Thursday, 1 August 2019

An Actors Life for Me

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a one week Adult Acting Intensive at the Shaw Festival.  I was so nervous the first day.  It's been quite a long time since I've been "on my feet" as an actor.  I wasn't sure if I still had it in me, or if I would even find it enjoyable at all.

Turns out I do, and I did.

We had to prepare monologues for the first day, monologues are intimidating regardless of how often you do them, and even more so when you haven't learned one in years!  What a brave group of players, sixteen strangers, varying levels of experience, getting up and performing for each other an hour or so after meeting  We spent the first day going through our monologues and working them with the help of the Instructor, the wonderful, insightful and obviously passionate Tara Rosling, who had the un-enviable task of assigning scenes and scene partners based on that first day.

For the rest of the week we had various workshops, voice, movement, and an unnerving hour with the Artistic Director. We  spent the majority of our time working the scenes, which culminated in a "performance" on the Friday afternoon.

It was such a pleasure getting to spend the week in that world.  I gave myself the gift of not working evenings, so I really was solely focused on being an actor.  It's been so long since that was an option.
It was wonderful, and exhausting and energizing all at once.

So now...it's back to reality and I'm faced with how to keep the momentum going forward.  How to not fall back into old habits.  It's quite easy for me to dive into this project or that job, balance is not my strongest suit to say the least.

I have been making an effort over the last few months to get out to see plays more regularly and finding opportunities to get on my feet and read wherever possible (thank you Toronto Cold Reads!).

I was also pretty fortunate to book an audition last week as well, so it was like this little window into a reality that I'd once lived in and quietly forgotten.

It seems like a possibility again...with a lot of effort.

And so begins the journey,
Headshots
Agent search
Reading plays
Build a new reel
Auditions...and (fingers crossed)
Bookings

Something has shifted.  In the past I have always approached these things with a fair amount of resentment, well, maybe distain... but the truth is, it really is the life I've always wanted.  It may not be the most stable of choices, but it's the choice with the most potential for magical opportunity and incredible potential at every turn.

I am more comfortable in a theatre than anywhere else in the world.  It's this incredible magical place where anything is possible, you can go anywhere, be any one, believe anything.  People consistently put themselves on the line, reveal incredible vulnerability and give so much of themselves, for the enjoyment, entertainment and enlightenment of others.

There is something so thrilling about stepping into someone else's skin, thinking someone else's thoughts and speaking someone else's words.  It changes you, each time you become deeper, and more expansive in yourself.  And it's a ton of fun.

So here's hoping I can keep the momentum, and move forward into that life.


Monday, 6 May 2019

um...Hello?


Well…where did we leave off?

Oh, right, I had a stem cell transplant.  Well, that was amazing and horrible and being hospitalized sucks, and tiny little Dietitians can kiss my ass.  But that is a story for another time.

First, I want to apologize for the incredibly long radio silence.  It was due in part to fatigue, brain fog, and because I needed a reason to get off the couch to force recovery, I went back to school full time in January 2018, which made me tired and busy.  That too is a story for later.

What I need to talk about first, (I say need because I have been trying to avoid it for a long time, but can’t seem to find a way around it) is an exchange I had that hit me so deeply, and hurt so much that it has taken a very long time to process.

So, here it is. 

There is a person who has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Our relationship has always been difficult, though somehow inescapable.  This is a highly emotional person, without…no, I’m going to stop there.  Who this person is, is not what this is about.  I will just say that this is not a terribly supportive person, and through my cancer treatments I didn’t have room, time or the energy to manage this relationship and it had dissolved.  I was not communicating with this person because the exchanges were not easy or pleasant, and our views of the world are as far apart as is possible and in August, I received a vicious text when this person discovered that I blocked them from facebook. I just didn’t have it in me to monitor it any more.  

For most of my life I have made excuses for this person’s behavior in an effort to protect them and not expose them for just how selfish and awful their behavior usually was.  So I blocked them on social media and they sent me a nasty text and told me to never contact them again, and “loose their number”.  So I did.

In October, I spent 10 or 11 days in the hospital, with no immune system, either throwing up, wishing I could throw up, or trying desperately to stop throwing up…you get the idea.  I had zero immune system.  I say zero because it’s true.  I spent much of my non-vomiting hours staring at a white board that had a listing of my blood counts that would be updated daily.   I needed to get my white blood cells to a certain level before I could go home, and for days, there was very little improvement in the numbers.


So eventually, I had had enough of the hospital, and I strong-armed my way into a release.  Because my blood counts weren’t quite where they should have been, part of the bargain was that I needed to come back in the morning for blood work.






(my white board)


So there I was, the morning after being released form the hospital.  Joyous and alive and back at the hospital, though happily as an outpatient.  I was sitting with my Father in the chemo wing of the hospital waiting for the results of my blood work when my phone dinged.  As I said, this person had told me to loose their number, and so I hadn’t responded to any text that had come in the previous weeks. 


This day however, I caved and the following is a transcript of the exchange that took place.

XXXX  10/10/17 2:47 PM
Maybe you could at least acknowledge that you received my msg. This is probably the forth or fifth msg I've sent you and just get ignored. Wtf is your problem Vicki. Is this what you want ? For us to not speak again like before? If so just say so and I won't bother you anymore

Me   10/10/17 4:08 PM
I'm a bit busy right now, uou're the one who sent the nasty text telling me to never contact you again

XXXX  10/10/17 4:09 PM
I've been reading your blog and I have to say I am impressed with you and how you are handling yourself through this for the most part. But the fact that you're not talking to me isn't cool. And the fact that you won't explain why seem a little out of the ordinary for you. I realize I have made comments on your fb post that I disagree with and if that's what this is about then I'm sorry but that's fucked up. So what if we have different views on politics and religion etc. I like to engage with people that see things differently than me because that's how I learn more. Sitting in an echo chamber with likeminded people gets you nowhere. Except maybe a faux sense of security in your views.  And I realize I may come off a bit offensive but for that I make no apologies. I am who I am and if anyone doesn't like me I'm more than fine with that. I think what bothers me the most about all this is that you won't even give people with different views a chance because your so sure you're right.
Anyway I'm probably wasting my time here but just know that I do love you and I do care about you. Don't push me and my family aside

XXXX  10/23/17 11:15 AM
Can you at the very least acknowledge that you’ve received my msgs and that I’m not just sending them nowhere? You don’t have to explain yourself because I already get it but to just ignore someone is just plain ignorant and that seems a bit out of character for you.

Me   10/23/17 11:42 AM
Yep

XXXX  10/23/17 11:45 AM
Yeah nice. I don’t know who the fuck you think you are or what kind of game you’re playing but I see straight through your bullshit. Get over yourself. You’re not all that and never were

XXXX  10/23/17 12:07 PM
I’ve never seen anyone wear an illness like a badge the way you do. Suck up all the faux support and money from insincere people like you. And I’m sorry but that’s sad and pathetic. Too bad you couldn’t get over yourself long enough to get married and have a family. You would be a weirdo who thinks she’s a witch if you had lol.

Me   10/23/17 12:08 PM
How about you go fuck yourself. I owe you nothing.

XXXX  10/23/17 12:13 PM
Yeah good one. You have no argument lol. Your making an asshole out of yourself by being public with your shit thinking that people actually care. No you owe me nothing and you have nothing to offer. You and your sad pathetic niece and you hollow minded sister can fuck yourselves.
Maybe time to grow up and move out. Lol

Me   10/23/17 12:17 PM
I'm sorry that you are so full of anger and hate. I hope at some point in your life you can find some peace. 

XXXX  10/23/17 12:29 PM
I have no anger or hate Vicki. Believe it or not you’re the hater. And your a joke. I don’t hate anyone just stupid ideas. Everyone knows you only think about yourself (you couldn’t have kids for fear of not being the center of attention) -your words-
You don’t owe me anything but what about the people you scammed when you went bankrupt lol. Couldn’t pay your loans because destiny didn’t make you a successful actor. Lol and I see why. You’re performance lately is pathetic.
I’m the happiest person you know. I have a great wife great kids and a great job. Nothing to be angry about here. Just genuine concern obout you and your bad decisions. Good luck

Me   10/23/17 12:32 PM
I don't need you concern, or your judgments. Thank you. You can continue to write all you like, but this is my last response. Take care of yourself. 

XXXX  10/23/17 12:34 PM
Truth hurts eh

XXXX  10/23/17 12:35 PM
Again you have no argument. Sad and pathetic


So… that was hurtful.

The thing you need to know about this exchange, is that it really didn’t surprise me.  It’s typical behavior from this person, though admittedly, this cut deeper than most attacks. 

I got the results of my blood work, I passed the test and was cleared to go home.

I had weekly, or perhaps twice weekly appointments for a bit, it’s hard to recall.  And I got better and stronger every day.  I spent a good chunk of time in the following days discussing this incident with a few close confidants and tried to work through it.   

I have enough experience to know that in situations like this, with people in my life that behave this way, it is more about them than it is about me.  When you know this; you understand that no matter what you say it will be used against you, it’s best to say nothing.  So I did.  Still do.

What I didn’t expect, was that those words would leave such a deep scar.   It has taken a very long time to sit back down at the computer and write.  Were they right?  Are those accusations true?  Am I that terrible a person?  Should I not be sharing my experiences?  Does anyone really want to hear about it?   Was the fight worth it?

You know, typical mental noise.

But, here I am.  And I have more to say.  And I will.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Shit Gets Real

Well, here we go.

Today I checked into the hospital to complete the stem cell transplant.  I feel relief that it is finally here, anxiety about the things that could go wrong (but likely won't), and gratitude to be in such good hands.

I have my own room, and that's awesome because three weeks can seem like a very long time...and it can pass very quickly.  I am hoping for the latter.

Since I last wrote, I had some time off, most of August really, and started to feel normal again.  I was fortunate to have the chance to take a little road trip out east and spend some time with some incredible and inspiring women.

Returning home was quite the whirlwind.  We arrived home very early on Wednesday September 6, and jumped right in.  Thursday we had a family meeting, which is where you bring your support team in (thankfully, mine is extensive and beautiful, and has a good sense of humour), and the program coordinator goes through the process with them, gives out the schedule and answers questions if there are any. 

That day I also had an echocardiogram and blood work, which was just awful!  I don't know if it was because I was tired from the trip, or if I hadn't had enough water the in the days prior but it took four attempts to draw blood.  Four, totally ridiculous.  Even when the phlebotomist got the vein, the blood just wouldn't come, my body I think, was just trying to exert some semblance of control in a situation where we have very little.  I even went outside and stood on my head (literally) for a few minutes and that did't work.  Eventually I gave in and let them use a vein in my hand, which I am reluctant to do because for some reason, it makes me very emotional.  I don't really know what the connection is, but I find it fascinating.

Friday I was scheduled for surgery to have my pheresis catheter put in, which took some getting used to.  A pheresis catheter is a tube that they insert into a vein in your chest, it has two tubes in it so they can draw blood and take blood at the same time, or, I suppose if and when needed, they can input multiple drugs at once. 

They make an incision in the neck, and go through the jugular to find and feed the tube into a vein that empties out near the heart.  (This is my understanding of what happened, however, I must say that I was not listening all that closely).  The surgeon that was going over the process with me must have taken a mime class as a bird course in university because her physical movements were very specific and had an aggression to them that I was not comfortable with at all...."then we PULL the tube up" what she was illustrating with her hands felt more like the movements of a sailor hauling up an enormous anchor, and I just tuned it out.  Perhaps she failed that mime class. The tube comes up over my collar bone, under the skin and exits, if you will at the top of my right breast, where there are two ends available to be connected to IVs and, thankfully, this can be used to draw blood as well...so, less poking.  There is a photo below for those who are curious, if you are squeamish, please scroll past, (though there is no blood). 

Initially, this was the part of the process that caused me the most anxiety.  The idea of having something under my skin creeped me out to no end.  I have had, my whole life, nightmares about things under my skin, so I was not looking forward to this part of the process.  On occasion I found myself sobbing in the car driving down the 406, at the thought of it.  The 406 has that effect on me...probably because it's familiar and uncomplicated so my brain goes off and does other things while we travel it.  However, now that it is in, and I am over the fear of it, I am quite grateful for it.  It really does move things along faster and, less poking (did I say that already?)!

It needs to be flushed everyday, something I did not think I was going to be able to handle, and would leave to "Not-At Home-Care" to handle.  I say "Not-At-Home-Care" because what once was the CCAC, and now has no real identifiable name, only comes to you if you absolutely can't get to them, so "home care" takes place in a clinic, that is not at your home. So,  I have been flushing it on my own for a couple of weeks now...fear defeated.




 Monday was a long day of chemo, followed by large doses of the neupogen again, this time a double dose for 10 days.  This is to stimulate the stems cells to overproduce, and once there are too many, they are forced out of the bones into the blood stream so they can be collected.

The collection, or "Harvest" as I like to refer to it, happened on September 21 and 22.  The first day we were not as successful as I would have liked, they want to collect five million stem cells in total, and day one came in at a disappointing one point nine million.  Day two however, was quite successful, and I believe I ended up with between eight and nine million.  This is good news, because the more they have to give back to you, the faster they can get to work.

The process was pretty cool, I had to do nothing, or as little as possible...sitting still for two whole days is quite a challenge for me.  They hook up the catheter lines, one to draw out, which feeds into a very high tech machine that can distinguish by size and shape, which cells are stem cells and collects them, and then that blood was fed back into my body with the other.  They even warm the blood on the way back in, very considerate.

The big challenge of those days was peeing in the commode...it's very strange to sit in the middle of a room and try to pee...even though no one can see you, there is something quite vulnerable about it.  Also, the chair was set so high that my feet didn't touch the ground...felt like a toddler potty training.

However the biggest challenge was dealing with my overachieving self.  In our initial meeting I was told that I may not need to do both days for the Harvest....scheduling day two was "just in case" they didn't get enough on day one.  So of course, I was counting on one day only.  I was sad and disappointed that I had to come back for day two.  Of course, now that I know how successful that second day was, thanks to a horrible drug that they gave me before I left that first day, I feel better about the whole thing.  I suppose I have always been a little late to the party :)

I am sure there is more to share, and I will try to write each day that I am here, but for now, I am going to try to sleep...tomorrow is the first of two long days of chemo.


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Eggs, the Solution for Every Problem

So that happened.

Week one of treatment went fairly well.  I was worried about the anti-nausea regiment.  In 2004, I didn't handle them very well.  They made me feel worse than the chemo did.  By the time I was finished with my treatments I was only taking them the first day, rather than the the 4 days following for which they were prescribed.  They made me cranky, drowsy and heavy feeling, and I just didn't like them.

This time around, the pills are different, but there are so very many of them.  I seriously filled four different prescriptions for pills to deal with nausea.  Four.  It took more than ten minutes for the pharmacist to go through them all, in his defense I asked a few questions he wasn't comfortable with, like "if these make me feel awful, there's no harm in not finishing them right?" He really tried to stick to his script (pun intended).  By the time we got to the final anti-nausea pill, which he told me was "for my brain"  I said "you mean so I won't think I'm nauseated?" and I laughed, and laughed....he just stood there looking at me, blinking. I thought it was hilarious.

It still makes me giggle.

You have to take every opportunity to giggle that you can.  That's not cancer related, that's just life.  Is there anything better than a good giggle?

The more that I am talking to people about treatment, the more I realize what a mystery this whole process is for most.  If you've never been in it or a direct care-giver through it how could it not be.

So I'm going to walk you through some generalities, and my specifics, feel free to skip along if you get bored :)

Chemotherapy treatment is really a game of monitoring and managing side effects.  The chemical treatments are indiscriminate, they attack cancer cells, and whatever gets in the way.  Basically, they attack rapidly dividing cells, so, cancer cells sure, but your whole immune system goes with it. Rapidly dividing cells....this is why your hair falls out. Your mouth becomes a big concern, you need to use a super soft toothbrush, alcohol free mouthwash, and be very careful not to bite your tongue or cheeks.  Your skin gets super sensitive, so no sunshine without protection, and you need to be careful not to scratch or break the skin.  And it reeks havoc on your digestive system; every med you take seems to come with the possible side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or if your lucky like me, constipation.  So of course there are more products to manage these side effects.

Infection is a very real and dangerous threat.  You need to monitor your temperature regularly, because a fever is an indication of infection and infection can be deadly.  You generally don't feel great, and there are so many meds at work causing a plethora of side effects, you really can't rely on how you feel to keep an eye on things.  The thermometer is your friend.  You are encouraged not to take tylenol because it can mask a fever, no ibprophen because it can thin the blood, so often you are prescribed some sort of narcotic as a pain killer if you need one.. which comes with another set of side effects.

So...it's complicated.

My particular concoction this time around is G.D.P. (Gemcitabine-Dexamethasone-PLATINOL® (CISplatin)).  It's given on a twenty-one day cycle, so day one I get all 3 of these drugs. Because the CISplatin can cause kidney damage, it's given with 2 hours of IV before treatment, and 2 hours of IV fluids after...we call this the "long day".  This day begins with multiple anti nausea pills as well, and they continue over the following days.   On day eight, or the "short day" I get a second dose of Gemcitabine by IV.  The actual treatment takes about a half hour, but by the time you check in and wait, get your IV line set up etc, you're still at the cancer centre for a few hours. From that point, I'm free until day twenty-one, with the exception of seven days of a medication called Neupogen which I give myself at home by injection.   When you are having multiple cycles, day twenty-one becomes day one again.

I am doing two cycles.

The first cycle didn't go as smoothly as I'd have liked.

Awaiting Approval/The Cancellation List (June 27)
Monday. This was a long day, not the long day, but a long day nonetheless.
I had an appointment for blood work at 9:15am, and a clinic visit with the Doctor at 9:45am.
We actually arrived early, which is unheard of for me when it comes to these appointments.  I never stress about the time because there is always so much waiting.  To make a story about a long day short, we saw the Doctor at 12:45pm.  Yep.  That's a lot of waiting. But, like I said, chemotherapy is complicated so I never really mind the wait because I always assume that there is someone who ran into complications that needed to be addressed.  Sometimes people need to be admitted to hospital, and that takes time.  Sometimes people have emotional breakdowns, that takes time too.  I know that the Doctors and Nurses are performing an intricate juggling routine, what they do is complicated and everyone needs to be addressed in each moment as an individual.  I appreciate the time and attention I get, so I don't mind waiting while someone else gets what they need too.  Not everybody sees it that way, but that's the way I choose.

So the result of this long day was that the steroids I was on the week before, not only gave me crap loads of energy to clean and overhaul the house and finish my painting projects, but they had done what the Doctor was hoping they would do too, and my blood work was good.  That meant I got the okay to get treatment on Tuesday.

The previous Thursday I had gotten a call that I was on the cancellation list for Tuesday.  This meant they could call me up 5pm on Monday with a time...not a ton of time to make arrangements but...
When I asked what the contingency plan was, in the event that there wasn't space available on Tuesday, the nurse told me that they would shift me to Wednesdays cancellation list, then Thursday, etc.  This just did not seem acceptable to me, and I said so.  I see no reason that someone who already has so much stress and fear about what is happening should need to get strung along like that.  I at least have the advantage of knowing what to expect, having been there before, but what if it's your first diagnosis, and they can't give you an actual appointment time for your first treatment?  Shitty system.  Totally inconsiderate.  People have to make arrangements for rides, work arrangements, child care, and the idea of beginning chemotherapy is already stressful enough.  The nurse agreed with me, she's not in charge of scheduling either.

We worked out the details, I got an actual time to come back on Tuesday,  and we stopped by the pharmacy to fill prescriptions, by the time we left the building it was 1:50pm.

Of course that wasn't the end of the day, and I had made myself a large list of things I wanted to get done before Tuesday.  I got through most of my list, I had "wash the kitchen floor" and "clean bathrooms" left at 11pm when the dog came in from the backyard smelling of skunk.  She's lucky she's cute, not smart, but cute.


Day One/The Long Day  (June 28)
Tuesday morning came early, we were off and running by 8am, checked in at the chemo suite a little after 9am and there was no waiting. They were ready for me.  Given the length of the treatment time, they want to get you started as early as possible so that you are out by 5pm, that's pretty much when things wrap up.

There are two sides to the room in the chemo suite at Juravinski.  One is full of windows and sunlight, the other is not.  If I were scheduling people, I would put those whom I knew were going to be there for a minimum of 6 hours on the side with the windows, but I was not in charge, so we did not get a window.  The cranky-pants nurse who checked us in didn't seem to care when I mentioned it... some people are just in the wrong business.  But the nurse, and nurses, that followed through the day were lovely and cheery and helpful, even without direct sunlight.

The chemo suite is basically a large room lined with reclining chairs, not cozy soft snugly reclining chairs, think more beige vinyl...sometimes blue, and a few beds, but there is always someone willing to get you a warm flannel blanket if you ask.

The room is in constant motion, there is always someone coming and going. There were at least three people who came and went in the chair beside us while we were there. Every cancer has a different protocol, some people are in and out in an hour, but they may need to be there once or twice a week, some people take their chemo home with them in little portable dispensers. Some folks have a pic line, a tube in the chest that an IV gets fed into, some of us use a new vein each time. Chemo is complicated.

So we were up and running, and I was pumped. I had just received so much love and support, I was flying that day, it really does make a difference when you know that so many people are behind you...the room was full of love.

I had wonderful company in my friend Katrina, and we tried not to be too rowdy. We chatted away the day, snacked as we liked...when you know you're going to be there all day you come prepared.   It is quite funny to see people come in, get set up with an IV then pull out a little picnic, but the days are long, so you do what you must.

Once the "pre" IV was done, somewhere around 11:30 or so, the nurse came back and stared the "G" portion of the treatment. I do not have great veins, they are fine and move around a bit, and because I have had chemo previously, they tend to be a bit more sensitive. So...the "G" actually started to burn, which we thought might happen, and the nurse jumped in with another saline IV to dilute it, this of course slows things down a bit..more fluid more time. It was much better diluted, which they will now automatically do for me from this point on, but the damage was done and that vein ended up bruising very nicely over the following week.

Once the "G" was done, the machine began to beep this funny chime, not totally unlike the subway chime, but sharper. It's a familiar sound, it happens around the room all day, and sometimes multiple machines beeping this sharp three tone beep, high, low, high, and it's just a bit off key.  This particular day there were three machines going off nearly in sync, there was just the tiniest delay.  It made me giggle, then Katrina caught it and every time they chimed it set us off again.

The nurse changed the IV again, ran the "P" which took about a half hour and then we were onto the "post" IV.  It was close to 2pm by that point and i was a little tired, Katrina started looking through the literature I have on the stem cell process, and at some point she started giggling.  When I asked her what was so funny, she began to read to me, some of the "helpful solutions" to some of the problems you may run into.  The more we read, them more we giggled... so I thought I should share some of these brilliant ideas with you.

If you have:

Upset stomach - try tuna, EGG salad sandwiches or cottage cheese with fruit
I don't know about you, but I always reach for tuna when I'm nauseated.

Sores in the mouth and throat - try EGGS, or cream soups
Because milk products are so soothing and don't cause any mucus whatsoever

Change in taste - if red meat is unappealing, try EGGS, dairy products and fish
                          - add extra sugar to mask the taste of salty foods
                          - add salt to decrease the sweetness of sugary foods

Poor Appetite - choose snacks that are high in protein and calories such as EGGS, cheese and higher                             fat milk

We were giggling pretty hard at this point, it seems that EGGS are the answer to everything...we started to make up our own...

Fatigued? - try EGGS
Feeling Lonely? - EGGS are your friends
Can't find your glasses? - check the EGG carton
Locked your keys in the car? - How about some EGGS!

We searched the booklet for "sponsored by the Egg Farmers of Ontario" but couldn't find it, though I'm quite sure someone must be getting a kick back somewhere.

We finished up around 4pm and were happy to be on our way.

The next few days were full of naps, but all things considered I felt pretty good.  My face was a bit puffy from the Dexamethasone, it's a steroid, and I had a bit of fluid pooling around my throat, but nothing major, a headache and my jaw was pretty sore from the inflammation and water retention. Nothing that wasn't manageable.


Day 7/In and Out (July4)
My "pre-chemo" appointment for blood work (8:30am) and clinic appointment to see the Doctor (9:30am) was scheduled on the Tuesday after the long weekend.  The cancer centre was closed Monday for Canada Day, which meant that all the Monday patients got shifted to Tuesday, and my Doctor was on holiday, so another Doctor was going to see us.   I expected that we would be there forever given the volume of patients, and I had been preparing my sister for the long wait all weekend.

We arrived for blood work and the lab was empty, which was shocking, then we went upstairs to the clinic to check in.  Since my appointment with the Doctor wasn't for an hour and the blood work takes at least that long, we went down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. We sat outside for a bit and I ate I ate my gluten free toast....which was really just floppy, barely warm bread, nothing toasty about it.

We went back in about twenty minutes later, and when we got back to the clinic the nurse flagged me down and told me she'd been waiting for me.  She's a lovely woman with a blond bob, full figure and what I think might be a Polish accent.  Our conversations generally consist of her telling me "you should be next, there is only one more in front of you"  and "it shouldn't be too much more of a wait". So I was surprised that she knew who I was, and that she was waiting for me.

Part of the routine is getting weighed.  You step into this alcove, with a stainless steel base.  It's a large scale, much like the one the vet uses.  Of course I know that we use this scale for people who are in wheel chairs, but I do want to let out a howl every time I get on it.

So were we put into an exam room right away, and I assured my sister that this did not necessarily mean that we would be seen in any timely manner.  The previous week we sat in the exam room for more than an hour and a half before the Doctor saw us.  And just as I was finishing that sentence, in walked the Doctor.  So what do I know.

My blood work was good, and I got the approval to receive the chemo treatment the next day.  We had a quick discussion about my vein from the first treatment, which at this point had developed a very nice green and yellow bruise up the length of my forearm.  We discussed the Neupogen injections which I would begin giving myself on day nine. My doctor and nurse had worked out a plan to cover the cost, which was a huge relief as it is now a $1300 prescription.  We were in the car on the way home by 10am.  Craziness!

Day 8/The Short Day
Wednesday my dad and my Aunt came along.  We were at the chemo suite for 2:45 and there was a bit of a wait.  Nothing unreasonable, but there was a man sitting behind us who was not happy with waiting.  He was loudly expressing this, practically shouting about how he had better things to do then sit here and wait...he was maybe a half hour behind.  It was a bit ridiculous.  There was a lovely man sitting across from me, and we had a conversation about attitude and treatments.  He was terminal, unless he could get to a place where surgery was possible.  He had been in treatment for months, and was still very positive, and grateful for the treatments that were available to him.

The disgruntled man went off again, and another voice, a woman's voice interjected...oh boy did she give it to him.  He said something about the wait again and how he could be at home sitting in his big chair rather than wasting time here.  So she told "go home them.  No one is stopping you.  Go home and sit in your chair and don't get your treatment.  If you want to go go home and die, then that's your choice".  It was great.  He was really disruptive.  I wish I had balls like that, we were all thinking it. He was called in for his treatment shortly thereafter and the air in the waiting room cleared.

Attitude is everything.

My dad stayed in the waiting room and my Aunt, my mum's sister came into the suite to sit with me while I got the IV.  We chatted, and she took it all in.  We talked about my mum and her treatments.  Six years ago my mum was diagnosed with stage four long cancer.  July 10th was the 5th anniversary of her passing. It was good, I think, for my Aunt, it took the mystery out of it for her and gave her a little more insight into what my mum dealt with along the way.

We chatted and made probably too much noise giggling and making the nurse laugh.  The woman with the balls from the waiting room was seated close to us and we chatted.  She was great.  Had us in stitches.  She had gotten a date for her mastectomy, and was leaving from this treatment to go to the airport.  She was flying to Vegas for the weekend for what she called the "Final Boob Tour" before her surgery.

We were in and out in an hour.  I felt fine. With the second treatment, there is only one anti-nausea pill, so I wasn't drowsy or anything.  A little tired, but nothing major.  We went for dinner on the way home, and I ordered a gluten free pasta. Which, I'm pretty sure wasn't.

The next day I did not feel well.  My stomach was bloated, my arm was progressively getting more sore from the first treatment, and I was so, so tired.  I had had a headache for a week and it just wouldn't clear.

I had a chiropractic adjustment on the Thursday and that helped my head, my dad had to drive me. When we got home I just went right back to sleep on the couch and stayed there for most of the day.
Friday, things hadn't gotten much better, my arm was even more sore and I had a fever.  I called my nurse at the cancer centre and they ordered an antibiotic.  They sent it to the drugstore around the corner from me.  I had taken a pain killer, because I couldn't take tylenol for the headache, so I called my wonderful friend Danielle and she came to pick me up, took me to the drugstore and dropped me off again.

I took the pill and went right back to sleep.  A few hours later I woke up and my head was much better, I still had a headache, but not nearly as bad, and I realised at that point, because my head was a little clearer, that my arm was purplish red and my veins were raised and felt like licorice under the skin.  I am assuming that this was the source of the infection and fever.

It cleared up nicely over the next over the next couple days, though it's still tender even now.

I started giving myself the Neupogen injections on Thursday, and there are some possible side effects which include, among other things, bone pain and rash.  I didn't experience any of these in 2004, but you still need to be on the look out.

Saturday morning, I awoke with a lovely rash an my stomach...because I didn't have enough going on.  There were plenty of possible causes...Wednesday I got Gluten-ed, Thursday the injections, Friday the antibiotic, and my lovely friend Rachel had brought me an earthing sheet on Friday morning which I used without washing it first..  Generally I don't wear or use anything new without washing it first because my skin is really sensitive, but I felt awful and I was really tired so I ignored the little voice in my head that said "you should wash this".  An earthing sheet is a sheet you put on your bed, and plug into the ground outlet.  It helps you to ground your body, which aids in healing and something, something positive ions etc.  I don't fully understand the science but it was so very thoughtful of her, and I am sleeping very well on it.

So in the end, I am chalking the rash up to the gluten, because it seems to run along the length of my large intestine...it was pretty interesting really, and that too has cleared up, thanks to this wonderful Red Clover slave I found at the health food store.

So, it was quite a week... and it didn't end there.

Today, I am back at the hospital.  I had some blood work done on Thursday and my hemoglobin is very low.  It has been low for a long time, and slowly getting progressively lower.  My energy levels are fine, but because it has dropped quite a bit this week, so I am getting a blood transfusion.

This is another long day.  I am getting two bags of blood, and each takes about 2 hours.  It's just after 1pm now and I just started the second bag, so I should be done and ready to go home at a reasonable time...hopefully in time for the Jays game.

So this is where I express my gratitude for blood donors.  I wouldn't be alive at all if it weren't for blood donors.  I was given four blood transfusions at birth.  This is my first since then.  I donated as a young adult, but haven't been able to since my first cancer diagnosis.  So, please if you are an eligible donor, please, please make an appointment to give blood.

Find a Donor Clinic Near You





Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Medicine of Cancer

A very good friend of mine asked me the other day if I was angry.  She was angry, she is trying to figure out why.  Why this could happen to me again, how it could be fair or why I should deserve this.

It gave me pause to think.  Truthfully, I am not angry.  I haven't really been angry. I suppose I've had moments here and there, frustrations, and certainly a few meltdowns in the car while driving alone. Maybe I should be, maybe getting angry would somehow be fulfilling.  But I am not, and I don't think it would help.  It certainly doesn't change anything.

In 2004, I tried desperately to figure out why.  What did I do or not do in my life to bring this on. How did I mishandle my stress, what did I surpress what karmic lesson dd I ignore.  How was I responsible for making this happen, all the while pretending that it wasn't happening at all.

I am a very different person now.

I don't really need to know why, of course I did spend time researching the meaning and causes of different organ involvement.  What does the spleen represent and why is it enlarged?  What am I holding onto.  Because I do believe there is as much merit in eastern thought and medicine, in shamanism and paganism, in communing with the earth and sky, as there is in western medicine. Ideally a world where we blend them all would be a world with much deeper healing.  I don't believe in dismissing the value of any, I embrace many healing modalities, and understand that with different challenges there are different solutions.

So I don't know why.  I don't need to.  What I do know is what is, in this moment.  Being angry, or sad, or searching for reason won't change any of those things.  I have cancer, it needs to be treated, this is the path, here I am.

What I do know is that I am supposed to share my journey.

What I do know is that I need to ask for help.

This asking, the seeking of help, is bigger than me, in this moment.  It is cosmic, ancestral, and difficult for me to do.

It is not in my nature.  It is a lesson I have been learning, voluntarily and involuntarily for a long time.  Last summer I was on a spiritual retreat and we were holding ceremony to clear ancestral karma.  To aid all those who came before us, and all those who will come after, of the blocks and weights that hold us back together.  Through my meditation, I came to realize that part of my roll was to help clear the poverty, the quiet failure and stubbornness and guilt that has kept my ancestors from thriving.

Now, that may be a little much for some to comprehend.  But for me it is truth.  And that is not to say that I come from a long line of paupers or failures, simply that my ancestors haven't thrived in the way that they perhaps could have.  We are resourceful and fiercely independent, many times to a fault.  And that is an energy that I have carried through my life.  I have always worked. Always. Since I was eleven.  What I have never done, is thrive financially.  I have always had what I needed in the moment I needed it, and never more.  And that was always ok. I have made my choices in life and walked my path without regret.  I am happy with the adventures I have undertaken and believe I am always, exactly where I need to be.

This is not a sob story, or a plea.  Simply the truth of my path, a path I have chosen.

What I have come to understand through my spiritual work, through shamanism and my deepening connection with the earth and the source is that it goes beyond me.  And I wish to walk the path that releases my ancestors, my descendants and myself from these perceived limitations.

And how do I do that?

I share my truth, I share this journey, and I ask for help.

At the encouragement of some wonderful friends, I have created a GoFundMe campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/hello-vicki-its-me-again-cancer

I have struggled with doing this for some time.

Asking is difficult.

Receiving is more so.

I am a person who is far more comfortable giving than receiving. Receiving makes me twitchy.

 A few wonderful friends have already taken it upon themselves to contribute to this journey, for which I am so grateful.  However, my immediate response when receiving is to plot what and how I will give them in return.  An even ground, a debt repaid, a good deed returned ten fold.  Again I say, I struggle with simply receiving.

This is, for me, the medicine of this cancer.  Ask.  Receive.

Receive.

It's incredibly challenging.  It makes me so uncomfortable.  But that is where true medicine lives.
It is what is most uncomfortable that brings us the biggest shift.

I answer the call, I welcome the shift, this is my medicine.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Treatment Plans, Self Distraction, and Contemplating the Options

I've managed to keep myself very busy the last couple of weeks.  There is a seemingly endless number of make work projects that I can develop.  Some necessary, others not so much so.

I have been busy with some home improvements, a small drywall and plaster project which in turn created a large mess and the need for a complete and thorough clean of the house.  Once you start looking around, there is always more to do, I've been repainting, touching up trim and little nicks here and there and ended up repainting some cupboards in the kitchen...simply because I touched them up with the wrong paint...good news is the house looks amazing and with all these little projects done I will be able to rest through my treatments without feeling like I should be tackling that to do list.

Thank goodness for the extra energy provided by prescription steroids.

Monday I had an appointment to discuss what the treatment plan would be.  It's a little more complicated this time around, two rounds of chemotherapy which will take six weeks, and then a stem cell transplant.  Yep.  Stem cell transplant.  This will mean up to three weeks in hospital...that is going to be challenging, I've never been admitted to a hospital overnight, so that will be a new experience for the list.

The good news with the stem cell transplant is that they no longer need to harvest them from bone marrow, so that will take some of the pressure off.  I will be my own donor, which also eliminates many of the risks.  It's a pretty cool process really.  As I understand it, once I am done with the six weeks of chemo, assuming that my body responds well and that I am in good enough shape for the procedure, I will take a course of meds that will boost my immune system to a point where the stem cells will leave the bones and enter the blood stream.  From there they hook you up to some fancy machine, draw your blood out, shake it up, separating the stem cells and pumping the blood back into the body.  The stem cells get frozen, for use later.

Here is the fun part.  Once they have enough stem cells, I will be given a "near fatal" dose of chemotherapy (they really need to find a better way to say that).  This high dose chemo will wipe out any remaining cancer cells and my entire immune system...fun stuff...thus the extended stay in hospital.

Once you hit bottom, they bring your stem cells to you in your room, thaw them and pump 'em back in.  Apparently they are super smart and know exactly what to do, they swim right back into the bones and begin to rebuild the immune system.

I am of course using all the technical jargon I possess to describe the process...I'm sure my Doctor would appreciate it.

You would think I would be petrified, but I'm not.  I feel very confident in the process, as tough as it may be.  I believe without a doubt things will run smoothly and the outcome will be positive.

Monday was a very long day, with an overabundance of information, and thankfully a tremendous amount of information packages to take away...none of which I have looked at yet :) Like I said, I've been busy.

We were at the cancer centre until 7pm Monday night, when we left it was just me, my cousin Lori, Dr Fraser and the cleaning staff.  I have a tendency to stick out a party to the bitter end, but I've never shut down a hospital centre before.

So, once we went through the talk and Dr Fraser laid out the process, I was ready to get started.  He had some precautionary warnings for me though.  Because of my age, this being my second experience with chemotherapy and the extent of the treatment this time around, there is a high probability that I will be infertile at the end of it.  I brushed it off as unimportant, but Dr Fraser insisted I give it the week make a decision.  There is very little risk in postponing for a month to undergo hormone therapy and harvesting eggs, so I had the luxury of contemplation.

I am a middle child, the sole biological child, with 4 adopted siblings.  I have always assumed adoption would be a part of my path if I chose to have a family, not that I don't want to carry a child, it just didn't seem to matter to me where that child came from, family has a way of finding you.

But I said I would think about it, and think about it I did.  I had some wonderful conversations with friends; mothers, step mothers, women who couldn't bare children and underwent fertility treatments without success, and some who did the same and have the child of their dreams.  Everyone had a different perspective, and I am grateful to all of them for sharing.

I ran scenarios, contemplated costs, the possibility that if I froze eggs, and underwent the expense, would I, in three years be in a position to do anything with them anyway.  It is recommended that you wait two years after chemotherapy to get pregnant, that would put me at forty-five.  High risk, and who is to say that I would be in any kind of position to start a family.

Some other random thoughts that have popped in and out:
Maybe I should, what if I finally find my partner and he is dead set that he needs to father his own child?  to which I countered, then that isn't the guy for me.

What if I decide to go it alone, have a child and end up in this position again?  How can I bring a child into the world with such a strong possibility of orphaning her?  the counter: I could get hit by a bus at any time...shouldn't be an issue.

In discussion with my dad, he dismissed it completely, why delay treatment.

I can hear my mother in my ear, do it, you should have a baby.

These are the highlights.

I am very curious as to why the universe set the dilemma out for me to contemplate...am I supposed to take the opportunity because it is being presented, or is it simply a test of my convictions.

All of this was happening in my head as I went about my painting projects, happily letting my subconscious work it out.  Often surprised by what arose in my conversations with friends.

I have landed where I began, I will leave it to the universe.  The idea of trying to control an outcome with so many variables seems impossible.  There is no guarantee that I will be infertile, and no guarantee that if I went ahead with the process that I would actually be able to get pregnant anyway.  The only guarantee is that I will not have the answer for a few years yet.  And I do love a good mystery.

So, this means that I will likely begin my treatments this week, which I am quite comfortable with.  I am having a few issues with my blood calcium levels and it it affecting my kidneys a bit, so this week I am taking some meds and steroids to get that under control and if it works as it should, I could begin as early as Tuesday.

My biggest stress at this point is the financial one.  I work two part time jobs, and there are no health benefits at either.  Of course, I am Canadian, so chemotherapy is covered by OHIP here in Ontario.  I have registered for the Trillium Program, which is an assistance program to help with prescription drugs.  A really great program available to all Ontario residents, based on your previous tax year, you pay a quarterly premium and the rest is covered.  The problem with this program s that it doesn't cover everything.  There is a drug that works with chemotherapy, to help bring your white blood cell count up after treatment, so that you are at lesser risk for infection, recover better and can keep to your chemo schedule.  I needed this drug in 2004, as my white blood cells didn't recover very well, and back then it was twelve hundred dollars a pop.

We are still working on getting some funding in place, I have a meeting with a social worker at the hospital Monday to see if I have any other options. I am sure it is all going to work out fine.   I won't be able to work at the restaurant through treatment, it is just to busy an environments, and I won't have the stamina to keep up, more importantly, with a low immune system, picking up peoples dirty plates and cutlery is a bad idea,

My other part time job is a job I do from home, so that is still available to me, as long as my brain cooperates.  There is a term called chemo-brain, or chemo-fog, and at some point during treatment, it gets pretty hard to concentrate.  I'm hoping this won't be too much of a problem, but there is really no way to tell.

Things beyond my control...thus the painting and cleaning..things I can control.

I want to be completely honest with this blog, and I hope that this doesn't sound too bleak.  I am actually in a very good frame of mind, and feeling quite sure of the process ahead.

I realize this is a very long post, so thank you if you made it to the end.  I will try to keep them shorter as I move forward, and a little more frequent...and hopefully a little lighter, peppered with some inappropriate jokes :)





Friday, 9 June 2017

Once More Unto the Breach

In August 2004 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma,  It came as quite a surprise as you may imagine.  I was by all accounts a young, healthy, active woman.  I had graduated the year before from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, an acting conservatory, and had returned to Toronto to launch my career.  Full of hope and a very specific vision for my future, I refused to be knocked off course by this diagnosis.

We caught it early, it had a 90% cure rate, it meant a few months of chemotherapy and a few weeks of radiation, then I'd be done and back on track with my plan to take over the world. :)

I did the treatments, I didn't flinch, we told bad jokes, I kept working right through (with the exception of one week when I had zero immune system) and we made the best of the worst circumstances.

Done.

But it wasn't.

Eventually the emotional suppression catches up with you, it just took a while to rear it's head, but that is a story for another time.

For ten years I went for my annual visit to the oncologist, got my blood work, passed the tests and was on my way for another year.  Then I skipped a year...maybe two, and wouldn't you know, here I am after 13 years, once again, being diagnosed with cancer.

This journey has already been very different from the last, and it is only just beginning.  In 2004 I played things pretty close to my chest, not many people knew what was going on and I tried my best to pretend it wasn't.  I'm a different person now, it's a different time, and the medicine of this experience is also different.

In 2004 I felt it was my responsibility to protect everyone around me from the fear of what was happening, regardless of the fear I was feeling myself.  Not this time.  This time I want my community to come with me.

At this point I am awaiting more test results to determine what the treatment plan will be.  I have Nodular Lymphocyte Predominant Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  It is not a common cancer so there is not a lot of research or clinical trials available.  There are standard procedures for treatment, however from what I understand, a reoccurrance  is trickier to treat.

I am feeling very compelled to share this journey, and I have decided to do that here.  I will write about what is happening with this experience and the last, and I am inviting you to come along for the ride.

I can't promise it will always be funny, or positive; in fact I'm quite sure that at times it may seem bleak, but I do promise to be honest about what is happening.  I am also quite confident that it will all be fine in the end.

I am not afraid.


An Actors Life for Me

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a one week Adult Acting Intensive at the Shaw Festival.  I was so nervous the first day.  It'...