I wrote this first part in early August….
As I near the end of the acute phase of cancer treatments I’m lifting my head to look around and beginning to acknowledge that what-if hole that was too scary to look into during treatment. The one that whispers in the dark “what if you hadn’t gone to the doctor to check out that swollen lymph node…”, what if your doctor hadn’t sent you for more testing…”, “what if it comes back….”
Up until this point I’ve been in-the-moment focused on being THE BEST at kicking cancer’s butt and as a result there’s been very little room for dealing with the emotional side of things. A good friend who is going through her own cancer journey gently warned me months ago that this was coming. Day by day I’m slowly unpacking what I’ve been going through for the past nine months and seeing how I and my family are being changed by this experience. A year ago I was heads-down busy at work (a pace at which I love), frustrated at how long it was taking for my paramedic precepting shifts to be rescheduled (so hard for a control freak like me), buying new ski gear, focusing on winter, my favourite season. Four months later none of that mattered. I’m now learning to let go of things, to be less uptight and loosen my expectations of those around me.
I’ve been following Adam Campbell’s recovery from the death of his wife (among other things) and in a recent article he was quoted as saying “The more vulnerable you allow yourself to be, the more vulnerable people are back to you, and that allows you to have even deeper, more intimate connections.” and “The biggest thing for me is allowing myself to be open with others, to share what I’m going through and let them try to help,” he says. They call. They check in. People want to be there if you’ll let them.” Boom. Let those words sink in for a second.
It’s a powerfully written article that I strongly suggest you check out especially if you’re in the outdoor community.
Right now it feels like I’m on the last lap of a hard race that I don’t want to be in anymore. I said that to Christina the other day and she coached me to fast forward to a re-creation of the image of me crossing the finish line at BC Bike Race the first time I did it. It was quite a tough week of racing and in the last 100m or so I was overcome with emotion (there may have been a Steph Green’esque woman standing on the sidewalk jumping up and down and cheering that set me off) and thus crossed the finish line in tears. Jess (her famous curls in the photo below), Helen and other friends were there to engulf me in hugs. Holding onto those feelings as I head into the last of the radiation treatments…..
Well…. I started this post in early August and here it is the end of September. I needed to step away from this blog, away from being Cancer Patient Janet, while I figured out who I am now and what’s next. Natasha had finished law school and her bar exams and was planning her big move to NYC so I focused on supporting her. I don’t go back to Ecofish until mid-December so dove into the physical side of healing and back into my SAR life with a vengeance. I kept thinking that I wanted to write a blog post that would neatly wrap things up but I’ve since learned that with cancer there is no neat-and-tidy end point.
Radiation was physically easy. The 10-15 minutes per day at the hospital reminded me of when Natasha was in part-day kindergarten. More of a hassle than it seemed to be worth. I spent the first four days in Victoria at an AirBnB hanging out with my family. All of us double vaxxed, my Mom came to stay with me and I got to hug her for the first time in almost a year. For the remaining eleven treatments I just drove back and forth between Nanaimo and Victoria. Andy will tell you how much I love driving, and honestly I think it was a good time for me to process. By the end I had it down to a little over four hours door-to-door. I joked on Instagram one day that I had a personal best time car-to-car of 12 min. That I should have Strava’d it. I would totally have got QOM. One friend who’s a competitive cyclist said she nearly fell off her chair laughing at that.
There are people standing at the door of the BC Cancer Agency who remind me of store greeters. Their job is to ask you the COVID questions, watch you sanitize your hands and put on a new mask. The greeters and radiation technicians quite often mentioned that I look like I’m in a hurry (I was) or that I’ve got things to do (I did….get out of there!) I felt self conscious about the fact that I moved so fast and with so much energy when I was there so I used to tell the greeters that I had to go to the bathroom as an excuse as to why I was walking so fast. The energy in the BC Cancer Agency is subdued and slow and I always tried to be really respectful that others were handling their cancer chapter differently from me.
The emotional side of things during radiation and the weeks afterwards was not so easy and that took me by surprise. It was hard. Like, really fucking hard. There was a lot of deep diving into my positive mental attitude toolkit supported by Andy, Ativan, frequent check-in texts from close friends, and long walks in the woods with the dogs to keep me out of the what-if hole.
I did celebrate the end of what I’m calling the “acute phase” of my cancer treatments however (poison-cut-burn as someone aptly referred to it as). I bought a new climbing rope, got outside to climb a couple of times and went out on a some SAR call outs. My SAR teammates bought me treats for a surprise celebration after practice…then we had two call-outs during that practice so we gobbled them up unceremoniously at the end. Seemed apropos for SAR life.
Because my tumour was estrogen positive (estrogen stimulated its growth) I’ve started on a ten year course of Letrosole, an anti-aromatase drug that inhibits the formation of estrogen. Like any drug, this one comes with fabulous side effects , these ones mimic menopause, something that I sailed through previously. The hot flashes, albeit minor compared to other women, are back, my muscles are achy if I don’t keep moving, and I run a long term risk of osteoporosis. To combat the potential for decreased bone density I’m continuing weight bearing exercise (aka “living my normal life”), taking a variety of supplements and once my dental work is done I’ll be going into to the hospital every three months for infusions of another drug. Just before I was diagnosed I was scheduled to have a molar pulled and replaced with an implant. The infusions have a rare-but-not-that-rare side effect that invasive dental work can cause bone degeneration in the jaw. So….later this month I get to have that molar removed. Great. Who doesn’t love invasive dental work…. #funtimes
All-in-all things are going well right now despite the little and not-so-little reminders that I’m still Cancer Patient Janet. My strength and cardio suck so I worry about how my body is going to handle patrolling this season, my body is stiff and aches in the morning or if I sit on the couch too long, my brain is still foggy sometimes and I have to work harder to control my infamous temper at times. But, in the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to get back into the mountains and to ride bikes with good friends, treat Natasha and I (and the dogs of course) to a luxurious four days in Tofino, try to remember how to train dogs, and help Natasha with her move to NYC to start her career. I think I’m off to a pretty good start on this “maintenance phase” of cancer. Just keep swimming as Dory would say.
Oh, for those of you who have been wondering…. am keeping the buzz cut….. LOL