Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Birds fly over the rainbow..............


                                          Embracing life on its own terms. Acceptance allows
                                              us to bend without breaking in the face of tests

I remember when I was first diagnosed and trying to figure out how I would make sense of all this. How would I cope with my new body? How do others cope with what is happening to them I wondered? What would all this teach me if I beat this and live a very long life? My work life has always revolved around doing something for others, whether that is serving a plate of pasta or helping a kid find his way in this not always easy world. I have shared some of myself through this blog, telling everyone exactly what I felt and thought. With breast cancer as with many other cancers the scars run deep and far beyond what some will ever know or understand. When going through an experience such as this you want to share your story, but I am not quite sure that you can ever  articulate exactly the impact of what has happened, or what is happening.

I have looked around  for inspiration to do this and saw that some incredibly brave women showed exactly what the journey has been like for them through photography. I was moved beyond words as I thought " that is me". Given the opportunity I knew its something I would get involved in . Through the art of photography a picture needs no words to be spoken for understanding. The reality of the photo as honest as it gets. I looked to a friend of mine who is a wonderful photographer and equally wonderful spirit. Malin Enstrom. She runs a business called Enstrom Photography. I found her pictures always captured a moment, artfully frozen in time with her camera. Her pictures encompassed joy and life to me.
I asked her what she thought of the idea of taking pics of me. She loved the idea and agreed to be on board immediately. I thought to myself after asking her  " what am I doing?" Why do you want to do this Sondria?" . I had explained to Malin that I was hoping that if I put my pictures out there we could possibly then encourage other women to do the same. It would put a face to a terrible disease in a different way.  It has been done by others but not locally and not with the courageous woman of Newfoundland.They could share their personal stories of  how breast cancer has impacted their lives through photography. We could then hopefully share it with people through a gallery exhibit of some sort. I pondered that this could be our way of giving back and encouraging everyone to be  proactive about their bodies and their health. It could also be a vechicle for people to understand why after dealing with breast cancer, people meet, go on retreats, paddle in boats, run and many other things to acknowledge the journey.  People could have a better knowledge why we need to reassure each other that although cancer make take a part of us, it cannot take our spirit, the essence of who we are or the gifts we bring to this world. Now I had a partner and a plan, all I needed was the courage and a date.

Malin and I planned and met on a beautiful sunny morning. We talked a little about what we would do, where we should shoot the pictures and then simply just did it. As I got ready to take of my top, I looked at Malin and began to cry. She hugged me and I knew she got it. We spent the next hour or so getting comfortable with each other and finding the right light and positions. I was nervous but Malin's easy tone made it all happen. We laughed and talked while she took pictures. My dog Juno insisted on being part of it all and we happily included her in some of the shots. The whole experience is exactly as I had imagined. I want to thank Malin for doing something with me that was incredibly special and personal. My hope is people take away what ever they need to from these pictures. Some may wonder why the need, but again that is me. Sometimes you just do things that you need to do or want to do. Its certianly not for attention, I am as popular as the queen these days. Lots of friends and lots of loving support. Its an idea I wanted to act on inspired by art and bravery.

In Newfoundland the projected statistics for this year is 330 women will be diagnosed and 90 will die from breast cancer. In canada 19% of of women diagnosed will be under 50. I personally know women diagnosed in recent times and all under 50.

 So now Malin and I are looking for other breast cancer survivors in the area who would like to be part of our special project. We want to represent the incredible women in Newfoundland. The hope is to collect portraits of a number of women. Malin will be taking the photo's and I can always be there for support.

Every scar tells a story and every story has a scar.

If you would like to be involved in this project, please contact
Sondria : sondria.browne@hotmail.com  or (709)-765-1563
Malin at:  malin.enstrom@gmail.comwww.enstrom.ca/   (709) 690-9428

Please do not crop or alter these pictures without the permission of the photographer, Malin Enstrom. And please, always leave her copyright © 2012 Malin Enstrom.

Monday, 23 July 2012

She'll be riding six white horses when she comes

“Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” ― A.A. Milne

Its been a while, I missed writing. I am still "comin round the mountain". Sing it with me people.

This past treatment day I had what felt like a army of friends who had picked me up, dropped me off and came to see me. I don't think I will ever be able to express how much that means.  Always done without hesitation. The big excitement was the arrival of one of my sisters ( she is older but we will just keep that amongst ourselves). Most of my biological family lives in Ontario and Quebec so happy to see her coming. Last two treatment I managed to get the chemo chair that looks straight out the entrance doors in the treatment area. I am like the greeting committee when you come in, the first person you see. This could be a good and bad thing as I cried like I was watching the Notebook ending last treatment. I like the perch as I can see everyone who comes and goes, it always humbles me. Each face that comes through riddled with emotion both happy and sad. I see people who come on their own for chemo with bravery I have yet to attain. My bravery comes from all the people who have been lifting me through this, telling me I can. Maybe we r the same, I don't know. I had also  come fully prepared to tell the nurse how to get my iv in my arm, nice and easy. I had spent two days preparing nice plump veins for them. I drank a lake of water,  had a massage done with love, and shook my arm down to the ground. The nurse comes over and asks " do you have a port?" I say " no". I try to interject all the wonderful, proactive things I did, but she turns and is gone. She comes back and looks at me like " I got this under control"  and pops that needle in like butter. I would like to believe that all my efforts made for a easy iv set up, but her confidence in getting it in wins as well. I thanked her all day long for making what is a stressful thing for me, simple.
My sister arrived and it was wonderful. She got to stay at the hospital for the full 7 hours due to the fact my chemo never came till very late ( shhhh pharmacy never got it, took four hours to figure that out). Before treatment day though, I had messed up my steroids, as in, I did not take enough. To all the people who may ever have to do chemo or knows someone who has to do it, tell them not to screw up their steroids. They gave me  iv steroids to make up for my mistake. In the days to come I was like the Road Runner on Bugs Bunny, I am not sure what my sister thought of it all. She watched me go around like a whirling dervish, for a couple of days, but then as usual I stopped whirling. A gentle reminder from the chemo, of what is actually happening. Simmer down girl, simmer down it tells me.
I got news the next day that my biopsy was scheduled for the following Monday, something I was dreading. All the what if's and maybe's came rushing back. It takes a lot of energy and control to keep those thoughts at bay. I had my sister here with me so I was grateful for that. We went that Monday and I get called in for my appointment. I lay down on the table and I am ready for it, for anything. Truth is I don't want anything. I want it to be okay. The doctor comes in after reviewing my MRI and quickly locates the lymph node that has caused all this flurry. " Its normal she says". She calls out to technician "' cancel the biopsy". I am in shock. I thought she was gonna say something else. I had completely prepared for the worse. She says I can go. I get up and leave. Everything has completely gone over my head. I return to the waiting area quickly and tell my sister the news. She cries and hugs me but I am numb. Hello, good news Sondria!!! I think then somebody has stolen my brain, cause I can't react. Not to worry though I had myself a great little meltdown later because the steroids were wearing off and the crash you feel from them aids in any emotional outbursts that might be needed. I am so blessed lol.
I spent the next couple of days enjoying my sister till she had to leave to go home. I had been noticing while she was here how horrible I was feeling later in the days, which in other treatments was not the case. I had expected to feel pretty much the same as before, but this one was different. I  normally  pushed through feeling like a  bag of smashed marbles, this time is a bit more of a challenge. I can feel the cumulative effect on my body. People say to me " only one more treatment." I keep thinking " don't ever use the word only or just with chemo treatment". The chemo drugs will put you in your place on that. I am grateful to be heading towards the end of this particular part of the plan, but it doesn't end with the last injection of drugs sadly. There are drugs to be taken and boobs to rebuild. 
I managed to squat in a bit of fun because I suffer terribly from a case of FOMO ( fear of missing out). Its a chronic condition and should be treated immediately but there is no cure known. Its mostly a mental condition that can manifest into anxiety around missing out on anything that makes you laugh or happy. Debilitating texting and facebooking behaviours can result. So with the help of a hot bath, a bit of drugs and good makeup I got out. Birthday's and a dinner with great friends, it was wonderful. They always make me laugh, and I feel the love. I am reminded that life keeps going and so must I, especially if I don't want to miss out. lol.  Nothing like a bit of motivation.

I sit here in anticipation of another family member coming to visit. I love being someones little sister.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

" Excuse me, but could you say that again"

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ernest Hemingway

I decided tonight to post something before chemo starts again tomorrow and the gremlins take me away and turn me into one. So for the next week dont' get me wet, feed me after midnight or expose me to bright light. I think my husband has thought about putting me in a microwave and exploding me at times, if the table were turned he would be in there. I have been like living with a loot bag at times just never know what your gonna pull out. You might be hoping for a spearmint leaf but you get a sour patch gummy.
I continue to find wonderful things to celebrate and enjoy, my life is full and I seize all opportunities to live completely when they present themselves or when life just happens. Sometimes moments just appear. As some of you know my baby girl is off the cadet camp for 7 weeks as a staff. They trained for a week and then were awarded ranks some ascending higher than others. She called me nervous and a little worn out from the activities and competition that was created for getting a rank. I knew that the Friday would be the call. I was watching my phone but of course missed two calls from her that day. I tried calling. She didn't answer. So I try a couple of more times to no avail. I think " she will call me later". I head off to the salon as I am still working on the tinkering of that wig ( insert frustrated face). It is a complete work in progress. I arrive and have to wait a little while. No problem I will do what I always do. Look at facebook on my phone. Its kinda become a lifeline when I am on my own during the days, and I am  competely nosey. I look at the feed and there is a picture of my daughter, all 16 years of her being awarded the position of Warrant Officer First Class. Top cadet on staff at Greenwood Air Cadet Camp. I could of busted with pride. She had tears in her eyes, to me it was a sign of humility and gratitude. I don't think I could at this point in my journey received a better gift. So here is my kid who is going through a rough time with her family, killed herself studying( okay she was at MUN library doing god knows what, but I am keeping my fantasies) wrote exams and then packed up and went to camp. She prevailed, kept moving forward and refused to not be defined by what shit life throws at her. She will continue to inspire me while she rises to the challenge in her own life while I must do the same here at home. I raised a great kid. Her launch pad is ready.
I managed to do a few things while in recovery this time. I had a night in the bay where I slept with no sleeping aids,  Lunch and dinner with friends, okay several dinners with lots of wine but who is counting, a concert with John Mellencamp( I was so embarrassed how he kept coming over to sing to me, I kept thinking " spread yourself around John the girls in the back are getting jealous".
What I also got this round were the results of an MRI performed the day after my last chemo. I had thought about them for the last two or so weeks. I have imagined the worst but hoped for the best. I had myself okay with a negative result but secretly I wanted it to be nothing.You have to remember in a process like this, not anticipating some negative results is naive and  will leave you ill prepared for what may come. I knew I had to see the doctor just before my next chemo so I left getting results  till then. I had wanted to call them up ( like the people who call you at dinner time for a survey) and make them tell me but I pulled back.I thought no news is good news. Now I don't know if you read stuff on walls in hospital elevators but the new signs at the hospital say " No news is not good news".
I went to appointment like the good " chemo girl " I am. They always ask a bunch of questions. " Is you mouth sore?" " Are you sleeping?" " How is your poop?" I am sorry they are like Dr. Oz.
She went through how my blood is doing. Sugar is high,  and liver being a little funky ( I wonder if the port I had did that lol). She said I am not going to turn yellow anytime soon. Thank god, can you imagine...bald, boobless and yellow? I already feel like the girl in Minority Report with Tom Cruise.
She finished up and then sighed and then "lets talk about your MRI results". I could feel the tsunami coming, okay it was more like the waves crashing down in Middle Cove beach but I am going for effect here people. " So you are full of cysts" " Mastectomy side is clear" but.................
" There is a lymph node that is suspicous, it has been recommended that you have ultrasound and a biopsy. " Yes, excuse me, could you pick up my skull, I think my brain just exploded" and I think
" I am sorry could you say that again"
It does not matter how hard and how positive you are, the news of something that could lead to anything is a bugger. The what if's and I should of's all start and they take alot of energy. In the end " you don't know what you don't know".
 I could spend the next week carrying a load that would drag me down, or I could process and move on. I got up today and took my steroids, cause there is nothing like taking a drug that makes you crazy when you are already in panic mode. Its time for my husband to put on his helmet me thinks for this round.I had earlier that morning, decided to feel around  my boob before I got up out of bed and managed to locate a nice hard lump in my remaining breast this morning ,bring on the emotional wreck. I then called people, texted them, let them know. I phoned my contact at the cancer clinic, she has been a enduring source of support for me and she manages to turn me around when I need to be turned, anyone going through cancer should be in touch with the cancer navigators there. So I had a couple of cries and talked it out. Then I got on with it. I  I cleaned, washed clothes, saw my dad and sat in the garden with a friend. All better.
My sister is coming to see me tomorrow and I can't wait. She is my focus, she gets my energy not something that is a maybe or a what if's. I think they call that control. Yeah baby!!!!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Wigged out!!!!!!!

My Challenge for the day

I knew when this whole ordeal began that I needed or should have ( so I thought) a wig. As my hair fell I made the call and made sure it was here when I needed it. Since my hair is gone, and I look more like the guy from Hell Raiser, I am thinking I should wear it now. I  had worn it from the salon to home and it sits adorned upon a beautiful fake head. There it has stayed, staring at me from the dresser. If it could talk it would be saying " wear me wear me". I glance quickly and turn away. I know I am avoiding, not sure what it is about the wig, but I can't bring myself to wear it.
I have started with hats, and pretty scarves. I seem to be more comfortable with that. Not sure why as  I find it screams " hello look at me" " got no hair over here". "Ah look at the poor girl, she must have the cancer."
Each time I put on the wig, I think " its not me". I am not quite sure you know who you are through this process. Pumped full of steroids for a period and then bags of chemo drugs you lose site of yourself for a period during each cycle. As the treatment chips away at the outer self, you work harder to keep the self esteem train going and present a united front against the enemy . I wanted to get the wig and rock it, but all I feel is odd, like a girl with a bald head with a wig on.
So I did what any girl would do to figure this dilemma ,  I went shopping. Winners makes everything all better. I thought a nice little something something would do the trick. I had birthday money.. I figured with the right outfit on bottom I could rock the top. After an hour or so I walk out with a snazzy top and some new sexy heels ( don't tell anyone they are from naturalizer hard to say sexy and naturalizer in the same sentence). I  did however try on a dress but quickly realise that life for now has changed as the mastectomy bra I now have to wear is more like a 24 hour cross your heart doesn't come in a demi cup and some outfits just won't work, oh my a little dose of reality. I did get a  bottle of french perfume so I smell great, and people will now be distracted by how fragrant I am when I put on the wig. That is it I am armed to the gills with items to battle the wig phobia I have now seemed to developed.
I had a lunch planned with the girls today at a local restaurant. Time to get dolled up and plant that baby right where it belongs. On my head. It was like I was getting ready for something really big. So a quick pop in the shower, which these days is like Flash Gordon getting in and out. No shaving, no hair washing, soap her up, rinse her off, done!!! I gotta say its a bonus. I get my make-up on and make sure to highlight my eyebrows and eyelashes which have not taken a beating from the drugs yet. Hopefully they are here to stay, although my eyelashes have a few hollow areas, my mascara does the job. I haul on one of my finds from the shopping spree and now I am ready to tackle that sucker and get her on there.
Oh no a moment of doubt!!! My thoughts creep in. "Maybe I should put on the lovely brown scarf that Bassem brought me back from Saudi?" "Nope, its the wig today Sondria!" My commitment returns. That was easy. I grab the sucker and put it on. Now as any woman who reads this and has lost their hair knows the oddest feeling is to put a wig on your newly bald head. " Is the part in the right place?" "Is it too high, is it too low?"" Everyone will know its a wig." I begin to play around with it, fixing loose hairs, adjusting the placement and pinning some stray hairs out of my face. I think I got it. I find you gotta take a minute to let it soak in, let your mind adjust to the new you. You know what, it eventually does.
I put on the last bit of lip gloss and I was ready to go. I met my friends and they were all gracious in their compliments and comments. I sat through lunch and forgot it was on my head, except when it kept  falling in my pasta. " Waiter I need a spoon to twirl my pasta please" its easier to eat through my newly adorned head of hair.
Acceptance, that is the key. Not from those around me, but of myself and who I am now. I am glad I challenged myself to put on my wig today. This " little bit of bad luck" as a elderly gentleman said to me this week, has made me do things I never thought I would or could do, even something as simple as putting on a wig. I knew I had to be  whole on the inside so that everyone could see that on the outside. The wig was just another pretty scarf.