Where to start? Easter weekend, 2011….Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Reminiscing about my Godson Theo’s welcoming ceremony, an Easter egg hunt and visits with family. Afterwards, Ed and I flew on to pick up our ‘new’ Cessna 172 outside Hamilton Ontario and fly it back across the country to our ‘new’ home outside Penticton BC. It was during that flying adventure that a deep, deep tiredness settled in my bones.
June 2, 2011 was one of the most significant days of my life. That evening, after three years of collaborating together, Valerie Hodgson and I hosted the opening of the art exhibit, Yukon Women, 50 Over 50 and our book, Remarkable Yukon Women.
It features the profile and portraits of fifty Yukon women. It was an honour to interview these women, to work with Val and to produce this book. It is my proudest accomplishment to date.
In August 2011, I went to my doctor for a complete check-up. I knew something was not quite right…I had never been so tired physically and I was concerned about my ability to hike the Mont Blanc tour. All the tests came back clear; the only concern was low B12 so we headed off to hike the circumference of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest massif.
That was the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever faced. I’m so proud I did it — and grateful too because that physical challenge has stood me in good stead ever since.
We arrived back from Switzerland in mid-October, 2011 and since then Ed and I have been on an adventure of our lifetime – not a travel adventure but a health journey.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We absorbed the shock; I opted for mastectomy surgery and we made a quick decision to go to Hawaii for Christmas. We thoroughly enjoyed ten magical days with our friend Beat in Maui – ten days of relaxation, sun and preparation.
I’m so thankful for those days in Maui because 2012 came in with a vengeance. First, breast cancer surgery on January 4. My sister Stella came out to help us through the post-surgery period and the stress of an infection. Slowly, I recovered.
Less than ten days after the breast cancer oncologist from Kelowna gave me the all clear on breast cancer, on Feb 21, she phoned me, an unusual thing for an oncologist to do.
Before every oncologist appointment a blood test is required. On February 14, the ‘regular’ blood test revealed I was anemic. We had discussed it during my appointment and immediately afterwards, unknown to me, she had ordered a special blood test. When those results came back, before calling me on the 21st, she consulted with her colleague, an oncologist specializing in blood cancers. He confirmed her concern and immediately ordered additional tests. The next day I had a bone marrow biopsy, followed by other tests.
Within a week, we met with the blood cancer oncologist who reported the bone marrow biopsy results are unequivocal and to use my family doctor’s description, alarming. He confirmed I have a rare bone marrow cancer called Multiple Myeloma.
It is not ‘curable’ but it is more treatable now than in the past. Since Tuesday, March 6, I have been going for weekly high-dose chemotherapy in Penticton. The chemo destroys both healthy and cancerous cells. I’ll be on chemo for a few months until my blood is strong or balanced enough to undergo an autologous stem cell transplantation. That process is currently the standard of care for myeloma patients up to 65 years of age. In this process, the patient’s own stem cells are collected and are then re-infused into the patient to replace the destroyed cells. It’s complicated and I can’t explain it in detail – if you have more questions, check out this web site: http://www.myelomacanada.ca
How long it will take for my blood to be balanced enough for the stem cell transplant depends on how I react to the chemo but the oncologist estimates chemo for two to four months, followed by the transplant.
Ed and I were completely shattered for a few weeks. My family has been so very supportive; my sister-in-law Lynne came out to be with us during that first difficult week of chemo. In the beginning, it did not look good at all. BUT, then the GOOD news followed: all the other tests to determine the extent of damage to my bones, liver and kidneys, revealed I am in remarkably excellent condition.
The GP Oncologist here in Penticton said to me, “there are not many people who can say they’re lucky they’ve had breast cancer, but in your case, without the breast cancer and the need for an anemia test, we’d never have found the Myeloma until it had progressed so far that treatment would have had no effect.” At the beginning of the chemo treatments, I was in a very good position – no bone damage, a slight decrease in kidney function and no liver damage.
My immunity is greatly compromised and I am tried, the chemo side effects are mild to moderate. Thankfully, I am responding well to the chemo. I have plenty of hair. I have a good appetite. I can rest. The health care team is excellent.
On April 4, I met with the GP oncologist to receive the assessment of my progress to date related to the Series I chemo treatments. The M-protein level, the marker for the multiple myeloma, has gone down significantly.
On March 6, when I began the chemo it was 71.9. The blood tests of March 27 showed the M-protein level at 43.7. To give you an idea of scale, normal blood has zero M-protein level. Is that achievable for me? The oncologist gently told me, “Probably not.” But who knows? I am a great believer in possibilities.
My white blood cell levels are good and my kidney function is back to normal. I can continue to have the full dosage of the chemo in Series II. My first treatment was April 4.
Easter weekend, 2012….Silver Star ski resort, Vernon BC. Friends of ours from the Yukon bought a condo at Silver Star and invited us to join them overnight. We drove up on Easter Friday morning. I rested in the afternoon while they all went skiing. That evening, we laughed, enjoyed a couple of great pizzas and went to bed early. The next day, they skied in the morning while I lounged about…but that afternoon, I joined them on the slopes!
This cancer journey is completely different from the breast cancer – I could see a clear way through that one. But with the Multiple Myeloma, it is more of an inward journey and a change of living – I am focusing most of my energy on supporting the medical process and reconnecting with my inner core and allowing the time and space for my body to heal itself.
Inside, I feel relieved because ALL of the niggling health issues (the menopause symptoms, the tiredness, the recurring infections) make sense now. I know what we’re dealing with. I bless the chemo every Tuesday before taking it; I visualize it working with my body to heal. I am very, very grateful for my circumstances and situation.
Best of all – at Silver Star, somewhere out on the Aunt Gladys run, I had an epiphany – instead if thinking ‘I have cancer and feel healthy,’ I had a deep knowing that ‘I am healthy and happen to have cancer. I feel totally alive.’ Those four runs in the winter sunshine with friends helped me make a huge shift. What a gift!