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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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Phase Four Begins

I'm in the Home Stretch, sports fans! Now for the easiest of all the anti-cancer treatments since this all began in May. I have been scanned, probed, needled, cut, re-opened, re-cut, poisoned and nuked. The scars are fading to a less angry color of pink and the burnt skin is turning to tan. It's time to rest the body and heal and let the world of pharmaceuticals protect me from any Big C recurrence.
Today I started a five year regime of a one-a-day pill named Tamoxifen. This is because I have..I mean HAD a hormone sensitive receptor in my tumor. This drug blocks the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors and the effect of estrogen being produced in my body. Side effects are extremely menopausal sounding: weight gain, hot flashes, loss of libido, tiredness, aching joints, hair thinning (what! wait a minute...) and headaches.
And because I managed to escape the last two chemo treatments, I'm being injected once a month with an anti-cancer drug called Zoladex. That will decrease the estrogen and progesterone being produced. Side effects? Even MORE hot flashing, tiredness, decreased libido and weight gain. My waist-line is DOOMED!
Good thing I still have a cute butt. Oh wait...I won't care because I'll lose my sex drive. Maybe we should put the husbands on the same stuff at the same time? Slip a little into the bottle of wine he gets to drink the majority of. They say "alcohol in small amounts does not appear to affect" the use of these drugs. I hate how they let that hang. Meaning, we're not 100% sure if it does or doesn't at this point. What would YOU do when looking at having to go through all this again. Right, avoid the sauce for now. Actually, I've lost my taste for most of it. I'm quite content with the Saudi Champagnes ( sparkling water with a splash of white grape juice). If a VERY great bottle of wine gets cracked, I love a sampling. Not a glass, but a taste of it. Stressful days still demand a rye and water. I don't always finish it. Still, I do have moments like last weekend when I couldn't walk past the bottle of Baileys. Before anyone could witness it, I tipped the bottle to my mouth and took a big swallow. Then I walked away. It was all I wanted.
But for five years...I don't know about that. What I do know is it was time to start seriously slowing down on the 20+ drinks a week. Get it down to the recommended three to seven (4 ounce drinks) for women. Think of the calories I'll save. Between that and the loss of two pounds of hair and a half pound of breast, the scales are going to be friendlier for awhile yet.
What comes after this? I'm trying to spend some time working on the books and then plan on doing a cleanse and liver detoxification in two weeks. I'll make sure to fill you in on what we have planned for that. It's going to be a hot topic!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Breast MRI and Radiation Explained


Ahhh...there's nothing like a good night's sleep in your own bed! Thanks to our wonderful friends The Kearns for making sure the house and hot tub did not blow away during all the wind and snow storms they experienced.
I've been asked to explain more about the breast MRI and the radiation treatment that I have been through so will add the info to this blog.
After numerous mammograms and follow-up ultra sounds on my very dense breasts, Dr. V decided the next course of action would be a breast MRI, which at this time can not be done in PG. I travelled by myself to Vancouver, hopping a Sky Train, bus and ferry to get to North Vancouver. I spent the night in a motel, ordering pizza from across the street for dinner and in the morning rolled my suitcase the thirty minute walk to the Lions Gate hospital. Once there I was put into a hospital gown and housecoat and lead to a room where the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine awaited. I have had a brain MRI before and knew that I would be put on a steel table and slid into a long cylindrical "cigar tube" where the tests would begin with a series of long beep and boop sounds. The difference this time was that I was put face down on my chest with my breasts placed inside squares that had been cut out of the table. The problem with this is you are lying right on your diaphragm making it difficult to draw a full breath. Especially when you're not totally comfortable being in tight spaces to begin with.
A ball is placed in your right fist that you may squeeze if you need to come out, but they stress not to squeeze that ball unless it is absolutely necessary, otherwise they have to start all over again and no-one wants that. I recall lying in there reminding myself I had travelled a long way to have this done and as uncomfortable as it was, I made myself lie still until I didn't think I could do it anymore. You are given headphones that they play music and talk to you through. The sessions seem very long, other s quick, but the entire process still took forty minutes. Long enough for them to test both sides. Long enough for them to surprise us all with a detection of a suspicious miniature mass in the right breast that turned out to be cancerous. That MRI may very well have saved my life. It took 2 weeks to hear back and after that I saw a surgeon who sent me to Terrace for a biopsy. Four samples were taken, three of which did not hurt. I don't know what was different about the fourth except that it made my toes curl and the breath escape me. Owwwwww. What a wimp I was back then.
As for the radiation machine, same cold steel slab that you lie on, this time face up. You have been warned not to wear any deodorant or perfumed lotion on your skin, no necklaces or jewellery around your neck. Your arm on the affected side is raised up behind you, resting on a cushioned holder. The techs introduce themselves and start moving your torso this way and that. They draw little lines on your skin with a marker that later rubs off. You have two to four new pin-point blue tattooes on your flesh that will stay with you forever as a reminder not to ever radiate this same spot ever again. The techs then flick a switch operating two oblong light-covers that now illuminate a beautiful forest scene with a babbling brook running through it. This is what you look at as the gigantic head of the machine radiates you on one side of your body with steady humming noises before rotating up and over your chest to your other side. The techs leave the room. There are sliding and clicking noises as different parts of the head open and close, depending on what strength of radiation you are getting (or so I imagine?). The techs re-appear and lower your table to the floor. You hop off and wish them a nice day before heading off to change. You now have the rest of your day to yourself. Radiation was definitely the easiest part of the cancer experience, physically. Emotionally it is one of the hardest as you start to relax and remember all the things that you have been through the past 7 months. You weep both from joy and terror that the treatments are almost over. Your life is about to be back in your own hands and now is when you really face the fact that you just had a big bad brush with that scary "C" word.
All you can do is keep on breathing and enjoy the rest of the time you have left as best you can. I tell you, after all this, going to see the dentist is going to be a breeze!

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm Flying Again


Its actually a symptom of ADHD- the incredible highs and the bottom-of-the-barrel lows. I have virtually vibrated right out of my skin from powerful feelings of joy and then days later been weeping from how futile everything seemed. But when you're in that moment the world sparkles and it was in this space that I jogged to the Southern Interior Cancer Clinic for my last radiation treatment this morning. Indeed, the LAST treatment of this entire horrific roller coaster ride. I jogged not because I had a ton of energy because I don't this week. It's been steadily declining since Monday. I jogged because I was making a statement to myself. I had cancer but it did not beat me. I have made it through alive and still in one piece. I have two breasts, five scars a head of peach fuzz and nothing but the rest of an amazing, never-a-dull-moment life to look forward to. The suffering has ended, hopefully forever.
I am now officially a breast cancer survivor and will be until I die.
Today was the only time the techs were two young men, both who grinned broadly at the booming Yahoo! that was shouted as soon as the last beep of the radiation machine sounded. They pretended not to notice the tear marks streaking my cheeks as I leapt four feet off the steel bed I'd been on, not waiting for them to lower it. "Good-bye and good luck everyone," I threw over my shoulder at the people dressed in their hospital gowns waiting their turn to go in.
I changed, put my ear buds in, turned on the MP3 player and began the jog back to my Uncle's home.
Three streets later I slowed to a walk because I could no longer stop the flood of emotion overwhelming me. Inside my head was a movie playing every single moment of this entire experience. Like a powerpoint presentation of someone's life, I flashed upon, well, I just tried to write them all out but there are so many. Suffice to say I flashed and I flashed and the flood of tears kept coming with every incredible moment. The fear, the encouragement, the shock, the love, the pain, the calls, the concern, the small triumphs, the harsh realities, the rug being pulled out beneath my feet over and over, the look on Barry's face, the look on Sharon's face, on Sandi's, the arms that held me, the tears that mingled with mine, the strong hands that soothed me, relaxed me, assured me everything was going to be alright. Barry and Kim and Sandi and Jane and Sharon and Kelly and Dorothy and Terri and Carlie and Debbie and Grace, Jen, Marelize, and our families and the e-mails from old friends, the staff at all the doctors offices and clinics and hospitals- the astounding amount of people I have been funneled past-the young man on the t-bar that told me I was beautiful and didn't need my hair or my boobs to be so.
It's time to get another box down from the shelf inside my head. I am going to pack all these memories into it and put it somewhere safe. In a place that I can reach if I ever need to share the story with someone going through the same thing, but in a place behind me that I can move forward from.
I believe all things happen to us for a reason. I mean I TRULY believe this with all my heart. I was meant to go down that road and you were meant to be there with me. Thank you to everyone for every little or large action that you took, whether it was merely a smile or a kind word, a little surprise or a house to borrow.
The cancerous chains have come off of me and I feel like I'm finally flying again.
I'm going to relish this ecstasy as much as I can for as long as I can hang onto it.
We're starting the celebration with dinner out at the classy Yellow House restaurant. I guess we weren't meant to have dinner there on Valentine's Day, after all.
Funny how life turns out if you give it a chance to reveal itself.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentines Disaster


Hopefully most of you enjoyed a typical Valentine's Day. A little chocolate, a little appreciation, possibly dinner out. Barry bought me some ski poles last week that I needed to use with the new mitts I got for Christmas. The mitts are too big to put into my old wrist straps on poles I've been using since 1970-something. I said no flowers or chocolates were needed. I hope to be leaving in 5 days so the flowers would go to waste. (Yes, you know I SAID that but if flowers had appeared because someone insisted, what could I have done...? There haven't been any flowers this end of the cancer. Surgery and chemo yes. Radiation has been very, very different.) But it's not a big issue, honest.
So I am in charge of where to go for a special dinner. Someone recommends the Yellow House restaurant. Gourmet, delightful, seafood. I get the yellow pages out and phone in the reservation. The woman on the other end takes the rez and does not ask for my phone number. I offer it to her but she says it's not necessary. We all think that's funny (us and the fellow that recommended it).
Valentine's Day comes and we stand in the entranceway of the Yellow House after an argument over where to park. A waitress laden with heaped salad plates walks by and we know her. It's Holly Sault's daughter Meaghan! What a pleasant surprise. This is going to be a fun night. Until they can't seem to find our reservation in a booked schedule. It turns out later I booked us at the Yang Japanese House, the number above the Yellow House in the yellow page directory. No one wants to eat Japanese tonight. Yes, a big argument ensued. "I told you to re-check the reservation Monday morning." Who the heck re-checks a reservation, I counter. Sheesh. Yes, he brought up the missing cell phone, the carpet in the bedroom with the old inlay in one corner that he has resented my over-looking six years ago, the deck I put $2000 of Hard Rock on that has since bubbled up and flaked off. Why won't I ever listen to him? He is ALWAYS right. His way is THE way we should do everything.
The result? I almost had an accident driving us straight back home at 200 mph and stuffing the vehicle into my Uncle's driveway, wanting to bash the suburban straight through the garage door. A huff upstairs, more shouting and I undress in seconds. I spend Valentine's evening snuggled up with Homer the bear and a chocolate bar.
It's so us. And I have a feeling this is going to get worse, way worse. As if my life wasn't on borrowed time as it was. I'm thinking the whole absurdity took another week off my life. Why does everything have to be so stressful? Why can't we just laugh at all of these screw-ups and just keep going? Why does Barry think he can fix me? Is this a cancer treatment problem or am I going to be like this the rest of my life? I think I HAVE been like this for fifty years and you know what? It doesn't really bother me. Too bad it bothers someone else so much. Think of the calories we saved. My pants are definitely a bit looser today. I LOVE that feeling.
I think next year I am going to ignore Valentine's Day. Because this isn't the first time this has happened and I can tell you it's not going to be the last. If I could only find that darned cell phone (and my gloves and my watch!)! Then maybe I'd have a half a leg to stand on.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life Goes On


I can see the light at the end of this long tunnel. Only 7 more treatments to go. The shopping bug has finally died off: the sales have been incredible and I have acquired 3 new coats, new ski pants, skis, poles, reading glasses and some miscellaneous clothes. I am currently on "official notice" with my husband and the credit card.
My brother Dan is here visiting and we're celebrating his birthday prematurely while we have him. Its also called an excuse to indulge in a death-by-chocolate cake tonight. Off to visit some wineries today and then we'll feed him a wild grouse dinner with all the trimmings.
We hit the powder on Monday after a spectacular dump of snow on Super Bowl Sunday. Seems my luck has officially returned as I won two door prizes and the football pool of $100 cash. What a night! I'll have to resume the lottery ticket purchases.
Things are going well. The radiation is causing some pins and needle sensations but my energy is still up and the moods are manageable. Hot flashes continue on a regular basis and act as a shock collar for when I get really angry. I have to calm down before they pass, so maybe they're a good thing? What a strange time we're in.
If you haven't seen the movies The Kings Speech and Black Swan yet, make sure you do. They are both excellent. The first is humorous, the second a dark tale of a woman's struggle to release her inhibitions. I'm still haunted by the latter.
Things are good and may they be with you as well. Life just keeps going on!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Not An Easy Job

It's almost like a work schedule.
I have a little blue card with my name and number on it. Inside the card are written the dates and times I am to arrive for my next radiation treatment. They range from 8:48 am to 4:26 pm on Monday to Friday and some days there are two times as I have to see the Oncologist as well.
We have purchased a parking pass for the month for under $4. It seems like such a small lot for all of the people coming and going but everyone only stays for thirty minutes at a time so there always seems to be a spot to stuff the suburban.
I have been given my own hospital gown and housecoat to take with me every day that I come. Its up to me to wash and take care of. I was wondering if they would mind me attaching some lace and rhinestones to it. It's dowdy enough to plummet even the cheeriest.
Once inside the cancer clinic, I head down radiation alley, passing stations named The Cabin, The Lake, The Park, arriving at The Hills with mere minutes to spare. I am to place my little blue card in a slot marked "drop off" on a desk that no-one is seated at. Someone will eventaully notice that I have arrived by the card being in this slot.
I get changed in the room across from my station, taking all my clothes with me into the waiting area. There's a jig saw puzzle on the table for anyone to work on, stacks of magazines, a water fountain and a heated blanket machine for you to help yourself to. Maybe I could crawl inside- it's -12C again today.
I'm cranky and not in the mood for the cold fingers of the radiation technicians as they pull my torso this way and push my butt that way to line up their co-ordinates. They mark on my skin with a felt pen each time I come. There is a green lighted line I can see mirrored in the head of the radiation machine that runs from beneath my armpit down along my body. Today there is a young man joining the usual two young women working on me. I make a face at having to bare myself yet again to another trainee and wonder at my childishness. It's just another old lady boob to him.
My arm is stretched over my head and now they all leave the room. The machine whirrs and beeps, then after a few minutes it moves to the other side of my body where it repeats the process of noises. In ten minutes the techs return and I am already out of position, redraping myself, and trying to get off the steel slat I've been lying on.
"See you tomorrow," I call out, like its a job. In many ways it feels like one, a very depressing job.
Back in the change room I pull the recommended skin cream from my bag and slather the coolness across my warm breast. I know it will get warmer as the day goes on, so I want to be right on top of keeping everything chilled. I get dressed and walk to The Hills reception cubicle where my little blue card is now in the "pickup" slot.
And I'm done for the day. But the technicians have only started.
I stop to wonder how they feel about all this? Having to see this never-ending stream of people battling cancer. Old ones, young ones. Ones that arrive in wheelchairs or jog in like I did yesterday.
I come to the conclusion it's not an easy job for any of us.