Category: Goals

Meeting of the Cancer Club

Image is from a walk we took in the fall.
“Mum, take a picture of me in this tree!
Now take a picture of me in this tree!
Oh wait, this one too.”

Yesterday there was an impromptu meeting of the Cancer Club – which isn’t really a club and only has two members in it: myself and my friend with multiple myeloma. Our daughters dubbed it “the cancer club” because we try to get together for our bone juice (bisphosphonate infusion) appointments every three months. But this month she couldn’t come because her cancer took an aggressive turn for the worse – thankfully it has turned back but her story isn’t really mine to tell.

What I do want to talk about is the discussion we had which seemed so normal to us but upon reflection might seem weird to others.

Here is the thing about Stage IV cancer – you can be ticking along stable for months and then gone two weeks later. That is always in the fore front of our minds. It has happened time and again to women I know with metastatic breast cancer. It isn’t always like this of course, sometimes it is a long drawn out process. Sometimes it isn’t. None of us ever know how long we are going to get top-side but some of us know we aren’t going to get as long as we would like.

Anyway, this friend had a book to recommend about raising teenage girls. She and her husband are reading it and as there is the very real possibility that he will be left alone some day raising teenage girls (their girls are already teenagers) she thought, especially after the recent health scare, that it was a good idea they read it together. And she thinks it is a good idea that Mister and I read it together because there is a very real possibility he will be left alone raising teenage girls. These are the things you talk about in the cancer club. You don’t always cry about them either – often you laugh (at least we do) because what else can you do? Do we want to leave our husbands – who are also our partners and our very best friends – to raise our children alone. Not at all. But this is our reality and the longer you live with it the more you come to accept it. Cancer club discussions also include showing off your recent war wounds, discussing what you want for your funeral and what you definitely don’t want, and telling your friend that it is okay she hasn’t organized 10 years of family photos because it will give her family something to do when she is gone. (I’m the friend in that scenario and I appreciated this advice SO MUCH but I will probably still stress about those photos.)

We also talked about making plans. Because you can never stop making plans – and I didn’t realize how hopeful this action was until I was giving my dad the break down of our summer plans the other day. Because I am a PLANNER our summer holiday is booked, the AirBnB is booked, the summer camps are booked and all that is left to do is live our lives until it is time to leave and hope that cancer doesn’t throw any road blocks in our way. But back to my dad. We were on the phone and he needed the itinerary (I am his daughter through-and-through) and he said, “you’re making plans – that is so great” and he sounded so happy for me and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how important making plans was – not just for myself but for every one around me. It gives us all hope and, as a mom with cancer, I feel like that is a big part of my job. (A job made much easier when one is feeling well I should add – when you are constantly battling sickness things tend to get a lot darker.)

Our plan for the summer is to take the girls out of school a little early and go on a road trip to the coast – and then come home and enjoy our city. My friend’s plan is to take the family to visit family in Europe. Let’s hope we both make it.

My little treehugger turns 6 in a week. That’s a whole other post but I couldn’t resist sharing these photos.

What else is there?

Currently we are reading Catch-22 for book club. I think our book club is currently being called People Who Actually Read the Book club but I haven’t been following along with the discussion. In my head I call it Mensa Book Club Drop Outs & Their Spouses (I’m the spouse, not the Mensa person in case there was any doubt) but either way I’m not sure I’m going to be finishing Catch-22 this time around which I feel rather bad about since it was my pick.

 

I’ve slowed down my reading a whole lot lately. I came across this bit this morning and didn’t want to continue until I had ruminated on it for a while. In this chapter Dunbar is talking about how much he loves skeet shooting because it is so boring and makes time pass slowly – to him the slower time passes the longer your life. Dunbar and Clevinger bicker about it for a while (there is a lot of bickering in this book) and then Clevinger concedes:

“Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?”

And as you can see from the photo above Dunbar wants one – as do most of the men in this story because it is set during WWII and all they want is to get out of the war and go home. I think most people facing death would trade it for a long life no matter how boring.

Which comes to the thought that has been circulating in my mind lately: what the hell am I doing with my life these days?

When I was first diagnosed I didn’t want anything to do with thinking about death (or reading about death) but now it seems like it is constantly on my mind (and a lot of my reading is focused on people talking about death). Not in the sense that I am thinking about my death all the time but I am thinking about this culture of living grief that seems to be surrounding us as medical science is able to hand you a terminal diagnosis these days and then keep you alive for an indefinite amount of time.

I remember in high school when we had to put our beloved Dalmatian, Belle, down. My dad was away on a business trip and we were waiting for him to come home so we could do it. At the time I likened it to living with a criminal on death row because we were just in the odd period of limbo while we waited for her death. Every day she was with us but not. Then one day I got off the bus and I knew, I just knew that she was gone. I told myself “if the car is parked the driveway then Mum took her to the vet today.” And so I started running and sure enough, there was the car in the driveway (Mum should have been at work) and when I went in the house Mum just said sadly, “I just couldn’t’ wait anymore” and I understood, I really did. I wasn’t mad, we had been saying goodbye to Belle daily for weeks. I was just sad – we all were (Dad was relieved that he didn’t have to be a part of it, old softy that he is, he hated that dog for years but would never have been able to watch her go) – but at least we didn’t have to watch her deteriorate anymore.

Sometimes I feel like that criminal on death row.

For the past couple months I have been thinking about starting a podcast where I would talk to other people who are also living with a terminal disease. But then my friend Jocelyn told me about how much her friends who have started podcasts ended up hating them because of all the work and now I’m not sure that is the direction I want to go in. I still want to interview people who are facing death – and not just women with Stage IV breast cancer either – but writing has always been my medium of choice and that is probably the direction I will take. I miss interviewing people and writing articles. I miss writing and having purpose but I’m trying to slow down and figure out a good balance. To not worry when I don’t finish a book. To not beat myself up when I am not feeling well enough to go to yoga. To sit down and focus on one task at a time.

Our trip to Ireland is coming up and so there is a lot of little things to get ready for that as well. I’m also attempting to knit a sweater for the first time and trying to get it done to take with me. (And nowhere does my perfectionist nature shine through than when I am knitting because I have cast-on this sweater eleventy billion times and switched yarn so I can get it just right.) Plus I was hoping to finish a story to submit to a contest before we leave.

Slow fashion.

Slow reading.

Slow writing.

Long life?

 

Let’s hope so.

Saying goodbye to people and photos

I was in Ottawa last week from Wednesday to Sunday for a funeral and a quick mini-family reunion. My sister is the family historian and since she has recently moved to Ottawa she has been searching out all the spots where my mom’s family is from. Both the Cassidy and Corkery sides of the family (mom’s father and mother respectively) were from the Ottawa area – both sides going back to the 1820s I believe. Other than our small 5-person unit growing up I didn’t have any family around. Sometimes my mom’s brother Bernie (one of four brothers she had) would come and visit. He was also my godfather and a truly funny and fun guy. It was his funeral for which I made the trek out east.

Uncle Bunny, as I called him, was a salesman for Catelli pasta and Habitant soup. Habitant pea soup was probably my favourite meal as a kid (but not the kind with pork chunks because even back then that grossed me out). Bunny gave me my first camera. I ruminated on this on Instagram the other day. I hadn’t seen Uncle Bunny in years so I don’t think I ever told him how much that camera meant to me. How much I loved it when I was younger and how much I still love taking photos. My life started to be well documented from fifth grade onwards. I have piles of photos of houses from vacations, piles of photos of ducks from when I thought it would be really cool to have a pet duck when I was little. I also took many photos of the first love of my life.

Dumb Belle the beautiful.

One of my main goals for this year is to organize my photos (seriously – in the top 3 because they are hanging over my head like my own personal Sword of Damocles). When I was young I had no problem keeping them organized. People could only afford to print so many and I was a kid and had nothing better to do than stick them in photo albums with a nice highlighter designed cover page. I could often be seen with my camera in hand doing what I needed to do to catch the photo I wanted.

A very attractive photo of 16-year old me lying on the ground to get a photo of  flower gardens while on a choir tour in Aberdeen Scotland. Photo taken by a good friend who thought I was crazy but stuck around anyway and married me 12 years later – so who’s the crazy one?

As printing got cheaper the amount of photos I had to deal with got bigger and bigger and then things went digital and now I have thousands of photos that haven’t been organized, or (and this is the big one) printed. My mother used to complain that I never to photos of people but I guess I just needed to create my own people to overcome that obstacle. I plan on getting my shit together this year in regards to photos because I just don’t want to leave them for someone else to deal with when I am gone. I know that sounds rather defeatist but I don’t mean it that way. I just want to be organized for when the cancer decides to take a final stand. Dumbledore did say: “After all, to the well-organized mind death is but the next great adventure.”

Yeah, my mind is really not organized so I’m not ready for that step.

Taking photos is still fun and I love posting them online and being able to capture memories that way – but things on the internet have a tendency to get lost in the ether. At this point I’m starting with the photos I don’t want to organize. The other day I threw out a big stack of photos from my trip to Burning Man in 2001 because while I thought they were amazing and artistic at the time now they don’t really mean anything. And I can only remember the name of two of the people I went with anyway. These photos are going to mean nothing to the people I am leaving behind and I don’t want to burden them with them. (Also, some of them are not child-appropriate. It was Burning Man after all.)

Artistic shot of a stop light on the Playa as opposed to a not-so-artistic shot of mummy wearing more makeup than clothes. I will keep those photos though – my daughters will need to see that I had a life once before them.

Re-wiring my brain

In love with the winter sun.

My goal for this month is to post two blogs a week on Monday and Thursday and I have already fallen down on that goal. But my other goal is to tell myself – repeatedly – that my goals don’t have to be all-or-nothing. I am very much an all-or-nothing person and I’m trying to re-wire my brain and teach myself that each day is a day to start again. So even if I don’t know what to write about OR if it is Tuesday instead of Monday I am going to post a blog.

Warning. Today’s blog post is rambley and talks about parking again.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my oncologist for 10:10 in the morning. We arrived at 9:55 and paid for two hours of parking. I saw the doctor at 12:10. This is pretty standard. The oncology department was busy this morning and we knew there would be a delay (there always is). I don’t really blame the oncologist for this either – there are just SO MANY of us with cancer these days. Anyway. I stayed around afterwards for some X-Rays and left shortly after 1pm. One of the things I noticed while I was walking around the waiting room was that the hospital provides all these “free” programs and support groups for people going through cancer but I wonder how many people don’t go to them because they don’t want to pay for parking? I know that is always one of my deciding factors when it comes to any activity.

I did tell my oncologist that I need to be fully fit and healthy by mid-June because we have bought five plane tickets for Ireland for a month starting on the 14th of June and I want to enjoy this trip as much as possible. My oncologist said she often thinks about how terribly sick I was when we first met (I refer to it as “actively dying”) and what a difference she sees in me now. Then she said this: “I can’t cure you but I can try and give you as much quality of life for as long as possible.” Which is exactly what I am trying to do. I’m glad we are on the same page.

Today I was supposed to volunteer for an all-day field trip with Fionnuala’s class. But due to back and hip pain I cancelled. I think I was being overly ambitious by hoping that I could survive a day like that but if I’m not overly ambitious I’ll never get anything accomplished in this life, right? Fionnuala was very disappointed though and that’s just one more thing they are going to remember when I am gone.

I leave tomorrow for a quick trip to Ottawa for the funeral of my godfather whom I affectionately called Uncle Bunny. It’s a bit of a family reunion and I am more excited than I probably have the right to be since it is for a funeral – but I will take adventures where I can get them these days. You know what else I’m excited for? Four hours of uninterrupted reading time on the plane BY MYSELF! I’ve already downloading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End of the Lane on audio since it is next month’s pick for book club and now I just need to nail down a knitting project I can do on the plane for maximum child-free enjoyment. Plus the two other books I am currently reading. The possibilities are endless.

Trying to get outside every day.

Start as you mean to go on

I mean to get outside as much as possible this year and since it warmed up to -12 degrees Celsius that is exactly what we did.

It’s my 42nd birthday today. My third birthday since being handed a terminal cancer diagnosis just over two years ago (one month shy of my 40th birthday).

I’ve written about this before but it is worth repeating: having your birthday on the first day of the year is stressful.

Don’t get me wrong – I love New Year’s. Or more specifically I love a new year and all the hope and promise it brings. I realize that it doesn’t necessarily need to bring more promise than any other day of the year but I like a fresh start. I like to begin things anew – probably because I’ve been so terrible at completing things since I started having children.

I love making lists and resolutions and dreaming about ways I can become a better person – not because I’m a terrible person but I feel there is always room for improvement. But as the old year comes to an end my list gets longer and longer and it starts to stress me out.

I MUST BEGIN ALL THE THINGS TODAY BECAUSE IT IS THE FIRST OF THE YEAR AND MY BIRTHDAY!

Needless to say I have MANY goals for this year. One of them, of course, is to stay alive but isn’t that everyone’s goal whether they have cancer or not? It isn’t enough for me to just be content with being alive, that seems like a cop-out.

You know how people like to pick one word that is going to represent the coming year for them? I keep thinking about that and what I would pick. This isn’t my word for the year but if I were to make one major goal for myself this year it would be to start feeling things again. I find that with all the emotions unleashed when I was diagnosed with cancer I just shut off my feelings. Obviously not entirely. I still feel things. I still love my children and my husband above all else and show them all the time. But I have avoided writing anything with feelings (or much of anything to be honest), or reading books that were too emotional or watching movies that would make me feel things. Some people love to cry. I hate it. I can’t even remember the last time I had a good cry and I’ve got freaking terminal cancer! I did get a little weepy when we were cutting down the Christmas tree because it was such a beautiful day and I was just so happy to be alive and out there in the woods – but even that I shut down quickly.

So I guess that is one of my words for this year: FEEL all the things. No matter how uncomfortable those feelings may make me.

The other phrase that is kicking around in my mind is NO EXCUSES because I am terrible with creating busy work for myself in order to not get things done. And so much needs to be done. SO MUCH. This could be my last year you know? (I don’t actually believe that but so many women I sort-of knew with cancer died last year that it is, in fact, a possibility.) Although maybe a better word would be FOCUS.

Maybe that will be my mantra for this year: Focus and Feel. (Sounds a bit like a sex manual.)

The rest of my goals I’m keeping to myself for now.

Do you pick a word for the new year? Make resolutions?

 

This is 42. Not quite as glamorous as someone in a bathing suit showing of their amazing body on their birthday but hey, I’m Canadian and it is January. I won’t actually see my body until late spring.

 

(Also I should probably clarify that there has been nothing stressful about my actual birthday – it has been rather wonderful with a lot of love from my little family and amazingly thoughtful presents. All other stress is completely self inflicted.)