Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Things I Learned The Month I Stood Still

Chemo brain is a very real thing. It will make me forget that months are ending and that monthly lesson posts are to be done. Whatever, it’s my blog and I’ll blog what I want to. Even if it’s four days late ;)

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My cottage is the best place on Earth. No, really.

Even with an endless amount of TV, movies, and books and one’s disposal, it is still possible to be bored out of your mind.

Telling a stranger that I have cancer does not get easier with practice.

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You can (and should) french toast just about anything.

Yoga classes while on chemo are a great idea for relaxing and moving my body. But making a commitment to be somewhere at the same time every week when I never know how sick I’m going to feel is impossible.

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes! And they all taste very different from each other!

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It is so, so important that I find ways to feel proud of myself outside of what I am physically capable of doing. Being able to run is great, but it shouldn’t be my only source of self worth.

Any time something is being inserted under my skin, I should really ask for an anaesthetic. Do they give laughing gas for PICC insertions? It think that would be a good time…

I can’t let the opinions of others dictate how I handle my days. I am going to have a lot of bad days in a row, and even a lot of good days in a row. There is nothing in place that says how I should or shouldn’t be feeling.

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Pies are so deceptive. And so is the movie Waitress. Not quite *that* easy.

Wigs are fun, but they don’t replace the hair on my head. They tangle more easily, are hotter, and are harder to twirl around my finger.

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I know I actually have no control as to when the cancer is gone, but telling it to fuck off by my 26th birthday feels pretty damn good.

I’ve spent so much time over the past few months obsessing over my own health, it’s a huge relief to pay attention to the well being of another little creature.

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It’s possible for a 12 lb dog to totally steal my heart.

Being A Blogger and Staying Honest

The most common question I am asked by people about my blog, is how do I feel comfortable sharing so much of myself online?

The truthful answer, is that when I started blogging almost three years ago, I only had about 10 readers. So being honest about my thoughts and feelings was never a big issue. As I gained more readers over the years, it’s just something I never changed.

With that said, I guess I do have limits on what I will blog about. I won’t put up anything I would never want my mom or my boss to read. That’s a rule I’ve had since day one. I won’t blog about family members or friends in great detail, that’s their business not ours. I try my best not to disclose my exact locations, keep my last name off (although, it’s no secret what it is), and never ever mention my place of employment.

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Old-school TGBA header.

I will say, that over the years, I have become more aware of my audience. I always blog for myself, but I do try to write in a way that will hopefully interest people. Choose topics that people can gain knowledge from or relate to in some way or another.

My blog has evolved a lot over the years. When I first began blogging about food and exercise almost three years ago, I was admittedly embarrassed by it at times. Would people think I was weird for taking pictures of my food? Actually, yes, a lot of people thought it was silly and ridiculous. But I started to no longer care, because it was important to me.

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Another not-so-old-school TGBA header.

When I was diagnosed with cancer 12 weeks ago, it would have been easy to say “see ya later.” To take a long break from blogging and focus on the more urgent things at hand. But strangely, it’s become a time when I need to blog the most. Taking the thoughts and emotions that fill me now, organizing them, and writing them for whoever in the world wants to see, is the most therapeutic way I can think of to work through this process.

I think knowing I have an audience out there reading helps me develop these thoughts more than if I was just writing in a journal. Not to mention, I am a strong believer in that a writer is not a writer until they are read (in other words, get published!).

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With my "blog face" on.

I now have almost three years of blog posts to go through, probably close to 1,000 by now. Little things I’ve done or celebrated over the course of those days. Big things like graduating university, moving, and making big life decisions. It’s all documented, along with whatever I decided to have for breakfast that morning.

Even though the style of this blog has changed, I am more committed to it than ever. I know a lot of people say “I would blog even if no one read!” But I can assure you that is 100% truth coming from me. If there’s one thing I’ve always known about myself, it’s that I’m a person of creativity. From the first homemade journal I started as a 6-year-old, to the journals of poems and songs I wrote through my teenage years, to the blog I started as a university student. Happiness to me is creating something out of nothing, and doing that for a short period of time every day with this blog is one of the things I look forward to every single day.

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Blogging on my mother's hardwood floor gives me velociraptor arms.

So I guess if I were to answer, how do I stay so honest? I’m just honest with myself first, so putting it into words and sharing it is never a big stretch. Just don’t ask me to talk about myself in person. That’s when I start to clam up.

About That To-Do List…

Now that I’ve already described the chemotherapy and hospital experience in great detail, I feel like I also need to describe the experience of being home when the dust finally settles.

Living at home with my parents (or dad, in this case, although my mom lives a 5 minute drive away), being off work, dealing with the side effects of chemo, and emotional aspects of having cancer, well it’s a lot!

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Archie, on "Cancer Guard" at the end of my bed at home.

The biggest thing I have noticed since being home is that my to-do has been drastically slashed. I used to be that girl who liked to schedule every free minute of her day with something to do. How do you think I managed to blog every day? My days were quite full! Geez, in my last year of university I took full-time classes, worked two jobs, and did one internship. It’s like I’m allergic to being bored or something.

I think a big misperception about being sick is that people assume the sick person sits at home all day in their pyjamas with nothing to do. This is kind of true, but I know anyone who has gone through chemotherapy will agree with me – I just can’t do as much.

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Each day, I do the normal things I want to do every day – blog, exercise, make meals. Then I choose one thing to do on top of that. Some days it’s going out to lunch, maybe visiting my mom, have a friend come over. Other days, a load of laundry is all I can muster. Some days I can’t even do anything beyond blogging.

Chemotherapy just takes it out of you. Plain and simple. Even on days when I’m not nauseated or experiencing bone pain, I am still always fatigued and tired. The kind of tired that doesn’t go away with sleep. The kind of tired that isn’t cured with caffeine or “breaking through” to get a second wind.

I have to be wise about it as well. For I have over-booked myself in the past while on chemo and felt like walking death after. I am always having to remind those around me that “no, this is it for me today.” As much as I would love to go from location A to location B, I think it’s time I go to location Home to rest.

The one thing that I miss the most since beginning chemotherapy is the ability to schedule my days full of fun activities. I miss having a healthy immune system that allowed me to go to farmer’s markets, concerts, busy restaurants, and bars. I miss having the stamina to spend the day baking and cooking in the kitchen.

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Baking chocolate beet cake on my birthday, 2010.

With all this said, I will assure you that I surprisingly never get bored. Between puttering away on my writing projects, reading, watching the TV shows and movies I never had time for before, and visiting with family every day, I don’t have a whole lot of time for much else. It just takes a loooooong time to do anything because I can only do so much over the course of one day.

Back in my prime exercise days, when I was training for triathlons, running races, or weight lifting programs, I dealt with regular injuries like anyone else. My mom would always tell me “Susan, an injury is just God’s way of slowing you down.” I always knew it was true, because without the injury I would have just kept going and run myself into the ground. The sore hip, stubbed tow, achy achilles, they all served their purpose of forcing me to sit on my butt for a week and take a rest I never thought I needed or deserved.

Well, I’m not sure what cancer says about my need for rest, but I am certainly taking the time to listen. And plan to continue listening once this cancer experience is over. I’ll definitely be more careful about over-booking myself in the future, and maybe take more time to read those books and watch those movies I always wanted to see.

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I am back to the red sands of the North Shore of Nova Scotia at my family cottage for the weekend. The perfect opportunity to rest, read, and go for a long walk on the beach. I wish everyone on chemo had a cottage to go to. Whatever you do this long weekend, be sure you get a little rest and relaxation too!!

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