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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thanks to you...

The Canadian Cancer Society issued a media release today publicly stating its objection to the Quebec government's plan to loan Jeffrey Asbestos Mines 58 million dollars. The CCS also sent a letter to Premier Jean Charest urging him not to back the loan.

While the battle is not over, the letter and public statement by the CCS are important steps in stopping Canada's participation in the deadly sale of asbestos to third world countries, and the Cancer Society took action due to intense public pressure.

Thank you to the many of you reading who took the time to write the CCS, Charest and the Prime Minister (aka "the Asshole in Charge") to make your voices heard.

And thank you, too, for the many good vibes and wishes sent my way for my latest CT scan.

Drum roll please...

I'm happy to report continued stability and a few more decreases.

Not a bad way to start the summer. Not bad at all.

Now what else shall we tackle?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Speak Up

It will be remembered as an act of barbarism in the history of industrial development where asbestos was knowingly allowed to be used, and where workers were knowingly subjected to it.—Gobal Krishna, activist

Last week, 37 physicians from 19 countries signed a letter to Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc, urging him to comply with the medical code of ethics and stop overlooking the risks posed by asbestos. Earlier in the year, over 100 scientists from 28 countries sent Quebec Premier Jean Charest a letter appealing to him to put public health ahead of trade.

You'd think this was a no brainer, but apparently not.

In 2008, the $100-million Canadian asbestos industry exported 175,000 tonnes of chrysotile; almost all of it went to developing countries, including India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. Now the asbestos industry in Quebec is asking for and will likely receive a 58-million dollar subsidy from its government unless public outcry is heard this week.

Please take a minute of your time today to email this letter to Canadian Cancer Society CEO, Peter Goodhand (, to let him know Canadians refuse to export illness to developing countries and want the CCS to publicly oppose the subsidy.

Afterall, you can't grow daffodils in asbestos either.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tempting Fate

So, today the sun finally came out to play and after a busy morning and a great hike along the river with Finn, I caught a nap in the hammock on our deck. It was so nice to relax as there hasn't been enough of that lately.

However, tonight the rain started falling again so I had to bring our patio cushions back inside for what must be the gazillionth time this season. So much for the Pottery Barn lifestyle.

Anyhow, while I am exceedingly overtired and prone to temper tantrums about baseboard and butcher block, I am still feeling great. Therefore, I'll be damned if I'm going to go in tomorrow and hear anything other than good news about last week's CT scan. Sure, I'm probably tempting fate here, but, screw it, I like to live dangerously.

Perhaps I should march in to my appointment tomorrow in go-go boots shouting Don't bring me down, Brrrrrruce...

Oh, wait, my doctor's name is Joe.

No matter, you get the point.

What's with the flashing hot dog?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Spacious Heart

Last Wednesday was stunning.

Callanish played host to several hundred generous hearts who attended its biggest fundraiser to date at the UBC Museum of Anthroplogy in Vancouver.

Those of us lucky enough to attend were treated to unparalleled performances by pianist, Maryliz Smith; flautist, Lorna Mc Ghee; violinist, Joan Blackman; and, cellist, Ariel Barnes.

It was humbling, to say the least, to get up and speak amongst such talented artists; however, I am always grateful for the opportunity to gush about the people and organization that have had such a profound effect on my life. By request (though I am somewhat shy in doing so), I am including part of my talk here from this special evening.

I began with a poem written a few months ago after I requested (god knows why) and received my medical records in the mail. While what they contained was no surprise, as I already have most of the documents in some form or another, it was a rather daunting and unsettling experience to look at them all again.

Ironically, as depressing as this poem may sound to you, I actually felt better after writing it. In doing so, I felt like I had the final say.

For the Record
by Kirsten Andersen

You arrived
tattered and torn
bursting at the seams
spilling forth
an account of this body
Four long years
fourteen hundred and fifty-two days
narrated across thousands of pages
by countless doctors
in Vancouver
all describing the “unfortunate young lady”
“an anxious 32-year-old”
“with no history of illness”
“thin and pale”
“a sizeable mass in the chest”
“unusually aggressive disease”
“no known cure - worldwide
palliative chemo for this “tragic case”

Am I tragic?

These words have been dictated, transcribed, typed
and now delivered to me in a ragged envelope,
arriving with the flyers and bills
lying beside me in bed this morning
GPs, surgeons, oncologists, endocrinologists,
radiologists, hematologists,
all have had their way with my body,
its blood, its marrow, its developing cells,
telling a story
seemingly hopeless and futile
sad and tragic


After writing this poem, I asked myself:

“What did I mean by now?”

When was now?”

When did the repair of a body, spirit and heart broken by cancer, begin?

It occurred to me that now was in fact long before the few minutes spent writing this poem. That an invisible mending had begun years before when I first walked through the door to Callanish.

It began when I attended my first Young Adult Support Group at Callanish the evening of my first day of chemo in May 2006.

It began when I attended my first retreat in January of 2007, three months after a stem cell transplant left me confused and unsure how to approach the future.

It began at Callanish in the city, sitting in many retreat day circles and writing groups after I learned that the transplant had not done what was intended and that the cancer had spread to my liver and bones.

It began at a weekend workshop entitled the Sacred Work of Dying in 2009 where we explored the emotional and spiritual obstacles to piece of mind and heart.


Heart is what beats steadily at the centre of all this work at Callanish. It is offered freely, without exception, without limits.

Whether you are young, old, man, woman, gay, straight, Catholic, Jewish, lactose intolerant, there is a place for you at the Callanish table.

Heart is encouraged and nourished in each of us who belong to this community.

It is what many in this room can attest to creating the conditions for healing, whether we are living with or dying from cancer.

And it is the support of this unconditional compassion that brings us here tonight to share in a feast for the ears, and to rest in the spacious, extraordinary heart that is Callanish.

My other two extraordinary hearts with me on Wednesday,
my mom and Brian.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Movers and Shakers

Just stopping in to say hi, I'm alive (though still very much covered in paint).

The renos are coming along and we actually spent our first night upstairs yesterday. It's a bit of an awkward set-up as all of our clothes and towels are still in the downstairs suite, and because we covered over the interior stairs to put in our flooring, we have to use the outside ones temporarily to go down to shower and get ready.

Still, we could have worse problems. Oh, wait, I guess we do. Regardless, it is wonderful to be sinking our teeth into a major project other than cancer. I feel remarkably well and am convinced that the Bendamustine is continuing to work. I have my next CT scan this Thursday, so we shall see.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to changing out of my grubby work clothes to get all dolled up for a Callanish fundraiser this Wednesday. If you are a lover of classical music, then this is the hottest summer ticket in town.

I have been remiss in inviting all of my favorite family and friends, so if you are reading this and would like to come, there are still a few tickets left. I'll be speaking briefly (oh dear), and if you'd like to support the incredible work of the Callanish Society while enjoying beautiful music, fine wine and gourmet cheese at the UBC Museum of Anthropolgy, check out the flyer below for ticket information.

Now back inside to unpack all our boxes. I am seriously considering radical minimalism.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Awake My Soul

This video makes me laugh and also indicates my state of mind as we are now knee-deep into home renovations.

What a bizarre and splendid ride this is - chemo one day, drywalling and painting the next, a gong meditation (with seven gongs!) yesterday and an incredible show at the 560 Club last night with Mumford & Sons. I've been obsessing over them since last year and they didn't disappoint.

They are such incredible musicians and beautiful song writers. We bounced along to the beat of the kick drum with about 600 others lucky enough to score tickets to the sold-out show.

One weird thing we noticed, though I'm not quite sure why, was the oddly disproportionate amount of tall people at the gig. Now I am quite tall myself, but I actually felt like a weeble amongst trees. I'm not sure what that was about, but it made the evening just that much more interesting.

Then it was back to renos this morning. I really must remember to reload my iPod as I like to have it cranked while we're working. However, my audio book of Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue has mixed itself in with the songs so, one minute, I'll be jammin' with Ben or Bob, the next, John comes on with his wistful Gaelic accent waxing poetic about the dimensions of the soul.

I told you, it's a bit of a trip around here lately. C'mon over!