Happy Cancer Girl

A Happy Girls Journey with Cancer

YACC Retreat Yourself 2014

Owen and I went to the Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) Retreat in Coburg, Ontario on the weekend. It was an amazing weekend, and I am going to try my hardest to share what the weekend was all about.

We flew to Toronto really early on Thursday morning. The best part about the flight was running into my cousin who was on his way back out west to work. Other than that it was your usual early morning Air Canada flight. After landing in Toronto, we grabed a cab downtown and went to The Croissant Tree for breakfast. Ummm, this place was insanely good and the prices were amazing. If you are ever in Toronto I would consider this a must go!

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We met up with some of the other YACC retreaters at Wellspring, which is a cancer support centre. A guy from The Second City came and did some Improv activities with us. At first I was unsure about getting there in time to take part, but I’m so glad I didn’t miss out. It was a great space to start opening up to the people I was going to be spending the next 4 days with.

At 2:00 in the afternoon we boarded a bus to take us to Coburg. We took a school bus, I kid you not. It was AMAZING! I haven’t been on a school bus since Safe Grad ’98. Our final destination was Northumberland Heights. We were assigned our rooms, had time to unpack, freshen up, check out the building (that has the most amazing yoga room) and get ready for dinner.

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This is where things get real. We are a long ways from Toronto without a vehicle. We are stuck there with no way to escape. For me, this was probably the thing that I really needed. No way to leave, because I sometimes like to run when things get tough. We all met in a big room with the chairs set up in a big circle with tissue boxes on the floor around the circle. We introduced ourselves which was easy enough. NOT easy to remember everyone’s names, thankfully we were all wearing name tags! Then we shared our stories and from that moment I will never be the same again. The raw emotion was gut wrenching, everyone was so open and so honest with their diagnosis and their lives and where they are at now. I don’t remember a thing I said that night, I know I said it through tears. I don’t know if I talked for one minute or five or if what I said even made sense. Owen’s turn to share his story was before mine, and he said he didn’t want to over shadow me because it was my story. I was so worried that Owen was going to get in the way of himself. My story isn’t just my story, it’s his story also. He may not have had cancer, nor did he have to go through treatments, but he lost just as much as I did and I really wanted him to go to the retreat and talk with someone.

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The next two days were filled with small group discussions, big group discussions, music therapy, art therapy, food and free time. Owen and I weren’t in any of the small group discussions together, which I was very thankful for. I was sure he would share more without me being with him. During one of my small group discussions there was another husband who was there with his wife. When he talked about his experience and everything they had been through it opened up this whole new way of seeing Owen for me. We talked about relationships, emotional well being and our fear of recurrence. We talked and we talked and we talked some more. We talked to people who wanted to listen, we talked and understood each other, we talked without a filter. We connected on a level that we couldn’t connect with other people.

Saturday night was game’s night, but before the games began we all said one word to describe how we were feeling. My word was “buzz”, because it felt like there were bee’s in my head, a whole lot of white noise. I had talked so much and let so much stuff out on the table for everyone to see. I heard stories of terminal illness, survival, loss, heart ache and although I was feeling ok I think I was having a hard time processing everything. I was so overwhelmed and confused that my head hurt (seriously I had a migraine almost everyday we were there). But, something happened on Saturday night…all of that emotion, the frustration I’ve kept to myself, all of the pain…it came busting out of me in the best way possible, by laughing. A game called Scribblish brought me back to myself. I haven’t laughed so hard and for so long in years. It was so freeing, and a little insane because once that hole opened, the emotion came out in laughter for the whole next day also…it was crazy (seriously by Sunday night my throat hurt from laughing so much..that’s not normal).

Sunday night there was a talent show, which was simply amazing. Owen did a water glass music thing with a couple other retreaters, they called themselves “Talent in Progress”, it was fantastic! There was some really great musical talent and it reminded me of my list for living and how I want to learn to play the piano, there is no time like the present!

Unfortunately we had to leave the bubble we were in. During the last day there someone said “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a YACC Village where we all lived”, and in the moment it was so true. What I would give to be close to the people I had just met. Thankfully we live in the digital age where we can connect very easily. Hopefully I will get to see those beautiful faces again, if not in this life I will for sure in the next.

YACC, thank you so much for this incredible opportunity. I am going to try my hardest to give back over the years, because your support means the world to me. To my YACC retreat family, I love you and I miss you already. When I said I don’t like hugs, it really is true, but I will hug you every single time I see you because you are all very special to me.

I am going to leave this post with a song by U2 – Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. This was preformed at the talent show and it was truly blissful moment!

 

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3 Month Update

I can’t believe its been 3 months since my last post! You can probably imagine I have lots to say. 🙂

Yesterday I had my 3 month check up with the oncologist and I am happy to report that everything looks and feels as it should. I have to have blood work done to check my levels but other than that I won’t have to go back for another 3 months! So on the cancer front things are good.

I think I mentioned my mood not being great in my last post. September was a really hard month for me. After the treatments are all done, you suddenly go from being extremely busy to being alone with lots of free time on your hands. You would think that this is a good thing, but really I was tired from the many months of chemo. I slept a lot and I cried when I was awake. I did realize that I was going to need some help, so I called around (I thought it was going to be one simple phone call, but that was not the case) and found a therapist to help me. It was nice to be able to sit and talk to someone who wasn’t a friend or a family member, someone who wasn’t really invested in my future, but wanted to help with my mental health.

I also found my way to the local women’s cancer support group. It was such a relief to sit in a room with a bunch of women who understood how I was feeling. We actually didn’t even talk about cancer and that somehow made it even better. One of the things that was discussed was a women’s cancer retreat that was happening near the end of October. I knew it was exactly what I needed.

At the end of October I went to the cancer retreat and it was incredible. I have come away from that weekend feeling more like the me I remember than I have in a really long time. I met so many incredible woman. I wish I could post a picture from the weekend, but I don’t have permission so I can’t. I am so thankful to the New Brunswick Breast Cancer Network for funding this retreat and allowing me to attend despite not having breast cancer.

November was a better month for me. Owen went to Toronto for work and he brought me home the most thoughtful gift I have ever received!

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He went to the Lego store and made this for me. Mark D, thank you for taking him to the store!!

I bought a Fitbit Flex which is a bracelet that tracks your steps, active minutes (the steps that you take that are actually exercise), and your sleeping pattern. I have committed to doing 10,000 steps/day. Let me tell you, I had no idea how much work it takes to actually do 10,000 steps/day. It pretty much takes me an hour on the treadmill and than whatever steps I take through out the rest of the day. On my more busy days I may only need to do 30 minutes on the treadmill, but that has been rare. I was not feeling well for a few days and didn’t make the 10,000 steps, but made up for them during the rest of the week so that my weekly total was over 70,000 steps.

Owen and I didn’t get to take a vacation this summer because of my treatments so we decided to go to Maine to go shopping the weekend before Black Friday. It was so nice to get away and spend a few days together without any distractions. Owen’s parents kept Georgia for us (thanks Beth and Udo we really do appreciate it), which was great because it gave me a chance to find good hotel deals without having to look for ones that take pets and no pet fee’s which is another bonus! We did so much shopping…bought our Christmas gifts for ourselves and for our family. I’ve wanted snowshoe’s for years so we each got a pair (which almost guarantees that it won’t snow this winter) and new winter jackets. It will be really nice to get out into the snow whenever we get some! The biggest gift we got while away was a new puppy. Owen has taken up hunting and thought it would be nice to get a hunting dog (thanks Erick), and the dog he wanted was at Kirby Mountain Kennels in Vermont. The puppy was only a few hours from Freeport which was convenient since we were already down there shopping. The drive took us through the White Mountains in New Hampshire, it was an incredible drive. The drive home was long…10 hrs, but we like driving so it wasn’t too bad. The new puppy’s name is Jake and he is an English Cocker Spaniel.

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We are all getting used to each other day by day. I forgot how much work a puppy is!! Georgia is really good with him despite him bugging her all day.

So there you have it, my 3 month update. I feel better today than I did this time last year which is huge! I’m happy and am learning to deal with everything I have been through. I am cancer free and hopefully always will be.

In true Renee fashion I will leave you with a video and because it is December and the holidays are upon us I will post a holiday song. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday’s, Happy New Year….whatever holiday you are celebrating.

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Quick Update

I know that I am long overdue for a blog post. I’m not going to lie the past month has been really hard on me. I will write about what has been going on in another post (hopefully soon because I miss writing). The thing is, my fingers are numb and when I type it feels like little pin pricks, so I’m not typing very often, little Facebook updates so people know that I am still around!

Ok, so the reason for today’s quick post. I am having my 3rd blood transfusion today. I’m thankful for the blood that I receive it makes me feel much better. Before I get the transfusion I’m really tired, out of breathe and sore. Once I have the transfusion, I have a bit of energy (not normal energy, but I also don’t feel the need to sleep 16 hours a day), and I can walk up my steps without feel like someone has punched me in the chest.

More exciting than the blood transfusion is this: I AM DONE CHEMO!!!! I was going to have my last treatment today, but they have decided I don’t need it! I will have a scan in a couple weeks, but we’re all confident that I won’t show any evidence of disease! I am a cancer survivor. I am in recovery mode, the road will be long, but will be rewarding. I am so ready to start my new normal.

In true Renee fashion I want to share a video with you. The song is called Wake Me Up by Avicii. I don’t know what it is, but I find this song up lifting. I think a person can find meaning in almost any song, but this one speaks to me. “Wake me up when it’s all over.” I’ve been thinking that a lot lately. I’ve just wanted the treatments to be done. I wanted to sleep through the month. I feel more awake today than I have in a really long time. Once I get my blood I will probably be more awake!

I will try to post again soon!

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Chemo #9 and #10

Hey everyone, I hope you have been out enjoying some of the great summer weather we have been having! I wish I could say that I have been, but it wouldn’t really be the truth. On the hot days I have to hide in my basement because the heat gives me really bad hot flashes and also makes me feel sick. I hope this is just a chemo thing and not a menopause thing because I have always enjoyed hot days!

With the completion of chemo #9, I am officially halfway through! That’s pretty exciting for me. Owen bought me a nice pair of earrings to celebrate making it this far. Chemo #9 was a rough week and not because it was a double drug week, in fact it was only taxol. As I have mentioned before I seem to be growing increasingly tired, this week was no exception. In fact I was so tired that I had to have naps after completing the smallest of tasks. I baked a friends wedding cake, I was glad I was able to do it for her. I was able to attend her wedding, but had to leave before dinner because I felt really sick. It was a long week and I wasn’t looking forward to chemo #10.

The morning of chemo #10 the hospital called and told me my blood counts were low and I was going to receive a blood transfusion with 2 units of blood. They told me to be prepared to be there all day because I was still going to have chemo. This was a double drug week which takes longer then just the taxol week, so I ended up being at the hospital from 9 until 5:30. It was a pretty long day.

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The fact that I can still look happy while having a blood transfusion amazes me!

The new chemical free blood was such a help. Yes I was tired because I always am during this week. The zofran (nausea pill) makes me sleepy so I had a nap everyday. But, on Thursday I was able to go out with my mom for a bit and Friday I was able to do a little shopping. Saturday I went to a pool/dinner party and was able to eat. Sunday Owen’s family came to visit and I made a rhubarb vinaigrette and a Waldorf salad. I had more energy then I’ve had in a long time, it was wonderful.

I bought a book on knitting (it’s on my list for living) and have actually completed a small bag (for my niece) and a cell phone case (that I did a horrible job on) and am now working on a tablet cover (which is looking super awesome).

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Have you heard of The Color Run? It’s a global 5K run and it looks like a ton of fun! I am going to add it to my list for living and hope that it is something I can do next summer. Check out the video, there is likely a Color Run at a city near you!

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My List for Living

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I felt alone because the doctors told me that women my age don’t usually get cancer. I was upset and of course wondered “Why me?”, not that I would wish for this to happen to anyone else. Once I started my blog, I was able to find more women who were also going through their own health journeys, some have cancer, some of had to have hysterectomies and some suffer from endometriosis and many other health issues.

Helen Fawkes has a blog that I follow and one day she posted a List for Living. She had a list of all the things that she would like to do while she is alive. When I read her list, I thought it was genius. I’m not a big fan of the term “Bucket List”. A list of things to do before you die, it seems so negative. Yes we all live and then we die, but we should enjoy whatever time that we have while we are here. Helen’s list for living seemed to be a positive thing. A list of things to live for, a list of things to do while she is living.

I have created my own list for living. Some of the things I want to do will require lots of time, some will require me to save lots of money, and some of the things I may be able to do sooner rather then later. I’m sure I will add to the list as time goes on and I may not be able to do everything I want to do, but it’s a good list of things that I can work on! I would encourage everyone to make a list for living, we all need something positive in our lives to work on and look forward too.

1. Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon – My goal is to run this race in 2015

2. Learn how to play piano

3. Write a book and get it published – I think this is something that a lot of people say that they would like to to. I have received a lot of great feedback on my blog and it has really encouraged me to think more seriously about writing a book.

4. Learn how to knit – Update June 26, 2013 – I have finished some beginners projects. I know how to do the knit stitch and the purl stitch. I will call this done once I know how to knit socks and hats!!

5. Go on a volunteer mission

6. Volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society

7. Go on a Survive and Thrive Expedition – Survive and Thrive Expeditions are for young adult cancer survivors. When I found out about this company I was overwhelmed at the possibility of being able to go on one of the expeditions and meeting people who are close to my age and have gone through their own cancer journeys. I really hope I can do the Grand Canyon rafting expedition in 2014.

8. Go grape stomping

9. Watch someone give birth – This may seem a little weird, but because I will never be able to experience child birth myself, I have a desire to be able to experience it with someone else. Who knows if this will ever happen, but it would mean a lot to me if it does!

10. Build a house by the bay

11. Go skinny dipping

12. Get a survivor tattoo

13. Ride a jet ski

14. Learn conversational Spanish

15. Learn ASL

16. Find a career that makes me happy – They say people go through many career changes in their lives, and this has been true for me. I have longed over the past couple of years to find something that truly makes me happy and I think I’m actually starting to figure out what that career would be.

17. See the Red Woods with Owen

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle

19. See Justin Timberlake in concert

20. Go to France and see the Eiffel Tower

21. Go to England and visit Buckingham Palace

22. Go to Amsterdam and cruise the canals

23. Go to Oktoberfest in Germany

24. Drive on the autobahn – I like to drive fast sometimes and think it would be super fun to drive on this highway!

25. Go on a waking tour of castles in Ireland

26. Go to Scotland and tour the Highlands

27. Eat pizza in Italy

28. Have fondu in Switzerland

29. Visit the Greek Islands

30. Swim with dolphins – I hope to be able to do this in Feb. 2014. My trip to Cuba was cancelled this year because of my surgery, so I hope to reschedule for this winter.

31. Travel across Canada in a car/camper van

32. Travel across the USA in a car/camper van

33. Take part in The Color Run

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A Package Full of Sunshine

A couple weeks ago I came home from the hospital and found a package in the mail. I admit I was super excited, it’s always nice to receive something that isn’t bills or junk mail! I looked at the return address and it said The Get Well Gang. I didn’t know what was in the box, or how The Get Well Gang had received my address, so like a child I shook the box and tried to figure out what it was.

When I opened the box I was blown away. Sitting in the box was a couple beautiful hats, but as I took out one hat, I realized there was another hat under it and then another and another. The box had 6 hats in it!!! Each hat had a card attached with the person’s name who had knit it. The box also had a nice note that included well wishes, the groups web address, email address and mailing address.

I emailed Gretchen Huntley the founder of the group to express my gratitude and to ask permission to blog about the group and the wonderful hats that I received. She told me that the request for the hats came from my friend Krissy and she was glad I liked the hats that she picked out for me. The day that Gretchen emailed me, she told me she had just sent out 264 hats for a total of over 23,000 hats in 10 years!

If you know how to knit or crochet and you would like to volunteer, you can contact Gretchen by email: info@getwellgang.ca or phone: 613-382-4576. If you don’t know how to knit or crochet money donations are greatly appreciated. Checks can be made out to The Get Well Gang and sent to the following mailing address:

Gretchen Huntley

4767 Hwy #2, RR #3

Gananoque, Ontario

K7G 2V5

The organization is small so they do not have a charitable number at this time so they will not be able to send out any tax receipts. However it would mean a lot to me if you decide to support this group by volunteer or by donation.

Now, how about some pictures. I’m not a great model and most or all of the pictures are selfies, but I have to show you these hats!!

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After I corresponded with Gretchen I gave her my blog address, as I did ask if I could blog out her organization. After she read my posts she asked me if I would like her to send me copies of her children’s book to give to my nieces and nephews. I said yes, as it’s hard to explain to them what is really going on with me. The book I received is so cute and so well thought out. It is called Mama Grog Gets Sick and is about a little family who’s mother has cancer, has to take naps, loses her feathers and then when she is better her feathers grow back curly. The book is super sweet and I can’t wait to give the copies to the kids!

I hope you are all having a good day. The sun is shining and the air is warm here!!

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The Saddest Place on Earth

If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth then I think that the oncology ward is the saddest place on earth. I am generally in good spirits, but after I leave the oncology centre I am sad and don’t feel like talking with anyone. The doctors always seem to be running late, so a quick 15 minute appointment turns into 3 hours. The waiting room is filled with old people, the only person I’ve seen younger then me is the receptionist. The waiting sucks, but I think the worst part about being there is how sad most of the people look. They look tired, sick and beaten down. I hope I don’t look the same way in a couple of months.

Owen and I met with the oncologist. She has decided to go along with the surgeon in Halifax. I will be doing 6 rounds of chemo. She thinks I only need 1 drug which will be hard on my bone marrow, blood counts and kidneys, but I won’t lose my hair. However, she wanted to make sure the surgeon in Halifax agrees, so it could change and if it does, it will mean having 2 drugs and hair loss, mouth sores and possibly numb hands and feet. My first chemo treatment will be on April 8th, I’m glad to finally have a start date and more of a plan! Unfortunately I don’t get to attend the chemo teaching session they usually do on Mondays because this Monday is a holiday and I start chemo the following Monday. Hopefully they will fill me in while I am there getting my treatment!

I’m sorry for my lack in replies and posts lately. I hope to post more and reply to your comments in a more timely manner, but I can’t make any promises. I don’t know how I will be feeling in the next couple of weeks. For now I am fighting the flu which has been really hard on me with my immune system already taking a big hit.

Have a good Easter!

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Sacrifices I Have To Make

As I mentioned in my last post I am having a hard time healing. I have never had an incision so big to heal and didn’t think that I would ever have any issues with healing. So I did what I often do, I scoured the internet to find information on wound healing. I found information on protein and how eating more protein will help you heal faster. I am a plant based eater, I haven’t eaten meat since August 2011 (with the exception of turkey at Christmas). I don’t think you need animal protein to survive, but my body is in need of animal protein to heal. I’ve had chicken soup, chicken breast, fish and steak over the past week and let me tell you I am healing so much better. It makes me feel guilty because I think eating plant based is really good for me but, I have to eat meat right now to make myself better.

My weekend was packed full of company. Owen’s birthday was on Friday so we had dinner out on Friday night. Saturday was spent with Owen’s family and then Sunday was spent with some of my mom’s family. It was wonderful to see so many people and spend time with people who care about me. It was the most time I’ve spent with anyone besides my parents and Owen since I left the hospital. Sunday night I had to go to bed early because I was really tired, but it was wonderful to see so many people.

I received a quilt from St. Leo’s Catholic church last week. I was so surprised and overwhelmed by the generosity of the quilters, women who probably don’t even know me. I look forward to finding them the perfect thank you card to express my gratitude.

I have one more week until my next appointment with the oncologist. One more week to wait to find out what my next steps are!

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Finally Some Good News

Yesterday I met with the oncologist and she was able to tell me about the pathology report. The cancer didn’t spread!!! Everything came back clean and clear. If I could dance I would, but rest assured I am dancing in my head!

So, what now? Well I still don’t know. The oncologist wanted to talk to the surgeon who did my first surgery before she recommended her final treatment plan. It is a little confusing to me because the GYN-oncologic surgeon who did my hysterectomy told me that I would have to have chemo to be on the safe side, due to the endometriosis. I guess we will wait to see what this new oncologist decides and we’ll go from there.

I also have a part of my incision that isn’t healing very well, so we need to give it time to heal from the inside-out (yup it’s as gross as it sounds), before I can start chemo. I see the oncologist again in 2 weeks, and if it’s a go with chemo it would probably start about 1 week after that…so hopefully in 3 weeks my hole will be healed!

Now that you’ve read my news, you can go do a happy dance for me!

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Sad Days Need Happy Thoughts

Yesterday was a hard day for me. I was feeling really sore, it kind of felt like 1 step forward and 2 steps back. I know that I will have days like that, but they really bring me down when they happen. Although I’m sure it’s normal, it makes me think my body is failing me. Thankfully I’m generally a happy person, so I laid down for 15 minutes and regrouped my thoughts…remembered the good stuff, my parents are here, I’m alive, my husband loves me, my dog hasn’t left my side, my bills are paid. What more could I ask for? (Not to have cancer, but we won’t go there).

My Saint John oncologist called yesterday, I have my first appointment with her next Wednesday. I don’t know what will happen at this appointment, but my best guess is we will go over my treatment plan and schedule. I will have the chance to ask any questions that I have. Thankfully Owen will be going with me, he tends to ask more questions then I do. I don’t know happens to me when I get in front of a doctor. I have a list of questions, but then I sit there and listen to the doctor and go blank. It’s like I forget how to read! This didn’t happen before cancer…so I’m sure it’s just nerves taking over, I guess that’s why they say to have an advocate with you!!

I hope everyone enjoys the weekend. I’m looking forward to spending a little time with Owen, he’s been working long hours so I haven’t seen much of him lately. Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead, longer days are here!!!

I think I missed something when I was in the hospital, or while I have been recovering as I haven’t been on my computer much. Harlem Shake. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard the song, but what the heck is going on with these weird 30 second YouTube clips? I found a video where someone compiled the Top 10 Harlem Shake video’s. Enjoy!

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