Sunday, April 1, 2012

There's Always a Choice

I wish it was just an April Fool's joke that I have to start chemo this Tuesday. Unfortunately that is not the case. But in the last few weeks I have really been working at being OK with it.

Coming to terms with this precautionary step has not been all that simple. In fact I was on the fence for didn't help that the start date schedule was pushed back a week and I was given more time to let the chemo committing idea sit, stir and fester in my mind.

When my incision was still giving me grief last week my plastic surgeon said no to the March 27 chemo start date and that really resulted in a lot of anger and frustration around the whole healing and chemo subject. I went back and forth between doing chemo and not doing it for days. I was so upset that my body was taking it's sweet time to heal and the fact that it kept setting me back made me question if this was my opportunity to opt out.

After a lot of intense pros and cons list making, heavy discussions and analyzing the goods and bads, I finally had reached my decision last week. I realized that doing chemo would really give me more peace of mind than the alternate option. The amount of pressure I would be putting on myself would just be way too much to deal with if I didn't follow through. Plus, the fact that I was told that I would have a greater than 50% chance of recurrence if I didn't do it kinda pointed me to my end resulting choice.

The struggle with making this decision was tough. I just spent the past 3 months consuming only healthy foods enriched with good enzymes and nutrients and now I was going to do the complete opposite and allow chemo drugs to do a complete overhaul on every cell in my body??? It really is so against everything I was working towards since my diagnosis. But it still is necessary.

It has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. And since I made the choice, I am just working on envisioning the best possible results with minimum side effects. As a friend said to me in an email this week: May it be the easiest chemo ever.

And it will be!

The fact that I was even facing this 'should I do chemo?' dilemma really brought up a lot of emotions for me. Why couldn't I be facing a 'should we elope or not elope' dilemma instead? People in there twenties should be humming and haaawing about easier decisions than this! Not cancer related ones!

When my oncologist told me last month that I only had the cancer in me for 6 to 9 months it really freaked me out how fast it appeared. But this information did not surprise me. The tumour was not there in July when my GP did an exam... and if it was, it was very small at that point.

So what was it that set it off? And at my age, why was it even occurring? Why was I having to decide whether or not to do chemotherapy? Wasn't I doing enough before to prevent something like this? How was it that something was triggered in my body to start this in the first place? Was it something in my environment? Was I allowing stress to consume me? Was it all the soy milk I was downing in those chai lattes I ordered three days a week for 2 years? Was it something I could have prevented or was it something I couldn't control? And why in the heck did the year 2012 figure I needed to deal with something like CANCER in the first place!!?

I know it is highly unlikely that I will ever know the answers to these maddening questions. The exact reason behind all of this I will never find... but playing the blame game is natural for us cancer peeps and at least I know that all of these questions are a normal response to getting it. As much as we should never blame ourselves and so much of what we are exposed to is out of our control, we really do just wish for answers and want to know WHY.

Why me and why now? But the fact is, why not me? It could happen to anyone these days.

Back in the early 1900s cancer happened to 1 in 500 people and breast cancer was practically unheard of. In the 1970s it would happen to 1 in 5 people. Nowadays the probability of someone developing cancer in their lifetime is 1 in 2.

That. Is. Absolutely. F*%&ed. Up!!!!!!

This startling fact came from a document published by the public health agency of Canada back in 2007. And it completely alarmed and disturbed me. I had no idea it was that great of a risk these days. I knew it was high and that it had risen but I didn't realize just how much.

The problem, I believe, is that people are not educated enough about preventing it from happening.

In a world where it is so common now... why are there not more choices being made to stop it? If the facts are out there and the studies show how bad certain things are for us, why is it not getting red flagged? How is it that we have let it get this bad? We know that cancer can creep up because of a whole list of obvious in our face reasons, but why do 'we' - often and knowingly - continue to make the poor choices that can lead to it? Why do people still smoke? How do the 'food police' get away with the majority of crap that gets put on the shelves in grocery stores? Why do we use toxic chemicals to clean our homes and put cancer causing beauty products on our skin? Why are there BPAs lining our tin cans? How is it that GMOs are OK? What about highly refined and processed foods?

And for the love of life! Who invented number 7 plastic!!? All bad toxic plastic for that matter!

Before cancer I considered myself pretty knowledgeable about what stuff is good and what shit is just WRONG. A lot of it is just common sense. But there were times I'd make choices I knew were not good ones. I think we all have that voice inside us that just knows when we shouldn't be doing something. Especially if it is done on a regular basis. Everything in moderation is supposed to be ok.

But what about all the stuff that is not OK? I know I can't beat myself up about it, but I can't help but wish I could go back and make some different decisions. Did I really need and 'deserve' those satisfying gin and tonics after work on a hot sunny day? How about the tasty veggie burgers packed with highly processed crap with words in the ingredients I couldn't even pronounce? And the estrogen filled foods that fed the tumour growing in my chest? And why did I allow myself to get so stressed out about stupid shit?

Stress is bad!

Having become quite the self-proclaimed expert on it now I was astonished at how easily stress can decrease our immune function. Chronic stress leads to a massive list of diseases and health problems...and, you guessed it! CANCER!

These days, many people are so busy and frantic with daily tasks, meetings, demanding jobs, errands etc we barely take time to take care of ourselves... And a lot of us are completely unaware of some of the major stressors in our lives as we go about our daily routines.

How many people are out there answering 'ok' 'fine' or 'Im getting by' when asked how they are doing? It's actually really sad how little time we take to do a mental check in and see how we REALLY are doing. We shouldn't just be coping... we shouldn't just be getting by... We shouldn't be spending less time with family... We shouldn't be buying crappy stuff in the grocery store because it's quick and easy... and because we don't have time or because it's comforting and we think we deserve it or need it. Or Because we're too tired and busy plugged into technology, the 6pm news, ipods, emails, work related duties, chores and stuff that can wait. Things shouldn't be bought because it's convenient. Or because it will make our busy schedules more efficient. What ever happened to taking time to relax? Taking our time getting from point A to point B? Why is everyone always rushing around to get stuff done? Why do we put such silly self-implemented deadlines on ourselves? (Im so guilty of that!)

The result of all of this is a lot of STRESS and isn't good for anybody. And it's especially not good for our bodies. I haven't met one single person with a diagnosis who didn't say they had a lot of stress going on in their lives before discovering they had cancer.

Stress is BAD! I repeat myself!

Now having to actually put up a fight against cancer I wish I had done SOMETHING.... ANYTHING differently. Even if it was as simple as having more vitamin D each day whether in supplement form or the real thing. Sunshine is amazing for our bodies and we West Coasters definitely are not getting enough of it. Vitamin D can prevent 60% of all cancer cases if adequate dosage is received on a regular basis. No wonder the state of Hawaii has one of the lowest cancer rates in the US!

Since attending the 2 day LIFE seminar at Inspire Health a few weeks ago I feel like I have been given a greater in depth view on what really is OK and what is completely just not OK. These are all tools to help me well as choices to make that will help prevent cancer from hopefully never returning again.

It's pretty typical of a cancer survivor to want and need this kind of information.  I, personally have become a bit obsessed with the facts and studies. Many cancer survivors do. We go into survival mode and then seek out the best possible ways to protect ourselves. And with that comes a HUGE amount of information. It really is overwhelming stuff... but all good knowledge to have.

And knowledge is power.

Cancer survivors want to feel a sense of empowerment and know that we have some control over what can happen to our bodies. And who could blame us? Before this happened to me I was blissfully unaware, naive and ignorant to the fact that cancer could happen to me at this point in my life. I figured I was safe because of my age. Little did I know that all it takes is for your body's immune cells to weaken, inflammation to occur and BAMM! ...An acidic oxygen depleted environment for abnormal cancer cells to grow and take over.

So I am going to do everything in my power to prevent this from ever happening to me again. I know I can only do so much though, because there are just too many carcinogenic factors out there in our environment that we can't control. But we can sure try and avoid it. And that is exactly what I am going to do. Arm myself with information and share what knowledge I do have with those who are interested. Because what's the other choice that I have? Going back to the way I was living pre-cancer - unaware and uninformed? Helllll Noooo! If any good can come from this awful experience it will be that I am listening to that voice inside my head. I am being fuelled by the honest truth and am totally determined to bidding cancer adieu and hopefully helping others do so as well.

I know we can't be good all the time. There is no fun in living a rigid life where we can't have the occasional treat. We certainly are not perfect nor should we expect ourselves to be... but we CAN make better choices and actually take time and make our bodies first priority. And I think that is the first step.

Excuse me while I climb down off my soap box finally and get to talking about something else ...I totally went off there!

Happy news!

My incision is finally fantastic! Thankfully it is doing MUCH better and the bandages have been dry for a few days now. I still have quite a bit of swelling and am not gaining a lot of motion yet but nothing a little physio this Thursday can't help with. Overall the foob (fake + boob = foob) is doing pretty good and I am quite pleased.

Tomorrow I get the stitches removed and a final sign off from Dr. Van Awesome. And then comes Tuesday's treatment. With a 9am scheduled start I will meet with one of the chemo nurses and doctors to answer any questions, review and take my anti-nauseas and then I will have about an hour to two hour sitting time for the first treatment. The first 4 cycles consists of two drugs. One only takes about 5 minutes to get in my system and the other takes an hour. The last 4 cycles there is only one drug but with a 4 hour sitting time. Thanks to my best friend Tanis I have a portable DVD player to help pass the time.

All 8 cycles of my chemo treatments are luckily done through the hospital here on the Coast. I am glad there won't be a boat ride following each treatment day. The weekly back and forth ferry trips are exhausting and I am thankful I only have a handful of city visits for the month of April. This is not the case for a friend of mine who has been doing Monday to Friday trips in to the cancer agency for radiation each week. Kristy is the cancer buddy I had been hoping for and wishing to be connected with back when all of this cancer nonesense got started. She is so awesome and is SO kicking cancer's butt!!

Like me, Kristy lives on the Sunshine Coast, is in her twenties and went through her cancer diagnosis within the same month that I did. The timing of it all was strange but I guess the Universe had each of us in mind for each other. (Merry Christmas to Ashley and Kristy!!?? NOT!)

Although we were diagnosed with different cancers, it doesn't change that connection you can only have with someone else who is facing a cancer diagnosis. Kristy is now officially apart of my cancer babe posse... a term coined by the Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips book author Kris Carr. I am so grateful to be in touch with her...To be able to be here for each other through this insanely emotional ride has been a real gift. As much as neither one of us wishes the other was going through this, it is comforting to be able to be there for each other and know that the other person 'gets' what the other is going through. No one can truly really understand what it is like to go through this unless they have faced cancer themselves.

Cancer is a bitch. But together my new cancer buddy and I are gonna show it who's boss! There is no other option but to regain our immunity, fight and send cancer packing!

Wish me luck on Tuesday! Easiest chemo here I come!


  1. Can I say an AMEN to that soap box speach!!!! Amen, amen, amen. Phew, go Ash, not sure you could have said it any better than that. Love it. We all need to check ourselves and what we see as important - stop and breath. Yes. Love it.

    Love you - show cancer who's boss!!!
    Xoxo tanis

  2. Hey Ashligger, I'm so glad you are writing this. Keep up the awesome work!
    I thought you might like to know that I quit smoking about nine months ago and now I go to the gym almost every day.

    After reading the blog, I thought you might like to add this to your cancer fact-finding repertoire. It's a cbc piece talking about some of the same stuff you mentioned.

    Keep that chin way up,
    C and I think of you often,

  3. Woohoo! Way to go B-rent!! Proud of you buddy! :) I always knew you could do it.

    Thanks for stopping by to read my ramblings... Take care and hi to Christine!

  4. fake boob = foob - I love it !!
    so glad your sense of humour is fully functional

    love from heathy

  5. A fellow breast cancer friend of mine introduced me to the term and it stuck! :) We both have a foob!