Chronicle of a Stem Cell Transplant (and on through to the other side)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Puppies and Rainbows

Well, as you can imagine, this weekend was rather intense (exploring dying and all), but also extremely fascinating and heart-felt. Still, despite feeling incredibly calm throughout, I found myself (not surprisingly) a little raw and agitated the next day when it was over.

Who knows what has been at work in my subconscious since then. I had a dream about Ian making too much salad dressing last night, but I can't quite figure out where this fits in the grand scheme of things...

Anyway, the best cure-all for human agitation? Why, puppies of course!

My aunt and uncle have a new litter of adorable Afghan puppies that are just five weeks old. We went out for a visit yesterday and played with these very cute, floppy little ones. As if that weren't "sunshine and lollipops" enough, we saw a rainbow on the way home.

You're right, Louis...what a wonderful world.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Well, It's One Way to Spend the Weekend

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

So, I'm off to explore death.

Don't worry, I'm not planning to kick it anytime soon, though the proverbial bus can always come flying around the corner (and it is possible to have cancer and be hit by a bus, just ask one of my dear Callanish friends).

I am attending a workshop called "The Sacred Work of Dying" where we will "deeply explore the sacred work of preparing for death...and draw from centuries-old practices to identify and dissolve emotional and spiritual obstacles to peace of mind and heart."

Is it weird to be excited about this?

I, like the Dalai Lama (because we are soooo similar), get a kick out of the notion that as human beings, the only thing we can be certain of is the inevitability of our own death, yet we try to avoid thinking about it our whole lives.

I also don't believe in all the superstition around death - that by thinking about it, we attract it. In his beautiful book Anam Cara, John O'Donahue writes that "when you were born, [death] came out of the womb with you, but with the excitement of your arrival, nobody noticed it. Though this presence surrounds you, you may still be blind to its companionship."

I think, then, I'd prefer to make friends rather than enemies with this "silent companion." Who knows, we may even hit it off.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Forget Cancer, I've Got Sunshine


The first note of spring’s song
the tiny crocus makes itself known
Miniature portraits of white, yellow, and purple
paint themselves across the landscape

The delight its arrival brings
Friends, strangers, ask one another
“Have you seen the crocuses today?”
Emerging from the dark, frozen earth
that has, again, begun to thaw

And we, watchers,
devotees of the crocus
take a breath
breathe in the sweet, deep fragrance
of another spring taking root within

What an abundantly creative time the last month has been. In the midst of being "somewhat" anxious about the seemingly new symptoms I was having, I have also been immersed in the most wonderful energy and companionship.

The above photo was taken the morning I left for the last Callanish retreat, when the crocuses had just begun to poke their heads up on our front lawn. They make me think of the incredible group of women I was about to meet - the beginning of seven new friendships and the deepening of many existing ones. By the time I came back, the crocuses were in full bloom and have continued to blossom since then.

The crocus also found its way into the little ditty above written last weekend at the Young Adult Cancer Network (YACN) retreat day. We spent a day writing and creating art and it was such a privilege to co-facilitate with my wonderful friend and art therapist extraordinaire, Gretchen.

Today, I am busy compiling the work of fourteen amazing writers who, for the past three months, have come together to explore their "inner landscapes" as part of the current Callanish Writes series. It is extremely moving work and it has been an honour to write with them. We will proudly unveil the second volume of poetry next week.

In the last few weeks, I've also had visits with some dear, old friends (I don't mean that they're old (not that there is anything wrong with that), but the friendships are). Roxann flew out from Calgary with her fiance, Jeremy, and Josefine came down from the Okanagan. I also got to spend some precious time with Jenny and her mom, Calee. I am so grateful for these friendships. You sisters knew me "back in the day."

Tonight, after an appointment at the Cancer Agency with my new radiologist (if I like her), we are going to an equinox gathering to celebrate spring in full force.

What a season.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Not About the Toilet Brush

So, I hadn't realized how tightly-wound I've been these past few weeks, wondering about the discomfort in my hip and back, until a toilet brush nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown.

We went down to Point Roberts earlier in the week to have a little "getaway" while waiting for the results of Monday's CT scan. In the midst of this waiting, I was doing a little obsessive cleaning and decided to tackle the toilet. I was caught completely off guard when the lack of a toilet brush threw me into a tyrannical rage.

"Who doesn't have a f*ing toilet brush?" I railed at Ian.

"Why, why, why...why the f*ck would someone not have a god-damned toilet brush?"

Ian wasn't sure, but went along with it, eventually getting me to come out of the bathroom where I sat on the edge of the tub shaking my fist at the porcelain. About half an hour later, I was able to admit that, indeed, it wasn't about the toilet brush at all, though, really, who doesn't have one?

The next day, I got the results of my CT, which surprisingly showed nothing in particular in the areas that have been sore. Things look about the same in my right hip/groin area as they have previously, but, unlike the massive tumour I had envisioned (while trying desperately not to) tangled around my spine, nothing significant showed up on my left side or sacrum.

So, we're still not sure what exactly is causing all this discomfort, though I know one upset nerve/lymph node anywhere in the vicinity can cause a whole lot of havoc when it comes to the lower back.

The CT also indicated some slight progression in my right lung (where I already had a few dots prior), so some radiation might help with the ghastly-sounding cough I have. Though, we also think this could just be an airway sensitivity I've developed.

All in all, no huge surprises. Well, that's if you don't count the toilet-brush incident.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

So Close, Yet So Far

Well, this has been a bit of a frustrating time as we suspected it might be.

Even though the trial has moved very quickly in its expansion/approval process, and I know people are working very hard behind the scenes, waiting for it to finally open here has been difficult.

I have been having some symptoms that may or may not be related to the Hodgkin's, but as many of you well know, taking odd aches and pains for granted is not acceptable at this point.

I have some discomfort in both hips, my groin and sacrum, and weird pain in my right arm pit. These things may be significant, or they may be nothing. The first time I thought I detected something unusual under my arm, I'd hit puberty.

The second time was when I discovered a lump when we were away celebrating Ian's birthday last year. Fortunately, it turned out to be a little infection and was "drained" by an ER doctor who said it was "really gross, but nothing to worry about."

The most accurate way to get an idea of what is going on would be to have another PET scan. However, in order to be a candidate for the trial, I need to have a scan within 30 days prior to its start. While it is our hope that the trial will open here or in Seattle within the next month, we don't know for sure that it will.

The reason I don't just go ahead and have a scan now is because, generally, PET scans aren't performed more often than every eight weeks. So, if I did have one now, and then the trial opened 31 days later, I could find myself in the position of not being able to start the trial while I wait to be eligible for another PET scan. Now that would be frustrating.

Fortunately, I will be having the next best thing on Monday, an "eyes-to-thighs" CT. Hopefully, this will indicate nothing new. I'll take "gross" over "growth" any day.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pint of Brew

Hello. It's good to be back.

The photo above is of a little evergreen I call Pint. He grows on the edge of Brew Creek where I was on retreat last week. You can see him from the south window of what is known to some as...the "crying room."

When I went on my first Callanish retreat two years ago, I remember his fledgling limbs, weighted down with the heavy snow. Like a leaf pressed between the pages of a book, he had been flattened against a backdrop of icy cold. He seemed so fragile. I recall walking into the room one day on that first retreat and saying "That tree appears to be saying Oh shit."

That is exactly how I felt at the time, twelve weeks post transplant - shell-shocked and wondering where the hell I was. Diagnosis. Chemo. Transplant. Radiation. Ten months after it had all begun, I think it's safe to say I was suffering from a little post-traumatic stress, and this little tree seemed to say it all. I, too, was knee-deep in the shit.

Returning to Brew Creek last week, I was amazed to see that he was still there - still surrounded by ice and snow, but standing taller. I could see where he had grown. A few years ago, where he'd only had a few skeletal branches, new life had sprung. Dozens of tiny sprigs filled in the space that, previously, had been empty.

I also noticed the stand of birch trees beside him, gracefully coaxing him toward the light, yet firmly rooted in the dark, rich soil beneath the heavy blanket of snow.

It makes me smile to think of Pint, belly full of Brew. He's still standing and so am I.