Sunday, 28 April 2013

Unitended Stress

To qualify this post today I want to describe my ever stressful leg.

My right leg is where I had cancer. It has been through multiple surgeries,  radiation and chemo. It a scarred, both inside and out, it has pain in some areas and total numbness in others. It is lumpy and bumpy and visibly a mess. It is cancer free. It is a constant source of unintended stress from the whole cancer fighting process.

"I'm sure it's nothing"

It is what I always tell myself when I find a "new" bump or lump in my leg. I can't keep track of them all, I have such a large scar, a messed up leg

"I'm sure it's nothing"

It always is (except that one time....). Truth be told, it has been every time. I have had scares before and each time I go to the cancer agency, my oncologist does what she does, and calls me to tells me what is going on with my body.

"I'm sure it's nothing"

Is what I told myself this week. I have some tough areas of skin in my leg, all surrounding my scar. It is impossible for me to keep track of all the little bumps in my leg. I always find these spots in between check ups and start to stress out over them.

"I'm sure it's nothing"

 Is what I tell myself as I poke and prod around these areas each time I find one until I am in pain or I have physically bruised myself, feeling around, trying to see if it is something more than just scarred or damaged tissue. I know I am not the only cancer survivor who does this type of thing.

"I'm sure it's nothing"

Is what I will tell myself when I call my oncologist, again, to get her opinion on the whole matter. Most likely this will result in going in, getting more tests, and finding out what is going on with my body. She will do her best as she always does and get the results back as quickly as possible.

"It is nothing, you are doing fine"

The only words I want to hear from her, and the only words that makes the unintended stress go away, and words I look forward to hearing again and putting my mind at ease again until the next check up.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Identifying as a Survivor

Deciding whether or not to openly identify as a "cancer fighter" or "survivor" is a really big decision. Especially after treatment when the effects of treatment may not be so visible. It is a big decision and not matter what you decide to do, whatever is right for you is right. It is an intensely personal decision.

For me, it took me a long time to "take my battle public". When I had cancer, one of the last things I wanted to was discuss with people my illness. Furthermore, when I was done treatment I just wanted to run away from it as fast as I could.

I began to think about if I would a few months after I finished treatment. I had my hair back, the radiation burns had healed, and I was feeling a bit better. I thought a lot about what people would think if I "let the world know" what I had been through, and what effects I am still having.

I was scared what people would think about me, and to face my fears head on. Cancer had hurt me and I wasn't ashamed but maybe felt a little embarrassed. Discussing past symptoms was easier than expected. Although many of them were extremely painful, and things I didn't necessarily want to discuss or even think about again, I found the feedback to be very positive. The more I talked about what I went through, the more I found both survivors and fighters who found it helpful that they were not alone.

When discussing my current ongoing issues, I found that more difficult. No one wants to be viewed as damaged or broken. It is a big fear. But at the same time, it is my life. I am not ashamed of who I am. I work as hard as I can. I have with this as well the feedback to be amazing. To hear for myself that I am not alone, and giving support to others has really been a great experience.

For me, this has what has been the most important part of identifying as a survivor. not everyone wants to do that, and as I stated before, whatever decision someone makes to identify or not is their decision and whatever they decide is right. I just know for me, and the positive impact I have had, I will continue to identify and speak my voice about my experiences. It is not just for me, but for everyone else out there too to have a bit more of a voice.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Busy Weeks Ahead and Behind

I think, for all the concern on how well things would go for me after chemo, after cancer, and whether or not I would just be stuck at home as some sort of doormat for the world has been answered the last few weeks. I don't think I have to worry about doing nothing necessarily, as I have been busier than I have been in a long time.

I have a job interview coming up this week, which should be pretty exciting. I am looking forward to meeting some new people and showing them "what I have got" to make me their man. I have also been really busy lately with my "Ride to Conquer Cancer" as fundraising efforts for the team has passed $17000 now. I also have two events coming up this week (one sanctioned by the ride and the other just a team meetup, but both should be fun).

With the ride, training has also ramped up. This combined with all the preparation for a job interview can really eat up your time! Adding in the fact that I go to the gym 4-5 times a week leaves not much free time for other things! And oh yeah, I have my research job, running a lab, and getting ready for conference presentations and writing publications!

I am busier than I have been in a long time, and although stressful, it is good to be busy. There were a lot of days I thought I would not have this opportunity again so I am trying my best to appreciate it (I wouldn't say enjoying it just because it can be hectic and stressful at times).

I guess it is getting busy these days. I hope some of these things work out well. I think that would be quite nice. I am glad I have the opportunity to be busy. I can be slowed sometimes. My hip and leg always make cycling more difficult then I would like (and stairs) and some chemo side effects mean I just need to study a bit longer when reading new papers, but I will always do that. It can be upsetting at times, but it is better than what else could of happened to me.

I am happy I still have time to write my blog too. I will make sure I always have time for that though, no matter how busy I get, it always manages to relax me a little, and put my life into perspective.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Trying to Rationalize the way I Feel

Lately, I have been rather demotivated and not in great spirits. And to be quite honest I am not sure why. I find since I have finished chemo this is a feeling that comes and goes about every two months. My "sad cycle" if you will.

I am not sure why these feelings come and go, but I know it is pretty hard to break out of it sometimes. I am really down, I don't really get too chatty with people (not that I am a huge talker anyway) and I get easily demotivated. The way I have found to get through these times, is basically push through. What I mean by that, is that I know they are coming. I know what this feels like, and I know at some point it will pass. It just really sucks, and when things don't go right, it all seems to get magnified.

I try to rationalize what is going on. I never went through things like this before cancer, so I assume it is stemming from that. I don't have a ton of things to be down about, I have a decent, albeit short term job, my fundraising is going well, and I am finally being able to contribute again to things I had promised to work hard for. I do have some things in my life that aren't perfect, but so do most people.

I often wonder if it stems from my lack of desire to voice some of my concerns, opinions, and probably most importantly my feelings. I tend to try and "not complain" about a lot of things since having cancer. "Things have been much worse" I always tell myself. And to be fair, that really is true. I am not going through chemo anymore. But when my "regular" life problems become important is always a question. When will it be okay to get upset at things like the weather, and being late, and having to go get groceries. I feel I should always be "happy" and living life to its fullest because I feel like I have been given a second chance, and when I don't it seems like I may be wasting it, this never helps my mood as you would imagine.

I think this may all lead to my "down times". I know I don't have a good way of dealing with this yet. I have tried counseling, and I have tried finding some people to talk to, but it hasn't worked so far. Until I find I better way, I will push through as best I can.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Today I Felt Much Better than this Day Last Year

Today was a big day for working towards the fund raiser that I care about so much. The Ride to Conquer Cancer ( Had a nice long bike ride of a little over 50 km. The weather was great an my leg felt great too.

It really was nice, I really enjoy how much better I feel this year than last. It was a huge difference from the year before. Training last year (2012) was so hard. I thought I had really just been bad at riding a bike. Every once and awhile I get a big reality check of how sick I used to be. 

Today, I did a ride through Richmond with two of my team mates. This was a ride I did the year before and I remember how difficult it was. It was long, it was windy, and there were long gradual hills. I remembered being just totally gassed at the end of it. Honestly, I was pretty concerned about doing this ride again today.

Today it was exactly the opposite. I felt good the whole day. I had one of those moments when I realized how far I have come. The ride was not too bad, the weather was great, and most surprisingly, I felt really good. It wasn't nearly as miserable as I had remembered it to be. Obviously, because of how much a year has made me better.

How long will I feel this well. That is something I don't really know. No one does, but people who have been sick seem to be a bit more concerned than others I know. But at least on this day I am starting to think that maybe it does get a little better. And I hope my good fortune continues.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

How Writing Has Helped Me Get By

I haven't found a lot of ways of dealing with many of the stresses and strains that come from having cancer. 

Writing has really been the only outlet that I have had that I am comfortable with expressing my concerns, issues, thoughts or whatever.

I think the reason for this might have something to do with the fact that everyone around me has been effected by what I went through with cancer a different way. To ask someone to put completely aside what they might be feeling or thinking to listen to me, seems like not necessarily a big, but an uncomfortable ask. I also feel a bit selfish when I tried to ask people to do that. Everyone has their own problems. Why would mine be any more important.

Writing and blogging has given me the freedom to say what I want without a lot of the criticism that comes along with it. No one has to sit there and listen, no one has to put aside their concerns for mine, I can just write and say (and get off my chest) anything that I want to really. It has been really nice. It is a bit of an escape from the real world if you will.

I have found when I sit down to write I am usually stress free, even when writing about cancer issues or side effects of treatment, and painful memories of both. When speaking with people about issues I tend to get a bit stressed out, knowing that I am putting added pressure on someone. I don't want to do that, but it happens. When I am writing, I can sit, have my coffee, and feel free to say what I want without that stress. 

I stopped going to the different types of counseling I had been trying as well. I found it to be not helpful. Whether group or one on one, I didn't like that I always felt my concerns where smaller than others in the room (which in many cases they were), I have had a great deal of difficulty connecting with people post cancer. I also didn't like that someone was getting paid to listen. Even if they did care about my issues, it kind of brought me down that they were the only people who could put aside everything. With writing I don't have these issues, it is just me. As long as I am happy (or at least a little pleased) with what I am writing then it is fine.

It is a release. It is a time when I can feel that everything is right in the world. It gives me peace when I need it most it seems these days.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Some Thoughts from when I Train for the Ride to Conquer Cancer

I have to do a lot of training for my biking/fundraising for the "Ride to Conquer Cancer". Some days I get to go by myself and some days I ride in groups which can lead to a variety of things on ones mind.

Today I did a lot of riding by myself. I find it peaceful and it gives me some time to reflect on not only why I do the ride, but different things in my life. It is one of the few times I am really in a peaceful place to think and be comfortable with my thoughts.

A lot of times, it can be simple things, my face is wet, this hill is hard, or how much I enjoy going down hills. All things that crossed my mind while biking in the rain today. I also thought about how happy I was to be biking in the rain. When I was going through chemotherapy I would have given anything just to be able to go outside when I wanted. To not lie in a hospital bed and not be in so much pain and miserable would of been fantastic.

I also thought about how lucky I was. I had the benefit of being treated and making a recovery. That is one of my biggest motivators when biking. I was only going to do about 30 km today, but being motivated by this and thinking about how lucky I was pushed me another 20 km. All in all a good training ride for a rainy day.

I also thought a lot about my grandfather today. He passed away when I was very young from cancer, and to be honest, I don't have a lot of memories with him. The only thing I remember is cutting string beans with him when I was young in his back yard. I might have been three or four. This served as a big motivator for me too for my training today. I don't have many memories with him because cancer took him too soon. It is not really fair. It is not fair that he didn't get to see his grand kids grow up, or even meet some of them. It is not fair that he didn't get to see his kids grow up, see how well he had raised people like my dad, and to see the success that he has become.

Today, these thoughts, along with a lot of others really dominated my mind. But that is not a bad thing. It reminds me why I need to keep training, and keep raising money for cancer research so people have less of these voids in their lives by losing people too soon.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

26 going on 60

When I was diagnosed with cancer I was 26 years old.

I had a year of treatment, which left me to have a birthday about 3/4 of the way through everything. I kind of remember it, which brings me to this post.

After about eight months of treatments (chemo and surgery at this point) I was left with not a lot of strength, and my memory had been suffering quite a bit too. It was difficult to remember a lot of things, I was slow at processing data and I couldn't really get around very quickly on my own. Not a great place to be. 

When my birthday did come (that August), I felt like I was turning 60 years old. To be honest, I couldn't even tell you today where I was at or what I did for my birthday I was in such bad shape. I think I was in the hospital for either chemo or because i was sick, but I couldn't say that for sure. This was the state I was in. 

As the months went by, I still felt very old and slow. When I finally finished treatment I did start (am still) getting my strength back. It is a weird place to be really. Young but old at the same time. I know from speaking with other young cancer patients that this is not an uncommon feeling. You are young (age is more than a number for me) but you cannot do many of the "active" things that so many others your age can. It was quite a difficult and stressful time. 

This year I will turn 29, and as odd as it sounds, I feel a bit younger with the last few birthdays. 28 was not great, I was still pretty tired and hadn't recovered totally and this year when I turn 29 I am sure I will still not feel as great as 26. I still feel physically slower than where I want to be (especially when I try to run, mainly because my leg still doesn't allow me to). I don't feel 60 anymore which is nice, I still feel older than I am, but younger by the year too as I eat better, exercise more, and keep moving forward with my rehab. If that makes any sense at all.