Soul to Soul

Hello my lovelies. All is well here and I hope this finds you also well and full of life.

Healing is in full effect and since treatment has finished I’ve been busier than I have been in some time.  It’s so nice to see there’s some summer left and my short-term goal is to slather myself up with sunscreen and swim in the ocean before the fall comes knockin’.

We’re preparing for another school year here.  It’s Kennedy’s last year of high school and Jackson’s first.  He’ll be playing football for the school this year and I’m looking forward to watching the games all bundled up in the crisp air.  It will be so strange to have both of my children attend the same high school as I did when it seems I was there just a few years ago rockin’ my Pentimento jeans, stilettos and blazers.  Time really does keep on keepin’ on.

When I finished this blog of my journey through cancer treatment, I wasn’t sure if I would miss writing or that I would continue in some way.  I’ve been persuaded to keep posting but it didn’t seem right to do it here.  This blog was about a journey that was now completed and it has a very different feel for me.  It was as though I held my breath when I wrote about what my family and I were going through. Once treatment finished, the air burst from my lungs and I was ready to regroup and start another journey.  To quote Soul II Soul, it was time to get “back to life…back to reality”.

So if you care to keep reading, I’ve made a new nest in which we can hang out and talk about fluff and serious stuff.  You can find me rambling over here:

I hope your summer is turning out to be as wonderful as mine, even as the nights get cooler and the leaves have that rustle that whispers that shorter days are coming…but not just yet.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

Requiem for a Bitch

With eyes watering and skin burning, I hopped off the radiation table for the last time. My shoulders ached as I put my arm back in my Johnny shirt sleeve and put my hospital robe back on. I hugged my radiation technicians and thanked them for making me feel like an overdone french fry. After all, this incredible bunch of young men and women were the ones who helped put the last nail in the cancer coffin. They are stars, all of them, but especially Shaun Naugle. He made me look forward to my zapping with his easy banter, smile and goodness of spirit. willquotes

I’m done. I’m really done. Maybe it will seem real in a week or two lol.

The journey to make cancer my bitch is over. What commenced on January 16, 2013 with surgery to remove a large tumour and several metastatic lymph nodes has finally come to an end. Six rounds of chemotherapy, 30 radiation treatments, several hundred hugs, buckets of tears, reams of prayers and a few dozen bottles of wine have carried me to the summit, to the shore, across the bridge, to the finish line and to every other metaphor of which you can imagine that symbolizes completion.

This is the message my beautiful daughter, Kennedy, sent me two nights ago:

I’m so incredibly proud of you. You are truly the greatest role model there is. You stayed positive, you comforted us, and you kicked that bitch’s ass. I love you more than life itself. You’re truly the most amazing woman I’ve ever met and ever will meet 🙂

Talk about cry! She came with me this morning and then treated me to lunch. She has the very best part of my X chromosome and has blessed me with her beauty of spirit and countenance. Her compassion astounds me in someone so young. She was my fellow soldier in this battle and I can only hope both of my children take away no scars from our journey that will haunt them in any way, shape or form.

Now begins the process of healing from the pain and fear that have been my constant companions for ten months. The hardest part lies ahead; living without fear. Pain is relative and anyone can get used to anything if they must. Healing happens in our miraculous bodies without our help. Fear is optional. It’s insidious, but there are ways to combat it. Meditation, exercise, music, conversation, reading and prayer are the most effective ways to ease your mind. I’ll try those and maybe a nice glass of Shiraz when I feel the blackness threatening to settle over me again. It’s been hard work to stay optimistic but it has paid off. I’m here and stronger than I was. I believe that we’ve killed that fucking bitch right some hard!!!!babe

When I look back at all the things that have prepared me for this journey, at this particular time, I’m so thankful. My job afforded me long-term disability. I had private critical illness insurance that enabled me to keep my house. Last year I remortgaged my home to pay off debt which means I had credit available until my insurance kicked in. I was healthy (except for the cancer). I had great and supportive friends and family to help me through the assistance-laden early stages of my treatments. I found WordPress so I could use this tool to help me keep my sanity and share my progress. I found my inner ninja. I found you.

My gratitude cannot ever be adequately expressed. To each and every one of you, I dedicate my living. May I have as many months left to live as I’ve had friends reach out to me. That should take me well into my 90’s.

My wish is that this will be me one day far away :)

My fervent wish is that this will be me one day 🙂

My dear lovelies…thank you so much. You’ve made this journey lighter and easier. I hope to see many of you in the coming weeks and you all have giant hugs coming your way. To those who’ve supported me over the ethernet, I send out celestial hugs and the hope that you feel them alighting on you in a quiet moment. I will miss talking with you, here in the dark, in my kitchen. I miss you already but it’s time for us to disembark our midnight train.

Tonight I will celebrate with a bottle of sparkling wine from my offshore family on the Thebaud Production Platform. I’ve saved it for this moment. I will toast to you all and bid farewell to my cancer. I will say hello to my future. I’m sure I will cry good tears into the bubbles.

Because as of 12:10 this afternoon, thanks to your strength and support and our free and often fabulous medical system…..CANCER IS MY BITCH!!!!!!

Thank you SO much for reading.

With much love, abounding hope and EVER believing,
Andrea xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Although I hadn’t planned on writing any further, I am! Never say never 🙂 Below is the link to another blog I’ll be adding to as inspiration hits. Cheers!

Chipped Soul

polishOnce again I’m changing my nail polish because it’s chipped and I can’t stand looking like a sloppy teenaged girl. I’m still stunned by the state of my nails when the polish comes off. It looks like some new growth is hanging on at the nail beds but the first half of the nails has lifted and horrifies me with its white and brown streaky dead looking carcass. I have a glass of bioflavonoids close at hand that I’m generously sharing with a few fruit flies and am in a bit of a melancholic mood today.

I’ve felt like isolating myself the last few days. I’m tired of the same questions and the same answers. The routine of the last 6 weeks has been monotonous. Wake, coffee, radiation, eat, Netflix, read, sleep. What I’m more afraid of is to be finished that routine. I’m afraid that I’ll then start the full-time job of worrying when my cancer will come back. I’m afraid I won’t be able to take my advice and live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Hypocrisy is a bitter pill to swallow.

When my energy is better and I’m finished all my treatments and have no appointments on the horizon, I think I’ll take a little trip by myself. I’m not sure where or when. I don’t know if I’ll fly or drive. I’m not sure what the airport security will do when I hand them my passport. Am I supposed to take a wig with me that resembles the hair I once had? Maybe they have some on hand for such occasions. It will be approximately 2 years before my hair grows to the length it was, if I decide to let it grow.

My fear is that I won’t be able to let it grow. My fear is that more chemo is in my future and I want my portacath out SO BADLY. I want it out before someone can say, “It’s a good thing you still have your port!”. That would NOT be a good thing. That would not be a good thing at all. Perhaps it scares me more at the moment because I’m so depleted. Maybe when I’m stronger I’ll be able to think like a warrior again. I need to be stronger both physically and mentally. It’s strange that at the end of my treatment I feel defeated instead of triumphant. Maybe it’s that the momentum has waned and the adrenaline dump into my system is now calling to be paid.

You see, no one has explained what I’m supposed to do next. What am I supposed to be feeling? Do I now say I “had” cancer? Am I supposed to just go back to the life I had before…the one that may have given me cancer? Once I don’t look like Joan of Arc there will be fewer visible battle scars and fewer stares. By the time my hair grows back enough that I can colour and style it my blisters should be healed and hopefully the burn marks will have sloughed off. My nails won’t be normal by then, but closer. Another winter will be on its way and I will greet this one without the trepidation and fear of the unknown with which I greeted the last. I will again look “normal” and I use quotations because I was never really what you’d call normal. What I mean is that outwardly I will look unchanged and will be able to pass for a healthy person. I want to BE a healthy person!!!

The physical healing will happen without my help. My cells will replace themselves and wounds will continue to heal. The mental healing will require active help and I’m not sure how to go about replacing the fear that has usurped my optimism. Perhaps the fear will slough off as my body rebuilds. Perhaps I just need a new focus. Maybe a new job even. I could get a new hobby or learn a new language. Somehow I feel that the life I had can’t ever be mine again. Perhaps it’s time to make a new one, keeping only the very best elements of the old. Perhaps this is my chance to have the life of which I’ve dreamed.

Who am I kidding. I had a fucking fantastic life. Sorry, I HAVE a fucking fantastic life. It’s just time to make a few changes. Tomorrow I’ll meet with my medical oncologist, Arik Drucker. I haven’t seen him since May. The main question I have for him is when will I start to feel better. I’ll ask about the next planned CT scan and who do I call if I find a new lump or start coughing up blood. Other than that, I’m good. I’ve been a good doobie with my treatment. They should give me a medal or a gold star or a fucking Mercedes. He won’t remember my name when I walk out the door. I’m case file 1547 something something. He doesn’t know what a fucking fantastic life I have nor does he know how long I’ll have it. Neither do I. Now I just have to find a way to get from here to there without ruining all the in-between days by worrying about things that are beyond my control. I’ll figure it out and let you know when I do.

Thanks for listening to a little bit of my chipped soul, my lovelies. Back to removing the chipped polish.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

hope1 (1)My journey with you all will soon come to an end.  Your support couldn’t ever be measured or my gratitude expressed.  At the beginning of my journey I was filled with fear and uncertainty.   You held my hand and my heart as I took those first shaky steps into the unknown.  You helped me find the centre of my strength by allowing me to spill my guts and distill my thoughts.  You shone light into the tunnel so that even when I couldn’t see beyond the next step, I could see the step right in front of me.

Now it’s time for me to have faith.  To have faith that my medical team, every one of you, and the Universe have taken me to the shore of health.  I believe that this wasn’t meant to be the end of me.  If it was meant to teach me lessons and share them with you, it’s done that.  If it was meant to give me an even greater appreciation for life and the people with whom I share it, it’s done that, too.

This journey started out darkly and I came to find comfort in that darkness.  Here, with you all, I emptied my soul and re-packed it with a greater measure of love…of peace…of pure gratitude.  Now the journey is no longer a trek through darkness but a journey toward light.  Everest will have been scaled and it will be time to rest and be silent in front of majesty.  Eventually the journey back down the mountain will begin with a purpose:  the rest of my life.

Tomorrow marks the last of my whole breast and axillary radiation. The next and LAST five treatments will be just to the surgical scar area. My skin is breaking down under the breast and I have pain now in the breast but it’s nothing I can’t handle. My definition of pain has been expanded throughout our time together. I’ve endured things I wouldn’t have thought possible and come out on the other side. This pain is “good” pain…it means tissue is being killed and hopefully any straggling shit cells that were stuck there. In the future I will try to be grateful for the absence of pain every single day.

These days I resemble a hedgehog and I’m happy to do so. My hair is coming back, silver and gray with a few brown hold-outs sprinkled throughout. As my hair comes back my nails are preparing to go. I’m trimming them shorter and shorter so I don’t snag one on something. Opening beer tabs now requires a tool of some sort! I have a niggling feeling that the nerve damage to my fingertips may be permanent as it hasn’t yet changed but I can still move my fingers and that’s what’s important. The phantom itch in my arm and breast that isn’t relieved by touch is worse than the pain in my fingertips. My brain will just have to get used to the fact that certain nerves no longer go anywhere. Even with that knowledge, I try to scratch. It’s maddening but, again, small potatoes in the grand scheme. If my brother-in-law-to-be can get used to feeling a leg that doesn’t exist anymore, I can get used to altered sensation in my body. Someone always has it worse!

Standing in the tunnel I can see the light reaching toward my feet. I can tell it’s warm and smells good out there, even if I’m a little afraid. At first I imagine I’ll be like a mole; blinded by the very light I’m reaching toward and stalling as the light become brighter. The pain of being finished treatment is something I haven’t considered until it’s now so close. To be “on my own” will be a strange feeling. No more appointments with doctors. No more friendly chit-chat with the wonderful radiation technicians. No one monitoring my progress except myself. There is a session for “Living Beyond Cancer” that is presented once a month and I’ll be expected to attend. I’m sure they’ll help me transition from a mole-like state to a creature of the light again.

So, my lovelies, our time together is drawing to an end. Even in the darkness your love has been my guide, softly whispering that I was going the right way. Thank you for your guidance both loud and silent through this tunnel of darkness. Once treatment finishes my focus will shift to repairing and rebuilding. Every lump, bump and hiccup will bring me worry for years, I’m sure. My faith will be tested. I will have bad days and magical days. So will you all. The only key is to keep having days. Any sort. Just more days with you…that’s all I want.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

Sliding Back Bones

The Maestro and I pre-boarding

The Maestro and I pre-boarding

Four day long weekend is in full effect. Natal Day is a civic holiday on Monday which gives most people a day off and essential workers some overtime. This morning I started waking at 6…then 7…then 8…and finally got out of bed at 9, grateful that I don’t have radiation today. Yesterday marked zap 22. Only 8 more to go…three covering my axillary nodes (25 zaps) and 3 to the entire breast. The last 5 treatments are termed “boosts” to the scar area, as that’s most likely where there were cells hanging around waiting for the commotion to stop so they can try to grow again.

My skin is so far intact. No blistering has started and I’m hopeful it won’t. I’m taking a supplement called Resveratrol that is touted to prevent the worst of the toxic skin effects of radiation. I meant to start taking it earlier, but better late than never. It’s been almost 2 weeks since I started and maybe that’s why I haven’t blistered yet. I swear my skin feels better than it did 2 weeks ago, despite looking worse.

This morning I’m moving like an old lady until my Tylenol kicks in. Every joint is aching, including my toes! As I didn’t do anything strenuous yesterday, I’m not sure why. Thursday night I did a little dancing…maybe that’s what’s causing a protest in my body lol. Thanks to my friend, Juanita, I was a VIP guest of the Maestro Fresh Wes (Wes Williams) on a “party boat” that cruises Halifax Harbour. He’s Canada’s first international hip hop star from the 80’s and he’s earned the title “The Godfather of Canadian Hip Hop”. Mireille and Claude came with me to enjoy a night of tunes and drinks on a floating paddle-wheel boat in the gorgeous night air. As it was a “Throwback Thursday” theme, we all knew the words to all the songs so you couldn’t help but move!

I met the Maestro in November at a show he did in Dartmouth. That was after I found my ugly little lump and before my first mammogram. Again, Juanita was able to use her contacts in the industry to manage to get Nathalie and I on the party limo to meet the Maestro and have a few drinks while we drove around the city and partied with the Godfather. He was so gracious and sweet…patiently smiling as his pic was taken over and over again. He remembered me from November and as we were waiting at the dock, he surprised me from behind and said, “Hey! I’m glad you were able to make it!”. Talk about swoon lol. I got up and gave him a hug. I guess it was easy to spot the bald chick in the crowd. Juanita introduced us to some other industry members and her partner, a local DJ who’s worked with Classified and others. Brian goes by the name DJ IV and he was a sweetie. I had a wonderful time and if the pain this morning is from that night? Worth every ache!!

DJ IV, The Maestro, Juan and I

DJ IV, The Maestro, Juan and I

Maestro and I November 2012

Maestro and I November 2012

That night I met some lovely ladies, a couple who were visiting from Ontario. It was a night not unlike the spiritual vibe of New Year’s Eve. Random people were touching me and smiling. After we disembarked, I spoke more with the ladies I’d met and one of them has just finished radiation for breast cancer. She was fortunate they caught it early and she didn’t require chemo. She was beautiful. A few years older than I am but with younger children. She asked for my name and said she would add me to her church’s prayer circle. There is such a solidarity among those who’ve had to face the beast. I went to bed feeling grateful that blessings continue to come during this hard time.

Last weekend I was hoping to go back to Cape Breton this weekend but my energy couldn’t take the drives to and from. How long will it take to feel normal again? I was disappointed that I didn’t have a rebound after chemo before radiation started and now the radiation fatigue is settling in (but later than I anticipated). There is nausea from time to time but no urgent run to the bathroom. My nails are still hanging on but I give them two weeks, tops, before they start coming off. Almost 15 pounds have come off since I started radiation July 2nd. That brings me to the half-way point in losing the weight I gained since surgery. Most of it is fluid, but a diminished appetite has to be helping. Most days I have to remind myself to eat something (usually when I get dizzy lol). My hair is starting to grow back including some weird-looking little eyelashes and a few eyebrow hairs. Once I finish radiation I’m sure my body will be able to spend more time repairing the damage from chemo instead of just dealing with the daily assault of local tissue destruction. What a miracle is our body’s ability to love and repair itself.

Tonight, if my body feels able, some friends and I are going to the Lower Deck to enjoy some people watching and a few wobbly pops. Hopefully tomorrow Scott will be able to come over or I’ll go there for a visit. He’s two weeks into his radiation and oral chemo and doing well so far. His beautiful curly hair is starting to come out but he’ll rock the bald look. It feels pretty good when it’s hot out!! lol. He’s a week behind me in treatment numbers but as we’re having such different parts of our bodies zapped, I don’t know what he’s feeling. He has good and bad days, like we all do but his seizures have taken a vacation (hopefully permanently!).

May this long weekend find you all in the middle of rest and relaxation. May you all be able to take an easy deep breath and smell the summer smells, hear the summer sounds and enjoy the summer vibe. Even with a little pain dogging you…let your backbone slide.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo


Dominion Beach, NS

Dominion Beach, NS

Sitting on my grandmother’s steps, I watch my children cross the road to have breakfast at my uncle’s. They’re teasing each other as usual. I wonder how many times I’ve made that same walk myself in my lifetime to play with my cousins and eat at their table. As many times as I looked across that street from that step I never imagined that one day I’d have my own children and they would walk on that very road.

I sit with my coffee, enjoying the breeze and the struggling sunshine pushing through the overcast sky. Crows call to each other and starlings chirp…sharing the news and complaining about the recent rain. There is a peace here composed mainly of memory and I fill myself with those memories and breathe deep of the past. It saddens me to be here, without my grandmother forcing food on us. Knowing it may be the last time I’m sitting on this step as my Nona is 98 and in a nursing home now and one day the house will likely be sold tears a little piece of my heart.

The large yard is now devoid of the many cherry trees that were the bane of my young stomach. They’ve long been cut down due to disease. The vegetable garden that my grandfather tended is also long gone. No more will sweet lettuce be doused in vinegar and oil. The giant willow tree that was the background for many wedding pictures has also been put to rest without a trace of its existence. I see them still. I can feel their shade if I walk close…remembering days when adulthood was a century away and things like jobs and children of my own were incomprehensible.

If I look hard enough, or perhaps deep enough, I can see my Nono out there, weeding. He has a white tank top on under an open short-sleeved cotton shirt…straw fedora protecting his bald head from the sun. He looks up and smiles at me and my heart aches. Thirty three years haven’t tempered the loss. He called me “Darkie” and my little sister, Gina, “Blondie”. He made me feel so important. Even when he was scratching his whiskers on my tender skin. Maybe especially then. I’ve never stopped wishing I grew up in Cape Breton. Maybe in my next life I’ll get a do-over and my dad will move us from Montreal to Dominion.

When my Uncle Livio opened my grandmother’s house for us to stay in, he told my kids not to worry. “There are no ghosts here”, he said with a wink. He was wrong. We carry ghosts with us and drag them where memory is strongest. Here there are many ghosts and not all of them have yet passed. They are the vivid memories of people and places and events that have claimed their own synapses in our temporal lobes forever. They are experiences flooded with sight and sound and smell…rooted in fear or love. They are my history. Memories of summers spent with my grandparents. Memories of my glamorous aunts when they were much younger. They don’t know how badly I wanted to be just like them when I grew up.

I’d watch them get ready for dates with their now husbands. They’d take me to the beach (driving on their own!), they mowed the lawn with a gas mower and they were so brave and grown up. I couldn’t wait for my turn. Maybe they’d let me borrow their platform shoes when I was old enough to go to a disco. Maybe they’d teach me how to drive that Volkswagen. I had no concept of the passing of time and that things and fads would fade. This was my NOW and it would always be my now. Never did I think they would become ghosts that would make me wistful for simpler times.

My Nona is still living although her memory has been largely obliterated. She lives in the now without any before, usually not recognizing anyone or understanding where she is. Alzheimer’s has claimed her mind and left her body. Saturday the kids and I went to visit her with my cousin, Annette. I’d been putting off a visit since she’s been in a nursing home. I was afraid the wonderful memories of my grandmother and time spent in Cape Breton by myself during my summers would be tainted by who she is now, more than finding out she had a secret life after she’d died. They weren’t. They’re intact. My memories are mine for as long as my hippocampus can hold them. My heart ached for what she’d lost but not just for her…for my selfish self. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know why she was where she was but was adamant that she wasn’t coming back. I cried when I left. I mourned my grandmother even as she breathed. I wanted to take away her pain and confusion but that is left to God and His infinite wisdom. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Let me die”. Part of her must know she’s here only because it’s her will. She’s strong and stubborn and here for a reason. I believe that when it’s time for us to let go, we let go and are welcomed to another place. A better place, surely. Hopefully.

As I sat on that step I thought of a friend and co-worker who passed a few days ago and my soul leaked. He was taken suddenly, at 47. He was in a place he loved and I can only hope, for Jeff’s sake, that before he went to bed that night, he breathed deep and was grateful to his core that he was at his cottage and was happy. He was doing what he loved most and wasn’t in the middle of a terrible shift at work. He would be pleased to know how many, many people will miss his presence…his constant music, either humming or singing, his willingness to find whatever you needed, his organization of big Sunday breakfasts at work, his ability to do small carpentry jobs for friends, his smile and belly laugh, his love of his children. His passing still doesn’t seem real but I am blessed to have known him.

I can only hope that the next place we get to go is as beautiful as our memories of a childhood paradise where we felt safe and loved and important. Perhaps our favourite ghosts will be there with a bowl of fresh cherries and a loving, scratchy beard to welcome us. Perhaps every memory will be vividly regained.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

I Scream, You Scream

frosted-mini-wheatChocolate, vanilla, strawberry, Moon Mist, Orange Pineapple, Rocky Road, Moose Tracks, Walnut, Butter Pecan, Grape Nut, chocolate mint, Bubblegum, Lavender. Ice cream comes in more flavours than I can count. Becoming lactose intolerant as an adult, I really, really miss ice cream and sometimes will gladly suffer the consequences to fulfill that craving for a soft…cold…creamy…lick. Exotic matchings of flavours, textures, colours and scents tempts me on occasion and makes me put aside my good girl whole wheat side and indulge my naughty frosted side. What’s a little pain and gas as the cost of a lot of feel-good milky sweetness???

We aren’t one-sided individuals. We’re at least three-dimensional but I think we’re more likely cubic. Or maybe octahedronal We have many sides that need to be nurtured and we CAN wear many hats at once. Balance in all things. Nurturing of all things. Conflict arises when we see ourselves and our world as black and white. It’s both and neither!

If black is the absence of colour and white is all colours at once, perhaps we can live in black and white, fully understanding that the meaning goes beyond what the eye perceives and envelops what each fundamentally IS; all and nothing…all tangled up at any given moment. We absorb and we emit. It’s the mind that has a problem with this concept, not the soul.

Can you be simultaneously brave and afraid? Yes. Can you be simultaneously in love and in hate? Most definitely. Can you miss someone while being glad they’re away from you? Of course. Quantum mechanics teaches us that all possibilities exist at any given moment in time…before they happen and as they are happening. So I can love ice cream and hate it at the very same moment. It’s still deliciously smooth and soothing when I hold it on my tongue, whichever way I choose to hold it in my mind.

Our perceived reality is too often influenced by our thoughts rather than our experience. If that weren’t the case, I’d never hate ice cream. I’d love it every single time. It’s when I think about what the ice cream will do to me later that I begin to hate it, despite that my tongue is telling me….this shit is awesome!! As we can ever only live one moment at a time, we should be fully there. Fully involved. Take the moment for what it is and make sure you don’t let your memory change it by throwing concepts like regret and remorse around. We cannot live backward so we shouldn’t waste time thinking backward and ruining awesome experiences!

Perhaps we need to live more in the moment…indulge more of our frosted side. Perhaps we should think less and enjoy more. Be responsible and whole wheatish, certainly, but don’t let that opportunity for ice cream pass. And for God’s sake…don’t ruin the ice cream after you’ve loved it by saying things like, “I was bad” or “Why did I do that???”. Enjoy every sweet moment with which you are presented as it was intended to be enjoyed…in all its creamy goodness. The bad that may follow should have been well worth it and if it’s not, choose better moments for yourself!!

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

Holiday Road

Another week of zapping has begun. My head is clearer than it has been in the preceding weeks and I’m thankful for that, even if I’m a little more tired every day. I’ve conserved my energy for the last few weeks, such as it was, in hopes that this weekend I’ll have the stamina to drive to Cape Breton to spend time with my family. The energy is so unpredictable so Kennedy will most likely drive half way and I’ll drive the rest. Jackson will no doubt want to be in charge of the music but I can only handle so much gangsta rap and even though I love my bass (and some gangsta rap, if we’re being totally honest) variety is the spice of life. One cannot live on songs about bitches and hoes alone.

To Cape Breton there are wonderful cousins who travel home for a couple of weeks every summer and I can’t wait to see them. They’re all so close and I envy that. My brothers and I aren’t as close as I’d always wished. My kids love being there. Cape Breton has such a different vibe. Even though I have family dropping in at the house all the time, having so many at one time in one place is a special thing for us. Cape Breton owns huge chunks of my childhood and my heart and I’ve never stopped wishing I’d grown up there. The sense of community is so much greater, even if it also entails a greater field of gossip, as small towns are certain to have. Everyone knows everyone so the talk isn’t just of the weather, but of neighbours’ business as well. There’s no scandal like a small town scandal. I think that’s endearing, but I don’t have to live in such a fishbowl. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so endearing if it was my business that was being discussed over the fence.

Two more cousins who have moved here from there will also be home during an annual festival called Seaside Daze and it will be the first time we’ve all been in the same place at the same time. There are aunts and uncles and cousins I only ever see when I’m in Cape Breton and it’s a chance to reconnect and catch up. The kids and I are really looking forward to it so I hope my skin and energy cooperate. Part of me needs a re-charge that can’t be achieved here.

Tomorrow marks the half-way point of my radiation schedule. Fifteen treatments will be done if everything goes as planned. Last Tuesday the power went out just as I was being moved into position for treatment. They canceled that appointment due to a gas leak in that part of the city and so I will have one more treatment at the end. It was surely a sign that I wasn’t meant to have a zap that day, so I didn’t lament. Scott and I had breakfast while we waited for phone calls about when the gear would be up and running, so that was a nice trade-off. He was able to get his zap and he was as happy about that as I was about missing one. I’m also skipping Friday’s treatment so I can go to Cape Breton so that will be another add-on. I’m sure they won’t approve of me skipping a zap but if I’m having radiation to prolong my life, why would I post-pone a chance to live now? If it’s ok for them to cancel treatments for holidays, power outages and maintenance, I should be able to declare my own holiday 🙂

My pink gimpy boob and I are ready for a nap that has become a necessity every afternoon. It refreshes me even though they said it wouldn’t relieve the fatigue. So far so good. I’ll take one nap at a time…one zap at a time…one declared holiday at a time.

Here’s to hoping you all make time for your own holidays, be they a mental health vacation day or a vacation from chores, an honest to goodness work vacation or a vacation spent in a book you’re enjoying. The key is to live while you can and enjoy it with those who mean the world to you, even if you travel your holiday road alone.

This was playing in my head as I wrote! lol.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo


mand3The other night I watched the premiere episode of a new show on Netflix called “Orange is the New Black”. It’s a hilarious look at a white-collar woman (Piper Chapman) who ends up in a women’s prison for something she did 10 years prior when she was 22. She’d smuggled drug money for her lesbian lover as it seemed exciting and dangerous and isn’t that what we all envisioned at 22? Ok, maybe not so much for all of us, but you can’t help but sympathize with the lead character. She’s a fish out of water, having come from money and a privileged background.

On her first day in prison, she sits in the cafeteria with a woman named Jones who asks her if she knows what a mandala is. She replied that she knew it was “those circular Buddhist art pieces”. I hadn’t heard of them before so I did a little research after the show. This is an explanation describing what a mandala symbolizes in Buddhist theology in case you also haven’t heard of them:

The origin of the mandala is the center, a dot. It is a symbol apparently free of dimensions. It means a ‘seed’, ‘sperm’, ‘drop’, the salient starting point. It is the gathering center in which the outside energies are drawn, and in the act of drawing the forces, the devotee’s own energies unfold and are also drawn. Thus it represents the outer and inner spaces. Its purpose is to remove the object-subject dichotomy. In the process, the mandala is consecrated to a deity.

In its creation, a line materializes out of a dot. Other lines are drawn until they intersect, creating triangular geometrical patterns. The circle drawn around stands for the dynamic consciousness of the initiated. The outlying square symbolizes the physical world bound in four directions, represented by the four gates; and the midmost or central area is the residence of the deity. Thus the center is visualized as the essence and the circumference as grasping, thus in its complete picture a mandala means grasping the essence.

The visualization and concretization of the mandala concept is one of the most significant contributions of Buddhism to religious psychology. Mandalas are seen as sacred places which, by their very presence in the world, remind a viewer of the immanence of sanctity in the universe and its potential in himself. In the context of the Buddhist path the purpose of a mandala is to put an end to human suffering, to attain enlightenment and to attain a correct view of Reality. It is a means to discover divinity by the realization that it resides within one’s own self.

The Tibetan monks, unlike the East Indian Buddhist monks, create mandalas out of sand that has been highly pigmented. When the mandala is complete, after weeks of painstaking work, it is ritualistically destroyed:

The destruction of a sand mandala is also highly ceremonial. Even the deity syllables are removed in a specific order along with the rest of the geometry until at last the mandala has been dismantled. The sand is collected in a jar which is then wrapped in silk and transported to a river (or any place with moving water), where it is released back into nature. This symbolizes the impermanence of life and the world.


There is much more that I’ve not included, but you get the gist. The construction of a mandala is a sacred outpouring of the teachings of Buddha and it is an act of supreme worship by the monks who are tasked with creating it, usually 4 monks…one at each side worshiping in unison. It is prayer in motion; a symbol of the knowledge of the divinity that resides inside each of us. Once that knowledge has been expressed with beauty, purpose, diligence and reverence, it is destroyed in symbolization of the temporary nature of life.

Chapman is advised to look upon her time in prison as a sand mandala. She should work hard to create something as meaningful and beautiful as she can, but then realize that it is temporary. Then Jones imparts more wisdom in advising her not to eat the pudding because it comes in a big container marked “Desert Storm” and the kitchen staff have to scrape mold off the top before serving.

That line of dialogue struck a chord with me. It’s what taking this journey symbolizes for me! Not the part about the pudding. I’ve survived on pudding for a week at a time with a torn-up mouth and I’m fairly sure it’s not more than 10 years old. I realized that I am working to create something meaningful from the work of battling cancer and then I will wash it away. I will keep my head down and work hard and then…I will go back to life as it was. Something beautiful and meaningful will have been created from nothing. The centre dot of my mandala is not my ugly little lump…it is the core within me…within all of us. It is our essence from which all things flow. The love, the prayers, the universe…divinity. Our lives are a series of mandalas that symbolize every trial, every triumph. It is our life story but each experience, no matter how long it endures, is temporary. We should take each experience and distill the lessons and meaning and take forward only those. We must not mourn or regret the destruction of each experience for then our souls are unencumbered with the physical manifestations of the experience and we take with us only the esoteric. The teachings.


Every trial has a lesson, a purpose. It should reveal something to us about ourselves. We can’t get stuck in the negative and carry that with us. We will be stunted if we do. Look for the centre of your mandala and build outward. Carry the harmony forward, even if it’s nothing more than the knowledge that you are not alone in your particular trial. That every bad thing that has ever happened to you has happened to someone else as well. It’s temporary. All of it. Except for the lessons, love and growth.

I foresee a ritual of my own mandala destruction in the form of a party at the end of treatment (How else would we do it??? :D). We started off with a bang and the ending will be even bigger. Maybe this time the t-shirts will say, “Fucked Cancer”…

Have a blessed, temporary week my lovelies!

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

Dear Cancer


Dear Cancer,

On this beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning, I’d like to take a minute to thank you for how you’ve changed me and what you’ve both brought into my life and taken away. It’s high time you and I had an honest talk about a few things. I understand why you don’t want to talk to me since I’ve broken up with you, but I need to get a few things off my chest. It’s all about closure so I can get past our time together and move on.

Cancer, you’ve taken a lot of things from me.

You have destroyed my vanity.

You have made me gain weight; 30 lbs at the highest end. During this battle to vanquish you, I’ve lost my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and most of my body hair (including my nose hair!). My nails have turned dark and ridged, thickened. My skin has discoloured in places and hyper-pigmented in others. It’s thinner, drier, bumpier and definitely wrinklier. My eyes water constantly so makeup can’t stay put. You’ve taken my muscle tone. Pretty much any part of me of which I was proud has been altered. Thank you for the lesson in humility.

You have taken my vitality.

Going up a flight of stairs puts my heart rate over 130 and I have to rest. I can’t walk very far due to back and leg pain (but it’s getting better!). I have a cough from radiation irritation. My fingertips and toes are numb due to nerve damage and even my teeth have damaged nerve roots that make cold drinks a nightmare. Restless leg syndrome wakes me at night unless I take a sleep aid. I used to be such a good sleeper and, for me, that’s one of the harder side effects of treatment. The fatigue…well, it’s in a league of its own and it has many facets. Some days I really do feel like I’m dying…incrementally and agonizingly slowly…and then I remind myself that this, too, shall pass. Thank you for the lesson in perseverance.

You have altered my perception of time.

Hours morph into weeks and I can’t seem to keep track of the date or even day of the week. Sleep confuses me whether it’s a nap or night time. I wake never knowing what part of the day I’ve missed or if I’ve missed any time at all. I look back on months past that seem, simultaneously, to have passed days ago and years ago. I look ahead to a long series of treatments and realize that I’ve already put two weeks to bed with four to go. It’s been 8 months since my biopsy and that doesn’t seem possible. Time does pass. I will regain what I have lost. Thank you for the lesson in patience.

Cancer, you have also given me so many things.

You have resulted in my mutilation.

Scars, but I prefer to think of them as badges. You know when you’re a kid and you take skating or swimming lessons? Each level of skill and difficulty, if adequately demonstrated, earns you a badge. I used to take skating lessons when I was a kid and I had a sash that went crosswise over the body. Kind of like beauty pageant sashes. When I would earn a new badge I couldn’t wait to show my Mom so she could sew it on with the others I’d earned. I have a few more surgeries in my future and so I’ll earn a few more scars. Perhaps I’ll design a tattoo to cover them. Perhaps I’ll just let them shine and twist and remind me that I’m still here and that I beat you into the ground. Thank you for the reminders that I am a fighter.

You have given me cardiomyopathy.

For those of you who are familiar with that term, I don’t mean that I have an enlarged heart in the physiological sense. I mean that my heart has figuratively swelled and swelled, much like the Grinch’s if he started with a big heart at the outset. The unbelievable support and outpouring of love and prayers that has been directed my way has stuffed every single iota of space available in my heart and soul. Even so, it continues to grow every day. The kindnesses big and small that have come my way are more than appreciated…they are honoured. They have pushed out all doubt, all fear, all pain and all confusion. They leave room only for hope. Thank you for helping me to be lifted by my friends and family and to know true gratitude. Thank you for helping me to know who my friends are and to make new ones who will forever live in my heart.

You have given me a knowledge of my limits.

You scrambled my brain and now everything takes longer than it used to. Where I was once quick I am now hesitant…word searching, losing track of thoughts, unable to recall names or events. Now I make notes as soon as a thought or question pops into my head. Now I ask for help when pride would previously prevent that. No longer am I disappointed that my energy fails me. My body must dictate what it needs and I’ve learned that pushing past that warning signal results in misery. My body talks to me and I listen. Thank you for the awareness that I must be as kind to myself as I would be to another.

You have helped me reach out to others.

This blog, started for as a storehouse of my experiences and thoughts, has helped others face challenges in their own lives. That is beyond amazing. We all have daily battles, some big and some small but all important to those who are battling. I was never one to hide from trouble, never bury my head in the sand, ostrich-like. My core is comprised of optimism and attack mode came easily. “Fuck cancer” was the first thought at diagnosis. You would never define me. You wouldn’t call the shots. We armed ourselves with knowledge and determination and optimism. Not really optimism as much as a SURETY that we would be victorious. I say “we” because I’m not journeying on my own. You’ve given me battalions of determined fighters. When I flag, they lift me, when I falter, they right me, when I doubt, they redirect me, when I weep, they love me. Do you see you never had a chance? Thank you for this gift of gathering into my life such light and sharing it with those who face their own battles.

So, you ignorant interloping motherfucker, I have a lot for which I needed to thank you. As radiation continues, salting your fields after battle so you will never be able to grow a single blade of cancerous grass again, I feel your pain. I feel your loss. Your mission has failed. Every day I am stronger. Every day another mile of tunnel is covered. Every day, I am thankful for the blessings you have brought into my life.

With much love and abounding hope,
Andrea xoxo

PS, Go fuck yourself.