Cancer Update #11

July 27, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

It is with great sadness I break this news to you – my cancer journey has opened a new chapter. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Monday. Somehow I have become one of the two cancer people.

The lump was found through a routine breast cancer mammogram. I’m part of the Ontario Breast Cancer screening program, so I get a mammogram every other summer. The test was clear two years ago. Once the mass was seen on the mammogram, they did a biopsy and ultrasound to confirm diagnosis. A nearby lymph node was also tested and showed cancerous cells.

Fortunately the day after the diagnosis I got in to see the first expert in what is going to be a long chain of breast treatment specialists. Peter and I met with a surgical oncologist and some of his team yesterday. In 4-5 weeks I will have day surgery to remove the lump and infected lymph nodes. When that heals I will probably have radiation. Because of my delicate kidney situation (from cancer #1), as well as the kind of breast cancer it is (determined from tests after the surgery) it is not clear yet whether or what kind of chemo I will have. That’s the short version, so far, of what lies ahead medically.

How do I feel? A hundred things at once: Like I’ve been run over by a truck. Grateful to have quick access to good medical care that is paid for. Horrified by my situation. Mortified that Peter’s life is as swamped by this as mine is. Sad that this is the life that I now have. Amazed at the resilience that rises up to face the new beast. Overwhelmed by all the new information I have to absorb. Curious about the new part of the medical system I’m entering. Intrigued about how this will deepen my cancer art. Grateful for all the love and support that is already coming my way.

I am reviving the previous Cancer Update list that I used last year for cancer #1 to keep you up to date on my situation. I’m operating on the premise that I’d want to know if it was you. I’ve added some new people to this list. If you don’t want to be on this list, for whatever reason, please let me know and I’ll take you off. There are many of you on the list. Your loving responses mean so much to Peter and I – they keep us afloat. It is an intense time as we find our way through this – I am not able to answer all your emails. For now please do not send me breast cancer information of any flavour. I know that there is a lot of it out there and I need to slowly find my way through. Feel free to share this information with anyone who knows me. At this point I’m keeping it off Face Book.

You know by now how I ‘do cancer’. My way is try and speak the truth of my experience – I hope without overwhelming my listeners. I try and tell my story through my writing and art. That is how I stay alive with what is now my life. It is also the life of many other people – you may be one of them or you may love someone in this situation. I view this as a cultural phenomena as well as a personal journey.

Fortunately the timing of my upcoming treatment means that I still get to go to Miami next week for Peter’s family reunion – lots of people I love there and I hope to snorkel off the Florida keys while we are there. Later in August Peter and I are going to a cottage in Northern Ontario, near Cobalt, a geography we love deeply. We’ll be able to canoe and swim in that spare and healing landscape.

Love,

Diana

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Cancer Update #8

August 9, 2015

Dear Friends & Family,

I finally received The Call today from Princess Margaret Cancer hospital. They have a bed for me. Unless the last remnants of the mild cold I have sends me home, I will be checking in later this afternoon. Then I begin The Ordeal – the stem cell transplant for my myeloma cancer. I anticipate being in hospital for 2-3 weeks unless I have a bad infection, in which case it could be longer. I expect to have a slow recovery afterwards.

Please do not come and visit me in the hospital. I gather that there are 5 days or so of this process which are ghastly. I will not be a pretty sight, nor will I have energy for anything except survival. Once I’m home, I might like visitors in very small doses.

I loved getting all your letters after my last update. I fully intended to respond to them, but somehow it never happened. Don’t feel any pressure to write; on the other hand, know that I love feeling a connection with you via your letters. Again, you may or may not hear back from me.

I’ve added a few new people to this list. If you don’t want the letters, let me know & I’ll take you off the list.

How do I feel? Like I’m about to head out on an Outward Bound course minus the beautiful Northern wilderness. But that feel of a journey. I put on that hospital gown and hand my flesh over to them. New people, big rapids, canoe might flip and I hope I have enough safety gear to survive.

Wish me luck.

Love,

Diana

Cancer Update #7

May 26, 2017

Dear Friends & Family,

This is kind of creepy, so skip the first part if reading about medical procedures is too icky for you.

I’ve finished the first part of my cancer treatment – 16 weeks of Induction Chemo, aka Chemo Lite. Now begins the Stem Cell Transplant. It is divided into 3 parts – harvesting cells (called mobilization (really?!! military language?)), killing the cancerous cells (& the rest of my bone marrow, hair growing cells and the lining of my GI tract) and then replanting the harvested stem cells. Part 1 has begun. Later this week I’ll be given a drug which makes my stem cells leave their happy bone marrow home and head out onto the blood vessel highway. After a few days of this treatment, the blood vessels will be crowded with stem cells and I’ll be attached to a dialysis like machine. This will take my blood out (& put it back!) and separate out the stem cells. They will be frozen and stored until needed. Enough stem cells for 2 transplants will be harvested. Once the harvesting is done, I have a slight break. Peter, Rui & I are off to see Brenda, my 96 year old mother, as well as some old friends. On June 22 I have something called a Hickman line put in. It is a semi-permanent in-out IV port. And on June 23 I begin waiting 2-6 weeks for a hospital bed. Once I’m in hospital, I’ll be given the really high dose chemo, known affectionately in our household as Agent Orange. That’s the horrible stuff (hair falls out on Day 12, sores in mouth, GI tract unhappy, more ghastly excitement yet to be revealed). Then a few days later my stem cells will be replanted. The danger in all this is infection, as I’ll have no infection fighting white blood cells. I’ll also be very weak as the red blood cells take the longest to grow back. I’ll be released from the hospital once my blood counts are at an acceptable level. And then a long slow recovery as the system rebuilds.

There was some debate as to whether I’d be in-patient or out-patient for parts 2 & 3. Initially I had thought that out-patient sounded good – loving Peter at my side, nice garden, my own bed, real food and the bouncy Rui dog. But then someone who had been through the whole process described it to me and I realized I wanted to be in the hands of experienced nurses. When I’m vomiting, needing blood transfusions and truly miserable, I want nurses who can tell me that this is all quite normal. And much nicer for Peter not to have the burden of care. However this in-patient, out-patient decision wasn’t up to me. It was looking like out-patient as I live close to the hospital and have lots of support. Fortunately (or unfortunately) my lousy kidney situation qualified me for in-patient. So I’ll be in hospital for 2-3 weeks sometime this summer. The down side of in-patient is the twiddle-my-thumbs wait. I need to have my bag packed ready to arrive at the hospital within 3 hours. Not too many out of town adventures this summer. While hospitals aren’t the best places to get a good night’s sleep, I do find the culture endlessly curious.

So how am I doing with all this ahead of me? Well, I’m afraid. No other way to say that. I feel that there is this vast cavern of darkness and spiders in front of me. Pain, ickyiness and unknowns loom. I console myself with the thought that recently I was very afraid of going off the steroids (as per The Treatment Plan) and having all my debilitating lower body pain return. Some of it has returned, but the great work I’ve been doing learning Mitzvah techniques is paying off. I’m finding new ways to hold my spine – transforming my motion – no mean task at age 61. I’m also learning to meditate – why is this so hard to learn? And most of all the next art series has begun, working title The Cancerous Body. I’m onto some exciting new visuals and madly reading the theory and history of illness. So while I sure wish I hadn’t drawn the cancer card, it’s the one I got. I’m using it to unfold the body and spirit into their next forms – maybe that is all we ever do with the cards we are dealt.

As always, please feel no obligation to reply. If you want off this list, let me know. If you do reply, I may or may not reply to you as my energy is quite limited.

Love,

Diana