Teal Power Canuck

Sharing My Journey & Raising Cervical Awareness in Canada


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Treatment Roadblocks & No Hair, Don’t Care

This post has been in my drafts folder on my desktop for months. When I went to write an update on my treatment something changed, and then another thing changed, and then another. We’ve hit an insane amount of roadblocks on this journey over the last few months, but we are still here and still fighting in pure #TEALPOWER style.

It turns out my chemo wasn’t working as well as my docs had hoped for, so we postponed treatment and started looking at other options. I even started looking at going to a hospital in the States. Then my docs thought I would be a good candidate for Immunotherapy at PMH – where I would take these trial drugs that are meant to boost my immune system and the theory basically would be my strong immune system would be able to attack the cancer cells. It proved successful with some melanoma patients; hopefully it will work for me. The side effects are very different from chemo and radiation – I wouldn’t lose anymore hair, I wouldn’t feel nauseous – woot! Before going into the program there are a number of tests that have to be done. We were almost ready to start – until we hit a roadblock – we discovered a tumor on my bladder that was causing some bleeding. Looks like I will undergo radiation before I can try Immunotherapy. The process keeps getting pushed, but I am trying to remain positive. I am very thankful we are treating the things that need to get treated before I start the trial program. Because of the bleeding we have been watching my hemoglobin and energy levels very closely. I have had to get a couple of blood transfusions in the process. A good reminder for all of you who are healthy to give blood where you can. It can help someone who is sick in ways you may never know.

I have been experiencing a lot of pain because of the tumors and pressure on my nerves, but the doctors and nurses in Palliative Care are amazing at helping manage the pain. It has helped me so much to continue everyday activities and feel somewhat “normal” again.

So many of you know that before I started chemo, I chopped my hair off – and then I shaved my head to avoid the traumatic hair loss that comes a few weeks after you start chemotherapy. I am very thankful I did this. I bought a wig that looked exactly like my hair before I cut it, but I have only worn it a handful of times. I have been loving wrapping my head in scarves – it’s become my cancer thing – so I wanted to share some of the styles on the blog. No hair – don’t care – Ali is going to rock a headscarf!

The many different headscarves of #TEALPOWER!

The many different headscarves of #TEALPOWER



Wigging out! One of the few days I wore my wig. I love it, but loving the scarves way more.

Wigging out! One of the few days I wore my wig. I love it, but loving the scarves way more.

Since I have not been in chemo for weeks, my hair is starting to grow back. Soon you will see GI Ali, rockin’ the buzz cut. Ha ha.

That’s me for now. Thanks to everyone who has been coming to visit and are checking in on the regular. Love ya! #TEALPOWER

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#TEALPOWER at #TheRideTO

Last weekend, Tyler and one of his best friend’s Chris took part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer as Team #Tealpower – riding over 200 kms from Toronto to Niagara Falls for me and Chris’ Aunt Joan – in support of Princess Margaret Hospital. Together Team #Tealpower raised over $9700!! Thank you to everyone who donated. Because of your gracious donations, over the last two years we have raised over $16,000 for the Foundation.

Team #Tealpower after the guys crossed the finish line in Niagara Falls

Team #Tealpower after the guys crossed the finish line in Niagara Falls

Many of you know I was hoping to take part in the Ride this year, but was unable to because of a cancer re-rediagnosis and suffering from some back pain because of where my tumor is sitting. It was heartbreaking not being able to participate this year, but I had the good fortune of being asked by the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation to share my story as a special survivor guest speaker at the camp presentation in front of all the riders. It was nerve-wracking, but I had such an amazing group of support from friends and family. It was an experience I will never forget. Thank you for letting me share my story, PMH. Here is my speech for those of you who couldn’t make it. Thanks big brother for shooting it for me.

Thanks to everyone who came up to me afterwards and throughout the rest of the weekend to show their support. Here is a beautiful blog on the PMH site about the event.

With Steve Merker, VP of Development for The Princess Margaret Foundation, and Paul Alofs, President and CEO of The Princess Margaret Foundation

With Steve Merker, VP of Development for The Princess Margaret Foundation, and Paul Alofs, President and CEO of The Princess Margaret Foundation


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Take 2 – We’ve Hit A Bend on this Cancer Road

It’s been a tough couple of months. I knew the best place for me would be to come back here and write, but things kept changing, it never seemed like the right time, or I wasn’t ready.

Once you have cancer and beat it, your biggest fear everyday is that the cancer will come back. Unfortunately I have come to a bend on my cancer road – I found out in March my cervical cancer had returned.

I had been experiencing back pain and digestive issues since the late fall, early December. I thought – as someone who had gone thru chemo and radiation earlier that year – it was side effects from my treatment. I went to my doctor, went thru various tests, changed my diet, tried acupuncture, massage therapy, went to a gastrointestinal specialist – even went back in November for my regular scans and follow ups at Princess Margaret – nothing showing any signs of cancer. In February the back pain became unbearable. I was unable to run or go to the gym or stand up long enough to cook a meal. It was heartbreaking. Luckily I knew I had another follow up coming up at Princess Margaret. I expressed my concerns about the pain and they sent me in for an MRI and CT scan.

March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – Tyler and I were sitting in the waiting room to get the results from my scans. We were feeling pretty positive – it can’t be cancer again, my scans came back clear in November – hopefully the tests would be able to tell us what was causing the pain so we could fix it. And then BOOM — they found a tumor on my cervix again – bigger this time and on the surrounding tissues. The back pain was basically being caused by the tumor pushing on surrounding areas and it’s inoperable… shitty! Tyler sat silent and in shock – I started making little jokes to lighten the mood (like I do)… and then the doctors and nurses left us alone for a second and I started to cry. How can we be back here? What are we going to do? How can this be happening again… and so soon? 2015 was supposed to be so much better for us than 2014. We left the hospital and went home and just sat in silence on the couch all night in a hug with the occasional crying session. I also decided – no more results appointments on holidays – my first diagnosis came on Halloween 2013… at least I wasn’t alone this time.

This time around has been a lot scarier. There isn’t a lot of information available about recurrent cervical cancer. The fear of dying comes into my mind everyday, but I try not to let it overcome my feelings of fighting this. Unfortunately things in life happen that are beyond our control – some shittier than others. I’m choosing to roll with the punches and try to go into this as positive as I can. What else can I do? I am thankful I kept on top of how I was feeling and didn’t let it just slip as post-cancer pains.

It has taken us a long time to accept and tell our close friends and family because we were scared – it’s more real when people know – hence why it has been hard for me to come back here to write about it. One thing I did feel confident about was that I was in the best care possible. Again – I would be treated by one of the top 5 cancers hospitals in the world… And I LOVE my oncologist. It took us a month and multiple doctor’s appointments to decide the best treatment plan. After months of trying not to think of cancer it felt surreal that the language was back in our vernacular. Chemotherapy was really the only option at this point – but which drugs would I be taking, what works best for recurrent cervical cancer in a patient my age, what does the tumor board think, were there alternative treatment plans available that could help stop this cancer? We read so much, my sister brought over her old anatomy books – we took in all the information we could.

On April 20 I started chemo. Full blown chemo this time – 2 drugs for the first session and my next session, which is actually happening right now is 3 drugs. Tyler came with me for the long eight hour first session as I was hooked up to an IV. My nurse Rosalie was awesome – she is Filipino and reminded me of my mom – I took a lot of comfort in that. Thank God for Netflix and episodes of Friday Night Lights – it helped make the day go by faster. The nurses gave Tyler and I the cuteness award that day and for being so well prepared for a long day.

First chemo session back at PMH. The beginning of a long 8 hour session. Bring on the drugs!!

First chemo session back at PMH. The beginning of a long 8 hour session. Bring on the drugs!!

Two things you will notice when you see me next – I lost a bunch of weight and I don’t have hair – consider this your warning so you’re not so shocked. I’ll go through 6-8 cycles of chemo every three weeks – it’s going to be a long year. My hair will fall out – it already has started so Tyler shaved my head to avoid the traumatic experience of seeing clumps come out. I wanted to be in control of something. Two days after I got diagnosed this time I made my sister take me to get my hair cut. I have had long hair pretty much my whole life. If I was going to lose my hair, there was no way my long locks were going to go wasted. I chopped 13 inches off and donated it to a foundation that makes wigs for kids with cancer. Our world was spinning out of control – but again, I needed to be in control of something. It made me feel good – something good was going to come out of this situation.

March 19 - 2 days after I found out my cancer had returned I decided I needed something good to come out of this so I chopped my hair and donated it. Best feeling!

March 19 – 2 days after I found out my cancer had returned I decided I needed something good to come out of this so I chopped my hair and donated it. Best feeling!

So far what I have learned – Chemo SUCKS!! I feel the systemic side effects from my first treatment in my legs and digestive system. I wasn’t nauseous this cycle – but I didn’t want to eat anything the first week and I lost way too much weight. I’ve been trying to recover these last two weeks before my next treatment and I have to go through it all again. I ordered a smoothie the other day and asked for the full fat frozen yogurt in it – I NEVER get frozen yogurt in my smoothies, but now all those extra calories I have been avoiding for years, I need to help get my body stronger to fight for the next round.

It’s been a terrible couple of months, but again I am reminded of how amazing the people in my life are, and how lucky I am to not have to go through this alone – because I’m not going through this alone. I would be lost without the advice and support from a very dear and close friend who went through something similar last year – my cancer sister. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the days that first week without my amazing mom making the trek out to the “country house” everyday to make sure I ate something – anything, while Tyler was at work. I am so thankful for the texts from my friends and family who would check up on me or send me a laugh each day. And Tyler – I can’t even write something here that would even justify how amazing he has been, and what a light he is during the dark moments – I am the luckiest.

So we’re back here – #TEALPOWER is back and in full force. One of the heartbreaking things for me was I was starting to train to be able to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer this year. I wanted to be one of those survivor cyclists with the yellow flag – it had been my goal since I finished treatment last year. I bought a new road bike and gear – but it will have to wait til after my treatment. Tyler and Chris will be riding again this year – and I look forward to being there during their journey again – it means so much more now. I don’t want gifts or flowers – the scent of the flowers kind of bugs me on my weak days – but would love if you could help support the Team #TEALPOWER in this year’s ride. All the proceeds go to Princess Margaret Hospital and more specifically – the clinic that is helping me: http://www.conquercancer.ca/goto/tealpower2015


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1 year.

A year ago, my life changed.

Some cancer survivors consider their cancerversary the day they became “cancer free”. I consider mine today – the anniversary of when I was diagnosed – October 31, 2013.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember what I was wearing, that it was raining, and the way it felt when I was told I had cervical cancer. Some people may think it is weird to celebrate this – but I choose to celebrate how much has happened this year to me, both physically and mentally, and how I have overcome it.

I haven’t written on here since I was given the “all clear” in July. I wasn’t really sure what to write because I’ve had so many mixed emotions. I have a handful of partially written blog posts, but I never finished them. I am so lucky – I fought, and I won. I know I should just be happy about that. After I was told I was cancer free, part of me wanted to be rid of everything to do with cancer. Everyday I wonder if this is the day I won’t think about having cancer. But you never rid of it, even if you beat it – and there is nothing wrong with that.

Anyone who knows me knows I am pretty positive person – even through my sickness and treatment. What I have learned through my journey and in my “after cancer life” is that it is ok to be scared. It’s ok to cry on your bad days – I still have them. I constantly worry the cancer will come back. Every time my body feels off I get worried. I look at my scars everyday, and – especially lately – I have been feeling some side effects of my treatment. The after effects can be more emotional than being sick – cause you are just so done with it all. But c’est la vie en cancer. I still won. “When you face difficult times, know that challenges are not set to destroy you. They are sent to promote, increase and strengthen you.”

Something I never thought I would ever have to deal with at my age, I conquered. I am so grateful for that, and for all the love and support I have gotten this past year. That deserves to be celebrated – happy cancerversary to me!

#TEALPOWER

Mixed emotions today, but still feeling grateful for what I have learned this year #tealpower

Mixed emotions today, but still feeling grateful for what I have learned this year #tealpower

 


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Good Things Come to Those Who Wait… I WIN!!

It had been a stormy couple of days in Toronto, but as soon as I hung up the phone, I looked out the window and the sun started shining…

The last couple of weeks were hard. I had a follow up MRI done and a few days later Tyler and I were in the waiting room of the Gyne Clinic I have visited so much as a patient a PMH. This was different though…. we were ready to hear good news. My radiation oncologist came in with the results with a puzzled look on his face. There was good news and bad news… good news – the initial tumor in my cervix is gone – my treatment worked. The bad news – something showed up on my scan that they couldn’t quite determine. MRI scans are so sensitive. It could be scar tissue from my various treatment, it could be residual tumor, it could be new cancer. My doc did a physical examination and found no trace of anything, but he couldn’t tell what was showing up on the scan. The next step was for him to talk to the radiologists to figure out the images and to wait and see if they could get me a PET scan so they could have a better look at the area. We were crushed. As great as the good news was, the bad news made me want to lie down in bed and never get up. The thought of possibility of having to go through all that again made my stomach ache. I had my chemo follow up the next day and my doctors could tell I was stressed and helped put my mind at ease a bit. They are so kind. The stress kept me up every night, and weighed on my brain until we got the call last weekend while we were at the cottage that I would be getting the PET scan.

I barely slept Sunday night. Monday morning came quickly and my sister took me back to PMH. For a PET scan you get injected with this radioactive sugar substance and you sit for almost an hour while it travels through your body. Cancer loves sugar so the substance sticks to the cancer cells. Then you drink this solution that helps the substance and any cancer cells light up in the PET scan. I was nervous – afraid I would “light up” but tried to remain positive. I came home and powered through some work, but the PET scan made me feel pretty exhausted. I zonked out pretty early.

It was so dark when I woke up yesterday morning. Good thing I had a lot of work to do, it kept my mind occupied. My phone rang at 4pm… it was my new radiation oncologist fellow. It was a quick call…. The PET scan came back negative and the board believed I had nothing to be concerned about…. I looked out the window and the sun began to shine… I’m officially CANCER FREE!!

We did it. #TEALPOWER won! We fought this horrible thing in my body and we won. And I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends and the kindness of others I’ve met along my journey. There will be another MRI in September to make sure the results are still the same, but for now this smiley girl is extra smiley and so grateful.

Last night I celebrated my biggest win with my biggest support - just us. Ty, I can conquer the world with one hand as long as you are holding the other.

Last night I celebrated my biggest win with my biggest support – just us. Ty, I can conquer the world with one hand as long as you are holding the other. Heart.

 


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Nothing Stops Another Day

The last few weeks I have been feeling anxious and very emotional. There have been sleepless nights, and there probably will be a lot more. It’s because I can see the end in sight (fingers crossed)… and I just want to get there already. Physically – I’m feeling pretty good these days. Starting to feel back to my old self. There are a few aches and pains and other small side effects, but all in all I’m feeling pretty good. It’s the waiting… the not knowing… and the question “did it all work?” I should know very soon.

I once read the quote: “If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy” – so we have. Tyler and I have been keeping busy, trying to keep our minds occupied – with work, sports, rehearsals, getting up to the cottage when we can – it’s been a jam packed couple of months. It’s been helpful that we have things to look forward to. Both of us have two of our best friends getting married away from home this summer so planning the trips and all the activities has been fun. The thing we are looking forward to the most is coming up this weekend… The Ride to Conquer Cancer is finally here.

Tyler's jersey came in for The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Tyler’s jersey came in for The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Tyler and his friend Chris are going to be doing “The Classic” route – 200kms + from Toronto to Niagara Falls. The boys have been training, getting their road bikes prepped for the long haul, and getting all their gear together. Last night Ty’s jersey and bib package came in the mail and I started to cry. Everything this race symbolizes for us came rushing in. The last seven months has been a crazy ride for the two of us. Tyler committed to wanting to do this ride the day I was diagnosed. It was his way of giving back. I have been fighting this fight physically and he has been doing it mentally since. This ride signifies the shift – its his turn to test the limits of his body and strength and I will be the support and encouragement along the route. Nobody has ever done anything so nice in my honour. I can’t wait to cheer you guys on over the course of the weekend and be there at the finish line to say FU Cancer – #TEALPOWER has this one.

The #TEALPOWER bracelet initiative that my brother, Tyler and some of my friends spearheaded raised almost $2000 towards Tyler’s ride. So far with Tyler’s almost $4500 raised and Chris’ $2500 we have raised $7000 for Princess Margaret Hospital, specifically for the gynecology clinic that has been such a huge player in my journey. (side note: cannot stop crying happy tears as I type that amount). That is some strong #TEALPOWER, but most importantly… this is all creating awareness. I am so thankful to everyone who donated and has supported.

For those still wanting to donate you can visit Tyler’s page here and Chris’ page here.

I wanna end things with a smile today. This is something that was sent to me by my dear “gusband” Graeme. He did this awhile ago and I love it so much. I’m hit or miss with mashups – but this one I can get behind… especially because it’s him performing (and sounds awesome). Enjoy! #TEALPOWER:

 

 

 


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Running & My New Normal

Well, it’s been a minute… For the last couple of weeks, every day I have “write update blog post” on my list of things to do… today I’m crossing it off.

It’s been two months since I completed treatment – I can’t believe it. The time has really flown by. My blog post last month talked about my first follow up appointments with my radiation and chemo oncologists – and now I’m in the waiting game segment of this crazy #TEALPOWER journey. I’ve gotta wait a little bit longer for my first post treatment MRI. Need the body to heal properly from what its endured so they can figure out accurately if that stupid tumour is gone. Anyone who knows me knows – I hate waiting.  I keep repeating “good things come to those who wait.” I’m feeling pretty good though physically. Still experiencing a few side effects that I will likely feel on and off for awhile (like right now, my ears are ringing suddenly – a side effect of the chemo that only lasts about a minute) – but all in all, feeling pretty good.

Many of you know my post-treatment goal was to cross the finish line at the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago. It was a race I ran last year with my brother, Neil and my boyfriend, Tyler.  We had so much fun that we said we would do it again in 2014, but after getting diagnosed in the Fall I feared I wouldn’t be able to. Well – I DID IT!!! It was so important to me be there. It bookended my horrible diagnosis and treatment (since I ran the 5K in Toronto in October the day before the procedure that would diagnose me). I also didn’t want cancer to take away something I had looked so forward to for a year. As I started to get ready on race day I became overcome with emotion. Poor Neil and Tyler didn’t know what to do with crying Ali… what a mess! I was anxious, I was scared and I was nervous. I thought I wouldn’t be able to get to the finish line – I just finished treatment a month before, what was I thinking?

What a difference a few months can make. In December 2013 I started chemo and radiation treatment in my fight against cervical cancer. In March 2014, a month after treatment I ran the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago.

What a difference a few months can make. In December 2013 I started chemo and radiation treatment in my fight against cervical cancer. In March 2014, a month after treatment I ran the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago.

It felt good to be hitting the pavement, but man did my body hurt – more than it has in any race I have been in. I know it was far from a full marathon – but for what my body has been through recently, it certainly felt like it. There were two things that kept me going – Tyler & #TEALPOWER. When it hurt I thought of everyone who has been so supportive of me through this, and everyone who reached out to me through the blog – that is what gave me the strength and the courage to get through the dark times. It helped keep me focused to keep my legs moving forward. Ty decided he was going to run with me to help pace me. He kept encouraging me and telling me how far I had run and how much further I had to go – which I loved and hated at the same time. Poor guy got every swear word screamed at him or he would get no response, just an angry face, but honestly I couldn’t have done it without him there. Thanks babe… and I’m sorry… heart 😉 It was pretty amazing crossing that finish line with him, especially after everything we have just been through together. He even pulled back so my finish time would be a second faster.  Our finish line pose was pretty epic… too bad the cameras didn’t seem to catch it (although, I don’t know how you miss a crying girl doing a flying split over the finish line). Of course there were more tears. I think they started to flow as we rounded the last corner and I could see the finish line. My family was the first group of people I saw – my cousins who came to support and my bro in his teal shirt who finished ahead of us. I’ll never forget that moment… it really was the best thing I have felt in my life, especially cause I was surrounded by so much love.

Since the race life has been getting back to “normal.” We managed to get a trip in to sunny South Carolina and Georgia to see my folks. The best were the hours we spent swimming in the ocean… it felt so freeing… it felt like I was never sick.  I really needed that.

A little sun and sand on Hilton Head Island felt so freeing - like I was never sick. I really needed that.

A little sun and sand on Hilton Head Island felt so freeing – like I was never sick. I really needed that.

I was worried that when I was ready to get back into working full time I would have a hard time finding projects and clients – but I’ve had a nice steady flow of work come in to help keep my brain occupied. So nice to look at my calendar and see business meetings scheduled instead of radiation treatments.

It’s funny – going through something like this can really change your perspective on what matters the most.  Everything you think is important changes. Do what you love. Surround yourself with love. Don’t waste a day of healthy or take it for granted. Make sure to breathe and take in the sun and fresh air when its there. Make time for you. I love getting back to work, and still love what I do so much, but at the end of the day – it’s my job, it’s not who I am. I’m not saving someone’s life – not like the amazing doctors, nurses and technicians who have saved mine.