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Radically Free

It has been just over 6 weeks since I was diagnosed with cancer. Four of which were spent in a hospital bed. Two of which have been spent adjusting to my new life back at home.

I’ve had a lot of time to mull things over. Perhaps not the kind of things you’d expect me to think about. More like “I hope I’m not too sick to continue baking through my recipe bookmarks.” Or, “I’m really pissed I can’t go to any of the concerts I bought tickets for this summer.” Or how about “I’m super pissed I can’t go to the Healthy Living Summit.”

But most of all, I think about what I once deemed my “healthy lifestyle.”

I ate my fruit and vegetable servings every day. I exercised almost every day. I did lots of yoga. I meditated (sometimes). I laughed (a lot). I got fresh air walking and running, I slept my eight hours a night. I haven’t touched a cigarette since 2005 and I drink maybe once a month. Maybe.

According to Dr. Oz, I was doing everything right. And I still. got. cancer. At 25 years of age no less.

Enter: existential crisis.

I still have the same core values when it comes to healthy living. In other words, I still believe it’s all about balancing out the important stuff with the fun stuff. But I no longer believe that the healthy stuff is a cure-all. It is one thing to eat and live a certain way to say, deal with gastrointestinal issues. It is another thing to force yourself to live a certain way, when really all you want to do is LIVE.

I don’t actually think about my mortality a lot since my cancer diagnosis. But I will tell you that when mortality gets involved, a person’s idea of healthy living is bound to change.

In essence, I just have a greater desire to do things for ME. So yes, that’s changing to a mostly organic diet to keep the chemicals out, a choice made for me, by me. But you know what? I still eat toast and butter for dinner when the chemotherapy makes me gag at the mere mention of a “dark leafy green.”

These days, being happy, keeping my sanity, and finding joy in the small things are way, way more important than stressing about the things that may or may not prevent me from getting cancer. Or I guess, make my cancer worse. Yes, I am way more aware and prudent of it all, but in the end… How much does it really matter? What have I done differently than a person who lives to be 92 and disease free?

I will still try my best to eat my veggies and exercise, because that’s just who I am. But I now know that obsessing over it is fruitless. What I do know is that I want to spend my days feeling engaged and enjoying every hour lived. Not slaving over some notion of what I “should” be doing. I just want to be stress free.

At my cottage last weekend, my Aunt bought a big ole’ chocolate cake slathered in the most delightful boiled icing that has ever touched my lips. My uncle passed away a few months ago of brain cancer. Losing him was a tough blow to my family, and getting my cancer diagnosis weeks after his funeral was another big blow.

Instead of wallowing over how cancer has affected my family, we instead sliced into this divinely delicious cake as a symbol of celebration. Yes, we have lost a lot, but we still have a lot more. Manymany things to celebrate. We sat there for almost 10 minutes clinking our glasses together with cheers of things to be grateful for. Then dug into the super-sugary dessert. Not healthy in the least, but a moment in time that gave me more emotionally and spiritually than I think a green smoothie ever could.

Did I mention the boiled icing?? It tasted like marshmallow fluff! The stuff my sweet fluffy dreams are made of.

I am off to my cottage again this weekend – or my “Sanctuary of Healing” as my sister calls it. I’ve been feeling pretty blah from my last chemo treatment, so the fresh salty air will be very welcome.

Now go enjoy your weekend!!


More Than Seven Links

I’ve been having fun reading these “Seven Links” post everywhere over the past few weeks. But admittedly, was a little bummed no one tagged me. Enter my dear friend Leah, who swooped in to save the day. Dude, when you’re sick, a flashback link post is the easiest kind ;)

How it works – I’m given a “topic” and I provide an old blog post that I think fits. Enjoy!

Most Beautiful Post

10 Ways To Live The Life You’ve Always Wanted

I wrote this post shortly after arriving in Toronto. I suddenly found myself living the way and doing the things I always thought I was too scared to do. It was then that I came to the realization that nothing was holding me back but ME! And I could quite certainly do and excel at all and every thing I ever dreamed of.

Most Popular Post

Not surprisingly, A Long, Hard Road is my most viewed post. It’s the one I wrote the night I was diagnosed with cancer, from a hospital bed on my iPhone just over a month ago.

More interestingly, my second most viewed post are my Dreamy Peanut Butter Marshmallow Squares!

These get a lot of Google searches, and rightfully so. They are sososososo gooooood!!

Most Controversial Post

This is a tough one! I don’t get a lot of controversy on this blog, mostly because I appreciate it when people respectfully disagree. Perhaps the post where I described why I am a Recovering Vegetarian.

Short story – I was a lazy vegetarian for eight years and felt like crap. Now I’m an active meat eater and feel great!

Apart from this post, Reebok Easy Tone the Easy Way Out? and A Sweaty Bikram Yoga Review have also stirred up some emotional responses.

Most Helpful Post

I’ve written a lot of fitness posts (found here and here) but I think the most popular ones have been about running shoes!

I used to work at a specialty running store, analyzing gaits and fitting people into the perfect running shoe. It’s something I know a lot about. I shared all that knowledge in a series called “It’s All About the Shoes” Part I, Part II, and Part III.

A Post Whose Success Surprised You

My Tips For Working Out In the Morning brings in a lot of Google hits too. I guess there are a lot of people out there desperately searching for ways to make getting their heart rate up at 6am easier.

I’ve since become an afternoon workout person (working until only 4pm helps!), but I still stick by my tried and true morning workout tips. The above iced coffee being the best one!

A Post You Feel Didn’t Get The Attention it Deserved

Writing Tips For Bloggers got a fair bit of attention when I first published it, but has since died off. The topic is near and dear to my heart however, and I still stand by it!

The Post You Are Most Proud Of

I Did it!

A post I wrote on my old blog, Trying For A Tri, right before starting The Great Balancing Act. It’s not expertly written, or maybe even that interesting. But finishing that damn triathlon is still one of my proudest moments.

That’s it! I’d tag other bloggers, but I’m pretty sure I’m the last one to do this.

Welcome to the Chemo Chair

Where the drugs and food are free, there’s a lazy-boy for napping, and I get my old dance partner called “The IV Pole” back.

Yesterday was my second chemo treatment, and my first time receiving it as an outpatient. Last time I was able to go through it all lying in my own hospital bed. But as an outpatient I have to go in early to get my blood tested, meet with my oncologist, and then go through the long process of getting “pre-medicated” then medicated.

I had a bit of a bummer right off the bat yesterday. Apparently my “WBC,” aka my white blood cell count, was low. That’s the cells responsible for my immune system. Made in the bones, it’s what I also take those crazy expensive Neupogen shots for that cause the bone pain.

A normal person’s WBC is 4,500 to 10,000, which is shortened down to 4.5 or 10. My WBC yesterday was at 1.2, and I was ordered not to get chemo unless it’s 1.5 or over.

So there were a few moments of worry and frustration that my chemo schedule will be set behind. But my oncologist said I was still okay to go. He just warned me to stay out of crowded and public places like malls and restaurants (boo!). No visiting with people who have an inkling of an illness. No hugs or kisses :( I am not yet to the point of becoming a Bubble Girl, but I wouldn’t rule out a bath in Purrel just yet.

Behold! The chemo chair:

No pictures of the room to protect the innocent. The room is a little crowded, but my treatments are only 2-3 hours long, so it’ll do. Plus, I went with my social butterfly of a mother who is always good at striking up entertaining conversation with those around us.

Once I’m hooked up to an IV, the nurse pushes syringes of poisons in me. No, really, it’s poison. I’m reading a history of cancer right now, and chemotherapy originated with mustard gas.

My first drug is the kool-aid poison.

It turns my pee orange the day of, and today my cheeks are red from it. I’ve heard that it can turn contact lenses pink!

After another push, the nurse hangs an IV bag covered in brown plastic to protect it from the light. Chemo requires the big IV pumps.

I hang out with this for an hour, chugging water and taking many trips to the restroom. This also gives me an opportunity to scope out the rest of the people in the room. Not surprisingly, I’m the youngest one there.

A pleasant surprise from the day is that I get free food while receiving treatment! A nurse comes around with trays of juice, digestive cookies, and rolls. I reject everything but a cheese roll, the only thing that looks remotely appetizing. I see the girl next to me violently shake her head in disgust to an egg sandwich. We share a glance, understanding the chemo aversions that take shape.

I also got a full hot lunch which I couldn’t eat. After four weeks in hospital, the mere smell of even the tupperware they serve the food on is enough to make my insides jerk. Instead, I packed an egg and cheese bagel from home. Much better :)

Time passes quicker than expected in the chair. Suffice it to say, I am adequately doped up after the fact thanks to not just the toxins, but the 5x dose of steroids, the heavy dose of anti-nausea meds, and the real kicker – ativan. I request the ativan as an anti-anxiety med to calm me down. But it makes me feel all floaty, and like taking a nap in the clouds.

The drugs are really only just beginning. In the days following chemo, I have to take six different kinds of medications, at five different times of day. Two of which are self injected liquids. One of which is a pain pill my doc finally gave me thanks to the neupogen digging screwdrivers into my bones.

I have nothing to report in terms of side effects yet after my second go at chemo. Just some mild nausea, and overall feelings of what I like to call “wooziness.” I can feel the fatigue already sinking in and predict I will sink even deeper into the couch later today.

As mentioned above, I’ve been reading a lot of books on cancer lately. Mostly so I feel comfortably educated on my disease (Hodgkins lymphoma), its treatment, and how I should be feeling.

One great book I just finished is called Planet Cancer. I’m going to do a wrap-up of all the books I’m reading soon, but I just have to share this one. It is definitely for the new cancer patient, geared towards young adults. But it continually has me nodding my head and chuckling along. Even if you don’t have cancer, I know you can be entertained by this…

From The Top 10 Worst Ways for an Onocologist to Break the Bad News:
“9. Great news: You’ve got the good kind of cancer! (For all the Hodgkin’s patients)”
“3. I’m sooooooooo sorry.”

On treatment:
“Man, I hated treatment. The upside: It made me love the shit out of everything else. I’m good at living now. I can’t say that about myself pretreatment. –HL1994”

“It hurts like fucking hell most of the time. But I think that hurt is just our hearts growing bigger and stronger, much like a muscle grows when it is worked out. –Denny”

From Top 10 Ways to Get a Taste of the Chemo Experience
“5. For that fun Ativan feeling, wander into a room and ponder all possible meanings of the word ‘amazing.’ Walk out of room, repeat.”
“2. Attempt to drink Ensure while you are nauseated. To become nauseated, drink an Ensure.”

From Ethan Zohn, winner of Survivor Africa
“I was actually training for a marathon when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The way chemotherapy affected me wasn’t unlike running a marathon. In a marathon, as time goes on and the miles build up, the harder it is on the body and the worse you feel. But then the runner’s high sets in and a huge sense of accomplishment pulses through your veins. Same with chemo.”

So I’ve got Chemo #2 down and am still in the beginning of my training. But don’t be fooled, I’m still completely focused on that finish line, and how I’m going to get there injury-free.