Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cancer and Today: Two things that suck.

Today sucked.

Last night a good friend came over for dinner. He told me he was so proud of me for the way that I am handling the whole cancer thing. I felt proud too in that moment. Now I don't. Today I feel petty, bitter, angry, sad, frustrated and MAD.

Sometimes I have days like this and, while they are rare, they are overwhelming. Today started out fine. I got a call from the cancer folks to come down today so they could insert a titanium tumor marker for surgery later on. I knew the call was coming but I didn't expect it to be such short notice. Okay, fine. I got ready and left the house. On my way out, yay, I got a parcel I'd been waiting for from Amazon with some books I'd ordered. I took one with me to read on the bus....


There are seemingly millions of books and websites out there with lots of information on cancer and you really have to be careful which ones you pick up because WHAM!!! suddenly you can be hit in the head with a miserable cancer missile of vile awfulness. On just the first page I read the following with horror: is now estimated that two people in five will see their life disrupted by cancer, and in spite of all the strength, the willpower, and the hope they devote to this struggle, barely half of them will survive five years into their diagnosis. JESUS H. CHRIST. Holy shit. WTF??? This was supposed to be a book of health and inspiration! You know what I want to say to the authors of that book? A big, loud "SHUT THE HELL UP!" (well, maybe I want to say worse things....)

Well, I can tell you that I am just not going to listen to such nonsensical, rambling, idiotic bull-shiza.

But it caught me off guard. I was feeling good. Feeling great even. A lot of great things have been happening in my life and I have been making some really positive changes and adding a lot more joy and bliss and creativity and purpose to every day.
I was feeling so good and so hopeful and like I really didn't have anything to worry about because how can anything bad happen when I am feeling so good? How could anything bad happen when I am finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin and finding my place in the universe?

The cancer seemed far away and small and insignificant compared to all the joy I was hooking into.

So, apparently, not so far away. There it was, embedded in the opening remarks to a shitty book, reminding me how fucking serious it is; how fucking terrifying it is and really that I have a hell of a lot to be worried about.

By the time I got to the cancer agency I was in a spiritual spiral. I felt like the walking dead and sent poisonous looks to the healthy people all around me, seemingly squandering all their health and youth. The procedure was a lot more than I expected and was so similar to my two horrifying biopsies that I just started to silently cry as they poked me with more needles and discussed amongst themselves how dense my breast tissue was and how hard it was to get the titanium marker into the tumor. Then they told me I would need to get a mammogram right away to have a good image of where the marker is. Oh fucking fuck fuck fucking fuck fuck. Another mammogram. Another machine. Wandering around in a backless gown. Sitting in a waiting room with other people allowed to keep their clothes. More people squeezing my breasts and poking them and writing on them and bandaging them. 

I hate crying and I hate letting this get to me and I really hate crying in front of the doctors.

Today sucked. So, I'm having a pity party tonight and just letting myself wallow a little in the hopes it will be over by tomorrow and that I'll get back into that positive head space.

If anyone is reading this and sorry they did because of my negativity....I apologize. But you know what? Cancer fucking sucks and sometimes I feel like being cranky and venting and yes, being angry and jealous of the healthy people even though that is irrational and mean and crazy.

Tomorrow I will be better.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Unprolific Blogger

So it's coming up on two months since I was diagnosed and wrote my first blog post.  I wrote the first entry in a flurry of emotion and bursting with the need to record all that I had experienced in those hellish first days. Since then, I've thought about writing another post a lot but just haven't and since "you cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind," here I go again.
Since arriving back in Canada on May 26th I have:

-had a mammogram, breast ultrasound, another core biopsy, abdomen ultrasound, chest x-ray, MRI, bone scan and an angiogram. 
-found out that the cancer has not spread anywhere else as far as the scans can see. No lymph node was large enough for a biopsy so we don't know about those but the MRI didn't show anything.
-been annoyingly aggressive and obnoxious in securing appointment dates and times in order to get into the BC Cancer Agency system PRONTO. 
-met a lovely general surgeon who surprisingly recommended chemotherapy before surgery.  His reasons were a) my age and the fact that pre-menopausal usually have much more aggressive cancers and b) the tumor is big and it gives time to shrink it right away before the surgeon and plastic surgeon can coordinate my surgery.
-finally gotten into an oncologist at BC Cancer.  I say "finally" but, really, in retrospect, it all moved very fast even though at the time it seemed I was waiting forever. My oncologist is super rad and kick ass awesome. I heart him.
-started SIX MONTHS of chemotherapy.  Already done two doses and have lost all my hair. The first three months will be once every three weeks of Cyclophosphamide injection and Doxorubicin and the second three months will be once a week of Paclitaxel.

I'm somewhat over the initial shock and horror of it all and am now in a much better place. Thankfully, I found a book in the very early days that really helped me a lot, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr. She is so positive and amazing and smart and really just very funny and real about the whole thing. Having her attitude as a model has been a life-saver.

I've got two super-wicked-awesome wigs, one red, one blond, that I will be enjoying and also enjoying the medicinal marijuana, thank you Canada.

Right now I'm on PEI, where I grew up, and enjoying some beach bumming, lobster eating and family visiting and loving. Life looks much better than it did last time I wrote and I'm in a great place.

Oh! Two of my very very good friends shaved their heads with me the night I finally had to let go of the hope that my hair would defy expectations and not fall out. Who could hope for better friends than that?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fish for dinner?

The other day, I got up early to do some yoga before school.  While I was in corpse pose, I had my hands on my chest and felt a lump in my left breast.  It felt big, it felt scary, and it came from NOWHERE.  I do regular self-exams in the shower so I have no idea how something so big could just appear.  That day after school I went to the hospital.  That's what you do in China.  You don't book an appointment with a doctor, you just show up at a hospital, take a number, and hope for the best.

First, I went to St. Luke's which was recommended by a coworker.  Upon entering the hospital, I was given a number and told to go to another counter to pay where they gave me a hospital card and instructed me to go to the second floor.  I went to the second floor, wandered around and finally found a room with a doctor and walked in. She felt my breast for a few seconds and then said "operation."  I asked, via my Iphone Chinese dictionary app, if perhaps they should do some tests first.  Then, I went to another room for an ultrasound.  Then back to the other doctor.  "Operation."  That's all she could say.  So......

I went to another hospital.  They asked me if I wanted VIP foreigner service, which was 3 times more expensive, or regular.  I said regular and then a mean looking man said in English  "You should pay the higher fees because if I or another Chinese person needed medical care in your country, we would have to pay higher fees."  I said that I wanted the regular service.  So I got in to see a doctor and he told me that the hospital was closing in 10 minutes and they had no time to see me. The hospital closes at 4pm. Who knew? I left in tears.

The next day was Saturday and the hospitals are closed on weekends. Closed!

My ex-boyfriend arranged to have his personal assistant, Monica, come with me on Monday morning to The International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital of the China Welfare Institute.  The best hospital for women's health in Shanghai and government run.  We met at 8:00am when the hospital opened. I took a number. Number 61. The whole place was chaos and a complete zoo.  Huge groups of women standing in front of large screens everywhere waiting for their number to be called.  When they call your number, it comes up on the screen with your number, your full NAME and what you are there for!  No privacy.

Wait, wait, wait.  Finally get in to see a doctor. Another woman pushes into the room and consults the doctor.  I said that it was my turn. Doesn't matter for some reason.  Finally speak to the doctor. She feels my breast for a few seconds and says "operation." Again! That word! "Do I need a test first?"  "Yes, an ultrasound. Come back at 2:00."

I do. I get the ultrasound, which seems much more professional this time around, except for the continuous flow of people through the room and the curtain wide open.  Go back to see the doctor with the results. She says it is a tumor and that I need to have it removed and tested for cancer.  I ask if I can get a biopsy instead.  If I am going to have surgery and get the tumor removed, I would prefer to do that in Canada because if it is indeed cancer as they will need to know what they are dealing with.  "Biopsy, yes, come back tomorrow at 1:30."  She prints something out for me and Monica and I go to pay for the biopsy. It's 700 RMB, a little over $100 Canadian.  Then, we have to go downstairs to the pharmacy to buy the medicine/drugs, whatever, that will be used in my biopsy.  I buy the medications and bring them home with me in a baggie to bring to my appointment tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Today:  I go to meet Monica at 1:30, the time given for my biopsy.  When we get to the 4th floor, the Outpatient procedure area, a loud and rough woman grabs my papers and scribbles "B9" on the front. Go to waiting room and wait. We wait for three hours in that waiting room. It is crazy.  There is a big screen to announce when it is your turn and yes, it says your number, your name, and what procedure you are there for. Most of the other women are there for abortions. They sit and wait, like me, with a bag or handful of medications AND a maxi-pad and their medical history booklets. 

I can't believe it when I see woman after woman have their name announced to the world and that they are there for an ABORTION. In BIG LETTERS ON THE BIG BIG SCREEN.  The men are not allowed in the waiting room and have to stand behind a roped off area. Anytime one of them dares to venture into the waiting area, the loud and rough woman in a brown suit barks at them loudly to get back behind the rope. Young girls come out clutching their abdomens and looking like hell, being held up by the nurse and/or a friend or family member.  A name comes up on the screen in English. Everyone looks at me. It's not me, but I can recognize the Chinese characters for abortion and I feel relief that I'm not there for that.

Finally, it is my turn. I go into another waiting room. Told to remove my shoes and shoved along roughly by a very very large woman dressed in white and a shower cap.  She looks like she hates me.  I change into the flip flops they provide and move to another waiting room. I'm given some pink pajamas to put on and I have to change right there in front of about four other women.  Then I am told to go wait on a blue vinyl sofa outside the operating room.  I sit there for about another half hour. While I am sitting there, I am witness to all kinds of horrors that are usually kept from us in the Western hospital/medical experience.  I hear loud and violent vomiting in the room next to me.  A woman walks by with a trolley with a large vat on it filled with a murky and bloody looking fluid. I pray that I am not seeing the material that was suctioned out of the uteri of the young girls I have been waiting with.
seeing all afternoon. 
D011 is having an abortion.
It is my turn to go into the scary operating room with large metal door that slams loudly when it opens and shuts. I go in and there is a table with stirrups. There is a garbage bag spread out on the lower half of the bed. I'm not kidding.  There are bloody footprints on the floor. Again, not kidding.  The nurse's uniform is spattered with blood.  I lay down, open my shirt and they prepare the battlefield.  They tell me they will now administer the local anesthetic. It hurts.  I close my eyes and think of my last trip to Thailand and the blue water and the beach and the sand and the sun. I hum to myself and try so very very hard not to be scared and not to cry.  I have no idea what to expect.  I open my eyes for a moment and catch a glimpse of the biopsy "needle" which looks like a sharp, and pointy metal light saber.  He starts.  He jabs it in and then it makes a loud clicking sound. The nurse makes a noise like "huh?" He takes the needle out and starts fiddling around with it. Like someone fiddling around with a broken lighter. He keeps on like that for a minute or so and then it seems to start working properly again.  He jabs it in again. This time, it makes a loud clicking sound again but it sounds different and the nurse seems relieved. It's working. Oh good.
A mobile phone rings. Another nurse answers it, speaks for a moment and then holds the phone up to the doctor's ear while the needle is still deep in my breast. He talks for a minute or so about whether or not to buy fish and how many he wants.  I can understand enough Chinese to get the gist.
Afterward, they wrap my chest up like a mummy and tell me to wait thirty minutes for the results. 

The tumor turns out to be malignant. I learn a new Chinese word: e xing - malignant, wicked, vicious, producing evil, rapid decline.