My oblique subject line isn’t some obscure text code, but rather a summary of the themes of the last 6 weeks: sun, sea, sand and
saga together with rest, recovery, rehabilitation and, yes, pending radiation).
Another “s” might be snow – given that it is currently coming down with another 13cm to follow... add shoveling too then! And, of course the ‘Season’ - as to which we send best wishes. May it be filled with love, laughter, good food and relaxing time (and bracing outdoor activities for those so inclined).
I left off last time with: “I see my radio-oncologist on Monday to review whether it's necessary to have radiation at all... the surgeon suggested that I might be a candidate to skip it.” As it turned out, my encouraging pathology report was quickly tempered by the 'what next' issue around radiation. This turned into quite the saga which included taking the question to the Radio-Oncology Board for review at Gatineau Hospital and taking myself to Montreal for a second opinion arranged by my radio-oncologist. The decision, finally signed off with her just this Sunday afternoon, is that I will go ahead with radiation. It will it start this week on Thursday.
I expect to have 25 sessions during week days including over the holiday period. I’ll be done by the end of January.
I think we got a bit in the middle of a tension between a conservative approach (less can be sufficient; don't over-treat) and a more standard/aggressive approach (radiation works; go for the cure now). The upside of the process is that I have a much better understanding now of the relation between diagnosis, pathology and factors indicating radiation or not. Ultimately, the key factors swinging in favour of radiation were the original grade 3 tumour analysis and the persistence of the lymph node and breast tumour through chemo even though both were much reduced by chemo and cleared by the surgery. Current clinical research hasn't had enough time to sort out the extent to which risks of recurrence will change from new chemo formulas and longer term treatments - including the hormone blocker, Letrozole, which I’ve now started. All the good factors in my pathology report continue to bode well for the future.
It was difficult to manage our disappointment when it looked, tantalizingly and briefly, that treatment might be over. But much better to do another step now that will reduce risk in the future. As someone put it ‘after what you’ve already been through, overkill is good’. And, I’ve been encouraged by what others have said about radiation being milder. I was also calmed by this comment from a fellow traveller: “The staff in the radiation department are so conscientious and gentle in delivering the treatment.”
In the midst of this, came an unexpected and very welcome treat: being able to get away for a week of holiday in, yes, the sun, sea and sand. I’d been told that I needed to be three months clear of a ‘pre-existing condition’ to be covered by my travel insurance. I probed a bit when I was so clearly between treatments and well. It turned out that I only needed to be 2 weeks clear of treatment with no reasonable expectation of needing medical treatment while travelling. We had the holiday to Naples, Florida planned within 2 hours of such liberating news. And, what a tonic it was. We went first to our favourite, Naples Beach Hotel. A typical day consisted of walk on beach, lounge at pool, eat; repeat. Peace, quiet, pelicans swooping in the ocean. We had to laugh when we were looking over photos from our visit last year. Without noticing, we managed to pack the identical clothes and were lounging in the identical places. Even eating at the same osteria. And loving it all again. Things kicked up a notch when we stayed with friends in Miami Beach (South Beach) for a couple of nights. An expansive view of Miami Bay and the lights of the big city. A stroll along art deco Ocean Drive. An outing on VIP guest passes to Art Basel (see: www.timeout.com/miami/art-basel-miami-beach) – a huge art fair that “focuses on modern and contemporary art and puts more than 250 galleries and 4,000 artists from across the globe in front of the art world’s top curators, museums and collectors.” And us. It was a buzz! The art was incredible and diverse. Many of the other patrons an art form themselves.
The show and the visit was all really enjoyable. Particularly, for my re-emerging right brain. It even inspired me to go to a Poetry Concert in Wakefield after we got home. The theme was somber but also playful – with poems chosen around the theme of “Hello Darkness My Old Friend.” It was exhilarating (recitation with music) and it invited reflection. I was particularly taken with a Mary Oliver poem, an extract of which reads: “when it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made something of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited the world.” Sums up some of the intensity of these last months – and more immediately if ‘when it’s over’ stands in ‘this time’ (for now at least). An invitation to reorient my focus and energies in due course. Or at least go to more concerts and galleries!
Mostly for now, I remain largely within the protective cocoon of these times. I’m up to Book 23 of Commissario Brunetti (By its Cover) – one focused on a love of books. I finished book 5 of the absorbing soap opera Clifton Series by Jeffrey Archer while sitting by the pool in Miami. Looking for a new series – ideas anyone? And, I confess, Netflix has also absorbed some of our time with binge watching of The Crown and a steady diet of the very funny Australian show, “Offspring” in which, despite the accents, I’ve felt a touch of home whenever a response to a situation calls for “a cuppa”.
In other news, my hair is making a soft, short return. Even looking stylish by default. It will take another inch to see if it will be as curly. Dolores, the wig, has been honorably retired.
It’s been interesting to begin to navigate a new body image. I’ve gone from self-conscious, to conscious to a form of unconscious again for now. I’m addressing a recurrence of carpel tunnel which has crimped my writing plans. Angie saw her surgeon for another follow-up and he is very pleased with her progress. She’s even been doing light shoveling. We settled a small claim arising out of her fall which will help cover various expenses incurred. I’ve regained my range of motion after the surgery and continue to do various stretches. I’ve been keen to get as far along as possible before radiation begins and complicates my lymphatic drainage. We’ve loved our physiotherapists! I can see the benefit for golf too, always a great motivator.
With the help of Valerie in the garden, we planted several dozen bulbs brought by Beth and we renovated the hosta bed with new varieties. Seeing five deer munching among the remaining foliage above the snowline in other beds over the weekend made me reconsider the wisdom of this – recalling that hostas are their perennial favourite. Might be time in Spring to bring out the Irish Spring on stakes again – my own practical art installation.
When I woke up in my recovery bed after surgery with Angie next to me, I quipped “well, we did promise to journey together ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. But did we really need to do it all in one year?” It’s good to be coming to the end of 2016 with hopes for a better 2017.
We’ve been wonderfully supported. We were deeply moved when some of my law school pals completed ‘the Pink Star Walk’ for breast cancer in Christchurch, New Zealand in October. The star was Dolly, Ruperte’s tiny dog, who walked in a pink tutu and raised nearly $1000 for breast cancer research. Startlingly, it’s almost 40 years since the group of us started Law at the University of Canterbury.
Looking over the year, we’re so aware that others have had losses and health challenges including concussions, cancer and colds that linger in the chest. The hangover of the US election. Sigh. There has also been lots to celebrate and enjoy. We’ve had visitors from away bringing stories, memories and warmth. Homes have been built and bought. Friends have had ‘big birthdays’ although the numbers are higher than in our youth. Our young neighbour, Sophia, won gold and silver medals at her first international competition for sprint canoe in Hungary. Our even younger great nephew, Cade Hennessy McNeely was born. Baby Evelyn is on her way in early March 2017. Godchildren Nellie and Fletcher received awards for being "community builders" and "kind leaders" at their school. Much shortbread has been consumed and first goals scored in the new hockey season. Life is full of goodness and growth.
With much love and continuing thanks for being our village and for sharing so much kindness with us.
Peace and Joy in the New Year.