your body in order to save your life.
I know this is the best thing to do and I am confident that I have prepared myself. I have been extremely careful with my diet, trying to avoid 90+% of the sugars, caffeine, alcohol and high glycemic foods. I am taking all the vitamins and protective herbs recommended by the Naturopath and have remained active each and every day. I am ready to receive as much radiation as they dare without damaging the good cells to the point of extinction.
But every treatment comes with some risks and you wonder if you will be the one in a thousand that grows the third arm. I worry that I will move and the radiation will hit my heart, pierce my lung or scar me for ever. So much has gone sideways that I trust nothing.

So, I am sorry to admit there were big alligator tears that coursed down my cheeks as I lay beneath that daunting machine with my right arm twisted high beside me. Breast bared. Whirring noises. Clicks. Alone. The techs hid behind a glass wall and pushed buttons. I felt like I was at the bottom of a tall barrel. I wanted my mother. I wanted an ice cream cone. I wanted whatever it was that would make all of this go away.

I need my normal life back and to do that, I have to lie on that metal stretcher and let that scary Wizard of Oz contraption do what it can for me, fifteen more times.

I am home at my Uncle's beautiful house. I am having a small glass of red wine after Barry reminds me of our friend that died of brain cancer last year being mad that she had spent so much time dieting and denying herself anything that she wanted for the past five years. It's time to shake off the funk and get back to the land of the living attitude. Cheers.

I now have the weekend "off" and resume treatments on Monday. That should be enough time to pull myself back up by the bootstraps. One treat at a time. I'm thinking take-out dinner and a movie.
I am going to be so spoiled after all this that my normal life is going to be hard to get used to. But I'll take it. In a flash!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The High Before the Low

Whoever said money can't buy happiness never experienced a deep, fresh powder day at Revelstoke Mountain on new Salomon "Lady" skis! It was steep and it was deep, although tracked up for most of the first two days there. It snowed almost the entire trip so by the third day we got the untracked "pow" we were hoping for. It's what makes living worthwhile- these moments when you can't get the grin off your face and all you can think to say is "wahoo!" over and over. The sun poked its head out in the afternoon and although my thighs were screaming at every carve from overuse, even when my mind said sharp turn right and my legs said "forget it!", I was in heaven for not minutes but hours.
I am feeling the same as the days prior to the second surgery. The energy level is at an all time high and I am making the most of it. The first morning as we stood at the base of the gondola, fate came to our aid when a long-time cat powder guide named Tom recognized us. We spent the next 3 days with him and girlfriend Heather ripping up "groomers" and replaying some of the snowy memory lanes with our stix. Evenings were hot tubs and dinners- sesame crusted tuna steaks and parmesan saturated pizzas with so many laughs. "What do you call a snowboarder in a suit and tie? The Defendant." Tom knows ever snowboarder joke ever told!

Now we're back in Kelowna awaiting Friday's first visit with the radiation beam. I can't say I am looking forward to it, not like I was for the chemo. You couldn't get the chemo into me fast enough. But I have been through so much and like before, with that taste of freedom, of being back to normal again so fresh in my mouth... I want to keep it. The thought of going backwards again, of going down into that tired, dragged out world of treatments is enough to make you hug a very understanding teddy bear. Poor Homer is getting thinner every day.
The good news is the hair is growing again. A quarter inch covers at least half of the dome. I am almost ready to shave my pits and legs again- even though it is returning in patches. I wonder how soon before one can start coloring the salt and pepper? With all the health food stores here, I hope to find a safer solution to put on my scalp.
I don't think there's ever going to be enough that I can do to make sure all of this never happens to me again.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Have You Seen My Hair? (Blog #2 Today)

This blog is dedicated to all the wig wearers out there.
I admit the cosmetic hairy-look beats the skull cap or kerchief I find I laze around the house in. When we go out, I don a hat over top of my baldness- a classy '50's style from my sister or one of the dozen knitted ones I now own thanks to so many fashion-conscious buddies. But on the ski slopes, I find the skull cap with a wig is warmer than a skull cap and hat. So that's what I wore yesterday at Big White Mountain resort for a day of skiing in the sunshine.
After three hours of intense sun, the wig became too much to bear. Sweat trickled into my goggles and while in the lift line-up I caused an entire row of skiers to gasp as I grabbed my locks with one hand and pulled them off of my head. I reapplied the skull cap, cinching it on with my goggles and was good to go. Our daughter Lindsay hadn't noticed until we got off the lift and thought maybe I had left my hair hanging on one of the trees we had just coursed our way through. No, I assured her, my hair piece was inside my coat being held there by my powder-skirt, which snaps snug against my waist.
After skiing Lindsay and Barry went for a beer while I hit the shops in search of a ski suit. It's my Christmas gift from Barry, but I have yet to find it. I am enjoying the search and it was a very enthusiastic me that threw my coat to the ground at the outdoor rack of discounted jackets at the first ski shop I found in the village. I tried on at least a dozen of every size and shape. Finding nothing, I collected my coat and went inside to further investigate. The lime Descents at the far end of the shop caught my eye as did the Spider waist-to-coat zippers which make the latest outfit back into a one-piece. My friends would get a laugh at that. I am trying to get OUT of my one piece which I still wear at home.
Mid-struggle to get off a jacket I was snarled in, a young Australian girl who worked at the store approached me and asked, "Excuse me..are you missing something?" At first I thought she meant my purse, a recurring occurrence for me, but then I remembered I didn't bring a purse. Then I got it..."Is it brown?" I said. We both smiled as she produced what looked like a deflated rat. I told her I hoped this wasn't going to be THE favourite story of living in Canada she told for the next twenty years.
I made my way to the bar to meet the others and as I told them the story, I pulled out the wig and slipped it on. Barry said I should have seen the eyes at the table behind me! Popping and wide!
It's funny because I think with the demographics pointing to the occurrence of chemo patients and hair loss on the rise, people might start getting used to the fact that not every full head of hair out there is what it seems to be. Even little kids can spot it in a second. They just know something is not right about you and howl if you dare to look at them sideways.
I suggest all of us wig wearers start an aggressive awareness campaign. I say whip it off right in front of the unsuspecting and get them used to it. Like taking off a Band-Aid slowly or in one shot. Get over it everyone.
Wigs can be a GOOD thing, especially when you're hot flashing. How many menopausers can haul off their hair to cool off? Don't like your hair color? Put on a different shade. Want long hair today? Maybe some dread locks for the first time in your life? Have at it. It should never be a goal to set, but I think we will make a lot of people quite envious.
Although, first you have to know where your hair is at all times before you can show it off or throw it off. That can be a problem for me, just like with my glasses.
So don't be alarmed when I ask:"have you seen my hair?" and it isn't on my head.

Winter Snorkeling In Southern BC

It's still five days before my first radiation appointment. My husband and I decided to stay in the Okanagan at my Uncle's place instead of driving the return 22hours back to Houston with the roads the way they can be at this time of year.
I have returned to what I'd guess was 85% "me". A heat flashing, sore and skeptical "me," but still myself all the same. Back to swimming and jogging on alternate days and yesterday ripping up the powdery slopes on Big White mountain with our daughter Lindsay. It was ski demo days and I ran a pair of Lady Salomons and then Infinite Nordicas through the trees. I rode them hard and came up smiling. Wow. Like having rockets attached to your feet.They both seemed easier to steer around trees and moguls and I have to admit this would be the year to give myself a break. My Fischer AMC's are giving me some cosmetic grief with the top layer of vinyl lifting up. So far it hasn't caught on any stumps, causing a wipe out, but it does affect over-all confidence which you need when heading off to the true steep and deep of places like Revelstoke, like we are in about three hours from now.
We found a three day "stay and ski" deal on-line through the Sandman and the weather forecast says snow, snow and more snow over that time period. We get a kitchenette so we can do our own oatmeal, yogurt, seeds and blueberry breakfast. Lunch on the slopes and dinners at one of the many great restaurants we remember from all our Cat Powder adventures there. It's been four years since we've skied this place and now they have the new Longest Chair Lift in North America on their slopes, which will deliver us back up to the sweetness of the powder bowls above. My snorkel is packed.
We will be coming back to Kelowna after that for two days of mandatory "rest" before the first zap of the radiation machine. Poling with my right arm seems to cause a slight swelling of the right breast. If this happens, the measurements and co-ordinates taken and fed to the computer for where to radiate, will be off course and they will need to start again by re-simulating and then waiting another 9 days to start treatment.
Okay, so now you're shaking your head and asking why I am tempting fate like this. Don't I want to get this over with? Aren't I scared of causing a set back?
In my defense, I can only say that powder skiing is one of the softest poling sports - you plant in virtual air. I am careful not to use the right arm to push myself when traversing or walking uphills. My left arm is strong enough to over-compensate. Add to that my determination and downright donkey-ness to continue doing what I place above almost everything else in my life- skiing, and you have my reasons.
And..I should add, there are these wonderful things called ice packs and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Have snorkel...will travel! Full-steam ahead.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Faith Has Been Restored

Live piano music floats around the foyer at the Southern Interior Cancer Clinic in Kelowna every day at noon. A second volunteer steers a free coffee/tea cart past me for the third time.."sure I can't whip you up a cuppa?" the silver-haired gentleman coaxes. I finally concede and I'm glad as my nervous fingers wrap around the steaming waxed container. My foot swings in the air in beat with the music. Classy, I muse, checking out the clean design of the building and the way every thing seems to run so smoothly. It has to. The numbers through these doors every day are astounding. I'll bet it's more than come through the Orchard park mall on Boxing Day!

The date is January 19th and the time has arrived for me to meet the radiology oncologist. Dr. R will decide my future of remaining in Kelowna anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. She will also either sentence my arm to be radiated, possibly heading me toward a lifetime fear of lymphadema (swelling that can become permanent) or saying we need only to nuke the breast tissue. I have lost all faith in my "luck" up to now and have steeled myself for anything. "They'll probably want to zap my good breast as well which will take another month," I quip, worrying now that I've said this, I've gone and jinxed myself.
We have made it to the Okanagan and its not quite the warm weather I was expecting. Still a crispy -10C and it snowed this morning. At least the roads were fairly good on the trip down.
My Uncle and his lovely wife are away on holidays and have graciously lent us their home- a fifteen minute jog away from the hospital/cancer clinic. I made a run there and back today checking out where to park and what route we should drive. It's my first jog since my lungs got wheezy a month ago and it feels good to be back at it.
Dave, the nurse, goes over my information with me, noting where all 4 of our kids live and asks about their health as well as Barry's. He laughs at how the questionnaire got filled out, when asked "why are you here?" I put "I'm lonely" and for Sex? Often. Yes, I filled out the important parts properly. Menses started at age 13. List of operations :5 to date and climbing.

Dr. R comes in and after a brief exam delivers a very tightened explanation of what will happen, could happen and hopefully never happens. A talk you can tell she has delivered hundreds of times. For once I have to store the questions in my head because there is no gap to jump in. She gets out what she needs to tell me and then I am welcomed to ask away. Her thoroughness has systematically checked off every question I had thought of other than getting her approval for the extra vitamins the naturopath recommended. Vitamin D, multi B and the multivitamin are fine, she says. Just not in any extreme doses.
Then came the magic words. Sixteen treatments. No arm radiation- just the breast and unpreventably a small bit of lung that will inevitably get in the way (the way I understood it).
I am now to take my gleeful self to the "fish bowl" waiting area for the CT scan that will map out where my heart and lungs are. This info gets put into a computer which will tell them what angles to radiate me at when I return in 9 days.
I get drawn on with ink and two mini blue dots are tattooed onto my skin. This ensures I will never be radiated in this same place ever again and are there to help line up the same co-ordinates each time I arrive for treatment. The techs are very sweet and the entire procedure takes only another thirty minutes from my life. I accuse them of being vampires the way they eye up and comment on my long neck. They smirk but still stick me with the sharp pin for the tatt. See! Just like vampires only they didn't use fangs.

We buy a parking pass good for the entire month for the low sum of $3, versus the $1.50 per hour for parking anywhere else. It's great as you only need to come for a max of thirty minutes each visit after this. Ten minutes to line you up and ten minutes to zap you and you're good to go for the rest of the day!
I'm starting to realize that this is going to be the easiest part of the entire ordeal!
On a last note for the day, we leave the clinic and head to a pub for lunch. The waitress asks if I have come from the cancer clinic and I say I have. We get 10% off our meals as clinic patients are VIP's here. Now I feel like a princess. I order a light beer to make up for the pinch of the tattoo and vow to return to the Quail and Pheasant. The bar is hosting a Super Bowl party Feb. 6th and this bald head is going to be there. There will be lots of door prizes which would have meant nothing to me last week. But now, it appears my luck has returned. Only three weeks of radiation! We will be home by February 20th!
Maybe with a Super Bowl prize tucked under my am?

Monday, January 10, 2011

For More Information On Breast Cancer

Yes, I have so much energy that this is the SECOND new blog today!

I have read many books on cancer since all this started. In the beginning I bought the Intelligent Patient Guide to Breast Cancer, a book sometimes handed out to new breast cancer patients. I found it at the library and used it like a bible to see what was coming next in the chain of events. (Actually, less like a bible and more like a Stephen King novel). It's pretty close to the truth and I would highly recommend you go to your local cancer clinic and ask about it instead of buying a copy. The clinics usually have their own libraries you can borrow a plethora of information from.

I devoured a tomb of books on natural supplements to use during chemo and radiation therapies which I cannot list as I no longer have them. All I did was end up confusing myself with long lists of non-sensible scribblings of names of weird plant concoctions and "panic" remedies. I went through a phase of wanting to take anything that would prevent this nightmare from ever occurring again. I would have rolled in snakeoil, choked down dried kangaroo dung or smeared lizard guts over my breast had I thought it would help. What helps is a visit to a professional Naturopath who can straighten all of it out for you. Once you have your "protocol" (what drugs you will be on), this person can then suggest vitamins and natural remedies to either aid in the adjuvant therapy (chemo and radiation), to help relieve side effects (dry mouth, heart burn) or reduce long-term wear and tear on your organs (heart, lungs,etc.) For the docetaxel and cyclophosphemede I took (3 times a day) 2000 units of vitamin D, a 1000 mg fish oil supplement(sardine and anchovy based), a 100 mg Q-10 co-enzyme (for heart toxicity), a good multi-vitamin, vitamin B complex and something called astragulus? Also I rinsed my mouth with a teaspoon of L-glutamine in warm water, which I then swallowed to help the esophageal side effects like heartburn, soft gums and mouth sores.

Back to the books! Helping to fine-tune my diet, my amazing step-daughter Lindsay sent me The Diabetes Cookbook (because we both agree that sugar IS the enemy, especially during therapies. Sugar feeds cancer cells and that's the last thing you want to be doing right now!), Low Glycemic Meals In Minutes and David Wolfe's Superfoods. I found plenty of interesting choices to reduce the amount of red meat and high starch or processed meals from our diet. I am also delving into the Cancer Recovery Eating Plan because I plan on doing a major detox when all this is over, cleansing my liver, colon and system as much as I can. Also sitting in an infrared sauna as much as possible over 5 days before dry brushing the sweated toxins from my skin. Add a lot of water, some de-tox teas and I'll be ready to start the anti-cancer drugs, phase four of this drama. For the next five years I will have to trust the pills are doing what they can to prevent a relapse. It will be up to me whether to help or hinder those pills. After what I've been through, I am going to do everything I can to make sure I now have a difficult breeding ground for cancer to grow in. My next bout of research will be on the alkalinity and PH balance of my diet and how that effects me. It sounds like it's a big thing, especially if you eat meat.
Lindsay also opened my eyes to some of the evil everyday products I was using, like make-up, soaps and deodorant. I now use a wonderful smelling and quite strong acting non-aluminum chlorohydrate roll-on called Crystal Essence, lotions by Kiss My Face and make-up Arbonne. For house cleaning products I trust the Norwex brand of cloths and solutions. Their wash powder is wicked on stains. I am so impressed I'm going to become a dealer!

Last, but far from least is the Crazy, Sexy Cancer Tips book by Kris Carr. A book for any cancer "babe" with lots of smiles and suggestions for things like blinging-up a hospital gown, signing up for a patient registry (for your friends to choose gifts from that you might need more than flowers) and a wigilicious section! Think pink! It even has recipes and websites you may never even have thought of looking for.Look at that- even one for rebounders. I was just asking on my last blog if anyone had information about that. Hunh.

One last book- the Cancer Vixen cartoon portrayal of author Marisa Marchetto's ordeal with breast cancer. Informative and to the point, it will have you laughing and crying as you recognize your own fang-episodes. Thanks to my daughter Karly for brightening my day with that one!

I hope all of this helps anyone looking for more information! Like me!

Fry Day Appointment


I love having all this energy back (and hair although its merely s&p peach fuzz still). We spent the weekend ripping up the fresh powder on Hudson Bay Mountain. I'm not quite back to doing "t-2-bs" (top-to-bottom in one shot) yet but I'm out there with the best of them! The never-ending hot flashes are a breeze when I'm on a chairlift in -10C temps. I just rip off my hat and I'm cooled off instantly! Ah, the perks of going through menopause hairless!
I swam for 30 minutes today and really felt it with my lightened lymph node arm. It was heavy and numb but my massage therapist says that the water resistance helps with the arm drainage so I kept going. It gets me out of bouncing on the rebounder for ten minutes to achieve the same effect. There is a third alternative I was shown- using a light feather touch across the skin to virtually draw the lymph fluid across my body toward the far side where it can drain through the lymph nodes there. I find it tires my good arm after five minutes of self-petting so I prefer to boing away on the mini-trampoline. If anyone knows of a good exercise site for a rebounder I would love to hear about it?
I finally received that call from Kelowna saying my appointment is not going to get moved up. It will be January 19th for the oncology consult and the tests. My inaugural radiation treatment is a bit closer though from a 14 day wait to a 9 day wait, meaning my first Fry Day will be a literal one on Friday January 28th! How fitting. Then I have the weekend to try and cool down, hopefully trashing some of that fine powder they've been enjoying down south. I'm thinking Revelstoke for sure. And shopping! I have a modest inheritance coming from my mother which I think would be appropriately spent at a ski shop for some new touring and downhill skis. My current skis have delaminated across the tops after only 4 years and my current touring skis are simply touring bindings mounted on an edgeless pair of old skis. I use a dilapidated pair of ski boots that give me blisters so after 40 minutes in the backcountry I become a whiner. My Mom was a skier right to the end- she hit the slopes after being diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer and left us behind mere months later. I can't think of a better way to spend her money other than giving it to the needy, which-Bonus- I consider myself to be at the moment! Two birds with one stone. Thanks Mom. What better way to keep cancer-free than getting some exercise? Which includes going store-to-store with a credit card in hand first. Oh Happy Daze- I see some big fun coming up in my very near future. Full steam ahead!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Dented Box Marked 2010

It's a New Year and whether I like-it-or-not, time for a New Me.
My name is Debi Smith and I am a breast cancer work-shirker. My last chemo was forty days ago. Sounds like words from an AA or better, a Cancer Anonymous meeting. Well, that's because it's finally time to quit the cycle of apathy I've been trapped in and stand up at a podium and admit the truth. I have been avoiding getting back to work.
I am in another anxiety-ridden holding pattern, waiting this time for a consult with the radiologist in Kelowna. We are trying to get the date moved up because the chemo has been ended 6 weeks early and I am not on any anti-cancer drug regime yet. If the chemo did in fact miss anything, that little spore could be growing as we speak. Every sugared bite of Christmas Crap, sip of wine or slurp of heavily egg-nogged Chai tea made me worry (after it was past the gullet, of course) that I was fanning a spark into a possible flame.
BUT, I am not going to spend one more minute fretting about it. I have done what I've done and enjoyed Christmas and New Years to the Max!
And now the Party is over. The painful surgeries, the chemotherapy... over as well. All behind me in a dented box in my head marked "2010."
Today is Tuesday, January 4th 2011 and the Holidays are officially over for everyone, including myself. I have decided to begin the transformation from recovering surgery/chemo patient back to a writer/exercise fanatic who watches what she eats ( and these days, what she drinks!). My resolution is to spend less time trying to numb myself mentally with games, books and movies and use that energy in a constructive way. I have two novels I need to rip apart and rewrite in time for the next Mystery Writers conference in Victoria in June. I think I have allotted enough time to this cancer thing. It's time to take my life back. Okay, with a little time for some doctor and radiation appointments and travel to and from the Okanagan. The difference this round, during what I call Phase Three of this entire health debacle, will be the mind set.
It's time to hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on my office door again. Not because I'm having a nap, because I'm back to writing. Okay, maybe a bit of both in the beginning.
The New Me. Learning to balance this recent cancer-challenged life with the old one. Like napping and working.
There's a lot of people out there that are never going to believe this.