Monday, 13 October 2014

I am thankful for...

I find the sound of dropping barbells soothing. The symphony of grunting people working hard to move heavy weight makes me smile, and I live for the ruckus that indicates someone has bested their own record. Effort is noisy, I like it that way. The crossfit gym is my normal, my sanctuary, and the one place that I can rely on to make me forget for a time that I am a Cancer Patient, and remind me that the title does not have come at the exclusion of normal life. People often say how great it is just that I make it there to exercise at all. But I have come to associate the sounds of the gym with a powerful feeling of knowledge of my own strength, and trust in my body’s ability to heal itself and overcome. It would take restraints to keep me from accessing that feeling first hand; I can’t imagine a scenario where not going would even be an option.

On September 6, 2014, my cancerversary passed by. It has now been an entire year since my diagnosis. Given the enormity of what has transpired in this last year, perhaps it is a bit odd that I find myself sitting here reflecting on how incredibly fortunate I am. But then again, maybe it’s an entirely appropriate thing to be doing….

The moment I announced my diagnosis, my CrossFit Altitude family was planning a fundraiser. I hadn’t even thought about needing money, when the JY Pi fundraiser was already happening. People I didn’t even know showed up for a workout, donated generously, and by the end of the day I was standing there with nearly $5000 stuffed into an envelope. Hoping I would never need it, I put the money into a fund and, together with my cousin, started a foundation called Love the Snatch to continue raising funds for cervical cancer research. Since then, many generous box owners have given me space to sell Love the Snatch t-shirts, many supportive crossfitters have bought them, and some amazing Masters athletes have donated during the first Masters Only Fun Competition at CrossFit Altitude, raising almost $10,000 more over the next few months for our foundation.

As it turns out, I have chemo resistant metastases, and am in need of money after all to afford experimental treatments that are not covered by OHIP. So, on Sept 27th, 2014, exactly one year (less one day) after JY Pi, I found myself the slightly uncomfortable center of attention once more as the Ontario CrossFit community (and my awesome family, "common law" family, and work colleagues) came together again for the 2nd Masters Only Fun Competition and Fundraiser for Love the Snatch. People donated their time and money even more generously than before, and after competition registration, BBQs, raffles, and silent auctions, in only a few hours I was left with SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS in a Rubbermaid bin.  The alarming thought is that this would only cover ONE chemo treatment if not for my private insurance, which covers 80%. As it is, I am fortunate that the funds raised will cover the chemo co-pay, some additional complimentary therapy, and even provide a small buffer should I be required to travel in future for trials.

If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m a rather verbose person. As coach Jen addressed the event volunteers, competitors and spectators to tell them about me and the reason we had come together, I could think of absolutely nothing to say that would even come close to describing what it means to someone fighting for their lives, to anyone for that matter, to feel so wholly and completely loved by everyone around you.

Before the JY Pi fundraiser, the O’Quinns had some of those rubber “cause” bracelets made up in teal and white for cervical cancer, with the clever phrase that has since become the slogan for Love the Snatch: “kicking cancer, one snatch at a time”. I’ve worn that bracelet every day for the last year as a reminder.

When I see that bracelet, I think about all of you who have made me soup, given me a ride, offered a ride, or even just suggested your favourite Netflix show. I remember all of the encouraging stories you’ve told about your loved ones who have survived, and your conviction that I will do the same. I think about how CrossFit Games competitor Michele Letendre won a local competition and then gave me half of her winnings. In the last year I have lost most of my strength, but when I see my little rubber bracelet I recall what strength feels like; it channels my own feeling of strength, collects all of your well wishes en route, and culminates in what I can only describe as confidence. I wear my bracelet to remind myself, not that I am a Cancer Patient, but that some day, I won’t be one anymore.

So there you have it. I owe you all for not only about $12,000, but also for the confidence that I will survive. A certainty, I believe, which is necessary for actually accomplishing that goal.

I’m a very independent person. I don’t like needing help, and I don’t accept it easily. How can I possibly ever adequately express my gratitude, much less repay you all, when I feel as though I quite literally owe you all my life? I can’t. Instead, I shall endeavour to give you your money’s worth by not dying. And perhaps make you a bowl of soup next time you find yourself in need J


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Health Update: science fails, provincial drug coverage, and melting butt muscles

It has been pointed out that I haven't done any sort of update in some time. I haven't got anything insightful or interesting to say but for anyone who hasn't talked to me directly and cares to be in the know, here it is.

Everything since April

This past April I had finished my chemo and radiation, and was scheduled to have a hysterectomy, which was to be the final step in my treatment. When I went for my pre-op blood work, my creatinine was inexplicably high and I was sent for an ultrasound to check my kidney function.  My kidneys turned out to be totally normal but while I was there, the tech asked me if I would hang around for some extra imaging; they had ultrasound vendors there that day and she wanted to scan me on all machines for comparison. Being more agreeable than the 85 year old man the next curtain over who really had to pee, I stayed in the name of science. Seeing as how my kidney was normal and boring, she decided to scan my liver to check out the spots we'd been monitoring.

Even though the liver spots had been stable throughout my chemo, now they were bigger. The universe did me a solid that day because without that high creatinine, and the aptly timed ultrasound vendor, I would not have had my liver spots checked until after surgery, and goodness knows what state I would be in.

So, I had another CT scan, which revealed 6 total spots (formerly only 2), and I was referred to a liver surgeon who determined it wasn't possible to just cut them out (since it was likely that they would miss some that were not visible on the CT). I had a biopsy (a strange procedure where you are required to hold your breath while they stab you so that your liver doesn't move....) to confirm that it was indeed the same cancer (SCCC), which it was.

After a referral to a new oncologist with experience dealing with matastases and non-reproductive parts, I got started on a new chemo regimen. In the meantime, I signed up to have my tumor sent to Princess Margaret in Toronto to have my DNA sequenced. This is a relatively new thing where they look for the mutation that caused your cancer and if they can find one, sometimes there is a targeted therapy for that mutation.

The last couple of weeks

Last week I found out that my chemo wasn't working. Yesterday I found out that they could not find an "actionable" mutation. Ballsack.

So my last ditch effort (well, not last, but the last thing that I have any confidence in presently) is to try a chemo cocktail that has worked for a few women in my support group with my rare breed of cancer.

Unfortunately, this chemo is not covered in Ontario by OHIP. Our province/country is very good at covering the costs of cancer treatment, for the most part. The issue is that it approves coverage for drugs for which there is evidence of curing the disease. Unfortunately, lots of drugs only have evidence of extending life (for a matter of months rather than years), especially newer drugs, and these drugs are not covered. In addition, it matters what type of cancer you're talking about, and sometimes even what drug combo; I can't go try a chemo that worked for someone with breast cancer without some evidence that it will work for my type as well. This is an extra problem for someone like me with a rare type, where there are no trials to accumulate said evidence because A) the funding isn't there, and B) it is difficult to get enough of us in once place at once time to actually conduct a trial. While a sample size of 3 is sufficient evidence for me to want to try this chemo, it's hardly scientific.

Incidentally, that is one reason we started Love the Snatch Foundation, to raise money for a fund at MD Anderson, the only place that is trying to do research that might end up saving my life.

So, my oncologist is arranging for me to have this promising cocktail at a private clinic, which bothers me on principle (two-tiered medical system and such), but I have no choice if I want to try them. Fortunately, I think my private insurance is going to cover 80% of the cost, which is AMAZING. This still leaves ~$1000 per cycle for me to cover (I have no idea how many cycles will be necessary), but that's a heck of a lot better than no coverage at all.

In other news, I am also looking into cannibis oil, which is an extract from the marijuana leaf and is taken orally in pill form (not smoked, nor eaten in brownies :). There is science for anti-cancer effects (not just treatment for nausea) out of Italy and Spain. We never see it here in North America, but I suspect this has more to do with the drug culture than with its efficacy. Regardless, it is a rather easy thing to do with relatively little risk (I'd rather be high than poisoned by chemo, thanks very much), and I'd feel silly not trying it if it turned out to work and, ironically, I can claim it on my taxes. I am presently obtaining my license to possess and get it ready made as I do not relish the notion of brewing the stuff on my back porch....

Edit: So, apparently cannibis oil is still illegal in Canada. I can get my medical cannibis note all filled out by my doctor, but the new licensed distributors are only allowed to sell me the dried weed. So, what health canada is telling me, is that I have to either smoke it or vaporize it, I can't legally extract the good bits and put them in a pill, which could be tested to know it's exact contents in order to maintain a constant dose (and in order to get a sufficiently large dose to have therapeutic effects and not just solve my nausea). Awesome. This article sums up the current situation nicely.

In OTHER other news, I'm still keeping up with my crossfit! Although my butt muscles have ceased to function properly and my ass has visibly disintegrated. My pants are embarrassingly baggy, I can hardly squat my own self, nevermind a bar, and sometimes when I'm walking around my legs randomly buckle under me. My arms have remained relatively less affected so I'm currently working under the assumption that pelvic radiation has affected things somehow, although the effects seem to be somewhat delayed as I did not notice debilitating weakness for several months.

After bursting into tears in the middle of the gym when I couldn't get back up from a squat, coach Jen has taken it upon herself to find me interesting, effective, and less depressing alternatives. Every workout now contains a heavy sled push, sprinkled with whatever torture device Jen devises for that day. This week, it was a rope climb machine, which was much safer than actually climbing (since I never know these days what my body is going to manage), but most definitely just as effective for the upper body and core, if not more so.


I look like an eyeless flukeworm here but, you get the picture :)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Fear and Inspiration

Some days, I feel optimistic, defiant, and confident that I will survive the cervical cancer that, as it turns out, has also been hanging out in my liver all along.

Saturday was not one of those days.

When I was first diagnosed 9 months ago, I had no fear and few doubts . I was nervous about the side effects of treatment, and sad about the losses they implied, but I wasn’t afraid. I knew this would just be a temporary state of being en route to wellness and a return to normal (or at least a return to some sort of new equilibrium).

People were constantly telling me how inspired they were by my attitude but frankly, the admiration made me a little uncomfortable. My situation was life altering in many ways, certainly, but it wasn’t (I believed) life threatening and, except for the option of fertility, it wasn’t even permanent. Be inspired by people who remain positive when faced with permanent or life threatening changes, I thought. I’m only staying positive because I haven’t really got much to worry about anyway...

Well, I have rather a lot more to worry about now, and I’m not sure I’m entirely successful at being the positive person people have come to expect. The game changes when the cancer moves. When people start using words like “metastatic”, “advanced”, “inoperable”, “late-stage”, “palliative”... When you learn that tumor mutations can only be identified about half the time, and only another half of those have targeted therapies, which will only increase your likelihood of benefit from 5% to a “whopping” 30%... When they tell you that your cancer will likely never really go away, and try to focus you on the more immediate goal of shrinking it... When you happen to speak science, so you’ve read the literature, and you know that you’ll get checked in the “win” column simply by living an extra 3 months on the trial drug... When two more women in your support group died from this today, and another dozen since you started fighting... When you haven’t eaten well, slept well, or pooped in 3 days and your bones ache from chemo... You shift mentally from just getting through the inconvenience of treatment, to buckling down to survive, because if it doesn’t work, there might not be anything left to try. You start to wonder if maybe you shouldn’t put an offer on the house after all because you might not be around to live in it, you worry about your little black cloud cat who won’t let anyone pet him but you, and it becomes a heck of a lot harder to keep calm and carry on.

I have debates with myself daily about carrying on with normal things like going to work and cleaning the house. Not because I plan to give up and die, but because there are so many things I’d rather be doing: spending time with family, visiting Scotland, drinking wine. But if I quit my regular life to spend time on my bucket list, am I enjoying life, or have I indirectly admitted defeat?

I’m not inspiring. I’m just terrified, and too proud to show it....


That said, you needn’t feel bad every time you talk to me about some aspect of life, yours or mine, that is not cancer related. Just because you didn’t feel terrified at any point today doesn’t mean that you don’t have problems. Having cancer didn’t make me suddenly immune to “ordinary” problems. I still get unreasonably angry at old people in parking lots and irritable with poor customer service. Problems are relative in the life experience, and I am not judging yours.


People apologize to me frequently for complaining about “small problems.” This isn’t necessary if you follow this general rule: if it’s something in your control that you can solve or could have prevented, I don’t want to hear about it, but otherwise, I’m still your friend and I still care. In other words, I still want to hear about your day, but save your hangover stories for someone who has a liver than can filter alcohol, if it’s all the same to you :P

Friday, 18 April 2014

JY's annual CrossFit Games Open reflections

On this slightly rainy stat holiday, when I can’t get my errands done anyway because everything is closed, I thought it would be a good time to do some annual post-CrossFit Games Open reflecting.

In 2011 I signed up for the open because JenBoss told me to. Both myself and the open were brand new to crossfit, and I had no idea what to expect except that I might not be able to do all of the required movements. I made it a personal challenge to try something scary and hard, and to set a goal that I might not actually achieve: to get one rep in each wod. I achieved that goal, and learned a lot about pushing yourself to do more than you thought you could (I wrote about it here). In 2012 I signed up to see how much I’d improved and ended up, once again, learning more about CrossFit and about myself (reflections here and here).  In 2013 I was stronger mentally and physically and signed up once again to test myself (and, of course, I did even MORE reflecting here, herehere, here, aaand here)

This year was different.

In a throwback to that first of all Opens, my goal was not to test how far I’d come, my goal, and my achievement, was participation. Eight months ago I didn’t know if I would be well enough to participate at all; I didn’t know what the year would hold for me in terms of treatments, surgeries, and recoveries. As it happened, I finished my chemo and radiation 1 week before the first WOD was released, and with surgery scheduled for April, I had just long enough to fit in the open. So this year, I signed up because I could, and this year, the Open taught me the most important lesson thus far.

Some context: WOD 14.4 destroyed me, mentally and emotionally (60 calorie row, 50 toes to bar, 40 wallball, 30 cleans, 20 muscle ups – 12 minute time cap). Up until this point, throughout my treatment, I had done a reasonable job of managing my expectations to reflect my situation. I have certainly had moments where I have been frustrated with my reduced capacity, but overall I have estimated well what I could reasonable expect myself to achieve.  14.1 actually went better than expected when I borrowed Ashley’s magical rope and suddenly got double unders back after not being able to practice them for 6 months. In 14.2 I hoped to be able to get through the first round of overhead squats and chest to bar in under the 3 minute time cap, and surprised myself by managing with 3 seconds to spare (reward: do another 3 minutes! Seriously considered no repping myself on the last pullup to avoid doing so...). Deadilft is my best lift by far and so I loved 14.3 (so much I did it again 4 days later just for fun!).

Then.  14.4 and those damned toes to bar. I thought I stood a reasonable chance of getting to the cleans. On a good day, I thought, I might even finish them. I set up to do the T2B on that same bar where I got my first rep in 2011, and felt far more optimistic than I ought. I rushed too hard through the row and struggled with the T2B from the start. By the end of 12 minutes, failing reps and cursing the whole way through (but bless you, Alli, for your encouraging spirit), I’d finished only 37 out of the 50 and was nowhere near the goal I had set.

I have NEVER in my life felt so utterly defeated. Even at my diagnosis, when Dr. M told me what was in store, I felt confident and ready to beat cancer (My response to him was “Fuck. Well, you’ve killed this before? Ok, let’s do it again then.”) But after I had so very miserably failed to meet my expectations on 14.4, the enormity of everything that has happened since September, and all that still has to happen before it’s over, hit me in the gut. I sat down on the floor of the gym and full on sobbed for five minutes – the so called “ugly cry”. There were people everywhere but I didn’t care. Those effing toes to bar had squeezed out so much emotion I felt I might burst if I didn’t let it out (sorry if that was awkward for everyone else :P)

I went home that night feeling like Cancer had somehow won, had somehow managed to break me down and steal that feeling of defiance that working out during treatment has given me. Then the boyfriend said something true: “It isn’t about the cancer, I don’t think. You just expect too much of yourself right now.”

He was, as usual, right. That most important lesson that this year’s Open taught me, is to truly understand the following: accepting limitations is not the same as admitting defeat. Know the difference, and recognize when the former is appropriate.

I have struggled with this all along, even before cancer; I think it’s something we all struggle with at some point. Am I giving up on this because it feels hard and I’m afraid of failing, or because it’s the smart thing to do for my body today?

I have learned, in the past, that you will never struggle to find excuses if you look for them. Before Cancer I made a conscious effort not to look for them, not to give myself excuses that might prevent me from giving my full effort, or from accepting responsibility for my failures (and have had varying success at this). Since Cancer, though, I have struggled to find the balance of not allowing Cancer to be an excuse to stop living, while still recognizing when my body needs me to take that excuse and rest.

14.4 taught me that the key to that balance is appropriate management of expectation. A few days later, I tried it again. This time, my goal was not to get a certain score score, but to finish the twelve minutes without wanting to cry afterward. This time, understanding not to expect so much of myself, I took a leisurely row and calmly chipped away at the T2B. This time, I finished them with 30 seconds to spare, and left feeling in control and accomplished.


CrossFit in general and the Open in particular almost always have something to teach me; I’ve learned to look for those lessons, and to pay attention.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Squat like Perry Hanlon

As two solid weeks of Olympics watching are drawing to a close, the CrossFit Games season is about to begin, and I’m in the competitive spirit. I’ve been a huge figure skating fan (stay with me here) since I was 5 years old and would brush my figure skating Barbie’s hair (yes, I had Barbies...) while dreaming of one day skating with Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko (it always bothered me that Barbie’s feet were angled for high heels and didn’t fit the skates properly, but that’s a gendered toys rant for another day).

As a figure skating fan, I’ve also go my underpants in a twist over fair play in judged sports, and it’s got me thinking about fair play in CrossFit. Granted, CrossFit standards of movement are a little less subjective than a “components score”, but it’s still down to the judge (and to ourselves) to enforce those standards.

To clarify, when I say standards of movement I’m talking about these sorts of things: squatting below parallel; full extension in hips and knees at the end of any clean/snatch/press; dead hang with your feet off the ground before you do a pullup, toes to bar, or MU; hitting the wall ball target; toes hitting the bar, and chin over the bar, etc.

I’ve attended many a class and many a competition and seen many a sub-standard movement; I'm certain I'm guilty of a few. To this, I could say: “they’re only cheating themselves”, but that would be a big fat lie.... something we say to make people who do things properly feel better when others around them do not. Big picture, it’s true, it’s you workout, not mine, and it does not affect me directly if you do not squat below parallel. In the end, we’re all just trying to be fitter. But if I’m being honest and frank, I care. I care as a coach that you are not getting your best workout, and I especially care as your peer because you are not just cheating yourself, you are cheating everyone around you as well.

You are cheating the person who is at the same level as you and wants to push themselves by chasing your (actual) score.  You are cheating the newer member who, not knowing better, will copy your movements.  You are cheating the people who see your score on the whiteboard and feel defeated that they can never accomplish what you’ve supposedly done.

But also, in my experience, you really are cheating yourself. Two years ago we had to do 150 wallball in one of the Open WODs. I was rudely awakened to the fact that what I had thought was good squat depth was actually barely passable. I thought if Joseph gave me one more no-rep I might “accidentally” drop the ball on his head. With misplaced irritation, I spent some time practicing to find that perfect “just below parallel” spot.

Then I watched Perry do her squats. When Perry squats, there’s never a question, it’s ass to grass every time and I thought, if Perry can squat ass to grass faster than I can squat to “just the right spot”, maybe I’m missing something here. So I vowed that day to start squatting like Perry Hanlon.

And yes, at first it slowed me down. But by the time that WOD was repeated 1 year later I was stronger, faster, and less easily gassed than the year before. And I did the whole darn thing without one single no-rep.

To some extent it’s the coaches (or judges) responsibility to correct your standards, especially for new members. But we can’t watch every rep of every WOD for every member, and we can’t make you listen to our advice (especially if you’ve gone temporarily WOD-deaf).

In the end, your movements are your responsibility.  If you don’t know the standard, ask.  Most are obvious: you can see if you hit the target or bar, you know if your feet are dangling off the ground, you can tell if you are standing up straight and if your elbows are locked. As for squat depth, stand next to a mirror, close your eyes, and squat to what you think will just barely count. Look in the mirror. Is your hip crease below the top of your knee? If not, squat lower. If so, squat lower anyway. You’ll get stronger.

Maybe you know the standards, but just don’t give a hoot about scores and racing and all that. You just want to come in, get your burn, have a good time, and carry on with your day. That’s cool, I dig it, not everyone needs to be competitive.  But if you really don’t care about scores or standards, consider not putting your score on the board at all.

And if you just care more about your score than your standards.....well, I hope that isn’t the case and if it is....shame.

I’m not saying I’ve never allowed a bad rep before. Just the other day, with this particular blog-post in mind, I confess to counting a couple of 10’ wallballs that did not touch the wall, let alone the target. I’ve also had many stern post-WOD conversations with myself for counting the occasional “close enough” toes to bar. Some days, it’s ok to decide that the RX just isn’t worth that extra swing.

I’m not asking you to be perfect, but I am asking for honest effort and honest self-assessment. Hold yourself to a higher standard than required Every Single Day while you train. It will only make you Stronger, Faster, and Fitter.



Thursday, 6 February 2014

Brachytherapy is how I would imagine an alien abduction to proceed....

I thought I would give a bit of a health update on this, the eve of my 30th birthday!

First, I was feeling well enough to compete at the UG series Winterfest last weekend at Blue Mountain in Collingwood! I filled in for someone from a different gym and even though I just met my teammates that morning, I had a super time; lovely people :) The UG folks were selling the stylin toques I am sporting below, and they donated their proceeds ($500!) to our Love the Snatch foundation!



Second, I'M ALMOST DONE TREATMENT!!

I finished chemotherapy sessions in November. I had my ovaries suspended in December with a minor laproscopic surgery (they live in pockets behind my ribs now, and seem to be running along nicely, merrily secreting hormones as they should!).

After Christmas I started external beam radiation treatment and had my last one today! They were short, 5 minute appointments where I didn't feel a thing (except static electricity) and didn't even have to change into a gown. I just had to move my pants out of the way so they could see the tattoos that they had put on me in preparation (the size of freckles) and line me up with a laser Cartesian plane to ensure that the beam went to the same place each time. I had that done every weekday for 5 weeks, which is a pain in the butt but not so bad. Actually the road rage from driving downtown hamilton and up the jollycut, and then spending up to 30 minutes finding a parking spot at the hospital was far worse than the treatment itself. 

HOSPITAL PARKING GARAGE TIPS: 
  • Driving 5km an hour in the parking garage will not make a spot appear out of nowhere. Get a move-on people.
  • If it says "lot full" at Juravinski it probably isn't; there is no parking attendant there to update the sign so once it's up, all the old folk are scared away to the other garage and as people start leaving, spots free up without the sign changing
  • Idle elsewhere, this is not the drop off roundabout
  • Park in between the freaking lines. Seriously.

Side effects were not terrible for this. At first I was going to treatments in the morning, going to work for the afternoon, and going to squat/lift at the gym 3 days per week afterward. By the last 2 weeks I started to feel really tired and skipped the gym for the second last week, and this week I've been coming home afterward to sleep all afternoon. Otherwise, I had to up my starch intake a bit (some potatoes, not wheat!) to counter the gut irritation and consequent loose bowels. Oh and I had to switch to softer TP because everything is sensitive, and get a cream for my sore butt which felt like when your nose is dry and cracking in the winter time....

I plan to write up my more detailed gym log but, in brief and in general: I found that during chemo I could still WOD in between treatments, at reduced weights of about 50% and for about 10 minutes max. My muscles were too weak to lift much. During radiation I found the opposite. I'm too tired to WOD, but two weeks after surgery (and one month after chemo ended) I started lifting again and my 5 rep maxes were at about 75% pre chemo numbers. Within a month of Rippetoe's starting strength, my squat went up 40lbs, and my oly lifts were only 10 lbs off my maxes. Next up: get as strong as possible in preparation for my surgery.

Brachytherapy

I'm going to talk a bit about what I've found to be the hardest part (physically) so far. If you are at all squeamish, fair warning...but I did not find a whole lot of accounts of this on the internet and went in very much unprepared so here goes....

If I'm being honest, chemotherapy and radiation were...a lot easier than I expected. Maybe I'm lucky, maybe I was healthier than the average joe to start, but either way, it really hasn't been so bad. I didn't feel really sick, and the sick feeling I did have was short-lived. I've been mostly able to carry on with my normally scheduled life around all the appointments, including eating regularly and working out, all with only some extra sleep (9-10 hours daily).

Brachytherapy, or internal radiation, however, is no fun, to put it mildly. Brachy means "short distance", so this is higher dose radiation given right up against the cervix, as opposed to the external beam that zaps my entire pelvis. How do you administer internal radiation to the cervix? You're probably imagining correctly. 

Here is a visual aid.


No, it is not a medieval torture device, it's what they shoved up my hooha on Wednesday. The ring goes against your cervix, the angled rod gets aimed at the uterus, and the spatula thinger is to get your rectum out of the way (the field of radiation is only 1.5 cm, it's really very effective).

From a poll of the ladies in my support group there seem to be a range of methodologies including one where you have to stay in a hospital room with that thing for 3 days (so you might not have the same experience as me!). At least I didn't have that one.  All told I was at the hospital for about 3 hours. I got a muscle relaxant and an IV for hydration and partial sedation. You are supposed to be awake but sedated, but I am not convinced I was given sufficient drugs, I felt entirely alert the whole time. They take you into a miniature operating room where you are surrounded by no less than 7 people: 2 doctors, 2 nurses, 2 residents doing some learning, and a physicist waving a wand around from time to time to check for stray radioactivity or something (this is what completes the illusion of an alien abduction indicated in my title).

They stuff everything in and give you a catheter, which feels great (lies), strap you up with some sort of weightlifting style belt to hold it all in place, wheel you down the hall to get a CT and make sure all is as it should be (and to aim the radiation to greatest effect), wheel you back down the hall, abandon you for 10-15 minutes (I'm guessing) while it does it's thing, come back and take it all back out, and then send you to recovery for a half hour. The best way I can describe it is an hour long pap with a bit of extra pain at the start and finish because that ring is not small. The whole time I had mad cramps, but it was the removal part that was the worst. I cried. Partly at the pain, and partly at being overwhelmed by how much my vagina has ceased to be a private place.

I have two more of these scheduled (I've done two already) and, frankly, I'd rather do another round of chemo, complete with losing my hair again. *le sigh*

But then I'm done! Except for a hysterectomy but that's later, and probably not until after the CrossFit Open, which will be my 4th year participating and I'd hate to miss it, so WOOT.


Monday, 16 December 2013

JY's Holiday Special

Yesterday, I discovered something wonderful: a trove of cheesy, made-for-TV holiday specials on Netflix, all boasting a variation on the same theme. I watched 3 while working on my Christmas crochet projects. It was a glorious way to spend a snowed-in Sunday.

The binge reminded me that while I do love Holiday Specials, they can sometimes be cringe-inducingly (and sometimes intolerably) cliche, smacking you in the face with the same messages over and over about (re)discovering the true spirit of the holiday, showing kindness, cherishing every moment, appreciating the people in your life and letting them know you do, being grateful for what you have, giving to those who have less, etc.  This is especially true, I've noticed, when a character has cancer.

Here's the thing though, these (predominantly) family channel movies may punch you in the gut with so many blatant lessons of morality that it makes your eyes roll, but that doesn't mean the messages are untrue, or unimportant. As someone who finds themselves living out one of those cliche cancer patient movies, I increasingly find myself having the very same "revelations" as the holiday special heroines.

There are three themes in particular that dominate my thoughts of late.

1. Smile more.

If you can't do anything about whatever is making you sad, thinking about how sad it is and how sad you are will just make you more sad => cycle of sadness :(. If, however, you can find a so-called silver lining, you'll feel less sad. And if you continue to find more, you get practice at finding silver linings, and then it gets easier to find them, and soon you don't have to look for them anymore they're just obvious and *presto changeo* => cycle of happiness => more smiling => more endorphins :D

My friend Shannon summarizes nicely: "While we go through bad times, eventually we'll go through good times once again. Statistically speaking, the good and bad cancel out to a net zero effect, but with the right attitude the positives can take precedence and we can start to see the negatives as building towards a positive result."  'zactly.

If you can do something about what's making you said, whatever are you waiting for?

1b. Do things that make other people smile. It will make you smile too. Don't buy your friend a gift basket for Christmas, spend time with them, and reserve time to do so in the future (see number 2). When we were kids my sister and I would make up little coupon booklets for our parents with IOUs for extra chores and breakfasts in bed. I would totally dig a coupon booklet for Christmas.

2. Pay attention.

Don't just go to the party or family dinner, BE there. Enjoy it, savour it, make moments to think of when you're having trouble with number 1. Good things are happening all around you. Don't miss out. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Word to John Lennon.

3. Trust the universe

This is not meant as a passive statement. I don't mean to suggest we should sit back and observe our lives with faith that everything will turn out peachy without any effort. Rubbish. Sometimes the universe hands you a pretty sweet deal, but usually after a lot of effort, and then you still have to notice it, accept it, and sometimes recognize that it isn't exactly in the format that you expected. So, trust the universe to present you with the opportunities that you have earned, but pay attention so as not to miss them, and maybe you'll have reason to smile more. See what I did there? :)

My current silver lining opportunity: our Love the Snatch campaign. It would not have happened without my diagnosis, and was certainly not a direction I expected to be pointing my efforts. But we have a vision and big dreams for where it could go, and I find myself feeling much  more excited, optimistic, and generally forward looking than I expected to be when they told me I had cancer.

Health Update

Speaking of cancer, a brief update on where I am right now. My chemo is done (woot!) and my MRI shows no visible tumor (double woot!). I had a successful surgery a little over a week ago to move my ovaries. They live up under my ribs now, hopefully out of the field of radiation, so that I will continue to have hormones in my life (tripple woot).

The surgery was relatively minor. I felt sore very sore for a couple of days and had trouble getting out of chairs and such, but was mostly able to manage on my own thanks to frequent Tabata planks. One of my abs felt strained, I suspect due to the inflation of my stomach so the doctor could see in there (he said I had a "lovely belly - very easy to work with...I don't expect to receive that sort of compliment ever again!). The worst part was actually the trapped C02 gas, which hangs out next to your diaphragm causing radiating shoulder pain. It's like normal gas, except you can't fart/burp it out because it's in a body cavity, not your stomach, and so you have to just walk around until it absorbs in your body. Meanwhile, it acts like the bubble in a level; every time I bent over or rolled to my other side it gurgled pver to the most upward facing pat of my body. Horrid. It's been 1.5 weeks and I did my first WOD with no more than 15 lbs, no jumping or situps, and slow controlled movements and nothing split open or seems otherwise worse for the effort.

Radiation starts at the end of December and will involve treatments 5x per week for 5 weeks with the aim of zapping any stray cells that might see fit to wander elsewhere and cause trouble.

I'm feeling generally back to normal energy-wise. I have lost strength, but not any weight (stay tuned for the body composition analysis to see if I lost any muscle). Looking forward to getting back to lifting now that I'm not being poisoned! See you around the gym!