Cancer Update #4

Feb 13, 2015

Dear Friends, Family & Colleagues,

I’ve been out of the hospital for 10 days and back in our home for 5. It was sad to leave the rich and generous camaraderie of friends, Amy and Maureen; on the other hand it has been wonderful to be back in our house. Our amazing contractor (happy to share his name, Torontonians) has done a superb job (under budget and in the time allotted). It is like moving into a new house. The kitchen is so well designed, it is a delight to work in – light, airy and easy to move around. We keep not bumping into one another! We’ve been having fun figuring out where things go and how the new systems will work. The old mud room off the kitchen was a rackety-packety mess, so it didn’t matter if the stinky fish grill was beside the dog leash and next to the beer bottles. The new mud room is so ordered and pristine, it is a fun game figuring out where things go.

So this is all a pleasant backdrop to our ongoing cancer challenges. I’m trying to adjust to the weekly chemo-side effects cycle, if, indeed, there is a consistent cycle. The steroids give a roller coaster ride which alternately lessen my pain (hurrah!), but deprive me of sleep and up my blood sugar (boo!) and then 24 hours later do the opposite. The chemo itself initially had no side effect and then in the 2nd week it hit me with a fatigue the likes of which I’d never had. “Weakness” somehow describes it better for me. A state of no-energy. Chemo day is Thursdays and this state of lassitude didn’t arrive until Sat, which, unfortunately, was the day we were moving home. Fortunately many friends came to help move and unpack. I went to bed. The extreme weak state didn’t lift until the next afternoon. So I don’t know if this is going to be how all 16 weeks of the induction chemo are going to unfold. One day at a time.

My priority right now, other than coping with chemo and going to a million doc appointments is my art. I have the good fortune of a deadline in early March – my Humber colleagues and I are having a faculty show then. I hope to have the first pieces of my cancer series done then. The body has always been my subject – now more than ever. It is a long shot with the chemo-side effects dance in the foreground, but it is a good goal to aim towards. If I can’t make it, so be it. With that in mind, I’m going to sadly put off the many Toronto friends who have offered to come and visit. Art first.

When I saw the oncologist last week, I asked her about the myeloma treatment plan buying me time. “Yes,” she said. “I hope to buy you 10 years.” Ten years. It is strange to have a number attached to the days of ones’ life. Of course we all have a number attached, we just don’t know what it is. Granted, I too, don’t really know what my number is; nonetheless statistics and all that. So what would you do with 10 years? Somehow the important aspects of life immediately become sharper and more in focus. Yes, Peter and I cherish each other more consciously every day. I cherish my circles of community – intimate friends, family, wider circles of friends, former students, new choir friends, colleagues, and old friends in far away places. You make this all much sweeter. More art making. The “one day at a time” mantra demands being more present and that makes me more alive. On the other hand I’m still in the whirlwind of all this and haven’t a clue what it all means.

I love getting all your emails, cards, letters, books, teabags and love; with art & chemo on the table, I may not be able to respond.

Love,

Diana

 

 

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Cancer Update #3

Feb 2, 2015

Dear Friends, Family & Colleagues,

I’m finally being discharged from the hospital later this afternoon. I will have been here for 9 days – long enough. I’ve had the opportunity to see our medical system operating up close. I’m pretty wowed by what good care I have received given these days of medical cut backs. The democracy of a big city hospital ward at work is breathtaking – all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds up close & personal. Two women died  in the room I’m in during the 9 days. Almost what shocked me the most was how I wasn’t shocked. The hospital handled it very discreetly, the bed was washed and the next person was brought in, usually within a few hours. The nurses and other staff, on the floor I’m on anyway, maintained good humour and kindness throughout.

So my treatment plan, as it is called, has begun. I have started chemotherapy, albeit at this point the lite version known as Induction Chemo. I will be doing it once a week for 16 weeks.  At then end of that phase, I begin a drug which makes my stem cells grow madly. They harvest those cells via a dialysis-like process. The cells are frozen and stored. Then I’m tested to see if my body is up for the Big Chemo. If all is well, they hit me with High Dose Chemo. That’s when the big side effects occur. Then they re-seed my body with the stored stem cells. If all went according to plan, the process, thus far, would take me until the end of July. Then a month or 2 of recovery. Depending on the strain of cancer I have, I may get another round of High Dose Chemo and reseeding a year or 2 afterwards. I’ll also probably be on a maintenance dose of chemo thereafter. This cancer is treatable but not curable. This all seems to be about buying time. I think the oddest thing for me is the idea of living for ever more on these powerful drugs. Was I really once a hippie who said I’d never sully my body with legal pharmaceuticals? Sigh.

At least three people on this list are currently going through cancer treatments and many others of you have family and friends who have done so recently. You all know much more about this than I do. What has struck me in this early phase is how when I first hear the word ‘cancer’, I really hear ‘death sentence’. Yet almost immediately I see that, like almost everything else in life, this is not so simple, not so black and white. Really I have embarked on a journey and it is everything to do with how I live that journey. Just like the rest of life. So here I am, very suddenly, on a new phase of my life. The experienced nurses here keep telling me the mantra is ‘one day at a time.”

Your supportive letters continue to come and I so appreciate them. Back today to our temporary home in the warm welcoming basement of Amy and Maureen and then later this week we move back to our renovated house.

& finally a little bit of showing off – Humber College made a video about a number of their faculty this past fall – I’m one of them: http://mediastudies.humber.ca/feed-video-archives.html scroll down to find “Diana Meredith’s Story”

Lastly, although I’m being quite open about all this – feel free to pass the news along to others – I would like to keep any references to it all off  FaceBook.

Love,

Diana

Cancer Update #2

Jan 26, 2015

Dear Friends, Family & Colleagues,

Thank you so much for all your warm and loving letters. Even though I’m not able to answer them all, please know that they hit the heart strings where they should. I feel very loved and supported. Many of you have asked for updates so I’ve put you on this list. If it is all too creepy and you don’t want these, please let me know. Some of you already know what is in this letter…

Well events are unfolding much more rapidly than I could have imagined. Fortunately my excellent colleagues at Humber stepped up to the plate very quickly to find a teaching replacement for me. It was good they moved so quickly because on Friday at 5:30 PM I received a call from my nephrologist saying that because of some dramatic test results, I needed to proceed immediately to Toronto General Hospital and be admitted. There was fear that the massive dumps of protein that the cancerous white blood cells are producing would further damage the kidneys and move me towards dialysis. They wanted to start me ASAP on steroids. So an hour and a half later I was sitting at the hospital waiting to be admitted.

It is now expected that I will be in hospital until the end of the week. Today I get passed from the nephrologists to the haematology team, as myeloma is a disease of the blood. They will do a bone marrow test soon to ascertain what flavour of myeloma I have. Then chemo will probably begin. Thus far the steroids have had the wonderful effect of diminishing the terrible bone pain I have been suffering in my foot, legs, hips and back. It is a great relief to be free of this pain, if only temporarily. Peter and others tell me that they can see the positive change in my face.

The challenges ahead are frightening, but I’m told that the particular hospitals I’m connected with in Toronto are very highly regarded for their myeloma research. Mostly, though I continue to feel held by all the love, support and clementines I have been receiving. I only wish they would let our dog, Rui, come to visit. Peter told me that twice Rui has jumped on the bed, moved the carefully placed dog cover and burrowed his head under my pillow. I feel missed!

As I said, things are unfolding rapidly – doctors, procedures and medications – as well as trying to understand how it all works. With all this going on, I don’t want more visitors right now. Peter and I have just had a huge renovation done on our house. We hope to be moving back in next week or so. Depending on how I feel, maybe I’ll be ready to receive more visitors once we are settled in at home. I’m also hoping to continue working on my current art project which looks now as if it is reshaping itself to encompass the cancer. I suppose this will also depend on how I am feeling once chemo starts.

Love (that most important of ingredients),

Diana

Cancer Update #1

Jan 21, 2015

Dear Friends and Family,

I think many of you know that I have been waiting to see a nephrologist as I’ve had some tests which point to kidney disease. Today I saw the nephrologist and my bad news just got a lot worse. It looks as though I am dealing with bone marrow cancer – myeloma. While I am about to embark on many tests to confirm this, the nephrologist said he was 90% sure that this is what we were looking at. I figure a specialist doesn’t sit in an office and say 90% bone marrow cancer unless that’s the story.

Bone marrow cancer is often caught first by nephrologists as kidney problems are one of the first places it is seen. Another major symptom is back pain and another is anemia. Those of you who see me here in Toronto know that I have started using a cane because my back pain has me almost immobile. I have also been suffering from extreme exhaustion.

The specialist has advised me to take a leave from my job effective immediately as I will be going through many medical tests and quite probably chemo. He is referring me to a haematologist as this is a cancer of the blood.

Peter was with me at the appointment today, and I feel held up and buoyed by his loving support through all of this. I’m guessing that many of you will write me  supportive letters for which I am glad; forgive me if I don’t get back to you right away. I’m so lucky to have such a loving and supportive community.

I have included many people on this list who didn’t even know about the kidney problem. A lot of this has happened very quickly. I’m so sorry that this is how you are learning about my health troubles, but I need you to know what is going on.

Love,

Diana