Simply Grateful

So yesterday I was officially declared “cancer free” for the 3rd year in a row by the Dent Doctor.  ***smiley face, smiley face, smiley face, and then some more smiley faces***

And just like that, I have another significant cancerversary under my (ever increasing!) belt.

I have been inundated over the last two months with Facebook memories – aren’t they a wonderful invention – a big round of applause to the Facebook developers – some fun and not so fun trips down the memory highway!

Well, September and October brought a string of pics and posts about surgeries and chemo starts, and for most part they were quite a shock.  And not for the reasons you may think. I actually wasn’t (that) traumatised by the memories they invoked.  Nope.  Mostly, I was completely shocked by the fact that both Pete and I, had by some strange turn of events, forgotten the actual second, minute and even more bizarrely, the day of each one of those events.  Something I had previously assumed would be burnt into our psyches FOREVER!

So therefore yesterday’s routine 6th month check up to the Dent Doc should equally have been handled with exactly the same attention to detail.   (After all there wasn’t anything I was particularly concerned about). And it was, for the most part.  Right up until I went for my bloods on Tuesday, and until I went to sleep on Wednesday night, and until I walked into the cancer centre, and until I waited while he took an emergency call regarding a patient receiving palliative care, or while I waited for him to announce the results of his examination and my blood tests.  Yes, up until then, I was good…

And it was all good!  ***smiley face, smiley face and then some more smiley faces***

So this morning I woke up with a renewed understanding of one simple word….grateful.

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Bionic Boobs: The Advantages

So you would think that there are not many advantages to having bionic boobs, right?

Well, you would be wrong: No worrying about saggy boobs, even if I lived to be 100!  There’s also the fact that I can flex them like a professional muscle man… umm person, thanks to them lying directly underneath my pecs… and then there’s …..umm, well okay, that’s pretty much all I can think of right now…

So despite all these (two) cool benefits, the one thing I thought would really work for me  – seeing as at the moment  I wasn’t planning a professional muscle building career or perhaps living to see 100 – was the fact that 2 x bionic boobs meant NO mammograms…. for life… like never, ever!   A serious bonus all you ladies having your regular mammograms would attest to – am I right???

Weeeell apparently not, as I find myself booked in for… you guessed it… a mammogram next week!

The last time I saw the Dent Doc, he wanted me to have a CT scan to check that there were not tumours lurking in any organs.  And I can say, very happily, that block was ticked!  He also wanted me to have a specific scan concentrating only on my chest area to make sure that there were no signs of a recurrence of the cancer.  Now you may ask why on earth would I ever need to worry about that –I don’t have any “real” boobs after all.  Well, to get technical for a moment, apparently no matter how carefully my surgeon may have been at removing ALL of my breast tissue, there would still undoubtedly be remnants left somewhere, which in turn equals possible sites for a recurrence. He explained to me that all the research he had done indicated that yearly chest MRI scans were the best way of detecting this possibility.

So long story short:  My medical aid will not approve a chest MRI unless the results of a mammogram and ultra sound are inconclusive.   I actually laughed at the Medical aid rep who told me that.  Like duh lady…I have no boobs, so how would you propose I squash these bionic puppies flat in a mammogram thingy machine in order to possibly see anything of significance, without doing serious damage!

Well apparently the joke’s on me.

Dr B says that they will be absolutely fine, no chance of rupturing.  She said she’s been assured that you could drive over them and they would not spring a leak!  I’m a bit nervous of Pete finding that one out as I’m sure he would be tempted to try!

So another positive to add to the growing list of bionic boob advantages:  if the end of the world comes, apparently cockroaches would not be the only things to survive!

And now that I’ve been re-assured of not popping these suckers, I worry more about the discomfort level of having pec muscles squished in the mammogram thingy machine …oh yes, and from the sounds of it, being responsible for them actually damaging the mammogram thingy machine!

EiSH!

“My breasts are so low now I can have a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time”. Joan Rivers

“On a personal note: I have contracted an outstanding case of breast cancer, from which I intend to recover. I don’t need get-well cards, but I would like the beloved women readers to do something for me: Go. Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Done.” Molly Ivins

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Reflections on a Christmas Eve #2

And so Christmas Eve 2015 is upon us. And while doing some last minute and unexpected grocery shopping this morning (yip, I know – what WAS I thinking, right?!), I took a moment to observe my fellow shoppers going about their various retail pursuits.

I was immediately struck by the seemingly lack of Christmas Spirit happening around me! It appeared that most were either hurrying around totally unfocused, driving their trolleys like deliberate perpetrators of road rage, parking said trolley illegally or blocking up access to shelves; or wandering aimlessly with vacant eyes from one aisle to the next, getting in the way of the fore mentioned “Trolley Road Ragers”.

The one common factor linking both these groups I noted, was that no-one was buying the makings of tomorrows delicious Christmas lunches and / or eleventh hour beautifully wrapped gifts, presumably for their loved ones, with purpose and happy hearts. So what in fact, I found myself asking, was the point?

After collecting what I needed and negotiating my way through disgruntled shoppers at the tills, AND after witnessing a fight over my recently vacated parking spot, I was reminded of a very well-known quote. One I felt compelled to share as Pete and I watch the sun set on yet (gratefully) another Christmas Eve…

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Updates on My Friend Fynn

So as Day 2 of cycle 6 gets underway for my friend Fynn (yes a 2 night stay in hospital with 2 consecutive days of chemo!), I wanted to share two quotes especially for Fynn.

Not from some famous stranger or  long dead celebrity but from two people who love and care for him the most.  Two people who have found themselves living a nightmare for the past year, but who continue to inspire with their honesty and strength despite exhausted spirits; and with unwavering devotion to their children and to each other.

It’s easy to see who Fynn gets his tenacious spirit from…

 

“So what have I learnt from this year of hell?

I have learned that we are more resilient that we give ourselves credit for;
That life just happens, and you can’t rationalise it;
That the only true freedom you have is how you react to what is thrown at you;
That having a tribe makes a major difference in your ability to choose how you will react;
That everyone has to deal with pain and suffering and that it is contextual;
That you cannot compare or rate a person’s pain;
That to be human is to suffer; and
that with the embrace of love you can deal with anything.”  – Brad (Fynn’s Dad)

 

“It is strange how life goes… Almost a year ago our lives were unsuspectingly overturned. We had no choice. We do not want this path. Our dreams and hopes for ourselves and our children have had to be realigned. You parents of non-cancer children cannot understand this statement, and that is not accusatory in any way, it just is. And this statement also applies to our non-cancer child, our strong willed and oh so-not-blessed-in-the-vocal-talent-department-but-who-the-heck-cares-it-is-FROZEN girl. Each of us is irrevocably changed by this.

BUT – here is the thing. We find ourselves in a strange place of peace, and not resignation, just peace. Acceptance of the way it is and acceptance of the way forward. Please don’t think we love this and are happy here, but it is what it is, and we are here, and we are.

We are proud of Fynn and his indomitable spirit, his compliance and his attitude. He never gives up. That does not mean he is not sad and lonely and frustrated and angry, but he is a fighter- he does not give up.

We are proud of Kady for accepting that she is a little girl a bit sidelined, but loved no less. We are proud she got 12 out of 12 on her spelling test today,even though I personally think 5 is too young for spelling tests, mmmm!

As a family, Brad, Sandra, Fynn and Kady, we are here, and we are ok.

Thank you all for loving and accepting us through all of this, even the bits that have not been so pretty. This “clearing in the forest” may be a temporary stop, and we are too aware of that, but we are ok right here, right now.” – Sandra (Fynn’s mom)

Phone calls

So this week I got the phone call to attend my very first hospital visit as a trainee Breast Cancer Support volunteer!

At this stage I have to shadow another volunteer until I am properly trained and confident enough to visit patients on my own.

THEY call it the buddy system: someone for me to observe and learn from. I’m calling it having a “handler”: someone to prevent me from immediately launching into the full, uncut run down of my own experiences, and frightening the patients!

My handler is a breast cancer survivor of 21 years – you cannot imagine how reassuring that is for a patient to hear.

Although it was only her second day post mastectomy, our patient had already been told that she would need to undergo chemo and radiation once she was sufficiently healed. Understandably she was still coming to terms with that….

My handler mentioned to her that I had recently completed both these treatments and that if she had any questions for me, she was free to ask.

**As I sat there nodding and smiling***

Hang on, WHAT?

I was expected to give input, like as in right now?

They were prepared to unleash the untrained beast?

What if I said the wrong thing and put this poor woman into a downward spiral; after all I may not be the best person to ask – I was initially so conflicted about all the treatments, especially chemo!

What if she asked me how I felt about having the treatment?

Or heaven forbid: How I had come to terms with it?

EISH! How could I not have thought about this earlier? What could or should I say?

I wasn’t sure that giving her the full story was appropriate: the tantrums, the tears, the constant lists of mental pros and cons?

I know I started sweating! Not sure if it was due to the fear of saying the wrong thing, stage fright with both of them looking directly at me, or just a hot flush…

I was practically in 100% meltdown mode when she asked me how I had felt about losing my hair.

Strangely enough, THAT I felt pretty comfortable talking about…

You will be pleased to know that the rest of the visit went well and my handler did not have to physically restrain me at any stage 🙂

But it really got me thinking about how and when my attitude towards the chemotherapy actually HAD changed. The memories of my Mom undergoing chemo were less than comforting, and I remembered writing those posts a year ago, so filled with trepidation, hopelessness and real dread…

So today I went back and re-read the post I wrote on my very first day of chemo – it seemed as though it was written by another, calmer, accepting version of me – so what had exactly changed in those few days?

Well, there were the phone calls…

The phone calls from Pete’s uncle who himself was undergoing chemo at the time and who had recently lost his wife to cancer.

He called to give me some pointers and to let me know what to expect when I arrived at my local Chemo Suite. He was open and honest but reassuring as he talked me through the process.

He gave me practical advice on what foods to avoid before and after chemo, what I should drink and what to pack for my chemo days.

We chatted about the people he met at the Cancer centre, the staff and the care. It was like having someone on the inside, someone who actually understood the foreign land I was about to enter. His voice was measured and calm and in turn the chaos and turmoil in my mind seemed to slowly quieten down.

So when I stepped into that room on that first day of chemo, instead of feeling totally overwhelmed, I was resigned, composed and prepared….

Over the next few months he would call to see how I was coping and would willingly answer all sorts of questions I had about ports etc. In talking to him I could get 2 perspectives on things: what it was like to be the person battling with cancer and what it was like having to watch someone they loved battle the disease. He always maintained that was definitely harder to be on the other side and that I also needed to be mindful of what Pete may be feeling. It was great advice…

Last week when Pete and I flew back from Cape Town we stopped off to say Hi, and although he was not in a great place with his own health, he was far more interested in telling us how thrilled he was that I was now Cancer free; AND hearing all about OUR holiday! I will never forget what he said about how great it was that we were taking time out to travel and how important it was to always do the things we wanted to do NOW and not to put them off for a later day that may never come…

So this morning we got another kind of phone call………

RIP Ken, and Thank You, you will never be forgotten.

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“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone” Pablo Picasso

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.RR Tolkien

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.” Kurt Vonnegut

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” J.K Rowling

The Cape, Park runs and battles

Today I’m typing away at 3300ft above the ground hurtling back towards home at 900km / hour.

Pete and I have had the most amazing few days in our beloved Cape Town. Out of all the travels I have been lucky enough to experience, CT is definitely one of my favourites! No passports, no visas, no holiday days wasted in a plane to get there and believe me the less time I spend in a plane the better! I am what you may call, not-a-good-flyer and by the look of Pete’s red hand and the embedded nail marks, he may possibly agree!

We stayed in Fish Hoek, a beautiful seaside village, overlooking the sea! Total bliss…. and you know how I feel about the sea.

View from our Fish Hoek home

View from our Fish Hoek home

The days consisted of beach walks, numerous scenic drives, a trip to a spa for a massage, afternoon high tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel (a definite MUST if you find yourself in the Mother City), G’s & T’s or rather G’s and Dry Lemon on our balcony and loads of scrummy food (think I will be avoiding Megan for a VERY long while!

Me and Table Mountain

Me and Table Mountain

Pete at Kirstenbosch gardens

Pete at Kirstenbosch gardens

To be fair we tried to balance it all out with lots of walking and also did our first Park run outside our own hood! Fortunately those 5kms made up for all the bad things we ate………….. NOT!!!!

Fish Hoek Park run was rather scenic, neither of us managed a PB, despite the flat course – I blame the single track in parts, certainly not the extra kgs from the delicious food the day before and certainly not the stoppages for photo ops and scenery appreciation!

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I think the most unforgettable thing about it though, was the conversation I overheard while coming into the home straight, or rather home curve via a wooden bridge and over a few mini sand dunes (more like speed bumps) and to the left of the most stunning clump of wild flowers…..anyway, as I was hurtling past a startled pair of tweens – I like to think it was due to my powerful speed walking gait, but realistically it was probably the wheezing and bright red face courtesy of a badly timed hot flush and the 4 and 3/4 km I had just completed…

***OK the captain has cued the seat belt fastening sign due to some turbulence ahead, which is also my cue to reinforce those nail marks in Pete’s right hand……..excuse me for a moment….!***

AND I’m back! Don’t you hate it when there’s always that one passenger that screams………?

Ok so where was I…. oh yes……so there we were, me the wheezing red glowing beacon and the two tweens…. the girl tween says to the boy tween, “oh my gosh look at my Dad, he’s running” to which the boy tween responds dryly as only a boy tween can do, ” duh isn’t that what hez suppozed to do – isn’t your dad like a serious runner or sumthing”. I must say my first thought was: duh dude clearly he’s not a great runner if he was only slightly ahead of me, a walker, in the bottom end of the field! But at the same time, somewhere way in the back of my mind, I was a bit confused by the awe and something very close to pride in her voice. CLEARLY the poor chap was a reformed couch potato on his journey to complete his first ever run – Ag shame man how sweet is that I thought – in a tone only a veteran of 8 park runs could muster.

Once again my focus returned to the path in front of me as I wondered where the heck this course finished – I very nearly missed the next part of the conversation…..

Tween Girl: “yes, but you don’t understand, he had a bad fall and shattered his knee, he didn’t think he could ever run again”.

Oh wow….did I feel reprimanded for my rather condescending thoughts!

Immediately I was reminded of how easily and how quickly assumptions about others are made. So often ready to accept our first impressions without ever really bothering to stop and check our own prejudices let alone the facts before cementing them as truths and moving on. Definitely without ever having even a clue as to what battles are being fought, won or lost daily.

I must say after that little lesson on appreciation, I finished my 5k’s with a smile on my bright red face!

Pete and I thought we would like to start our own Park run bucket list challenge….. to do as many different Park Runs as we can manage locally and hopefully internationally, at some point. So we shall be saving our pennies for the next trip…..

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato
“Your battles inspired me – not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.”
― James Joyce
“You don’t win battles with hate. Anger and hate can make you brave, make you strong, but they also make you stupid. You end up tripping over your own two feet.” (Hadrian)”

“The battle you are going through is not fuelled by the words or actions of others; it is fuelled by the mind that gives it importance.”
― Shannon L. Alder

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Jacques Yves Cousteau