August 19, 2020
Yes, it’s been awhile…
A LONG while, especially in the cancer-fighting world where things can change so quickly.
My last update was in October 2019. I had just received some good news. Two months later in December 2019 I was given a terminal diagnosis. For the first time I heard the devastating words from my doctor: “You will die from this.” I knew for a long time that my disease was heading in this direction, but this knowledge could not protect me from the reality of my situation.
I was 35. My kids were 9 and 11. Christmas was a week away. Would this be my last Christmas? Would I live to my 36th birthday in March? How will my kids cope without their mommy? These questions and my reality would run through my head daily. And then some not-so-serious questions would infiltrate my mind… who would Elizabeth end up with on When Calls the Heart? Yes, this was an important question, being a fan of the show and most definitely #TeamNathan. If you’re wondering, I did get to (spoiler alert!) see Elizabeth choose Nathan in the final scene of the season.
I started immunotherapy in January under the care of one of the most wonderful doctors I have ever met. Okay, ALL my doctors are the most wonderful doctors. I am so lucky and blessed to have such an amazing team of professionals who look out for me.
Immunotherapy is a non-curative (at this point) treatment that basically boosts the immune system to recognize and kill cancer. But the drug can cause a host of other problems, some life-threatening. Shortly after starting my treatment I ended up in the hospital. Pain, infection, mouth sores, incredible fatigue, a blood clot… life was rough, very rough. But then, I slowly started feeling better, with the help of some lovely drugs. I didn’t experience any of the life-threatening side effects of this amazing treatment. I watched tumours appear on my neck, which is common in the initial stages of immunotherapy. I then watched four of these six tumours completely disappear, both from being visible to me, and from CT scans. I endured a week of radiation in February to supplement the work of immunotherapy, and another one in July to shrink a tumour that managed to go undetected… the little bugger.
Today I received the incredible news that my CT scan yesterday showed that the two remaining tumours have both shrunk! I do have a swollen lymph node on my neck that still needs to be biopsied, but if it is cancerous, it is not trying to kill me… not yet, anyway!
My prognosis has not changed. No one expects me to beat this in the long term. This treatment is expected to shrink tumours, make the cancer temporarily dormant, and extend my life rather than save it, although immunotherapy has already helped some people beat cancer. This is the reality I live in, and I live well despite this prognosis. I also feel great, with only minor side effects from my treatment. I am incredibly scarred, both physically and emotionally, from cancer. I have limitations because of missing nerves, muscles, bones, etc. Anyone who looks at me knows I have been through something big. Thankfully the “were you in an accident?” questions are few and far between. (If you’re ever wondering, this is NEVER an appropriate question to ask a stranger.) I am certainly also not a better person for going through cancer, rather a different person. But with all this comes a thankfulness and gratefulness for life. In January I didn’t think I had much time left, and in some ways I was ready to die and be rid of the physical and emotional pain. But I am so thankful now for this time of living, and living very well. I have prayed for a miracle, and I know hundreds of people have prayed the same for me. And today I feel like I am living a miracle.
COVID was and still is a huge upset to all our lives. But let me tell you, the frustrations, fears, and longing for some semblance of normal is the life of someone fighting cancer, especially someone with a terminal diagnosis. When March hit and we listened to our dear Dr. Bonnie Henry guide us through the initial stages of the pandemic, my doctor commented to me “we all just joined you.” I felt this, and I continue to feel this, everyday. Somehow we have to persevere as a society, and we don’t know how long this will last. Some of the consequences of reducing the transmission of COVID-19 are significant, including extreme financial loss, mental illness, and potentially other health issues. I have not experienced most of these consequences, but I empathize with so many who have. We are all in this together. In the words of our amazing top Provincial Health Officer, let’s be kind, be calm, and be safe.
And yes, these are the John Fluevog Dr. Henry shoes… and my feet! Did I mention I was one of the lucky people who got these coveted shoes? No? Silly me, this should have been my first update! Really, I could not resist sharing these beautiful shoes, as they represent so much more than just style and the incredible artistic talent of a Canadian shoe designer. These shoes signify a unified fight against an invisible enemy, and as one of the ‘vulnerable’, the continued sacrifices of so many people are an incredible gift to me and all of my fellow warriors.
Thank you all for so much support and love, especially over the past nine months. We have struggled, but we have the most amazing community. Even during the darkest times, I have felt incredible gratitude for every single person who has supported us and loved us through this difficult journey.