Teal Power Canuck

Sharing My Journey & Raising Cervical Awareness in Canada


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Shake it for #TEALPOWER on March 31

I know I say it a lot, but I have awesome friends.

My dear, sweet friend Elizabeth is teaching a Zumba Fitness class on Monday, March 31 in support of #TEALPOWER.

The event happens at 6:15pm at the Halton Hills Christian School (11643 Trafalgar Rd). Drop in fee is $8. The proceeds will go towards #TEALPOWER at The Ride to Conquer Cancer which my boyfriend Tyler and one of his best friends, Chris will be participating in to help raise money for the Gynecology Clinic at Princess Margaret Hospital – the clinic that has taken such good care of me through this crazy journey.

It will definitely be a fun night. Hope you can make it out!

For more information on Monday’s event click here

For more information on Tyler’s Ride click here

Come to Elizabeth's Zumba class on March 31 - she rocks!

Come to Elizabeth’s Zumba class on March 31 – she rocks!

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The Other Side of Treatment

Yesterday I had my first post-treatment follow up appointment at Princess Margaret. It was the first time I had been back since my last day of treatment a month ago. Even though it hasn’t been that long since I was last there, it seems like forever, since that was basically my home base everyday for six weeks. The ladies in the bloods lab remembered me and said I was looking good. It always surprises me there because they see so many people each day. It was a nice welcome back.

My follow up appointment was with my chemo oncologists and was pretty routine. We chatted about how I was feeling, checked the results from my blood work to see if there is anything alarming, and seeing if I was experiencing any side effects from my 5 chemo treatments. Even though the dose of drugs from my chemo treatments were small I still got sick a couple of times, had tingley sensations in my feet and hands and heard ringing in my ears. Over the last month I have had tingly fingertips and ringing in my ears on a few occasions, but they all went away pretty quickly. It’s so important to monitor this because it can often lead to long term problems if not taken care of or treated. My chemo docs weren’t expecting anything too surprising at my follow up because my body reacted pretty well during treatment, but I’m thankful to have them and to have people keeping an eye out for me.

 

Week 4 of chemo back in January working on #TEALPOWER Canuck on my pad during treatment

Week 4 of chemo back in January working on #TEALPOWER Canuck on my pad during treatment

Next week I have my first follow up with my radiation oncologists, which is important since 80% of my treatment was radiation therapy. I have my list of questions ready for them. Now that I am on the other side of treatment, aside from wondering if the cancer is gone, I really have to be mindful of possible long term side effects. Because my radiation was targeted to my pelvic area I have to pay attention to how my bladder and bowels are treating me. Looking forward to seeing my docs though. You miss them when you don’t have your review appointments every week – you form a bond and trust them more than anyone at the most vulnerable time of your life.

What does feel great about the other side of treatment is getting back to my exercise routine and diet. Welcome back leafy greens! I am definitely making up for lost time with my kale and spinach. I’m starting every morning with a green smoothie. Feels good to be getting back to my fresh, clean eats and whole grains and my body has been reacting pretty well to getting back to digesting it all. One of the possible side effects of chemo is losing your sense of taste. As a person who LOVES food and loves making food I was terrified of this. Luckily, it didn’t happen to me.

Brekkie! Love my green smoothies.

Brekkie! Love my green smoothies.

The exercising… oy! I am loving it and loving getting back into my daily routine, but wow – does my body feel it. It’s taking some time to get my endurance back to the level I’m used to. My body takes a lil extra time for recovery too… I’m thankful for my foam rollers. I’m glad I have a race at the end of the month to train for and look forward to. It helps get my butt out of bed and to the gym 🙂


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Slow and Steady…

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Well, I haven’t written in awhile. I finished radiation treatment a few weeks ago (fingers crossed that’s it for good) and I really thought I would use the recovery time to write more for #TEALPOWER, but what I found was that I really needed a break. My brain was so full of cancer things everyday for the last few months – I really needed the time to try to release, adjust and recover.

People have been checking up on me, asking what’s next. And I didn’t really know what to say, because I don’t really know what is next. After treatment you have to let your body recoup before you go back for your follow up appointments. It sounds like there will be a bunch of follow ups in the coming months. So I sit and wait til mid March for those. But I’ve realized, I’m really bad at waiting and sitting still. The Olympics kept me distracted for awhile, but I started to throw myself back into work – which is a good and bad thing for me. As awesome as it is to get my brain around work things… anyone who knows “business Ali” knows I really throw myself all-in. I started getting back to my workout regime, to kick off training for this year’s Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago – an 8K race that has now become a tradition that my bro, my boyfriend and I run together with my huge Chi-town family supporting us from the sidelines. My last race, the Toronto Waterfront 5K, I ran right before I was diagnosed so the Shamrock is extra important to me to bookend dealing with this cancer, and as a goal for me both physically and mentally. So the last few weeks have brought me a few long days and late nights, and I REALLY felt it. My challenge over the last few weeks has been trying to balance the million things my brain wants to do, with what my body is able to do. It’s been a frustrating balance cause my mind tells me I am capable of doing it, but I have to remember what my poor body has been through the last few months. I want to push myself to get better, but I have to be careful how much I push and learn my limits right now. I have to keep repeating to myself “slow and steady.”

Ty, Neil and I after racing the Shamrock Shuffle in 2013. Gotta think of an epic finish line pose for this year   ;)

Ty, Neil and I after racing the Shamrock Shuffle in 2013. Gotta think of an epic finish line pose for this year 😉

One of the bloggers I have been following posted this article last week, about what young cancer survivors struggle with. I really related to this – reading other peoples’ accounts on how cancer, and life after cancer, has affected their social and love lives, their finances, dealing with how this disease can often postpone or cancel normal life transitions that people our age not dealing with it will never know, and how scarring it all can be. It made me feel “normal” in the stage I am in. Sometimes I think going through treatment everyday kept me stronger because I was surrounded by it so much. Slow and steady will get me used to my new normal… and there is nothing wrong with that.

This past weekend, Ty and I headed up to our friends’ cottage and it actually was perfectly timed. It was a nice little escape, with great company and so relaxing. We enjoyed the beautiful winter weather, big laughs, and some yummy food and wine. It made me feel like life was getting back to normal. There wasn’t a rush to be anywhere by any particular time. When I was tired, I took a nap… slow and steady. And the best was that Ty got a chance to relax too. He’s been through a lot too and it was so nice to see him let loose in his element. I’m really grateful for that.

So now what? I borrow the words of the last paragraph from the article I mentioned above. It’s where I think #TEALPOWER is now:
Comedian Gilda Radner once said of cancer, “If it weren’t for the downside, everybody would want to have it.” From scars and emotional trauma to a lingering fear of recurrence, there’s certainly a downside to beating cancer that outsiders don’t always realize. But young adults often find the upside Radner spoke of, using their post-cancer life to prioritize loved ones and do good in the world.

A special thanks to my friends at etalk for sending me these awesome #TEALPOWER pics from the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Made me smile!

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The Big Zap

Hi everyone. It’s been awhile. Last week was the dreaded inpatient internal radiation (brachytherapy)… or what I’ve been calling “the big zap” and I have been taking the time to rest and recover since I have been home from the hospital. But I think it’s so important to keep spreading the #TEALPOWER into February, especially because today is World Cancer Day. Check out what Princess Margaret Hospital is up to today here. We are so lucky to have access to one of the top five cancer research centres in the world here in Canada, and I am so thankful to be treated there.

I felt a lot of anxiety leading up to last week. Before all this cancer stuff I had never been a patient in a hospital. And with all this cancer stuff, I have been through a lot of outpatient, but this was the first time I would have to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time. I spent a lot of time in hospitals eight years ago over the six months my dad was recovering from his stroke, but never as a patient. I wasn’t prepared mentally for what was going to happen that week. I packed a bag, but it felt like I was going away for a mini vacay or heading to the “county house” or the cottage. I kept referring to the hospital as the hotel – so much that I renamed PMH the Princess Margaret Hilton. I checked in on the Monday afternoon. I even had a sick view of the city from the 17th floor, however hotel it wasn’t.

The view from my hospital room at PMH

The view from my hospital room at PMH

Got my blood work done, they checked my vitals, I signed some forms and chatted with the doctor and then Ty and I got to break free for a bit for dinner. It still didn’t sink in what was going to happen. We made it back to the “Hilton” for my curfew and got all tucked in for the night. Sleeping in a hospital bed when you’re not hooked up to anything or in need of anyone’s help is tres weird. The next morning I was brought down to the operating room to get my body prepped for the big zap. I was in good spirits and cracking jokes, even made fun of Ty whose hoodie selection that day seemed to blend in with everyone’s scrubs in pre-OP – but still not sure what to expect when I woke up.

One more #TEALPOWER shot before heading to the operating room

One more #TEALPOWER shot before heading to the operating room

By the afternoon I was back in my room and all hooked up to the radiation machine. The machine held active radiation and was literally two feet from my bed. Then for the next 53 hours I would get pulsed by the machine every hour for about 13 minutes. The radiation would travel through a tube and would zap the exact location of where the tumour is. Everyone in my room had to evacuate for 13 minutes every hour while I got zapped or the machine wouldn’t activate. There was a five minute warning beeping sound that would go off before the zaps – a sound I will never be able to get out of my head after 53 consecutive hours. For those who had to leave the room it became a routine when the beeping went off – walk to the family waiting room, wait and watch for the light to change from red to green, which meant it was safe to come back into my room. It became a bonding experience between my family and friends that came together to help get me through such an invasive treatment. I have to admit, I was a little jealous when they would come back cause I was missing out on some of the fun 🙂

The radiation machine at the foot of my bed.

The radiation machine at the foot of my bed.

Green means go and safe to come back into my room.

Green means go and safe to come back into my room.

I had to lay still and flat for that whole time to make sure the rod didn’t move. If I needed to shift from side to side, I would need to call a nurse or technician to help me. Also, eating while lying down – not fun. It was definitely a test in willpower, something I will draw on when training for future runs. I didn’t think I would be able to make it without bursting into tears, but somehow the time flew by. The view of the city helped at night… we got killer sunsets. The drugs also helped. A wise lady I know gave me advice when I told her about the big zap – if they offer the painkillers don’t be a martyr, take the drugs… they helped. I kept thinking about so many other people I know that have to endure so much more for longer. I thought of my dad, my hero, who in his six months in hospital fought back and did what his doctors never thought would be imaginable – walk again. What I was going through was nothing compared to that. I am thankful for all the visitors and the awesome nurses of 17B who helped pass the time and took care of me, and my cool docs who came by to say hi sporting their #TEALPOWER bracelets 🙂

It feels weird not going into the hospital everyday for external radiation this week, the routine I have known for the last six weeks. It was beginning to feel like my part time job – get up, get ready, go to my appointments, rest days on Saturday and Sunday. I have a few more external radiation outpatient appointments in the next week or so… but fingers crossed that is it for my treatment. For now I’m enjoying the rest and recovery time… and I need it. My body feels so off and I am so tired. I was happy to be home for the Super Bowl though and have been slowly getting back to cooking in the kitchen. Hoping to be back in the swing of things in a few weeks. One thing I have noticed since I have been home, I have been super emotional. I think it’s hard to go through this without feeling that way, but I well up at everything – football vignettes, FB posts, daytime television. I’ve been saying the tears are from chopping onions, even though I’m nowhere near the kitchen. I keep hearing stories of people affected by this horrible disease, but also shedding tears of gratitude for everything in the journey and everyone I have crossed paths with.

Here are a few of the awesome #TEALPOWER group shots that have come in. If you look up the hashtag on FB, Twitter and Instagram you will see more of the awesome. I am so blown away by all the support:

– Through my bro and my guy I have gotten the chance to meet some awesome peeps at TSN. Rod Smith and Chris Shultz were at the Super Bowl this past weekend and took pics at media day on the field sporting their #TEALPOWER bracelets (how fitting for a publicist who loves football :)) this is the coolest!

1545589_10151956542231969_1123479461_n– And my family in Chicago – my Ohana (this is only a portion of that side of the family… for real!) in their custom Fight Like Ali t-shirts

1615062_10203099641440745_949624368_n– A couple days before I went into the hospital I was with a group of friends I have met over the years doing community theatre (some of my nearest and dearest) who all showed their #TEALPOWER support.

1614410_10153729441530313_1949693281_o (1)– Many of you know, I’m kinda nerdy. I spent many years as the Publicist for Space and some of my old colleagues from the Bell Media PR team, many who I consider extended family, showed their #TEALPOWER support on Space’s InnerSpace set.

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Good Days/Bad Days

This past week has bought me extreme highs and some weird, unexpected lows. There were some amazing moments, but still a lot of things felt like they were out of my control – and when you have a disease you have no control over, you try to grasp for anything you can keep some control over. I actually found it hard to write over the last week cause I felt like things were a bit out of control – but I’m back.

Last week was week 5 of treatment. It started off on a high note – The Huffington Post picked up my blog and will be following my journey through their blog here. And then on Tuesday, I had my last chemo treatment! As many of you know my treatment plan is mostly radiation, but I had 5 weekly chemo treatments to help the radiation along. Even though I go to radiation everyday and it is pretty aggressive, the chemo and its effects are the most taxing on my body so I was happy to finish. In one of my last posts I talked about the Bravery Bell. Here is the vid of me ringing it in true Ali style.

The man in the vid was my RN on my first day. He helped me feel so comfortable with what was going on – he even schooled me in Filipino, which won my mom over instantly. I saw him around almost every week, which was comforting so it was fitting that he was there on my last day – and he really wanted to be with me when I rang the bell. The nurses from the pods nearby, a couple of them who actually had me as their patient over the last month and a bit, came by and cheered me on. It was really nice. I can’t say enough how amazing the nurses in this unit are. Have no clue where I had the energy to do that high kick, guess I was really excited. Right after I rang the bell, I broke out into tears with my mom in the halls of the chemo floor. Although there were still a couple of weeks of radiation treatment, I was starting to mark the end of things in this journey. It was pretty emotional, but so symbolic. I will always remember that moment, mama.

The next day I had my final weekly appointment with my chemo oncologist. He was so happy with my counts and how my body stood up to the treatments. He even used the term “resilient” when describing my body – as a person who prides herself on being healthy (other than the cancer of course) this made me very happy. He gave me big hugs and sent me on my way. As I walked back through the waiting area I saw a friend I met a few weeks back in the same waiting room. She is a little bit older than me, but we connected instantly and usually see each other at least once a week. I was leery about making “cancer friends” – as amazing a facility we were in with all the treatments and meds we have access to – there is a chance that friend could lose their battle. On Wednesday I found my friend in tears in the waiting room. She did not get great news from the same doctor that day. It broke my heart. It wasn’t fair that I coasted through chemo treatments and she was suffering. I would give anything to give her some of my “resilience” so she doesn’t have to feel pain. I stayed with her for a bit and then drove her home so she can get back comfortably. I think about her a lot. It helps bring perspective about this disease and how lucky I am I caught my case early.

Thursday I found out that I needed to have a few external radiation sessions added to my schedule. Bummer, but you gotta do what you gotta do. And then I learned a little bit more about what should be the last stage of my treatment – the internal radiation – or the “big zap” as I keep referring to it. The medical term is Brachytherapy and I’ll be in the hospital for 4 or 5 days next week basically hooked up to a radiation machine for a total of 60 hours. I have to admit, I’m pretty scared. They broke down what the beginning of the process entails, showed me how everything works, showed me how I will actually be attached to the machine. It’s all pretty scary, but the scariest part is that I won’t be able to really move during that time. Should be interesting. What will be the most interesting is that I may have to watch the Super Bowl in the hospital. Not only does this suck cause I won’t be able to make or eat killer Super Bowl eats, anyone who has watched football with me knows that I don’t watch football sitting still.

Ok, that’s enough bad and sad that I can handle in one post – here are some things that have kept me happy this week.

I found out my brother, my boyfriend and some of my friends have been teaming up to get the #TEALPOWER word out. My bro got custom wristbands done up with #TEALPOWER on them to sell through him and a group of my nearest and dearest a) to help raise awareness for Cervical Cancer b) raise some money for the cause. If you look up the hashtag on FB, Twitter, or Instagram you’ll see a whole bunch of awesome people in my life wearing the wristbands in support. It’s been really amazing to see the love, especially on my rough days. Thank you to all those who have contributed and supported already. The wristbands are available through my bro. You can PM him on FB to find out who to get them off of around the GTA. The money raised will be going to Princess Margaret through my amazing, amazing boyfriend who is taking part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer in June. Tyler, along with one of his best buds Chris, will be riding from Toronto to Niagara Falls (that’s 200+ kms) in honour of me and all those recently diagnosed, who are currently fighting, and for those who have lost their long tough battle. For more details and how to donate go here.

#TEALPOWER

#TEALPOWER

I wanted to give a special thank you to my friends from The Buried Life who helped get the word out about my blog last week to their almost 200,000 followers. These guys have always inspired me to do good things… the lessons I have learned from them inspired me to do this blog. Thanks loves!

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On Monday I was asked to speak to the Federation of Medical Women in Canada Toronto Chapter. The topic of the day was cervical cancer and I was asked to share my personal story with physicians, residents, and med students. Thanks Dr. Brown (and Tim) for the amazing experience. What a great group of ladies. Special shout out to Ty who came with me for moral support and was the only dude in the room.

Speaking at Hart House in front of the Federation of Medical Women in Canada Toronto Chapter.

Speaking at Hart House in front of the Federation of Medical Women in Canada Toronto Chapter.

A dear friend and former co-worker Lori Williamson asked me to be a guest on her Google+ Hangout – The Lori and Cher show. These ladies really know how to hack into awesome!! I had such a great time. Check out the show. I’m the first guest in at about the 5:30 min mark.

 


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For Real – I Miss Kale!

kale-bunch

I LOVE food. I love creating with food, I love talking about food, I take pictures of food. Last week I posted on Facebook that I missed eating kale and it solicited a bit of response so I thought I would post about the type of “diet” I’m on during treatment.

When I first met with my radiation oncologists they asked what my diet was like. I’ve always been a relatively clean eater – fresh whole foods, lots of whole grains, veggies and greens – anything to help aid in digestive health. Apparently this was a big no-no… they suggested I see a dietician… Me? A dietician? I just spent the last couple of years training myself to eat well. It’s ironic that some of the foods you eat to help fight cancer, you are recommended to not eat while you’re actually fighting cancer.

With the type of treatment I am going through I suffer side effects from both radiation and the chemotherapy drugs. Basically, in layman’s terms – radiation makes you go, chemo drugs make you not. It’s a barrel of monkeys each week from day to day, but my docs seem pretty happy with how I have been managing my side effects. My radiation treatment is more aggressive, as I have it 5 days a week so my diet is more focused on treating the radiation side effects. It’s important to listen to your body and control the different side effects you are feeling and managing them with what you eat each day. It’s so important to manage this during treatment because it can lead to long term effects including irritable bowel syndrome… not fun! It’s also so important to maintain a balanced diet during treatment because your body needs nutrients for maintaining weight, healing and repairing body tissue, while also keeping your immune system strong. Some days I can’t cook – either I’m feeling really nauseous, or I get a tingly sensation in my fingers, a common side effect of chemo that sometimes leaves me a little clumsy. Those days I’m thankful for a wide array of home delivery options available in the city 🙂

Another something interesting – antioxidants are bad to take while undergoing radiation therapy. Taking large amounts of supplements can reduce the effects of radiation treatment on cancer cells. In the same way antioxidants can protect normal cells, they can also protect cancer cells. I had to stop taking all my vitamins and supplements a week before I started treatment. That also helps make you feel sluggish during treatment. Naps are key.

Things I have to avoid or reduce during treatment: fibre, milk products, caffeine, spices, berries, beans, leafy greens, raw fish, coconut anything – basically things that go right through ya. Lucky for me its the season of comfort food. We’ve been playing in the kitchen making things like lactose free turkey pot pie & shepherd’s pie. I seem to be eating a lot of pasta and steamed rice. And my weird indulgence through treatment – mango. Don’t know why, but it seems to be my sweet indulgence these days.

Homemade lactose free turkey pot pie

Homemade lactose free turkey pot pie

Homemade Shepherd's Pie

Homemade Shepherd’s Pie

Lettuce wraps have become a go-to healthy snack

Lettuce wraps have become a go-to healthy snack

The top 10 things I can’t wait to incorporate back into my diet post-treatment:

  1. Kale
  2. Ty’s homemade hot sauce… so good on eggs!
  3. Avocados… I’m going to eat my weight in guacamole!
  4. Sashimi
  5. Oysters
  6. Brown rice
  7. Dates stuffed with coconut oil. These are my lil workout energy treat… I miss them.
  8. Pomegranate
  9. Berries.
  10. Beans and Chick Peas

 


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Yes, I am the patient

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Fact: I am often the youngest person in the waiting room for all my appointments. When I was just going to the Gyne clinic for my pre-tests, everyone was around my age. Not so much when you graduate to the cancer clinics after you are diagnosed. This is a consistent trend at both Credit Valley and PMH. I often get that I look younger than my age too so I’m sure that doesn’t help (yay good genes and my Lululemon wardrobe… ha!), but the fact that I haven’t lost my hair and my complexion has relatively stayed the same since I started treatment four weeks ago, by looking at me you wouldn’t be able to tell I am sick. I don’t mind that I am the youngest person there – I just get a lot of looks – like I’m waiting in the wrong place, or I must be waiting for someone to come out of their appointment to drive them home. Then they call my name, or I walk out of the radiation treatment area where only the patients and technicians are allowed, or my pager goes off in the Chemo waiting area – confirmed I AM the patient. Sometimes I get the “poor girl” look – and then I smile and try to make them smile to show them “I’m ok. You will be too.”

On Tuesday I had my fourth long day of treatment – radiation, blood work and chemo. It happens once a week, its a full work day, its taxing on my body and I often feel very anxious leading up to the day because you never know how your body is going to react to all the treatments. But when I arrived in the radiation reception area on Tuesday I saw something rare – a little girl in the waiting area, probably around the age of my youngest niece, about 4/5 years old. She was wearing a beautiful, floral, flowy dress with a little pink cardigan – and she was bald from her treatments – she was the patient. You don’t often see kids at PMH, I imagine because most of them are across the street at Sick Kids. I found myself watching her like I am sure those other patients look at me. She was so excited to be watching the fish play in the fish tank. Suddenly all the feeling of anxiety I was feeling that day had been lifted when she turned around and smiled at me. It was like she told me “I’m ok. You will be too.” Thank you, lil girl. I will carry your smile with me along my journey.

Before I close up I want to share something so cool that happened on Tuesday. PMH has a bell on the Chemo floor. It’s called the Bravery Bell and when you complete your last treatment you get to ring this bell. I haven’t heard anyone in my previous three weeks of treatments ring the bell, but on Tuesday while I was getting my treatment three patients rang the bell. Everyone in the ward clapped and cheered and I became overcome with emotion. Next week should be my last chemo treatment before I go into the hospital for internal radiation (aka the big zap). I can’t WAIT to ring that bell. It is going to be epic! I may need to choreograph a Bravery Bell #TEALPOWER dance 😉

Oh Bravery Bell, I can't wait to ring you.

Oh Bravery Bell, I can’t wait to ring you.

And if you haven’t seen it, PMH mentioned #TEALPOWER Canuck on their blog yesterday. Thanks so much for helping me spread the word! Check out their blog post here!