Onward and Upward

I’ll admit I have not felt like writing for quite a while. Not for any negative reason, but for the complete opposite of that. Things have been trudging along and I haven’t had anything to update you all on.

I’ve been out adventuring a lot in July/August. I realized I will likely re-purpose this blog to showcase the adventures and travels I go on in hopes that it will show other cancer THRIVERS that it is possible to not let this disease take any more from you than it already has.

Just to give you a taste, here is what I have planned so far for myself over the next year…

  1. Overnight trip from Elfin Lakes to Mamquam Lake (Late September?) – https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/canada/british-columbia/elfin-lakes-trail-to-mamquam-lake?u=i
  2. Camping at the Sooke Potholes (Early September) – http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/sooke_potholes/
  3. Rim to Rim, Grand Canyon (May 2018) – https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/rim-to-rim-north-kaibab-to-grand-canyon-village
  4. Juan de Duca Marine Trail (July 2018) – https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/canada/british-columbia/juan-de-fuca-marine-trail?u=i
  5. The Wonderland Trail, Mt Rainier (August 2018) – https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/washington/the-wonderland-trail

These are just the ones I have in my mind so far…I’m sure some will pop up as time goes by. Also, to my friends, these are all open invite. If you’d like to join me just drop me a line 😉

I will have more medical updates sometime shortly as well.

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My Unicorn Life

If I didn’t already know I was special, I for sure know that now. After meeting with the Genetic Counselor the other day I found out that I do not have any mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. For those that don’t know, mutations in these two genes increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. It came as a bit of a surprise, only because my oncologist was SO sure that would be the case – being 27 with no history of breast cancer in the family. Alas, I am a unicorn. I have no explanation.

They did find some things of interest – I have a “variant” in a gene called TP53, which is currently being studied for its role/link in young cancer and bone cancer (I have mets to the bone for those that do not know). Since the research is still new, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything right now, but potentially could down the line. The cool thing about being a purple unicorn is that my DNA is getting some special attention – being studied and further tested by the HCP (Hereditary Cancer Program) looking at MORE of my genes to seek out any other mutations or anomalies (yay more blood work/saliva samples)…though I would take normal DNA over being the subject of study any day 😉

Next up on the docket for Wednesday was a blood test and biopsy to get me started with the POG study. If you don’t know about this study I suggest you read up on it, it’s pretty interesting stuff.

Since I was slotted in due to a last minute cancellation, no one had any requisitions for me for bloodwork or the biopsy…typical haha. So up and down the cancer agency I went, having people track down the correct people to get the show on the road. Blood work: Check. Next up, biopsy. My diagnostic biopsy experience was awful, I was not comfortable, I was nervous, they didn’t freeze me properly and took a total of 10 samples including fine needle aspiration of the lymph node.

This time I was slightly more prepared, I popped some Ativan to relax a bit, and knew to tell them to freeze me properly. So, I’m lying on the table, exposed, with this new grad and her ultrasound scanning away…scanning….scanning…*puzzled look* “I’m going to go get the radiologist to take a look”

“okay…” *mildly begins freaking out*

The radiologist comes in and she was fantastic, but as she is scanning she tells me that she “thinks” she has found the area where the previous biopsy was done, but the mass is so small now that she’s unsure she can get a good biopsy. She does a bit more scanning and thinking and looking at the previous scans before telling me the biopsy is now going to have to wait until after my last round of chemo and PET scan in order for it to be targeted. The concern being that as soon as they inject the anesthetic she would lose view of the mass on the ultrasound and would not get any of the cancer DNA and I’d have to come back, which neither of us want (probably me more so than her :P)

Obviously I have mixed emotions about that! No biopsy is a win, plus the treatments are working…BUT it means I have to wait even longer for the POG study…

 

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Resilience: Finding Compassion and Gratitude in “Cancerland”

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve blogged, but I really did not have much to say over the past little while. To bring you up to speed, I have completed 4 rounds of chemotherapy, and have another 4 to go! Officially halfway! Even though it feels like 4 treatments went by really quickly, another part of me is dreading the next 4…12 more weeks seems like an eternity right now.

Recently I’ve had some conversations about resilience and gratitude with people in my life who I really look up to and admire. It got me thinking about my journey, myself, life in general…real deep shit ya feel me? So I’m writing to share my views, what I’ve learned so far in this process, and I hope it’s helpful to some (whether you live in cancerland or not).

I feel like I have to start off by addressing some misconceptions people have about me, and about how I’m dealing. I get told a LOT that I’m super positive, that I have so much energy, I look vibrant. I also get asked “how come you’re not angry? Sad? Depressed? Anxious? You seem just…like yourself.” I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m ALL those things (some of the time), but I refuse to let cancer dictate who I am.

Not many people see me at my low, curled up on my couch feeling like crap. Even right now, as I write this, I’m sitting in bed with a headache, body aches that haven’t gone away in 2 days, an upset stomach, bloated (I look like I could be 3 months pregnant). I’m not happy right at this moment, but I know this is temporary. I’m also angry and sad at times, and most of the time it’s not just because it’s happening to me, but because there are so many other wonderful people I’ve connected with who are on their own journey and it’s not f!@&ing fair for them either. I get anxious, of course – the future is so uncertain, but wasn’t it always? That’s the thing about the future it will always be a mystery to us. We never know what’s going to happen and that’s part of what makes life so beautiful and interesting.

Cancer has been the worst thing that has happened to me, but it has been a blessing in some ways. It’s given me the perspective to cut through the bullshit in life. It’s given me the ability to recognize what matters in life, to focus on that. In trying to find the best words to describe what it’s like I can only think of one thing, and it’s a little dark so stay with me. We all know that life is finite, but until you are faced with something big and life altering, I don’t think you really “know” or understand that. It’s like standing in a room with someone who is constantly reminding you that your time on this planet is limited and could be gone at any moment. It’s horrifying and beautiful to me because even though that concept is terrifying, I’m reminded ALL the time to embrace everyone and everything around me. I focus on what and who makes me happy and it makes it easier to disregard all the petty and insignificant things that would have occupied my time before.

Finding gratitude in all this has been hard, and occasionally I need to wake up and really concentrate on things I’m grateful for in order to feel like I can get through the day. Sometimes it’s the little things in life like new pajamas or slippers, and other times its friends and family.

I’ve also had to learn how to have self-compassion – to acknowledge that it’s okay to feel like crap, to not always be positive, and it’s so important to take care of myself. I am notorious for self-critiquing which has made dealing with chemotherapy quite difficult. Not being able to do what I’m used to doing, and being upset when I feel like crap. Just wanting to “snap out of it” and get back to life. I’ve had to learn to be okay not being okay. I think that has been my biggest challenge, and I have to work at it every day. Most of time I find self-care to be the best way, take time out with a bubble bath or focus on my art. I have to remind myself that it’s perfectly fine to spend a week doing nothing because that is what my body needs to heal.

The brain is an amazing thing, it can take a terrible situation and reconstruct it in a way that makes it easier to deal with. Resilience takes practice and work, it takes compassion and gratitude.Happiness-is-letting-go-768x768.jpg

She Who Is Brave Is Free

I have been absent, I know, no updates…I will spare you from the details because it is completely IRRELEVANT to this post. However, I will tell you it was not great news, things have changed, the plan is different now – but I am handling it and I have an amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! support group around me. I cannot stress how f@!*ing in awe I am of how the people I have in my life are pure gold (did I mention they’re amazing?)

This blog post is about bravery. Something so important to me that I had it tattooed on my body! I do not solely mean in terms of facing a difficult situation (in my case think a cement wall infinity feet high and infinity feet deep and I need to get to the other side), but how every single person needs to embrace the concept of bravery, and to live it, every goddamn day. Specifically, I am going to be talking about relationships, and dating (yuck!)

Everyone who knows me well knows that I find dating to be downright awful, it is awkward, uncomfortable, and my guard is always up. Or was. I don’t really know anymore – I’ll let you know when I figure that out. Dating is shit, and if you say you love it, I don’t know what planet you’re from – but can I visit? Can I study your weird culture? I need to understand why meeting a perfect stranger, feeling like you’re going to vomit and that you’re being interrogated or interviewed is a pleasant experience. ENLIGHTEN ME!!!

Joking aside, when people say that a life changing event opens your eyes and makes your priorities fall into line like perfectly stacked dominoes tiles – they were not bloody kidding.

Here is where I’m going to tell you how being brave isn’t just about facing crappy times and soldiering through, it’s about being brave every day – every time you’re confronted with an uncomfortable situation. In relationships (even friendships) that can be quite often, and in dating it’s multiplied.

#1 most important thing is to be brave enough to cut the toxic people out of your life, even if you love them, if you feel like you cannot live without them. They are toxic. They are SHIT. You are so much better off without them. It took me a long time to cut certain people out, and when this diagnosis came along some of them removed themselves from my life of their own volition. It hurt, it really hurt – I thought they cared about me, loved me, and were going to be my rock. I was SO SO wrong. I got over it though, I realized something – I have amazing friends, family, and there is so much love in my life that is a million times more pure than whatever that was.

#2 be brave enough to stand up for yourself. Don’t like something that’s happening in your relationship? Is your partner/friend/family member behaving or saying things that upset you and get you down? Tell them. Simple as that (jk, maybe have some tact). There are endless courses and counselors who specialize in helping people communicate for a reason – it works! Surprise, surprise we can’t read each others minds yet – maybe one day 😉

#3 be brave enough to tell people how you feel. Life is so short, too short, and way too short to hold your cards and emotions to your chest and not let someone know. People are terrified of rejection, and I get it, it stings – but only for a moment, trust me. Our egos are so inflated these days that we can’t handle it when someone doesn’t feel the same way about us. So what? Get rejected, own it, embrace it, tell yourself that person isn’t the one for you and maybe you are better off friends. Imagine if you say something and you got a positive response? Wouldn’t that be something! So make the grand gestures, lay it all out, wear your heart on your sleeve, tell people you appreciate them, you like them, you love them, that you think they have a bangin’ bod, laugh, hug, cry, love. Do it ALL.

#4 this is my last one. Be brave enough to know your own worth, know what’s REALLY important. I get that when our lives are “normal” we get sucked into the social norms – go to school, get your degree, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, retire etc. Again, that’s the social norm, it’s how we have been programmed by our society – but it doesn’t mean it’s right or the only way. The guy with the nice car and good job, but he is dull and boring? Ugh no. Please – give me someone who will dance in the kitchen, take spontaneous trips, geek out, takes an interest in me, and who isn’t afraid of making a fool of themselves. Someone that knows what is important, as my friend Lisa says “the connections we have with other people are the only things that fucking matter,” give me that. Give me a genuine person over a house and car any day. I’m brave enough to know I’m worth someone like that – and you should be too!

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Nothing but LOVE to you all, positive vibes only xoxo,
Karen

Whirlwind Week

This past week has been extremely difficult…I feel like so much has happened in such a short period of time that it feels like a month has passed even though it’s only been 11 days. I am thankful my mum was with me for the worst part which was the initial meeting with my oncologist.

I found out the cancer is invasive ductile carcinoma, estrogen + and HER2 +. My oncologist says this means 6 months of chemotherapy, followed by (a likely double) mastectomy, radiation, and breast reconstruction. I had to go in for a variety of blood tests, a PET scan, and had my port-a-cath device inserted (all within 4 days). One aspect of the blood work was genetic testing to see if the cancer I have is hereditary. If it is positive it will allow my family members to get tested, and even though I have brothers it would allow them to get tested and in turn if they are positive for the gene and have daughters, their daughters can be tested. It amazes me sometimes how far medicine has come.

I was referred to a fertility clinic to look into the possibility of IVF since chemo may render me infertile. The physician there said if I did not start RIGHT away that it would not be an option – without the time to be able to think about it, and the idea that they would be pumping me full of hormones to stimulate the follicles (and my cancer is estrogen +) I decided against it. I need to put my own health first, and at 27 I really have no idea if kids are what I want in my life. There are always other options I suppose.

Needless to say this has been a bit of an emotional week, a lot of information to take in, a lot of emotions to process, a lot of incredible support from the amazing people around me. Honestly I don’t think I would be in such positive spirits if it was not for them.

I still don’t know when chemo is slated to start, but I gather I will find out this week (the fertility specialist said my referral indicated within 10 days – that would mean this week).

On the positive I was able to find myself a wig this weekend (yay, small wins) and got to spend some time with good friends – which is a good distraction.

Goodnight!

xoxo,

Karen

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The news

So I found out today it is cancer…I am in complete shock and I don’t really know what I’m feeling. Sadness, anger, worry…

I still don’t know exactly what kind it is, or what the treatment plan will be. My GP told me I will get a call this week to schedule me for an appointment with the oncologist as soon as they are done the testing and know more.

Update to come.

Take care all,

Karen

The beginning

It all started early January 2017….

2017 started off with me setting huge personal goals for myself. It was “no bullshit 2017.” The BIG plan was to become a stronger individual personally, emotionally. To stop letting others walk all over me and take advantage of my good nature. Little did I know, 2017 had even BIGGER plans for me.

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Around the second week in January I noticed a lump in my left breast. It seemed to appear overnight and I promptly made an appointment with my family physician. Scared to high hell I walked into that appointment and was asked a plethora or questions, one of which I felt I had no answer to “is this the first time you’ve noticed the lump?”…well…yes…I think? I give myself regular self exams in the shower, but did I feel something before? Did I miss something? How could I have missed this? With no history of breast cancer in my family, and having just turned 27 my doctor suggested it was likely and infection, gave me some antibiotics and sent me on my way. I was relieved, but still scared.

After a week or antibiotics, the lump was still there, and I really couldn’t tell…had it gotten better or worse? I went down the black hole that is Google/WebMD (bad, BAD idea), and was in tears shortly after. I made yet another appointment with my GP who then referred me for an ultrasound. Those two weeks of waiting were the longest two weeks of my life.

When I went in for my ultrasound, I was on the verge of crying as I lay there on the table, left breast exposed to the world, gross gel and a wand being crossed over again and again…*snap*…*click, click, click*…*snap*…*click, click, click* as the ultrasound tech took various photos and places markers. She measures the lump (4cm…Jesus.) She tells me she will be back…she needs to get the radiologist to look at my scans. “Great” I think, as my eyes well up, “now I really know something is wrong” (although I could clearly tell something was physically wrong…I didn’t really need the scans to confirm that). As the radiologist comes in, she is ALL business, no time for my jokes (shame..) the only thing she can say is “I’m surprised you’re no in pain” and she does yet another scan, snaps a few more pictures, and tells me the next step is a mammogram of both breasts and a core biopsy…

I get myself all scheduled and I feel oddly okay, maybe numb? I have a history of mental illness, and I have a hard time distinguishing some of my feels (especially that of feeling nothing and feeling okay.) The mammogram was fairly easy, a lot of waiting, not much information.

My biopsy is scheduled for Monday…I’m pretty terrified, but I’ll have the company of my fantastically supportive sister-in-law which makes me feel slightly better.

Update to come after the biopsy….

xoxo

Karen Image result for heart emoji